Outside of Vegas, I try to get the most bang for my buck. California casino? Where I go is based on the deals I find rummaging through my inbox. Reno, Laughlin? If the whole thing’s not comped, forget it. Even during my one trip to Macau, the value proposition was at the top of my list.
But in Vegas, something special overcomes me. The moment I pull up to Mirage, or Bellagio, or Wynn, I don’t give a flying fuck about my wallet, bank account, or assets; for the next couple days, I’m living a goddamn fantasy. No other place in the world inspires careless frivolity and financial irresponsibility the way Vegas does.
“Hold my beer.”
-Encore Boston Harbor
By the numbers, Encore is almost entirely a local’s joint—298 square feet of casino for every room sitting atop it. Compare that to Encore Las Vegas at about 34 square feet of casino per room. Clearly, Boston Harbor was built for the day trip mass market who’s not on a vacation/splurge-y budget. This means daily promotions, slot tournaments, giveaways, shuttle busses, blue hair, oxygen tanks, sometimes a dude asking you for money, a meth head here and there, and a buffet to comp away. And because that doesn’t exactly inspire the fantasy that Vegas does, it also means astute accounting of my spending and a search for real value. After already paying an average $645 per night for the first two opening nights, I was seriously considering getting most my meals at the Costco across the street.
But then the Harbor Shuttle docked…
I spent the night before Encore’s opening downtown. Boston is awesome and especially friendly to the solo traveler. As I ventured around the city, the buzz felt palpable and there always seemed to be a conversation about Encore within earshot.
“It opens tomorrow!”
“Are we going tomorrow?!”
“There’s gonna’ be a Wynn joint 10 minutes from us!”
The next day, I took a cab a few blocks down from my hotel to World Trade Center in Seaport where I boarded the Premium Harbor Shuttle with only a few other patrons. The captain saw I had luggage, took my name down to inform the hotel of my arrival, and assisted me with loading. When we made a stop at Long Wharf, the ferry got to full capacity and people in line had to wait for the next boat. Tip: board at World Trade Center.
The shuttle is beautiful with layers of creams and whites on its teak deck—it’s essentially a small yacht.
Sadly, I predict an uncertain future for this service, at least as its current business model. With its relatively small capacity bringing a majority of looky-loos in from ports downtown, I can’t imagine the shuttle itself being a lucrative initiative. Maybe it’ll continue as a loss leader for its novelty. Regardless, it’s the coolest way to get to Encore and makes the resort feel like it’s on its own island. Even if you have more convenient ways of getting here, it’s worth planning around taking the Harbor Shuttle.
I was first off the boat where I was met by the front desk manager, a concierge, and a bellhop. “Mr. E! You are our first hotel guest to arrive via Harbor Shuttle!” The rest of the patrons awkwardly stood around uncertain where to go. The captain ran up, turned to everyone standing behind me and said, “He’s a hotel guest. The rest of you have to wait in [the hour and a half long!] line.” I never at once felt more special/embarrassed as my own entourage parted a sea of people and escorted me into Wynn’s latest property.
Check in was a breeze. The manager introduced me to a greeter who walked me over to someone at the front desk. Water was given immediately as check-in proceedings began. Meanwhile, the bellhop waited behind me with my luggage. While I had only paid for the cheapest Premier King room, they upgraded me to a Premier Harbor View King. I suspect this had less to do with their good graces and more with them still placing finishing touches on the rooms on the other side of the building.
The bellhop and I made our way up to floor 26, the top floor, only to find people in there! They were two executives in full suits: “Our apologies, Mr. E. Just making sure your room is perfect!” one said as he was leaving. Creepy level of service—I love it!
Standard accommodations are classic Wynn Las Vegas which have been reviewed extensively so I’ll let the pictures and video do most the talking.
I’m told I’m weird for fully unpacking at hotels.
The main living area. Lichtensteins replace the Matisse prints found in Vegas.
The in-room iPad displayed a personalized welcome message, allowed me to book reservations throughout the resort, and controlled room features such as lighting and curtains. Despite being the most intuitive system I’ve seen, I let the Amazon Echo on the other side of the bed do most the work.
I really appreciated the Nespresso coffeemaker and ceramic coffee set.
Work desk and branded knickknacks!
Water pressure in the shower was excellent though it could get a touch hotter. Pressure in the sinks was violent spraying water even when cracked just a touch; I got soaked every time I washed my hands. The tub is unusable for taller-than-average folks.
I’m a sucker for collar stays. The stain remover handily took care of a day-old blood spot caused by a hangnail rubbing against my white shirt. Basic toiletries are labeled in Chinese as well.
It’s a stunning space. While there are portions of it that feel rather large, they’ve managed to make the two-story casino comfortable and intimate. The chandeliers that formerly hung at Encore Las Vegas work beautifully as they’re suspended at different heights to bring depth to the otherwise cavernous area.
Poker, high limit, and private salons occupy the second floor. The poker room had 88 tables, all of them consistently full. I was told the demand for poker has been so high that they’ll be adding more tables. The high limit room is a gorgeous space akin to the room at Wynn Las Vegas. It’s accessed by two sweeping staircases on one end and by the guest room elevators on the other.
Super-special “secret” entrance from the guest room elevator lobby on the mezzanine level. This made it very convenient to dodge the crowds and donate large quantities of cash to Wynn Resorts.
The only photo I have of the high limit room is a very blurry, very drunk selfie.
Main floor minimums during the day were $25 at most blackjack and craps tables. All the blackjack I saw paid 3:2. I was told that $15 tables with 6:5 are somewhere on property, but I never saw them. Table minimums were $100 in high limit with a few higher baccarat tables scattered around. I loved that, unlike Vegas where most all high limit rooms are exclusively baccarat, blackjack, and roulette, Encore had two craps, two pai gow tiles, and two pai gow poker tables there as well.
As night fell, tables throughout the casino shot up to $100 and, considering that there was barely a seat left in the house, they could have easily gone higher. Oddly enough, many games in high limit still remained at $100. Call it a relative “bargain.”
Drink service was abysmal but that was to be expected opening night and potentially for weeks or even months after. I went in with the expectation—as one does in California casinos—of paying for drinks while playing. When I sat on the main floor, I was pleasantly surprised to find that beer and wine were complimentary. All the patrons at the table were quick to remind me that tipping is expected.
Hey. No shit.
I thought comping only beer and wine was state regulation, but then I scored free liquor in high limit. It’s one thing when Vegas won’t let you order Macallan 12 outside the fancy rooms, but it’s tacky as hell that a Wynn joint won’t even comp liquor on the main floor, especially at those minimums.
Every dealer was awesome. Most were pulled from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods and many are making a much longer commute to work for Wynn Resorts.
The beautiful atmosphere and energy, especially in the high limit room, helped ease the sting of a $3000 loss playing six hours of pai gow poker. They rated me for only three hours (probably because pai gow is such a slow game) but at about double my average bet. Odd, but I’ll take. A host introduced himself but couldn’t get any room charges comped off because nobody knows how to do anything on opening night. Barely a week after checking out though, I got an email for two comped nights without limitations. Going back is definitely in the cards.
(Somewhat of a digression: I tried to parlay this at the Vegas properties which I haven’t played at in years. After all, these are comped nights at a resort that’s almost always double the nightly rate of its Nevada counterparts. A host in Vegas looked over my Boston action, said that the same play could undoubtedly get me some free nights, but that she couldn’t do anything up front as the system wouldn’t allow her. I’m not sure if I believe that, but the cross-marketing/lack thereof between the properties is something to consider. I’m sure they’ll smooth this out in the future.)
Bars and Restaurants…
There’s no shortage of dining and drinking options at Encore—certainly more than local casinos in my area. I tried to hit as many as I could but I also hate writing reviews on food and drink because I’m not a self-important asshole Yelper. Here are some quick takes.
I had opening day lunch at Red 8 and was amazed at how well a restaurant that had literally been open to the public for two hours was running. The orange chicken, fried rice, and pork buns were all delicious and the service spot on.
Opening night dinner was at Rare. Steaks, appetizers, and sides were fantastic. The room is fairly cavernous and lit rather brightly. Service was good though the kitchen exceptionally slow. Maybe this had to do with the hullabaloo of Elaine Wynn sitting across from us, maybe not.
Garden Café is a beautiful spot overlooking the atrium.
It, and the adjacent Garden Lounge, share the same design language as the gorgeous high limit slots room at Wynn Las Vegas—a beautiful juxtaposition of lime greens and creams. My salmon burger was delicious as was the chicken sandwich I had the next day. Fries cost extra which is a load of shit (is that an Encore thing or a New England/Massachusetts thing?). Service was prompt, but again, the kitchen was slow both days.
On Deck Burger Bar was fun and lively. I loved dining while overlooking the casino action. The burger was solid, fries were extra (WTF?!), and again, service was prompt but the kitchen seemed understaffed. The table next to us had a fit and asked to speak with the manager. Jesus Christ let a 5000-employee joint be open for like a week before throwing a bitchfit.
Mystique is a great spot to grab drinks and people watch. I got fucking trashed and made new friends here. No, not like the fleeting kind you meet traveling and never see again. Like, we exchanged numbers and follow each other on Instragram and I can’t wait to see them again.
Center Bar is a beautiful spot eager to serve up free cocktails so long as it even looks like you’re playing one of the video poker machines. Say hi Mike!
I didn’t bother looking at pay tables because I’m sure you’d be playing at Sam’s Town anyway if you really cared. Two gripes: 1) Last call is 2am but Wynn Resorts is allowed to serve gamblers until 4am. That’s cool and all but Center Bar closed just after 1am on Monday night when TONS of people were trying to order any drink, free or otherwise. Maybe they were just setting a precedent for Monday hours. 2) While I appreciate Center Bar’s and many of the other bars’ initiative to support local breweries, sometimes you just want something easy and predictable; a Bud, Coors, or Michelob was actually hard to come by.
Waterfront served me a tequila and champagne cocktail with a giant slice of watermelon in it and I’m wet just writing about it.
Garden Lounge is Encore’s premier mixology spot. Great atmosphere, bartenders, and drinks with a live pianist during evening hours. I found myself going back again and again.
I don’t remember what I had at Fratelli (I might’ve been drunk) but I remember the bartenders were excellent. One of them told me Nick Varano insisted he have his restaurant at the casino’s north end in homage to Boston’s famous North End Italian district. Pretty cool.
The Harborwalk is awesome. Opening day had a barbecue feast set up on the main lawn and a beer garden with cornhole and foosball. The next day was just the beer garden with cornhole.
I hope that as weather permits, they keep doing things like this. Unlike the abomination that is the Encore Player’s Lounge in Vegas, this was unpretentious fun in a beautiful outdoor space.
On my last night, I had the cheapest meal of the entire trip: an old fashioned doughnut and decaf coffee from Dunkin’. Yeah, now I totally get the hype. Fuck Starbucks.
Service (For Now)…
Service intends to be perfect and it’ll undoubtedly get there, but it’ll be a few weeks/perhaps months before the polish and transparency reaches Wynn Las Vegas levels. Upon departure at the porte-cochere, I had to manage a couple curbs with my heavy luggage. Bellhops and greeters would see this and trample over each other to help. Believe me, the sentiment is appreciated, but the lack of communication shows how well-oiled the operation in Las Vegas is. I wound up managing the curbs myself while the personnel fussed over who should help.
I found that employees frequently policed each other. I heard someone at the front desk reprimand the lobby greeter for not bringing a guest water. Yet again, when a host at Garden Café seated me, I was given a breakfast menu just after the lunch hour had started. I asked the waiter for the lunch menu and he verbally scolded the host within earshot of me. This was all very awkward. I understand the effort to be flawless, but the public criticism, back-handed quips, and passive-aggressiveness amongst each other seemed far more unprofessional than the most minor of service snafus.
General Musings and Nerdery…
Beyond buses and shuttles of both land and water, Encore also has a few Cadillac Escalades and Range Rover Autobiographies in its fleet. It makes perfect sense when accounting for nasty winter conditions.
I was told two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, consistent with the flagship vehicles used at Wynn properties around the world, will eventually enter the fleet.
The Tower Suites here is just a small check-in area for suite guests but there aren’t private elevators or anything else special that I could see.
During my stay, I always saw at least two front desk agents and only two other people in that lounge. One was a guest that rolled in on a skateboard (badass) and the other was…
It wasn’t my first time meeting Roger Thomas but certainly the first time he had a moment to chat—incredibly brilliant yet eternally modest, having the opportunity to speak with him was truly a highlight of my trip.
I also got to meet Matt Maddox. He recommended I see R3HAB at Memoire and then someone asked him where the bathroom was! Later that evening as I was leaving Mystique, he walked in with a BOMBSHELL of a date and gave me a nod as though to remind me that he’s the motherfuckin’ CEO.
“I used to drive [x hours] to [Foxwoods/Mohegan] but now this place is only [x minutes] away from me!” was more or less a quote I heard again and again and again. In fact, the second night, I played high limit pai gow with the exact same people from the first night, and no, they weren’t hotel guests. This joint is going to wipe New England out. I don’t know if the better investment is Wynn Resorts stock or inevitable foreclosure properties popping up in and around the Boston area.
I got to see one of the two-bedroom Residences. It’s almost identical to the two-bedroom Apartment at Encore Las Vegas but it includes a walk-in closet that’s about the size of a master bedroom in the average American home. There will also be two three-bedroom Villas which are supposedly getting their finishing touches and I’m certain they’ll be identical to the Duplex Apartments at Encore Las Vegas I reviewed nearly ten years ago.
I don’t know what’s more absurd: the fact that they sell scratchers or that people actually play them while in the casino! This has to be some kind of state regulation requirement, right?
The property is entirely non-smoking save for a terrace way off on the eastern side of the building. I’ve never been bothered by smoky casinos but I sure as hell welcomed this.
Physical doors guarded by security separate lobby areas from gaming. Having never played in a casino that does this, I was surprised at how much it cut the sound and energy from entering the atrium.
The good news: I saw zero children in the gaming areas and in the restaurants immediately surrounding the casino.
The sound system is a significant upgrade from any other resort I’ve been to. Deep bass tones and crystal clear, rich audio is pumped in from speakers built into creative spaces such as the moldings on the columns.
The soundtrack was eclectic pop 40 of the last three decades peppered with classic Wynn world muzak.
Can one sense the absence of Steve Wynn? Perhaps. While it’s difficult to complain when the public spaces are this beautiful, one can’t help but wonder if Steve would’ve demanded entirely new concepts. When considering room, casino, and restaurant décor, there are few new ideas here.
I searched far and wide for corners cut and found very little. I suspect a Wynn Boston Harbor under Steve’s control would have had a porte-cochere with a little more pizzazz and that the brown wallpaper you see in several of the above photos would have been the scrunched, upholstered silk stuff adorning the walls of Wynn Las Vegas. But that’s about it. This latest project gave me hope that the future of Wynn Resorts without Steve is going to be just fine.
Encore is every bit as beautiful as the most stunning casinos in Vegas and is certainly nicer than anything else in America. I was inspired to gamble and spend with reckless abandon and that’s never happened outside of Clark County. I look forward to returning after a year or so of operation when Maddox and the team have the place fine-tuned to run like Steve intended.