EVERETT — I often tell people that I don’t go to Las Vegas for the gambling — I go for the people watching. Plant yourself on a bench at the Bellagio or find a table at the Flamingo and enjoy the parade of humanity from your personal grandstand. It includes cartels of holiday-makers stumbling around with cocktails in oversize novelty cups, brand-obsessed shoppers in sweat shirts that scream “GUCCI,” and couples yelling at each other with sunburnt faces. It’s like watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, except everyone is heavier and jonesing for a slot machine and a vodka tonic.
I had forgotten about the culture of casino diversity until I checked into the Encore Boston Harbor for a night and started exploring the place. It’s not as diverse as anything in Vegas, but there is an international flair I hadn’t anticipated. The Chinese market was present en masse, but I also saw European tourists, a klatch of well-tailored lesbians eating Italian food, couples and families of all ages from Boston and nearby towns who came to see a carousel made of flowers, and plenty of ruffians at the gaming tables and pensioners at the slots.
Now here’s the sticky wicket for casino developers: How do you create 671 hotel rooms and suites that appeal to so many varieties of gamblers? On top of the aforementioned categories, Encore will also be hosting weddings, bachelor and bachelorette parties, family reunions, and undoubtedly a few trysts.
They solved the problem by going beige, both literally and metaphorically.
My room at Encore was 50 shades of beige (plus white linens, white trim, and white lamps). There was nothing unpleasant about it, but that meant nearly every design choice was incredibly safe. Before the hotel opened, Encore Boston Harbor president Robert DeSalvio trumpeted that every detail — from carpets and drapes to beds and furniture — was created uniquely for the hotel. Yet the room didn’t feel particularly unique. Well, perhaps it’s unique for Everett.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If people want to escape from the tornadoes of color and clings and clangs in the restaurants and casino below, then beige is an appropriate corneal palate cleanser. We have been taught that the neutrality of beige is meant to calm us (insert an HGTV cliché here about a peaceful oasis). But beige can also be a snore. The rooms at the Encore Boston hotel fall somewhere in between. If the decor in the casino and restaurants is Restoration France by way of Coney Island, then the rooms upstairs are Restoration Hardware by way of Joanna Gaines.
What was most confusing in the sea of hotel room beige were the Roy Lichtenstein prints on the walls. They felt like an afterthought, as if in a meeting someone said the dreaded words “pop of color,” and it was translated a tad too literally as Pop Art. It all feels like a lost opportunity for fun. If you’re going to set up a $28 million sculpture of Popeye in your casino, the hope would be that the tiniest sliver of that whimsy might find its way up the elevator, down the grand halls, and into a few of the guest rooms. If you can’t have fun in a casino hotel room, then where can you? (Minds out of the gutter, please.)
But let’s get past the persnickety business of examining the many facets of beige. Once I answered questions such as “Is the chair upholstery oatmeal? Would you call that shade of wallpaper sea grass or burlap?” there was a lot to like about my room at Encore.
First is the space itself. Encore’s website says these rooms are the largest standard hotel rooms not only in Boston, but in New England, coming in at 650 square feet. If that’s not enough space, starter suites are 1,350 square feet, followed by suites that are 3,350 square feet, or 5,850 square feet.
Features of the standard rooms include 55-inch HDTVs (plus a 24-inch flat screen over the bathtub), sheets with a ridiculously high thread count, and very comfortable mattresses. In addition to being relaxing, my room was also quiet.
But what impressed me most about the room was the technology. As someone who stays in a lot of hotels, I can tell you with authority that hotel room technology often feels like a slapdash, higgledy-piggledy combination of old and new. Encore Boston integrates it all, plus Alexa shares your room. She can answer questions, connect to your phone to play music, or make calls. The Internet connection is brisk, which can also be the source of hotel room frustration. There’s an iPad that controls all the features of your room, such as lights, drapes, television, and temperature. It also contains information about all of the casino’s restaurants. My only frustration was that the iPad doesn’t allow you to make reservations once you’ve landed on a restaurant’s page.
I was grateful for the multiple USB charging ports and outlets located throughout the room. It’s the little things that count.
Not so little is the price tag to stay at Encore. I managed a rate just under $600 a night by choosing a room that doesn’t overlook the harbor. (If you can afford it, choose a harbor view. The alternative is pretty uninspiring.) I also joined the casino’s Red Card loyalty program.
A quick look at the casino’s website shows that rates are $600 to $700 a night for a basic, non-harbor view room over the next couple of months. But if you’re willing to drive six minutes, you can stay at the nearby Envision Hotel in Everett for a third of the price and a third of the beige. Envision has solid reviews and a playful, industrial vibe.
But if you need a quick escape from the casino experience, or a place to crash at 4 a.m., you may want to pay the $600 for an oasis of sand, putty, or whatever the word-of-the-moment is used to describe beige.