MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
October 7, 2013
Downtown Las Vegas News
Many of the big news stories of the week took place in Downtown Las Vegas, furthering evidence that this is where all the action is these days. Here's what was going on:
Downtown Grand Debut
Las Vegas' next major hotel will greet guests on October 27th. The Downtown Grand is the result of a major renovation of the former Lady Luck hotel along 3rd Street between Ogden and Steward (a block off of the Fremont Street Experience, adjacent to the Mob Museum). It will have 650 brand new rooms, a 35,000 square-foot casino (one of the biggest in Downtown), 11 restaurants, eight bars and lounges, a rooftop pool and sundeck, and more although not all of that will be opening when the rooms do. The grand opening is set for November 12 (11-12-13) and some restaurants and the pool area will come online over the next few months.
Gay Bars Close
Krave Massive and Drink & Drag were aiming to turn Downtown and the Neonopolis mall into the gayest place on earth, with the former being the world's largest gay nightclub and the latter being a drag queen staffed bowling alley and bar. Krave closed a few weeks ago after the owners couldn't get proper permitting and those issues dragged down (no pun intended) Drink & Drag after both clubs were denied liquor licenses. Negotiations are currently underway for new owners and management to take over the clubs but when, or even if, that will happen is unclear.
D is for Expansion?
Derek Stevens, the owner of The D Las Vegas and The Golden Gate, has plunked down $10 million to buy the former county courthouse building in Downtown Las Vegas. The derelict building is located adjacent to The D and Stevens is hinting that he will knock it down and use the space to expand his flagship property.
Plaza Adding Beer Garden
As if there weren't already enough places in Downtown Las Vegas to get alcohol, The Plaza is planning on adding a beer garden called, appropriately enough, the Bier Garten, which just in case you took Spanish in high school, means beer garden in German. The indoor/outdoor space is under construction now along Main Street just across from the end of the Fremont Street Experience. It will have picnic tables, real grass, trellises, and greenery for a backyard experience plus ping pong tables and live entertainment. Oh and there will be beer, too... microbrews and imported beer on tap that you can use to wash down the artisan sausages, bratwurst, and other German inspired food. It is scheduled to open in mid-November.
Neon Museum Holidays
If you're planning on being in Vegas during the holidays consider a visit to the Neon Museum, which will be doing special holiday season night tours to celebrate the season. The boneyard will be dressed up with special holiday decorations and lights and some of the functioning neon signs will be lit up as well. The tours start Thanksgiving weekend and run through the end of December. Visit the Neon Museum website for more information.
Life is Beautiful Festival Area
Life is Beautiful, the music, food, and art festival happening in late October, is aiming to be the biggest thing Downtown Las Vegas has seen in a long time. How big? 15 blocks of the neighborhood will be closed off for the festival, including most of the Fremont East Entertainment District and surrounding streets. The 2-day festival will feature music from bands like The Killers and Kings of Leon, food from celebrity chefs like Cat Cora and Kerry Simon, art and theater from the likes of Cirque du Soleil and other Vegas shows, a lecture series, and more. It is scheduled for October 26 and 27, 2013.
Read all the above and it's clear that Downtown Vegas is the place that a lot of people want to be but there is one group of people that Downtown would rather stay at home. A new curfew has gone into place that says that no unaccompanied minors are going to be allowed in most of the major Downtown areas (Fremont Street Experience, Fremont East Entertainment District, etc.) after 9pm on weekends. The curfew was put into place after reports of underage drinking in the area.
The Plaza Steps Up in the Fight Against Breast Cancer
October is breast cancer awareness month and one Las Vegas hotel is stepping up in a big way to raise money and visibility in the fight against the disease. The Plaza Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas is featuring multiple ways throughout the month for visitors to help and have a little fun along the way.
Special marked beer bottles and snacks (pink ribbon popcorn!) will be sold during NFL and college football games on weekends with all the proceeds going to Susan G. Komen of Southern Nevada, one of the leading breast cancer awareness groups in the country.
Tuesday through Thursday, guests who earn 500 points on their players' club card get a breast cancer awareness ball cap (while supplies last) and bingo players can get in on the action with a special 3-on-1 pink ribbon strip for $2 plus a special pink dauber. Proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Awareness Research Foundation.
Pop Up Pizza will offer 2 slices of cheese pizza and a medium drink for $6.99 when diners mention "Breast Cancer Awareness" and will donate $1 from each order to Susan G. Komen of Southern Nevada.
Exposed Salon will offer free haircuts in October to customers who donate their hair to Locks for Love, an organization that provides high quality hair pieces to kids with medical hair loss issues. The salon will also host a special ESPN live radio broadcast at 3 p.m., on October 25th, during which prizes and gifts will be awarded to those who donate their hair.
Louie Anderson will donate $1 per ticket from every show in October and The Phat Pack will donate a portion of every ticket sold to the group's Wednesday night shows in October, both to the Susan G. Komen of Southern Nevada.
Monsters and Mob Out in Vegas
It was a bad week for Las Vegas attractions, with one shutting down entirely and another headed for the same fate.
Eli Roth's Goretorium closed after a about a year of attempting to scare the hell out of people. The haunted house style attraction located at the Harmon Shops next to Planet Hollywood was the brainchild of horror movie director and producer Roth. His gory films like "Saw" and "Hostel" gave a pretty good indication of the kinds of gross-out frights were in store for people who visited the attraction.
Rumors of its demise had been rife pretty much since it opened, as people questioned the business case for a year-round version of something that normally only operates around Halloween. Its location, high ticket prices, and a format that usually required long waits (despite relatively short lines) contributed to its eventual bankruptcy earlier this year. Despite assurances that the attraction would continue operating while finances were reorganized, the owners pulled the plug last week and the bloody chainsaw wielding maniacs have gone elsewhere.
Just down the street, the Mob Attraction at The Tropicana has announced that it will be putting away the Tommy guns and brass knuckles when its lease expires on November 3. The owners of the attraction have indicated that they are attempting to find a new home on The Strip and there are unconfirmed rumors that it could land at infamous mobster Busy Siegel's baby The Flamingo.
The Mob Attraction opened as The Mob Experience and, much like the Goretorium, immediately struggled to find an audience. Its location in the furthest back corner of The Tropicana, seemingly miles from front doors of the hotel, made it difficult to get to and find. Those who did make the trek were rewarded with a fun experience that mixed live actors guiding them through the history of the mob and an extensive collection of memorabilia from noted underworld figures like Siegel and Lucky Luciano.
Once the vastly superior Mob Museum opened in Downtown Las Vegas it seemed as if the town wasn't big enough for "da two of 'em" and the Mob Experience sunk into bankruptcy and closed. New owners stepped in and reopened it as the Mob Attraction, which was pretty much the same except for the name.
The people behind the Mob Attraction insist that the future is bright and are not only looking for a new home in Vegas but are hoping to create copies in other cities around the country.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Little Bit Rock & Roll Award of the Week goes to Donny & Marie, who celebrated an extension of their contract at The Flamingo with the ceremonial renaming of the showroom in their honor. The newly christened Donny & Marie Showroom will be their performance home base through 2014.
The Smooth Sailing Award of the Week goes to the canals at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, which got filled back up with water last week. The inside canals had been drained while they performed maintenance but the gondolas are back up and running now.
The 2014 Award of the Week goes to singer and actress Kristin Chenoweth who will be providing would could be a great way to ring in the new year in Vegas. She will be headlining a December 31 show at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Las Vegas that will get done early enough for people to head outside and watch the big fireworks show over The Strip.
Dining Review: Carlos' n Charlie's
The Mexican party-bar/restaurant is certainly not a new concept for Vegas. There's Senor Frog's at Treasure Island and Cabo Wabo Cantina at Planet Hollywood. But Carlos' n Charlie's has been around for a lot longer than those places, just not here in Sin City. In fact the company behind it (and Senor Frog's) dates all the way back to 1963 and there are outlets of the place in Austin, Myrtle Beach, and throughout Mexico.
But what works in Myrtle Beach doesn't always play in Vegas and here the inevitable comparisons leave Carlos' n Charlie's a little behind the big, wacky sombrero curve.
Part of the thing is that this is a family-friendly Mexican party bar/restaurant if it is possible for such a thing to exist. So instead of hottie waitresses doing the cha cha slide on the bar and/or naughty signage that encourages rampant consumption, here you have a wacky TGI Friday's style decor (hats, horns, and cows hang from the ceiling) and servers wearing balloon sculptures as hats. While I definitely appreciate the lack of verging-on-obnoxious "festivity" found at Senor Frog's, it means that the experience is more tame and therefore less memorable.
We started our meal with a couple of their margaritas, as you do at Mexican restaurants even though it's before noon. It's Vegas somewhere (or something like that). They were good but nowhere near the handcrafted level of fabulousness you get at Tacos & Tequila or even Hussong's. Another pre-meal carne: if you want chips and salsa you have to pay $6 for them. Baja Fresh would not approve.
Carne. Beef. Get it?
Anyway, the menu is classic Mexican with appetizers like quesadillas and insanely huge plates of nachos; salads of the taco and fajita variety among others; tacos of various construction; fajitas; chipolte BBQ; burritos; enchiladas; chimichangas; and that most classic of South of the Border dish, the hamburger. Remember that this is a family-friendly restaurant and remember that kids don't always like the main theme of the cuisine but will almost always like a hamburger.
Some of the entrees are a bit less fast-food Mexican with items like beef medallions in a peppercorn sauce, chicken in mole sauce, and parmesan chicken with Swiss cheese in alfredo sauce. Yes, sauce is a big thing here so cholesterol watchers be prepared to duck your doctor for a few days.
Being the traditionalists that we are, we went for the straight-up Mexican favorites - soft tacos, a burrito, and a chimichanga. Each was the "Charlie's" special which means you get several different meats mixed in together and that really appealed to the carnivores in us. All were stuffed with a spicy mixture of chicken, carne asada, and chorizo so they were very similar in flavor (our ordering bad) just in different packages - soft individual tortillas for the tacos, one big soft tortilla for the burrito, and one big lightly fried tortilla for the chimichanga. Good, hearty, filling, and satisfying but not knock your socks off fantastic. That should always be the goal, regardless of the number of wacky hats hanging from the ceiling.
Prices are higher than they should be for a family-style Mexican restaurant but about what you'd expect for one located on The Strip. Main courses start around $14 and head up to about $24. If mom and dad are having pre-noon margaritas like we did, a family of four will probably wind up in the $100 range with tax and tip included. Like I said... typical Strip.
Mexican restaurants are everywhere now in Vegas and you certainly have a lot of choices. This might not be my first one but if you are looking for something safely middle-of-the-road, it might be yours.
Nightlife Review: Atomic Liquors
The Fremont East Entertainment District seems like a one-block-long affair right now, with eight bars, new restaurants, and the bulk of the people all concentrated in the little stretch between Las Vegas Boulevard and 6th Street. But the district actually stretches for several blocks to the east and will eventually include retail, entertainment, dining, and a lot more bars.
Staking its claim as an outpost about three blocks from the main action is this retro charmer, a revamp of a place that has been around for decades and is now getting a new lease on life.
The building dates back to 1945, originally built as a café, and now the oldest freestanding bar in the city. In 1952 the owners saw a marketing opportunity with the people who would sit on the roof to watch the above-ground nuclear bomb blasts happening at the Nevada Test Site north of the city. The created an Atomic Cocktail and then embraced the Atomic Age by rebranding the place Atomic Liquors.
Over the years it was a favorite for locals and tourists, regular Joes and famous faces alike. Late nights you might be able to find members of The Rat Pack drinking in a back booth and Barbra Streisand was enough of a regular that she had her own seat at the bar. The latter has been restored and is on display - a neat bit of Vegas history.
The bar shut down after the original owners passed away but now it too has been restored and overhauled to be a pleasant mix of old-school retro charm and new-school hipster cool. There's a big, wraparound bar with plenty of cozy stools (including Barbra's), gaming, a few tables, and some lounge space seating. It's funky and fairly simple so if you are looking for fancy decor to create a wow factor you'll have to be happy with the classic neon sign out front.
There are lots of beers on tap and a fun specialty cocktail menu that includes both the original and a new version of the Atomic Cocktail. Prices are more than reasonable and there is only a cover charge if there is some big special event.
If you are heading Downtown to check out the revitalized energy of the Fremont East Entertainment District, don't stop at the first block. Take a short walk to get a real blast from the past.
Fremont East Entertainment District
917 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Daily 24 Hours
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-