Miami meets downtown Las Vegas

El Cortez sign

This historic El Cortez sign has topped the property since 1941. The Fremont Street Experience is seen in the background.

At the end of  Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino,” the character Ginger McKenna, played by Sharon Stone, dies in a hotel hallway. That hallway belonged to the Ogden House, a motel-style tower located across the street from the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas.

Well, much like Ginger (and Stone’s acting career since her Golden Globe-winning performance in “Casino”), the Ogden House is dead. The five-story building was completely gutted and redesigned, with upgrades to everything, including the plumbing and wiring. The transformation was complete last month when the El Cortez opened its Miami-retro-style boutique hotel the El Cortez Cabana Suites.

“The old building was worn down and needed to be revamped,” said John Dorweiler, director of hotel operations for El Cortez. “Instead of a partial redo, went full bore on it.” 

There are 64 rooms in the non-smoking building (the Ogden House had 102) decorated in contrasting tones of neon green, black, white and red. Rooms have modern features like iPod docking stations and faux-crocodile leather headboards as well as designer bath products and above-counter mounted sinks in the bathrooms. Windows were added to the hallways, which are lined with faux-crocodile leather, bringing in natural light.

Fresh fruit and lemon water in served in the lobby, which was expanded to include a fireplace, sitting areas, a large flat screen television, computers with internet access and a fitness center. There are two security guards on duty 24 hours a day, a 24-hour front desk attendant and keyed entry to the building for guests.

The Cabana Suites appeals to a younger crowd not only because of its retro style and modern amenities, but also because of its convenient location near the downtown bar scene and smack in the middle of the Fremont East Entertainment District. The suites are even part of downtown’s First Friday art event and the lobby hallway will showcase local art.

The Cabana Suites are just one part of a larger effort to revamp the historic El Cortez hotel. Over the past five years, the hotel has invested $27 million in improvements to the main building, including the addition of air handlers (which greatly reduce the smell of cigarette smoke), restaurant and guest room remodeling, an enlarged promotions booth, a new race and sports book, a weekend party pit on the gaming floor, new carpeting, a new lobby and upgrades to the elevator banks’ wiring and interiors.

The hotel has also dedicated $2.5 million towards building a pool, complete with a firepit and large screen televisions. The pool will replace the parking lot adjacent to the Cabana Suites and is expected to open in 2010.