Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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Saying Goodbye to Bill's

Next week, just shy of its 34th birthday, a Strip mainstay will turn off the lights and close the doors. But unlike many other hotel closures that have come before, this is not a "goodbye" as much as it is a "see you later."

Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon opened as the Barbary Coast in March of 1979, a tiny slip of a place with 150 rooms. It was surrounded by mega-resorts more than 10 times its size like the Flamingo, Caesars Palace, The Dunes (where Bellagio is now located), and the original MGM Grand (now Bally's) making it an intersting alternative to the bigger is better mentality that has been pervasive in Vegas since its inception.

The hotel was the brainchild of Michael Gaughan, scion of legendary casino magnate Jackie Gaughan who ruled Downtown Las Vegas during the era with hotels like The Plaza and El Cortez. Michael used the success of the property to build his Coast Casinos empire, which eventually came to include The Orleans, Suncoast, and South Coast, the latter of which was renamed South Point and is the only casino owned by Gaughan after he sold everything else to Boyd Gaming.

Barbary Coast became Bill's in 2007 when it was acquired by Harrah's Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) in a land swap deal that gave Boyd Gaming more land for Echelon, the mega-resort they were planning on replacing The Stardust with.

For most of its life as Barbary Coast and as Bill's, the hotel has operated as a simpler, often lower-cost alternative to the fancy hotels that surrounded it. That will all change when it gets a new life in 2014.

The property is getting a $180 million makeover that aims to turn it into an upscale, hip, boutique hotel with a youthful attitude and amenities. The best parallel I can think of is the Kimpton chain of hotels, which often turn small, pedestrian properties into swank, hipster hangouts with modern decor, happening nightclubs and lounges, and a cheeky attitude.

No corner of the hotel will go untouched, with the interior basically getting stripped to the concrete and the exterior getting a facelift as well. The casino, lobby, restaurants, and rooms will all be redone; new dining and nightlife options will be added; and a rooftop pool and nightclub will be the focal point.

The one mystery is what the new hotel will be called when it reopens. Restaurant and nightlife impresario Victor Drai is in charge of the food and beverage including the new rooftop nightclub and there have been rumors that Drai's could be the new moniker. Another possibility is that NYC hotelier and nightclub operator Gansevoort will take over the accommodations portion of the property and rebrand it accordingly. I think both of those are unlikely, but I don't have any better guesses.

Bill's will close on February 4, 2013 and the new property is expected to open by the spring of 2014.

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Nobu Hotel Set to Debut Next Week

The total number of rooms on The Strip will not change much next week when Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon closes. Its 200 rooms will go out of service but 181 will come online right across the street as the Nobu Hotel Las Vegas opens on the same day.

February 4th is the debut day for Nobu, a boutique hotel experience that is taking over the old Centurion Tower at Caesars Palace. It will operate with its own check-in, lobby, and room service from a new branch of the hotel's namesake Nobu, a popular Japanese restaurant that has another location at the Hard Rock Hotel.

The entire property is being designed by David Rockwell, the same person responsible for the eye-popping visuals at The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. At Nobu, the decor is definitely more subtle, taking a Zen minimalist approach to evoke Asian design themes. Rooms are done in warm earth tones with splashes of color and graphics in the carpets, wall coverings, and artwork inspired by various bits of nature.

Bathrooms will feature teak fittings, stone tiles, and modern fixtures throughout. An oversized walk-in shower comprised of traditional black Umi tiles will offer multiple shower heads and a teak bathing stool, a commodity seen in traditional Japanese bathhouses. Bath amenities will include a selection of products by Natura Bisse in a signature rosemary and white tea scent designed exclusively for Nobu Hotel.

Check-in features personalized service with in-room iPad registration and a traditional hot tea welcome amenity. The unique turndown service will include his and hers yukata robes and slippers displayed bedside along with an exclusive Nobu Hotel blend of scented sleep oils. An upgraded minibar curated by Nobu will consist of unique selections including organic Wild Poppy blood orange chili juice crafted from orchards in California, chocolate-dipped Pocky pretzels, Japanese beer, and an assortment of Dean & Deluca snack items. Nobu's signature brands of chilled sake and Genmai-Cha brown rice green tea will also be available.

Guests of the Nobu Hotel will have a private entrance to the adjoining Nobu restaurant and lounge or, if they don't feel like going downstairs for some sushi, they can order it up to the room. The restaurant and hotel entrance will be located directly opposite Old Homestead Steakhouse, near the Colosseum showroom where Celine Dion, Elton John, and Shania Twain perform.

Staying at the hotel is not cheap, at least to start. Rates are starting around $250 per night and going up from there. There is no resort fee.

Watch for a full review soon.

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Watching the Big Game in Vegas

Apparently there's some big sports ball game thing happening next weekend. Something about Ravens and 49ers but that has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe or the Gold Rush.

As you can tell I'm not much of a football fan - that's the one with the orange ball that you bounce up and down, right? - but Las Vegas will be one of the most popular places to watch San Francisco and Baltimore go head-to-head in Super Bowl XLVII.

Yes, I had to look that up. Leave me alone.

The one thing you need to know about Vegas on super Bowl weekend is that it is crazy busy and crowded pretty much anywhere there's a television set. You have to make a plan and get wherever you're going early if you want to have any hope of getting a good viewing spot.

Race and sports books are the most obvious places to go to watch the game. Most have giant walls of big screens that are viewable from space, comfy chairs (if you can snag one), and food and beverage service. Every major casino has one but the best, in my opinion, are the massive caves at LVH (the largest in the world) and Bally's; the modern and more open wonders at Mirage and Caesars Palace; and the high-tech, high-luxury options at Aria Las Vegas and the MGM Grand. The latter has swank VIP sky boxes with 42-inch plasma TVs, surround-sound audio, and bottle service.

There are plenty of sports themed bars and restaurants around town as well. The best of the bunch are Lagasse's Stadium at Palazzo, with more than 100 flat screen TVs and mobile wagering options; and The Sporting House at New York-New York, with two levels of fun, food, and drink.

All of the sports focused places will be packed to the rafters so you may want to consider going to a regular bar or restaurant. Trust me - if the place has a TV, it'll most likely be tuned to the game.

Guys who want something other than Beyonce to watch at half-time could also consider Las Vegas' long list of strip clubs. Which you choose to watch - the game or the girls - is up to you.

Some hotels have viewing parties but they are usually by invitation only for players' club members. If you haven't gotten an invite by now, you aren't getting one, sorry.

Your last and perhaps best option could be to just stay in your room. True, you could've just stayed home and watched it there but does your home have room service? And no, your spouse doesn't count. So kick back, order some wings, and start rooting for your favorite team.

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The Heart of the Matter

Luxor is really putting its heart into American Heart Month this February with a series of events that include the display of a 600-pound heart, free blood pressure and glucose screenings, and "kisses" from the casts of the hotel's strip shows. Talk about a little something for everyone.

The events start on February 1, 2013 when an anatomically correct, 600 pound heart will be transported via ambulance to the lobby of Luxor where it will remain on display throughout the month. The heart stands 12 feet high, 13 feet long, and 7 feet wide and was developed by the Bodies... The Exhibition attraction at the hotel.

That day, MedicWest will be providing complimentary blood pressure and blood glucose screenings between 11am and 1pm to anyone who buys a ticket to Bodies.

On Valentine's Day, February 14, cast members from the Fantasy and Thunder From Down Under strip shows will be passing out Hershey Kisses to anyone who shows them a ticket for Bodies between 2 and 5pm. Some of the Kisses will be specially marked and will be good for 2 tickets to one of the shows.

A portion of the ticket sales that day will be donated to the American Heart Association.

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Mandalay Bay Makeover

Fourteen years is a young blink of the eye by most measurements but it is a lifetime in Las Vegas casino years. Any hotel that remains essentially unchanged for that long is way overdue for a major makeover.

That's what is happening at Mandalay Bay, which will be celebrating its 14th birthday in 2013. The hotel is in the midst of what is being billed as its first significant overhaul since it opened and will include marjo upgrades to many areas of the property.

The casino is at the top of the list for a beautification and will see new furnishings, gaming tables, slot machines, carpet, wall treatments, lighting, and more.

The hotel's lineup of restaurants is getting some new and refreshed entries. Fan favorite Red Square was remodeled and has a new menu of both continental and Russian fare and the same thing will happen at Shanghai Lily, the hotel's Chinese restaurant, and Mizuya, the sushi bar and lounge. New outlets will include an upscale Japanese restaurant and a casual, moderately priced eatery both from the Light Group. The food court is also getting revamped.

That same company will also be partnering with Cirque du Soleil on a new nightclub at the hotel called Light. It will feature Cirque visuals and performers integrated with a high-tech dance club.

Cirque du Soleil is putting the finishing touches on the permanent company version of its Michael Jackson themed road show production, which will include a makeover of the hotel's showroom and the addition of other King of Pop attractions.

The lobby of the hotel is going to get redone with a new indoor/outdoor lounge and there will be a new adults only pool area and day club.

The hotel rooms in the Mandalay Bay portion of the tower will not get remodeled as they have been kept more current over the years. The Four Seasons, which is integrated into the main tower, just finished a major room remodeling project and THEhotel is getting completely done over with a new look and new name that will make it a Delano branded property.

The bulk of the Mandalay Bay upgrade project is expect to be completed in stages by this summer while The Delano project is expected to debut in 2014.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Hell No Award of the Week goes to Dinner in the Sky, a new dining concept that will hoist guests up 180 feet to the top of a steel platform and serve them epicurean feasts while strapped into chairs that are dangling out over open air. Will I be reviewing this dining experience? Hell, no! But if you want to it should be open later this year and you can find out more about the $300 per person experience at dinnerintheskylv.com.

The There's No Business Award of the Week goes to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which is adding a 3,000 seat show and events theater to its offerings. The Chelsea, as it will be called, will host concerts and special events like boxing when it opens in 2014.

The Drool Award of the Week goes to the Sin City Chocolate and Pastry Festival, scheduled to hit The Venetian & Palazzo on Saturday, February 16 at 8pm. The event will bring together some of the world's foremost chocolatiers and pastry chefs who will serve up their specialties along with wine and spirit pairings. Tickets run $45-$95 with proceeds benefiting the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Find out more at sincitychocolatefestival.com.

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