I researched online and found a Facebook page plus other sites that spoke about the development. I began to gather information about the place and discovered that the project was a partnership between the owners of the old Horizon Casino and Warner Hospitality, a gaming and resort management company that includes the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas and Sioux City in its portfolio of properties. The new facility is actually a $60 million renovation of the Horizon. The new resort has 539 hotel rooms and suites, several restaurants and bars, an incomparable retail store, and what is reported as the largest outdoor pool in South Lake Tahoe. The resort also has live entertainment venues, both indoor and out, plus a 25,000 square foot casino. Sounded like a great place to visit!
I learned the renovation is taking place in phases. A few of the areas were not complete, but the grand opening happened with great fanfare on January 28, 2015.
I was interested in the venue because I am a fan of the Hard Rock vibe, style, and brand. Furthermore, my husband, Dino, son Jordan, and I go skiing in Tahoe every winter. This year our first skiing opportunity didn’t occur until spring break. There is not as much snow as usual, but we knew that our favorite resort, Heavenly Mountain Resort, would be open so we decided to make reservations for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe for March 22 through 26. We were looking forward to the fact that less than two months had passed since it opened, so the resort would be pretty darn spanking new.
One of the big reasons Dino and I like Hard Rock is because of the quality of their music. Dino is a deejay and has a sense about musical style, production quality, and playlist choices. Whenever we’ve been in them, Hard Rock hotels and resorts excel in each of these areas. They play the right music, at the right volume, with the right production quality. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe summer series of concerts and festivals will be staged in an amphitheater with a capacity of 7,500. The resort also has a smaller more intimate performing venue with a capacity of 500 called Vinyl, which reminded us of intimate performance venues in San Francisco, like the Fillmore.
We arrived late Monday afternoon to find a lobby area that was beautifully designed with sleek trendy furnishings, beautiful indirect lighting in a Las Vegas-type sumptuous style. Like all the Hard Rock hotels, one of the great things about Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe is a marvelous Memorabilia collection featuring such entertainment icons as Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Madonna — more than 100 items spread throughout the property. I learned that the precious displays are chosen, arranged, rotated, and displayed with great care under the supervision of a professional curator that is assigned to each Hard Rock Hotel & Casino site. One of the most iconic items at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe is a prominent exhibit displaying one of Michael Jackson’s bejeweled gloves.
The entire property is continually bathed in music. We were given a room in the Tahoe tower and stayed in a King bedroom, featuring beautifully decorated and completely remodeled bathrooms. The room wasn’t huge but was lavishly furnished and equipped with a balcony. The view from our fifth floor was filled with mountains and trees.
We went to dinner at Fire Break Kitchen & Bar. I had the Cedar Plank Salmon that was cooked to perfection and topped by a sweet glaze flavored with honey, mustard, rosemary, and lemon. We shared a House Salad that was incredibly fresh, topped with candied pine nuts plus brittle and balsamic vinaigrette. Dino had a French Dip sandwich with slow roasted prime rib, caramelized onions, and horseradish sauce. He declared the sandwich delicious and the flavors melted together between that gourmet bun. Jordan had Flatbread Pizza with sausage, balsamic shallots, mozzarella, and chives. He gave me a taste. Wonderful!
The Fire Break décor was as tasty as its food with beautiful fire pits and tables decorated with lines of fire. The tables were made of reclaimed wood. A stacked stone bar featured pictures on the walls of snowboarder Shaun White. We had several meals in the Fire Break and the food was excellent in each case. The portions were good, prices reasonable, and the freshness of everything extraordinary. The wait staff was attentive beyond what we could have expected for a restaurant that had only been open for a month.
Tuesday morning we acted like rock stars by sleeping in until 9:00 and then ordering room service. We relaxed and simply enjoyed each other’s company. We decided later to hit the casino and walk around town. This being Tahoe, the outside temperature was a little chilly, but the day was sunny. We spent some time walking around the facility, looking at memorabilia, and visiting the store. I was sorry to pass on The Oyster Bar restaurant in the middle of the casino area; the menu looked amazing as did the inviting décor and open kitchen. However, Dino isn’t a lover of seafood as much as me. I wanted to sneak in there at some point but a good opportunity for doing so never arose. The menu carried a variety of seafood choices including my favorite cioppino.
We also noticed a coffee grab-and-go, called Fuel, featuring juices, pastries, fruits, and salads.
The Center Bar was a cool hangout. It was like a nightclub, with cool blue uplighting and backlighting. It looked like a fun place to gather with a group or have an intimate encounter. Videos were playing in the background. The bar felt like it was in the middle of all the casino action.
We walked through the adjoiningneighborhood and checked out the little boutique shops and vendors located near the Heavenly Gondola. We cruised around the various points of interest. Jordan went skating on the ice rink.
In late afternoon, we returned to thehotel. It was my birthday so we decided to check out the fancy restaurant — a steakhouse called Park Prime, named for the Park Family Ranch that still owned the surrounding property and who helped select the restaurant’s menu and décor. Even though it was indoors, the design of the place gave the subtle impression that you were outdoors with trendy lights hanging from a wooden plank ceiling. The graniteetched bar was a thing of beauty. The tables were made of slate and granite with leather chairs, hardwood floors, and walls made of charred wood and old style brick.
We spoke with Chef Jon Snyder and learned that he had been raised in the Tahoe area and as a child worked in his familyowned seafood restaurant, which is where his passion for food started. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of New York, he worked at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, followed by nine years at the Bellagio, and then as chef at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. His wife is a Tahoe native; the new resort casino afforded them both with an opportunity to return to Tahoe and to their roots.
Chef Snyder said that his recipes utilized prime quality steaks from a famous Midwestern boutique ranch called Creekstone Farms that produces some of the highest quality beef in America. The menu items were the results of a team process involving creating, testing, and tasting. The menus are seasonal, incorporating produce from local farms and wines from regional vineyards.
Park Prime starters and appetizers are large enough to share and served family style, so we ordered a couple. I finally got my oysters that were served with a wonderful Champagne Strawberry Mignonette dipping sauce. We also had Soy Cured Salmon with Asian pear and Herb crème-fraiche. For his entrée, Dino ordered the Filet Mignon. Dino is a connoisseur of fine steak and said that the filet was cooked to perfection. My entrée was the Sea Bass, which had been recommended to me. It was miso glazed and served with Sesame Shiitake Mushrooms. It was a buttery rich delicious fish, and when paired with the mushroom sauce, was heavenly. My non-fish-eating husband sampled it and even he said it melted in his mouth.
We ordered dessert, since it was my birthday. Dino is a chocolate lover, so we of course had to have the Molten Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream. For me, the waiter recommended Lemon Blueberry Cake with Marzipan Filling. The recommendation was a good one; the cake was delicious — light and fluffy — with the perfect amount of sweetness and fruit. It paired perfectly with my coffee.
You can’t spend days in a casino without hitting the tables. I played my favorite games: Blackjack, Three card Poker, and Quarter Slots. Dino played the Dollar Slots. We broke even and had a great time. We weren’t there too long because only one of us could play at a time; we took turns hanging out with our son, who can’t wait till he’s old enough to hit those slots himself!
The next day was beautiful and sunny. We rode the gondola to the top, rented the skis, and took pictures from the observation deck. It was perfect weather for skiing in light jackets, so we went to Heavenly where we had easy access to slopes. They had been making snow all year. At the 10,000-foot level there was a lot of snow and many of the slopes were open. Jordan kept going after Mom tired out. Jordan regards skiing as the best part of any trip to Tahoe.
We arrived back at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe tired and refreshed, but too pooped to gamble. We returned to the Fire Break where Dino ordered a burger, which he declared to be one of the best he ever ate. He is the plain burger type, no cheese even, but this one was charbroiled to perfection. Even the bun was a culinary marvel. I noted they had over 20 different beers on tap and an immense list of bottled beers too. I ordered Butternut Squash Soup with Mushrooms and an Ahi Burger. The Ahi was premium grade so I ordered it rare. It was a great treat. Jordan ordered Chicken Nuggets off the children’s menu.
We checked out the next day. For $50 we could have stayed until 3:00. We needed to get home, but the offer was something that I would have often taken advantage of in the past.
We’re planning to go back. This summer they are hosting the 3rd Annual Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival that we’ll go to, or else to one of the other outdoor concerts. We might also attend one of the adults-only pool parties. We will be able to do that because Dino and I are planning the summer trip as an adult-only getaway.