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As Hard Rock Hotel goes dark, Virgin promises bright future

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Christopher DeVargas

The Hard Rock Hotel closed its doors permanently Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. The property will continue its transformation into Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which will open in November.

Published Tue, Feb 4, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Updated Wed, Feb 5, 2020 (3:03 p.m.)

The scene inside the Hard Rock Hotel late Monday afternoon was an unfamiliar sight. 

Not only were the property’s famous rock ‘n roll memorabilia cases empty, but restaurants were closed, TVs were gone from bar areas and only a few lonely patrons were among the teams of movers and employees taking a final photo or two. Unlike the past 25 years, there was no loud music blasting throughout the property just east of the Strip on Harmon Avenue.

A few guests wheeled luggage toward one of the empty hallways. Most of the slot machine seats on the casino floor were empty, a rare sight for a Las Vegas resort.  

Closing to undergo a rebrand, the new Virgin Hotels property will open again before Christmas.

Just after 6 p.m., Richard Bosworth, CEO of Hard Rock owner JC Hospitality, presided over a short door-chaining ceremony to signify the end of a quarter-century run.

“This is something you don’t see every day, chaining a hotel and casino like this,” Bosworth said as he secured the chain. “I want to thank Las Vegas. What a send-off you gave this property this week. It got a proper farewell.”

During a much more raucous atmosphere at the Hard Rock at a farewell party Saturday night, Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels, shared some of the plans for the resort space.

“There’s a legacy here,” Leal said. “I’ve been in this hotel many times and I love this hotel. I’m a little sad, but I’m glad we’re the next brand in line to keep it going and continue to make it relevant. I think we’re the right brand to follow this up because our legacy will be music and entertainment as well.”

When the revamped property opens again — the goal is a November relaunch — the theme will be a “modern desert resort oasis.” 

“Everything will be transformed,” Leal said. “From the rooms to the casino to the pool, everything will be different. It will have a totally different feel. It’s a contemporary theme. It’ll be bright, airy and keeping with today’s customer. It’ll cater to the female traveler, which we do a lot.”

During a farewell address Saturday night to past and current employees and onlookers, Bosworth said some of the Hard Rock’s memorabilia will transfer to the new property, though much of it won’t.

He said there hasn’t been a decision made yet on what will happen with a portion of the items. While the property won’t look the same, Leal said it’s a priority for the new space to be a leader within the Las Vegas live entertainment scene.

“Expect a revival of the entertainment piece of it to a huge degree,” Leal said. “Hopefully, it will be revered again as the top hotel in the market for entertainment.”

About 92% of the Hard Rock’s 1,800 employees stayed on until the property went dark Monday. Those employees have the option to return, according to a Hard Rock spokeswoman.

“We have a strong alumni base,” Bosworth said. “There have been 14,000 people over the years to work at this property. Thousands of employees came back over the course of the weekend.”

A group of investors, including Bosworth and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, purchased the Hard Rock in 2018.

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