Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

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The 600th Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column!

The Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column debuted in September of 1999 with information about the impending opening of Paris Las Vegas and a tip about how to save money when booking a Sin City hotel (the old cancel and rebook gambit).

Today you are reading the 600th Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column. By my estimation, I have written about a million words worth of content about Las Vegas including hundreds of reviews and thousands of really bad puns.

In the last 13 and 1/3 years, I have written about every major and a lot of minor events that have happened in Las Vegas, from the heady days of development when it seemed like every other week there was some sort of grand announcement about a new mega-billions hotel plan to the dark days when bankruptcies were more common than openings and players stayed away in droves. We've welcomed Wynn, The Palazzo, CityCenter, The Cosmopolitan, and Planet Hollywood (to name a few) and said goodbye to The Sahara, The Frontier, and The Desert Inn among others. We've watched Cirque multiply and Celine take over the Colosseum (twice!) while old favorites like Siegfried & Roy, Folies Bergere, and La Cage took their final bows. We've licked our lips as the dining scene in Vegas became the envy of the world and buffets became pricier than many sit down restaurants. We've seen the silly and the sobering and we've

Through it all, one thing has remained constant - me and you. I love Las Vegas but I wouldn't keep doing this if it weren't for readers like you. I know not all of you have been around since the beginning, but whether you are a long-time reader or a relative newbie, your kindness, support, and loyalty through the good times and bad have been the best part of this job. Well, that and the really cool stuff I get to do in Vegas!

And there's more coming. This year, 2013, marks the 15th Anniversary of Vegas4Visitors.com. Be watching for a series of special columns late this summer to mark the occasion. I've also go more stuff planned for the site, including a sweepstakes, some fun competitions, and a makeover. Stay tuned!

This week, to celebrate the 600th Weekly Column, I'm going to take you both backward and forward. Over the last several weeks I've been re-running the biggest and/or best column pieces from each year that it has been running. I'm finishing that off with looks at 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. If you stil haven't recovered from your New Year's Eve party and need a look back at 2012, check out the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards for the year.

But before we get to that, let's start with a look at what's coming up for Vegas in 2013 and beyond.

Thank you for helping me get to 600!

TOP

Coming to Vegas 2013 and Beyond

Hotels

Nobu Caesars Palace

Caesars Palace will be adding a new hotel tower with the February 2013 bow of the Nobu Caesars Palace boutique hotel. The latter is from the Japanese restaurant of the same name and will be taking over one of the older towers with a total renovation turning it into a hotel-within-the-hotel.

Bally's

Bally's will be getting a revamp to the front of the building with the addition of the Grand Bazaar Shops, and outdoor mall of sorts that will feature nearly 300 vendors. There will also be a new laser/light show in the evenings. It should debut by summer of 2013.

Imperial Palace/The Quad

The Imperial Palace has been renamed The Quad. Yes, The Quad. No, I don't know what it means either. The name change is in effect now and a remodeling of the public areas of the property will be in progress through 2013. That will involve redoing and expanding the casino out to The Strip, moving the main driveway to the north side of the hotel, revising the lobby and casino lounge areas, and updating the exterior of the hotel. It's worth noting that the rooms will NOT be getting upgraded so the low-rent, basic accommodations will remain.

The Palms

The Palms is undergoing a big remodel with changes to the guest rooms, casino, pool, sports book, and more. The project is in progress now and should be complete by late 2013.

THEhotel/Delano

THEhotel will be remodeled and rebranded as the Delano Las Vegas, a sister to the very upscale, very luxurious, very expensive Miami Beach Delano. Delano was originally supposed to come to Vegas at Echelon, the complex of hotels that was to replace The Stardust, but with that project in mothballs the company decided to go elsewhere. The work should be done by the end of 2013.

Hooter's

Hooter's is getting a much needed overhaul that will revise the casino, add new restaurants and entertainment, redo the pool, and remodel the guest rooms. It is expected to be complete by the end of 2013.

Lady Luck/Downtown Grand

The Lady Luck in Downtown Las Vegas, which has been closed since 2006, will be getting a full renovation and a new name. The Downtown Grand, as it will be known, will have all new rooms, restaurants, casino space, meeting space, a pool, and more. It should be open in late 2013 or early 2014.

Sahara/SLS

The former Sahara hotel will be remodeled and renamed as the SLS Las Vegas, a boutique luxury resort from the same company that manages SLS hotels in Beverly Hills and South Beach. It is expected to open in 2014.

Shows

Roseanne Barr

Roseanne Barr will be headlining 6 nights a week at The Laugh Factory at The Tropicana starting in mid-January 2013.

Boys II Men

R&B group Boys II Men will be doing at least 78 shows on weekends at The Mirage starting in February 2013 and running through December.

JabbaWockeeZ

JabbaWockeeZ, which is losing their theater at Monte Carlo to the Blue Man Group, is now performing in a temporary tent by that hotel until their new theater at Luxor where the old IMAX 3-D theater used to be) is ready in April of 2013.

Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil

Michael Jackson Immortal, the non-touring version of the Jackson themed show from Cirque du Soleil, will be opening at Mandalay Bay on May 23, 2013.

Cee Lo Green

Cee Lo Green will be doing a residency at Planet Hollywood starting in February of 2013. He will be doing at least 30 shows.

Attractions

Lied Discovery Children's Museum

The Lied Discovery Children's Museum will close in February 2013 and reopen in a new location next door to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in March or April of 2013.

Michael Jackson Attraction

A Michael Jackson themed attraction will open at Mandalay Bay along with the Cirque show in early 2013. Details have not been released.

SlotZilla

The mack daddy of all zip lines being planned for Downtown Las Vegas with SlotZilla, a 120-foot tall slot machine replica that will have 8 zip lines coming out of it. The attraction is due to open in the summer of 2013.

Luxor/Excalibur Zip Lines

Several new zip lines are also being planned between Excalibur and Luxor. The rides would take people from platforms near the top of the pyramid and the castle down to near the street level. No opening date is set.

Wet 'n' Wild

Wet 'n' Wild is a new water park under construction in the SW part of the city. When complete it will feature a 17,000 square-foot wave pool, 20 slides, a 1,000-foot-long lazy river ride, a children's play area, restaurants, private cabanas, and more. It is scheduled to be open by Memorial Day, 2013.

Cowabunga Bay

Speaking of water parks, Cowabunga Bay is another one under construction, this time in Henderson. It will be a 23 acre park with several one-of-a-kind rides and should be open by summer of 2013.

Shipping Container Park

Central Container Park will be a retail, office, and entertainment complex made mostly of recycled shipping containers. It will be located at 7th and Fremont in Downtown Las Vegas and should be open by the summer of 2013.

Linq

Linq is a major new entertainment venue on The Strip that will go in between The Flamingo and what is now Imperial Palace. The alley between the two hotels will be converted into a pedestrian street with stores, bars, restaurants, and more all leading to a 550-foot tall observation wheel, making it the largest of its kind in the world. The project will also involve tearing down O'Shea's casino and revamping the Imperial Palace with a new look and name (most likely Horseshoe). It will feature stores, restaurants, and bars along a pedestrian walkway leading to a 550-foot tall observation wheel called High Roller. The project will open in stages and should be complete by the end of 2013 or early 2014.

SkyVue

SkyVue is another observation wheel under construction, this one on the south end of The Strip across from Mandalay Bay. It will be 500 feet tall and will have a retail and restaurant complex at its base. It is scheduled to open late 2013 or early 2014 also.

Restaurants

Michael Morton Mexican Restaurant

Michael Morton will be opening a new Mexican restaurant in Downtown Las Vegas across the street from El Cortez sometime in late 2012 or early 2013.

Nightlife

Rockhouse

Rockhouse, the popular party spot that used to be at Imperial Palace (now The Quad) will reopen at The Venetian in late January or early February of 2013.

Krave

Krave, the gay nightclub on The Strip at Planet Hollywood will be moving to a new home at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas. The new club will be called Krave Massive and will feature 5 themed dance floors, 3 bars, a lounge, a movie theater, a comedy club, a performing arts space, a swimming pool, and more. It will be opening early 2013.

Michael Jackson Lounge

A Michael Jackson themed nightclub will open at Mandalay Bay at the same time as the new Cirque show in early 2013.

Light

A nightclub called Light, co-designed by Cirque du Soleil and The Light Group (Bank, Haze, etc.), will open at Mandalay Bay in March of 2013 in the space once occupied by rumjungle. It will use Cirque performers as atmospheric entertainment.

Hakkasan Las Vegas

Hakkasan Las Vegas will replace Studio 54 (which closed in 2012) at MGM Grand in the spring of 2013. It will be a combination restaurant and nightclub that will reportedly be a four-story facility complete with a Strip facing outdoor patio with its own pool. Hakkasan is an Asian restaurant that started in London and now has branches in Mumbai, Miami, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and New York City. It's a co-venture between Hakkasan and Angel Management Group, the Las Vegas nightlife company that runs Pure at Caesars Palace among others.

Other

Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

The Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort will be undergoing a major expansion that will add lifts and courses. It is expected to be complete in 2013.

Las Vegas Premium Outlets North

The Las Vegas Premium Outlets North will be expanding. More than 30 new stores and parking will be added by 2015.

TOP

A Look Back at 2008

The year started off bigwith the opening of a new billion dollar hotel but then a few weeks later a major fire at one of the Strip's biggest mega-resorts seemed to portend what the rest of the year would be like. The global recession hit Vegas hard and developers couldn't cancel their projects... or in many cases get to bankruptcy court... fast enough. Big plans were floated - an Elvis hotel, a third property for Steve Wynn - but by the end of the year we were seeing things start to take a definite turn for the worse.

January 14

Palazzo Opens

After a couple of weeks delay past the originally discussed opening date, Las Vegas' newest resort and casino The Palazzo opened its doors just before New Year's Eve. Well, a big chunk of it did, at least.

The casino and some restaurants opened in time to ring in 2008 and portions of the rest of the hotel are coming online slowly including rooms, shops, more restaurants, and later in the spring entertainment.

Reports from visitors have been both good and bad, with the overall design and dècor rating very high while things like parking and other core services taking a drubbing from the public and the press.

January 21

Money Woes Threaten Casino

The Cosmopolitan is in a bit of a pinch in more ways than one.

The $3 billion hotel, condo, and casino is being constructed on a relatively tiny chunk of land in between Bellagio and the upcoming CityCenter, wrapped around the Jockey Club time shares. But it's a financial pinch that is squeezing things as the people behind the project are scrambling to find additional financing after reportedly defaulting on a construction loan.

The banks and construction company at the center of all of this have struck an agreement to keep the cranes and crews working.

January 28

Blaze at the Monte Carlo

A three-alarm fire at the Monte Carlo on the Las Vegas Strip certainly looked dramatic with thirty-foot flames and towering columns of smoke evoking memories of the catastrophic 1980 MGM Grand fire. But in the end there were only a few minor injuries and the damage is reportedly mostly cosmetic.

The blaze broke out around 11am on Friday, January 25 near the top of the hotel tower along the south facing facade. Investigators are still trying to figure out what sparked the fire, but there have been several reports that there was welding construction in the area near the roof.

It was first reported by passers-by who saw the smoke coming from the building.

It spread quickly through the construction foam that creates the decorative look of the outside of many Las Vegas high-rises. The flaming foam fell off the side of the building, igniting the exterior several floors down and cascading all the way down to the ground.

Firefighters were on the scene quickly and used the standpipes inside the building to battle the fire by leaning out the windows of the top-floor suites. It was out within a couple of hours.

The bulk of the damage is to the exterior of the building only, with the interior sprinkler system mostly keeping flames outside. There are reports of significant smoke and water damage to some of the rooms on the side of the building where the fire occurred.

February 11

Cher To Caesars

As has been rumored (and reported here a couple of weeks ago), Cher will be joining Bette Midler and Elton John as one of the headliners at Caesars Palace. She will be performing 200 shows over the course of about three years with an option to do more.

This will be the latest incarnation of a four decade long career for Cher. With former husband, the late Sonny Bono, she was a pop icon in the late sixties and seventies with hits like "I've Got You Babe," then struck out on her own with a series of her own chart toppers ("Dark Lady," "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves") along with spectacular Vegas stage shows (including stints at Caesars Palace). She turned to a rock sound in the eighties and racked up even more hits with tunes like "If I Could Turn Back Time" and segued into an acting career that garnered her an Academy Award for her role in "Moonstruck." In the nineties and the new millennium she became a dance floor diva and had some of her biggest successes with songs like "Believe" and "Strong Enough."

For her Vegas show she promises over the top theatricality, special effects, and her signature Bob Mackie designed costumes.

February 18

Monte Carlo Reopens

The Monte Carlo reopened last Friday, February 15 - three weeks after a fire damaged part of the hotel tower. The casino and most of the restaurants are back up and running as are about 1,200 rooms. Another block of rooms will reopen next Friday and the rest will remain closed while they do a complete remodel.

And in case you're wondering how much closing a 3,000-room hotel and casino can affect a company's bottom line, the MGM Mirage folks are saying that it'll probably mean a $100 million red mark on their books.

March 24

More Changes at Luxor

The refocusing of Luxor away from the kitschy Egypt theme is set to continue as some of the most iconic attractions at the hotel are due to be removed.

The entire attractions level above the casino will be completely redone, removing the King Tut exhibit, the IMAX movie theater, and the video game arcade. In their place will be a new exhibition area that will host "Bodies... The Exhibition" and "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" now currently showing across the street at the Tropicana.

The company that runs both of the popular exhibitions has signed a 10-year deal with Luxor and will include not only the attractions but gift shops and a Titanic themed bar/lounge complete with a recreation of the ship's bow and moving lifeboats.

Construction should start in April with the new attractions set to open by fall 2008.

March 24

Plaza on Track

An Israeli newspaper reported that the investors behind the proposed $5 billion Plaza project for the former Frontier site were going to wait until the global credit crisis eased before seeking financing for the new hotel and casino, therefore delaying its debut, which had been set for 2012.

Seemingly moments after the report surfaced, representatives for the owners of the project, Israel-based Elad Group, came out saying there was absolutely no credence to the report and that it was moving forward as originally scheduled.

As part of the PR offensive to show that everything was hunky-dory, a press release came out within a day or two of the original report saying that The Plaza had won approval from the Las Vegas County Commission. Considering the fact that the commission approves, well, pretty much everything that anyone with enough cash wants to build, this is not what you might necessarily consider press-release worthy but it did serve to put the doubters on notice: The Plaza is coming no matter what anyone says.

The Plaza project is set to have seven towers which will feature an ultra-luxury hotel, private residences, retail outlets, a casino, restaurants, an entertainment venue, and a convention complex. The Frontier has been mostly scrubbed from the site while the completion of the design and the start of the excavation are set to begin no earlier than the end of 2008 with the opening in 2012.

April 7

Details on Planned Elvis Hotel Emerge

A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shed some light on a planned Elvis themed hotel and casino for the Las Vegas Strip. FX Real Estate and Entertainment is the company behind the project that would include more than 2,200 hotel rooms, a 93,000 square-foot casino, a showroom, restaurants, an Elvis museum, and a chapel where you can get "all shook up" with an Elvis wedding of your very own.

There are lots of hurdles for this particular project, not the least of which is how they are going to raise the roughly $3-4 billion it's going to take to build the whole thing. That number could balloon as they work to negotiate the exit strategy for the businesses on the land where the hotel will be built, which stretches from Harmon Avenue at the Harley Davidson Cafè; (just south of Planet Hollywood) to the Smith and Wollensky building just north of the MGM Grand.

But FX is bullish on the plan and hopes to have construction begin early next year with an opening date of late 2012.

April 14

Guggen-Goodbye

The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum at The Venetian is closing its doors in May, putting yet another nail in the coffin of the theory that Vegas visitors want something resembling culture. The artistic era in Las Vegas began in 1998 with the opening of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, a pet project of then owner Steve Wynn. The Venetian later opened two Guggenheim museums. The larger of the two spaces barely made a year before being converted into a showroom and now the smaller shuts down next month. Steve Wynn's gallery at Wynn Las Vegas also closed its doors not long after the hotel opened.

April 21

New Cirque du Soleil/Criss Angel Show Announced

Details about the next Cirque du Soleil show starring illusionist Criss Angel were announced last week and it sounds like it will be unlike any Cirque or magic show you've seen so far.

"Believe" is the title, taken from the final words of magician Harry Houdini, and it will combine a darker sense of Cirque's traditional theatricality with the mind-bending illusions that Angel is famous for in a narrative form. That means instead of a bunch of disconnected tricks and avant-garde theater pieces, "Believe" will tell a story that involves a "Victorian Noble" and on a surreal journey.

Along the way will be Cirque-style acrobatics and dance, special effects, music, and of course magic. I have to admit that I'm intrigued.

April 21

Spamalot to Close

One of the recurring themes in my Las Vegas writing career has been the theory that if I really love something in the city, it is almost guaranteed to close. It seems as if my praise in the past has doomed more than one restaurant, show, or attraction. I haven't killed a hotel yet, but give me time.

That "lucky" streak continues this week with the announcement that "Monty Python's Spamalot" - a show I picked as the "Best in Las Vegas" for last year - is closing on July 13. The Tony Award winning musical based on the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" will have played for about a year and a half at Wynn Las Vegas when it shutters.

April 21

Danny Gans to Move to Wynn Las Vegas

Celebrity impressionist Danny Gans is packing up his suitcase of vocal tricks and moving from his long time home at The Mirage across the street to Wynn Las Vegas.

Gans has been performing in the city for years, moving to headliner status during his run at The Rio. In the late '90s he moved to The Mirage, lured there (in part) by his friendship with Steve Wynn. Wynn sold the hotel shortly thereafter and the duo has reportedly been looking to reteam for years. Now that Gans' contract is up at The Mirage, the deal could be done.

The showroom at Wynn Las Vegas will be rebranded as the Encore Theater (it's third name after Broadway and Grail) and serve as the main showroom for the new sister property to Wynn Las Vegas, the Encore hotel and casino due to open in December.

April 28

AThe Headliners of the Week Award...

...goes to Donny and Marie Osmond who just formally announced a starring gig at The Flamingo starting in August. The brother-sister duo will take over the showroom currently occupied by Toni Braxton when her contract expires with a variety style show produced in part by impressionist Danny Gans.

April 28

Station Casinos Planning Most Expensive Hotel Ever

CityCenter is a massive complex of hotels, condominiums, retail, entertainment, and gaming space currently under construction just south of Bellagio on The Strip. Its price tag is currently north of $8 billion but that's almost chump change compared to what Station Casinos wants to spend to build their next big thing.

The amount? How does $10 billion sound?

According to a story in the Las Vegas Review Journal, that's how much the folks at Station Casinos plan to spend to build what would wind up being not only the most expensive hotel-casino project in Las Vegas history but also the biggest.

The project is called Viva and it would go into about 110 acres just west of The Strip on and around the land currently occupied by the Wild West Casino at the corner of Tropicana and Dean Martin Drive. The first phase of the project would include multiple casinos and hotels that would eventually serve up as many as 10,000 rooms.

May 12

Tropicana Rolls Snake Eyes

The parent company of The Tropicana filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, but according to everyone involved it will not affect the legendary Strip hotel's operations.

The filing has been expected for quite some time as Tropicana Entertainment struggled almost from day one when it bought former parent company Aztar Corp. in 2007 for more than $2 billion. Stories about strife between the owners and employees at the Vegas location have been rampant and I've even gotten some comments from readers saying how far downhill the property has gone in a very short amount of time.

But the biggest blow to the company had nothing to do with Las Vegas. Instead it came when gaming regulators in New Jersey took away the company's license to operate the Atlantic City Tropicana due to a series of alleged management missteps. They wound up having to sell the property.

The bankruptcy seems to put the final nail in the ambitious plan the owners had for redoing the Las Vegas Tropicana, an estimated $10 billion gamble that would've seen the bulk of the hotel torn down and rebuilt with as many as 10,000 rooms.

May 12

Wynn's Hole in One

Okay, so I spent ten minutes trying to come up with a better golf pun for the headline to this story but if it doesn't involve a windmill and a clown's mouth then I'm not interested so let's all just pretend that I came up with

something really smart and funny and leave it at that, okay?

Anyway... Steve Wynn has announced the next evolution in the grand master-plan for the property that now holds Wynn Las Vegas, the upcoming Encore, and a big, very expensive golf course.

The proposal is to remove the golf course and build a massive convention and hotel complex that would feature nearly 2 million square feet of exhibition space and over 5,000 rooms. It would become the hub of the convention business, stretching from the corner opposite the Las Vegas Convention Center at one end to the corner opposite the Sands Expo and Convention Center at The Venetian. To encourage crossover between the properties, Wynn says he plans to build underground trams to ferry people back and forth, stopping at his hotels along the way of course.

May 12

The Painful Price Increase of the Week Award...

... goes not to the cost of a gallon of gas (although that is painful) but instead to the cost of a cocktail full of shrimp at The Golden Gate, which has gone up from 99 cents to $1.99. The shrimp cocktail has been a famous fixture at the hotel for 50 years, featured on TV shows, guide books, magazines, and more but rising shrimp prices have forced the hotel to tack on the extra buck for the legendary treat. This is only the second time the price has been increased - it was 50 cents for the better part of four decades and then went up to 99 cents in 1991.

May 19

Inflation of the Week

Anyone who has been to Vegas recently may have noticed the little construction project going on just north of Monte Carlo on The Strip. And by little, I mean massive with skyscrapers erupting out of the ground like weeds.

That's CityCenter, the new project from MGM Mirage, the folks who own Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage, and others. When complete in late 2009 it will feature more than 7,000 hotel or condo units, a casino, an Elvis themed Cirque du Soleil show, restaurants, shopping, a huge art project, and its own people mover spread across more than 60 acres.

When they first announced the project they put a $4 billion price tag on the place. Since then, rising construction costs and general inflation woes have driven that price northward. The most recent tally was $8.4 billion.

Now it's $9.2 billion.

And you were complaining about $4 gas.

June 9

The Questionable Judgment of the Week Award...

...goes to an unidentified man who decided it would be a really neat idea to jump, head first, from a bridge into the lake at the Bellagio. For the record, the lake is only about four feet deep. It ended with the guy bleeding profusely from the head and sporting a likely broken arm. Officials say that alcohol was a likely factor. Ya think?

July 7

Live Long and Prosper... Just Not in Vegas

The Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton will close in September after more than a decade of thrilling geeks from around the world. I kid because I love.

There seems to be some confusion and a bit of finger pointing regarding exactly why the attraction is shutting down, with the hotel and the operators of The Experience both suggesting it was the others fault for failing to renew the lease. Regardless, this August's annual Star Trek convention will be the final frontier for a bunch of guys who live in their parents' basement.

I'm joking! It's just so easy.

August 4

Pause Button Pushed on Echelon

For a lot of average Americans, it's getting tougher and tougher to come up with the $4 to even pay for a gallon of gas these days. Imagine having to come up with $5 billion to build yourself a hotel.

That's the bottom line reasoning behind the stunning decision last week to put the construction of the $5 billion Echelon project on hold for up to a year.

Echelon is the 5,000-plus room project that is.... Sorry, was... being built on the land once occupied by The Stardust. As planned it would've included a main hotel plus three boutique hotels, a huge casino, shopping, restaurants, convention space, and all of the other stuff that comes along with a place this big.

The Stardust was imploded last year and construction on Echelon began in earnest earlier this year. As of the work shutdown, some of the hotel towers had several floors complete and work was progressing rapidly on many of the other areas of the resort.

The decision to push the pause button was blamed on the battered global credit market, making it tough for Boyd Gaming, operators of Echelon, to come up with the cash to keep the construction crews going.

Speaking of the workers, the decision puts as many as a thousand people out of work.

Reps for the Boyd company say they will monitor the credit market regularly and move forward when they can, but probably not any time before spring of 2009. This means the earliest the hotel could possible open would be 2011.

August 4

New Volcanic Eruption Predicted

The Mirage announced details of a redesign to its signature Volcano that will incorporate all-new technology plus music from two legendary performers.

Known the world over for its iconic Strip-front feature, The Mirage has joined forces with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, Indian tabla sensation Zakir Hussain, and Fountains of Bellagio design firm WET, to create an all-new audio/visual spectacle. The top-to-bottom overhaul is scheduled for completion late 2008.

October 20

Lion King Roars Into Vegas

I lead a dual life.

Obviously there's my Las Vegas life, managing this website and writing guide books. But in my other life, I also work for a big family entertainment company that has a cartoon mouse as its mascot.

I'm like Batman only much less interesting. And in shape.

I was always confident that my two lives would never intersect. Other than the occasional touring show or teen pop-star concert (no, I can't get you her autograph), I was certain that this family focused company would never have anything to do with the seemingly scandalous, anything-goes ethos of Sin City.

Have I mentioned how often I'm wrong?

The Tony-Award winning musical "The Lion King" will come to Las Vegas next year, not just as a stop on a tour but as a permanent production at Mandalay Bay. The show is scheduled to debut May 2, 2009 (with previews a few weeks earlier). It will take over the showroom currently occupied by "Mamma Mia!," which is set to close in January after more than five years' worth of performances.

November 3

Echelon Edges Away

Back in August when the Boyd Gaming Group announced they would temporarily halt construction on their multi-billion dollar Stardust replacement called Echelon, they said it would be for only 9-12 months while they sorted through the highly complicated financial structure of such a huge project. But no worries - the cranes and crews will be back on the job sometime in 2009.

Do I hear 2010?

Last week the company announced that it is effectively mothballing the entire project until at least 2010 while it goes back to the drawing board on how they are going to complete the resort now that it looks like two of their major partners have all but dropped out of the deal.

November 3

More Casino Cancellations

MGM Mirage corporation - the company that manages hotels like Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage, and Mandalay Bay to name a few - has announced major cutbacks in their future plans for Vegas and elsewhere, part of an effort to bolster their sagging stock price.

Shelved projects include the big resort that had been planned for the corner of Sahara and The Strip that was to be a partnership with Kerzner International, a company that manages resorts in South Africa, and most famously the Atlantis in the Bahamas. The 40 acre development was going to be a multi-billion hotel and casino complex that would've been integrated with a top to bottom overhaul of neighboring Circus Circus.

The proposed MGM Grand resort in Atlantic City has also been cancelled.

November 10

The Big Rumor of the Week Award...

...is that Celine Dion may be headed back to the Colosseum at Caesars in 2010 as a permanent headliner, splitting the calendar up with Bette and Cher. Some outlets are reporting it as fact but it's really just a rumor at this point.

November 10

The Culinary Loss of the Week Award...

... goes to Downtown Vegas staple André's, which will be closing its doors forever at the end of the year. The award-winning French bistro has been a landmark for decades but chef Andre Rochet wants to focus on his two other outlets, Alizé; at The Palms and André's at Monte Carlo.

November 17

Venetian Condos Put on Hold

You see that big tower under construction along The Strip between The Venetian and Palazzo? Get used to it looking like that because it's not going to change for awhile.

As a part of a major cost-cutting effort by parent company Las Vegas Sands, construction of the St. Regis condo tower is being put on hold as is development of their casino projects in China. The latter is going to mean layoffs of an estimated 11,000 workers in China.

It's all being done to try to save the company, which is being hammered by the economic crisis. Execs from the company say they are in danger of defaulting on loans and rumors of bankruptcy have been floating around. The stock price of the company has dropped nearly $100 from a year ago.

December 22

Ahoy! New Captain for Treasure Island

Arrrgh! Treasure Island has a new captain, although he's not new to Vegas seas.

Billionaire Phil Ruffin dug up $775 million in doubloons and other booty to purchase the resort from those scalawags at MGM Mirage.

Okay, I'll stop now.

Ruffin, you may remember, was a fixture on The Strip as the owner of The Frontier, which he sold last year to Elad Properties for a cool $1.2 billion. Saying he was "bored," Ruffin decided to come back into the Vegas game and was able to pay for his new toy with cash and other securities.

Top 10 Hotels 2008

  1. Caesars Palace
  2. Red Rock Resort
  3. Planet Hollywood
  4. Mirage
  5. Mandalay Bay
  6. THEhotel
  7. Wynn Las Vegas
  8. Golden Nugget
  9. Green Valley Ranch
  10. Treasure Island

Top 10 Hotels 2008 Recession Edition

  1. South Point
  2. Bally's
  3. Palace Station
  4. Golden Nugget
  5. Eastside Cannery
  6. Four Queens
  7. El Cortez
  8. Main Street Station
  9. Santa Fe Station
  10. Stratosphere

Top 10 Restaurants 2008

  1. Table 10
  2. Strip House
  3. Austins
  4. Capriotti's
  5. Diablo's Cantina
  6. Hash House a Go Go
  7. Texas de Brazil
  8. M&M Soul Food
  9. Stratta
  10. The Cupcakery

Top 10 Restaurants 2008 Recession Edition

  1. Capriotti's
  2. Ming
  3. Mediterranean Cafe & Market
  4. Memphis Championship BBQ
  5. Komol
  6. Dick's Last Resort
  7. Bougainvillea Cafe
  8. Triple 7 Brew Pub
  9. Earl of Sandwich
  10. Viva McDonald's

Top 10 Shows 2008

  1. Bette Midler
  2. Cher
  3. Donny & Marie
  4. Rita Rudner
  5. Penn & Teller
  6. Mac King
  7. Mystère
  8. Barry Manilow
  9. Le rêve

Top 10 Shows 2008 Recession Edition

  1. Mac King
  2. Rita Rudner
  3. Lance Burton
  4. Legends in Concert
  5. Folies Bergere
  6. Louie Anderson
  7. Mystére
  8. Nathan Burton
  9. Thunder from Down Under
  10. Tournament of Kings

Top 10 Attractions 2008

  1. Mirage Volcano
  2. Springs Preserve
  3. Bellagio Conservatory
  4. Fountains of Bellagio
  5. Fremont Street Experience
  6. Liberace Museum
  7. Mirage Dolphin Habitat
  8. Neon Museum
  9. Lied Discovery Children's Museum
  10. Atomic Testing Museum
TOP

A Look Back at 2009

If 2008 was when things started to go bad for Vegas, 2009 was when the "bad" really took hold. Projects were cancelled all up and down The Strip, bankruptcies were common, and everything struggled to stay afloat. We lost some Vegas icons including Wacky Bob Stupak (whose ideas included The Stratosphere and a Titanic hotel) and beloved entertainer Danny Gans. But in the midst of all this there were some bright spots. We welcome M Resort and CityCenter and got a brief glimpse of the ultimate "Only in Vegas" attraction: mobile strippers.

January 12

Fireworks Fizzle

There was lots of grumbling on The Strip at around 12:15am on January 1, 2009 as hundreds of thousands of people pretty much said, en masse, "That was it?"

The annual New Year's Eve fireworks show in Las Vegas, a crowd-drawing spectacle for nearly a decade, got more boos than oohs this year after a decision was made to launch them from the parking garages of several hotels instead of from the roofs as had been the tradition. The reason for the switch was the Monte Carlo fire in early 2008, which created some new rules in terms of things that are on fire near flammable things (probably a good idea in the long run).

The result was that there were only a few good spots from which you could actually see the fireworks and in many areas, especially the usually prime viewing spots away from The Strip, you couldn't see anything more than some colorful flashes obscured by smoke.

Organizers of the event say "It's free, whaddya want?" No, actually they said they would do the due diligence ahead of 12/31/09 that will allow them to move the fireworks back to the roofs in order to restore the show to its original glory.

January 19

Folies Farewell

After nearly 50 years as a fixture on The Strip, Folies Bergere will be closing.

One of the last traditional showgirl reviews, Folies has been playing at The Tropicana since Christmas Eve 1959. Known for its buxom beauties and massive head dresses, Folies epitomized the classic Las Vegas show before Cirque came along and made everything all "artsy."

February 16

La Cage Ladies Take Final Bow

Times are tough, even for the most fabulous of ladies, as is evidenced by the sudden closure last week of "An Evening at La Cage," the long running female impersonator show at The Riviera.

Host/Hostess Frank Marino, who does a killer Joan Rivers, said in published reports that the show was just not generating the kind of business necessary to stay afloat the producers were forced to make the tough decision to shut it down after a nearly 24 year run.

March 2

The Special Guest of the Week Award...

...goes to the surprise performer that joined Siegfried and Roy on stage at their farewell performance for charity last weekend. The guest? Montecore... the tiger that bit Roy. Hmmm. That's about all I have to say about that.

March 2

M Resort Opens

The M Resort is a $700 million hotel-casino from the Marnell family, a clan you may not have heard of but you definitely know their work. Their Marnell Carrao Associates construction firm was responsible for such famous buildings at Caesars Palace and Wynn Las Vegas. Whether they can run their own hotel casino instead of building them for other people is what we'll find out now that the hotel has had its grand opening.

It is located on the far south side of the Las Vegas valley, at the intersection of St. Rose Parkway and Las Vegas Blvd. South (aka The Strip). That's about 10 miles south of Mandalay Bay and for those of you who drive in from Los Angeles, St. Rose is one of the very first exits as you get to the outskirts of Las Vegas.

March 16

The Mystery of the Week Award...

... goes to Siegfried, Roy, and the tiger that attacked Roy named Montecore who performed a special farewell performance for charity recently. The mystery is whether or not it really was Siegfried and Roy behind the masks they were wearing during the short performance and whether or not it really was Montecore or some other white tiger. Consensus is building that it wasn't any of the above.

March 30

The Fondest Farewell of the Week...

...goes to Mary and Bob Basta, purveyors of the "Best. Chocolate. Ever." at The Chocolate Swan, who decided to shut down the store at Mandalay Bay and take an early retirement for health reasons. I will dream of their chocolate covered caramels for years to come.

April 27

Financial Furor at Fontainebleau

Imagine you're building a house. Now imagine that a bank has agreed to loan you the money to build that house but is giving it to you in chunks just because, you know, building a house ain't cheap. So you're going on your merry way, building your house, and suddenly the bank says, "Yeah, we're not going to give you the rest of your money so you can finish your house."

That's pretty much what is happening with Fontainebleau, the nearly 4,000 room mega-resort under construction on the north end of The Strip near The Riviera.

After borrowing more than $2 billion to get as far as they have, the owners of the project need to get the other $800 million that had been arranged years ago before construction ever started. But the banks are saying no, citing an unspecified default as the reason.

The Fontainebleau crew responded by filing a $3 billion lawsuit claiming there was no default and the banks are just being, well, banks.

Construction continues with a late fall of this year opening date still planned, but all of that could go off the rails if this impasse gets uglier.

May 4

Danny Gans Dies at 52

Las Vegas headliner Danny Gans, best known for his uncanny celebrity impersonations, has passed away. He was 52.

Paramedics were called to Gans house early on Friday, May 1 by his wife who found him in bed not breathing. He was declared dead shortly afterward. No cause of death has been determined yet.

Gans has been a fixture on the Las Vegas entertainment scene since 1996 when he began a standing gig at The Stratosphere. He moved to The Rio for a few years before friend and casino magnate Steve Wynn lured him to his own custom built theater at The Mirage in 2000. He performed there until last year when Wynn once again called him to be the headliner at his new hotel Encore. Gans' show at that hotel opened in February.

June 15

Fontainebleau Goes Bankrupt

The bankruptcy courts are getting crowded with Las Vegas companies. The latest to join the Chapter 11 ranks is Fontainebleau, the (previously) under-construction mega-resort on the north end of The Strip.

The owners of the development and two of its affiliates filed for bankruptcy protection last week after months of drama that included banks pulling financing, lawsuits all around, layoffs, and construction on the $3 billion projection essentially coming to a halt.

July 20

Harrah's Takes it to the Street

With the economy in the toilet and Las Vegas taking a big hit, it's not surprising that there aren't too many "grand plans" being announced by the various hotel and casino companies in town. In fact there are more cancelled plans being announced than new development proposals.

Bucking that trend is Harrah's Entertainment, the casino giant that operates more than half a dozen gaming destinations in Vegas including Caesars Palace, Harrah's, Bally's, Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Rio, Paris Las Vegas, and more. Last week the company announced their next grand plan for Las Vegas... a street.

Yes, instead of tearing down and/or massively overhauling their existing resorts (as they had long been rumored to do) the company will instead focus on smaller projects such as this proposal, which will transform an alley into a Bourbon Street like series of restaurants, bars, and entertainment spaces.

The project will go in between the company's Flamingo and O'Sheas casinos and will involve a cosmetic overhaul of the latter. The pedestrian only street will stretch east from The Strip to the monorail and will be capped by a giant Ferris wheel.

July 27

Planet Hollywood Nightclub Drama

Apparently the wild nightlife at scene at Planet Hollywood got a little too wild. After being fined $500,000 by the Gaming Control Board, the county has yanked the liquor license for both of the hotel's nightclubs Prive and The Living Room. Both clubs will close while the owners of the establishments appeal the decision.

The whole thing started a few weeks ago when the Gaming Control Board announced the massive fine against the hotel for, they say, not properly supervising the goings on at the clubs, which are both owned by the Miami based Opium Group.

Maybe that company's name should've been a tip off of what was to come. But I digress.

The infractions cited by the GCB included everything from underage drinking to "lewd and lascivious" behavior. Calls to the police and emergency services jumped significantly after the club opened.

After seeing what the GCB came up with, the county board that oversees liquor licenses began looking for a shredder in which to put those for Prive and The Living Room.

The clubs will close this week but may reopen after representatives from the hotel and the nightclubs have a chance to plead their case.

August 3

Bankruptcy Train Pulls into Stations

The parent company of Stations Casinos, the local giant that operates more than a dozen casinos around town, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week in a move that was both a surprise and not a surprise.

The company had been negotiating for months to work out what is called a "structured" bankruptcy, where they work out deals with their various creditors. Sort of like those debt settlement deals for those credit cards you've maxed out.

September 28

Bob Stupak Dies at 67

Most of you have never heard the name Bob Stupak, although if you are longtime readers of this column you might remember me referring to him as "Wacky" Bob. Well, the casino developer, colorful character, big time dreamer, and a man who literally changed the skyline of Las Vegas passed away last week at the age of 67 from leukemia.

Believe it or not, I meant the Wacky thing in a good way. Bob Stupak was one of the last of his breed; a showman of sorts who realized that the last thing Las Vegas needed was to get all serious. He was constantly in the news, especially during the go-go '90s, floating one crazy sounding idea after another. This was the guy who wanted to build a hotel-casino shaped like The Titanic, complete with a shopping mall in the iceberg.

But perhaps his most audacious idea was to build the tallest structure in Las Vegas and one of the tallest in the United States. The fact that he quickly lost The Stratosphere after it sank into bankruptcy shortly after opening is really not the point... he got it built and considering the fact that it was done more out of sheer moxie than anything else points to how good the guy really was.

November 2

Barry Takes Paris

Fanilows rejoice! It looks like Barry Manilow will not be leaving Las Vegas after all.

A few weeks ago, Manilow and the Las Vegas Hilton announced that the singers run at the hotel would end in December after nearly five years' worth of shows. Now, Vegas gossip guy Robin Leach is reporting that the guy that writes the songs is going to move his Copacabana to Paris Las Vegas in February of 2010.

November 9

Place Your Final Bette

Bette Midler has announced that she will be ending her two year run at Caesars Palace in January 2010 after nearly 200 shows. In other words: more bad news for Vegas.

November 16

Only in Vegas: Mobile Strippers

So you're sitting there stuck in traffic on The Strip, which you almost always are when you're trying to drive The Strip, and you're so annoyed by the virtual gridlock that you can't even be entertained by the Bellagio Fountains or the Mirage Volcano. What could possibly distract you from going insane while watching exactly three cars get through each left turn arrow despite the fact that they last for what seems like hours?

How about a scantily clad hot chick dancing on a pole inside a Plexiglas box mounted on the back of a truck?

That got your attention, didn't it?

Yes, for a brief, shining moment, Las Vegas lived up to its "Only in..." reputation with a marketing gimmick for local Strip clubs that saw mobile strip shows trolling the tourist areas of town. The goal, say strip club owners, was to draw attention to their, um, offerings in an effort to combat the steep declines in visitation that have hit them as hard as it has hit the casinos.

Local lawmakers were not amused, however. Several looked into the possibility of restricting or banning the practice, less because of the R-Rated content (they said) and more because of the distraction it caused for motorists. Their argument was primarily a slippery slope one, figuring that the logical outcome of all this would be trucks full of strippers and Cirque du Soleil style acrobats. At that point you would have everyone watching the street shows instead of the street.

Although successful - the strip clubs reported an increase in business during the stunt, with several cars and even tour buses following the trucks back to the clubs - the political and public outcry was just too loud and the clubs have now parked the trucks permanently.

December 7

A Look Back at 2011Binion's Closes Hotel; Casino Stays Open

In yet another sign that the worst of times is not over for Las Vegas, Downtown icon Binion's has closed its hotel rooms indefinitely and is laying off workers as a result. The casino and several restaurants will stay open but the property's 365 rooms plus a coffee-shop will be shut down.

The move is a cost-cutting attempt by the current owners to keep Binion's afloat until the city's visitation numbers improve. The property, like most in Vegas, has been hard hit by the recession but had been struggling under a series of owners for years.

December 7

Planet Harrahs-Wood

Harrah's Entertainment is moving forward on their much rumored takeover of the financially troubled Planet Hollywood resort and casino on The Strip. The company filed papers with the Nevada Gaming Control Board that would give it permission to acquire the property.

This move had been anticipated for some time after Harrah's began to buy up Planet Hollywood's staggering $860 million worth of debt earlier this year. The Planet defaulted on the debt with its creditors and has been looking for a savior like Harrah's ever since.

December 14

CityCenter Debuts This Week

Although parts of it are already up and running, the big debut for CityCenter is happening this week as the media and the public are being invited to take a look.

The centerpiece of the property - the 4,000 room Aria hotel and casino - will open its doors to the public late Wednesday night, December 16th after a sure-to-be-swanky invitation-only gala. Guess who got an invitation? And no, I didn't knock some important travel writer down and steal theirs.

Top 10 Hotels 2009
  1. Wynn/Encore
  2. Caesars Palace
  3. Red Rock Resort
  4. Golden Nugget
  5. Green Valley Ranch
  6. M Resort
  7. Mirage
  8. Planet Hollywood
  9. Treasure Island
  10. Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas
Best Shows
  1. Bette Midler
  2. Mystére
  3. Cher
  4. Mac King
  5. Lance Burton
  6. Le Rève
  7. Rita Rudner
  8. The Lion King
  9. Donny & Marie
Best Restaurants
  1. Sinatra
  2. Hash House a Go Go
  3. Capriotti's
  4. Strip House
  5. Tacos & Tequila
  6. The Steakhouse
  7. Serendipity 3
  8. M&M Soul Food
  9. The Cupcakery
  10. Switch
Best Attractions
  1. CityCenter
  2. Fountains of Bellagio
  3. The Springs Preserve
  4. Mirage Volcano
  5. Atomic Testing Museum
  6. Bellagio Conservatory
  7. Fremont Street Experience
  8. Liberace Museum
  9. Mirage Dolphin Habitat
  10. Clark County Heritage Museum
TOP

A Look Back at 2010

Although it would be several years before things returned to normal in Vegas (it's 2013 and in many ways we are still waiting), things started to look up a little bit for the city in 2010. Crowds came to see the stunning new CityCenter in the beginning of the year and ended with trips to see The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas at the end of the year. Having said that, the fact that the latter would probably be the last major resort to open on The Las Vegas Strip for the foreseeable future was not lost on anyone. Celine said she was coming back, Cher said she was going away, and Liberace packed up his candleabras and left town. Here's a snapshot of 2010:

January 11

New Stratosphere Thrill: The Craziest Idea of the Decade

I know it's a little early in the decade to be proclaiming this the craziest idea of said decade, but I stand fairly confident in my assessment that jumping off the top of a 100 story building is probably going to remain high up on the list.

The Stratosphere has announced its newest thrill ride, entitled SkyJump, in which people will be attached to a couple of wires and a harness and then be allowed to jump off the side of the building. Perhaps they should have called it "AAAIIGH! The Ride."

January 18

Genuine, Bona Fide, Electrified, Bankrupt

Nope, not a famous episode of "The Simpsons" but the state of affairs for the Las Vegas Monorail, which is now officially in bankruptcy. To be honest the only surprise in this is that it took so long.

The Monorail will continue to operate as usual while the company goes through Chapter 11 reorganizing in an effort to restructure (or get rid of) some of its debt, estimated to be at least half a billion dollars.

January 25

Fontainebleau Goes to a Familiar Name

Billionaire Carl Icahn, former owner of The Stratosphere, has won the moribund Fontainebleau resort after an auction was cancelled because they only got one bid. His.

In the bargain of the week category, Icahn snapped up the property for $156 million, a fraction of the estimated $2 billion that has already been spent building the place. But that is just the beginning of the checks that Icahn will need to write. It is believed that it will require another $1 billion (at least) to finish the hotel.

February 8

Harrah's Gets Hollywood

Harrah's Entertainment has gotten approval to take over Planet Hollywood and barring any last minute complications, the hotel-casino will become theirs on February 19.

February 15

Ritz Carlton To Close

Okay, it's official: the recession sucks. Need proof? The Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas, a place I once referred to as the best hotel in Las Vegas, is closing its doors in May.

The stunning luxury hotel located literally on top of Lake Las Vegas, about 17 miles east of The Strip, opened in 2003 as one of the lynchpins of the upscale development of hotels, mansions, condos, shopping, gambling, and recreation that was intended to become a playground for the rich and nearly famous. Heck, Celine Dion bought a house here. Its location was intended to set it apart from the crowd but unfortunately that worked just a little too well. It was too far away from the action for most Vegas tourists and too fancy for most Vegas locals.

February 15

Her Heart Will Come Back: Celine Dion Returns to Vegas

Welcome back Celine!

Songstress Celine Dion will be returning to Caesars Palace in March of 2011 for a three year residency at the Colosseum, the site of her record-breaking five year run that ended in 2008.

March 22

Wind 2, Balloon 0

Last week I reported on an incident with the Cloud 9 Balloon where sudden high winds caused the thrill ride to get a lot more thrilling for the passengers on board. Well, apparently the wind was not done with the balloon.

A storm blew through a few days later and destroyed Cloud 9, billed as the largest tethered helium balloon in the world. After the clouds cleared all that was left was some tangled metal and the deflated skin on the ground. Luckily no one was on board at the time.

Operators of the attraction say they will rebuild and hope to have it up and running again within a month or so.

April 26

Cirque du Jacko

Can Las Vegas take an eighth Cirque du Soleil show? If that show features the music of Michael Jackson, the answer is probably yes.

Cirque du Soleil has announced plans to open a permanent Michael Jackson themed show in Las Vegas in 2012 after launching a road-show version in 2011. The new production will feature Jackson's songs and, reportedly, may feature the latest in cutting edge technology that could use holograms and 3-D graphics. A nightclub, restaurants, retail operations, and even a reality show have been mentioned as part of the package.

July 5

Harrah's Revives Alley Plan

Almost exactly a year ago, I told you about Harrah's plans to turn an alley between the Flamingo and O'Shea's into a dining, retail, and entertainment venue leading to a giant Ferris wheel behind the properties. I also told you that, considering the state of the economy and Harrah's overall financial situation, that I would believe it when I saw it.

Well, a year later nothing has happened except that now Harrah's is saying they really are going to build the thing. No, they swear.

The company has re-announced plans to turn the alley into a pedestrian mall featuring more than three dozen restaurants, bars, and retail outlets. It will funnel people to the 550-foot tall Ferris wheel at the back of The Flamingo near the monorail station.

Harrah's is hoping that new attractions like this one will start luring people back to Vegas to fill up all those empty hotel rooms. If that's the case, it's going to be awhile. Construction on the project is not expected to begin until 2011 with an opening date TBD but most likely late next year.

September 13

Magician Disappears

Put the doves back in their cages and lock the Corvette in the garage: Lance Burton's show at the Monte Carlo has closed.

Illusionist Burton started performing his act at the Monte Carlo in 1996, but he had been a Vegas regular for years before that with a standing gig at the Hacienda (which was replaced by Mandalay Bay). Burton's casual blend of up-close magic and grand scale illusions charmed audiences by not taking itself too seriously. Although there were big stunts (witness the flying Corvette), Burton pulled it off with a laid-back, aw-shucks Kentucky boy demeanor that kept people coming back for 14 years, making it one of the longest running shows on The Strip.

September 20

Plaza Hotel to Close

Stop me if this sounds familiar... a Downtown hotel has announced plans to close all of its rooms, but only for awhile so they can renovate everything and then reopen, better than before. Yes, the same story that was told about the Lady Luck and Binion's is now being told about the Plaza. The venerable (some might say run down) hotel at the head of the Fremont Street Experience is shutting down all of its accommodations for what they say is a year while they do a top to bottom remodel. The casino and other public areas will remain open - so you can go gamble there but you can't actually stay there.

The shutdown comes along with layoffs. Nearly 400 workers are expected to lose their jobs.

September 27

Cher to Caesars: Take Me Home

Cher will be heading home as of February, 2011. Well, maybe not home, specifically, but she won't be at Caesars Palace anymore.

The current reigning Diva of Las Vegas is packing up her extravaganza after three years in residency at the Colosseum. By the time the run is done she will have performed about 200 shows.

September 27

Wayne Newton Museum?

You've heard that saying about a door shutting and another opening. Or is it a window that opens? Whatever. The point is that just as we have received the sad news that one kitschy Las Vegas museum is closing, we get word that there could be another one getting ready to open.

Wayne Newton has announced plans to turn his 38 acre Casa de Shenandoah estate into a tourist attraction, complete with a museum and theater and tours of parts of the mansion, his car collection, his prized Arabian horses, and his private jet. This could be exactly what the city needs now that it won't have the Liberace Museum to giggle about anymore.

October 18

Liberace Museum Dazzles No More

After more than three decades of honoring the over-the-top life and legacy of "Mr. Showmanship," the Liberace Museum has closed.

The museum was considered by many - including me - to be a must-see destination when visiting Vegas. Packed the brim with outrageous costumes, cars, and his signature candelabras (among other memorabilia), the museum took a loving look at a man who, in his heyday, was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. He was a Las Vegas staple, drawing in huge sold-out crowds at showrooms around the city who came to see his stage spectaculars that were famous not just for his music but for his wild performances and often jaw-dropping entries (at various times he drove on stage in a glittery Rolls Royce or flew in over the crowd draped in jewels and furs).

Changing times and an off-Strip location led to the closure of the museum, although the foundation that manages the collection has said they will try to take the proverbial show on the road with a touring retrospective.

December 13

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: The Journey to The Strip

The December 15th opening of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is, perhaps, one of the most anticipated in the city's history. Not necessarily because the hotel is particularly ground-breaking from a design perspective or high on the public's radar, but because it has taken so long to get the doors open that it will most likely be the last major resort to open in the city for years to come.

Top 10 Hotels 2010
  1. Caesars Palace
  2. Aria Las Vegas
  3. Tropicana Las Vegas
  4. Wynn/Encore
  5. Red Rock Resort
  6. Treasure Island
  7. Golden Nugget
  8. The Mirage
  9. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
  10. Planet Hollywood
Top 10 Shows 2010
  1. Garth Brooks
  2. Barry Manilow
  3. Mystére
  4. Mac King
  5. Cher
  6. Believe with Criss Angel
  7. Donny & Marie
  8. Penn & Teller
  9. Rita Rudner
Top 10 Restaurants 2010
  1. Raku Grill
  2. Todd English PUB
  3. L'Atelier
  4. Gilley's
  5. Capriotti's
  6. Hash House a Go Go
  7. Sinatra
  8. Pink's
  9. Main Street Garden Court Buffet
  10. munchbar
Top 10 Attractions 2010
  1. Erotic Heritage Museum
  2. Fountains of Bellagio
  3. Mirage Volcano
  4. Atomic Testing Museum
  5. Mirage Dolphin Habitat
  6. Springs Preserve
  7. Fremont Street Experience
  8. Fremont Street Flightlinez
  9. Stratosphere Tower Thrill Rides
  10. Clark County Heritage Museum
TOP

A Look Back at 2011

2011 wasn't all that long ago but if you're like me you have a hard time remembering yesterday so let's take a stroll back to that year, shall we? The big news was the closure of the Sahara after 58 years in business but we also heard the first rumblings of the Nobu Hotel, Elton John's return, Shania Twain's arrival, and Elvis' departure.

February 7

Venetian Gets Stingy With Comps

Here's the quote from Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of the company that manages the Venetian and Palazzo, that has sent everyone into a tizzy:

"We've essentially cut out all our accounts except the most highly rated players. No more packaging deals to try to be competitive with others. There's no more comp rooms given out. There's no more food and beverage. There's no shopping credits. There's no restaurant credits. There's no showroom credits."

That would be a pretty shocking statement if Las Vegas was doing well, but at a time when most hotels are slashing room rates and throwing freebies around like they were confetti to lure people back to the properties, this seems almost insane.

It has already caused no small amount of uproar, with blog postings and chat boards lighting up around the Internet with people outraged about the move. I have received several e-mails from my readers about it including one who says he has already sent a letter to The Venetian saying that he will never darken their doors again.

February 14

Blue Men Move

The hints were pretty obvious -- when the Monte Carlo started handing out blue room keys and then bathed the entire building in blue lights, there were only a couple things that they could have been hinting at. Either they were going to rebrand the entire property as Smurfville Las Vegas or the Blue Man Group was coming.

Turned out to be the latter.

The blue-headed performance art group will be moving to the Monte Carlo from their current home at The Venetian in November of 2011. This will be their third venue after debuting at the Luxor in 2000. At the Venetian they got a custom-built theater so the move will probably involve a major revamp of the Monte Carlo showroom to accommodate the production.

February 21

Amusement Park Proposed for The Strip

Albert Einstein famously said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I'm not sure what made me think of that.

In other news, a company is planning to build an amusement park on The Strip.

The plans call for a 10 acre family-friendly development across from Mandalay Bay. It would be just south of the former site of the family-friendly MGM Grand amusement park that closed several years ago because of low attendance.

Among the planned rides is a giant Ferris Wheel that would rise 500 feet in the air, roughly the same height as the Cloud 9 Balloon that used to operate on the exact same chunk of land as the proposed park. That balloon was a family-friendly attraction that got destroyed by high winds, was built again, and then went out of business due to money trouble.

March 14

Rome Meets Japan

One of the oldest portions of Caesars Palace will get new life under a plan announced last week that will turn an entire hotel tower into a Japanese themed boutique hotel.

The Nobu restaurant chain, run by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, has reached an agreement to take over the 1970 era Centurion tower and rebrand it as the Nobu hotel. It will feature 180 guest rooms and suites with an Asian theme, its own check-in services, and its own room-service from a new branch of Nobu that will open at the base of the tower. The existing Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel will remain open.

April 18

Best Press Release of the Week Award...

... goes to Kirvin Doak, a local PR company, who sent out a release with this title: GIANT CHOCOLATE SPACE BUNNIES INVADE BELLAGIO LAS VEGAS. I get a lot of press releases and I don't even look at a lot of them but there was no way in the world I wasn't going to look at this one.

Best Use of Chocolate Award of the Week goes to the Jean-Phillippe Patisserie at Bellagio, which has created an 8-foot wide spaceship piloted by astronaut bunnies completely out of chocolate (hence the press release). It'll be on display through Easter.

April 25

Elton John to Return to Vegas

Elton John has announced he will return to a 3-year residency at Caesars Palace. The new show will be called "The Million Dollar Piano" and will feature Sir Elton playing, appropriately enough, a custom designed Yamaha piano that has been in the works for more than four years.

The show is scheduled to begin in late September with roughly 75 shows per year over the course of the three years, but that's what he said last time when he started his "Red Piano" show at Caesars. That wound up going for five years and nearly 250 shows.

May 1

Mandalay Bay Wants To Be Starting Something with Michael Jackson

Mandalay Bay is going into the Michael Jackson business in a big way and they're hoping it'll be a Thriller for all involved. Or at least not be Bad. But is it really as Black and White as all that or will they be told to Beat It?

Okay, I'll stop.

So we knew, even before they formally announced it, that the new Michael Jackson themed Cirque du Soleil show was going to reside at the hotel but in the last week they have announced more amenities and events designed to put a decidedly King of Pop spin on the property.

When the permanent Cirque show opens in 2013, it will come with a new attraction at the hotel. The Michael Jackson All Access will feature a recreation of part of his Neverland Ranch estate and will house videos, photos, costumes, and more. Both the Fan Fest and permanent exhibits are being co-created by Ubisoft, a video game maker so expect a host of cutting edge, interactive technology.

Lastly, a Michael Jackson Lounge will also open up at the hotel. Patterned after the successful Beatles-themed Revolution Lounge at The Mirage, the new night spot will feature more Jackson memorabilia and a design meant to evoke the singer's style.

May 16

Memories of The Sahara

I don't have a lot of fond memories of The Sahara. Its closure on Monday, May 16 after 58 years in business, does not sadden me, necessarily, except for the inevitable pang of nostalgia for a Las Vegas that doesn't exist anymore - and in many ways probably never did.

Of course I wasn't around for its heyday. I'm old but I'm not that old. When it opened in 1952 it was, by most accounts, an immediate hit. At that time, its location couldn't have been better; directly across the street from the popular El Rancho and between the bustling Downtown Las Vegas and resorts like The Flamingo and The Desert Inn.

It was a celebrity mecca well into the 1960s when it was a favored haunt of the Rat Pack. They even included it as one of the five casinos that got robbed in the original "Oceans 11." The hotel was as glamorous and "of the moment" as the Cosmopolitan is today.

May 23

Penn Gets M

Penn National Gaming is not a familiar name to most Vegas visitors but they are officially in charge of a Las Vegas hotel now that the Nevada Gaming commission has approved their takeover of the M Resort.

Penn National is a big player in other areas of the country with their Hollywood casinos in Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Indiana, and Maryland plus other casinos and horse racetracks in Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, and elsewhere. They tried to get into the Vegas market for years and were rumored to be interested in everything from Treasure Island to the moribund Fontainebleau hotel before they finally picked up the billion dollar M Resort for $230 million in a debt purchasing agreement.

May 23

Fitzgerald's Owner Dies

Don Barden, the owner of Fitzgerald's in Downtown Las Vegas, has passed away from lung cancer. He was 67.

Barden made Vegas history in 2001 when his company purchased the Fitz, making him the first African-American casino owner in the city.

June 13

Shania Twain To Gallop Into Vegas

After months of rumors and speculation, country superstar Shania Twain has confirmed that she will take up residency at Caesars Palace for a series of exclusive concerts starting in December 2012.

That is not a typo... her run does not start until the end of 2012 so anticipation for her return will be building even more. She is currently scheduled to do 60 shows per year into 2014.

Country superstar Shania Twain has been keeping a low profile for the last decade or so and the news of her return to live performing has created quite a stir.

July 11

The Put Away the Candelabra Award of the Week...

...goes to Carluccio's restaurant, which closed last week after more than 20 years in business. The Italian eatery was once owned by Liberace and was located next to the Liberace museum, which closed last year.

August 22

Imperial Palace to Get New Name; O'Shea's to Close

For years there were rumors that the Imperial Palace would be torn down to make way for a new megaresort costing billions of dollars. Now, the days of the IP are numbered but its not because it'll be imploded. Instead, the hotel will be completely remodeled and rebranded as part of the new entertainment plaza planned for the space between it and The Flamingo.

Those paying attention to that last statement might say, wait... O'Shea's casino is in between Imperial Palace and Flamingo. Yep, but not for much longer. O'Shea's will be torn down to make way for the new development.

The $550 million project, code named Linq, will go into the space were O'Shea's and an alley are currently located and will feature more than 30 restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues plus an open air market patterned after The Grove in Los Angeles. It will funnel people to the centerpiece of the project, the Las Vegas High Roller, a 550-foot tall observation wheel that will be the biggest of its kind in the world.

August 29

Plaza Preview

Most people have forgotten about The Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas. And for good reason. It opened in 1971 at the head of Fremont Street and became a landmark in the neighborhood with it soaring towers and iconic dome restaurant at the front.

But years of neglect from a series of owners who didn't know what to do with the property pushed it into second and even third tier status - a tattered, worn, dingy place that you stayed at if you couldn't afford something better or if everything other hotel was full.

Now, finally, The Plaza is getting a rebirth that could return the hotel to icon status. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on a top to bottom transformation of the property that will officially debut this week.

October 17

MGM Grand Makeover

The biggest hotel in Las Vegas is getting its biggest ever facelift with the announcement of major renovation project at MGM Grand. By the time it is done in 2012, virtually every portion of the hotel will have a new look and feel.

More than 4,200 of the roughly 5,000 rooms will be getting the bulk of the attention from the first phase of the $160 million makeover. New furnishings will be of the sleek and modern variety that is all the rage in Vegas these days. The new decor is mostly earth tones but with vibrant splashes of color in the fabrics with leather and chrome accents. Expect new flat screen televisions, upgraded connectivity options, new fixtures, and more.

October 31

The End of The Lady Luck

After sitting closed for nearly six years, The Lady Luck in Downtown Las Vegas is finally getting a new lease on life - but it won't be as The Lady Luck.

Officials with the company that owns the mothballed hotel announced that they would be completing a long-planned renovation and will be renaming the hotel The Downtown Grand. A symbolic ground-breaking of sorts happened last week as crews took down the old Lady Luck signs from the building, all of which will be donated to the Neon Museum.

November 21

Studio 54 To Close in January

Things rarely last 14 years in Vegas anymore so the fact that Studio 54 made it that long, especially in the hyper-competitive nightclub market, is something of a miracle. But in January of 2012 the music will come to an end and the disco ball will stop spinning as the granddaddy of Strip mega-clubs closes its doors for good and makes way for the next generation of party hot spots.

November 28

Cirque to Close Viva Elvis Show

Elvis is leaving the building... again.

Cirque du Soleil has announced plans to close Viva Elvis, the Elvis Presley themed production at Aria Las Vegas, by the end of 2012. The company cited low ticket sales as the reason for its first ever closure of a show in Las Vegas.

November 28

Las Vegas Hilton to become LVH: Las Vegas Hotel

Well, at least they get to keep their initials. The Las Vegas Hilton will be changing its name in 2012 to LVH: the Las Vegas Hotel and Resort.

The hotel has been branded as a Hilton property since 1971, two years after the property opened as The International in 1969. Although owned by other companies for the last few decades, it retained the Hilton name through a licensing deal with the hotel giant. That deal is coming to an end after 2011 for reasons that no one has fully specified, although it certainly has to do with money - the hotel has been struggling financially and is currently trying to stay out of foreclosure.

2011 Top 10 Hotels
  1. Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
  2. Bellagio
  3. Aria Las Vegas
  4. Caesars Palace
  5. Red Rock Resort
  6. The Plaza
  7. reasure Island
  8. Wynn/Encore
  9. South Point
  10. Mirage
2011 Top 10 Restaurants
  1. Todd's Unique Dining
  2. Raku Grill
  3. L'Atelier
  4. Capriotti's
  5. KGB
  6. Hash House A Go Go
  7. Estiatorio Milos/Bartolotta
  8. Lola's: A Louisiana Kitchen
  9. Todd English P.U.B.
  10. Sugar Factory
2011 Top 10 Shows
  1. Absinthe
  2. Vegas! The Show
  3. Mac King
  4. Garth Brooks
  5. Penn & Teller
  6. Mystére
  7. Criss Angel
  8. JabbaWockeeZ
  9. Le Rêve
2011 Top 10 Attractions
  1. Pinball Museum
  2. Erotic Heritage Museum
  3. Bellagio Conservatory
  4. Fremont Street Flightlinez
  5. Mirage Dolphin Habitat
  6. Atomic Testing Museum
  7. Fountains of Bellagio
  8. Fremont Street Experience
  9. Mirage Volcano
  10. Springs Preserve
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