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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Downtown Las Vegas News

When the Lady Luck closed in 2006 there was lots of big talk about it getting a major renovation and reopening. It only took seven years but the former Downtown Las Vegas stalwart is about to get a new lease on life when it opens at the end of October as the Downtown Grand.

For those who aren't familiar, the hotel is located on both sides of Third Street between Ogden and Stewart, a block off of the Fremont Street Experience and adjacent to the Mob Museum. The company that is managing the property also runs most of the businesses on that block so Downtown Third, as it is called, aims to be a sort of mini-Fremont Street with the casino, of course, but also restaurants, bars, and attractions.

The Downtown Grand is going for a sort of early century industrial vibe, with a vintage street scene facade along Third Street and exposed brick and piping inside the casino. Because of its unique position straddling Third Street, and its corporate kinship with neighboring businesses, the hotel is aiming to erase the boundaries of indoors and outdoors with open walls facing the street and outdoor gaming areas.

The casino will be about 35,000 square feet. That's a lot smaller than the 100,000 square-foot behemoths on The Strip but pretty big for Downtown. By way of comparison, it's a little bigger than Main Street Station's casino but a little smaller than The Golden Nugget's. It will have about 30 table games and nearly 600 slot machines. There will also be a sports book with a walk-up window accessible from the street.

The two hotel towers were stripped to the concrete to create 650 completely new rooms. They will be sleek and retro-contemporary with bold color schemes - a throwback avocado green for the regular rooms and a bright red for the bigger suites. The decor is sort of a funky 1970s feel but with modern amenities like flat screen TVs, pillow top mattresses, safes, robes, Wi-Fi, and more. Rates for the first few months are as low as about $60 but are averaging more around $100 per night.

There will be a wide variety of restaurants offering up a much needed influx of new dining options for Downtown including Stewart + Ogden, the main foodie hangout serving a variety of upscale bistro cuisine; a Chinese restaurant; a sports book deli; and a modern twist on the food court called The Commissary. The latter will feature several outlets including I Love Burgers but diners will be able to mix and match items from the different vendors with one centralized cashier. The room will have floor-to-ceiling windows and doors that can turn it into and indoor/outdoor space and they are even planning on having a DJ several nights a week.

There will be eight bars and lounges including a new version of the popular Mob Bar, now located on the corner of Ogden and 3rd, which will move into the hotel.

The pool area called Picnic, will be located on the roof ff the new casino and will feature 35,000 square feet of fun-in-the-sun space with an infinity pool, bar, restaurant, fire pits, luxury cabanas, outdoor gaming, a stage for live entertainment, and grassy areas for lounging. An adjacent spa will offer the latest in treatments and pampering.

80,000 square-feet of retail space will be added in a development that will effectively encircle the Mob Museum, replacing the old bus terminal where the Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market is held every Friday

The pool and the retail are expected to debut in 2014.

The opening date for reservations is October 27, 2013 and the grand opening will be November 12, 2013 (11-12-13).

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Halloween in Vegas

If the clothes tourists wear in Vegas isn't providing you with ample scares this Halloween season, you have plenty of other opportunities to get into the spooky spirit this year.

Of course the fright fest of the Goretorium, that was supposed to be a permanent, year-round attraction, closed last week so you'll need to look elsewhere. Luckily, you can't swing a zombie in Vegas without finding some sort of Halloween themed attraction. Here's a sample of some of the big ones:

Fright Dome at Circus Circus

The annual scary takeover of the Adventuredome at Circus Circus is bigger than ever with six haunted houses including ones based on the horror films "The Collector" and "The Collection," plus one with zombies, one with clowns, and one that you have to go through completely alone (no hiding behind your friends as scary stuff leaps out at you). There are also creepy shows, horror movie screenings, "scare zones" (where random costumed performers will try to elicit a scream or two), and the rides running in the dark. It is happening now on select nights through October 31 and tickets, which start at $33, are available at frightdome.com.

OktoberFrightFest at Fremont Street Experience & the Las Vegas Halloween Parade

Proving that Vegas has the best ideas ever, the Fremont Street Experience combines two of October's biggest events - Oktoberfest and Halloween - into one month-long OktoberFrightFest. Special Halloween themed shows will play on the Viva Vision light and and sound canopy including seasonal songs like "Monster Mash" and "Time Warp" plus there will be free concerts, costume contests and more. It all leads up to the Las Vegas Halloween Parade on October 31st, which will wind around Downtown starting at 7pm. During all of this, various casinos along Fremont Street will be celebrating all things beer including the Golden Nugget's Beer Festival the weekend of October 18th. For more information on all of this, visit the Fremont Street Experience website, the Golden Nugget website, and thelasvegashalloweenparade.com.

Boneyard Bash at The Neon Museum

While you're Downtown, consider stopping by The Neon Museum on October 25th for the Boneyard Bash, a zombie themed Halloween party that will also celebrate the attraction's first anniversary. People are encouraged to put on their best undead-wear and party amongst the neon signs with food, drinks, entertainment, and giveaways that includes official The Walking Dead memorabilia. Tickets are $75 or $125 for a VIP reception and can be purchased through the Neon Museum website.

Sin City Scare Fair

Just south of The Strip near Mandalay Bay, this Halloween carnival features two haunted house attractions, a go-kart track featuring undead surprises, a coffin themed ride, a pumpkin patch, midway and arcade games, food, and special appearances from Travis Love of The Walking Dead and Naomi Grossman from American Horror Story. (While not Andrew Lincoln or Jessica Lange, you'll recognize them if you are fans of the shows.) Tickets run from $30-$55 and the attraction is open select nights through October 31. Check their website at sincityscarefair.com for more details.

"Haunted" Attractions

At least four major Las Vegas attractions will be getting spooky this Halloween season. The Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris Las Vegas will add zombies and other scares from October 31 through November 3; The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay will add costumed performers, scary music, and Halloween decor from October 25-27; Titanic: The Exhibition at Luxor will be giving special ghost tours from October 31 through November 2; and The Springs Preserve will have their annual Haunted Harvest on select days from October 11-27 with family friendly trick or treating, carnival games, shows, and more. Visit the websites for these attractions for more details.

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Bally's Grand Bazaar Shops Plan Updated

The preview website for the proposed Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally's is indicating that the plan for the big outdoor shopping and entertainment space has changed a bit since its original incarnation not only in form but in when it is expected to become a functioning reality.

The original plan called for about 150 small boutiques done as a new-Millennium version of a Moroccan bazaar, with a series of interconnected shops under colorful, shade-providing canopies. They also touted the idea of a laser and light show that would happen each evening. It was all supposed to debut in early 2014.

Now the renderings on the website seem to indicate that it will be a series of larger buildings under colorful, free-form structures that are more decorative than anything else. Although they are still indicating 150 stores, restaurants, and bars the overall effect is less like Morocco and more like suburban mini-mall.

The laser and light show mentions have been replaced by this sentence: Special attractions include a giant Crystal Starburst that creates a celebratory New Year's Eve experience every midnight, and an artful, iconic and interactive timepiece right at the front of project.

Crystal Starbust. Best stripper name ever.

Anyway, the website is indicating a late 2014 debut now. Because of all the changes and delays, I'm putting this one firmly in the "I'll believe it when I see it" file.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Hunger Games Award of the Week goes to the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, which will be adding two new restaurants over the coming months. Meatball Spot serves healthy wraps and salads... no, I'm just seeing if you're paying attention. It serves Italian cuisine and gourmet meatballs and is co-owned by none other than Britney Spears (who will be playing at the theater at Planet Hollywood. The other is Ketchup Premium Burger Bar and it serves healthy wraps and... oh never mind. Both will be open before the end of the year.

The Know When to Hold 'Em Award of the Week goes to Caesars Entertainment, which has struck a deal with gaming manufacturer IGT to buy 7,000 new video poker machines. They will replace the existing machines at Caesars properties around the country and will be phased in over the next year.

The Move In Special Award of the Week goes to the Gold Spike, the former Downtown Las Vegas hotel/casino that just got approved for conversion into apartments. The hotel closed earlier this year after it was bought by the Downtown Project, a group that is affiliated with Zappos.com. That company's headquarters are right across the street from the Spike and the apartments will be tailored for employees.

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Nightlife Review: Park on Fremont

The Fremont East Entertainment District starts where the Fremont Street Experience ends at Las Vegas Boulevard and heads east for several blocks. But it's that first block that has seen the bulk of the impressive redevelopment efforts driven by more than half a dozen fun bars like this one, located in a building that used to be a hookah lounge.

The biggest draws here are the multiple outdoor areas, which will be great when the weather is cooperating. There is a small patio in the front so you can watch the ever-increasing sea of humanity cruising FEED and even get a (admittedly partially obstructed) view of the light and laser show at the FSE. If you prefer things a bit quieter, there is a garden-like patio at the back of the property with table, comfy seating areas, a fireplace, and colorful Mexican tile work that gives it a festive mood.

In between is the relatively small slip of an inside with a bar on one side, a few tables on the other, and that's about it. The decor fits with the park-like theme with lots of wood, tile, metal, and stone creating a cozy ambience.

There is a small menu of pub grub type food - sliders, sandwiches, salads, tacos, and even some breakfast and brunch items but the real draw here are the beers, dozens of which are on tap and in bottles. There are some recognizable brands (Blue Moon, Heineken, Rolling Rock, etc.) but take some time to explore the lesser-known names for the true finds. If you can get the attention of the bartenders (not easy on a busy night) they will walk you through finding one that will appeal to your taste buds. They also have a full bar of non-beer spirits and an interesting menu of specialty cocktails.

Since it is the first bar you get to when leaving the FSE and entering FEED, the crowd is a bit more mixed than at many of the other neighboring bars. I saw older, younger, what were probably locals, and what were definitely tourists (the fanny packs give them away) and everyone seemed to be getting along fabulously.

For the outdoor patios and the long beer list, I give this one a thumbs up.

Park on Fremont
Fremont East Entertainment District
506 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
702-834-3160
website
Daily 11am-3am
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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Vegas History: The Flamingo

There are two common myths surrounding the legendary Flamingo Las Vegas. No matter what you have heard it was not the first hotel on what would eventually become The Strip and it was not the brainchild of Bugsy Siegel. In reality it was Billy Wilkerson, the owner of the Hollywood Reporter and several Los Angeles nightclubs, who bought the land and started construction years after hotels like El Rancho and The Frontier were up and running.

Unfortunately Wilkerson ran out of money during construction and opened the door for Siegel and his mafia connections to take over. Siegel dumped cash into the resort at a stunning speed. By the time it opened on December 26, 1946 over $6 million had been sunk into the project. By way of comparison, El Rancho cost $425,000 to build only five years earlier.

Problems began almost immediately. The hotel was not complete when it opened and only the casino and some of the entertainment facilities were available while construction continued elsewhere. A second weekend "grand opening" on December 28th added some celebrity names to the attendee list but with no guests staying there the property hemorrhaged money. The Flamingo shut down after only two weeks in business.

Siegel scrambled to get the rest of the funds necessary to finish the property and reassure his nervous bosses that everything was under control.

The hotel had its third (and last) "opening" on March 1, 1947 with the name The Fabulous Flamingo. It had 105 rooms, a showroom, restaurants, and casino, and acres of lushly landscaped lawns around a center courtyard pool. Atop the three-story room buildings was a suite for Siegel that included a ladders to an escape tunnel under the hotel and steel lined walls to make it bullet proof.

Bugsy could've used that on June 20, 1947 when he was gunned down in Los Angeles. Even though the hotel was turning a profit by then, Siegel had burned too many bridges in his relentless zeal to get the Flamingo up and running. After his death, the hotel was taken over by several mob figures and front men designed to put a good face on the organization for law enforcement and regulatory types.

The Flamingo was a hit. It was much more upscale than El Rancho and The Frontier, with an atmosphere that was more akin to a resort than an overgrown motel and without the kitschy Western theme that both of its competitors sported.

Other hotels like The Sands followed suit not long after, pushing The Flamingo to make upgrades. A 1953 remodeling is believed to have cost $1 million.

The hotel was sold several times over the next few years to various groups of investors but it is widely believed that most of them were still connected in one way or another to the mob. The Flamingo was expanded and renovated numerous times as well and by 1958 the hotel had over 300 rooms.

In 1963 it got its "close-up" as the primary filming location for the Elvis Presley, Ann-Margaret movie "Viva Las Vegas." Most of the exteriors were shot around the Flamingo pool.

Eventual MGM investor Kirk Kerkorian bought the property in 1967 and then immediately set about on a major renovation and expansion of the hotel. A 28-story room tower added 1,250 rooms and the casino and front entrance were expanded. A bigger showroom, still in use today, was added in 1968.

Kerkorian sold half of the Flamingo to Baron Hilton in 1970. the property officially became the Flamingo Hilton in 1971, a name it would carry for almost 30 years.

More rooms and major expansions happened in 1975 and again in 1990, driving the room inventory up over 3,000

The last of the original resort was torn down for new construction in 1993.

You can see more pictures from the hotel's history on the Flamingo page in the Vegas4Visitors.com Museum.

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