Vegas4Visitors.com 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.

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Massive Storm Creates Havoc in Las Vegas

A freak thunderstorm hit Las Vegas Friday, July 19 causing power outages, collapsed roofs, flooded streets, and at least one flying couch.

The storm slammed into Las Vegas at about 8pm Friday night dropping up to an inch of rain, which doesn't sound like much unless it is all pretty much coming down at once on a city that isn't built to withstand significant precipitation. It was accompanied by winds of up to 70 miles per hour, hail, and a barrage of lightning strikes that lit up the valley.

There were reports of ceiling collapses and water flooding part of the casino at Caesars Palace, a store at The Mirage, the Fashion Show Mall, and the dance floor of Gilley's at Treasure Island. A photo posted on Twitter shows a couch in the driveway of The Rio that had been blown off the VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub patio.

Power was out at some casinos on The Strip and on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas.

There were no reports of serious injuries.

Another less powerful storm blew through on Saturday night but didn't cause the kind of damage that Friday night's did.

Here's some video:

Flooding Inside Caesars Casino

Rain Pouring Into Gilley's

Ceiling Collapse at The Mirage

Flooding at The Quad

More Flooding at The Quad

Street Flooding on The Strip at Bellagio

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Vegas Extreme Sports Park: Fact, Fiction, or Folly?

The "I'll Believe it When I See It" file got a little bigger last week with the announcement of (what amounts to nothing more than a half-pipe dream of) a plan to creating an extreme sports park on or near the Las Vegas Strip. If realized it would include 40 acres of zip lines, a motocross course, a 7-acre lake for jet-skiing and wakeboarding, a go-cart track, snowboarding, and more.

The idea is the brainchild of Australian "entrepreneur" Josh Kearney who freely admits that Vegas Extreme is, at this point, just a really cool idea with nothing else behind it. Not only does he not have the land on which to build it or the approval from the city to do so, he doesn't have the money to build it. Kearney estimates the price tag to be in the $50 million range but I say would be five times that much and that's not including land costs.

Despite the almost embarrassing lack of specifics behind the plan and ways to make it a reality, Kearney's big idea has gotten a wakeboard's worth of press including a big write-up in the Las Vegas Sun and other news outlets, multiple TV news reports, and even a lead item in the Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column. How does something like this get the kind of attention it has?

Part of it a sign of the times. We are living in a hyper-connected world where anyone with a decent mastery of Photoshop and a Twitter account can start a movement. That Kearney's idea is actually a rather interesting one and could be successful in Vegas is almost beside the point. He has become the modern day equivalent of a carnival barker, promising a real-live freak show behind the curtain if you someone will just pony up the cost of admission.

But a bigger part of it, I think is the mood of a city that is itching to get back to the "good old days" of rampant excess and anything goes. Remember the go-go '90s when every week seemed to bring the announcement of some crazy idea? There was the casino shaped like the Titanic, complete with a shopping mall in the ice berg; there was the world's tallest building, planned for more than 200 stories on the Las Vegas Strip; and let us not forget the indoor snow sports facility that was going to have ski runs and ice skating in the middle of July.

None of those things actually happened but enough other crazy stuff was (a hotel with canals! a replica of the Eiffel Tower! is that a pyramid in the middle of the Nevada desert?) that even the craziest ideas seemed possible. Does anyone remember the idea for a 10,000 room hotel shaped like the moon? You knew that would probably never happen but didn't a part of you think that it just might? I know I did.

The chances of Vegas Extreme ever becoming a reality are pretty slim but if it does, I'll be one of the first in line to try it out.

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Train to Nowhere Going Nowhere

As long as we are digging around in the "I'll Believe it When I See It" file, let's pull out the folder about the so-called "Train to Nowhere," otherwise known as the XPress West. An announcement this week that the US government had suspended review of the project's multi-billion loan application has pretty much guaranteed that the train really will be going nowhere.

As a reminder, XPress West (formerly known as Desert XPress) is one of several proposals to restore passenger rail service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a transportation method that has been unavailable since Amtrak shut down their route in 1997. This particular scheme would've put passengers on a high-speed train that would run from a station near Mandalay Bay not to Los Angeles but to Victorville, California some 80 miles north of its target city. Although not precisely "nowhere," Victorville was far enough away from LA that the project, backed by Nevada Senator Harry Reid, got the "Train to Nowhere" title that it was never able to shake. Even after voters in California approved bond measures to add high-speed rail lines across the state that would link up to XPress West, the project was never really taken seriously by anyone other than the people who were trying to make it a reality.

Backers of the project were seeking $5.5 billion in loans from the Department of Transportation but the announcement came this week that the review of those applications has been suspended. Concerns about the viability of the project and the application itself were cited as the reasons.

Reid and the people behind the project insist that it is not dead and that they will do their best to get the wheels of this particular train turning again. So I guess for now I will put this back into the "I'll Believe it When I See It" file and not in the "Told Ya It Would Never Happen" file. At least not yet.

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Smith Center Series for Jazz, Classical, and the NY Stage

If you haven't taken the time to visit the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on a trip to Vegas, you a really doing yourself a disservice. Not only does it feature a world-class line-up of concert halls and theaters that have become the envy of cities around the globe, but they fill those theaters with some of the most interesting, inventive, and unique performances you're going to find in Vegas.

Two new series have been announced that prove that. Joining their already popular Broadway series, which is bringing hits like Wicked and Book of Mormon to town and their impressive Jazz Roots series, which has everyone from Keb Mo to David Sanborn on the roster, the Center is adding a Classical and Beyond series and a Best of the New York Stage series.

The classical series will kick off in October 2013 with the Kronos Quartet, followed by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and world-renown soprano Renee Fleming.

The New York series brings the stars of Broadway to Vegas with sets from Tony Award winners like Audra MacDonald, Michael Feinstein, and Patti LuPone.

Season tickets are available now and you'll be able to buy individual tickets closer to the dates of the shows. To stay informed about what will be happening at the Smith Center when you are in town, sign up for their newsletter.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Show Must Go On Award of the Week goes to KÀ by Cirque du Soleil, which reopened last week at The MGM Grandfor the first time since the death of a performer during a show on July 1st. The night was dedicated to 31-year old Sarah Guyard-Guillot, an aerielist who fell from her safety harness to a pit below the stage during the climactic battle scene. That scene has been pulled from the show until an investigation into the cause of the accident has been concluded.

The Bo No Mo Award of the Week goes to Peepshow, the naughty fairy tale inspired production at Planet Hollywood, which will be closing on September 1. As far as its replacement, that brings us to...

The Dumbest Show Name Ever Award of the Week goes to RockTellz and CockTails, the production that will replace Peepshow at Planet Hollywood. The show will feature a rotating series of "acclaimed musicians" who will play their songs and tell stories a la VH1's "Storytellers." It is scheduled to start in October and while they have not confirmed the opening act it is widely rumored to be Meat Loaf.

The Donny's Derriere Award of the Week goes to Donny Osmond, naturally, who injured his to the point that he is unable to perform with sister Marie in their gig at The Flamingo for the next few weeks. Apparently he tore his gluteus maximus muscle and can do little for it other than to rest. He is being replaced by a series of guest stars including another Osmond brother Merrill and singer/actor John Schneider (of Dukes of Hazzard fame).

The Low Bar Award of the Week goes to Gordon Ramsay, who will be seeking to up the quality of food at McCarran International Airport by opening a branch of his Plane Food eatery later this year. The restaurant, based on the one of the same name at London's Heathrow, will feature traditional dine-in selections, an express menu that will get you in and out in enough time to catch your plane, and takeout that you can carry on the plane.

The Meat of the Matter Award of the Week goes to Bally's, which will be closing its long-running steakhouse and replacing it with a branch of BLT Steak, a chain with outlets in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Atlanta, Miami, and Hong Kong to name a few locations. It should be open by early next year. No word on what will happen to the Sterling Brunch buffet that is served in the space on weekends.

The Scaaaaaaary Award of the Week goes to Eli Roth's Goretorium, the horror themed attraction on The Strip that filed for bankruptcy protection last week. The people in charge say that it will remain open while they reorganize their finances. I say if you really want to visit this place, do it soon.

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Restaurant Review: Red Square

A fixture at Mandalay Bay since it opened, Red Square has gone through a rebirth of sorts recently with new corporate oversight, a spiffing up of the decor, and an overhaul of the menu. It's about time.

The original incarnation of the restaurant was a longtime favorite, with an epic list of vodkas, Americanized twists on classic Russian food, and a wink-and-a-nod communist era design. The problem was that the novelty had worn off and what had once seemed unique started to feel a bit stale.

The new version has the same basic bones but is simplified in a lot of ways, with a streamlined menu that is less of a slave to the Russian cooking limitations that it used to be. There is still a long list of caviars and classics like Chicken Kiev and Beef Stroganoff, but the vast majority of the menu is filled with fairly straight-forward steak and seafood offerings. You may be wondering if Maine Lobster Pomodoro served with spaghetti or Kobe beef sliders are USSR staples and the answer is a rousing "nyet."

Some may view this as the dumbing down of a regional cuisine for a less-than-adventurous American audience but I chose to view it as an expansion of food horizons, providing a little bit of something for all tastes. It fits better with the new vibe of the place as casual, a bit cheeky, and more relaxed. Besides, this is Vegas after all... if you want authenticity, you're looking in the wrong place.

Starters include items like tuna tartare with Asian pears, lollipop Buffalo wings, shrimp cocktail, and a couple of salads. Nods to the Russian roots are cute caviar parfait cones with smoked salmon mousse and a salmon pizza that comes with caviar and pickled red onions. We went for the (not at all Russian) meatballs, served in a sweetly tangy marinara sauce and topped with ricotta cheese. They were fantastic, especially when combined with the grilled garlic bread on the side. The Kobe beef sliders were charming little constructions of meat, bun, and garnishing.

If those caviar appetizers aren't enough roe for you, there are plenty of other choices including your basic smoked trout all the way up to your fancy Keluga. You can also do a sampler of multiple caviars if you are feeling like diving all the way in both gastronomically and financially (the "Connoisseur Trio" is a heart-stopping $270).

For main courses we tried both sides of the cultural food divide here with Beef Stroganoff fighting for mother Russia and a flat iron steak representing the good old US of A. Although the steak was good - well-prepared and flavorful - the Stroganoff handily won the night. Done with an insanely tender red wine braised short rib on a bed of mushroom noodles, the dish was a modern interpretation of a classic that deserves to become a classic on its own. Beef Stroganoff should always be prepared this way.

Of course you could just forget the food and go for the vodka. There are more than 200 varieties from all over the world and they even have their own refrigerated vault in which you can make your choice and an ice-topped bar at which you can consume it. Have a few shots and it'll be dos vedanya!

Service was friendly but it took a bit longer than we usually like to get our various courses. It may have just been an off night.

Portions are huge and prices, while not cheap, are more moderate than they used to be. All but the most expensive steak and lobster are in the $27 to $38 range so you could do a full, satisfying meal for less than $50 per head. Start throwing in the imported caviar and the two pound rib eye and you're going to be doubling that figure easily.

Red Square
Mandalay Bay
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-693-8300
website
Sun-Thu 4:30-10pm
Fri-Sat 4:30pm-12am
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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