People tend to forget that Mandalay Bay began as a rival to the Bellagio and the Venetian. When it opened in 1999, Circus Entertainment (or whatever the corporation was called then) intended it to be as upscale as anyplace in town.
Great designers, chefs and restaurants were brought in to compete with Steve Wynn’s showplace, and it sported its own murderer’s row of eateries: Fleur de Lys, Border Grill, China Grill, Bleu Blanc Rouge, Lupo, Aureole, miX, and the Foundation Room (or Hooker Central as we used to call it). One of our favorites, from the first time we laid eyes on it, was Shanghai Lilly.
SL was designed by Tony Chi and in a very subtle, feng shui sort of way, was every bit as stunning as any dining room in any hotel. From the moment you walked down the tiled entry along its babbling brook/pool, you felt like you were entering the formal salon of an important Asian potentate, or an inner sanctum of the Forbidden City. The photos of Chinese prostitutes lining one wall invoked a sense of mystery rather than sex — which is what we suspect Chi was gunning for — and the bar was tucked away and impressive (at least to look at). Acoustics and lighting were wonderful in the main dining room, as were the columns of fabric that were evocative of Chinese ceremonial garb.
It also served a kick-ass Peking Duck:
…at a great price, as you can hear from our commentary about it on KNPR in 2007.
Unfortunately, with all of that going for it, it never got its due. When MGM-Mirage bought Mandalay Bay in mid-decade, all those upscale restaurants suddenly were playing second (and third) fiddle to its other properties, and without a stream of Asian high rollers to swell its coffers, Shanghai Lilly slowly became just another over-priced Chinese restaurant.
Tomorrow it goes tits up for good — consigned to the dust heap of ex-eateries locals barely paid attention to. But we will miss its decor and that tasty duck….and wonder where oh where will the Mandalay Bay hordes now go for the breast of both in town?
PS: Word has it that a very well known Strip chef will be re-locating his digs to the SL space, after extensive renovations. If it were up to us, the naked female statuary would stay.