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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
April 8, 2013
Vegas4Visitors.com Celebrates 15th Year with New Design
Vegas4Visitors.com launched in 1998 with a handful of short hotel reviews, a few pages on restaurants and shows, and a design that was, well, 1998.
Today we kick off the celebration of our 15th year with a brand new design for Vegas4Visitors.com, giving one of the most respected Las Vegas travel planning websites a sleek overhaul that is designed to give readers more information, new features, and easier ways of getting around the site, while still providing the best reviews, news, and advice that it has been known for.
The new home page has quick links to some of the city's best hotels, shows, and attractions plus the latest news and Las Vegas headlines. The site-wide navigation is also new with quick links to the most popular pages within each section.
The Hotels section has reviews of more than 80 of the Las Vegas' most popular resorts including Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, The Cosmopolitan, and more. Each features new photo galleries, at-a-glance information, contact details, links to reservations, and more. There are also pages giving you sneak peeks of upcoming hotels and the lowdown on what the existing hotels are charging for those nefarious resort fees.
There are more than five dozen cool things to see and do in the Attractions section, which includes reviews, at-a-glance information, ticket prices, hours of operation, photos, and more for must-visit destinations like the Bellagio Fountains, the Neon Museum, and the Mob Museum.
If you're hungry, you need look no further than the Dining section which has either full or at-a-glance reviews, average prices, hours of operation, and photos of more than 120 restaurants and buffets including the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas, the Gordon Ramsay Steakhouse, and the new Downtown Las Vegas Denny's on Fremont.
There are almost 100 nightclubs, bars, and lounge listings in the Nightlife section, from the hottest dance clubs like Marquee to the coolest ultralounges like Surrender to hip Downtown bars like The Commonwealth, each of which has operating hours, prices, and either full or at-a-glance reviews. There's a little something for everyone here including country bars, strip clubs, hotel lounges, gay and lesbian bars, sports bars, and more.
If you're a shop 'til you drop kind of person, don't miss the Shopping section, which has information on the city's top malls, outlets, boutiques, stores, and more.
Those who want to get a little more active than pulling on a slot machine handle should visit the Recreation section, which has details on golf courses, hiking, horseback riding, bowling, spas, motor sports, winter sports, and more.
Even if you have visited Las Vegas before, you should check out the Resources section, which has comprehensive Las Vegas travel planning advice including articles on when to go, managing your money, tipping, transportation, health and safety, weather, and weddings. There are also advice articles for those traveling with kids, persons with disabilities, people traveling with pets, and more.
Vegas history buffs need to check out the new Vegas4Visitors.com Museum. It's still a work in progress but right now there are full history articles, timelines, and really cool photos of more than a dozen classic Las Vegas casinos including Caesars Palace, The Dunes, The Aladdin, and El Rancho. More will be added soon.
If you are planning on spending any time in the casino when you are in Las Vegas, visit the Gaming section, which has tutorials on the most popular casino games plus free online versions of slot machines, blackjack, roulette, and video poker.
And finally, you're reading the Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column, which has been giving Vegas fans all of the latest news, gossip, reviews, and more since 1999! This is also the area where you can find the Coming Soon page, which lists out all the upcoming hotels, restaurants, shows, attractions, nightlife, and more that you're going to want to know about. The archive of past columns will be added over time.
By the way, most pages have a Vegas4Visitors.com Facebook feed so even if you aren't a member, you can still follow along with what everyone is talking about over there. We recently passed 1,200 fans!
I'd like to extend a big thank you to Jessica Ivy, James Caplette, and Mark Rehn for their hard work on helping me with this site redesign. I really appreciate your help.
And I definitely want to thank you, the readers of Vegas4Visitors.com, that have kept us going for 15 years. We couldn't have done it without you!
If you see any issues with the site, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put "V4V" in the subject line.
Project Dinner Table's Neon Night
There are lots of beautifully designed and visually exciting restaurant spaces in Las Vegas, but few could hold a candle to the concept of having dinner in the middle of the boneyard at the Neon Museum.
The home of some of Las Vegas' historic neon signs is the location for the first of this year's Project Dinner Table events on Saturday, April 20 at 5:30pm. The night will include cocktails, a meal prepared by chefs from the MGM Grand including those overseeing Shibuya and Fiamma Trattoria among others, and a rare nighttime tour of the Neon Museum.
Each month (during the warmer times of year) Project Dinner Table hosts a dinner event in unusual locations to raise money for charity. Past events have been held at places like the middle of a baseball field, the plaza in front of El Cortez, an orchard, and the park at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Each dinner is served family style at one long table that seats 200 and is usually created by chefs from the city's best restaurants using locally grown, farm-to-table ingredient.
The proceeds go to a different charity each month with the April event going to the Neon Museum and the Contemporary Arts Center. Tickets cost $175 per person and include the six-course meal, cocktails, entertainment, and the tour. To buy tickets visit projectdinnertable.com.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Awards Award of the Week goes to illusionists and Rio Las Vegas headliners Penn & Teller, who received dual honors last week, first with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then received the Magicians of the Year award in a ceremony at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles.
The Yeehaw Award of the Week goes to Caesars Augustus, or rather the statue of him in front Caesars Palace, which got all decked out for the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas with a giant cowboy hat. Augustus has gotten dressed up for other events including the National Finals Rodeo and the Electric Daisy Carnival.
The Timing Is Everything Award of the Week goes to the Neon Museum, which has given prospective visitors more time by extending their operating hours to include Sundays. The museum is now open daily from 10am until 4pm with tours operating every 30 minutes. Don't forget, you have to book in advance - you can't just show up and get on a tour.
The Shop Until You Drop Award of the Week goes to the Galleria a Sunset, the mall in Henderson near Sunset Station, which will be getting a $7 million facelift this year. The renovation will give a new, more modern look and feel to the public areas and add new features and stores including a branch of the ever popular H&M clothing chain.
Hotel Review: The Four Seasons
Those lucky enough to be able to afford luxury hotels usually look no further than The Four Seasons, no matter what city they are in. The Vegas version will not disappoint them. The property is stunning - even more so now with a recent remodeling - and the service is world-class but consider yourself warned: this hotel is not for the average Vegas visitor. Unless you have a lot of money and enjoy the perks and pampering that comes with it, this is probably not the place for you.
The hotel is technically part of the Mandalay Bay resort but unless you come in from that direction you'd have a hard time knowing it. There is a separate entrance, lobby, bars, restaurants, spa, pool, elevators, and rooms that are only accessible to guests of The Four Seasons. It is quite remarkable how well they have isolated themselves from the hubbub of the building in which they are located. Every square inch of the public areas is infused with a quiet opulence that only changes when you wander down the long halls and are faced with the din of casino madness.
Stay in the cocoon of the Four Seasons and you will be rewarded with two restaurants - the meat-lovers paradise of Charlie Palmer Steak and the little-something-for-everyone Verandah Cafe. A new lobby bar called Press is in the works that will have coffee and espresso during the day and a casual lounge experience in the evenings. That spills out to a trellis-covered patio with fire pits, cozy seating, and lush landscaping.
Private elevators access The Four Seasons rooms, which occupy the 35th through 39th floors of the Mandalay Bay main tower. Despite having similar layouts, these are not just nicer versions of the Mandalay Bay rooms. The dÀcor, the furnishings, and the general feel of even the elevators and hallways are completely different - much more luxurious at The Four Seasons.
The 2012/2013 remodeling project took what were already very nice rooms and turned them into stunners. Take a few moments to appreciate the small touches the soft textures and delicate patterns in the wall and furniture coverings that transform a wall or a bench into works of art. Definitely pay attention to the metal work around the room. Done at a local foundry, the gorgeous, hand-crafted light fixtures, tables, and mini-bar trays are worthy of coveting but probably won't fit in your suitcase.
Amenities include flat-panel televisions, soft linens, high-speed Internet, iPod docking stations, wet-bar, mini-fridge, comfy robes, in-room coffee makers, safes, irons and boards, and other niceties.
The up-level suites go all the way up to massive three bedroom affairs that wrap around the entire end of the hotel, offering 180-degree views of Vegas. The amenities and facilities here are too numerous to mention.
There is a very nice spa area with treatment rooms larger than my apartment, a full workout facility, and a private pool separate from the Mandalay Bay's facility. It is here that you'll really start to get the concept behind this hotel with luxurious service that borders on the ridiculous. For instance, they actually have people who will mist you with Evian water or provide chilled towels and popsicles if the desert sun gets to be too much.
It is all about service at The Four Seasons. The staff is omnipresent yet not at all intrusive, waiting to cater to your every whim and pampering you with special little touches that will mostly go unnoticed. For instance, when you arrive the bedside clock/stereo is facing toward the room but during turn-down service, the maids turn it toward the bed so you can see how late you're going to bed. Simple stuff but when every hotel in town has flat panel TVs and fine linens, you need the little things to set yourself apart.
I could go on and on but I think you probably get the idea. So where is the bad news? It'll come with your bill. To get all of this luxury you can expect to pay at least (with an emphasis on the "at least") $200 per night for a standard room and usually more than that. Sometimes a LOT more.
Is it worth it? If you need to ask that question, then probably not. The Four Seasons caters to a very specific, very wealthy, very pampered market - one that wouldn't say "Ouch" at the thought of spending at least $200 per night for a hotel room in Vegas (or anywhere else). I'm not part of that market. If you are and want to stay on The Strip, then this is one of your best options.
Shopping Review: The Sweet Spot Candy Shop
The evolution of Downtown Las Vegas from a cheap, Glitter Gulch wasteland to a robust community for both locals and tourists requires more than just casinos and bars, the two things that are driving most of the development in the area. You also need restaurants, entertainment, and cool boutique stores like this one serving up a retro-meets-modern array of sweet treats.
The store is located on Las Vegas Boulevard about six blocks south of Fremont Street and within steps of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop (famous from TV's "Pawn Stars" show) and the Graceland Wedding Chapel. It's a small store done all in white, allowing the colorful candies to be the main attraction.
Retro sweets are one of the biggest draws here, with things like Goo Goo clusters, Mary Janes, vanilla cremes, and the like dominating a big bookcase on one side of the room. These blast-from-the-past goodies will stir both nostalgia and stomach rumblings.
Old fashioned candy jars display the wide assortment of gummie candies, taffy, and premium chocolate and a small case is dedicated to retro sodas and root beer served in actual glass bottles.
I sampled several of the chocolates including a heavenly dried strawberry, a sweet and sour sea-salt caramel, and a mint chocolate caramel that was disconcerting at first bite for its mix of flavors but then totally addicting once I got used to it.
Prices aren't exactly cheap but certainly less than you'll pay at the tourist-trap candy stores on The Strip. You can easily stock up for a very full day of periodic sugar rushes for under $10.
This is one more very sweet reason to get off The Strip and visit Downtown Las Vegas.
The Sweet Spot Candy Shop 616 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Las Vegas, NV 89101 702-815-1277 website Mon-Sat 11am-7pm Sun 12pm-5pm Candy Vegas4Visitors Rating: B+
Las Vegas History: The Desert Inn
The Desert Inn was one of the most fabled Las Vegas casino-hotels in the city's history, acting as an epicenter of sorts for The Strip for decades.
It all started in 1945 when The Strip was not really The Strip at all. The only major resorts at that time were El Rancho and The Frontier and the rest of the sparsely populated street was taken up with some small nightclub casinos.
Wilbur Clark wanted to change that. An investor in El Rancho and Downtown's Monte Carlo Club, he envisioned a series of resorts, one more opulent than the next, lining Las Vegas Boulevard. He decided to start his empire with a first-class hotel and casino where his Players Club gambling lounge was located across from The Frontier.
Clark sold his interest in El Rancho and the Monte Carlo Club to finance a new resort and construction began in 1946. It halted in 1947 when Clark ran out of money and the site remained derelict into 1948.
In stepped the mob. Mo Dalitz, one of the leaders of the Midwest based Cleveland Syndicate, lent Clark the money he needed to finish the property - some $3.6 million - giving him 74% interest but leaving Clark at least nominally in charge.
Dalitz would later go on to build The Stardust and is one of the key mafia figures credited with the creation of The Las Vegas Strip.
The Desert Inn opened during a lavish two day event on April 24 and 25, 1950. The final bill on the place was $6.5 million, much of which has been financed by organized crime.
The resort featured 300 rooms, a 2,400 square-foot casino (the biggest in Nevada at the time), a lushly landscaped courtyard with an Olympic sized swimming pool in the shape of the number 8, and a 3-story tower in front that was claimed as the tallest building in Las Vegas. A nightclub sat atop the tower providing the best views of the surrounding area at the time.
The Painted Desert Room was the hotel's 450-seat restaurant and showroom and over the next decade it would become one of the premiere entertainment destinations in the city. Take a look at some of the souvenir menus posted in the gallery section on this page to get a taste for the talent that graced its stage.
Near the pool was a predecessor of the Bellagio Fountains. Known as the Desert Inn Dancing Waters, the twice nightly free show involved jets of water colored by lights and timed to various pieces of music.
The Desert Inn was an immediate hit, gaining favor with celebrities and the average tourist alike. It vaulted into the top position as the must-visit Las Vegas resort ahead of its competitors like The Frontier and The Flamingo.
In 1952 the hotel added an 18-hole golf course, the only one on the Las Vegas Strip at the time. It became a regular stop on the professional golf circuit.
Over the next decade, bits and pieces of the hotel changed but the first major expansion came in 1963 with the addition of the nine-story St. Andrews Tower. The project included a remodeling of much of the hotel with new decor, new landscaping, updated entertainment and dining venues, and more.
Wilbur Clark sold his stake in the hotel to Mo Dalitz and other "investors" in 1963. He died in 1965 and more than 1,000 people, including celebrities and politicians, attended his funeral.
One of the Desert Inn's most famous guests checked in late in 1966. Famed aviator and wealthy businessman Howard Hughes moved in to one of the palatial suites atop the St. Andrews Tower. In December, after being there for more than a month, the hotel asked Hughes to vacate the suite for some high rollers that were scheduled to arrive. Hughes refused and instead bought the hotel. The deal was closed in March of 1967.
It was the first hotel that Hughes would buy, spurred (it was rumored) by federal crime fighting officials who were looking for a way to get the mafia out of Las Vegas. His Sin City assets would eventually include The Frontier, The Sands, and The Castaways among others.
Hughes died in 1976 but his corporation retained control of the hotel for years to come.
The next major renovation of the property happened in 1977 with the opening of the 500 room Augusta Tower and a remodeling of various areas of the property. The all-glass facade was cutting edge for the time.
The DI was made even more famous by the TV show "Vega$," which used the hotel as its home location. Robert Urich, Tony Curtis, and guest stars were seen filming the show at the DI on a regular basis during the show's run from 1978 to 1981.
Billionaire investor and MGM majority stakeholder Kirk Kerkorian bought the hotel in 1987 and changed the name to the MGM Desert Inn.
ITT Sheraton bought the hotel from Kerkorian in 1993 and the name went back to just The Desert Inn. The hotel became a sister to Caesars Palace, which was also owned by ITT Sheraton at the time.
A $200 million renovation and expansion was completed in December of 1997. It involved reducing the number of rooms in the existing towers and adding a third hotel tower, the Palm. The exterior was updated to a Palm Beach look and feel, all of the interior spaces were remodeled, and grounds were completely redone.
In 1998 Starwood Hotels bought ITT Sheraton and, by extension, the Desert Inn. Because the hotel was losing money they put it up for sale.
In 1999, South African gaming company Sun International, headed by Sol Kerzner, agreed to buy the property for $275 million.
A Monte Carlo hotel cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay-Brennan won $35 million on the Megabucks slot machine at the Desert Inn on January 23, 2000. It was, at the time, the largest single slot machine jackpot in history.
Sadly, only two months later, Jay was critically injured in a car accident. The vehicle being driven by her sister Lela was stopped at a light when it was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Lela was killed and Cynthia was paralyzed from the neck down. Las Vegas resident Clark Morse, who prosecutors say had a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit at the time of the accident, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and other crimes and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
In March of 2000, Sun International pulled out of the deal citing recession concerns.
Three days after the hotel celebrated its 50th Anniversary, in April of 2000, Steve Wynn bought the Desert Inn. Just a few months earlier he had completed the sale of his Bellagio, Mirage, and Treasure Island hotels to the MGM Grand company.
The hotel closed on August 28, 2000. It was torn down and imploded in stages during late 2000 and 2001 to make way for Wynn Las Vegas, which opened in 2005, and Encore Las Vegas, which debuted in 2008.
For more photos of classic Desert Inn memorabilia, visit the Desert Inn page.