Detroit’s new casinos: The MGM Grand

Most people don’t think of Detroit when they think of a tourist destination. The city has suffered considerably in the last century – much of the population has moved into the outlying suburbs, crime has surged and empty buildings dot its cold, Michigan skyline.

The last several years have brought significant effort to revitalize the downtown area, however. Led by reconstruction of the Tigers’ and Lions’ stadiums, several pockets in the inner city are once again starting to flourish. Events like the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) are perennial favorites among visitors while Hockeytown and The Old Shillelagh keep drinkers out late at night.

In addition to the new entertainment percolating in the city, several casinos have invested heavily in the downtown area, with two, the MGM Grand and the Motor City just finishing construction on two new huge, luxury casinos and hotels.

Beginning with the MGM, these articles will highlight the new properties, their features and impacts on downtown Detroit.

The MGM Grand Detroit – an introduction

A sister casino to the MGM in Las Vegas, Detroit’s new luxury casino was completed in the fourth quarter of 2007. It’s creators have designed the property with Las Vegas in mind – central to the entire experience is the 250,000 square foot gaming floor, around which are sprinkled several eating and drinking venues, from the posh Best-of-Detroit rated Saltwater restaurant to the sultry Ignite lounge just above the gaming floor.

Gadling will cover the main aspects of the casino in four categories: Gaming, Dining, Nightlife and Hotel.The MGM Grand Detroit — Gaming

Ninety table games and a lifetime of slots cover the circular gaming floor centered around a raised bar and lounge area. Standard blackjack and craps tables are laid out in pockets around the floor in a pleasant, warm atmosphere. Visiting on a Thursday evening, the minimum bet on most tables was about fifteen dollars.

A high stakes room is set off the main floor, where high-rollers can play the standard games at higher dollar increments. Local celebrities like Richard Hamilton are apparently often seen here, although none were around when Gadling visited.

Additionally a poker room with eight tables lies above the casino floor next to Ignite lounge.

The MGM Grand Detroit – Dining

Several dining options circumferentially ring the gaming floor hosting a variety of budgets and experiences.

Least expensive and most accessible is the Breeze (pictured) dining center, which is a dining-hall-esque combination of several stations serving up American, Asian and Italian cuisines. Visitors can quickly review, order and pay for selections then meet in the center of the section to dine together. This section is fairly small, perhaps because it is the least expensive (and therefore least profitable) dining location. A meal will cost approximately ten dollars.

A larger and more upscale version of the Breeze is the Palette Dining Studio, which is basically a Las Vegas style all you can eat high-end buffet. Selections cover a wider spectrum from the Breeze, with the addition of seafood and lighter fare. The Palette is laid out in a more comfortable, relaxing atmosphere, than its smaller cousin with sensible decoration and a sprawling floor-plan. Visitors here are more likely interested in enjoying and taking time through their buffet meal rather than immediately returning to the gaming floor. The Palette is also more expensive, with meals in the twenty five dollar range.

Wolfgang Puck Grille is the celebrity chef’s take on the typical “bar and grill”. Dark, wooden décor and furniture lit by warm ambient lighting makes the restaurant a cozy escape from the bustling casino floor not steps away. A large, mostly open kitchen lines the back of the section, where you can see the chef and his workers buzzing along at their jobs and apparently Mr. Puck himself stops in for a bite every now and then. Fare is standard bar and grill food, with an average entree costing between twenty and thirty dollars.

At the higher end of dining experiences, Bourbon Steak (pictured) is Michael Mina’s standard steakhouse with a twist. While one can order the classic prime rib or steak off the menu, small adventures like duck fat fries and truffle macaroni and cheese woo the diner with a little bit of off the beaten path adventure. Bourbon Steak is roughly divided from the bar in front to the main dining room in back. Between the two sections, large glass walls storing the restaurant’s extensive wine selection form a maze of corridors, in the center of which is an exclusive private dining room for VIPs. Entrees at Bourbon Steak start around twenty dollars a plate, with select cuts of meat costing significantly more, depending on the market value.

Similarly, Saltwater is Mina’s high-end seafood establishment at the MGM Detroit. The restaurant is designed in soft flowing waves of blue and glass, setting the diner at ease as she decides between entrees such as Lobster Pot Pie, Caviar Parfait, Tartare of Ahi Tuna and Mussel Soufflé. Arguably the most expensive restaurant on the premises, Saltwater plates range from twenty five dollars to well over fifty.

The MGM Grand Detroit – Nightlife

After a hard day of gaming and indulging at Bourbon Steak, many choose to unwind at one of the MGM’s five drinking stations.

Most accessible is U-Me-Drink at the center of the casino floor, where you can continue to gamble with digital games embedded into the bar surface. Surrounding the bar in tiers, several lounge areas sprawl outward from the core and into the casino floor. At the perimeter of the bar, large slabs of composite material silently slide around from the ceiling; combined with a low wall around the bar they are meant to partially enclose U-Me-Drink away from the gaming floor while still allowing one to watch over the gaming in earnest. This is a great place to get to get a martini, take a break from feeding the slot machines and relax on one of the plush couches circling the bar.

At the periphery of the casino floor is Agua (pictured), a Latin inspired bar featuring a shimmering, multi tiled, adaptable ceiling that moves with the volume of the crowd. Shotgun microphones run around the perimeter of the bar and as revelers shout in their direction, the ceiling flows to register the noise. This can quickly turn the entire bar into a shouting match as everyone stares at the cei
ling in delight. Waitresses in skimpy blue uniforms strut around the bar serving beer, cocktails or one of 20 different tequilas or 35 different rums.

At the other end of the casino, Int Ice hosts a piano-bar style atmosphere centered around a grand bar and floral arrangement. Live acts are scheduled daily starting at 8PM. When Gadling stopped by the MGM for a visit, one of the local owners was camped out at the end of the bar enjoying himself.

Across from the poker room was Gadling’s favorite bar on the entire property, Ignite (pictured). The interior is designed to symbolize the contrast between fire and ice and most adornments have something to do with either of the two categories. On entry, a bar covered with a sheet of ice greets every visitor, while against the back wall a bank of natural-gas lamps is routinely extinguished as icy water flows from the ceiling. Rows of linear natural-gas lamps are integrated into several of the walls, acting as much of the ambient lighting as well as atmosphere. At the edge of the bar facing the street are a series of large, circular, rotating couches that can easily fit two or three visitors as they stare out into the cold streets of Detroit.

Additionally, Ignite is host to specially blended Makers Mark Whiskey, exclusively made for the MGM Casino. On the way out, make sure to watch your feet as you get on the elevator as projected flames follow your footsteps around.

Finally, the nightclub V is on the main floor just off the casino. V caters to more of a drinking and dancing crowd with hired dancers stalking the floors and plenty of space to get it on. At the back of the bar is a private VIP room with bar, where celebrities like your favorite bloggers at Gadling can escape their fawning fans on the dance floor.

The MGM Grand Detroit – Hotel

One of the MGM’s main attractive points is the superior quality of its new hotel. The luxury property is host to four hundred guest rooms, including nine luxury suites and fifty six corner suites at the top of the building.

Each room is tastefully decorated with Wenge furniture, 42″ flat screen televisions and high-tech “concierge” telephones, where visitors can go as far as checking in for their flights with the advanced interface. Oversize bathrooms taking up almost 25% of each guest rooms feature walk in showers with double shower heads and 15″ plasma televisions integrated. Deluxe beds are outfitted with double-sided Serta pillow-top mattresses with more luxurious sheets, comforters and more pillows than you can shake a stick at.

The real jaw-dropping aspect section of the hotel, however, is the spa. Twenty thousand feet of the property are dedicated to the Immerse Spa, where visitors can retire do after a long day of gaming. In addition to the standard spa treatment with six bungalows, a salon, exercise facility and vanity areas, Immerse features a giant infinity pool on its bottom floor, tastefully surrounded with natural materials on the walls, giving the feeling of true integration with nature. Not something you would expect in the center of the casino.

Around the perimeter of the pool are small rotating couch-bungalows that are partially covered for privacy. Visitors can thus easily lounge around poolside and escape the hubub of the casino in complete tranquility, a truly admirable feat from a design perspective.

Rooms at the hotel run around 200$/night, while a small additional spa fee is required for guests.