MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
April 7, 2014
Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week
Food Trucks to Invade Vegas
Sin City has so many amazing restaurants that food trucks haven't really been a big force in the dining scene, especially on The Strip. That's going to change, at least for one weekend, with the Las Vegas Foodie Fest, a gathering of more than 40 gourmet food trucks from around the country April 24-27. It's happening in the events lot across the street from Luxor and admission is either $8 if you buy in advance or $10 at the gate (plus the cost of food). More info at LasVegasFoodieFest.com.
Las Vegas Company Designs Immersive Pranks
Have you ever wanted to freak out a friend while in Vegas? Well, a new company is ready to help you do it. Las Vegas: The Game is a production company that will create elaborate pranks on unsuspecting friends and family that could range from someone getting "arrested" by a bounty hunter to your group being in a limo involved in a hit and run to immersive, all-night affairs with multiple storylines and actors. You can get more information at the company's website, LasVegasTheGame.com.
Mac King Builds a House
On Saturday, March 29, employees and friends of The Mac King Comedy-Magic Show worked together with other members of the community to paint, landscape, and rebuild a home, rebuilding hope for a local family through Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas. During the lunch break King surprised the volunteers with a few magic tricks and provided each volunteer with a four-pack of tickets to his show. The four bedroom, two bathroom home in Southern Highlands is set to be ready for move-in in May.
Pork & Beans Closing
One of my favorite new Downtown eateries is closing after only a few months in business. Pork & Beans, the delightful little restaurant with menu items from chef Kerry Simon, is closing its doors at the Downtown Container Park next week. Several other places in the shopping center have closed or are closing as well including a couple of stores and a bar, but the people behind the complex insist it is all part of the natural shuffle that happens when a new place opens. They say visitation numbers are very strong and they already have new tenants lined up to take over the empty spaces. As for Pork & Beans, the company that operated it says they want to bring it back in a new location but don't know where yet.
World's Tallest Thermometer to Return
Anyone who has ever made the drive to Vegas from Los Angeles knows the giant thermometer. It's a roadside attraction in Baker, California (aka: the middle of nowhere) off of Interstate 15 that is a 134-foot tall temperature gauge with more than 5,000 lights that display exactly how hot it is (the record in the area is 134 degrees, set in 1910). The thermometer was created in the early 1990s as a tourist attraction to try to lure people off the freeway to the restaurants and businesses in tiny Baker. It has been shut off for more than three years over a dispute of the costs of keeping it lit up but the current owner - the daughter of the guy that originally built it - says she is working to get the landmark oddity lit back up again sometime this year.
Riverboat Roulette Debuts in Vegas
There's a new game in town that aims to up the ante (so to speak) on the classic game of roulette. Riverboat Roulette adds new betting fields to the table that correspond to new colors on the wheel - blue, purple, green, yellow, pink, and orange - that are in addition to the traditional black, red, and green. Bet on any of these and if the ball lands on a number associated with that color you win. odds vary depending on the color - from 2:1 to 8:5. The new game is available now at The Golden Gate in Downtown Las Vegas and will be coming soon to The D Las Vegas.
Moon Nightclub Closes
Back in the day, The Palms was one of the hippest, hottest spots in town with four of the must-visit party joints in town: Rain, Moon, The Playboy Club, and ghostbar. As of last week, they are down to one. The rooftop Moon nightclub - the one with the retractable roof - has closed, leaving just ghostbar to offer comfort to the nightclub faithful (Rain and The Playboy Club closed several years ago). A spokesperson for the hotel says they will be redoing the club as something bigger and better later this year.
Become a Blue Man
The Blue Man Group at Monte Carlo is offering a special Onstage Experience package that allows you to become a Blue Man... or at least act like one. The package includes a 90-minute behind-the-scenes tour where you'll get to see props and instruments used in the show and get hands on demonstrations in how to play the PVC pipes and marshmallow tossing. The $299 ticket also includes a good seat to the show, a meet & greet with the cast after the show, and a bunch of BMG merch. It's only available on Sundays but you can see the show anytime.
Olivia Newton-John Arrives in Vegas
In anticipation of her new Las Vegas residency, "Summer Nights," Olivia Newton-John arrived to her new home at Flamingo Las Vegas in fashion. On Wednesday, April 2, the city's newest headliner made a grand entrance to the center Strip property in the same 1949 Mercury "Hell's Chariot" that was featured in the movie Grease. She was accompanied by Chippendales dancers dressed as T-Birds and Jubilee showgirls, dressed as Pink Ladies, who accompanied the convertible up The Linq's entrance to the Flamingo. ONJ's shows start April 8 and are currently scheduled through August.
Worried About a Zombie Apocalpyse? Nevada Might Be the Solution
I've long said that if a zombie apocalypse were to ever occur, Vegas might be the place where it would start. Have you seen the people in the airport flying home on Sundays after a long Vegas weekend? Well, turns out that Vegas might be one of the better places to be if the dead ever start walking again, at least according to a tongue-in-cheek survey by real estate website Estately.com. They created their Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Rankings by looking at 11 "metrics" including how many people in the state own guns, are active duty military, are paintball enthusiasts, have survival skills, and the like. According to their results, Nevada ranked #8 out of the 50 states, so better than most, and cited Vegas' Zombie Apocalypse Store as a factor in its good showing. If you want to have even a better chance, their survey says go to Alaska - it hit #1 followed by Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico in the top 5. Those that will most likely become zombie food will probably be living in Georgia, New York, Washington DC, Mississippi, and New Jersey, which landed at the bottom of the rankings in terms of zombie preparedness. You can read the full story on Estately.com.
National Beer Day: 10 Best Places for Beer in Vegas
Monday, April 7 is National Beer Day (doh!). There are certainly no shortage of places to get beer in Vegas, but in honor of this special day I decided to catalogue the special beer venues - those spots that do more than crack open a can or put a ridiculously huge plastic container under a tap. These are places that go above and beyond in some way to provide you with the best "Beer, Good" experiences in town. In alphabetical order...
It's not that they have a tremendous beer selection here, it's what they do with what they've got. Order the O'Hare of the Dog and you'll get a 24-ounce Budweiser served in a paper bag with a side of bacon. Enjoy yourself a little too much on April 7 and this could be what you'll need on April 8.
Based on the original beer garden in Munich in business since 1589, this place serves up beer that was apparently so good that it stopped invading Swedes from destroying the city. Now that's good beer!
Yes, they have more than 50 beers on tap but really, it's the guy dressed like a leprechaun and the beer pong tables that really sell this place as a beer destination.
All you really have to know about this great gastropub is this: beer wheel. It's a metal contraption with eight "tastings" of various selections of the dozens of beer they serve. Who wants to take a spin?
I'm not sure if anyone is officially counting, but there's a good chance that this casual pub has more beers on tap than anywhere else in town - more than 200 at last count. If you can't find something to your liking here you're just too damn picky.
If you get overwhelmed by the more than 200 selections of tap and bottled beers they offer here, just ask the on-staff cicerone, who is to beer what a sommelier is to wine. Describe your tastes and the cicerone will deliver exactly what you want.
Nobody drinks like the Irish (and I mean that with respect) and here they make their country's heritage proud with dozens of stouts, ales, IPAs, and more. You'll be dancing a jig by the end of the night.
Not only do they have a beer menu as big as their food menu, but they offer everything from draft tables, where you can control your own pour, to beer cocktails, and their now famous Beer in a Bag - a PBR Tall Boy served in a brown paper bag with a shot of Jack on the side.
Microbreweries are usually pretentious affairs, but here the atmosphere is convivial and the beer is downright fantastic. They have six varieties of hand-crafted beer, one of which (the Vienna Lager) won a Best of Craft Beer Award for 2014.
This out of the way bar in the Arts District has a big selection of bottles and drafts but it's really the presentation that makes it fun - all of their taps are made out of mannequin hands.
Las Vegas History: The Riviera Turns 59 This Month
Like many Las Vegas hotels, the original concept for what would become The Riviera was for a much different thing. Originally the idea, first floated in 1952, was for a $3.5 million, 250 room property called Hotel Casa Blanca. It was going to have a South Beach Miami theme and be patterned after that city's high-end Fontainebleau hotel.
The idea was floated by various "businessmen" including William "Lefty Clark" Bischoff, a reputed associate of notorious (alleged) mobster Meyer Lanksy. As the proposal went through the licensing and approval process, state gaming regulators became concerned about Bischoff's acquaintances and he was forced out of the project - at least officially. His name and several others were replaced on the paperwork with a set of Miami businessmen who were widely considered to be front people for what was still a mob endeavor.
This went on for the better part of a year as different people signed on and dropped out of the management, ownership, and financial backing of the hotel, all done to try to assuage the gaming commission that the mob was not involved (even though it was).
Then in mid-1953 they finally found the right name to include on the application, The Marx Brothers. Gummo and Harpo were among the investors in the property along with a group of Hollywood types, which gave the project enough caché to finally free it from the regulatory clutches.
Groundbreaking occurred May 24, 1954 and by then the project had been renamed The Riviera. It would be the first high-rise on The Strip, with a nine-story room tower. The cost ballooned up to $10 million.
The spring of 1955 was a busy time for Las Vegas as four major hotels opened within a month of each other. The Royal Nevada debuted on April 19, the Riviera one day later on April 20, and the Dunes and Moulin Rouge both coming online in May.
Liberace provided the entertainment for the opening and beyond for which he got an insane-for-the-times $50,000 a week, making him the highest paid entertainer in the world. Joan Crawford was the official greeter and was paid $10,000 for four days work saying hello to people. Keep in mind that in 1955 the average salary in the US was about $5,000, and that was for an entire year!
The hotel had 291 rooms and a Miami South Beach feeling that was much more subtle than originally intended. The small casino, which only had a handful of tables and about 100 slot machines, was done in a what we now call mid-century modern. There was also a 700-seat showroom and dinner theater called The Clover Room, several restaurants, an Olympic sized swimming pool, and more.
Most of the hotels of the era were relatively casual spaces, often with western themes and marketed to a wide swath of people. The Riviera on the other hand was conceived of and run as a place for high rollers, going after a high-end luxury crowd that apparently had other places to go. The property didn't attract the kind of everyday crowd that was needed to sustain business. That and the high likelihood that the mob was siphoning money out of the operation, put the Riviera into bankruptcy in July 1955, only three months after it opened. Unfortunately for The Riv, it wouldn't be the last time the hotel went bankrupt.
A reorganization with new backers kept the doors open and the hotel afloat. One of them was Gus Greenbaum, the man who took over the Flamingo after Bugsy Siegel met his unfortunate end in 1947. Greenbaum was named manager and the hotel worked on reestablishing itself although it was still positioned as a luxury resort for many years to come.
By 1958 Greenbaum was becoming notorious for his onsite gambling, drinking, drugs (he was reputed to be addicted to heroin), and womanizing. According to legend, he stole money from the casino to support his various vices and in December of 1958 he and his wife were found with their throats slashed in their Arizona vacation home. Despite the fact that pretty much everyone believed it to be a mob hit, officials declared that it wasn't and the murderer(s) were never found.
In 1960 the hotel ran into money troubles again. Although it didn't officially declare bankruptcy, it required a massive infusion of cash from new investors to keep it afloat . Among them was another alleged mob figure Moe Dalitz.
Between 1962 and 1963 a $3.5 million project added rooms, bringing the total to 415, and renovated the existing ones. Some of the luxury accoutrements were toned down to try to broaden the hotel's appeal.
During this period, the hotel became a haven for entertainers. Elvis, The Rat Pack, and Barbra Streisand (who made her Vegas debut here as an opening act for Liberace) took the stage and brought in huge crowds.
More rooms were added in 1967 along with a new lobby and other amenities. By then the property had 770 rooms total and the main tower had increased up to 12 stories high.
In 1969 Dean Martin became a 10% owner of the hotel and a resident entertainer, doing several runs of shows periodically. That lasted until 1972 when a contract dispute about how many performances the singer would do each week led to him exiting the property both physically and financially.
The property was bought by American International Travel Services of Boston for $56 million in 1973 and those new owners added the $20 million, 17-story Monte Carlo room tower. The total inventory was up to 1,000.
The 200 room San Remo tower was added in 1977.
In 1984 the hotel sank into bankruptcy #2. The hotel remained open throughout the reorganization and a new set of owners and managers came in.
It took them a few years to get things back to something resembling "on track" but by 1988 they invested $28 million to add the Monaco Tower, a 24 story addition that brought the resort up to over 2,100 rooms total.
They also went to work on renovating the front of the property. In 1990 the casino was expanded to more than 100,000 square-feet and the neon and glass facade was added.
A year later, in 1991, came bankruptcy #3. Riviera Holdings Inc. was formed out of that to manage the hotel.
Frank Sinatra's last headlining engagement in Vegas was at the Riviera in 1992 and there's a room that was designed to his specifications. You can still stay there - room 2902 in the Monte Carlo tower - but be warned: it is supposedly haunted. It was even featured on an episode of "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel.
The Vegas boom of the 1990s that brought new, modern resorts like The Mirage, MGM Grand, and Luxor to The Strip relegated The Riviera to second (or even third) tier status. With all of the attention focused on the South and Center Strip areas, the North Strip languished and foot traffic slowed to a crawl. A lack of investment caused the once grand Riviera to become a dated shadow of its former self.
In 2010 the hotel saw Bankruptcy #4. Starwood Capital Group, a private investment firm,rode in to rescue the property and take over the management. They threw some money into it, redoing some of the rooms, putting in a new sports book and bingo hall, and updating some of the casino and other public areas, but the bulk of the Riviera is pretty much the same as it has been for the better part of the last 30 years. It is now considered to be a bargain hotel with room rates as low as $25 during the week.
Nightlife Review: Beacher's Madhouse
As I stood there watching people dressed up like Winnie the Pooh and Barney the Dinosaur dancing on go-go platforms, a "flying" midget (their word, not mine) delivering bottle service to VIP tables, and a woman with 22 implants breaking boards with her breasts I thought to myself "It's Miley Cyrus' world, we just twerk in it."
If you are at all familiar with the former Hannah Montana's antics of late you'll be well-versed in the vaguely obscene, odd, and oddly compelling freakshow that is Beacher's Madhouse. She was the master of ceremonies when they opened this new version of the nightclub at the MGM Grand in 2013 and at least some of her over-the-top staging is inspired by, and downright cribbed from, this place.
What you have is basically a swank ultra-lounge tricked out in carnival sideshow decor and populated by a cast of characters that entertains both in between and during the pounding dance music that keeps the crowd grooving. Celebrity impersonators greet you at the door (Johnny Depp and Pee Wee Herman were especially convincing) and a fantastic sleight of hand magician wanders from group to group. Sit a bottle service booth and spend enough money and you'll get the bottle delivered by a little person in a bumble bee costume "flown" across the room on a pulley system and lowered to the table to the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Happy Days" depending on the moment.
The real peculiarity starts around midnight as the carny acts take the stage for brief interludes during the night. I saw midget wrestling (again, their term) with Mini-Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and Mini-Psy (the "Gangham Style" guy") against Mini-Milli-Vanilli; a guy that balances on things; women covered with balloons dancing and popping them down to their skimpy under things; and the aforementioned large chested woman breaking stuff with her breasts. Acts will change often and are not on any set schedule but you can expect stuff like this and more, from transvestite strippers to guys dressed like Oompa Loompas to contortionists and beyond.
I wasn't kidding when I said freakshow and yet I also wasn't kidding when I said oddly compelling. Much like Miley's latest career incarnation, it's all wrong in so many different ways but is unexpectedly successful. You don't want to look at the woman breaking stuff with her breasts but you really kind of have to and then you will want to applaud.
I think the primary reason I enjoyed it - other than the stiff drinks the bartender was pouring me - was the fact that it was at least different. Most nightclubs in this town are exhaustingly similar, with a "Don't mess with me" staff, a "I'm better than you" clientele, and a "This is it?" search for something more interesting to do than jump up and down to the latest Tiesto mix. You can do that here if you want but in between jumping up and down you can watch Mini-Britney Spears lip-sync to "Oops I Did It Again."
Getting in is not cheap - $75 to stand and $125 to sit down plus typically expensive drinks - but those are the kinds of prices you're going to pay for the big name DJs at the mega-clubs and they don't have flying midgets.
The crowd is young, hot, and way too cool for you but also surprisingly laid back. I was the oldest person in the room by a solid 15 years and I had several people strike up conversations. Maybe they thought I was their dad. Whatever. What's the woman breaking with her breasts now?
Show Review: Frankie Moreno
If you have never heard of Frankie Moreno, you are forgiven. He's not exactly what you'd call a household name, at least certainly not to the level of most of the other people headlining showrooms in Las Vegas these days. Celine, Britney, Elton, Donny & Marie, Shania... heck, even Carrot Top has better name recognition.
But dismiss Frankie Moreno as just another Vegas lounge singer at your own peril. This guy is more talented than that and he's going to work his butt off to prove it to you.
One of the most interesting things about Moreno's show in the comfortable main showroom at The Stratosphere is that, unlike most singers who don't have a catalogue of hits to rely on, he doesn't do a show full of cover songs. Most of the tunes here are Moreno's originals, which is interesting in a lot of ways and challenging in others. There won't be too many sing along moments but his music is, by and large, enjoyably toe-tappable and full of infectious energy.
Categorizing the music is tough. There's a little bit of Michael Buble style swing, some Ray Charles style soul, Elvis style rock and roll, Jerry Lee Lewis style rockabilly, and even some straight ahead current pop. That there is no through-line (all jazz, all country, etc.) is also both interesting and challenging.
The best part of the show, though, is the showmanship both from Moreno and from his band. With staging by "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" alum Lacey Schwimmer, the ensemble is alive with movement, choreography, and musicality that has shades of current greats like Bruno Mars and classics of the Motown era. The band doesn't just stand there and play, they come out and dance, interact, and have fun, which pumps up the energy in the room by about a 1,000 percent.
Then there's Moreno himself, who is a great big ball of seemingly boundless energy. He sings, dances, jokes, schmoozes, and plays a variety of instruments with virtuoso level enthusiasm. His signature piano antics involve playing it backwards and upside down but pay attention to what he's really doing and you'll recognize a prodigy at work here (he was on Star Search as a child).
As with any artist who is trying this hard to win your affections, there are a few inevitable missteps. I could've done without the overwrought cover of "Eleanor Rigby" (once you've seen Clint Holmes do it as a jazz breakdown it pretty much ruins it for everyone else) and some of his onstage patter could use some polish. For instance it really isn't good form to point out the guy reviewing your show from the stage - most of us are misanthropes who have good reason to sit in the dark with our little pads of paper and leave you to the spotlight.
But those are quibbles, really. The show, the man leading it, and the band behind him are entertaining, original, and a lot of fun.
Restaurant Review: Pub at Monte Carlo
Back when this place was Monte Carlo Pub and Brewery it was a terrific, relatively affordable place to grab some grub, have a beer, and catch some live entertainment. Now it's called The Pub and it's a terrific, relatively affordable place to grab some grub, have a beer, and catch some live entertainment.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess. It's still at Monte Carlo if you need more proof of that.
If you weren't paying attention you probably wouldn't notice a lot different about the place, primarily because there isn't. It's a comfortable two-story space with a decidedly brew-pub atmosphere (exposed brick, pipes, and wood) with a big bar, lots of tables on two levels, plenty of TVs showing everything from sports to music videos, a stage and dance floor, and a small outdoor dining patio.
The bar has more than 200 beers on tap including their own house brews, plenty of things you've heard of (Bud, Coors, Michelob) and lots that you probably haven't (Rouge, Matilda, Spaten). It's a little overwhelming to people like me who are perfectly content with a Miller Lite and consider a Corona a special occasion beverage, but their bartenders are well versed in their offerings and can help direct you to the right choice depending on your taste.
What has changed is the menu. Not drastically - it's still classic American pub-grub type fare - but there's enough new stuff and interesting twists to make it noteworthy.
Check out Gus' Small Bites, the appetizer section of the menu. The name is a bit of a pun in that Gus is the name of the mascot whale in their logo and so his idea of a "small bite" is really a ridiculous amount of food to us humans. Giant wood fried pretzels are roughly the size of a small pizza and come with a fantastic smoked gouda cheese sauce and a choice of mustards. I also really liked the fried shrimp cocktail even though I'm usually not a fan of shrimp - I guess everything really is better if you fry it. Juicy chicken tenders are another way to go as are chili nachos, wings, rings, mac and cheese, and more.
If you are in the mood for something on the lighter side, check out the soup and salad section with about a dozen choices. I sampled the Mayan steak salad with tender pieces of meat, cherry tomatoes, oranges, avocado, and a cumin vinaigrette. The mixture of hot and cool was interesting and it would be a great summer salad.
I have to highly recommend the flatbread pizzas. We had a chef's special of the day that was loaded with pretty much every meat you could think of (pepperoni, ham, sausage, etc.) on a perfect flatbread that was right in the middle between chewy and crispy. Other toppings available include prosciutto, meatballs, chicken, salami, shrimp, and more. Get one to share with your table - it's a terrific way to start things off.
Burgers are a central focus on the menu. You can choose from one of their standards such as the traditional pub version, a spicy Five alarm variety with jalapenos and buffalo sauce, or a blue cheese variety or you can make your own with more than two dozen choices of meat, cheeses, buns, sauces, and toppings. Chipotle mayo and a sunny-side up egg? Sure - they can do that.
I chose the latter option and loaded my Kobe burger with so much stuff that it was almost impossible to eat... but it was delicious so I suffered through it. The beef itself was perfectly cooked and juicy and all of the stuff I added on to it was bursting with freshness.
The main courses (or Gus' Big Bites) include steaks, seafood, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, bratwurst, and more. I tried the short ribs, braised in Goose Island Matilda beer, which gave it a great, earthy flavor that was a nice counterpoint to the typical wine based versions.
A selection of sandwiches (prime rib dip, beef brisket, etc.) and some yummy desserts round out the menu. Regarding the latter, be sure to check out the Pub S'mores, with marshmallow mousse, chocolate ganache, and chocolate ice cream on a graham cracker crust. Sweet heaven.
Prices are on the lower end of the moderate range with appetizers $9-15, salads $12-15, flatbreads, sandwiches, and burgers mostly $14-20, and entrees a few bucks on either side of $20. You could easily do a burger, fries, and a soft drink for under $20 total but figure with appetizer, beer, dessert, tax, and tip that you're going to go over $30.
Service was fantastic throughout the meal although it was very slow when we were there so there wasn't much competition for the staff's attention.
I liked this place when it was The Monte Carlo Pub and Brewery and I still like it now that it's just "The Pub." Like I said... the more things change, the more they stay the same.