Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

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!

The latest weekly column will always be on this page, but you can go back through the archives (all the way back to 1999!) or take a look ahead and what's coming up next for Vegas by using the navigation on the left hand sidebar.

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy!



The Return of the Liberace Museum

When the Liberace Museum closed in 2010 after more than 30 years as a local landmark, a little bit of Vegas itself closed with it. The museum represented a fading intersection of glitz and kitsch, where rhinestone encrusted pianos and bejeweled costumes set the stage, both literally and metaphorically, for the gleefully wacky side of Las Vegas that followed, from faux volcanoes to pirate battles and beyond. Its bankruptcy and closure seemed to be less about the shrinking audience of people who know who Liberace is and more about Las Vegas continuing its evolution toward grown-up luxury and away from grown-up fun.

But Downtown seems to have put a stake in the ground to reclaim the less serious side of Las Vegas. That's where they are building SlotZilla, the world's largest slot machine that will double as a zip line attraction. That's where they have Insert Coin(s) and Drink & Drag, nightclubs that feature video games and drag queens respectively. That's where they are building a retail center out of shipping containers that will have a fire-breathing praying mantis sculpture out front. And Downtown, my friends, is where Liberace will reclaim his rightful place as the glittery king of Las Vegas.

Organizers with the Liberace Foundation have signed a deal with Neonpolis to bring Mr. Entertainment back to Las Vegas in the form of The Liberace Experience. The interactive museum will cover about 10,000 square-feet of space in the shopping complex next door to the Heart Attack Grill facing Las Vegas Boulevard. Windows will be cut into the blank wall of the building so passersby can see at least some of the spectacle from the street.

Although only about half the size of the original museum, organizers are hoping to pack a lot of Liberace artifacts into the space and upgrade it to a more modern experience.

Its location at Neonpolis will put it squarely in the midst of the resurgent Downtown Las Vegas, where attractions like the Mob Museum and Neon Museum have quickly become must-visit, buzzworthy destinations. In a bit of irony that is not lost on anyone, the new Liberace Experience will be in the same shopping complex as Drink & Drag and Krave Massive, two of the city's premiere gay bars. There was also a gay bar in the shopping center where the old Liberace Museum was located. It's not hard to believe that Liberace would've found that amusing.

Liberace, for the record, was one of the highest paid entertainers of his time who turned playing the piano into an over-the-top art form. Famous for his wild stage extravaganzas and outrageous costumes, Liberace had a long history with Las Vegas, headlining showrooms around town for decades. He was paid a then eye-popping sum of $1 million to be the opening night entertainment at The Riviera in 1955.

Liberace died in 1987 from complications due to AIDS.

The Liberace Experience is targeted to open in January of 2014 on the heels of a resurgence of sorts for the entertainer. The HBO film "Behind the Candelabra" starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover Scott Thorson airs later this year and Cee Lo Green will be doing his own spin on the Mr. Entertainment legend with a series of concerts at Planet Hollywood entitled Lo-Berace.


Casino Business in 2012

Here's a riddle: how do you make $20 billion and still lose money? It's a simple answer really but the details behind it are spelled out in the 2012 report from the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Gaming Commission.

The annual report shows that Clark County casinos, which includes Las Vegas, raked in $20.4 billion in total revenue in 2012, up a billion dollars from 2011's $19.4 billion haul. Despite that increase, the casinos wound up in the red by $1.2 billion.

Most of the loss comes from normal operating expenses like payroll, advertising, taxes, and utilities but the single biggest cost that hits the casino company's bottom line is paying interest on the massive debt that most of them are operating under. $2.9 billion went to that line item in the county's collective casino budget.

Of the $20.4 billion revenue, $8.8 billion of it came from gaming. Breaking that down even further shows that $5.6 billion was generated from slot machine and video poker play; $2.9 billion from table games, keno, and bingo; and the rest from everything else you can wager on like poker and sports betting.

As has been the norm for years, the casinos make more money off of non-gambling revenue streams. $4.4 billion was generated from room costs; another $4.4 billion from food and beverage; and $2.7 billion from miscellaneous categories like retail, attractions, convention services, and the like.

Room occupancy was at 86% for 2012, also up from 2011's 84.6%. July was the busiest month of the year with 91% occupancy and December the slowest at 76%.

The average room rate was $113 per day and yes, that is up also over 2011 when the average was $104.

You can read the full report at the Nevada Gaming Commission website here.


Las Vegas Openings and Closings

It's a busy week for Las Vegas, with an unusual number of openings and closings going on around the city.

Las Vegas is both losing and gaining a hotel on February 4 with the closure of Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon and the opening of Nobu Hotel Las Vegas at Caesars Palace. The former is getting an extreme makeover and will reopen in 2014 with a new name. The latter comes with a new Nobu restaurant, billed as the largest one of its kind with more than 300 seats.

Speaking of restaurants, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse has made a return to Las Vegas with a new outlet at Harrah's in the space formerly occupied by The Range. Other new eats coming on line over the last few days include Citizens Kitchen and Bar, a casual eatery at Mandalay Bay, and Heraea, an American bistro at The Palms that aims its sports theme at women with an upscale menu and chic decor.

The Lied Discovery Children's Museum closed over this past weekend but it will be making a comeback in a new location at The Smith Center in March.

In the showrooms, the curtain is going up on a new production and a returning favorite. Million Dollar Quartet is the award-winning Broadway show that reimagines the real-life 1956 jam session of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. It's playing at Harrah's in the showroom that was home to long-running Legends in Concert, which will reopen as an afternoon show at The Flamingo in late February.


Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Coolest Thing Ever Award of the Week goes to the Mirage Dolphin Habitat, which is offering guests the chance to create a work of art with a flippered friend. The dolphins hold a special brush in their mouths and have been trained to paint on a canvas held by guests. At the end you get to keep the painting. The cost is $199 and sessions are twice a day at noon and 3:30pm.

The I'm Hungry Already Award of the Week goes to the Hash House a Go Go at The Quad, which is now open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You know you want one of those massive pancakes at 4am, don't you?

The No Way in Hell Award of the Week goes to Sky Jump at the Stratosphere, which is getting close to its 100,000th crazy person signing up to jump off the top of the 800-plus-foot tower. That "lucky" person will receive a free jump, two nights in the hotel, dinner, and more. Will I be doing this to try to become the 100,000th jumper? No way in hell.

The Bouquet Award of the Week goes to Tulips, a sculpture from artist Jeff Koons that is now on display at Wynn Las Vegas. The piece was recently purchased by Steve Wynn for... are you sitting down... $33.6 million. Yow! The colorful, 3-ton steel sculpture is located near the showrooms.


Hotel Review: The Palms

Someone once told me that remodeling projects at Vegas hotels never reach a conclusion; they just reach the end of the hotel and then go back the other way again. Such is the case at The Palms, which is in the midst of a renovation that has stretched from one end of the hotel to the other, from top to bottom, and now back again, and will continue well into 2013.

As evidence, note that they completely renovated the pool area but that's going to get renovated again in time for next year's swimming season.

But the changes go well beyond new landscaping by the chaise lounges and include new restaurants, new nightclubs, new rooms, a substantially revamped casino (carpet, machines, layout), and more, all designed to keep the perpetually hip hotel perpetually hip well into its second decade in existence.

The hotel, located just West of the Strip on Flamingo road (across the street from The Rio), is letting go of its old Vegas-meets-Palm-Beach decor scheme in favor of something more dramatic and contemporary, with bolder colors and visuals dominating the space especially in the rooms.

The accommodations in the main Palms Tower have all gotten an overhaul, turning what were nice but fairly forgettable rooms into ones that definitely leave an impression. A neon-colored mural dominates one wall with a set of eyes acting as the primary focal point. Some may find it disconcerting (they seem to follow you around the room) but most will be too busy taking pictures of it to Tweet to their friends to worry about it.

The beds are pillow-top soft, the furnishings are plush and vividly colored (fuschia and electric blue are common), and the amenities plentiful and modern from 46" HDTVs to ports for just about any electronic device you happened to bring with you. Other standard equipment includes a desk, high-speed Internet, iron and board, safe, and hair dryer.

Bathrooms are on the smallish side and have been renovated to only include showers (no tubs), but they are sleek and comfortable as long as you aren't intending to share it with anyone else for an extended period of time. The frosted glass and stone accents certainly make them prettier than your average commode.

Rooms in the Fantasy Tower didn't get the "eye"ful of a remodel but are still nice in a traditional way. Earth tones dominate the color schemes and they have all of the amenities that the Palms Tower rooms do. You just probably won't be taking any Tweetable pictures of them unless you happen to be staying in one of the Fantasy Suites, epic bits of Vegas silliness that feature everything from the space where they filmed MTV's "The Real World" (stripper pole included) to an indoor basketball court.

The Palms Place tower is a residential/rental complex with condos that are both owner-occupied and in rentable. They range from one bedroom suites with full kitchens, Jacuzzi tubs, and fireplaces all the way up to multi-story palaces that are bigger than your average suburban home. Leonardo DiCaprio is reportedly one of the people who owns a unit here but I doubt he puts his in the rental pool for you to crash in for a few nights. Don't steal anything if you do.

The casino dominates most of the main floor and it offers everything you need in a casino including all the latest slots, a lot of video poker machines, a sports book, keno and poker rooms, a high-limit salon, and all the table games you may want. As mentioned, much of it is getting a makeover with new carpeting, paint, machines, and layout.

Around the fringes of the casino you'll find some restaurants and other diversions like a food court with a McDonald's and Panda Express among others, a 14-screen movie theater complex, a fully-equipped spa and salon, and much more. There are also restaurants and nightclubs atop the room towers including the fantastic Alizé, which offers some of the best views in town.

The nightlife situation is a bit in flux at this writing. Two of their clubs - the long-running Rain and the Vegas version of the Playboy Club - have closed and will be replaced by something new TBD, while their other two clubs ghostbar and Moon are staying put... for now. That could change without much notice so if you are intent on partying at The Palms you should check to make sure there is a good place in which you can do it.

There are some downsides. First, the elevators to the guest rooms in the main tower are located in the same area as the entrance to some of the clubs. This means that on many nights you're going to have to negotiate your way through ridiculous crowds of trendy party-goers - not a lot of fun when you're exhausted and just want to go lie down.

Those party-goers can be annoying if you are the type to get annoyed by those darned kids and their shenanigans (insert shaken fist here). If it's a Friday or Saturday night, just stick near the penny slots or the keno room and you'll probably never see them.

Prices are pretty good - as low as $129 on the weekends and as low as $99 during the week, although most of the time they are higher to much higher than that.

Casino and restaurant staff are generally friendly and willing to help. Front desk and nightclub staff often come across as brusque. Not sure why this is but I'm not the first person to notice it.

Sometime in 2013 I'll update this review again once the bulk of this particular bit of the renovations are complete. Or at least as complete as renovations at a Vegas hotel ever get.

HighsTerrific rooms and beds, lots of entertainment.
LowsNightclubs draw a young, kind of obnoxious clientele.
Location 7Not right on The Strip but pretty close.
Price 8Expensive but not out of line.
Value10You get a lot for your dough.
Rooms10All the comforts and more.
Casino 8Fun and lively gaming.
Amenities10Everything you need.
Service 6Could've been better.
Fun 8Lots of smiles & entertainment.
Bonus 6Bonus points for recent renovations that keep it current.
Vegas4Visitors Rating: 83

The Palms

4321 West Flamingo
Las Vegas, NV 89103


Nightlife Review: Hyde Bellagio

Taking over the space once occupied by the Fontana Lounge was a brilliant stroke for this nightclub. It has one of the coolest views in all of Las Vegas offering an up-close, ground level view of the Bellagio Fountains.

But they took more than just the locale from Fontana, they also adopted the idea that a nightclub can be more than just a place to go party until dawn. The club is open at 5pm daily with a much more relaxed vibe than the high-energy nightclub it becomes after 10pm on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. They don't want me (or you) to call it a lounge so let's just say it's a really nice place where you can have a cocktail and relax.

The space is gorgeous and intimate with multiple levels offering a variety of moods. The concept is as if you are in someone's (really fabulous) Italian villa, with the different areas evoking various rooms. The main "living room" area is filled with big cushy seating in the booths and a fireplace doubling as a place for the DJ to spin tunes. The upper bar area is a little more casual and the spaces nearest to the lake and fountains are like outdoor verandas. The most coveted spot in the entire club is the semi-circular booth that seems to jut out into the lake itself. Good luck on getting a seat there. The furnishings and decor are funky and modern without being too obnoxious about the whole thing.

There's even a small retail store in case you need a diamond bauble or Hyde branded t-shirt while you are visiting. You can stop and shop or order from a menu at your table.

During the cocktail bar portion of the evening they pride themselves on mixology and have a variety of signature drinks using fresh, and often unusual, ingredients. I sampled the Love Unit (stop it) that included basil and red bell pepper juice. Interesting.

They also have a Bellini cart with eight different varieties and offer a tapas style menu that includes small bites from Circo at Bellagio.

Since this is not a hotel lounge, specifically, you probably shouldn't stop in for a drink after a long day of sightseeing while wearing your "I Heart Vegas" t-shirt and neon-green flip flops. You don't have to get dressed up necessarily but this ain't no roadhouse saloon so try at least a little bit just so you don't feel out of place. The good news is that the earlier evening crowd is more mature than the young and pretty set that populates the room after it turns into a nightclub on select nights.

And what a crowd that is. The late night weekend partiers certainly are an energetic bunch, packing virtually every single square inch of available floor space to get their groove on. Since there is no formal dance floor, it's sort of one big booty shaking mass from the front door to the Bellagio Fountains. The interesting thing was that while the crowd was decidedly young and pretty, it had at least a smattering of more mature folks. That probably has more to do with its location at Bellagio, which draws a more grown up set to begin with.

Prices are as crazy high as you'd expect them to be at a Strip nightclub. Enough said.

I like the energy of Hyde in both incarnations, although I think most people will feel more at home during the less frenetic early evening version than during the crazy light night version.

Hyde Bellagio

3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Hours: Nightly 5pm; Tue, Fri-Sat 10pm-4am
Type: Ultralounge