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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
April 15, 2013
Gold Spike Closes
It's rare for a hotel in Vegas to make the kind of comeback that the Gold Spike made and even rarer still for it not matter in the long run. After more than three decades as a Downtown Las Vegas mainstay, the Gold Spike shut its door over the weekend, not because it wasn't doing well but because someone had a better idea for what to do with the property.
The hotel opened in 1976 as The Rendezvous. I haven't been able to find much detail about the property during this time period other than it had 112 rooms and a small casino and that it closed in 1978.
Sometime between then and 1981, the property reopened as the Gold Spike and it attracted the interest of none other than gaming legend Jackie Gaughan, the man who owned other Downtown hotels like The Plaza and El Cortez.
Although never a top-tier property, the Gold Spike declined over the 1980s and 1990s to the point where it had become little more than a flop-house with a tacky, smoke-filled casino. I have a very clear memory of the Gold Spike from that era. I wandered in because I had heard it was one of the few places that had penny slots in the casino, a rarity at that time. The space was like something out of a bad movie - wood paneling on the walls, green shag carpeting. Come to think of it, it kind of looked the basement rec-room in my house when I was kid. Only there were no homeless people playing penny slots in my basement.
Gaughan sold most of his empire to Barrick Gaming in 2002 including the Gold Spike. Nothing was done to improve the property and it continued to be a place most Vegas visitors avoided.
In 2007 the hotel was sold to an investor who planned to make it over but lack of funding forced him to sell it in 2008 to the Siegel Group.
That company also acquired the neighboring Travel Inn Motel, an abandoned blight of a property. But the Siegel Group turned that all around with a massive top to bottom overhaul of the both hotels, renovating rooms, revising the casino, turning the Travel Inn parking lot into a swank pool, and adding dining and other amenities. The transformation was nothing short of miraculous, turning what been a rat trap casino and a derelict motel into one of Downtown's most interesting boutique properties.
In 2011 it was announced that Zappos.com, a leading Internet retailer, would be moving their headquarters and thousands of employees from suburban Las Vegas to Downtown in the old city hall building one block over from the Gold Spike.
The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh founded an organization called The Downtown Project. Their mission was to buy land around Downtown with the intention of improving existing facilities and creating new ones in order to turn the area into a model for urban redevelopment.
The Downtown Project purchased The Gold Spike in April of 2013 and closed it down less than a week later.
What they plan to do with the property is not yet known except that Hseih has said repeatedly that he is not going into the casino business. The working theory is that he will turn the hotel into a boutique, non-gaming residence facility for out-of-town guests, temporary workers, and other Zappos employees. Whether or not it will be open to the public and what it will be called if it is are open questions. Regarding the latter, The Seigel Group retained the rights to the name Gold Spike to use elsewhere.
Las Vegas Club Closes Hotel
Meanwhile, a few blocks over from the now closed Gold Spike, the Las Vegas Club has also shut down but in this case that only applies to the hotel portion - the casino remains open.
The owners of the property and others associated with it have been hinting that big things are in store for the Las Vegas Club casino and its 400 room hotel tower. Local comedy-magician The Amazing Johnathan even said that he had been asked to spearhead a top to bottom overhaul of the property but that was never confirmed by the owners of the hotel.
If the parent company does decide to do an extreme makeover on the Las Vegas Club they certainly have the experience to be able to do it right. The company also owns The Plaza across the street, which recently underwent a $30 million renovation that made it into one of the nicest hotels in Downtown Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Club has a storied history, dating back in one form or another all the way to 1931. It's first incarnation was actually across the street next door to the hotel that is now The Golden Gate. It was a small casino, one of the first to operate legally after the state started issuing gaming licenses in 1931. It's other claim to fame during that era: it was the first casino in Las Vegas to have a neon sign.
The casino moved across the street in 1951, taking over the ground floor of what was then known as The Overland Hotel. They operated as separate but connected entities until 1980 when a remodeling project united them as the Las Vegas Club.
For the last couple of decades it has primarily been known as a budget-minded property both from a gambling and accommodations perspective. The hotel was only operating on the weekends and the rooms were, well, let's just use the word "basic." It was so "basic," in fact, that I never bothered to list it as a viable hotel for Vegas visitors on my site.
With all of the action happening in Downtown Las Vegas and the stunning success the parent company has had with The Plaza, I would not be surprised to see new life for the Las Vegas Club in the future.
Ravella to Become Hilton
It started life as The Ritz Carlton and later became Ravella, a part of the Dolce Group of luxury hotels. Now the upscale property at at MonteLago Village will become the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa.
Perhaps it was just trying to catch up to its neighbor on the other side of the lake in terms of number of names. That one started as the Hyatt, transitioned into a Loews for a few years, and is now a Westin.
The changeover from Ravella to Hilton should be complete by June but there is no official word on what else might be changing at the resort. The bulk of the property stayed the same when the Dolce Group reopened it and it's hard to imagine that the Hilton would do too much other than change the signs once again.
There is already a page on the Hilton website for the Lake Las Vegas property but they are not yet accepting reservations.
Resort Fee Update
There have been some changes in the resort fees at the major hotels again, this time at Venetian and Palazzo, which have both raised theirs from $20 to $25 per night. Considering that all of the other upper-end hotels in town are already charging $25, the only surprising thing about this is that it took so long for them to do it.
What is a bit surprising is that they have made the fee optional; you can choose to pay for the services ala carte at check-out. Now, before you go getting all excited about this, the resort fee is $25 and includes in-room Internet and fitness center access (among other miscellaneous items). Pay ala carte and you'll be forking over $20 per day for Internet access and $40 (!!!) per day to get into the gym. Of course if you don't use those things, then you're home free but if you do you might as well pay the resort fee as it will save you in the long run.
Treasure Island also has a similar setup for their $25 per night resort fee, which can be waived if you are a players' club member and/or made your reservation directly with the hotel (as opposed to going through a third-party vendor like Travelocity). Likewise, their ala carte costs for the individual pieces are crazy with Internet at $20 per night, for instance.
Most hotels will not charge you the resort fee if you are getting a comped room and many will waive it if you are a member of the upper echelons of their players club tiers. For instance at all of the Caesars Entertainment hotels like Caesars Palace, Platinum, Diamond, and Seven Stars level members can choose to pay for the included services individually.
Another important thing to note about resort fees is that they are subject to the same tax as you're paying on the room itself - 12% on The Strip and 13% everywhere else. Some hotels like Bellagio and Aria have started listing their hotel fees with taxes included so when you see $28 at one of those properties it is the same as the $25 that Caesars is displaying without tax.
At this point, all of the major Strip resorts charge a nightly resort fee that ranges from $10 (Circus Circus and The Quad) up to $25 (too many to list here). Most of the Downtown hotels do NOT charge a nightly resort fee, with the notable exception of The Plaza and it's $10 fee. The locals hotels around town are hit and miss, but more and more of them are charging fees these days.
The full list of all of the major hotels around town and what they are charging is available on the Vegas4Visitors.com Resort Fees page.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Hopelessly Devoted To You Award of the Week goes to Olivia Newton-John, who will be doing a headlining stint at The Flamingo alternating dates with Donny and Marie Osmond in the main showroom. The deal is expected to be formally announced this week.
The Fabulous Award of the Week goes to the Venetian, which will be hosting the road company of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," the Broadway musical based on the movie of the same name about drag queens crossing the Australia outback all set to classic disco era songs like "I Will Survive," "Don't Leave Me This Way," and "Hot Stuff." It begins June 18 for an 11-week run in the former Phantom of the Opera theater.
The Guffaw Award of the Week goes to the Plaza Hotel, which will be opening a branch of the Bonkerz comedy club on April 18. The chain of clubs has more than two dozen locations around the US but this is its first foray into Vegas. the club will operate out of the Zbar, located just off the main casino. Shows will be Thursday through Monday at 7pm and prices will vary.
The Hell No Award of the Week goes to yet another proposed zip line attraction that I won't be riding any time soon. This one is reportedly going to send riders back and forth between the roofs of the two hotel towers at The Rio, more than 350 feet in the air. This is all just in the planning stages now so no idea when, or even if, it will really be ready to start scaring the crap out of people.
Restaurant Review: Senor Frog's
The world needs places like Senor Frog's. Without it where would drunk frat boys do their Jager bombs?
Yes, Senor Frog's at Treasure Island is that kind of place - a "party bar" and restaurant that tries to recreate a spring break in Cancun ethos right here on the Vegas Strip. The fact that you can do Jager bombs at pretty much any bar in town, even the classy ones, should not factor into your decision making here.
The place is a riot of color and "stuff" all jam packed into a room (and outdoor patio) that is frenetic and mildly disorienting. Signs with "amusing" sayings on them done in day-glo paint cover almost every surface. Some samples: "I don't have a girlfriend but I do know a woman who would be pissed that I said that;" "Same day, different hangover;" "Never trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die." If you're looking for Noel Coward, go somewhere else. There are also movable signs - arrows on stands with things like "party animal" and "sex machine" on them that the servers randomly put behind unsuspecting diners at tables. High-larious!
If I'm being overly snarky here, it's mainly because the whole thing feels rather forced. News flash: this is not really a Cancun party bar and therefore an attempt to make one here is destined to feel as manufactured and faux as the Sphinx in front of the Luxor or the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas. I love a party bar as much as the next guy but the best ones spring up organically and don't need a bunch of props to make their point.
But this particular review is not about the bar aspect of Senor Frog's but rather the food, and here, at least, there is more success.
The menu is all over the place and despite the name it is not exclusively Mexican. In fact except for a few appetizers (nachos, quesadilla, etc.) and some tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, the vast majority of the offerings are standard theme restaurant fare - starters like chicken wings and sliders; a few salads and soups; pasta; wraps, burgers, and sandwiches; BBQ ribs and chicken; seafood from Baja tacos to lobster tail; chicken and beef entrees (including filet mignon); and high-calorie desserts.
Since I didn't do my research ahead of time I went into this thinking it was a Mexican restaurant and had already decided that chicken fajitas were in my future. I considered changing once I saw the giant menu but I was in a hurry and didn't think I could spend the time lost in a "what should I have?" haze.
The fajitas come sizzling on their own little miniature grill - a full chicken breast, a big pile of peppers and onions, a big side of sour cream and guacamole, rice, and tortillas. Presentation was much more thoughtful than I would've have expected and the smoky flavor was impressive. $20 impressive? Well...
Which brings us to the price discussion. This is a moderately priced restaurant but it is at the high-end of moderate so you can very easily do $30 per person all-in and even higher if you go for the more expensive entrees. Not terrible if you are thinking dinner but for a quick lunch it seems excessive.
The true bright spot was in the service. As mentioned above I was in a hurry because of some unforseen scheduling issues (another news flash: just because the plane says it will land at a certain time doesn't mean it really will) and the server I lucked into took special care to let the kitchen know and get everything moving quickly. I was in and out in less time than it usually takes to get your appetizers at most Strip restaurants.
But excellent service is not enough for me to make this a highly recommendable restaurant. There are plenty of places that serve better food at cheaper prices in less obnoxious surroundings.
Now, if you need fajitas AND a place to do your Jager bombs...