WEB EXCLUSIVE: Get your first look inside the new Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park.
CLEVELAND - OK. I'll admit it. I've visited more than a few casinos. From the glitz and glamor of the Las Vegas strip, to casinos closer to home, I've wandered the slot machine-lined floors of many of these entertainment meccas.
They run the gamut from slot halls that look like little more than darkened big box stores to ultra chic gaming palaces. After taking the media tour of Cleveland's soon-to-open Horseshoe Casino, I can tell you this -- nothing about this facility is second rate.
We entered the Horseshoe from the lowest shopping level of the Tower City shopping mall. Here, you first notice the care that has been taken to preserve some of what was Higbee's. Although the revolving doors have been removed, the original brass frames have been retained.
Through that doorway, we found The Spread, the casino's 400-seat buffet. Buffet aficionados won't find any surprises here. The Spread is done up in earth tones, with the usual-themed serving stations. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served, depending on the time of day. There are no slots on this level, so players used to playing the machines at the buffet entrance while their spouse waits in line will have to find another way to entertain themselves while they wait. The good news is that the machines are just a short escalator ride away.
Much has been reported about what this first phase of the Horseshoe is and what it isn't, but as I rode the escalator up from the buffet level to the main gaming level, the only thought that crossed my mind is that this is a first-class facility, something for Cleveland and northeast Ohio to be proud of, no matter which side of the gambling debate your opinion falls.
The chandelier-adorned ceilings are high enough to give the main floor a roomy feeling. The former first floor of Higbee's is a nice mix of slots and table games and has something that may come as a big surprise to many casino visitors. In a word…windows! While the windows will have full length sheers, patrons will be able to look outside and actually see day change to night on Public Square. This is where you'll also find the street-level entrances to the casino: on Public Square, Prospect Avenue and another indoor entrance from Tower City.
In repurposing the HIgbee building, the architects had to work with and around the many columns that those of us who grew up with Higbee's remember. Instead of hiding the columns, the architects chose to restore and accentuate them. Between the high ceilings, chandeliers, columns and windows, your eyes can't help but be drawn up toward the ceiling. Here you'll also catch a glimpse of those omnipresent security cameras that are a necessary part of any casino. My guess is that all those beautiful columns presented some unique challenges to those tasked with designing the Horseshoe's security system.
The tour continued with another escalator ride up that brought us to the second gaming level. My first thought was that this level is somewhat cozier than the main floor, with a lower ceiling. As we stepped off the escalator, we could see more slots to the right, and the much touted food court to the left. You won't find anything like a Panda Express or other chain fast food here. The three food court outlets are all local in origin. If you haven't heard their names, I won't spoil it for you. You can discover them on your own!
A disclaimer here -- while we were free to see much of the casino, we didn't get to explore every nook and cranny. I thought I caught a glimpse of the video poker area on the second gaming level, but I can't be sure. I can tell you that many of the popular themed slots are here. Wheel of Fortune, Clue, Ghostbusters and Batman, to name a few, plus many of the penny slots that have become so popular over the last 10 years. There are state-of-the art video slots, as well as the traditional reel machines with those 7s on them.
As our tour of the second gaming level continued, we wound around the floor to another section of table games. In this section, the ceilings were higher than when we first exited the escalator, with more chandeliers. Not quite the grandeur of the main floor, but the table game area had an airy feeling nonetheless. More slots surround the table games in this area.
Finally, we reached the fourth and final level. There are no slots or table games here. This area is dedicated to poker players and also has a lounge for the high rollers. Another disclaimer here -- there may be a high limit slot and table game area somewhere on the casino floor but I didn't see it on the tour.
There is a 30-table World Series of Poker poker room. It has a nice feel to it with recessed lighting that is easy on the eyes. Time will tell how the room rates with poker players. They are very particular about lighting, table design, and in particular, the comfort of the chairs. The walls of the poker room are adorned with photos that pay homage to past winners of The Main Event, the $10,000 entry Texas Hold
'em tournament that is the culmination of the yearly month of poker heaven in Las Vegas, known as the World Series of Poker. It will be interesting to see what games, limits and tournaments this room will offer. I also wonder if the Horseshoe room will be included in the WSOP circuit tour.
The high roller lounge is called The Diamond Lounge. Plush seats and tables surround the U-shaped bar. Photos of Ohioans past and present who have made it big in Hollywood are featured on the walls. I'm glad this was included on the tour, since it won't be an area that a low roller like me is likely to see anytime soon. If I'm in the mood for a libation -- in moderation, of course -- it will have to be served in one of the Horseshoe's other lounges, one each on the two main gaming levels, or ordered directly from a gaming machine and delivered by a cocktail server.
There are some things you won't see in the Horseshoe, and that's by design. The casino has been placed downtown to complement what is already there. There is no hotel attached to the Horseshoe, but there are two hotels that are part of the Tower City complex and other hotels are within walking distance. There is no sit-down restaurant, just the buffet and food court. The owners want us to get out and explore the many dining choices in downtown Cleveland. You won't find a typical Las Vegas style showroom, but you can take in a show at one of the many downtown venues.
Well that's it. A quick look at what many of us have been anticipating for a long time. The Horseshoe is finally here. No matter what it is now, or becomes in the future, one thing is certain, it's ours, and we don't have to drive or fly for hours to enjoy what it offers. Hopefully its opening will mark the beginning of some positive changes for downtown Cleveland.
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