Hard Rock’s Center Bar May Return to Virgin Las Vegas

Posted on: August 13, 2023, 01:46h. 

Last updated on: August 13, 2023, 02:33h.

It looks as though the future of the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas may depend in no small part on its past. Cliff Atkinson — the former Fontainebleau Las Vegas president who was installed last month as Virgin Hotels’ new president — says he’s considering bringing back the center bar, the centerpiece of the Hard Rock Hotel from its 1995 grand opening to its quiet 2020 closure.

The original center bar at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is pictured before its 2015 renovation and 2020 removal by the property’s current owner, Virgin Hotels. (Image: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino)

“That’s one (idea) we’re heavily considering,” Atkinson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week. “You don’t want to go back in time, you want to look forward, but that is one thing people just knew, and they associated with our property.

“If you want to lean into a little nostalgia at this property, that’s a great way to do it.”

In other words, Virgin probably goofed by removing it.

Revelers at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s center bar celebrate its closing for a renovation in 2015. (Image: Eater Vegas)

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opened on March 10, 1995 as the world’s first rock n’ roll-themed resort. Despite its off-Strip location — a mile east of the Las Vegas Strip on Harmon Avenue — it was an unmitigated success.

The casino floor’s museum-quality display cases — whose artifacts included a smashed Kurt Cobain guitar and multiple Prince stage outfits — brought seemingly every Gen-X Las Vegas tourist through the door for at least one initial visit.

But it was its center bar — which on Friday and Saturday nights was packed with young people on 360-degree display to the entire casino — that spurred most of its return visits.

Musical Owner Chairs

The property was a joint venture between Hard Rock Café founder Peter Morton and Harveys Lake Tahoe, whose share Morton bought out in 1997. A new 11-story hotel tower was added in 1999, as part of its $100 million initial renovation.

Morton sold the property to Morgans Hotel Group and DLJ Merchant Banking Partners in 2007, prompting its second renovation — to the tune of $750 million.

In 2011, Morgans sold the property to Brookfield Asset Management, which hired Warner Gaming as its operator. Realizing the center bar’s value, Brookfield renovated it, for $3.4 million, four years later. Upgrades were also performed on the resort’s convention facilities and on a number of restaurants.

Brookfield sold the property three years later to Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels, in partnership with a group of investment firms, for a reported $500 million. Virgin then spent an additional $200 million on yet another renovation to the property — one that removed the center bar.

A Rebrand Too Far?

As strongly suggested by the resignation in March 2023 of Virgin Las Vegas Hotels president Richard ‘Boz’ Bosworth after fewer than two years on the job, Virgin has been unable to recapture the original Hard Rock Hotel’s mojo.

In addition to the center bar, Atkinson, as quoted by the R-J, said his new/old plans also include reopening the Hard Rock’s former Body English, which later served as a theater for Magic Mike.