The opening of Caesars Palace on 5 August 1966 saw founder Jay Sarno make an extravagant entrance in a flower-strewn chariot, little knowing his Roman Empire-themed resort on the Las Vegas Strip would set a tone of flamboyance for decades to come.
Credited with laying the groundwork for the grandiose mega-hotels which came to define the city, Jay Sarno was an inveterate risk-taker whose latest venture was the most expensive casino ever to be built. According to author David G. Schwartz – whose book Grandissimo examines Sarno and his legacy – the million-dollar opening gala was set to be a three-day event, in which “libations, feasting, casting of dice, spinning of wheels, turning of cards, and revelries of entertainment” would occur, with the “orgy of excitement” not due to fizzle until sunrise, August 8th. Needless to say, it all went off with a Vegas-style bang and today, 50 years after those nights of Roman-inspired debauchery, the resort is still relishing its status as the most storied hotel on the Strip.
Despite initial financial concerns, Caesars was an immediate hit with the masses. Built with the aim of making everyone feel like royalty, it wasn’t long before the 14-storey, 700-room hotel was packed with paying guests. As the weeks went by, word got around, and the curious piled in just to experience dinner at the infamous Bacchanal Room, where cocktail waitresses dressed as Cleopatra fed dangling grapes to eager diners. With its over-the-top fountains, swimming pools, statues and waterfalls, the palatial venue was fast becoming a runaway success.
But all of this was nothing compared to the legendary tales and architectural developments that would unfold over the following years. Just 16 months after opening, the hotel was the site of one of Las Vegas’ most notorious incidents, when daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knieval attempted to jump over the hotel’s fountain, with almost-fatal consequences. His crash led to multiple broken bones and a 29-day coma, and brought a considerable amount of attention to both himself and the resort.
The next few years saw the first of many structural additons, with the opening of Cleopatra’s Barge among them. An elaborate replica of a type of vessel used to transport the royalty of Egypt along the River Nile, the barge was launched as a classic Las Vegas cocktail lounge, and today is home to The Gossy Room where Brit singer Matt Goss performs a regular weekend show.
Cleopatra’s Barge was built in 1970, around the same time as the new Centurion Tower, which became the world’s first Nobu Hotel in 2013. More accommodation wings were added over the following decades, including 16-storey and 22-storey high-rises in 1974 and 1979 respectively, and the lavish, $495 million Palace Tower in 1997.
Other expansions included the Forum Shops in 1992, and the 4,000-seat Colosseum in 2003, which replaced the fabled Circus Maximus showroom – home to hundreds of the world’s best-known entertainers over the decades, including Frank Sinatra, David Copperfield, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland and Bette Midler, to name but five.
Today, Caesars Palace continues to evolve, with 2015’s reimagining of the old Roman Tower into the new Julius Tower the latest in a long line of renovations. Part of an ongoing billion dollar investment, the new rooms and suites are decidedly contemporary in feel, and a step removed from the more classically styled guestrooms elsewhere. Also part of the current round of openings is the arrival into Las Vegas of MR CHOW; a theatrical, high-end Chinese restaurant specialising in Beijing cuisine, helmed by Chinese visual artist and restaurateur Michael Chow. With a premium Champagne trolley and what can only be described as a giant flying saucer that rises and falls from the ceiling at regular intervals, you’re undoubtedly in for more than your average plate of sweet and sour pork.
It’s all par for the course when it comes to Las Vegas, and you can certainly expect Caesars’ 50th birthday celebrations to be on a scale unsurpassed by previous events. While all the final details are yet to be revealed, the shindigs include a celebrity-studded party hosted by Gordon Ramsay – who also celebrates his own 50th birthday this year – followed by an anniversary gala attended by a host of living legends with ties to the hotel. We’re still waiting for our invite…
Tempted to visit Caesars Palace in their 50th anniversay year? We operate daily flights to Las Vegas from London Gatwick airport, and you can book your stay at Caesars directly with Virgin Holidays.
Been to Caesars Palace in the past? Help other travellers make the most of their trip by sharing your favourite tips and recommendations in the comments below.