The Mandarin Oriental Hotel: What Happens In Vegas, Shouldn’t Always Stay There

What Happens In Vegas, Shouldn't Always Stay There

The Mandarin Oriental hotel is redefining luxury with a twist of sustainability in Las Vegas.

Prior to one’s first visit to Las Vegas, the recommendations are clear, and the expectations high. Go nuts. Go dancing. Gamble. Drink…a lot. The phrase most commonly attached to the city is practically a household name: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

After staying at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, however, what happens in Vegas, should also make the return trip. It’s a brand known among travelers as one that sets a gold standard and, among those with the privilege of staying there, there is reluctance to refer to it merely as a “hotel.” No, the Mandarin Oriental is far more than a place to rest one’s head. It’s an experience: A place that one leaves feeling confident, fulfilled, and restored.

That’s correct: It is possible to leave Las Vegas with a sense of restoration.

The Mandarin Oriental, among its many global locations, carries a commitment to wellness: To guests, and to the planet. It’s one of the few hotels on the Strip that doesn’t contain a casino, features a tea lounge, and offers seasonal, organic cuisine throughout its restaurants and cafes. It’s luxury with a twist: Yes, some rooms have bathtubs large enough to sleep in, but behind the scenes, the individuals who bring the Mandarin Oriental to life are quietly recycling water, protecting endangered fish populations, and deliciously sneaking superfoods onto restaurant menus.

It’s easy to question how one operates sustainably, or sources food locally, in a city essentially located in the desert and known for its water crisis. In fact, there is so much that can be – and is being – done, that Chef David Werly, executive chef of the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, can speak for over an hour about all of the establishment’s ecological efforts. Even then, the sense is that, still, more is being done, but there is only so much time to discuss it.

At one time, Chef Werly says he was able to secure herbs, quail and prawns from local producers. Today, however, those producers are no longer in operation, as local supply “seems to shrink, a little bit.” Not all hope is lost, however. He still sources local honey for smoothies and juice at the pool cafe, and beyond that, many provisions are supplied from California: One of the closest seaside neighbors to not only Las Vegas, he says, but a state that serves as the “back yard of America.”

Seafood, for Chef Werly, is consistently front-and-center, with particular regard to the menus he develops for the property’s MOzen Bistro (The M and O for “Mandarin Oriental”), one of the “best kept secrets” for sushi in Las Vegas, he says. He maintains awareness of what he calls seafood “emergencies,” such as that of Chilean sea bass, which he restricts from menus, and works very closely with suppliers, deliberately visiting facilities like fish farms to see just how product is raised. The Marine Conservation Society is one of his primary resources in becoming informed, and he uses seafood that is eco-labeled. When he can’t source farm-raised fish, which the restaurant does as much as possible, “we try at least to respect the seasonality.”

“I’m not pretending to know everything about it,” Chef Werly says, with respect to sustainable seafood, “but I am trying to educate [myself] as much as possible.”

It’s not all about fish; Chef Werly is a true believer in biodynamic farming, and the careful use of water and the environment around what is grown. He addresses the Las Vegas water crisis, in the way the kitchen operates; the refrigerators, for example, are all water-cooled, allowing water to be recycled, and are being replaced with new units that will not only permit water recycling, but also, conserve energy. These new refrigerators, as well as the entire kitchen, will be outfitted with LED lighting.

Meanwhile, other products are sourced and utilized with a focus on “the control and reduction of food waste,” says Robert Jenny, the property’s Director of Food and Beverage.

When asked why he, or the hotel, isn’t bragging about these initiatives more, or making a slightly bigger deal about them, Chef Werly points to education. To him, information is more important, ensuring that the environmental benefits of his actions are genuine and accurate, prior to boasting them to the public.

It seems that, throughout the Mandarin Oriental, there is a philosophy of using nature, of letting it do as it was intended, “and wait,” says Chef Werly. “Stop taking sea bass out of the ocean. Nature can recover very quickly, actually, if we leave [it] alone.”

There’s also a tradition of paying tribute to the heritage of food; the offerings at MOzen, for example, are designed as a culinary tour of Asia, such as a bento box prepared by Chef de Cuisine Prabeen Prathapan featuring Tandoori roasted chicken, miso cod, and Tom Yum Goong, among other colorful provisions. It’s a combination of flavors so unusual and diverse, even a spoiled, jaded New Yorker considers it beyond unique.

It’s an ideology also present in the Mandarin Oriental Spa, particularly the Las Vegas location. Here, guests can experience Tian Quan (translated to “heavenly waters” in Chinese), a series of what are described as “thermal experiences” on the hotel’s website. The treatments used here are rooted in ancient eastern medicine, which were developed during a time when nature was exclusively used for beauty and health. The ice fountain, for example, contains rolled cloths in a bowl of ice, which guests apply to the hands, face and neck after undergoing a heated experience, such as a hot shower, steam, or soak in the spa’s vitality pool. Donald Graham, the spa supervisor, explains that this tradition helps to stabilize the body’s core temperature after such thermal experiences, creating physical comfort for and less of a shock to the system.

Perhaps the most natural treatment in the spa, however, is the quiet relaxation lounge. It’s a room of plush beds overlooking the Las Vegas strip, replete with infused water, dried fruit and nuts, and magazines. Most guests, however, use the relaxation lounge for what its namesake intends: Quiet, free of phones and any noise other than the silent observation of the Strip below.

It seems a logical fit for the property’s Spa Director to also serve as the Chairperson for sustainability efforts of the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. “I am personally very passionate about finding ways to conserve our natural resources, recycle and work with skin care and product companies who also share similar sustainable practices,” says Jennifer Lynn. “The Spa has also introduced several water conservation techniques…including experience showers with 20 second cycles to prevent unattended running water. We also have low flow restrictors in several areas of the spa.”

And those divine thermal experiences? Localized water softeners are added to those features, Lynn explains, to help reduce the wear and tear on the equipment that runs them.

There’s only one drawback to a stay at the Mandarin Oriental. It’s certainly not the lack of casino or entertainment venue; those are a short walk up the Strip. It’s not even the expense, as the long-term value of such experiences nearly exceeds the price paid for them. It’s the standard that is set by the Mandarin Oriental, and the inability to view any hotel experience the same after witnessing this one. It’s not a complaint, and would be wrongfully labeled as a shortcoming. Instead, it leaves its visitors with an omnipresent sentiment of, “I’ll be back.” At the Mandarin Oriental, what happens in Vegas, would surely make the world a more sustainable, restorative place.

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Photo: kennejima