Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

The Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column by Rick Garman began in 1998 and if you are feeling brave and have absolutely nothing better to do with your time, please feel free to browse through our archive by selecting a date below. Please note that we are currently reformatting and updating the archive pages and until that work is complete some images and/or links may not be working.

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Cirque Mega Show Available Online

The Cirque du Soleil spectacular "One Night for One Drop" event was held at Bellagio on Friday, March 22, a first-of-its-kind combination of acts from all of the Las Vegas Cirque shows. More than $3 million was raised for One Drop, an organization that works to ensure access to clean, safe drinking water around the globe.

It was a star-studded affair with big names like Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Pamela Anderson, and Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps in attendance to name a few and reviews have been nothing short of ecstatic.

Sorry you missed it? Well, now you have a chance to see the show and help the One Drop efforts at the same time. For a minimum $5 donation, you can watch a filmed, 90-minute version of the show online. It's only available from March 25 through March 31 so don't miss out. For more information visit the official website.

Even better news - the event was such a success that they plan to do it annually.

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Taking it Off for Charity

The Fourth Annual Las Vegas Broadway Bares: The Barest Show On Earth will be taking (it almost all) off on Sunday, April 21st at the Peepshow theater at Planet Hollywood. Hosted by TV personality Scott Nevins, the show features the sexiest entertainers from across the Strip coming together for a one-night-only event, with special performances by Jaymes Vaughan and James Davis of Chippendales and "The Amazing Race." There will be dancers and performance groups from Vegas shows Peepshow, Le Rève, Sirens of TI, Vegas! The Show, Divas Las Vegas, Rack and Roll, The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil, Show in the Sky, Absinthe, Chippendales, Rock of Ages, Jubilee, and many more.

All proceeds from Las Vegas Broadway Bares: The Barest Show On Earth will be donated directly to Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, which is one of the nation's leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS has drawn upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community to raise more than $225 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States. Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS also awards annual grants to more than 400 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide.

Tickets are available in advance for $25 + tax, $30 + tax at the door. VIP tickets are also available in advance for $55 + tax, $60 + tax at the door. All tickets can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com or at the Peepshow box office.

For more information (and some NSFW video) visit the Broadway Bares website.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The I'll Believe It When I See It Award of the Week goes to the company that has sought approval from the county to build a London themed thrill park on The Strip between The Showcase Mall and Harmon Avenue, just north of MGM Grand and south of Planet Hollywood. The centerpiece of the rides and attractions would be a replica of the London Eye, potentially the third observation wheel in Vegas after Linq and Skyvue. This is all just big talk at this point so we'll see if anything ever happens.

The Land Mogul Award of the Week goes to Zappos.com CEO Tony Hseih who is heading a development group that has been buying up land around Downtown Vegas in an effort to revitalize the area. His latest purchase was the shuttered Western casino at Fremont and 8th, a block down from El Cortez and the booming bar district that includes Insert Coin(s), Commonwealth, and others. No word on what will become of the building or the land.

The Power Outage Award of the Week goes to the resorts on The Strip that all went dark on Saturday night - on purpose. Most of the major hotels turned off non-essential exterior lighting to honor Earth Hour, an annual event designed to bring awareness to energy conservation.

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Revisiting Some of My Favorites

Normally when I set up a research jaunt to Vegas I spend the entire time going to new stuff: restaurants that have just opened or that I finally have room to visit; new shows and attractions; new bars, lounges, and nightclubs; and basically anything that I haven't seen before. This usually doesn't leave me with a lot of time to go back to my favorites but a few weeks ago I spent an extended weekend in Vegas with a group of friends who put up with my freakish control issues and basically let me plan several days' worth of activities. On the list were visits to restaurants, shows, and attractions that I consider to be among the best in town and I'm pleased to report that these recent experiences only solidified my original opinions.

After a fantastic dinner at the new Citizen's Kitchen at Mandalay Bay, the seven of us ran up The Strip to Caesars Palace to see Absinthe, the show that I have put at the top of my list of favorites for two years in a row now. It's just as breathtaking, bold, and blue as it always has been with a mixture of death-defying acrobatics and outrageous (and quite, quite profane) humor. To say that this show is daring is the understatement of the millennium but the way it mixes laughs and gasps is unlike anything else in Vegas.

Since many in the group have ties to New Orleans I took them to a lunch at Lola's: A Louisiana Kitchen. Now mind you, this is not an easy crowd to impress when it comes to food in general but especially when it comes to this type of food - authenticity is required and it was delivered. Po boys, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, catfish and grits... we sampled a big chunk of the menu and our mouths were too full to say how much we liked it. The one and only disappointment was that I hadn't expected the line to get in the door and our group of seven wound up getting seated in what amounted to a glorified industrial hallway instead of in the main restaurant. The moral of the story: make a reservation.

Although I couldn't join them, the group went to see Penn & Teller at The Rio Las Vegas, now celebrating their 20th anniversary as Las Vegas headliners. I'm disappointed that I couldn't go because their reviews came back just as positive as mine have been every time I've see the magical duo. Their cerebral brand of illusions are more than just awe-inducing they are thought-provoking as well, making this one of the best magic shows in town.

An unexpected illness among the group reduced our numbers slightly but several of us still managed to make it to the Erotic Heritage Museum. Even though much of it is the same as the last time I visited, I was still fascinated by the exhibits and not just because they are all about sex. This is absolutely an X-rated and at times shocking place to visit but it's done in a way that illuminates the topic in both thoughtful and provocative ways.

Finally, I took the food fans to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand, a restaurant that I wish I could afford to visit more often. I could be here all day writing about mind-blowing experience of dining here but I'll sum it up by saying that this is a meal that you will remember for the rest of your life. It is that good. It is also that expensive - our bill for a group of six came to about $1,400. Now mind you that included cocktails, as many as nine courses including dessert, tax, and tip but it's still an insane amount of money to spend on dinner. The thing of it is, though, that we all thought it was totally worth it.

My thanks to Nettie, Diana, Robin, Audrey, Chuck, and Wesly for joining me on my favorites tour of Vegas. Let's do it again next year!

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Attraction Review: Lion Habitat Ranch

One of the biggest "secrets" of the former MGM Grand Lion Habitat was that the lions didn't actually live on site. Instead they were brought in daily from their real home in Henderson, a facility that is now open to the public as the Lion Habitat Ranch.

Getting there requires a car and a really good map. It's located within roaring distance of the M Resort on the far south side of Las Vegas, but it's basically out in the middle of the desert off a narrow, poorly marked road.

Make the effort, though, and you'll be rewarded with a fun, well-run facility that gives you some close-up views of the kings (and queens) of the jungle.

The ranch is the labor of love of Keith and Bev Evans, who have been working with big cats for decades and running this particular facility for more than 20 years. All of the cats were either rescued, donated, or born here and include some that are direct descendants of the original MGM lion that roared at the beginning of movies.

The number and type of cats on site varies - sometimes they are out on jobs - but when I visited there were about two dozen that ranged from a few weeks old to 18 years, which is the upper end of the scale for how long lions live in captivity (about twice as long as in the wild).

The lions that are born here are raised by hand and socialized with humans to they are much more docile than some of the cats that came from elsewhere. The result can be some adorable tableaus, as cubs tussle and play with and get bottle fed by their handlers and adult cats recognize the people who raised them since birth. Having said that, these are still powerful animals and precautions are taken both for the trainers and the guests who are kept separate from the cats by multiple fences and railings.

Options for touring the facility include the basic do-it-yourself version, in which you walk around and look in the various habitats at the lions and are able to ask questions of the trainers on site; a more immersive guided tour with a trainer; a "trainer for a day" program where you will get to interact with the animals; and a "feast with the beast" facility that has a glass-enclosed dining area inside one of the lion habitats. Prices start at $20 and go up into the hundreds for the more in depth programs.

The MGM Grand Lion Habitat was free but the most you usually got out of that was jostling with the other tourists to get as close as possible to the glass so you could watch lions, usually, just laying there being lazy. The $20 fee here is more than worth it to get up close and watch everything from lazing to ball chasing to feedings. Although there are the inevitable pangs of "animals like this shouldn't be in captivity," it is obvious that they are well-loved and cared for in ways that some of their wild brethren might jealous of.

Vegas4Visitors Rating: A

Lion Habitat Ranch

382 Bruner Ave.
Henderson, NV 89044
702-595-6666
website
Price: $20 adults
Hours: Fri-Mon 11am-4pm

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Restaurant Review: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill

Celebrity Chef Ramsay's British Invasion of Las Vegas came swiftly and without much warning. In the space of six months he went from no restaurants in Sin City to three, with a high-end steakhouse at Paris Las Vegas, a burger joint at Planet Hollywood, and this, what is ultimately a combination of the two at Caesars Palace.

Designed to be a modern day interpretation of a classic English Pub, the restaurant has a casual, open cafe style section facing the casino near the Colosseum and a more formal dining room done in dark woods, fancy furnishings, and fireplaces. This split personality continues in the menu, with daytime offering "pub" grub (style burgers, sandwiches like Welsh Rarebit and corned beef brisket, salads, and British classics like bangers and mash and shepherd's pie) while the evening "grill" is more upscale with steaks, seafood, and more English faves like Irish beef cheek stew and fish and chips.

I visited right at the transition between the two styles and was actually a little jealous that my dinner menu didn't have the huge, fantastic looking burgers that were being consumed a couple of tables over. But me and my dining companions got over it and dove into the grill menu to make up for it.

Starters include crispy fried oysters, lamb riblettes, pork and duck rillettes, and the one we went with, mini-burgers because we hadn't quite let go of the big burger jealousy. They were almost exactly like the ones we had at Gordon Ramsay Steak a few months earlier, which is to say fantastic, topped with Welsh cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon, done with a simple sauce and a sweet bun.

Also similar to the steakhouse restaurant is the English ale onion soup, which is definitely not French onion but still good in a beer-y kind of way. A few other soup and salad options include classic Caesar, confit duck, and chopped chicken.

The flashback continued as one of the people at my table opted for the fish and chips, a carbon copy of those served at the more expensive steakhouse. That was a welcome thing in this case as they were once again declared to be fantastic; not too much batter and a finer than average cod inside. Other seafood options include things like Scottish salmon, mussels and clams with chorizo, and scallops.

The "butchered" section of the menu features items like the aforementioned Irish beef cheek stew plus a dinner sized serving of Shepherd's Pie, a beef and lamb stew, a couple of steaks, and some lamb, pork, and chicken dishes. We opted for the mustard basted hanger steak, which was not quite as good as the fancier (and much more expensive) cuts we had at Gordon Ramsay Steak but still a success with a smoky woodhouse flavor set off by a zesty red onion puree. We also sampled the Cornish chicken, perfectly herb brined with an unobtrusive truffle stuffing. It was excellent and virtually requires you to add the pureed potatoes side dish, which were so sweet and creamy that they were devoured almost to the point of licking the bowl clean.

Prices are on the high side but not as high as the steakhouse. Starters, soups, and salads are all under $20 and all of the entrees other than the steak and lamb T-bone are under $30. Go for the 32 ounce rib eye and you'll be paying over $60 but that is an outlier. Lunch prices are more reasonable with all of the main dishes including burgers running between $18 and $30.

Service was terrific throughout the meal.

Because of the similarities of the menus between the various Gordon Ramsay restaurants, you don't really need to go to all of them to feel as though you have gotten your fix. Go to the steakhouse if you want a fancy meal, the burger joint if you want something simple, and here if you want the best of both.

Vegas4Visitors Rating: B+

Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill
Caesars Palace
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
877-346-4642
website
Average Per Person: $25-$50
Hours: Sun-Thu 11am-11pm
Fri-Sat 11am-12am

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