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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 5, 2012
Potential Taxi Strike Looms
Getting around Las Vegas could become a lot more difficult this week now that contract negotiations between the union that represents taxi drivers and two of Las Vegas' biggest companies have stalled. Drivers have authorized a strike and it could begin as early as November 8th unless a deal is worked out.
The dispute has been going on for months after the union balked over a contract provision that would change the way that drivers get shifts. Currently the first choice of shifts is based on seniority and the new policy would base it on performance, attendance, and productivity. The union says the new method will lead to cutthroat competition between drivers who could resort to tactics like long-hauling (taking fares the long way) to run up revenue.
The companies involved in the dispute operate about half of the cabs in the city. Other companies have already started beefing up their fleets in response to the possible strike but will not be able to come anywhere near replacing all of the cabs that will be idled.
The negotiations are expected to resume this week but if nothing is settled by Thursday - the date when a temporary contract extension expires - the drivers are expected to go out on strike.
Getting Around in Las Vegas Without Taxis
If the taxi drivers go out on strike this week as expected, getting around Las Vegas is going to be challenging to say the least. Roughly half of the cabs in town will be pulled off the streets, meaning you're probably going to have to wait a long time to find one of the ones left, if you can find one at all that doesn't already have people in it.
So lacking a taxi, how do you get from Point A to Point B in Vegas? Well, it depends on where you're going, what kind of shape you're in, and how much you've had to drink.
The best way to get around town, regardless of how many cabs are in operation, is with a rental car. Not only does it dramatically increase your options in terms of what you can see and do, it could also save you a lot of money. I just booked a full-size car in Vegas for three days and it's going to cost me about $70 including taxes and fees. Taking cabs all over town can be much more expensive than that.
Having said that, most people who visit Vegas rarely go much further afield than the hotels and casinos that are near the hotel and casino in which they are staying. If your trip is mostly going to be you staying in one location then having a rental car collecting dust in the parking garage obviously doesn't make a lot of sense.
And of course driving is not an option if where you're going is a lot of nightclubs or strip clubs or casinos or any of the other places where drinking is going to be involved.
In that case a mix of walking and riding is your best option. There are several people-movers in Vegas including the Las Vegas Monorail and trams between Mirage and Treasure Island, Bellagio and Monte Carlo (with a stop at CityCenter), and Excalibur and Mandalay Bay (with a stop at Luxor). Of course the problem with those is that you have to want to go where they are going... you can't ask the driver to detour to Circus Circus.
There are also challenges with walking from place to place, not the least of which is the weather. People from cold places will scoff at this but it can get blustery and chilly in November and December so be sure to bring a coat with you. It's also often deceptive in terms of how far it is from one place to another. If you aren't in the best of shape, making that trek can be challenging.
Public transportation is mostly limited to buses that troll The Strip and they can be overcrowded and behind schedule even in the best of times. If there is a taxi strike, I would not depend on them to get you to where you're going.
For more information on getting around in Las Vegas, visit the Resources section of Vegas4Visitors.com, which has details on rental cars, the Monorail, shortcuts around town, and public transportaion.
BB Kings Blues Club To Close
Visitors to Vegas will have a right to sing the blues after November 18th, the date on which BB King's Blues Club is scheduled to close.
The restaurant and live music venue at The Mirage has been having serious money trouble for the last year, with the hotel claiming it is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bankruptcy and lawsuits have been involved, including one that involved a decision that ultimately led to the closure.
The Mirage argued that since it is owed so much money it didn't have to pay the restaurant any room charges that patrons incurred. The owners of the restaurant say that means they are basically giving away food and drink and can't sustain the business that way.
There is no word on what may replace the restaurant.
Ship to Shore: MGM Resorts Partners with Royal Caribbean
So you're sitting there at a slot machine and you think, wow... I'd love to be on a rock climbing wall on board a big cruise ship. Or vice versa, perhaps.
That's a better possibility now that MGM Resorts has now struck up a rewards club partnership with Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
The plan will send cruise offers to M Life players' club members and casino offers to Crown and Anchor Society members, allowing each special access and deals. Further integration will have cruises offered as slot tournament prizes and pre-sale ticket offers at MGM casinos for cruise passengers.
The new deal starts in January 2013.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Standing Award of the Week goes to Ovation, the showroom-esque facility at Green Valley Ranch, which is scheduled to close on November 24th. There is no official word as to what will happen with the space but a possible expansion of the casino has been mentioned.
Standing... Ovation... get it?
The What Have You Bought Your Wife Lately Award of the Week goes to Steve Wynn who is getting his wife her own restaurant. Andrea's will be the new name of the restaurant/lounge space at Encore that used to be known as Switch. It is set to debut in December and will serve Asian cuisine.
The Extension Cord Award of the Week goes to Insert Coin(s), the video game nightclub in Downtown Las Vegas that has opened a new branch in the owner's hometown of Minneapolis last weekend.
The What's in a Name Award of the Week goes to the Aliante Casino & Hotel, which is the new name for what used to be Aliante Station. The Station Casinos chain lost the hotel in bankruptcy and a management deal has now ended, hence the change. Nothing much is expected to be different with the hotel except the players' club will no longer be Station's Boarding Pass and there may be some restaurant switches.
The Know When to Hold 'Em Award goes to Greg Merson of Laurel, Maryland, who obviously did know when to both hold and fold 'em since he was the big winner of this year's World Series of Poker. He walked away with $8.5 million.
The Yeehaw Award of the Week goes to Stoney's Rockin' Country bar, which closed suddenly a couple of weeks ago but has now reopened in a new location. The new 8,000 square-foot venue is at the Town Square shopping mall a few miles south of Mandalay Bay.
A Look Back: 600 Weekly Columns
In a few weeks I will be writing my 600th Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column!
The Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column debuted in September of 1999 and I have been averaging about 45 of them a year, every year since. The one you are reading today is the 592nd so if things go according to plan we'll see 600 right after the start of 2013 (which, by the way, marks the 15th Anniversary of Vegas4Visitors.com).
Every week from now until 600, I'm going to rerun some of my favorite pieces from columns of days gone by. This week it's time to look at 2001, including the news of the year, some favorite quotes from reviews (mostly snarky in nature), and my picks for the best of the year in shows, restaurants, attractions, and hotels.
January 8, 2001
New World LLC, a consortium of developers including those responsible for the Showcase Mall next to the MGM Grand, have been quietly buying up land across the street from Mandalay Bay, adjacent to McCarran airport. The land includes over one-half mile of Strip frontage and extends back to airport property.
New World is currently in negotiations with several casino developers to turn the land into a sprawling resort complex that, according to their vision, would include three mega-casinos with thousands of rooms all connected by a central entertainment and/or convention center.
One possible partner in the new deal may be Virgin Airways magnate Richard Branson, who has been in discussion with several Las Vegas developers to bring his Virgin brand to a casino near you. Branson may find the location especially appealing since developers have floated the idea of a new international terminal at McCarran that could be directly connected to the new resorts, a perfect marketing one-two punch for Virgin's trans-Atlantic flights.
Development of the land has already begun with demolition and grading currently underway on a portion of the property. Conservationists are crying foul over plans to knock down the semi-legendary Glass Pool Inn, with its above ground swimming pool, but it appears the its fate has been sealed.
Small Fire in Vegas Defines Irony If you've been looking for the perfect definition of the word "ironic" it happened in Las Vegas last week. Firefigthers quickly knocked down a small blaze at a business near the Stratosphere on the north Strip last Thursday afternoon. The fire was apparently started when someone threw a lit cigarette into a cardboard box. So why is it ironic? The business in question was the AAA Smoke Shop. No one was injured and damage was minor.
February 5, 2001
Their unofficial plans would create a 44-story resort styled to resemble famous London landmarks such as the Tower Bridge spanning a faux river Thames, the Parliament building, and Big Ben to name a few. The hotel would have over 2,000 rooms and a 90,000 square-foot casino.
There is no word at this point on a timetable or a projected cost for the project.
But if London doesn't interest you, perhaps you would prefer ancient China? A California investment team has unveiled plans to build a 600-room hotel/casino called the Dynasty Forbidden City. The Asian themed resort will be located at the extreme southern end of the Strip (past Mandalay Bay) and will feature a parking garage designed to resemble the Great Wall of China.
No, I'm not making this stuff up.
Rick Springfield Joining EFX
My nomination goes to the guy at the Aztec Inn, a small hotel near The Stratosphere, who was doing some work on a natural gas heating unit in one of the rooms. (You can see it coming already can't you?) According to fire officials, the man apparently decided that this would be a really nifty time to light a cigarette. The resulting explosion shook the hotel and was reportedly heard for blocks. Despite this, the man and a companion are expected to recover from their injuries so I guess technically he can't get a Darwin Award... yet.
After months of rumors, officials with MGM Grand announced last fall they were putting all of the rides in the park up for sale, citing disappointing attendance and revenue. Despite the fact there were "For Sale" signs on everything, company officials claimed they would reopen the park as scheduled in April if they were unable to get a buyer who would meet their lofty prices. Apparently someone had a big enough checkbook because the bulk of the rides and attractions at the theme park have now been sold.
Before I go any farther I just want to defend myself and have you take note of the fact that last week's story was entitled "Scurrilous Gossip" - so you were warned.
Now, before you start imagining, as I have, what their act may be like when they are in their late 90's, let's take a look at that "lifetime" contract, shall we? It turns out that the new deal only goes through the end of 2003, at which point Siegfried & Roy have the option of renewing it - or walking away.
The pair also declined to say how often or how long they themselves would headline their own show under the new contract. This of course has led to more scurrilous gossip, most of which supposes that over the next two years of this contract Siegfried & Roy will be working a newer, younger headliner into the show who could take over when they finally do decide to go play with their tigers and try to figure out what else to spend their bazillions of dollars on.
For years city planners have dreamed of what could fill 61 acres of Downtown land that used to be part of the Union Pacific railway yard. Last week, ten separate projects competing for that land were unveiled, and now the mayor and other city officials are trying to decide which one to build.
The bulk of the proposals call for a mix of residential, retail, hotel, office, and entertainment space, however a few of them stand out for their sheer audacity.
One would construct the world's tallest building on the land. At more than 2,200 feet tall (roughly 200 stories), the Millennium Tower would be almost twice the size of the Stratosphere Tower and would feature a casino at the base, entertainment offerings, retail and restaurant space, office space, a luxury hotel, and luxury condominium units.
Another proposal is tailor made for skiers and snowboarders. It would feature a giant dome covering an indoor ski-run (with manmade snow of course), a wave pool for extreme water sports, hot springs, and a spa.
Architectonia is the name given to yet another competitor that would build a 20,000-seat arena for a professional sports team, something that Las Vegas currently lacks - unless you count the XFL and since most people aren't, we won't either. This development would also include a giant mall with an ice-skating rink, offices, residential, and retail space plus room for a college campus.
Another potential development has been dubbed The Oasis, and it would feature a 12,500-seat baseball stadium, residential units, retail space, a performing arts school, offices, and more in a giant park-like setting patterned after the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California.
The centerpiece of MonteLago Village will be the Las Vegas area's first branch of the pricey and exclusive Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. The 350-room hotel will be built right on the shores of Lake Las Vegas and will be connected via walkways to a 40,000 square-foot European style casino, and a world-class spa.
In late 2002, Caesars will debut The Colosseum, a 4,000-seat entertainment venue to replace the famed Circus Maximus showroom that was torn down last year. The exterior of the giant venue will resemble the Colosseum in Rome and it will be located at the front of the property, near The Forum Shops mall.
In related news, an announcement is expected shortly that Celine Dion will inaugurate the new Colosseum on New Year's next year in a kickoff of her exclusive headliner deal with Caesars. The two-year deal is rumored to be one of the richest in Vegas history at more than $40 million.
I'll let someone else review that.
There are so many things I could say here but I think the story speaks for itself, don't you?
At more than $160 million per mile, the monorail is considered to be one of the most expensive public transportation projects in history, and certainly the most expensive in Nevada, requiring a special bond issue for the full amount.
No word on whether they'll be bringing the promotion to the Tropicana in Vegas... but we can always dream, can't we?
Perhaps in the grand scheme of things what is happening in Las Vegas pales by comparison, but in a strange way it is in the wild, truly American spectacle of The Strip that we can take some comfort. As the sky was literally falling in other parts of the country, the slots, the cards, the dice, and the general mass consumption paused for the briefest of moments to mark a passage of sorts and then resumed.
I think that's the way it should be.
Please don't mistake this for being any kind of disregard on my part for the scope of the tragedy. But after sitting watching countless hours on TV of the same horrors replayed over and over from different angles, I found myself hoping that all of the network and cable news anchors would say, "If anything else serious happens we will come back on the air immediately but for the next 30 minutes we're going to show Bugs Bunny cartoons."
Las Vegas, more than anywhere else in country and perhaps the world, is the equivalent of a Bugs Bunny cartoon during Armageddon. And I mean that in a really good way.
So this week some news on how Las Vegas reacted to the terrorist attacks and an update about the Tropicana's tic-tac-toe playing chickens.
That too is perhaps the way it should be.
Las Vegas Reacts to Terrorist Attacks
The Stratosphere, the tallest structure west of the Mississippi, was evacuated early in the morning and remained closed for the day although the rest of the hotel and casino remained open. The other big tower at Paris Las Vegas, a 50-story replica of the Eiffel Tower, was also closed.
Some of the most popular attractions and shows cancelled performances including the Tuesday night editions of Siegfried and Roy, Danny Gans, Blue Man Group, and Cirque du Soleil's "O," while the Treasure Island Pirate Battle, the volcano at The Mirage, and the fountains at Bellagio were also shut down.
Weekend concerts and sporting events were cancelled as well.
A bomb threat caused the evacuation of The Convention Center next door to the Las Vegas Hilton, but despite the all-clear signal being sounded shortly thereafter, the facility remained closed. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority immediately pulled all television advertisements currently running nationwide.
Outside of the city, Hoover Dam was closed to traffic and the public with autos and trucks being diverted miles out of their way to make it across the Colorado River.
As the thousands of tourists and businesspeople who had been planning on leaving the city on Tuesday were informed that they were stranded, all of the city's hotels and resorts opened their doors to accommodate the crush. Although there were some reports of smaller hotels raising their prices, many of the big resorts offered heavily discounted rates to anyone who couldn't make it home.
By noon, every rental car company in the city was sold out and many were considering cab rides to Los Angeles.
Security was also heightened at all of the resorts up and down The Strip. Guards were posted at the loading docks of many of the big hotels to inspect and verify all deliveries.
Most of the casinos showed television coverage of the events of the day at the lounges and in the sports books, but for the most part the gaming action was uninterrupted. It offered a startling juxtaposition of people watching buildings fall down mere feet from people pumping quarters into slot machines.
Several of the chapels throughout Las Vegas were jammed with people offering their prayers for the victims of the tragedy.
During the day Tuesday and Tuesday night, many of the giant electronic signs at the Strip mega-resorts that usually broadcast commercials for shows and attractions instead showed American flags along with the words "God Bless America."
By Wednesday a modified sense of normalcy had returned to The Strip. Although the airport remained closed as did the Stratosphere and Eiffel Towers, most of the rest of the city went on with business as usual.
The filing happened late on Friday, September 28th, after the hotel was unable to meet a payment deadline that could have resulted in immediate seizure of all of the property's furniture and gaming equipment. The Chapter 11 declaration will allow the owners of the Aladdin, London Clubs International and Sommer's Trust, to keep the hotel open with some new infusions of cash from creditors.
With more than $700 million in outstanding debt, the bankruptcy is largest in Nevada history.
The hotel will feature a 42-story tower housing 2,455 all-suite rooms. By way of comparison, Wynn's former glory the Bellagio is only 36-stories but has about 3,000 rooms. Le Reve will be tied with the new Palms Resort as the tallest room tower in Las Vegas - and before you start sending me nasty know-it-all e-mails, the Stratosphere doesn't count because there are no hotel rooms in their 110-story tower.
Just like Bellagio, the property will be fronted by a large man-made lake, although reports indicate that it will be smaller.
The casino will be on par with competitors - probably around 100,000 square-feet - and will feature all levels of gaming. But expect this to be a very expensive hotel so high-limit slots and table games will probably be heavily featured at Le Reve.
There will be two showrooms, one of which will feature a new production from the creator of Cirque du Soleil's highly successful "O" and "Mystere" at Bellagio and Treasure Island respectively. The concept of the show has something to do with a Himalayan tribe whose members can fly until they are eleven and... well, never mind. It sounds kind of odd on paper but if it's anything like the other two shows it should be amazing.
High-end shopping and dining will dominate the hotel with outlets from Chanel and Christian Dior plus a sister restaurant to New York's ultra-hip Balthazar. Other eateries will be developed by celebrity chefs to be announced as the project progresses.
Finally, Wynn is adamant that he is staying away from a theme for Le Reve. No pirates, no city replicas, no genie's lamp - instead, Wynn says the new hotel will use the desert southwest as its inspiration. What that means, we're not really sure but expect lots of earth tones.
Stratosphere Ride Battle Gets Ugly
I love writing things like that and wish I could just leave it there but I suppose I should explain.
The new ride would have taken people in enclosed cars about 760-feet up the side of the tower and then dropped them on a track that would extend across Las Vegas Boulevard. It has been designed to be the tallest and fastest thrill ride in the world, reaching speeds of over 120 miles per hour.
Residents in the adjacent neighborhoods rallied against the ride, saying (among other things) it would be too noisy, would cause too much car and foot traffic, and would ruin the aesthetic of both the Tower and the entire area. City planning commissioners apparently agreed and voted against the project in a meeting last month.
But the story doesn't end there. The ride has another chance to be approved by the Las Vegas City Council at a meeting this week and The Stratosphere has dropped a couple of bombshells to try to sway the council's opinion on the subject.
First officials with the hotel announced that without the new ride, and the projected 3.4 million tourists it would draw annually, they didn't need a monorail station that is currently in the research phase. Without the Stratosphere's support and financial contributions, the proposed monorail to the Downtown area would be seriously jeopardized. The City Council really wants that monorail, so the threat to pull funding and support was taken very seriously.
Next those same officials announced that if the City Council didn't approve the new thrill ride they would fall back on previously approved plans to build a 70-foot tall King Kong thrill ride. That ride, approved in 1996 but never built, would hold up to 48 people inside the gorilla as it climbed up the side of the tower, screeching and dropping precipitously as projections of airplanes appeared to attack him.
Since the city didn't set an expiration date on their approval more than 5 years ago, the ride is still good to go apparently.
To say that neighbors were less than enthused about the alternate gorilla plan is probably an understatement. In fact some of what they had to say at a community meeting sponsored by The Stratosphere last week can't be printed here.
It's not a done deal yet but most of the legal hurdles have been jumped and if the plan goes forward it will mean the end of the road for the historic hotel, which opened in 1953.
The customer in question was taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released with very minor injuries.
I know I shouldn't think it's funny...
Best Review Quotes
From the review of Melinda, First Lady of Magic
From the review of Second City
From the review of Bottom's Up
From the review of Storm (a show that played at Mandalay Bay)
The opening is a terrific example. The theater, once a black box home to "Chicago," has been transformed into a black-box with lots of tropical hanging vines, jungle sculpture, and the front ends of cars (I don't know, I just report). As the show starts, faux lightning and thunder blares, foreboding music swells, the company enters dressed in brightly colored tribal costumes carrying rain sticks, and a video and voice over play showing people wandering about the desert. The passion swells, the drama intensifies, a four-story tornado swirls by on stage, and then... they break into "Conga" by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.
I think I speak for all of us when I say, "Huh?"
From the review of Mizuno's (Japanese grill at Tropicana)
From the review of Cili (a Wolfgang Puck restaurant)
But I digress.
From the review of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
Pardon me while I go get a glass of water to help me eat my words with.
From the review of Sammy's Woodfired Pizza
From the review of Skintight (a topless show at Harrah's)
From my review of Sazio (an Italian restaurant at Orleans)
From my review of Midnight Fantasy (topless review at Luxor)
Or better yet, get two months worth of HBO. You'll get breasts AND "The Sopranos."
From my review of ESPN Sports Zone
From my review of Madonna at the MGM Grand
From my review of Studio 54
From my review of the Guggenheim/Hermitage Museums (at the Venetian)
There are no showgirls presenting it. It doesn't disappear to be replaced by a white tiger. And most importantly, if I put two quarters on it and pull the frame, not only does it not spit out coins while playing "We're In The Money," but I would probably get arrested for doing so.
From my review of La Femme
Top 10 Shows