Q&A: Jon Gray
No one knows the Palms like Jon Gray. The Nevada native worked his way from the front desk to the executive suite under the resort’s original ownership and after taking some time to pursue options outside of Las Vegas, Gray has returned as general manager to oversee an exciting wholesale renovation under way by Station Casinos. We caught up with him to take stock of all the new features at the Palms and look into the hot spot’s bright future.
You returned to the Palms knowing there would be a lot of change. Have those changes and future plans exceeded your expectations?
Yes is the short answer. It’s been incredibly overwhelming in a good way. I came back because we would get to do so many great things but after I really got into it and the project continued to grow, it became even more exciting to understand the vision of (Station Casinos’) Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. Now that we have a few things open, I think I’m more overwhelmed with the response to what we’re doing. The guest response has been incredible.
What features are people talking about most?
First and foremost it’s the, “Oh man, this is a complete overhaul. You guys are not messing around,” people realizing it’s a massive project, or saying they don’t recognize the place. The best form of feedback for me is repeat visitation and we’ve had a lot of guests come back, locals and out-of-towners, multiple times. We have guests who’ve dined at Scotch 80 Prime nine times since it opened.
Scotch 80 Prime is the only restaurant space that’s similar to what was there before, although it’s an entirely new steakhouse experience. Was that always the intent?
Frank and Lorenzo had a strong vision for that venue from a design perspective and having the opportunity to keep (chef) Barry (Dakake) on was just fantastic and he’s a big part of why Scotch 80 is what it is now. The thing I’m most proud of with Barry is that he had a great formula in the past with N9NE Steakhouse and it’s easy to just go back to what you know, but he understood this is a different experience and the menu shows that. It’s the evolution of what his skillset has been. We have a lot of personalities really making that a vibrant place, the place to be.
The art collection there and elsewhere in the casino, such as the central Unknown bar and its Damien Hirst installation, has become quite the spectacle.
We knew we had a significant collection here and a great partnership with Damien and that’s another thing I would say is overwhelming to me, the response to the art program itself. We wanted it to be thoughtful but integrated into the guest experience, not so much an attraction. But it certainly has become a driver. There are people coming here just to see the art.
Speaking of restaurants, you have more new dining experiences coming from acclaimed chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Marc Vetri.
We’ve also got Vandal coming from (the Tao Group). Like the art, it was important to us that the restaurant lineup be just as thoughtfully curated. Michael, Marc and Bobby are all great friends. We started talking and they introduced us to each other because they wanted to have their chef friends under the same roof.
There are continuing renovations at the Pearl theater and the Palms nightlife experience has been revamped with Camden Cocktail Lounge and Apex Social Club.
At the Pearl, we wanted to maintain that level of boutique concert theater. When it’s finished, it will be one of the most state-of-the-art rooms in the country with its LED walls and audio upgrades. We didn’t walk into anything thinking, “Let’s just change some things.” It has to be a different experience. Apex has been completely re-designed from the layout to the color scheme to the art pieces there, to make sure everyone knows this is a different form and not the Palms of old.
And you are just getting started; there’s a lot more to come. Is there one project you’re most excited about?
I hate to cop out on that question but I’m really excited for all the new venues to be open so we can feel that collection of energy. I think it nods to our past but it’s amplified. Once we have the new dayclub and nightclub open with more restaurants and all the room product, that will be where we can create the type of energy we want to be known for. It’s buzzing already and I can’t wait.