What’s new at The California Hotel and Casino — downtown Las Vegas’ largest iconic hotel? Its multi-million-dollar refurb designed to preserve “Aloha Spoken Here” bumps up the comfort experience to a new level for family members of all ages. Frequent visitors from Hawai‘i will experience hundreds of fresh and different updates, but at the heart, “The Cal” remains the friendly, safe and relaxing “home away from home” that Hawai‘i travelers desire. Take a look at some of the new digs and see what’s coming next!
The Cal is Open for Fun!
We decided to feature The Cal now, so that all our readers will know what to expect on their next visit to Las Vegas. After all, in Hawai‘i, we are used to hearing about hotels refreshing their décor and amenities. It’s commonplace in the hospitality industry for hotels to close down for renovations. But at The Cal, asking guests to reschedule their vacations and temporarily laying off staff are not in the playbook. Instead, they are upgrading the hard way, redoing one or two things at a time while they offer their treasured guests seamless service and uninterrupted “aloha.”
One look at the hotel lobby tells you that these renovations are not small or insignificant. The area is opened up with cool, bright travertine tile, glamorous artwork and upscale lighting. It is so stunning that I was relieved to see familiar faces at the desk — folks who know my name and welcome me with aloha. Our Generations Magazine staff was on the job with photo shoots, interviews and getting the June-July issue to the printer, but we sacrificed a little sleep to enjoy ourselves in the casino. Many of us need to work while we are on vacation and The Cal staff was eager to accommodate our specific needs.
First on my list was my mission find the famous Buddha — yes, he’s still here! Rubbing his tummy doesn’t guarantee that I will be a winner, but the tradition warms good memories of many happy days at my Las Vegas home.
Glory Connolley, Sanya Fujiwara and Lorraine Teixeira were sitting in the lobby, waiting to go back home to O‘ahu. That’s a curious thing about this place. Folks are smiling on their way in and on their way out. They were having a wonderful time and loved the clean, bright new décor.
The front desk is a very small part of the whole hotel and casino, but it leads to other renovations — some complete — others starting later this year and next spring. Already, new carpeting with red hibiscus flows throughout the whole casino floor. New ceiling lights open up the room and enhance the gaming experience (particularly noticeable at the craps tables). A powerful ventilation system keeps the air fresh, and new machines and games mix in with old favorites. The Redwood Bar & Grill is undergoing a makeover, and under design are a brand-new sports bar and a casino sports lounge with sports book. When these major casino up-grades are finished, a West Tower hotel room remodel will begin in the fall.
Asian Fusion Comfort Food
I understand Sam Boyd, who started The California over 45 years ago, lived in Hawai‘i and loved local-style food. Through the years, The Cal tradition for Asian-inspired dining options has grown up to the tastes of 21st century Hawaiian travelers. Now chic Honolulu-style has come to The Noodle House — light wood flooring, dark Oriental-style tables and chairs, an open kitchen and high, open ceilings. Minimal accents of Asian pottery and framed rice bags are set off by crisp red linens to finish the look of this fine family eatery. Last year, it opened with a superb cosmopolitan array of Asian stews and noodle tapas — seafood, pork, beef or vegetables. Since then, the menu has evolved to full entrée portions that lend well to sharing, but the prices are still very reasonable. Our eyes were bigger than stomachs. Four of us shared five dishes that compare to Honolulu’s Asian fusion restaurant fare. Without drinks, the bill (with tip) was under $140, and we took plenty of leftovers back to our rooms to snack on later. Yum!
In mid-August, authentic lū‘au foods, local stews and bento treats will again be served on the mezzanine at a renovated Aloha Specialties. Lappert’s Ice Cream, which offers hot coffee and doughnuts in the morning, will be renovated this winter. On the main floor, The Market Street Café serves a full menu: breakfast through dinner and on to midnight snacks, and their famous oxtail stew. Even though there is often a line, service is speedy and a full meal only grabs a half-hour out of your gaming schedule. Meat lovers will not be denied one meal while The Redwood Bar & Grill undergoes a facelift this summer. The chefs will be serving their Las Vegas steakhouse menu we love — at the Main Street Station Pullman Room — a hop, skip and a jump away. Hospitality with aloha continues at The Cal.
We ran into a group of friends who travel together to The Cal a few times a year. Elaine Terai started visiting in the late ’90s, but Hank and Jane Takara, and Ron and Marjie Malilay say they have been coming since the casino opened in the ’70s. “It became a second home,” said Jane. “It wasn’t so big then — the entrance was right by the Market Street Café.”
Aloha Still Spoken Here
Ron is a Golden Arm winner (1994) who held the dice for one hour and 24 minutes. “I was at the same table with Stanley Fujitake the night he threw the dice for over three hours,” said Ron. That was the start of The Golden Arm Club that later led to The Annual Golden Arm Tournament played every April at The Cal.
Ron grinned. “You know what? I left and went to bed right before Fujitake took the dice. In the morning, I heard everyone who bet on Stanley won big — the cage ran out of chips and had to issue script for players!” He explained that as hard as it is to escape rolling a seven for over an hour, on average, two lucky people do it every month. All their names (including Ron’s) are on the Golden Arm Wall of Fame.
Craps players love The Cal.
At home in Honolulu, Elaine and Marjie play regular poker with friends once a month, but here, they become video poker players. After hours of intense play, they relax at the blackjack tables. “The dealers are so friendly here,” said Marjie. “A serious blackjack or craps table is no fun — betting seems like work. Playing at The Cal is enjoyable. Everyone is so happy and helpful.”
Jane appreciates personal service. “Hank and I travel a lot and do a lot of community work. I think what impresses us most about The Cal is that they listen to us — and treat us like family, not strangers.” Her Waipahu High School reunion and Ron and Marjie’s Kahuku reunion were both held at The Cal this year.
Hank, a serious blackjack player, told me that when he stops to rub the belly of the laughing Buddha every evening, he puts all his pocket change on the statue. “Did you know that the hotel collects the coins off the Buddha and sends the money to United Way in Hawai‘i? That shows you the heart of the management here. They don’t just speak aloha, they live aloha.”
Comfort of Home in Friendly Surroundings
Lisa from Honolulu gives The Cal a thumbs up. “We love the new look! It’s clean and fresh — a very comfortable vibe. Food and staff are just awesome and make your stay heavenly.”
“There’s a lot going on in the background,” says Susan from Maui. She sees changes since her trip in January. “I saw a new logo sign outside with a big pink hibiscus, and the new carpeting in the casino has hibiscus, too. I love the ‘Game of Thrones’ and Brittany Spears games, and new 3D games are different and fun.” Susan is looking forward to a renovation of the West Tower, too. She said, “I hope they make the rooms as comfortable and luxurious as the new lobby restrooms. They are a ‘10’ in my book.”
When you put all the renovations together as we have done for this article, you get a vision of how comfortable and inviting The Cal will be when the whole property plan rolls out — during the rest of this year and into 2017.
Right now, when you drive into the valet area, your wheels squeal on the new surface. Your friendly valets still greet you by name, but now in a well-lit, sparkling entrance that leads to a bright, clean bell desk and upscale lobby. New directional signs point the way to all your favorite spots. And when you pick up your car, there are benches all the way to the street, so nobody has to stand. A big green neon “Mahalo” sign adds beauty and light to the back wall.
What to Expect in Your Next Trip
Holo Holo, “The Happy Bar,” replaces the San Francisco Bar. It caters to beer drinkers, with microbrewery specialties on draft and in bottles to savor while you enjoy bar-top play. Soon, sports enthusiasts can play in a casino sports lounge with sports book and stay in the game at a brand-new sports bar. The Redwood Bar & Grill returns to the main floor this fall with fresh interior décor that takes the tradition forward, and the whole casino floor will pop with color when all the chairbacks are upholstered in red, orange and purple.
West Tower hotel rooms and Aloha hospitality suites will be refurbished later this fall, 2016 — in the same quiet way, without disturbing the stay, play and dining of The Cal’s honored guests.
One word resounds with everyone we talked to at The Cal —“comfortable.” It refers to more than the soft, luxurious bedding, comfortable chairs in the casino, good food and friendly hospitality. It’s even bigger than an expert, friendly staff, where guests know all the bosses on the property. The Cal has achieved the status of “home” by delivering an affordable comfortable vacation to Hawai‘i travelers for over 40 years. Sheltered from the hustle and bustle of work, responsibilities or even the buzz of Fremont Street, once you set foot inside The Cal, you can sigh in relief, stop holding your pocketbook so tight and relax. Home is so friendly, familiar, safe and comfortable, that playing is easy and fun!