MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
December 16, 2013
Frommer's LAS VEGAS 2015: The Book That Almost Wasn't
The relentless march of progress, being what it is, often means that the things we once revered are left behind, deemed irrelevant in the face of new ideas or, at least, new ways of delivering them. Such was the case with the travel guide book about a year ago or so it seemed.
I have been affiliated with the Frommer's brand since 1997 when my good friend Mary Herczog and I wrote the 1998 edition of the Frommer's Las Vegas guide book. In addition to be really cool - "Hey, we're published authors! That'll look great on a business card!" - it was an honor as well. After all, the Frommer's brand had been around since 1957 when founder Arthur Frommer first published his book Europe on $5 a Day and went on to sell more than 75 million books about destinations all over the globe.
While I concentrated on this website, Mary took over the writing of the Frommer's book in 1999 but I remained involved in the background. I contributed reviews, did most of the fact checking most years, and basically made sure she had the latest and greatest information to include in the books.
Shortly before Mary passed away in 2010, she asked the good folks at Frommer's if I could take over writing the guide book after she was gone as a way to "keep it in the family." They agreed and I have since authored the annual editions including 2011, 2012, and 2013.
But in 2013 that pesky concept of progress stepped in and threatened to derail everything. Although Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline remained involved in the Frommer's publications, the Frommer's family had not owned the brand since 1977. The most recent corporate owners, John Wiley & Sons, had managed the titles for more than a decade but as traditional publishing lost ground to electronic distribution, putting out guide books got more and more expensive, with fewer and fewer returns. They finally decided to sell the Frommer's brand and none other than online giant Google stepped in.
Google had ambitious plans for the Frommer's content. They wanted to incorporate it in their Google Plus local services and match it up with their previously acquired Zagat content. Their vision is a seamless world of expert and contributor based content that can be accessed from any device at any time. Actual printed books, however, weren't a part of that plan. In March of 2013 they announced that the Frommer's guide book series was being cancelled and no further print editions of any title would be published.
But then an amazing thing happened. The Frommer's family stepped back in to the picture and Arthur and daughter Pauline bought back the rights to the Frommer's name. They immediately announced plans to publish a handful of titles including Las Vegas and they asked me to write it for them again.
It was not an easy assignment to be sure. Although not a ground-up rewrite, the 2014 edition of the book is definitely different than the 2013 version. First, it's smaller; done as an Easy Guide and limited to an easy-to-carry, easy-to-read, and easy-to-reference 256 pages. Not only does it make it handier - you can stuff it into your back pocket while walking around Las Vegas - but it makes it less expensive as well. The list price on the book is $10.95 and it's selling on Amazon and other online retailers for around $8. That's as low as half the cost of some of the other overstuffed guide books out there.
But making it smaller doesn't mean it is any less useful. There are hundreds of reviews in the book of hotels, restaurants, shows, attractions, shopping, and more, all of which are either new or updated for this edition; it has helpful lists and itineraries designed to give you a unique way of exploring the best that Vegas has to offer; there is a Las Vegas history overview and even instruction on how to play some of the most popular casino games; and of course, there is a whole host of travel planning information, from the best times to go to how to get there and how to get around once you do. Throw in the maps, including a detailed fold-out version, and this becomes an invaluable resource that won't require you to be able to find a wireless or 4G signal to be able to read. That sounds like progress to me!
How to Get to Strip Hotels Without Driving on The Strip
With visitation to Vegas steadily climbing, there are more and more people to contend with pretty much everywhere you go on The Strip. Getting from one place to another is a challenge, especially if you are driving or taking a cab and have to contend with the nightmarish traffic.
But there are ways to get into most hotels on The Strip without ever actually driving on The Strip. In fact, you can get in and out of every major resort except Bellagio, CityCenter, and Wynn/Encore and never put a wheel on Las Vegas Boulevard. Knowing the alternate routes will save you time if you are driving yourself and could save you money if you are taking a cab and can direct the driver to a less time-consuming route.
The key here is to know the streets that parallel and cross The Strip. On the west side that's Frank Sinatra Drive and Industrial Road, which run all the way from Mandalay Bay on the south to Circus Circus on the north. On the east side its Koval Lane, Audrie Street, and Paradise Road. Cross streets from south to north include Mandalay Bay Road, Reno Avenue, Tropicana Avenue, Harmon Avenue, Spring Mountain Road/Sands Avenue, The Desert Inn Arterial, and Sahara Avenue.
You may be wondering why that I left Flamingo Road off the cross streets list. If you have ever driven it you'll know why: it sucks and should be avoided unless you don't have a choice.
The one caveat on all of this should be obvious: stuff changes. Construction, traffic, or simply the moods and whims of people who run these places could mean that what worked yesterday won't work today.
So, ladies and gentlemen start your engines! Hotels are listed from south to north.
Frank Sinatra Drive is the key here. From it you can enter directly into the main Mandalay Bay parking garage, although note that you can't get to the valet if you do so. A driveway between the Hacienda Avenue bridge and the parking structure will take you to another entrance to the garage where there are two valet parking options. If you want the main valet take that driveway to Luxor Drive, turn left, and then turn right on Mandalay Bay Drive, which will take you to the primary entrance.
Note that in order to get to the valet and main entrance of the Four Seasons, you must turn in off The Strip but if you follow the route above you only have to about a block.
Both hotels have entrances to their parking areas from Frank Sinatra Drive. To get to the valet for Luxor, use Reno Avenue to go to The Strip, turn right, and go about 100 feet to the main driveway. For the valet for Excalibur, there are driveways that will take you around to the front of the building.
The main entrance for valet and self parking is off of Tropicana Avenue, just east of The Strip. Note that this may change once they start construction on the new shopping center addition being built at the front of the hotel.
The main entrance to all parking is off of Tropicana Avenue, about a block east of The Strip. There are also ways to get in off of Koval Lane or Audrie Street, but I have found them confusing and you can easily miss the valet option.
The main entrance to all parking is off of Tropicana Avenue, just west of The Strip.
There is a driveway entrance off of Frank Sinatra Drive at the back of the property. This may change as they start construction on a planned 20,000 seat arena back here.
Only accessible via The Strip.
The main entrance for all parking is off of Harmon Avenue, just west of The Strip.
The main entrance for all parking is off of Harmon Avenue, just east of The Strip. You can also get into the parking garage (and sneak around to valet if you do it right) by entering off of Audrie Street behind the hotel.
There is a driveway from Audrie Street between Planet Hollywood and Paris that will take you to the parking structure that serves both hotels and to the Paris main valet. If you go through the parking structure and exit via the north ramp it will take you to a driveway between Paris and Bally's that you can use to access the Bally's valet. You can also enter Bally's off of Flamingo Road but it is usually a pain to get there.
Only accessible via The Strip
From Frank Sinatra Drive at the back of the resort, turn onto Jay Sarno Drive and you can access the main parking garage and three of the four of the valets. Of the latter, the Colosseum valet in the parking garage is usually the least crowded but you can also get to the Forum Shops and main hotel valets. The Augustus Tower valet is only accessible off of Flamingo Road and should be avoided, partly because the traffic is bad and partly because the light to turn in and out takes forever. Seriously; you will get noticeably older waiting for it to turn green.
This one is confusing because of all the construction happening with the Linq and High Roller and can change at a moment's notice, but if you turn off of Flamingo Road on to Audrie Street (just east of The Strip where Battista's Hole in the Wall is located) you can drive a few hundred feet and you'll see a glorified alley that will take you to the Flamingo's main parking structure and valet. You can also get to this alley from Koval Lane. You used to be able to get there from an alley that ran parallel to The Strip behind the hotel but that has been closed off for Linq construction.
Harrah's, The Quad, and The Venetian
There is a driveway off of Koval Lane at the back of The Venetian that will provide access to the parking garages for all three hotels. There is a valet parking option in the Venetian garage. Go through The Quad garage to get to that hotel's main valet. Go past the Harrah's garage to get to the main driveway to that hotel's valet.
Use the driveway off of Spring Mountain Road, directly opposite the Fashion Show Mall. This will provide you access to the TI and Mirage garages and the ability to sneak around to use the main valet for both hotels by using the driveways through the property. Just follow the signs.
The main entrance to the parking garage is off of Sands Avenue, just east of The Strip. The only way to get to the valet is off of The Strip.
There is valet parking on the south side of the hotel off of Sands Avenue but it is only open to guests staying in the Resort Tower portion of Wynn Las Vegas. Everyone else has to use the garages and valets that are only accessible from The Strip.
Accessible from Industrial Road at the back of the resort.
Accessible from Paradise Road at the back of the resort.
This one is also tricky and will take you through a less than desirable neighborhood but is a lot easier than trying to make your way in from The Strip. From Sahara Avenue turn on to Tam Drive, which is just west of The Strip near Capriotti's. Take Tam about five blocks to Baltimore Avenue and turn right. This will take you to main driveway of The Stratosphere.
Many thanks to reader Cindy KC for giving me the idea for this story.
Photos of the Week
El Loco Delayed
The good news for roller coaster fans is that the cars for the new El Loco thrill ride have started to arrive at Adventuredome at Circus Circus, ready to be installed. The bad news it that means the thing won't open until late January, a month behind schedule. El Loco is one of those "extreme" coasters that will have a 90-foot ascent followed by a great-than-straight-down drop producing negative 1.5 "vertical G;" a 45-degree outwardly banked curve (and cars that tilt out); and a 180-degree turn that flips into a barrel roll. Um... yeah.. you have fun, I'll be in the bar.
Vegas Sets Santa Record
The Las Vegas Great Santa Fun Run was last weekend and it set a record for the most running Santa Clauses... who knew they kept track of such things. But the event benefiting the local Opportunity Village organization drew 11,221 participants, easily surpassing Liverpool England's recent 10,000 person record. Shania Twain was the grand marshall of the event and local Vegas entertainers including the Chippendales, Jersey Boys, and JabbaWockeez came out to take part in the fun.
Santas line up to run
Santa, Chippendales, and Mayor Goodman
Shania Twain & Santa
Head over to the Wynn Buffet this holiday season for a peak at this creation, a 3-foot tall replica of the Wynn hotel tower made out of gingerbread. It was done by Flora Aghababyan, chief cake designer for Wynn, and is made from 4,500 gingerbread tiles, rolled fondant, and sugar. It weighs nearly 300 pounds and took 21 days to construct.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has released some teaser photos of its new 3,000-seat theater. It's done to evoke an abandoned glass factory (their words, not mine) with cast glass chandeliers, exposed brick walls, intricate metalwork, and lots of luxe woodwork. The first show will be Bruno Mars on December 29.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Fireworks Award of the Week goes to Aria, Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, The Stratosphere, Treasure Island, and The Venetian, which are the hotels that will be the launching pads for the big New Year's Eve fireworks show this year.
The Mega Award of the Week goes to the person who won $10.3 million on a Megabucks slot machine at the MGM Grand last week. This is the second time in two months that the top prize was won at MGM Grand; another player won $12.5 million in November.
The Best Wishes Award of the Week goes to Chef Kerry Simon, who revealed this week that he is suffering from an an advanced form of Parkinson's disease that has left him unable to walk. Simon has several restaurants in Las Vegas including KGB at Harrah's, which has the best burgers in town as far as I'm concerned.
The Now You Don't Award of the Week goes to Criss Angel, who will be putting his show Believe at Luxor on hiatus for two months as he recovers from shoulder surgery. During February and March of 2014, the show will be replaced by "Criss Angel's Magic Jam," a revue of various magicians and illusionists including Vegas' own Nathan Burton.
The Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day Award of the Week goes to Hash House a Go Go, which will be opening its fifth Las Vegas location at The Rio in the spring of 2014. The local and visitors' favorite also has outlets at The Quad, M Resort, The Plaza, and on West Sahara Ave.
Restaurant Review: Heritage Steak
It seems odd to suggest that a celebrity chef opening a steakhouse in Vegas is a risky endeavor. On the surface you'd think it would be a sure bet - famous name + meat + Sin City = jackpot. But there are a bunch of factors that make that puts some additional hurdles in front of this particular celebrity chef steakhouse.
The celebrity chef in question is Tom Colicchio, best known for his appearances on Top Chef as a head judge and recipient of virtually every major cooking award known to man. That alone sets up a level of expectation that is higher than your run of the mill star food slinger but then add in the fact that Colicchio already has a well-regarded steakhouse here in Vegas (Craftsteak at MGM Grand) and the bar this one has to get over is even higher.
Plus, there are about nine bazillion steakhouses in Vegas and several of them are flat out fantastic.
Sure bet? There is no such thing in Vegas and Heritage Steak at The Mirage, unfortunately, is a great example of that.
The meal started off well, with a pork belly appetizer that was so bacon-fat good that it almost took my breath away. Served with fried oysters and a tomato molasses, it was the kind of thing you want to savor but wind up devouring quickly and wishing there were more of.
Other appetizers mostly fall into the adventurous category for most diners with things like the French Onion soup including escargot, charred octopus, and ash roasted bone marrow as examples.
Main courses include a few chicken, seafood, duck, and lamb options but the bulk of the offerings are, unsurprisingly, steaks.
The differentiator here is that all of the meats are heritage breeds, hormone and antibiotic free, and prepared over an open flame, wood-burning oven or charcoal grill. You'd think that would make them robust and flavorful but the steaks we tried were surprisingly bland, deriving most of their flavor from the toppings and accompaniments. There's nothing wrong with really good toppings and accompaniments - give me grilled onions, blue cheese, bacon, and the like any day, but they should compliment the flavors of a really good piece of meat, not replace them.
Such was the case with the grilled ribeye with onion relish and roasted onions (that's a lot of onion) and the New York strip with pepper chutney. Both were perfectly fine but not memorable in any significant way. Perhaps we should have gone for the unadorned steaks like the traditional filet, porterhouse, or Kobe.
The one beef alternative we sampled was the roasted chicken, which also fell into the "fine" category with the exception of the accompanying beer-battered squash, which looked like onion rings but were spiced to a fiery hotness that was unexpected and not in a good way.
Service was great and the restaurant itself, under the big rain forest dome at The Mirage, is lovely (dig the suede walls and use of fire wood as decor).
But it all comes back to the food, which I expected to be more special, or at least better than it was, especially for the prices they charge. With a cocktail, appetizer, main course, dessert, tax, and tip, figure at least $75 per person without breaking a sweat; more if you go for the crazy expensive Wagyu or Kobe steaks.
If you are after a good steak, there are better places to find them in Las Vegas.
Nightclub Review: ghostbar
ghostbar (sic) has long had two things going for it - the view and the reputation as being one of THE hottest of hot spots in all of Las Vegas.
I can't argue with the first point. From high atop a hotel tower at The Palms, the view is stunning, offering unparalleled vistas of The Strip from both inside the bar and an adjoining outdoor patio. This really would be a great place to go have a frothy concoction, sit outside, and watch the city come to life at night. And if you're brave you can stand on the glass panel in the floor that gives you a direct downward view of the pool area way, way, way down beneath you. Me and my paralyzing fear of heights will pass on that particular bit of whimsy, thank you very much.
It is worth noting however that The Palms is playing the same games that next-door neighbor Rio plays with their hotel tower. They bill ghostbar as being on the 55th floor of the hotel, which would be fine if in fact there were actually 55 stories, but there aren't. There are only 42. Some interesting and culturally sensitive floor numbering (4 is bad luck in certain Asian cultures) has transformed the 42nd floor into the 55th floor and although I understand the concept behind it is ultimately an altruistic one, they are milking it for all it's worth and that kind of bugs me a little.
But it still doesn't change the fact that you're not going to find a view like this anywhere else in Vegas.
The bar got a makeover in 2013 that disposed of the ultra-retro mod-chic - a phrase I just made up to cover the sort of "Austin Powers" 60s and 70s futuristic look that was popular in bars like this for awhile - in favor of ultra-retro bordello-chic - another phrase I just invented that means something like classic budoir inspired furnishings with a modern spin. It's got swanky couches for the VIP seating areas, an ornate fireplace adjacent to the DJ booth, crystal chandeliers, and other almost roccoco touches that give it a classy feel but done in bright pink and stark black and white giving it a hip vibe.
Calling the open space in front of the DJ booth a dance floor is being generous - more than 20 people there at a time will be complicated, but this is more of a get your groove on wherever you happen to be kind of place. You have floor space and feel like dancing? Go for it.
While still a popular place, ghostbar has morphed from being a see-and-be-seen kind of destination club to more of a casual party spot. I'm thrilled by that because it means there is less attitude and more fun. When the club first opened it was stuffed to the rafters with people who were dressed to impress, with hair and make-up high, and skin showing wherever possible all so they could, for the most part, stand around and try to be seen while pretending to be too cool to care. The "I'm prettier than you" atmosphere was overwhelming and exhausting. Now, it's much more laid back, with an all-are-welcome vibe that I appreciated, especially since I am not young or pretty.
Cover and drink prices are pretty high - $20 and up to get in, $10 or so for a bottle of beer, and $14 and up for mixed drinks. That's about average when compared to other clubs around town so it's not as shocking as it seems at first glance.
I really like the way they have redone ghostbar from a visual perspective but am even more appreciative of the change of atmosphere. I usually hate places like this, but this one I actually enjoyed.
You're still not going to get me to stand on the glass floor though.