MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
March 24, 2014
Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week
10. Las Vegas AIDS Walk to Bring out the Vegas Stars
A plethora of Vegas' entertainers will unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS at the 24th annual AIDS Walk on Sunday, May 4 at UNLV to benefit Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN). For the 13th year in a row, Penn & Teller will serve as grand marshals and leaders of the Penn & Teller Challenge, matching donations of $250 or more. Josh Strickland from VEGAS! The Show will sing the National Anthem to kick off the event and there will also be acts from Le Rêve, Rose.Rabbit.Lie, Panda!, Absinthe, Million Dollar Quartet, and more. The event starts at 9am at UNLV. For more information visit afanlv.org.
9. Show Anniversaries
Congratulations are in order to ventriloquist Terry Fator, who recently celebrated his 5th year of performing at The Mirage, and Absinthe, which last week marked its 1,500th performance at Caesars Palace. Time flies when you are getting dirty with sock puppets, doesn't it?
8. Lawsuit of the Week
Jury selection is underway in a $9 million lawsuit against the Bellagio filed by comedian George Wallace. The Flamingo headliner claims that he tripped over a misplaced wire on a stage at the Bellagio when he was performing at a private event for a corporate group. He reportedly suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon but not only finished the show, he went on to perform his 10pm show at the Flamingo while sitting in an office chair. Representatives for Bellagio says Wallace was not paying attention to what he was doing and slipped and therefore the hotel is not responsible.
7. Buddy V's Adding Sunday Brunch
Every Sunday beginning March 23, diners at Buddy Valastro's Palazzo restaurant Buddy V's can indulge in Buddy's Family Brunch, an elaborate display of favorites served buffet-style throughout the restaurant. Highlights include charcuterie and cheese platters, a chilled station including shrimp on the shell, fresh salads, Pasta Fagioli, selection of house breads, and a carving station with maple-glazed Smith Field ham, assorted Italian sausages, and slab bacon. Signature brunch items include, chicken rigatoni, mac n' cheese carbonara, chicken parm, meatballs, and other dishes, as well as new breakfast options such as Panettone French Toast, roasted vegetable frittata, egg scrambles and Crespelle with Nutella, whipped cream and caramel. Dessert will include items like cannolis, tiramisu, assorted Italian cookies, candies, cakes and of course, the Lobster Tail pastry. The prices is $32.95 per person, tax and gratuity not included.
6. Boulevard Mall to Get Makeover
Most Vegas visitors never make it to the Boulevard Mall on Maryland Parkway about 2 miles east of The Strip. To be honest, they haven't been missing much. It's a typical mall pretty much like the one in your town with none of the flash and fun of those on The Strip. Now, new owners will be dumping a bunch of money into it to make it more appealing - maybe still not to tourists, but at least to locals who have taken their shopping dollars elsewhere. The plan is to add a farmer's market to the front of the property along Maryland Parkway; renovate an empty department store into office space and smaller boutiques; add a bowling alley and movie theaters; and just generally spiff up the place. The project is expected to begin this summer and be done by spring of 2015.
5. Project Dinner Table Returns
One of the most interesting and unique dining experiences in Vegas is ready for its 2014 season. Project Dinner Table brings together local chefs, locally sourced food, and offbeat locations to create events that raise money for various charities and create a new sense of community. The first event will be held at Downtown 3rd, the street at the Downtown Grand leading up to the Mob Museum. A big table seating 175 people will be set up in the street and food will be prepared by the culinary staff at the Downtown Grand. Proceeds from the event will benefit the United Way of Southern Nevada. Past events have been held on golf courses, baseball fields, on the infield at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in the Neon Museum's boneyard, and more. For information and tickets visit projectdinnertable.com.
4. SlotZilla Hiring
The long-delayed SlotZilla zip line had a job fair this past weekend, attempting to fill the more than 100 positions required to get the thing up and running. SlotZilla is an 11-story slot-machine-themed takeoff platform located near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas, right in front of Neonopolis. The $11 million attraction features two sets of lines with two totally different experiences. At more than 70 feet above ground, riders on the Zipline will be able to ride in the traditional seated style from Neonopolis about halfway down the Fremont Street Experience to Binion's. For the thrill-seekers, the Zoomlines will be launched from the top of the structure about 100 ft. above ground, soaring over the four blocks "superman" style to the end next to The Golden Gate. There is still no opening date set but I'm hearing late April or early May is a good bet.
3. Rio Raises Resort Fee
The fees keep on piling up. The latest is at The Rio, where they have raised the nightly resort fee from $20 to $22 and have not added anything to what is included for the charges. Every major casino hotel on or near The Strip charges a resort fee now, ranging from $3 per night at Silver Sevens to $25 per night at most of the big hotels including Wynn Las Vegas, Bellagio, Caesars, and The Cosmopolitan. Anyone want to take bets on which hotel will be the first to breach the $25 mark?
2. Bellagio Conservatory Launches Spring Display
Spring has spring at the Bellagio Conservatory with the launch of the 2014 spring display last week. The centerpiece is a 45-foot-tall cherry tree with a stage built into it for nightly music performances and there's also a koi pond, a greenhouse filled with more than 800 butterflies, and lots of whimsy including giant (not real) versions of caterpillars and ladybugs. The spring display runs through May 11. It's free and open 24 hours.
1. New Flight Service Offers Mile High Club Membership
If you don't know what the Mile High Club is, you should probably stop reading right now. A local Las Vegas company called Love Cloud (no, I'm not making this up) is offering flights in a custom fitted airplane that features a bed in a private cabin where people can... well, become members of the Mile High Club if you know what I mean. Various packages are available that start at 40 minutes of flying time up to 90 minutes and include condoms, lube, a photo next to the plane afterward, and a certificate verifying Mile High Club membership. They offer "romantic add-ons" including limo transportation, champagne, roses, and chocolate. Ah, Las Vegas.... More information is availale at their website LoveCloud.com.
Best Places in Vegas to Pop the Question
March 20 was not only the first day of spring, but it was also National Proposal Day; a day designed to encourage folks to take that big step toward happily ever after. Since Las Vegas is famous for its weddings, it should also be famous for its proposals - and there are certainly some very unique places where you could pop the proverbial question. Here are a few ideas:
How about getting on one knee in front of the Bellagio Fountains or the Mirage Volcano as they put on their water and "lava" shows respectively? You could also do worse than popping the question in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign or under the brightly lit canopy at the Fremont Street Experience.
Views of Vegas
There are several restaurants that would serve up great meals to go along with some stunning scenery high above the city such as Alizé at The Palms and Top of the World at The Stratosphere. Or you could just go with the observation decks atop The Stratosphere Tower or at the Eiffel Tower Attraction at Paris Las Vegas. Head outside Vegas and there is a pretty stunning view from the top of Hoover Dam.
If you think you could be heard above the screaming, how about asking for someone's hand in marriage while they are clutching yours on one of the city's thrill rides? Options include the Roller Coaster at New York-New York, the thrill rides atop The Stratosphere including SkyJump, and El Loco or any of the other rides at Adventuredome at Circus Circus. The upcoming High Roller observation wheel and SlotZilla zip lines are also options when they open.
Go on one of the Neon Museum tours and they will take you through a section that has signs from wedding chapels of yore - that would be a fun place to propose. Or maybe you could hop in one of the gondolas at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. and ask the question while riding down the middle of a shopping mall. Or maybe you can do it in front of your favorite slot machine - those new "Walking Dead" slots are pretty cool.
Shooting at Excalibur Involving Male Strippers
Here's an "only in Vegas" story for you... some doofus decided it would be a good idea to steal from male strippers. It ended in gunfire and a beatdown so severe that said doofus wound up in the hospital.
It all started when 24-year-old Las Vegas resident Joey Kadmiri allegedly donned a firefighter outfit and pretended to be a cast member of male strip show Thunder from Down Under at Excalibur. He made his way backstage and, according to reports, stole costumes, makeup, and other personal items from the dressing room and then left.
That's where it got weird and dangerous. Several of the cast members went looking for the guy, found him, and confronted him about the theft. According to witnesses, Kadmiri pulled a gun, aimed it at one of the stripper's heads, and pulled the trigger. Amazingly, someone hit Kadmiri as the gun went off and the bullet missed everyone and struck a wall instead.
That's when the rest of the incredibly fit, very beefy strippers pretty much jumped on the guy and beat the hell out of him... er... "restrained him" until authorities could arrive.
Kadmiri was hospitalized and was believed to be under the influence of crystal meth, which would probably help explain why he thought that robbing a bunch of guys who spend hours in the gym every day would be a good idea. He has been charged with attempted murder and other crimes related to the robbery.
There was only one other minor injury when one of cast members was slightly burned by gun powder when the shooting happened. He was treated at the scene.
Nightlife Review: Fizz
Right next door to the Caesars Palace Colosseum where Elton John performs regularly is this small slip of a champagne bar created by his husband, David Furnish. What has been accomplished here is nothing short of revolutionary: a grown-up bar that still manages to have a contemporary attitude and fun atmosphere. In a town that delights in one outrageous bit of spectacle after another and has tailored pretty much every place that serves alcohol to the young party crowd, a place like Fizz is practically a relief.
Which is not to say that the young party crowd wouldn't be welcome here if they wanted to come in but they might be a little freaked out by the fact that the music is played at a volume that allows for actual conversation instead of requiring you to text the person sitting next to you.
The room is small but gorgeous, with dramatically high ceilings that alleviate any notion of claustrophobia and a design scheme that evokes the swinging 60s without being obnoxious about it. The walls are lined with artwork from Furnish and John's private collection of photography of famous, nearly famous, and the not famous at all that are stunning and will provoke lots of discussion and perhaps a spirited debate about which one is the coolest. Take some time to wander and appreciate. There are only a handful of cozy booths and some stools at the bar so get there early to claim your spot, although even if you have to stand in line to get in or stand once you do it'll be worth the effort.
They manage to do a lot with the small square-footage. There's a DJ booth and they even manage to squeeze in bands on occasion, but as mentioned aove they never turn up the volume on any of it so high as to require ear plugs. This is a swank place and they go to great lengths to insure it stays that way.
Upstairs is a private VIP suite overlooking the main room where you might find Elton hanging after the show. If you can talk someone into letting you sneak a peek it's worth it - this is what it feels like to be in the 1%.
But all of this would be pointless if they served boring booze but that is certainly not the case here. Champagne and sparkling wine are the focal points here with dozens of options ranging from a $9 glass of Domaine Chandon Brut to a nearly $3,000 bottle of Cristal Rose 2005 and beyond. Don't worry if your idea of champagne is limited to what you swig back in a plastic stem glass on New Year's Eve; the staff here knows their stuff and can guide you to the right option for your taste and budget.
Specially crafted champagne cocktails are especially noteworthy, with options like Le Fizz with Grey Goose vodka, St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur, and egg whites; the Fizz Noir with cherries, lemon juice, vodka, and Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup; and the Fizz Fraise, made with strawberries, lemon juice, strawberry liqueur, and gin. The latter is literally the best cocktail I have ever tasted - sweet with a touch of tart and some fizz. Delicious.
Contemporary and "Dessert" cocktails like a peanut butter and jelly and chocolate/coconut concoction fill out the specialty list but there's a full bar offering anything you can dream up plus a big wine list.
A short menu of small plates is available, all created by Elton John's personal chef (1%, remember?). Canapes, caviar, panini bites, and a few deserts are very tempting.
Prices are decidedly in the "not cheap" category but not significantly more so than pretty much every other club in Vegas and certainly not out of line for this level of an experience. The champagnes come at lot of different price points but the bulk of those listed on the menu are in the $20-$40 per glass range. Specialty cocktails are all $18 and the food is mostly in the $12 and under range except for the caviar of course. The cost of the drinks is ameliorated by the fact that they don't charge a cover.
This is the kind of place that Las Vegas has been needing for a long time now: a genuinely sophisticated nightlife option that still feels casual enough for all tastes.
Show Review: Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil
To understand where this show is at you have to look at where the show has been.
It started as a touring rock opera, complete with songs and a storyline centering on Zark, a man on a mission to regain his lost magical powers and the love of a good woman. He acted as the ringleader, of sorts, paving the way for various Cirque acts that filled up the rest of the show.
When it was transplanted here to Vegas at Aria to take the place of the accessible but underperforming Presley-themed show "Viva Elvis," they kept the storyline and the music but they swapped out the English language lyrics for Cirque-style nonsensical babble - it sounds vaguely Italian, but isn't. What you were left with was people singing emphatically about, well, who knows? It seemed really important.
In 2014 the powers that be reimagined the show once again by stripping out the storyline, the random Cirque-babble songs, and even Zark himself. In their place you get more Cirque-style acrobatics, aerialists, and miscellaneous feats of human flexibility and imagination.
It's a vast improvement over the previous incarnation of the show but it still feels a little bit haphazard, like they operated on the patient to remove his appendix and then replaced it with a rabbit in a top hat. Rabbits in top hats are cool but it doesn't exactly fit where the appendix used to be.
The are small acts that make an impact including a woman opening the show with an impressive, although low-key, mastery of the art of bouncing tennis balls (I bet you didn't know that was an art form, but in this performer's hands it is); a couple balancing on ladders that provided a few clench-your-armrest moments; guys throwing flags across the stage in an intricate puzzle of staging; and a gymnast doing some amazing stunts on a flexible plank suspended on the shoulders of two burly men.
The bigger acts feel a little "done," at least to my jaded eyes and maybe to yours if you've had any experience with Cirque shows before. There's a high-wire act, a flying trapeze group, a spinning wheel device on which people run and jump and balance, a company of acrobats, and a cadre of people spinning in oversized rings. It's entertaining, to be sure, especially for folks who are new to Cirque, but many of these left me glancing at my watch.
A new act is certainly a standout. Two twin brothers do an aerial ballet that is both beautifully choreographed and gasp-inducing in its complexity. They are worth the ticket price alone, as is act that features nothing more than a man dancing and showing off his impressive gymnastic skills. The staging is what makes it memorable, with lights casting his shadow in giant relief on the walls of the theater and a special effect behind him that mimics his movements in what appears to be wisps of smoke. Two pianists on grand pianos accompany the dancer, helping to making the piece almost heart-breaking in its simplicity. It was, by far, my favorite moment of the entire show.
A disappointment is that they have changed the sand artist act, where a person creates landscapes, people, and scenes you have just witnessed out of a thin sheen of blue sand on a screen broadcast to the audience. Before you got to watch the person and the process; now you just see the screen, which lessens the impact.
And if it were up to me, I'd lessen the presence of the clowns, a duo that creates filler while they are changing the set behind the curtain. I get that they need something to keep the show moving forward but by the time they get to the silly audience participation bit involving an electric chair and a pretty girl, I just want them to go away.
I like the new Zarkana more than I did the old but it still has a lot of competition in Vegas for your Cirque dollars. With the genius storytelling and cohesive packages of shows like Michael Jackson ONE, Mystère, KÀ, and O, it's hard to suggest that Zarkana is the one you should see when you are in town unless you've already seen the others.
Restaurant Review: Javier's
This Southern California transplant at Aria Las Vegas specializes in the kind of authentic Mexican cuisine that is hard to find outside of the American Southwest (other than in Mexico, naturally). It's not fast food, both in terms of quality and price, which should be exciting for anyone who enjoys the south of the border flavors but doesn't want it wrapped in a shell made of Nacho Cheese Doritos.
The space itself is fairly small, hugging the side of the casino with a big bar dominating a big chunk of it. I found noise to be an issue with loud music, the bar crowd, and the nearby gaming spaces conspiring to require raised voices to be heard across the table. We got used to it - the margaritas probably helped. I did like the Day of the Dead inspired carving in the main dining room, which gives the space a unique feeling.
Oh, those margaritas - fantastic. Hand shaken with noticeably fresh ingredients, these would give my favorites at Tacos & Tequila a run for their deniro.
The menu is huge; almost intimidatingly so. There are more than a dozen different seafood dishes including lobster enchiladas, Mexican prawns, a crab-stuffed quesadilla, scallops in chipotle sauce, and more; grill items that mainly involve various ways of preparing steak (topped with queso fundido or chipotle cream for instance); and combination plates of echiladas, tacos, quesadillas, and more. This is not as easy as the chicken burrito and two soft tacos you get at the drive-thru, but it's totally worth the effort.
We started with the queso fundido appetizer, which is basically a big dish full of cheese loaded up with onions, mushrooms, chiles, and chorizo that is mopped up with fresh tortillas. It was difficult to eat and some of the chiles were beyond spicy but it's a bowl of cheese so how can you not love it?
The big winner in the main dish competition at our table was the Chile Colorado, a thick pork chop served in a sweet tomato sauce with a side of white rice. It was fantastic - juicy and perfectly spicy (not too much, not too little) - and I kind of fell in love with it. Everything at the table was great but by the time I tasted the pork chop everything else was background noise.
It isn't cheap to eat here. The most basic of combination plates is around $20 at dinner and only a couple of bucks cheaper at lunch. From there it goes up quickly with most main courses in the $25-$40 range and a few that go above $50. Throw in one (or two or...) of their fantastic margaritas and you could easily surpass to $75 per person with tax and tip. Like I said, it isn't Taco Bell.
There are lots of Mexican joints in Las Vegas, many of which are more affordable than this one but there are few that focus on the fine-food side of the equation. Splurge a little and you may never want to go back to that drive-thru again.