Est.: Aug. 28, 2007
Last update: March 20, 2011
Review by James K. • March 20, 2011
Built in 1970, Dr. Stanley Ho's flagship hotel was for years the most famous casino in Macau, if not in all of Asia. Aptly called a city within a city, the Lisboa is a huge complex composed of two hotel wings, three casinos, four floors of shopping and 927 rooms.
These days though, you can't help but feel that the Lisboa's lost some of its luster. New mega properties on the block have it looking its age, and with the future of Macau gaming trending more entertainment based, it's hard to imagine the Lisboa being able to keep up.
I saw these two photos in Macau Tower showing Macau pre 1992 and couldn't believe what I saw. Its probably fair to say the Lisboa used to have the best location of any business — casino or otherwise — on Macau island, right against the water and on the island's most important street, Avenue D'Almeida Ribiero. That in itself wasn't shocking, but what blew my mind was that everything south of the Lisboa today was nothing but sand and water 20 years ago. Fisherman's Wharf and many of Macau's biggest and best casinos are all built on reclaimed land.
The second photo shows Avenue D'Amizade in 1992. You can see the Grand Lapa (then known as the Mandarin Oriental) had quite a good spot as well, while the President in those days was named the Presidente and the Fortuna was under construction to its left. Landmark is that big empty lot a few buildings over on the Presidente's right.
Entering the Lisboa casino is like going back to the days before the SJM monopoly ended in 2002. While today's newer casinos give their due diligence to space and lighting, the older SJM casinos like the Lisboa do not. For them, the main goal is to maximize table numbers on the floor to serve as many players as possible, with everything else taking a backseat. The result is a less than ideal gaming environment, but one which, depending on your orientation, may have its own charisma and charm.
For me the Lisboa hasn't lost an ounce of its appeal. Although the mass gaming area is small by modern standards, only composed of 95 tables packed tightly onto two floors, what it lacks in size is made up for in style. And what a dark understated style it is. I think the proper word to describe it with is sinister.
Dimly lit and a little intimidating, the main gaming floor resembles a dark round cage, with the numerous black pillars acting as the thick square bars. Twelve large dragons descend from the ceiling clutching balls of changing color, their bodies and tails sickly conforming to the sharp contours of the walls. The ceiling itself is a strange conglomeration of imprinted symbols and designs with no central meaning and which can hardly be made out. There's no other floor like it in Macau, one so spartan and cut throat, but so startling and compelling at the same time. You should definitely check it out even if you don't stay to gamble.
Minimums at the Lisboa stay pretty low throughout. Roulette checks in at $20, while Blackjack has one $50 table. Plenty of other games are either $100 or $200. For high rollers, the casino's most expensive tables are found on the second floor. The Golden VIP room has five Baccarat tables all with minimums exceeding $2,000. Two other Baccarat tables are in their own room with lows of $10,000. The Elite Worldwide Club to the left of the escalators is composed of five $1,000 Baccarat tables and one more at $2,000. Roulette is also available for $100. Outside of these high limit areas, no other minimum bet on the second floor exceeds $500.
The Lisboa may have more private VIP tables than public ones. The third and fourth floors belong exclusively to the Junket operators, with fifteen to twenty different companies in business up there. I think they should pool their money together to chip in for a remodel, because the parts I saw were straight out of a Remington Steele episode. There's terrible carpet on the floor and the wood panel on the walls looks like it came from the side of an 80's stationwagon. Most of the rooms are done up in gold but the designs are so dated that the intended effect of projecting prestige or power just backfires completely.
Not surprisingly, the Lisboa specializes in old school Macau games. Of particular note are the banking options available in 3 Card Baccarat and Pai Gow. Banking reduces the house edge quite a bit but most casinos don't offer that option anymore. Kudos to the Lisboa for retaining it.
Since the Wizard's last report, Keno and Q Poker are no longer available.
Unless otherwise indicated, normal Macau rules and payouts apply to all games.
Player Card — Points earned on the Lisboa playing card can be redeemed for gifts displayed by the membership counter on the main floor. Some of the gifts I saw were a Nokia phone (200,000 points), a digital camera (345,000 points) and a cordless Panasonic phone (520,000). Surprisingly, desk staff said that the rate of point accumulation was random, meaning table minimums don't factor into it. A person gambling at a $50 table may earn more points than someone gambling at a $500 table, which hardly seems fair.
Lisboa card holders are also eligible for discounts in Lisboa restaurants and in select stores in the Lisboa shopping arcade.
EC Card — The EC card is the Lisboa's cash back card, earning 0.7% on buy ins over $1000. With a buy in of over $30,000,000 though, they'll cut you a break and up the rate to 0.8%. (It's times like these when I have to ask the same question ten times. But yes it is thirty million, and not three million or even three hundred thousand. Unreal. Thanks Lisboa for that big extra 0.1%.)
Elite Card — The Elite Card is another cash back card, but with a more competitive rate of 1.0%. The rub is that it can only be used in Elite Club VIP sections, where table minimums are much higher.
The Lisboa also has two more casinos and one slots hall:
The Mona Lisa Casino
The Mona Lisa is the Lisboa's most sophisticated casino. The sharp main floor holds twenty Baccarat tables, with minimums ranging from $50 to $1000. There's also a lower floor section, accessible by the Lisboa lobby, which seats five tables, two of which are Blackjack. Minimums on the lower floor Baccarat tables are $500, while the two Blackjack tables were never open the five or six times I passed through, so it's possible they've been temporarily shut down.
The Crystal Palace Casino
The Crystal Palace casino has an entrance on Avenue D'Amizade. The casino is pretty plain with low hanging lights and little decoration. Play takes place on two floors, with most tables on the second floor. The casino has 2 Blackjack tables, 3 Sic Bo tables and 36 Baccarat tables. When playing Blackjack players can touch their cards. Minimums at the Crystal Palace are pretty low, with table limits of $100, $200, $300 and $500.
SJM Slot Hall
Also accessible by the Lisboa lobby, SJM slots hall has 65 slot machines. Slot minimums range from ten cents to two dollars, with most machines at twenty cents. Electronic Baccarat and Sic Bo games are also available.
Despite its age, or maybe because of it, the Lisboa remains one of the most interesting hotels in Macau. It may not have the same flash factor or mass appeal that Macau's newer mega hotels possess, but that's because the Lisboa doesn't mess around with a lot of window dressing. Its allure owes itself directly to authentically superior design and decor, particularly in the two lobbies. Couple that with the large assortment of art, antiques and jade displayed throughout the hotel and you have a property far removed from budget status, even though it just about charges budget rates. With 927 rooms and four floors of shopping, the Lisboa delivers some serious bang for the buck. Perhaps that's why there's always a long line of people either checking in or out. Room rates in Hong Kong dollars are as follows:
On top of those prices add another 15% for tax and service charges.
An added perk for guests staying in Lisboa rooms is that everything in the mini bar is free.
As I was having a look at the Lisboa's lousy pool, Michael Jackson's Bad was playing in the background. And a truer song had never been sung for the moment I was in, because that word is just what this pool is. I don't know what would happen if you had more than three people in it at a time because there would be serious congestion in the swimming lanes. Perhaps children may find some use in it, but that's about all.
The Lisboa has eleven restaurants in total, but they really only seem to be proud of the following five, choosing to feature them on the website and in the hotel brochures. For that reason, I've decided to focus only on them.
Make sure you go to the bank (or maybe to a prosthetic surgeon?) before dining at one of the Lisboa's signature restaurants, because the meals there are going to cost you an arm and a leg. For more reasonably priced eateries, I suggest trying next door at the Grand Lisboa.
Robuchon a Galera — You know you're in for a world of hurt when the entree selections in this Michelin acclaimed French restaurant are $400 to $700. Set meals keep the pain coming with prices listed at $1,488 or $2,388, while individual dishes cost between $500 and $1,200. Lunch meals though are a comparatively cheap $398 to $698. At these prices, you better hope everything comes with a side order of free tires. Robuchon a Galera is located in the Lisboa Tower on the 3rd floor and is open from 12:00 to 2:30 and 6:30 to 10:30.
New Furusato — New Fursato does Japanese fare with set lunch meals between $160 and $380 and set dinner meals in the $500 to $980 range. Almost everything else on the menu is over $100, with larger dishes over $300. Located on the 2nd floor in the Lisboa Tower, New Furusato has the same hours as Robuchon a Galera.
Tim's Kitchen — I was ready for some Western eats at Tim's Kitchen but was surprised to see he only serves Cantonese food. Shark fin, abalone and bird's nest are a standard $400 to $1,000 while seafood is $100 to $300. Other Cantonese meat and vegetarian staples are $90 to $200, which is pricier than most joints. Tim's Kitchen is in the East Wing lobby with hours from 12:00 to 3:00 pm in the afternoon and 6:30 pm to 11:30 pm in the evening.
Puertos do Sol — The misnomers continue with the name of this Lisboa restaurant. Puertos do Sol sounds like it serves Portugeuese food, but in reality it's strictly Chinese fare. Prices are pretty good, with vegetarian plates $60 to $90 and meat and vegetable favorites $70 to $100. Seafood, abalone and shark's fin are $150 to $600. Puertos de Sol opens for breakfast on the weekend at 9:30 am while weekday hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.. In the evening, dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. and doors close at 10:30 p.m..
Noite e Dia Cafe — Located on the lobby level in Lisboa Tower, Noite e Dia Cafe has a dinner buffet for a respectable $168 a person. The selection is diverse with Portuguese, Japanese, Western, and Chinese cuisine. Most things on the a la carte menu are under $100, with speciality dishes pushing $200. Noite e Dia Cafe is open 24 hours.
Gym and spa amenities weren't big priorities for five star hotels in 1970, but they probably should have been in the plans during the 1991 expansion and renovation. Instead Lisboa guests are out of luck on both fronts. Of course there's a Clarins spa next door at the Grand Lisboa if guests want to use it, but it isn't free. (Even Grand Lisboa guests have to pay.)
The Wizard says he went to the Lisboa spa twice when he stayed there in 2007. I think they must have closed it.
The Crazy Paris show used to be a Lisboa staple for over 20 years, but it moved to the Grand Lisboa after it opened up, leaving the Lisboa entertainment bare. Now the only show on is the live band performance in Puertos do Sol during dinner time from 8 pm to 1:30 am. Judging from the poster I'd expect the band to play slow soft jazzy stuff, which is just right for that type of restaurant.
Gallery Lounge is said to exist somewhere on the 2nd floor of the East Wing but I couldn't find it the three times I went looking for it. When I asked staff, I got a lot of blank stares, but one thing I've learned from doing these reviews is that staff is sometimes horribly misinformed. So, long story short, Gallery Lounge may still be there.
The Lisboa website says it's open from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Sunday to Thursday and from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. If anybody can verify its existence, the next time I'm in Macau we'll meet there with the first round on me. Do we got a deal?
I once saw hookers in Amsterdam sitting in shopfront windows, displayed like common goods. Shoppers passing by would purchase them in the same blase way they'd buy a book or a coat. Now it isn't that bad in the Lisboa shopping arcade, as the girls don't have their own display case, but it's pretty obvious what the main business is certain parts of the day. I would have snapped a few more pics for your viewing pleasure but I was harshly rebuked by the girls and the security staff had their back. Too, too bad.
For more conventional goods the Lisboa shopping arcade has four floors of stores, which is absolutely huge for a hotel. Clothing, electronics, antiques, and jewellery are all readily available as are a ton of establishments specializing in service, like banks, travel agencies and laundromats.
The Lisboa will never reach the heights it enjoyed 1970-2005 when it was THE hotel/casino in Macau, but it doesn't have to. It can still flourish as an excellent budget option featuring lots of shopping, a great location, and all that history. The choice between staying there or at a place like the President or the Fortuna is really no choice at all.
The casino is notable for its low limits and less common games. Fish, Prawn, Crab is dying a slow death in Macau, as are the banking options in 3 Card Baccarat and Pai Gow. With 9 different games spread over 95 tables, the Lisboa definitely ranks as one of the better casinos going in terms of table variety. Such range is outstanding for Macau and more casinos should follow their lead.
Link to the official Lisboa web site.