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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 26, 2012
SlotZilla Poised to Attack Downtown Las Vegas!
Downtown Las Vegas has been experiencing a resurgence lately, with new restaurants, bars, nightclubs, hotels, and attractions luring visitors to the once struggling area. But this week a game-changing announcement will put Downtown on the map as a must-see destination for every Las Vegas visitor: SlotZilla is coming!
SlotZilla will be the world's biggest slot machine, or at least a replica of one. Standing at 120 feet tall (roughly 12 stories), it will act as the launching point for one of the craziest zip line attractions anywhere, with no fewer than 8 lines zooming out of it. Four of the lines will be the traditional seated variety and will run at roughly the same height and distance as the existing Flightlinez attraction. The other four lines will come out of the top of SlotZilla with riders flying face down superhero style, launched at high speed on a trajectory that will take them from the top edge of the Viva Vision canopy all the way down the roughly 5 blocks of Fremont Street Experience.
The whole thing is the brainchild of Skyline, an eco-adventures company that was the first to operate commercial zip lines in the United States when they opened attractions in Hawaii in 2002. Skyline's permanent SlotZilla facility will replace incredibly popular Flightlinez zip lines that have been operating for the last two years on Fremont Street with a temporary launch tower. How popular has Flightlinez been? Waits to take the 60-second ride can be up to two hours at peak times.
SlotZilla is expected to be built in more or less the same place as the existing Flightlinez launch tower, near Neonopolis. The basic lines will run to Binion's while the new high-speed lines will run all the way down to the end of Fremont Street near The Plaza. No cost has been announced yet but I expect it to be about the same for the basic rides ($15-$20) and double that for the high-speed lines.
This is exactly the kind of thing that Downtown needs to solidify its place as the "fun" Vegas - the antithesis of the high-cost, overly serious, one-big-nightclub scene that has taken over The Strip. Not everyone will want to ride SlotZilla but just about everyone is going to want to see it and that's the kind of thing that can put Downtown Vegas at the top of visitors' to-do lists.
Flightlinez will close in January and SlotZilla will open by summer 2013.
The official announcement is scheduled for Tuesday, November 27th at 1pm during a ceremony at the First Street stage next to Binion's where they will unveil a model and more details.
Party Train Planned to Vegas... Again
In the roughly 15 years I've been writing about Las Vegas, there are certain stories that keep popping up like bad weeds. Plans to tear down, rebuild, remodel, or replace The Tropicana came up almost once a year until they finally did something about it in 2011. Concepts to rebuild the Moulin Rouge are still floated every now and then even though what was left of the historic hotel burned to the ground a decade ago.
But no story has gotten as much repeat column space as this one: a company has announced plans to operate train service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I should just write a macro that will write this story on its own.
As background you should know that Amtrak's passenger train service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas ended in 1997, the year I started writing about Las Vegas coincidentally enough. Low ridership, the high cost of maintenance, and competition from discount airlines doomed the line but proposals started creeping up almost immediately to replace it with everything from standard Amtrak style service to high-speed "Talgo" cars that tilt as they go around corners to space-age "Mag-Lev" trains that float on a magnetic field.
One proposal got a lot of press - and a lot of money - this year. The XPressWest (formerly known as DesertXpress) has been dubbed the "Train to Nowhere" for its plan to dump riders off of its high-speed, bullet train style tracks in Victorville about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. That line is still very much in development with backers insisting that the multi-billion dollar project will be up and running by 2016.
But now yet another company has stepped into the void and announced plans to have standard passenger rail service by the end of 2013 with a "party train" running from Fullerton, about 25 miles southeast of Downtown Los Angeles, to The Plaza hotel in Downtown Las Vegas. X Train is the name of the service, which will operate on the existing Union Pacific freight train tracks meaning it can get up and running faster than its competitors.
The luxury service will feature flatscreen TVs and Internet service at the seats, an ultralounge car with a bar and food service, an entertainment car with prizes and giveaways, and private cars for parties and events.
The introductory price for the trip will be $99, with service running on Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. The trip will take about 5 1/2 hours.
Another macro that I need to do is the part where I talk about how I don't think enough people will ride it to make it financially sustainable and how I'll believe it when I see it.
I usually find things that make me start rolling my eyes on these kinds of grand ideas somewhere in their press material. For X Train it's found on the Revenue Plan page of their website, which states "At $4.00 per gallon, a round trip from LA to Las Vegas by SUV costs $300." Yes, that's completely true... if your SUV gets 4 miles to the gallon. The average fuel cost for a trip to Vegas these days around $100, meaning once you factor in gas you'll use getting to the station in Fullerton and the cabs you'll have to pay for from the station in Vegas to wherever you want to go, the train service would be substantially more expensive.
But hey, I'm wrong all the time and I could be wrong about this as well. Or I could be writing another story about plans for a passenger rail service in 2013... and 2014... and 2015...
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Home Run Award of the Week goes to Score!, the new sports-themed attraction at Luxor, which quietly opened its doors last week for a soft launch leading up to its December 4th grand opening. The interactive facility casts you as a budding sports star working your way up to the big leagues plus features sports memorabilia and periodic appearances by big name stars.
The I'll Have Seconds Award of the Week goes to Joel Robuchon, the famed French chef who will be in the kitchens of his eponymously named restaurants at the MGM Grand December 9-15. Under his tutelage, the chefs that are normally in residence create what is widely believed to be some of the best food in the world so imagine what it'll be like when the master himself is manning the stove. Make your reservations now as it will be impossible to get a table.
The Big Top Award of the Week goes to Cirque du Soleil, which will be shuttering all of its Vegas shows for one night and bringing all of the performers together in the O Theater at Bellagio. The unprecedented event is a benefit for One Drop, an organization that works to provide clean, safe drinking water globally. The show will be on Friday, March 22, 2013 and while details are still being worked out it is expected to feature acts from all of the Vegas shows including Mystére, O, Zarkana, KÀ, Believe, Zumanity, Love, and the new Michael Jackson tribute show. Visit the website for more info.
The Empire Strikes Back Award of the Week goes to the former Empire Ballroom, which has reopened as the Boulevard Theater. The building near the MGM Grand on The Strip was a nightclub for years, first as Club Utopia and then later as the Empire Ballroom. It shuttered several years ago but is back open again as a theater for small shows including magician Tommy Wind and impersonators Sharon Owens and Sebastian Anzaldo whose Streisand/Sinatra show "Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was" has been playing around Vegas for years. For more info visit the website.
The Walk it Off Award of the Week goes to The District, the shopping center next door to the Green Valley Ranch resort, which has filed paperwork to remove the pedestrian walkway that goes down the middle of it and replace it with a road and parking. The irony here is that longtime Vegas visitors might remember that when the District first opened, it was a road but they later filled it in as a pedestrian walkway.
The Drink Up Award of the Week goes to the newest bar in the increasingly popular Fremont East District of Downtown. The Commonwealth is at the corner of Fremont and 6th, a couple of doors down from The Griffin and Don't Tell Mama's and across the street from The Vanguard Lounge and Insert Coin(s). It has a speakeasy theme and includes a big, indoor first floor bar with seating and a second floor outdoor patio.
And finally, the I'll Drink to That Award of the Week goes to the Mob Museum, which will be celebrating "Repeal Day" with a special evening at the facility with 20's era jazz music, cocktails, costume contests, and prizes. The event on December 5th from 6-10pm is meant to commemorate the day in 1933 on which prohibition ended and will be hosted by former Mayor Oscar Goodman. Tickets are only $19.33 and are available through the museum's website.
Attraction Review: The Neon Museum
For decades the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) has been creating the majority of the amazing neon artwork - yes I called it artwork - that has adorned the fronts of the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. Actually it goes way beyond that - the neon signs on gas stations, motels, convenience stores, and just about everything else in this city have mostly been done by YESCO.
But as The Strip has marched relentlessly forward toward a more sanitized, upscale, corporate image, the neon signs that adorned the fronts of the casinos have fallen by the wayside, viewed by many as tacky and antiquated. Whether they were replaced by one of those gigantic pseudo-TV screens (yeah, those aren't tacky) as a hotel remodeled or removed just before the implosion, neon has faded on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Since YESCO technically owns the signs (they are leased to the hotels), they offered refuge to many of the former glories, creating what was colloquially known as the Neon Boneyard. This big fenced off lot located near their main facility was where classic neon artwork was left to fade and rot in the unrelenting Nevada sun. The signs represented the last bits of the colorful history that Las Vegas has swept away in the name of modernity.
And there they probably would've stayed if it hadn't been for the efforts of The Neon Museum, a not-for-profit organization that rescued the signs in conjunction with YESCO and set out on an ambitious project to restore them and/or preserve their unique place in Vegas' history.
For the last several years, the Neon Museum has consisted of a few restored signs along and adjacent to The Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Vegas plus a relocated Boneyard that offered limited tours. Now, a permanent, open-to-the-general-public facility is up and running and it offers an amazing glimpse into Las Vegas' past.
You start in the welcome center, which was once the shell-shaped lobby of the La Concha motel on the Las Vegas Strip. The mid-century wonder was cut up and transported to the museum location and then restored to act as a queuing location for the guided tours that take place in the adjacent boneyard.
Groups of about a dozen are taken through the dusty but well-organized and laid-out lot where you'll see and hear stories about signs from historic, and in many cases long-gone, Vegas casinos. There is an original corner piece from The Golden Nugget, a massive script sign from the Moulin Rouge, a camel-adorned display from The Sahara, a massive pirate skull from Treasure Island, and dozens more. Each one comes with a story and the tour guides are not only well-informed but seem almost giddy to be sharing the history of these treasures.
My favorite pieces were the more obscure ones. For instance, there's a sign from a small motel that shares the name with a multi-billion dollar Strip complex: City Center. It featured a cityscape that made it appear as if lights were coming on in buildings as night fell. And I loved hearing the behind-the-scenes tales of the hotels and the signs themselves, some of which was new to even me, a big Vegas history buff. For instance, did you know that the Moulin Rouge sign was created by Betty Willis, the same person who designed the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign?
The tour lasts about an hour and is absolutely worth the $18 it'll cost you to take it (discounts for kids, seniors, etc.).
A few quick notes... buying tickets in advance via their website is an absolute must. Because they limit the number of people who can be on each tour, they fill up quickly and so walk-ups are being turned away. Also, note that the majority of the tour is outside, so pay attention to the weather forecast (hot or cold) and plan your wardrobe accordingly.
Vegas4Visitors Rating: A
The Neon Museum
Restaurant Review: Gordon Ramsay Steak
British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has made quite a loud name for himself in the United States with his "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares" shows, on which he mostly yells at people, or so it seems. Until now, Ramsay has stayed out of the Vegas dining scene allowing the Pucks, Lagasses, and Flays to rule the roost but that's all changing. Ramsay's British invasion includes no fewer than three restaurants, including this his flagship at Paris Las Vegas.
The design on the room is fun, as you enter through an artistic interpretation of The Chunnel, completing your transition from Paris to London. The two story facility boasts high ceilings (painted with a Union Jack of course), warm woods, and modern furnishings. It's sort of a contemporary spin on an English drawing room, if drawing rooms were staffed by women who look like they are auditioning for a Robert Palmer video.
The menu is a mix between classic American steakhouse and British pub grub, with various cuts of been mixed in with over the pond favorites like Beef Wellington and fish and chips.
Starters include a substantial shellfish section including oyster, clam, lobster, and prawn platters of such size that they appear to threaten to collapse the table beneath them. Caviar, soups and salads, and some steakhouse appetizers (fried oysters, chorizo stuffed Maine Lobster, smoked beef tartare, foie gras, etc.) round out the things with which you can fill up on before your main course.
Speaking of which, beef is the main focus here (hence the Steak portion of the restaurant's name) and include cuts both traditional (filet, rib eye) and less obvious (Royal Long-Bone Chop for two). You can get the standard steaks, which are dry aged for 28 days in Pat La Freida's Himalayan salt room (Google it) or you can get American Kobe for a premium.
A selection of sauces is available to enliven your steaks that include Worcestershire, Bearnaise, peppercorn, bone marrow, and French butter.
Pork, veal, and lamb chops plus a selection of fresh fish round out the steakhouse portion of the menu.
Ramsay's signature dishes include the aforementioned Beef Wellington and fish and chips plus a red wine braised short rib, roasted chicken breast, and the Fisherman's Grill, with lobster, mussels, scallops, and seasonal fish.
Everything is served ala carte so don't forget the sides like sautéed asparagus or mushrooms, mac and cheese with truffles, fire roasted corn, and potatoes in various presentations (baked, pureed, roasted, etc.).
Our table started with the American Kobe sliders, which were exactly what you'd expect them to be and nothing more, and the British ale onion soup, which was nothing like a traditional steakhouse onion soup, all kicked up with tangy pub flavor.
Next we went for the traditional filet and the rib cap American Kobe, the latter being the topmost portion of the rib eye and is supposed to be the most flavorful. The former was terrific and perfectly prepared with the right hints of smoky goodness that impressed while the latter was a tad undercooked and so disappointing if for no other reason than that. The sea bass was also sampled and declared a success by people who know about such things.
Desserts run the gamut from cheese plates to chocolate cake with stops at blueberry cheesecake, peach ice cream sandwiches, Bing cherry upside down cake, and banana toffee tarts with caramel. We settled on the sticky toffee pudding with brown sugar and brown butter ice cream and couldn't have been more pleased with our choice.
Prices are definitely on the high side. Starters run $15-26 and that's before you get to the $290 caviar presentations, steaks are $48-$78, other entrees from $41-$55, sides all in the $12-$13, and desserts in the $13-$16 range. With tax, tip, and drinks you're looking at $100 per person easily. Granted, that's not out of line with other high-end steakhouses and restaurants on The Strip, but it's still pretty darned expensive for a meal that, while satisfying, didn't wow.
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 594th 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 2003, 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 restaurants, attractions, and hotels.
2003 was the year Celine came to town, a tiger refused to disappear and brought down one of the most successful shows in Vegas history, and the biggest slot jackpot was won...
Although officials with the hotel aren't saying, most people believe that's what will happen with the former Guggenheim space. But the bigger question is what show will go into the new showroom?
The juiciest of rumors concerns none other than the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. In his spare time between bizarre trial testimony, dangling babies off of balconies, and endless plastic surgery, Jackson has been spending a lot of time in Las Vegas doing what appears to be research for what could become a full-scale Vegas show of his own.
The $650-million hotel would be called Voyagers and would feature a 50-story tower with more than 3,200 rooms including timeshares fronted by a massive manmade lake. A faux marina would be home to permanently moored yachts that would contain upscale suites.
According to reports the hotel will evoke the same kind of sails to the wind look that has made the Sindey Opera House in Australia a landmark.
Fronting the whole project would be a 560-foot high Ferris Wheel with 30 individual cars spinning high above The Strip. The wheel alone is reported to be costing around $100 million and will be about 100 feet higher than the London Eye on the River Thames.
The project has been approved to be built on the land now occupied by the Wet 'N Wild water park, just south of The Sahara hotel on the north end of The Strip.
Sometime around Thursday of last week the progressive jackpot on the Megabucks machines climbed past the $35 million mark, making it the largest slot machine jackpot in history.
The previous record was $34.9 million, won by a Las Vegas resident in January of 2000 at the now defunct Desert Inn.
I want to be happy for him. I really do.
Although the fan fave Pirate Battle stunt show out front will remain it will also get an update, reportedly adding some Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics to the mix.
The Moulin Rouge made history when it opened in 1955 as the first racially integrated casino in Vegas. It closed later that year and fell into disrepair. Several conservancy groups have attempted to raise funds to restore the building in past years without success.
The new owners plan to rename the property Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino, a Sheraton Hotel although I can pretty much guarantee you that everything after Hollywood is going to be left out of most popular references to the place. They are planning to spend $90 million to redo the Strip entrances with the company's trademark blue globe plus redo public areas and many of the top-floor suites with a Hollywood themes. A television studio and movie premieres are also planned as is a celebrity packed party when the changes are complete.
Despite claiming to feel uncomfortable with the eponymous branding, Wynn's research found that customers were more likely to visit a resort named after him than one named after an obscure Pablo Picasso painting. It also solidifies his company's overall brand strategy following suit behind parent Wynn Resorts and the upcoming Wynn Macau resort in China.
Concerns were also expressed over the pronunciation (Lay-Rehv? Leh-Reev?), and the definition of the word itself, which is French for "the dream."
The hotel, located just east of Downtown Las Vegas on Fremont Street, has reportedly been struggling for years despite a massive renovation and renaming that updated the historic property once known as The Showboat.
Shortly after the sale of the adjoining Aladdin to Planet Hollywood, the Desert Passage Mall apparently now has a big "For Sale" sign on the front of it - well, not really but it is for sale.
Star Trek to Expand
Sure. Why not?
Abbott: Hey did you hear they picked a new name for the new hotel at Mandalay Bay?
And so on and so forth. THEhotel at Mandalay Bay (no, I'm not joking) is currently scheduled to open IN late December 2003 AND will feature A separate check-in area, restaurants, spa, AND more. When THEhotel opens we'll bring you THE new review HERE.
Sarcasm is fun.
According to reports, Horn was alone onstage with the tiger about halfway through the show when it refused a command to sit and clamped down on his arm. Horn tried to get the animal off by hitting it with a microphone. That's when the tiger lunged for his throat and dragged him offstage.
Audience members report being able to hear muffled cries and screams from backstage and few minutes later Siegfried took the stage to announce the show was being cancelled.
Just days after the tiger attack that left Roy Horn in critical condition, producers effectively fired the 267-person cast and crew telling them the show would be closed and to look for other work. Backstage crew personnel who are technically employees of the hotel will be assigned to other positions within the MGM MIRAGE corporation wherever possible but cast members, including dancers and stunt persons, were given one week's severance pay and shown the door.
With the full extent of Horn's injuries still unknown and a long and difficult recovery ahead, it is next to impossible to predict the future of "Siegfried and Roy" as a show. However, most observers believe that even if Horn were able to miraculously make a full recovery there will most likely never be another "Siegfried and Roy" show - at least not in the format audiences have been flocking to for decades.
However, visitors shouldn't bother looking for any traces of the old hotel. Almost everything but the internal skeleton of the building was stripped away and has been redone as a sleek, modern, and luxurious boutique resort designed to lure an upscale Vegas visitor who is more interested in being pampered than playing the slots.
Wynn Construction Update
Speaking of Cirque, would you believe that the leading rumor on The Strip these days has The Mirage offering the former Siegfried and Roy theater up to the group for yet another potential Cirque show? If you add a Mirage show to the existing Cirque productions and then count the upcoming MGM Grand show, the Cirque inspired Celine Dion show, and the 2005 debut of a Cirque style show at Wynn Las Vegas that would make no fewer than seven Cirque du Soleil shows within about a mile and a half of one another. Can you say saturation point?
From the review of Taos Steakhouse that was at Santa Fe Station
What does that have to do with Taos Steakhouse? Well, sit down for lunch and you'll immediately get the connection. And you'll immediately not care, because no matter how huge the portions are the food is so terrific that you'll want to eat every last bite. Damn the waistline, full speed ahead.
From the review of David Strassman, a ventriloquist that performed at the Golden Nugget
From the review of "Mamma Mia!", the Brodway show that played at Mandalay Bay
From the review of Celine Dion in "A New Day" at Caesar Palace
From the review of Ming Terrace, a Chinese restaurant that was at Imperial Palace
From the review of Jillian's that was at Neonopolis
From the review of ventriloquist Ronn Lucas, who performed at the Rio
From the review of Westward Ho, a motel property that was next door to Circus Circus
From the review of The Ritz-Carlton, a hotel that was at Lake Las Vegas
From the review of the Ice House, a restaurant that was in Downtown Las Vegas
From the review of Folies Bergere, the long-running show that was at The Tropicana
From the review of Medici, a restaurant that was at The Ritz-Carlton
From the review of The Chocolate Swan, a chocolate shop that was at Mandalay Bay
2003 Top 10 Restaurants