Tahlequah Daily Press

December 1, 2010

Hard Rock Resort: Gaming, dining, fun and relaxation, all in one!

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — Fans of the electric atmosphere generated by the Hard Rock Hotel won’t be disappointed with the metamorphosis of the Cherokee Casino’s Catoosa resort   into the iconic establishment.

The partnership between Cherokee Nation and Hard Rock promises to be a successful one, if the crowds flocking to the place are any indication. Before the brand switch – and the addition of a new tower of jazzed-up rooms and suites – you had to book reservations weeks in advance to score accommodations. Now there’s more room and more flexibility for customers, and still plenty of demand.

My husband and I spent the night there recently in one of the standard rooms. It was appointed in classic Hard Rock style, with gleaming chrome and bold red-and-black accents. A couple we talked to while there had one of the suites, which they described as “magnificent” – marble in the bathrooms, plush carpet, large-screen TVs, bars, and anything else one could want. (The woman said she’d just as soon stay in the rooms as go on the gaming floor.)

But describing one room or suite at Hard Rock/Cherokee is bound to be an exercise in futility. Before Hard Rock jumped on board, there were already several different types of rooms and suites in the Cherokee Tower, and now there are even more to choose from. Among those in the Hard Rock Tower are the Chevron King, Vegas Suite King, Vegas Suite Double, King Parlor Suite, Executive King Suite, and more, all the way up to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Suite.

Although prices for rooms and suites vary according to seasons and specific dates, they are actually quite reasonable in most cases. For the Saturday night we stayed, the rack rate was $139 for a King Hard Rock Tower room, but a glance at the website shows their availability for as low as $119. Of course, if you’re determined to get the Rock ‘n’ Roll or Chief Suite, you might pay $400 or more a night. (To compare rates, go to www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com).

Smoking rooms are still available, by the way, and the filtration system is excellent. This is true for both the hotel and the casino, where many patrons also smoke.                                                                           Regular patrons of the casino will notice a subtle difference in decor, but it’s interesting how designers managed to meld the Hard Rock motif with the already existing traditional Native flair. The floor layout is basically the same, albeit bigger, and so is the exterior of the building. But now, you’ll see guitars, neon, sprays of glitter, and most significantly, rock star memorabilia and tapestries, adorning the interior.

Although the personal items from celebrities run the gamut, visitors will see spotlights on items from artists from this region. Some are quite interesting, like a filmy negligee-like ditty and set of high heels purportedly worn by Mariah Carey.

On the floor, the machines are the same ones everyone’s familiar with, from the popular progressive slots (Wheel of Fortune is probably the most well-known) to the other themed contraptions. Penny and nickel slots abound, for the more modest gamblers, but you can also plug bills into $5 slot machines if you’re more daring. There’s video poker, of course, as well as the tables, featuring Texas Hold ‘Em, Blackjack and others.

This time, we noticed a roulette wheel had joined the fray. We did not play, but observed for a few minutes with another couple. They weren’t playing either, they said, because this particular version of the game did not use dice; instead, the dealer (or someone else) flipped cards over to determine the number. (My reason for abstaining was more basic: I don’t know the game.)

As always, the employees at both the casino and hotel are particularly courteous and engaging – something customers never fail to comment upon. This was true even when customers were waiting in line to sign up for “rewards” or to cash in.

Speaking of “cashing in,” Vegas-style gamblers should know that at this casino and others in this region, winning at the machine will not prompt a sudden onslaught of coins into a tray on the machine. Instead it will print out a slip, stating your winnings (or in our case, what was left of the money we initially inserted). This slip can then be inserted into another machine, which will recalibrate it and let you begin another round of play.

About the only thing missing for Hard Rock aficionados is the Hard Rock Cafe, but at the expense of tweaking anyone’s temper, I have to say – you’re not missing much. The food is much, much better at the Cherokee version, because you can always dine at McGill’s. And since the restaurant has now moved from the ground floor to the top of the tower, the spectacular view of the Tulsa skyline makes it even more appealing.

Because the restaurant is so popular, you might have to wait a bit for your table, but the well-stocked bar – and the well-trained bartenders – will make sure any delay is a pleasant one. Most of the folks we talked to said drinks were a bit less pricey at the “Cherokee” McGill’s than at other clubs and restaurants in Tulsa, but we can’t attest to that, since it’s been eons since we were on the “club scene.”

I’ve only eaten at McGill’s twice, but both times the fare has been outstanding. I recommend without reservation the surf ‘n’ turf. The filet is sizzled to perfection, and the lobster tail offers just the right balance of tender-firm texture. As I’ve already mentioned, the new ambiance is ideal, particular if the “fireplace” is operating.

In today’s economy, it’s tough to recommend a bout of serious gambling for an evening out on the town. But even if you don’t have any spare change for the slot machines, the Hard Rock Hotel and its accompanying dining and entertainment options is worth checking out, just for the sake of itself. Under the right circumstances, you can get out for under $200, and that’s a deal most folks could live with. Even if they have to save for a few weeks first!