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.

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy!



Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week

10: 725 Area Code Means Dialing Changes

The chances that this will affect most visitors to Vegas is minimal, but a new area code overlay means that the way you dial local numbers in Las Vegas is changing. Before, when 702 was the only area code, you could dial local numbers without using the area code. The new 725 "overlay" means that you will have to dial all 10 digits regardless of if you are calling from and to numbers that are in the same area code. The change goes into effect May 3, 2014.

9: New Rules Could Mean Bigger Slot Jackpots

The next time you're in a casino in Vegas (or Atlantic City) be on the lookout for new slots with the "Powerbucks" name because they could be offering up the biggest jackpots ever. Up until now, progressive slot jackpots have been limited to one state, so the money that grows on the Megabucks machines in Las Vegas, for instance, only comes from players in Nevada. The new machines, which will primarily be found at Caesars and Boyd casinos to start, are the first progressive jackpot machines that are linked in multiple states including Nevada and New Jersey. The theory is that having a bigger pool of gamblers feeding into the progressive jackpot will make bigger jackpots, similar to how multi-state lotteries like Powerball get huge payouts. The current slot jackpot record is $39.7 million, won in 2003 on at Megabucks machine at Excalibur.

8: SlotZilla Testing

It looks like the SlotZilla zip lines are getting tantalizingly close to opening. The attraction's Twitter feed posted a picture last week showing the lines on Fremont Street getting a workout with some test dummies. Still no official opening date but the Twitter feed is hinting that the lower 4 lines could be open any day now. The upper 4 lines, which are "zoom lines" where you fly super-hero style, probably won't open until later.

7: Guy Fieri Arrives in Vegas for New Restaurant

Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri made a big entrance in Vegas recently to celebrate the impending opening of his Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen restaurant at The Quad. Fieri arrived in a classic Chevy Camaro while University of Nevada Las Vegas marching band played the school's fight song and "Viva Las Vegas." Fieri is a graduate of UNLV in case you were wondering about that particular connection. He then handed out samples of one of the upcoming restaurant's signature dishes, the bacon mac 'n cheese burger, which I'm sure has absolutely no calories. Vegas Kitchen is slated to open on April 17.

6: Stomach Flu Outbreak in Las Vegas

Public health officials in Vegas are investigating the possibility of an outbreak of the norovirus after more than 200 reports of the stomach flu hitting attendees of a convention at Planet Hollywood. Norovirus is the one that often breaks out on cruise ships and has happened at several hotels in Vegas over the years. The best defense is to wash your hands frequently, especially after you have touched a slot machine or cards at a gambling table. For a few Vegas-centric tips on ways to keep yourself healthy, check out the Staying Healthy page.

5: George Wallace Wins Lawsuit; Announces End to Show

Comedian George Wallace was awarded $1.3 million in a lawsuit against Bellagio last week and then promptly announced he was going to be ending his 10 year residency at The Flamingo. The comic claims he was injured when he tripped on stage during a private event at Bellagio and the jury agreed that it was the hotel's fault. As far as the show at The Flamingo, Wallace said he had hit the point where promoting it was too time consuming. It will end April 27 after more than 10 years.

4: Possible Rule Change Could Hit Casinos Hard

A proposed change to the way casinos handle money from big time gamblers could have a big effect on their bottom line. The change would require casinos to verify the source of large cash transactions from gambling "whales," the people who regularly blow through hundreds of thousands, or even millions of, dollars in the casinos. The proposal is being considered to stem money laundering schemes and was driven primarily by an incident at The Venetian in which a suspected drug trafficker gambled more than $84 million over the course of two years. The parent company of the hotel agreed to a $47.4 million fine in that case and other casino companies, such as Caesars Entertainment, are currently under investigation for similar money laundering charges. Currently banks must require anyone who deposits more than $10,000 in cash to fill out a form stating where the money came from - the new casino rules would require similar restrictions on their transactions. The casino companies are worried that the big spenders will go to casinos in other countries rather than open themselves up to the scrutiny.

3: New York-New York Adding Shake Shack, Closing Sporting House

New York-New York will be adding two popular eateries in December with the planned opening of Shake Shack, the burger joint with outlets all over the world, and Tom's Urban, the 24-hour modern gastropub that is making waves in Denver and LA. It's all a part of the major revamp of the fronts of both New York-New York and Monte Carlo that are adding a park-like plaza, new restaurants, and stores including the upcoming Hershey's Chocolate World. To make way for Shake Shack and Tom's Urban, the Sporting House (formerly ESPN Zone, formerly Motown Cafe) will close on June 3.

2: El Sombero Closes

One of the oldest restaurants in Las Vegas has closed its doors. El Sombrero, a Mexican restaurant in Downtown Las Vegas, first opened in 1950 and has been a favorite of locals in the area for more than 60 years. The current owners - the nephew of the original founder and his wife - are retiring after running the place since 1970.

1: Red Rock Resort Revamp

Red Rock Resort will be getting a $35 million makeover this year that will mostly be focused on the exterior of the hotel. A new restaurant row will be added along Charleston Boulevard in front of the resort that will include several new eateries and an outdoor dining plaza while a new entrance and additional landscaping will be added to the other side of the property to create a connection to a massive new shopping mall that is currently under construction next door. The latter, The Shops at Summerlin, will have more than 125 stores in an outdoor village style complex. The mall and the revamps to Red Rock should be completed before the end of the year.


SLS Las Vegas Preview

More than three years after it closed, the former Sahara hotel will get a new lease on life this August as the SLS Las Vegas makes its debut and you could be among the first guests. The hotel has started taking reservations with the first bookings available for August 25, 2014.

The Sahara opened in 1952 and was one of the city's premiere resorts for decades but it declined over the years to become a second (or even third) tier property, mostly famous for its cheap rooms and $1 blackjack tables. It was purchased in 2007 by SBE, a hotel, nightlife, and restaurant company based in Los Angeles headed by Sam Nazarian. He closed the hotel in May of 2011 to begin preparations for turning it into a sibling to the company's SLS branded properties in Miami and Beverly Hills.

More than $300 million has been thrown at the hotel to modernize, expand, and renovate every part of it, with most of the buildings being gutted and rebuilt. Two of the existing hotel towers were stripped down to the concrete and are getting all new interiors and exteriors, a third tower is being rehabbed on the inside, and a fourth, low-rise building was torn down. The SLS will have about 1,600 rooms when it is complete, several hundred fewer than when it was The Sahara.

The new rooms are going to try to do a lot with relatively little space. The Story Tower rooms will be 325 square feet, about half the size of the standard accommodations at places like The Venetian, and less than the average of modern hotels that run in the 400-500 square-foot range. They will come with one king bed or two double beds and will feature plush mattresses, high thread count linens, 55-ince HDTVs, wireless Internet, and high-end bath amenities.

The World Tower rooms are a bit larger at 360 square feet and will add a work desk and a couch at the foot of the bed plus a bigger bathroom.

The top of the heap Lux Tower rooms are 425 square feet and have a French boudoir design scheme complete with mirrors above the bed and a long couch under the windows.

The rest of the building is getting a similar extreme makeover. The roller coaster and NASCAR related attractions are gone and the casino, lobby, pool, and other public areas will be completely redone not only with a swank, modern decor but with a revised layout.

The casino will be 60,000 square-feet, about the same size as it used to be when it was the Sahara, but new from the ground up with around 800 slot machines and 70 table games. By way of comparison, that's about half the size of The Venetian's casino so it will definitely be more intimate. There will be a race and sports book and a high limit lounge.

The dining offerings will definitely be up a few runs on the epicurean ladder. Restaurants will include a branch of The Bazaar, a Beverly Hills restaurant from James Beard Award winning chef Jose Andres, whose China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan has garnered major attention. Other dining will include popular LA favorites Umami Burger, Griddle Café, and Cleo; Katsuya, which is a Japanese/sushi restaurant with eight locations in California, Texas, and Florida; and an 800 Degrees pizzeria.

Nightlife will include a 20,000 square-foot dance club called Life that will open on to its own rooftop pool that will host daytime parties called, naturally, Daylife. There will be an ultralounge space adjacent to the main pool called Foxtail that will turn into a nightclub late nights and offer a day club experience while the sun is shining.

Furthering the LA resort feeling will be a series of boutiques from famed Tinseltown retailer Fred Segal, plus a high end spa and a fitness center.

Those looking for a blast-from-the-past version of The Sahara will most likely be disappointed. There is virtually nothing left of the old hotel except the walls. Everything else was sold at auction after the hotel closed.

The hotel is currently slated to have its grand opening over Labor Day Weekend 2014, which occurs August 29 through September 1, but as mentioned above, reservations are now being accepted for as early as August 25.

Room rates are starting at around $150 during the week and around $230 on the weekend for the smallest Story Tower rooms. Add about $20-$50 for the World Tower and another $100 for the Lux tower rooms. There will be a $25 per night resort fee that covers the usual amenities like Internet and gym access.

The hotel is having a special if you book by April 30 that offers weekday rooms at $109 and weekend rooms at $139 as long as you book two nights.


Caesars' Swank Suites

You can rent some really nice rooms at hotels in Las Vegas but those really nice rooms - you know, the ones you see on those Travel Channel specials about living the high roller life - those have been reserved as perks for the big time gamblers and not usually available to the Average Joe.

Well, Caesars has changed that and is now offering up all of their insanely, over-the-top accommodations to anyone as long as they are willing to pay for them. All of the hotels in Caesars Entertainment's portfolio are now displaying the high-roller suite and villas but let's take a look at what Caesars Palace has to offer.

You start with a series of penthouse experiences in the various room towers. The Octavius penthouses feature two bedroom suites with a separate media room, a wet bar, an eight-seat dining area, and a whirlpool tub. Palace Tower penthouses range from 2,000 to 3,400 square-feet and have electric towel warmers, wet bars, and dining rooms. The Spa Suites in the Augustus tower have their own whirlpool tub and/or a sauna along with stone floors and frosted glass to give it a day spa feel. These range in price from about $1,000 per night to several grand.

The most famous of them all is the Forum Tower Emperor's Suite, which has been used in several movies and was the blueprint for the room in "The Hangover. It has three seating areas, a wet bar, and beaded chandeliers. It will run you between $1,600 and $2,400 per night.

If you want a party spot, the Absolut Find your Flavor Suite is inspired by the vodka of the same name and features four bedrooms and a dance floor. It ranges from about $1,300 to over $2,000 per night.

The Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace has a series of suites include the Hakone, which has 1,000 square-feet with a dining and living room; Sake, which ranges from 1,300 to 1,950 square feet and includes a pool table, a media room, and a bar; and the two-story Penthouses, which go from 2,200 to 4,350 square-feet and include a pool table and a 90 inch flat screen TV. They start at about $1,000 per night for the Sake and go up to nearly $6,000 on some nights for the penthouses.

The top of the food chain are The Villas, which range from 9,500 to over 11,000 square feet, which is significantly bigger than most houses. They feature things like open lanais, grand pianos, massage chairs, a private pool, fire pits, and limo service to and from the airport. As far as the cost? They don't display that on the website - you have to call for rates. But I'm guessing it will be the epitome of that old saying: if you have to ask, you can't afford it.


Restaurant Review: Crush

Restaurateur Michael Morton, son of the legendary Arnie whose Morton's steakhouses are a worldwide favorite, has been bringing an interesting food experience to Vegas for years. He was behind most of the restaurants at The Palms when it first opened and more recently launched La Comida with his wife Jenna, a fantastic Downtown Las Vegas Mexican eatery.

Here at the MGM Grand he had the long-running Nob Hill but that restaurant has now been replaced with the Morton's new one, Crush. The difference is night and day. Whereas Nob Hill was a sea of gray in terms of decor and not much more interesting in terms of the cuisine it served, Crush is a sunny departure in both flavors and mood.

There are two main dining areas. In front is a more casual space with a big bar and open walls to the nearby casino. In back is a warm wine-cellar of a space with a funky LCD screen feature that runs along the ceiling and provides some interesting background wallpaper. At one point it looked like a long strip of bacon, so me and my friends automatically loved it. In any case, it's much more comfortable and inviting than Nob Hill was.

The menu is divided into four sections. Start out with the Soups, Salads, and Vegetables section, which is pretty much exactly what the name implies with what feels like warm weather, summery options such as a kale salad with fried artichokes, peasant soup with sausage and sage, and an arugula salad with fennel.

Next up is the pizzas, all of which are done in a 700 degree wood fired oven. Options here include grilled chicken, Italian sausage, curry shrimp, and more. We sampled the Nana D's meatballs pizza and were very pleased with our choice.

Small plates take up the bulk of the menu. The items here are range from whimsical to hearty, with things like a sea scallop "Benny" done with a sunny-side up quail egg and chorizo in the former category and veal Bolognese with a red wine sauce in the latter. We sampled a bunch of things from this section including the octopus ceviche, which came with pickled jalapenos and was not at all what you might expect octopus to be like (tender, not fishy, almost fruity); the ricotta gnocchi with braised short ribs that was a delightful blend of flavors; and the Angus mini-burgers, also done with a quail egg and buttermilk blue cheese. Those were my particular favorite but they came so late in the meal that I was too full to eat as much of them as I wanted. The only bum note we found in the small plates arena was the shrimp risotto, which was a little mushy and overdone for my tastes, but only a little and I'm kinda picky.

Finally the large plates include everything from half-roasted chicken to braised short ribs to steak and seafood and more. I sampled the lamb sirloin, which was perfectly prepared and cut-it-with-a-fork tender.

There's also a full alternate menu of vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free, and seafood/shellfish free versions of many of the same dishes on the main menu. That's really rare and quite commendable.

Desserts - can't forget about those. It's a short list of fairy ordinary items (sorbet, crème brûlée, etc.) but the cheesecake, served with strawberry compote and fresh whipped cream is amazing.

Prices add up quickly, especially if you are ordering multiple small plates (which you should, because they are, well, small). Salads and the like are all mostly around the $10 mark; pizzas are around $16; small plates also all around $16; and the full plats run from $26 on the low end all the way up to $65 for a 28 ounce ribeye.

Service was perfect from beginning to end with a very friendly staff that was quite patient with the large group of us and our inherent inability to make decisions when there are so many good options to choose from.

I was not really an admirer of Nob Hill but I have to admit that I have a bit of a Crush on this place.

(sorry - it had to be done)

MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Sun-Thu 5:30pm-10:30pm
Fri-Sat 5:30pm-11:30pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-


Backstage Pass: Le Rêve

There are quite a few "how do they do that?" moments in Le Rêve, the water-themed spectacle at Wynn Las Vegas filled with aerial acts, high diving, synchronized swimming, and more than a few pairs of red shoes. Now you can get answers to all your burning questions with a backstage tour package that includes an hour-long exploration of the Le Reve theater in the afternoon to accompany your show tickets for that night.

The tour guides obviously have not only a deep knowledge of the show but a passion for it as well. It seems like they are fans and their exuberance for what is accomplished here is infectious.

The tour takes you to just about every corner of the theater, from the lobby to the seats inside and from high above (dizzyingly high) to down below and all around. Just about the only thing you don't get to do is go on stage, but considering the fact that the stage is a pool it's probably for the best.

If you're lucky you might even get to witness some of the rehearsals. On the day I visited they were practicing the high-drop dives, wherein one cast member pulls another up to more than 60 feet above the pool and then drops them. Witnessing it from the different angles - the theater, the pool level, and from the platform way up high - is pretty cool.

That space above the theater is one of the highlights as you get to see exactly how crazy these people must be to dive into what looks like a kiddie pool from this height. The complex ballet of machinery and people that it takes to get everything to work perfectly is nothing short of amazing.

In the backstage area you get to see the prop room, the wardrobe area, the carpentry shop where they build the various scenery pieces, and the scuba set up, all the while learning the tricks of what happens under the water out of view of the audience. Interesting tidbits: the backstage area is sauna hot, heated to around 100 degrees during the performance to keep the constantly wet people warm. Also, the omnipresent red shoes? They are painted every single day to make them sparkle for each performance.

Adding the tour adds about $100 to the cost of your ticket but you get preferred seating at the show and a gift bag to go with it. Whether that makes it worth it to you or not probably depends on how interested you are in what makes a big Vegas show like this tick. I found it fascinating but I'm kind of a geek. If you are too, splurge a bit the next time you want to see Le Rêve and get the full access pass.

Le Rêve Backstage Tour
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
$249 (includes show ticket)
Fri-Tue 4pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A


Hotel Review: Circus Circus

Like just about every other hotel in Vegas, this 70's institution has received facelifts over the years that have made it lighter, brighter, and more upscale. Gone (for the most part) are the garish big-top colors replaced by whites, golds, and earthtones with a European Harlequin feeling.

The big top itself is still there, covering the main casino area and featuring continuous circus acts (trapeze artists, high wire, etc.) for most of the day and night. The giant midway/arcade is also still functioning allowing kids an opportunity to gamble legally with stuffed animals as the jackpots.

The property itself is sprawling, with very long walks, trams, or even shuttle buses carrying you to the extreme reaches.

Rooms come in a bunch of different configurations and styles. The best of the bunch are the more recently redecorated Casino Tower or West Tower rooms, which feature sleek and modern furnishings, flat panel TVs, soft duvets, and more modern conveniences. They are absolutely worth the $10-20 extra per night you would pay for them over the standard rooms in the Skyrise towers. Those rooms are totally unremarkable - average size, average decor, and nothing surprising as far as amenities. They are as motel basic as you can get except for the Manor rooms, which are even more basic if that's possible. If they want anything more than $50 a night for the latter, go elsewhere.

There are several restaurants of varying caliber, the best of which is The Steakhouse, a Vegas institution for more than 30 years. There are a couple of informal bars but no nightclubs and no traditional showroom.

The primary entertainment diversion, other than the circus acts, is the Adventuredome theme park, a fully enclosed air-conditioned play land featuring a bunch of rides, games, and activities for kids of all ages. There are a couple of pools to swim in or lay out by but be warned: this is a family-focused resort so if you are looking for a nice, quiet, relaxing hour poolside you aren't going to find it here.

Now that I've broached the kid issue, I may as well dive in. I want to state implicitly and without reservation that I am NOT anti-kid. I like children and in fact I was a child at some point in my life. Some of my best friends are children, or at least act that way.

The thing is that I am not wild about children in Las Vegas. Since the city is primarily a playground for adults, there isn't a lot for them to do. Consequently they get bored and apparently decide that the only way to relieve said boredom is to bug the crap out of everybody around them. I guarantee you that if you walk from one end of the property to the other you will hear at least two kids crying somewhere along the way. The long and the short of it is that if you don't want to be around children, Circus Circus is not the place for you.

The upside is that this hotel often has rooms that are substantially cheaper than other hotels on The Strip. You can get the tower rooms for as low as $35 and the Manor rooms can be even cheaper, although there is that annoying resort fee they charge daily, jacking the prices up a notch. Still, I know a lot of people who will check-in here, drop their bags, and run off to the more appealing, more adult casinos to gamble and play with all of the extra cash they are saving. That may be worth putting up with a crying child or two.

Circus Circus
2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
$59 and up double
Avg. $75-$125 per night
Resort Fee: $14.50 per night including tax
Vegas4Visitors Rating: 64