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.



Key Largo Destroyed by Fire

The Key Largo casino hotel was destroyed by a fire last week resulting in an estimated $4.5 million in damage. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries fighting the blaze and officials are searching the gutted buildings for bodies with cadaver dogs.

The Key Largo has been closed for the better part of a decade but the building was popular with squatters and homeless people.

The fire broke out on Friday, March 29 and quickly tore through the abandoned buildings. Traffic on Flamingo just east of The Strip was shut down for hours while firefighters tried to knock down the flames.

Vegas4Visitors reader Jacki Hall was in Las Vegas and got the photos you see to the right.

The property opened in 1974 as the Ambassador, a small hotel and casino that was popular with locals and convention goers. It was renamed La Mirage around 1983 and was renamed again in 1989 when Steve Wynn bought the rights to the Mirage name for his new hotel on The Strip. It operated as the Quality Inn until 1997 when it was remodeled with a South Beach theme and dubbed the Key Largo Quality Inn.

The property closed in 2005 when the Florida based company that owns it announced plans to demolish the buildings and build a 1,000 room luxury condo/hotel. Those plans never got off the ground and the property has remained shuttered ever since.

The company has been ordered by county officials to demolish what is left of the buildings after the blaze. There has been no comment from the company yet on their plans for the property.


Caesars Makes Millionaires

Caesars Entertainment is touting its track record of making millionaires - 705 of them since 1987 to be specific.

The latest lucky winners came on March 26th, when a player hit $1.7 million on the Wheel of Fortune progressive and then the next day when someone hit a $1.4 million payout on the Grease slots, both at Paris Las Vegas.

Caesars Entertainment's Total Rewards Millionaire Maker program is designed to create even more one-percenters by offering a wide array of ways that players can win a million bucks. Beyond the usual slot machine jackpots, Caesars casinos offers a million-dollar Three Card Poker jackpot and is going to be running two programs that could create millionaires without even needing to gamble anything.

The first is a partnership with the Wheel of Fortune games how. From April 7 through May 19 simply swipe your card at any Total Rewards kiosk and you get a game piece - no gambling is necessary but for every 25 tier credits you earn you get another game piece. Then, tune in to Wheel of Fortune from May 13-24 to see if your game piece matches. 20 people will win $50,000 and be flown to Vegas for a chance to win $1 million.

Later this summer, Total Rewards will be launching their Millionaire Maker Hidden Jackpots program. From July through August, members of Total Rewards can swipe their card daily at any kiosk nationwide to learn if they have a $1 million Hidden Jackpot with their name on it.

Each day of the promotion, a different group of Total Reward members will be selected for the Hidden Jackpot, one individual representing each of the participating casinos nationwide. Members will not know if they have been selected, nor the casino where their $1 million could be hidden, but can search for their jackpot by swiping their Total Reward card. If they swipe their card on their selected day at the selected casino where their $1 million is hidden, their Hidden Jackpot will be uncovered, earning $1 million. In addition, each day a Total Rewards member swipes their card, they will have the chance to receive fantastic prizes.

You can learn more at the Million Maker website.


Gold Coast Makeover

The venerable Gold Coast hotel and casino is getting a makeover designed to keep it competitive with its fancier neighbors just off The Strip.

400 rooms have been completely redone with new furnishings and decor in the bedrooms and new fixtures and tile in the bathrooms. The upgrades were done to the former "Deluxe" rooms, which are now the "Premium" rooms. The former "Premium" rooms, which got a makeover a few years ago, are now the "Deluxe" rooms. Follow that? Just remember that "Premium" is better/newer than "Deluxe" and everything will be fine.

The casino will get an upgrade next with new carpeting, tables, chairs, and more. More areas of the property are slated for renovations through 2013.

The Gold Coast opened on Flamingo just west of The Strip in 1986, a sister to the Barbary Coast. At the time it was the only hotel-casino in the neighborhood, which would later welcome The Rio and The Palms. The hotel is currently owned by Boyd Gaming.


Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Love Can Move Mountains But Apparently Not Her Award of the Week goes to Celine Dion who has no intention of moving from her headlining gig at Caesars Palace for the next six years. The singer has signed a contract extension that will keep her at the hotel into 2019.

The Notorious Award of the Week goes to the Crazy Horse Too strip club, which will be reopening later this year under new ownership. The club, located on Industrial at Sahara, was infamous for its anything goes atmosphere under the ownership of alleged mobster Rick Rizzolo. Rizzolo was convicted of tax evasion after federal officials seized the club alleging everything from prostitution to drug trafficking.

The Sock Puppet Award of the Week goes to Absinthe, which celebrated its 1,000th show earlier this week. The cast and crew had a zombie themed party at Pure at Caesars Palace to mark the occasion.

The Last Dance Award of the Week goes to Tabu, the nightclub at MGM Grand, which will close in April. The club was one of the first to establish the ultralounge trend, which puts big nightclub trappings in a smaller space.


Restaurant Review: Denny's on Fremont

Why am I reviewing a Denny's? I mean, really... in a town like this, filled with so much amazing, unique, and delicious food at every turn, why in the world would you want to consider something as pedestrian as Denny's?

Because this is a Downtown Las Vegas Denny's, complete with retro-mod furnishings, an outdoor patio with terrific views, a photo booth, a full bar, and a wedding chapel. If you're going to go with something safe, at least make it something interesting!

Located at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas, the Denny's here starts with lots of streetside seating, which on nice days will give you a great people-watching spot. You'll be able to see the Fremont Street Experience light and sound show at night and keep track of all the people riding down the zip line, which launches nearby.

Inside the cool, sleek furnishings feel like no other Denny's I've ever been in. While certainly not upscale, it is clean and simple and very Scandinavian - like dining in an Ikea. Why you'd want to drink at the bar at Denny's is beyond me, but it's there just in case as is the wacky, post-modern photobooth if you're feeling like leaving behind a souvenir picture of yourself.

The wedding chapel - which is really just a wide spot in the middle of the restaurant - is more of a cute idea than a destination.

I haven't eaten at a Denny's in roughly a million years, buying into its reputation as a purveyor of unhealthy, high-calorie, middle-of-the-road food. This visit reinforced some of that stereotype but also opened my eyes a little.

The menu won't surprise anyone who has ever visited, with pages of breakfasts (including their classic "Slams"), sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups, American comfort food (country-fried steak, pot roast, and even steak), a value section, and selections geared to both kids and seniors. And yes they still have their infamous fried cheese melt (fried mozzarella sticks turned into a sandwich) and bacon "slamburger," which is topped with hash browns, a fried egg, bacon, and cheese sauce. If you can survive those you can survive anything.

We sampled some of the breakfast options - eggs with bacon and sausage, an omelet - and the pot roast, which was roughly the size of a small Buick. Everything was good (but not great or at all memorable), well-prepared, and served quickly and with a smile. The fact that three of us got out of there for less than $30 all-in tells you the main reason why people still go to Denny's.

There are lots of better, more interesting, and still affordable ways to eat in Las Vegas but if you absolutely, positively must eat at a Denny's while you are in town make it this one.

450 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Daily 24 hours


Restaurant Review: The Buffet at Aria Las Vegas

It isn't unusual for a buffet to get a makeover. Many of them have been upgraded to feature more modern layouts, designs, and food offerings including those at Harrah's, Mirage, and Treasure Island just to name a few. But the makeover of the Buffet at Aria Las Vegas is a bit unusual in that it happened to a buffet that was already considered "state of the art" when it opened just a few short years ago.

Many people, including myself, found the original buffet to be underwhelming, with a cold design that evoked a cafeteria and food that was decent but totally forgettable. Hence the makeover.

The room is certainly much warmer than it used to be. Rich earth tones of brown and orange, wood accents, and big windows letting in natural light make it a nice place in which to gorge yourself. I was a little uncomfortable with our table's location in that it was about a foot from the very, very, very long line of people waiting to get inside, who were separated from us only by a railing and all of whom watched us eat with a mixture of jealousy and maybe a little hostility. The moral of this particular story is to request a table somewhere else.

One quibble on the design... instead of providing placards or signage right next to the food explaining what it was, each station had a small blackboard above it listing all of the food found on the station. This meant a confusing glance-up, glance-down process that caused some traffic jams as people tried to identify the more arcane items. Variations on "Ohhhh! It's hummus!" were heard more than once.

We went for Sunday brunch so the breakfast type items dominated the offerings. Several different types of eggs, made-to-order-omelettes, pancakes, waffles, a pile of bacon as big as the pig from which it came, pastries, and more were featured but that was only the start. I also saw a full carving station with half a dozen selections from brisket to sausage; Mexican and Latin food; pizza; Middle Eastern selections including tzatziki and and the aforementioned hummus; American comfort food; a full salad and fruit bar; Italian; lots of fresh seafood; and much, much more. As usual with buffets the food selections change so I don't want to go into too much detail other than to say there was a heck of a lot of food and if you can't find something here to your liking, you are way too picky.

As far as the quality, it didn't get quite the upgrade that the room did. Don't get me wrong - most everything was well-prepared, flavorful, served hot and/or cold appropriately, and more than abundant. Yes, there were a few bum notes - the ham from the carving station was too dry and the breakfast sausage links were a bit on the greasy side, but those were exceptions rather than rules. The problem is that there was nothing exceptional - nothing that made me want to go back for seconds.

If the costs were lower I'd say exceptional was an unreasonable expectation, but at $18 for breakfast, $21 for lunch, $28 for brunch (plus $8 for brunch booze like mimosas), and between $32 and $40 for dinner then I should be able to apply superlatives more superlative than "well-prepared" and "flavorful." Consider this: for an extra few bucks you can eat at the Wynn Buffet, which sends me clicking off to to come up with new ways to describe how good the food is.

While the makeover has absolutely improved the Buffet at Aria, it ultimately feels incomplete.

Aria Las Vegas
3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Daily 7am-10pm