December 8, 2016 at 5:01 am EDT | by Mariah Cooper
MGM National Harbor opens its doors
MGM National, gay news, Washington Blade

Aerial view of the new MGM National Harbor. (Photo courtesy of MGM)

The showy excitement of Las Vegas can now be experienced minutes away from the Potomac River. The MGM National Harbor (101 MGM National Ave., Oxon Hill, Md.), a $1.4 billion casino and resort from MGM Resorts International, opened on Dec. 8. It will offer luxury hotel services, an extensive casino and retail space, numerous restaurants and a theater showing top-name acts. The Washington Blade was able to get a sneak peek into the project that promises to become a tourist destination and DMV hotspot.

MGM National Harbor broke ground in May 2015 and since then has grown at lightening speed. Walking through the front entrance, guests are greeted with “The Conservatory,” a two-story, 85-foot-high atrium that is 20 percent larger than the atrium at The Bellagio in Vegas. “The Conservatory” features a design comprised of 90,000 flowers by artist Ed Libby. It also is home to the Heritage Art Collection, displaying work from international and local artists, including lesbian artist Margaret Boozer.

Right behind the front lobby desk where many will come to check in hangs a topographical map of the DMV area made with 10,000 pounds of soil from the resort’s construction site by Boozer. Boozer, who works primarily in clay, says the collaboration came about after MGM contacted the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council for artists to feature on the property. MGM chose her work and Boozer proposed collecting clay from the construction site to create a map.

MGM loved the idea and Boozer was excited to share her love of clay.

“Clay is everywhere; it’s very common. The dirt, the ground that you walk on, you don’t really pay that much attention to it,” Boozer says. “If you take a close look at this clay, it’s beautiful. But as it was on the construction site no one is really paying attention to it. But now that the ground is filled over, this is a way I can show people what’s down there, what’s underneath the ground and that it’s actually really beautiful material.”

Boozer says she is proud of her identity.

“I definitely am happy to be identified as a lesbian artist and have that be known about my work for sure,” she says.

MGM National Harbor, gay news, Washington Blade

Lesbian artist Margaret Boozer created this map of the area made of clay from the MGM construction site. It stands over the reception area. (Washington Blade photo by Mariah Cooper)

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan also has his work displayed in an iron gate collage, titled “Portals,” that covers the front of the casino entrance.

The 125,000-square-foot casino features 3,300 slot machines and 124 table games that is filled with all of the lights, dinging sound effects and glitz of a Vegas casino. Those interested in hosting their own parties can have private rooms designed for their specific gambling needs. Staff will include gaming tables or slot machines of the guest’s choice to celebrate a special occasion.

For shoppers, 18,000 square feet of retail await in an area dubbed “The District.” The types of shops are varied and include home decor and menswear. Sarah Jessica Parker will open her first stand-alone boutique, SJP, selling her line of shoes, handbags and little black dresses.

A bite to eat isn’t hard to find with 15 restaurants on site. “National Market” is MGM National Harbor’s version of an upscale food court that has an outdoor terrace area. It includes restaurant options such as Shake Shack, Honey’s Fried Chicken & Donuts, District Deli, Zizi’s Pizza, S’Cream, Starbucks and Pappas Crab Cakes. For guests who want a more formal dining experience there are plenty of celebrity-chef run restaurants.

Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant will be open 24/7 and offers an array of comfort food. Samuelsson also created the room service menu for guests staying at the hotel. Another choice is Steak House by brother team Bryan and Michael Voltaggio. The restaurant was designed to look like the brothers’ childhood home in Frederick, Md. and diners can have a drink in the library or even eat in the kitchen. Local celebrity chef José Andrés will also open his first seafood restaurant at the resort.

Expected to be a social media favorite is the world’s largest chocolate fountain at bakery and cafe Bellagio Patisserie. The fountain will have 4,000 pounds of white, milk and dark chocolate to make guests salivate.

A 3,000-seat theater offers guests the chance to get up close and personal with some of your favorite acts. MGM National Harbor partnered with Live Nation to book some of the top musicians, including Cher.

Cher will have a mini-residency at MGM National Harbor on March 17, March 19-20, March 23 and March 25-26. She returns for a late summer run on Aug. 31, Sept. 2-3, Sept. 7 and Sept. 9-10. Tickets range from $105-$330.

Boys II Men kicks off the MGM’s concerts on Dec. 15. Bruno Mars, Lionel Ritchie and Kings of Leon are also scheduled to perform in the coming months. Duran Duran will give a New Year’s Eve performance on Dec. 31.

As for the 308-room hotel, room rates start at $300 per night. The price gives guests a “luxury boutique” room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel also includes an outdoor pool, which will open in the summer, and a spa.

The grand opening is expected to draw 30,000 people with parking to be complimentary at first. Valet parking is offered for $25 per 12 hours or $45 per 12-24 hours. While there is no metro close by those who want to explore the resort using public transportation are encouraged to use busses leaving from the closest Metro stations.

The NH2 leaves from the Huntington and King Street stations in Alexandria, Va. and Prince George’s County 35 bus will leave from Southern Avenue station in Hillcrest Heights, Md.

For more information on MGM National Harbor, visit mgmnationalharbor.com.

MGM National Harbor, gay news, Washington Blade

A view through the Conservatory at MGM National Harbor. (Washington Blade photo by Mariah Cooper)

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