Published on February 10th, 2021 | by Christopher Cipollini0
“Glitter Gulch:” An interview With Jonathan Jossel at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas
In the vast trajectory of Las Vegas iconography, many images stand apart: the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, The Vegas Vic cowboy sign, The Mint, Atomic testing and showgirls. However, to really experience the whole of Las Vegas in all its glory, one should begin at Fremont Street, an avenue of neon laden casinos whose unashamed bawdiness and extravagant features would challenge Bourbon Street. At the starting point of this cornucopia of lights and razzle-dazzle sits one of the city’s most iconic establishments. Nestled at 1st and Main St, The Plaza Hotel holds a unique distinction, for its anchored at the exact location where the city began over 100 years ago. Past the cascading lights upon its front, seen in so many films ranging from the James Bond film “Diamonds are Forever” or Ralph Bashki’s “Cool World” and the Julia Roberts film, “The Mexican,” the Helen Hunt romance “Pay it Forward,” as well as postcards and imagery through the decades, sits an indelible history.
The site was offered as a Land auction in 1906, then was operated as the “Union Pacific Railway station,” an Art Deco masterwork considered one of the architectural beauties of the era, the train station was razed and replaced by the “Union Plaza hotel” in 1971. The word “Union” is a subtle and generous homage to the new resort’s past life as a train station.
In subsequent years, The Plaza has had a rich history. Revamped in 1982, with a characteristic new logo and the addition of a new luxury tower, as well as a resume in numerous films and music videos, the hotel became emblematic of not only its location but Las Vegas itself. The new layout would feature the addition of the Art Nouveau themed “Backstage” restaurant, which later became the “Center Stage,” a glass-domed shaped edifice flanking Fremont Street with a commanding view of the neon bacchanalia below. In 1992, the hotel fell under the ownership of Las Vegas gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan and became “Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza.” However, in 2005 the Tamares group purchased the property, and with it, a wealth of not only history but a unique and wonderfully kitschy characteristic only Las Vegas can create. Now simply, “The Plaza,” it has found its niche as a place where people can enjoy the glitz of a Las Vegas seemingly long past. With its elaborate vintage showroom, an enviable location, signature signage recognized the world over and most of all, its history-almost 50 years in the making- this is where Las Vegas made her debut. A fact its new management is well aware of.
As a writer for French Quarter Magazine, I was pleased to sit down with the new CEO, Jonathan Jossel for a coffee and conversation.
When we spoke you told me you are originally from South Africa, then London. Can you tell FQM readers how your journey led you across the ocean to the Plaza hotel?
I had written my thesis at the University of Birmingham (England), on “The Proliferation of the Gaming Industry in the UK” and have always been interested in the gaming industry. In 2007, my mentor, Poju Zabludowicz, the chairman of Tamares, asked me to move from London to oversee the company’s real estate holdings in Las Vegas, which included the Plaza Hotel & Casino. Poju was convinced that downtown Las Vegas was on the verge of change. And in the decade-plus since, it has been amazing to witness first-hand the revitalization of downtown into a destination for tourists and locals alike.
Were you aware of the hotel’s unique history when you came here?
Yes, I was aware of the property’s storied history – from being built on the city’s train depot where the first settlers of Las Vegas arrived to its opening nearly 50 years ago during the iconic Rat Pack era. The Plaza represents the classic vintage Vegas experience.
What is it you love the most about your role as a CEO of the Plaza?
I love the interaction I have every day with our employees and guests. I take pride in the fact that we have employees that have been here 20 or 30 years. I value their ideas, because at the end of the day, we all want to provide the best guest experience possible. Our customers are great too. I enjoy walking the floor and getting to know our guest on a first-name basis.
What is it you seek to bring to this property as well as the surrounding area? Is there a particular vision you have that sets you apart from your predecessors?
I have always believed that Main Street is the heart of downtown Las Vegas. After all, it is where the city got its start so many years ago. I look forward to enhancing the ambiance along our location on Main Street by redeveloping the Greyhound bus terminal into a dynamic destination that will make Main Street a more walkable promenade from the growing Arts District to the Plaza and onward to the Fremont Street Experience and our new neighbor, Circa. And as Symphony Park continues to grow on the other side of the train tracks, we stand in a unique position to help connect its new retail and cultural offerings with the rest of downtown via another pedestrian bridge and pathway. Our efforts to further improve downtown as a destination complement our continued commitment to enhancing the guest experience at the Plaza.
What is your favorite thing about this property? Any particular vestige of its past you find interesting?
There really is no one thing. I love the ambiance of Oscar’s steakhouse, the friendliness you find on the casino floor, the amazing 21-story murals we had acclaimed artists add to the North Tower, and the relaxing vibe we created on the rooftop pool deck. I also love the history that you can find throughout the property- from the black and white photos in the guest rooms celebrating historic downtown Las Vegas to the mural by our Real Results Gym that memorializes the fact that an Amtrak station and ticket windows were connected to the hotel until 1997, giving it the distinction of being the only U.S. train station located in a casino. We are proud of our history, but we are even more proud of how we are making the Plaza the best place to stay and have fun in downtown Las Vegas in 2021.
Lastly, what are your plans for the future of the hotel?
In 2021, our biggest project is the redevelopment of the Greyhound train station. It is a prime location for new dining, entertainment or retail that will transform the area, encouraging visitors to walk up and down Main Street and experience all it has to offer. We also will continue to evaluate projects at the Plaza that continue to improve our guests’ experience, including accommodations, new dining options, and entertainment. We also look forward to people returning to Las Vegas in general as concerns with the pandemic eventually begin to subside. We are hopeful that the roll out of the new vaccines will give people a peace of mind to again travel and reinvigorate our local economy. When people are ready to travel to Las Vegas, we will be ready to greet them with the unforgettable experience that they deserve.