The cinematic quality of the long journey to opening the doors of Fontainebleau Las Vegas was not lost on Jeff Soffer, the resort’s chairman and CEO.
“It could be a very good book or a very good movie,” Soffer says of the dramatic sequence of events surrounding one of the biggest comeback stories in hospitality history.
Intended to be a sister property to the legendary Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel – the southeastern stomping ground of Rat Pack legends like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., considered America’s first mega-resort – groundbreaking for the Fontainebleau Las Vegas was laid in 2007 under Soffer’s leadership.
The hotel tower was completed in 2008. The following year, banks failed, financing dried up, lawsuits were filed, and construction stopped. What was planned to be the tallest tower in the state of Nevada at 67 stories remained in limbo for twelve years and was 70 percent complete. It was a costly reminder of the Great Recession that hit Southern Nevada hard. The unfinished structure was seen as an eyesore by those who encountered it day after day. Many believed it would never be finished and would eventually be demolished.
Several owners came and went before Soffer and Fontainebleau Development, in partnership with Koch Real Estate Investments, reacquired the property in 2021. Plans were unveiled, construction began again and the 3,644-room resort will finally open on December 13, 2023, ahead of Fontainebleau Miami’s 70th anniversary in 2024.
“You could be the best businessman in the world, but if you don’t have good timing…” Soffer says of the project’s long dormant period. In the end, “everything just kind of fell into place.”
When Soffer found out that Fontainebleau Las Vegas had reopened, one of his first calls was to Miami-based hospitality entrepreneur and restaurateur David Grutman, who was about to sign a long-awaited deal with another Las Vegas casino resort.
“He said, ‘Don’t sign this deal.’ I will get the Fontainebleau Las Vegas back. I’m going to need you,” says Grutman, whose celebrity-popular Miami venues include the Goodtime Hotel, LIV nightclub, and restaurants Komodo, Papi Steak, Strawberry Moon, Swan, Gekkō and The Key Club.
“It took me two years to get to this point — my deal was done and ready to go,” says Grutman, who worked on the original plans for Fontainebleau Las Vegas 16 years ago. But [Soffer] was the man who gave me my chance. My first job as a bartender was at his dad’s restaurant in his mall. When I opened my first nightclub, he made me his partner at LIV in 2008. He gave me a platform to do what I do. There’s only one man in the world who could make me not sign that deal, and that was Jeff Soffer.”
Through a strategic partnership, Grutman’s Groot Hospitality will bring Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s LIV nightclub and two of its restaurants, Komodo and Papi Steak, to the desert when the $3.7 billion Las Vegas resort opens. New to the portfolio is the LIV Beach Dayclub, which will open in spring 2024.
These venues will be supersized in Vegas. This will be the third location for Southeast Asian restaurant Komodo, following Miami and Dallas. According to the Restaurant Business Top 100 ranking of largest independent restaurants, the Miami location was No. 1 in the country in 2022 with $41 million in sales and 285,000 meals served. At the helm of Papi Steak is the charismatic David “Papi” Einhorn, whose white-gloved, Louis inspired by the Marsellus Wallace briefcase pulp Fiction, the Beef Case is like bottle service for a steak. If someone orders a $1,000 55-ounce Wagyu tomahawk, they’ll get to see a 60-second show complete with sparklers, an entrance song and lasers to present the piece of meat in a gold-lined, bedazzled briefcase . These antics amount to big business: It’s estimated that Papi Steak, which seats just 93, brought in more than $24 million last year. The Las Vegas version will be almost three times the size of the original. Grutman’s restaurants are frequented by celebrities such as David Beckham, Drake, Rihanna, Tom Brady, Anitta, Maluma, Justin Bieber and others. Both Komodo and Papi Steak will be among 36 new restaurants and bars opening in Fontainebleau Las Vegas. The resort sits on just 25 acres, which is a compact footprint for a Las Vegas casino. It is vertically integrated – the casino has a 42-foot ceiling height – and the restaurants and other amenities are separate from the gaming action.
“Las Vegas has matured a lot since this project began,” says Soffer. “People want to see, be seen and entertained. LIV and LIV Beach won’t be the biggest [nightclub and dayclub] in Vegas, but they will have the best experience.” Soffer also points out that everything at Fontainebleau Las Vegas will be of the highest luxury standards.
LIV opened in Miami in 2008, the same year that XS debuted at Wynn Las Vegas, ushering in the megaclub era. The EDM DJ boom was to follow. The two cities have long been neck and neck, with Las Vegas leading the way with new eclectic venues, the luxury of space and, most importantly, the multi-billion dollar casino business that drives the club industry and the $60 million in DJ compensation drives, is ahead. No new resort has been built on the Strip since Resorts World opened in 2021. LIV will embody how Las Vegas audiences want to consume their entertainment now.
Soffer and Grutman chose a stadium-like design by superstar architect/designer David Rockwell with no poor seating or obstructed visibility at either LIV, the multi-story, 50,000-square-foot, 62-table nightclub, or the adjacent LIV Beach, the 35,000-square-foot day club . LIV Beach offers everything you’d find in a nightclub, just water and sunshine, with six bungalows with private pools.
Both clubs will be built around the DJ and stage tables, which are intended to be the most coveted seats and will cost up to $25,000. But unlike most Las Vegas clubs, where the general admission crowd doesn’t even get to see the DJ booth – and the best views are reserved for those who buy five-figure tables – at LIV the average attendee gathers in the middle of it all Club the action. Both LIV and LIV Beach will have a capacity of approximately 2,000 people, which is half the Strip standard.
“I’m in the entertainment business and we’re having a party and I want you to be part of that party whether you’re downstairs or upstairs at the bar, or you’re in a skybox, or you’re there a table next to that DJ,” says Grutman. He also promises to do something different musically, with a “new, fresh bunch of DJs who have been making a lot of noise around the world but haven’t made that much noise in Las Vegas.” No doubt they’ll be headlining others too Win nightclubs in the city.
“There is no more brutal hospitality city in the world than Las Vegas. We don’t have an inch to screw up,” Grutman says.
A version of this story appears in the September 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to login.