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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
December 3, 2012
Vegas4Visitors 2012 Top 10 Awards: Reader's Choice
It's almost time for my annual year-end picks of my favorite Las Vegas hotels, restaurants, shows, attractions, and more with the 2012 Top 10 Awards and once again this year I'm giving you a chance to make your voice heard with the Vegas4Visitors Reader's Choice. And to make it even better, this year's Reader's Choice votes come with a chance to win!
You can weigh in with your opinion in one of two ways. First, you can go join our Vegas4Visitors Facebook group (facebook.com/vegas4visitors) where we'll be having what I hope are lively discussions about your picks. I'll post a question (ie: What's your pick for the Best Las Vegas Hotel of 2011?) and all you have to do is reply in the comments to that post. They will be posted on Facebook starting Monday, December 3rd, 2012.
If you are not on Facebook, you can also send me a quick e-mail with your choices at email@example.com.
Here are the categories:
You can send me your picks via Facebook or e-mail any time before Saturday, December 15th at 12:01am Pacific Standard Time.
Everyone who votes in one of the categories will be automatically entered to win a autographed copy of my new Frommer's Las Vegas 2013 guide book. You can only vote once per category but each of those votes count as a separate entry and I'm going to give away 3 of the guide books!
I'll be unveiling your choices for those categories and my picks for those and several other categories in a series of special columns starting in a couple of weeks. The winners of the drawing will be announced just before Christmas.
Bill's Gambling' Hall to Close February 4
We already knew that Bill's Gamblin' Hall was going to go away with a $185 million remodeling aimed at turning it into a hip, happening, boutique hotel but what we didn't know is how soon and how drastically.
Instead of remodeling while keeping the property open (as they are doing with the Imperial Palace to Quad renovation), Caesars Entertainment has announced that Bill's will close on February 4, 2013 and not reopen until the construction is (mostly) done in the spring of 2014. It will be a top to bottom overhaul, making over the casino, the restaurants, and all 200 rooms plus adding a rooftop pool and nightclub. The latter will come online by summer of 2014.
The hotel will have a new name although no one is saying what it is yet. There is some speculation that it could be associated with Victor Drai, the namesake of Bill's fancy restaurant and the person who will oversee the development of the new pool and nightclub. Drai, who used to produce movies like "Weekend in Bernie's," has remade himself as a Vegas nightclub impresario having worked on Tryst and XS at Wynnand Encore. Whether or not they will go so far as to name the whole thing Drai's is not yet known. Whatever it is, I just hope it's better than the god-awful Quad name they are slapping on the IP. I can't be the only person who thinks that's stupid.
Bill's opened in 1979 as the Barbary Coast, the first hotel/casino from Michael Gaughan, son of casino legend Jackie Gaughan who made his fortune with hotels like The Plaza and El Cortez. Michael parlayed the Barbary Coast's success into the Coast Casinos empire, which eventually included Orleans, Suncoast, and South Coast (now South Point). Boyd Gaming bought Coast Casinos in 2005 then traded the Barbary Coast to Harrah's Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) for the chunk of land that used to be home to the Westward Ho, which was incorporated into Boyd's now mothballed Echelon project.
Harrah's changed the name of the property to Bill's in 2007.
The new property will be aimed at a much different audience than the one it serves now, attempting to basically be a miniature Cosmopolitan or Palms with a cool, sexy vibe and lots of nightclub ambience.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Still the One Award of the Week goes to Shania Twain, who opened her exclusive engagement at Caesars Palace over the weekend. The country music legend will be performing more than 60 shows a year into 2015.
The Trouble With Moose & Squirrel Award of the Week goes to Encore Las Vegas, which will open a new bar at the end of the month called VDKA. It will serve over 150 different varieties of gin... no, I'm kidding, it's vodka, including ones that are infused with interesting flavors like bacon and cinnamon. It'll open December 28th near the Surrender nightclub.
The Ballroom with a Wrench Award of the Week goes to Scarlet, the new bar planned for The Palms that will specialize in craft cocktails. It will be an intimate space... only 200 square feet in the room that used to be a sundry shop near the pool. It's scheduled to open by the end of the year as well.
The Down Under Award of the Week goes to Human Nature, the Australian doo-wop group, whose show at The Imperial Palace closed last week. But fans of the Motown sound may be in luck... there are rumors that the group will be announcing a new two-year deal at a much nicer showroom at The Venetian.
The Putting on the Ritz Award of the Week goes to the Kam Sang Company out of California, which bought the former Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas (now known as Ravella) and the adjacent Casino MonteLago last week for about $47 million. They have no plans on major changes to the properties right now with the Dolce Group continuing to manage the hotel and Intrepid Gaming staying on for the casino.
The All that Glitters Award of the Week goes to Landry's, the parent company of The Golden Nugget, which has just purchased the Isle Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi and plans to remodel it into a Gulf Coast sister for Downtown Vegas' Grand Dame. The Golden Nugget Biloxi is expected to be completed by spring of 2014 and will join the Las Vegas, Laughlin, and Atlantic City Golden Nuggets in the Landry's family.
Hotel Review: The D Las Vegas
Contributing to the renaissance of Downtown Las Vegas is The D, the latest and perhaps greatest incarnation of a Glitter Gulch stalwart that has been pulled into the 21st century with a new look, a new attitude, and a new energy.
The property started life in 1979 as The Sundance and became the "Luck of the Irish" themed Fitzgerald's Holiday Inn during the 80s, complete with a kissable blarney stone inside and a giant leprechaun outside. Most of that silliness went away in the early Y2Ks along with the Holiday Inn designation and the property became fairly bland and innocuous until its 2012 renovation into The D Las Vegas.
There is nothing bland about The D. The exterior along the Fremont Street Experience features giant LED screens, a street-facing bar with award-winning flair bartenders, and an interactive video display that reacts to people passing by. It's all motion and action and while a bit frenetic, perhaps, it is certainly more eye catching than the neon rainbow that was there before.
Inside the main floor casino has been completely revamped to feature modern furnishings, slot machines, and tables all surrounded by a dark grey and red color scheme. The aptly named Longbar stretches almost the length of the casino and has video poker and lots of TV screens. A high-limit area, sexy dancers in the pits in the evenings, and pop/rock music on the sound system complete the transformation.
The upstairs casino has a similarly modern look and feel but goes completely old school with the game offerings with all of the slots accepting and dispensing coins. There's even a stand with plastic coin cups to complete the retro feeling. The centerpiece of this area is a restored Sigma Derby machine; a simulated horse-racing game that encourages crowds of people to stand around and cheer the little plastic horsies.
The rooms have received an overhaul, turning them from bland, floral, and forgettable into more modern digs both from a design and amenities perspective. A red accent wall and accents dominate the visuals with modern furnishings, cushy pillow-top mattresses, a flat screen television, and other contemporary niceties.
It is worth noting that they had to stick with the bones of the hotel when making the upgrades so the rooms are a bit smaller than what you may have grown accustomed to on The Strip and there are some old-school remnants like a noisy, wall-mounted air conditioning unit and less-than-modern fixtures in the bathroom. But these are minor concerns especially when you look at the rates - more on that in a moment.
Other bits of new around the property include upgraded lounges and bars, a revamped lobby and valet area (nice, although a bit dark for my tastes), revised dining options, and more. The pool will get a revamp in time for the 2013 swimming season.
Of course the big question on many people's minds is how all this new, upgraded, modern stuff has affected the room rates. A quick check of their rate calendar shows a minimal impact with costs during the week through March 2013 in the $34-$49 range and on weekends rarely going above $100 and sometimes as low as $59.
The D is a Delightful aDDition to Downtown's Display of Diversions.
PS: BTW and FYI, the D doesn't really stand for any one thing... it is a combination of the D for Downtown, the first letter of one of the owner's first name (Derek), and the city from which the owners hail from, Detroit. Just thought you'd want to know.
The D Las Vegas
Restaurant Review: Culinary Dropout
The gastropub trend has been hitting Vegas hard lately, perhaps a little bit behind the curve but gaining ground rapidly with places like Public House at The Venetian and this place at the Hard Rock. I'm usually not a student of trendy restaurants but if they were all as fun, casual, and good as Culinary Dropout I'd be staying late after class every day.
The concept comes from James Beard Award finalist Sam Fox and is a sister to the Scottsdale, Arizona restaurant of the same name. The guy behind the grill, Executive Chef Eric Suniga, is a veteran of such big name foodie havens as Thomas Keller's Bouchon in California and Seablue in Las Vegas.
Casual is the watchword here, from the unfinished industrial decor to the staff uniforms, which are non-existent. No, they aren't naked, but rather dress in their own street clothes, something that probably makes them more comfortable, which in turn probably improves their general level of service. Most of the wait staff is young and edgy, with tattoos and piercings, a nice change of pace from the cookie cutter blandness at most Vegas restaurants.
The menu starts with a do-it-yourself antipasti bar, allowing guests to select from dozens of meats, veggies, and cheeses. We sampled a couple of different prosciuttos, some sweet roasted tomatoes and crunchy grilled asparagus, and several creamy cheeses and loved almost every bit. Warning... the costs add up fast here so watch how much you are ordering.
There's a raw bar with mussels, king crab legs, shrimp, and oysters and some starters that include burrata with chimichurri, soft pretzels with a provolone fondue, and house made potato chips with onion dip.
The sandwich section has a couple of burgers plus a warm Italian grinder with salami and ham, a prime rib dip, a pork belly cubano with pickles and Swiss, and more while a half dozen salads include chopped vegetable, seared tuna, gorgonzola chicken, and a "cheap house."
Main courses offer a little something for almost every taste. Consider rainbow trout, beef stroganoff, shrimp and chicken jambalaya, steak and fries, chicken curry, fried chicken, pork ribs, and more.
What we ate... the beer battered fish and chips, which were more fish than batter for a delicious change and came with a cole slaw that was declared "the best I've tasted in a long, long time." The grilled cheese sliders were three mini-sandwiches on sourdough with bacon and sweet tomato and were perfect when they first hit the table hot but got a little less interesting as they cooled off. The meatloaf with potatoes and gravy was the clear winner on a table full of them, zesty but not too much so and topped with a subtle tomato sauce that paid it a perfect compliment.
Desserts are limited so let's just skip to the best thing they offer: monkey bread. The sticky pastry is served with a delicious cinnamon sauce and topped with vanilla bean ice cream and was, without question, the highlight of our night
Prices are almost shockingly affordable with starters in the $7-$13 range, sandwiches and salads mostly under $15, and most entrees in the $16-$24 range. If it hadn't been for us overindulging in the antipasti selections, we probably would've done dinner for three for under $75.
I normally don't give restaurants grades anymore, but I'm going to make an exception here just because the place seems to demand it: Culinary Dropout gets an A+ in my grade book.
A Look Back: 600 Weekly Columns & 2004
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 596th so if things go according to plan we'll see 600 right around the start of 2013 (which, by the way, marks the 15th Anniversary of Vegas4Visitors.com).
In case you've been following along and are wondering, the reason I said last week's column was the 594th and this is the 596th is because as I was going through 2004 I found a column that I hadn't counted... so I'm closer to 600 than I thought!
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 back at 2004, which was a big year for the casino companies in Vegas with several huge mergers (MGM got Mandalay, Harrah's got Caesars, and Boyd got Coast); I heard from Queen (the famous rock band not the ruler of England); we heard the names Palazzo and CityCenter for the first time; Binion's closed and then reopened without a Horseshoe; and the Las Vegas Monorail finally debuted... and promptly became one of the biggest embarrassments in Las Vegas history.
Being on the S&R press list got me one of the much-coveted 2004 calendars, produced before the October incident, that features a centerfold of Montecore, the tiger responsible for the attack on Roy Horn. It also has this quote: "Animals are reliable, full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal." Sing it with me: "It's like rain on your wedding day. A free ride when you've already paid..."
Officials moved swiftly through the casino on the night of Friday January 9th telling gamblers to cash in their chips and leave. Within hours the doors were closed. Since then the hotel has remained operational but the casino and all of its attendant neon have been dark, leaving a gaping hole in the bright lights of Fremont Street and nearly 1,000 people unemployed.
Rio Rides High
Similar to, but larger than the famed London Eye Ferris Wheel in Great Britain, the new attraction will be a little more than half the height of the Stratosphere Tower and will loom large over most of the hotels in the area.
Late Thursday afternoon, officials with the company holding the mortgage on the bankrupt Castaways property received approval from the bankruptcy judge to seize all assets from the owners VSS Enterprises. Officers from both companies along with representatives of the Nevada Gaming Control Board entered the casino and began shutting down operations. Gamblers in the casino were told to stop and paid out their accumulated winnings while guests of the hotel's 450 rooms were told to pack their bags and leave.
The merger will make Coast a subsidiary of Boyd Gaming so you'll still be seeing the Coast name on properties and business cards around town. Once you put the two together, you're talking revenues in the billions of dollars and 17 hotels and casinos across the country, including partial ownership of the new Borgata Resort in Atlantic City.
I don't know enough about the show to make a real judgment call on this one yet, but I'm worried that while ABBA's music is bubbly enough to support a lightweight musical like "Mamma Mia!" the same can't really be said of Queen's music, "Bohemian Rhapsody" notwithstanding. If the musical is at all serious, I will have the same reservations as I do about "Phantom." I also think the folks at Paris Las Vegas should be concerned about bringing in another big budget musical that has not proven itself to American audiences. The debacle of "Notre Dame du Paris," the smash hit French musical that opened shortly after the hotel did would make me a little gun shy about the whole thing.
A couple of days after the story was published, I received this e-mail from Brian May himself:
"Dear Mr. G .
Brace yourself Rick - if you think We Will Rock You is ANYTHING like Mama Mia or Phantom, far less "Notre Dame" (!) , you're in for a wonderful shock!!!
Our show has packed London's huge Dominion Theatre (2,100 seats) for two solid years already - that's a nearly million and half happy kids of all ages from 8 to 88, and there has NEVER been a night without a massive standing ovation at the end. (Plenty of Americans in there too!)
And don't forget you're looking at ROCK music here, and from a band who toured the USA constantly through the 70's and 80's - and topped the charts many times along the way. We do not forget, and nor have, I believe, those kids who still rock to Champions, Rock You, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites the Dust, Crazy Little Thing .... need I say more????
It's no idle promise, folks of beautiful Las Vegas - We WILL rock you !!!
See my website - www.Brianmay.com - for details of auditions starting this coming week.
The only people who didn't agree with me were some folks associated with the show somehow (although they left their exact affiliation unmentioned), who wrote to say I was being unfair. To that person who used a fake e-mail address I will say this: "Bleah."
Just days after my review ran on our nationwide syndicated affiliate sites the TI announced it was trimming six minutes from the 24-minute long show. Keep going guys. Trim another 18 or so and you'll fix the whole thing.
New Hotel/Entertainment Complex Set
The Algiers To Close, Be Demolished
MGM Makes a Move on Mandalay
Mandalay Accepts MGM Moves
The final deal was worth a reported $7.9 billion, up from the first offer of $7.65 billion, which Mandalay Resorts rejected over a break-up clause it says could've cost it $100 million if things didn't work out. The final deal includes $4.8 billion in cash, $2.5 billion of assumed debt, and $600 million of what is known as "convertible debt" - bonds that can be cashed in for stock.
When complete the new company, most likely to retain the Harrah's Entertainment name, will control more than 50 casinos in four countries producing annual revenue in excess of $9 billion. By comparison the MGM-Mirage-Mandalay combo features just over 30 casinos with revenues in the $7 billion range.
Las Vegas Monorail Opens
New Mega-Resort Planned
Rio To Add Women's Room
The hotel is also reportedly working on a companion "Ultimate Guys' Night Out" complex featuring a bathroom with a "scratching and spitting pit."
No, no... I just made that last part up. But the rest is true. I swear.
Trump Coming to Vegas
What is it about men and the size of their towers?
It's moments like these I need to find something cool to rest my head on.
For those of you unaware, Hooters is a chain of restaurants and bars featuring scantily clad waitresses with... um... ample assets (that's a polite way of saying they have large breasts).
The San Remo will be remodeled to feature a Hooters restaurant and another from Dan Marino of Dolphin's football fame. There will also be a revamped pool area dubbed the Hooters Beach Club. And of course the so-called "Hooters Girls" will be omnipresent throughout the property, serving drinks and food to what will undoubtedly be the most testosterone-heavy clientele in Las Vegas history.
The hotel will remain open during the transition expected to be complete by fall of 2005, at which point anyone who tries to argue with me about Las Vegas still being a family-friendly destination will be laughed at.
The bad news continues on the financial side, not just for the monorail company itself but for the company that built it. Bombardier of Canada has seen its stock value decline and one of its biggest clients, US Airways, just filed for bankruptcy. This could spell trouble for future development of the monorail into downtown and to the airport.
New Hotel, Condo, Casino Project Proposed for Strip
Wet n Wild Closes
Officials with The Mirage announced a partnership with Cirque du Soleil and Apple Corps LTD, the company created by The Beatles to manage their catalogue of music. The end result of this partnership will be a $100 million show at The Mirage in the former Siegfried & Roy showroom featuring Beatles songs wrapped up in a Cirque du Soleil style production. It is currently scheduled to debut in 2006.
If you remember, there was an entrance facing The Strip at the north end of Caesars near The Mirage. You had to go up an inclined moving sidewalk to the doors located quite away back from the sidewalk.
Now that entire area has been replaced by the new three-story addition, with new stores and restaurants surrounding a courtyard that will feature entertainment. Although there is no new fountain to go with the animated shows happening elsewhere in the mall, there is a feature in the new area destined to become an attraction of its own: a circular escalator. It's just like a regular escalator only it goes in a circle and is one of only two in the United States.
The mega company has announced plans to build a mega-project between Bellagio and Monte Carlo that will not only change the face of Las Vegas but could be a blueprint for future development on and around The Strip.
Project CityCenter, as it is now being called, will eventually be a massive 66-acre development with a first phase calling for 18-million square-feet of hotel, casino, entertainment, retail, and residential space. To put that into context, The Venetian claims to be the largest hotel in the world in terms of square-footage and it has about a third of what's going into Project CityCenter. And that's just the first phase!
Las Vegas Monorail Update
No time soon. Sorry.
2004 Top 10 Hotels