Nobu Hotel vs. Hakkasan: Which Vegas Grand Opening Was Better?

I saw Prince in concert at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino this past Saturday night. He performed as part of his west coast tour with a limited engagement show at The Joint, which just celebrated the 4th anniversary of its new location. My friend Jason and I arrived late to our balcony suite seats and realized, when Prince had his encore almost two hours later, that we were dancing next to Magic Johnson the entire time.

But surely seeing Prince couldn’t have been my highlight when there were two headlining grand openings that put almost everything else in Vegas–even all the Hangover III hype–on the back burner for the weekend.  Hakkasan, which seems to be taking over the globe, celebrated its official grand opening weekend. Known as a sexy, dramatic restaurant brand helmed by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon, Hakkasan has already spread its love from London to key US cities like New York and San Francisco.

What makes Hakkasan Las Vegas inside MGM Grand so special is that it’s now the biggest club in Vegas, with a killer DJ line up. Every week, clubbers can expect the likes of Tiesto, Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki and DeadMau5 behind the decks. It’s a fist pumper’s dream come true. And rather than one large dance floor, the club spans five levels, including the private Ling Ling Club, a 10,000-square-foot "experience" you’ll most likely never see as it’s so VIP. Unless you’re flying in on a private jet sorta guy.

When I gave Hakkasan LV a go on Friday night, I knew it was going to be a wild time. There were five lines to get in (Ladies Line, Expedited Line, VIP line, etc) and it’s no surprise these lines were brimming to the max even at  the early hour of 11 pm. It was the one opening everyone was talking about, and A-listers came in droves: Vanessa Hudgens, J-Lo, Paris Hilton, and Pharrell (who was apparently celebrating his 40th birthday).

While I never saw any of them in action, I did see Rev Run (from the legendary Run DMC) get behind the decks on the 4th floor. Things got real when emerging singer–and current VIBE cover star–Miguel made a surprise performance with two songs. He’s no Prince, but somehow managed to get me up on the backdrop of a VIP booth, dancing until security flagged me down. I got back to my room at, I dunno, 5am?, and returned the next night for Calvin Harris and a wild, packed crowd that I’m confident will fill all five floors every week.

A quieter, more elegant affair happened at the official grand opening celebration of Nobu Hotel inside Caesar’s Palace on Sunday. The David Rockwell-designed, 181-room boutique in its own wing is a sanctuary from the megaresort complex. In fact, it has its own elevators shuttling affluent guests between the 12,775 square-foot Nobu Restaurant on the main level to the handful of dedicated floors with calming guest rooms that feature Natura Bisse amenities in spacious, tranquil bathrooms and my friend Mark Edward Harris‘ photos and prints for engaging wall decor.

The night started with a private sake ceremony event inside the Nobu restaurant, where the intimate, refined crowd was a far cry from Hakkasan’s party animals, with most everyone decked out in suits and gowns. I couldn’t stop staring at Coco Austin, Ice-T’s wife, who came as herself. Holly Madison was also present, but I zoned in on Robert DeNiro and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa when they took five minutes to officiate the event. The energy here was a little stifled, like no one knew how to behave in the same room as Mr. DeNiro. Even the waiters passing around sake and sushi seemed awkward. Maybe if DeNiro reenacted scenes from Taxi Driver, it would have put some guests at ease. I mean, Prince performed Purple Rain. So.

In any case, things were a little more relaxed when we were all transferred over to Caesars Palace’s Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis for some sushi, music and adult socializing. It was mellow, and sorta nice to know that Vegas events don’t have to be “sweat and wild.” Later that evening, Grammy nominated Ed Sheeran performed live. He’s also no Prince, but the food was good. And yes, guests—including me—got drunk in a way Vegas would be proud.

Both the Hakkasan and Nobu Hotel openings marked a moment in Vegas history in very different ways. I didn’t prefer one over the other, and both auspicious events proved Vegas has come a long way since its recession setback years ago. Hakkasan was a booze-filled, insanely nostalgic party that brought out the vices in me in the best way possible. And Nobu’s opening of the first Nobu Hotel in the world was sophisticated and fancy. I was throwing down with an older crowd in formal wear, giving me every good reason to party like it was 1999.

I’ll take either, any time. So, when’s the next party? 

[Related: BlackBook Las Vegas Guide; Listings for Hakkasan, Nobu Hotel, More by Jimmy Im; Follow Jimmy on Twitter]

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