Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

The latest weekly column will always be on this page, but you can go back through the archives (all the way back to 1999!) or take a look ahead and what's coming up next for Vegas by using the navigation on the left hand sidebar.

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Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week

10. Million Dollar Mob Payoff

It was like the old days... suitcases full of cash taken from a mafia headquarters to a politician's office. But in this case it was just part of a celebration of the success of The Mob Museum, which arranged to make the first of four annual $1.5 million payments to the city of Las Vegas in cash. The suitcases were delivered to the city council meeting by former mayor Oscar Goodman, who was an attorney for various mafia figures back in the 1970s and championed the construction of the museum. The Mob Museum has welcomed more than half a million visitors since it opened two years ago.

9. New Kerry Simon Restaurant Planned for Downtown Vegas

One of my favorite chefs in Vegas, Kerry Simon, is joining the Downtown Las Vegas food scene with the planned opening of Carson Kitchen. Simon, who has Simon at the Palms and KGB at Harrah's (best burgers in town) is planning an American gastropub concept in the former John E. Carson motel at Carson & 6th (a block off of Fremont St.) that is being converted to a series of restaurants, bars, and stores. No exact date yet but they are saying sometime in May.

8. Riviera Anniversary Fun Facts

In celebration of the Riviera's 59th Anniversary on April 20, the hotel has sent out 59 "Fun Facts" about its history. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  • The original cost was $10 million
  • Joan Crawford served as the official hostess for the property's grand opening
  • Liberace cut the ribbon and was the hotel's resident headliner
  • First high-rise on The Strip with a nine-story hotel tower
  • Barbra Streisand made her Nevada debut at The Riviera
  • First Strip resort to have a fast food restaurant on its premises (Burger King)

7. Horse Drawn Carriages Approved for Downtown Las Vegas

The Las Vegas city council has approved plans to allow horse-drawn carriages on to the streets of Downtown Las Vegas, which will almost certainly create some traffic tie-ups in the increasingly congested area. It's going to be awhile before they actually start rolling - months of tests and licensing efforts are next - but expect them to be omnipresent later this year. The carriages will be very strictly regulated to keep both passengers and animals safe. For instance, they will not be allowed to operate on days when the temperature goes above 90 degrees.

6. Arena Construction to Begin Soon

If you are fan of avoiding traffic on The Strip by using Frank Sinatra Drive, the road that runs behind hotels from Mandalay Bay up to Caesars, be advised that starting May 1 you might run into some traffic tie-ups. That's the date that construction will begin on MGM Resorts new 20,000 seat arena, which is going into the land behind the New York-New York parking garage. There will be lane restrictions and lots of construction traffic over the next 2 years as the arena is not scheduled to open until 2016.

5. Big Real Estate Deal on The Strip

A pricey real estate deal closed last week that has got people talking but it wasn't for a casino or a hotel. A Virginia based management and development firm has plunked down $30 million for... are you ready... a CVS drug store. The store is located in the 2700 block of The Strip, right across the street (more or less) from the upcoming SLS Hotel (formerly the Sahara). The deal puts the price at nearly $2,200 per square feet, which is probably a record for a CVS. And what are they going to do with the CVS? Tear it down and build a mega-casino? Nope... they are leaving it as a CVS. The store has a two decade lease in the spot and the new owners are betting big that future development in the neighborhood around it will make the investment worthwhile.

4. Lowest Resort Fee No Longer the Lowest

Silver Sevens, the off-Strip locals casino that used to be Terrible's, has had the distinction of having the lowest resort fee of any of the major players in town that have one - a measly $3 per night. It didn't really include anything of importance other than an airport shuttle but at least it was only $3. Now it's $10. And it still doesn't include anything interesting - not even in-room Wi-Fi. That'll cost you extra. This makes The Golden Nugget as the new "lowest" resort fee, with a $5 per night charge (that also doesn't include anything interesting).

3. MGM & Hakkasan Form Hotel Company

MGM Resorts, the parent company of Vegas hotels like Bellagio and Mandalay Bay, and Hakkasan Group, the company behind the Hakkasan restaurant and nightclub at the MGM Grand, are teaming up to create a new company that will open new hotels around the world. MGM Hakkasan Hospitality will create non-casino versions of hotels carrying the Bellagio, Hakkasan, MGM Grand, and Skylofts names, many of which are already in some stage of development. The company is targeting high-profile destinations such as Los Angeles, New York, and London but is hoping to have MGM Hakkasan branded hotels all over the globe in the next decade.

2. High Roller Gets Guinness Record

It's official: The High Roller is the tallest observation wheel in the world after last week's certification from the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records. The record for the largest observation (Ferris) wheel is based on the total diameter of the wheel and the wheel must be a permanent structure. In order to receive the record, the High Roller project team had to submit information about the wheel's design and construction as well as an independent surveyor's report verifying the diameter. The wheel stands 550 feet feet high, nine feet higher than the former World's Tallest, the Singapore Flyer. How long it holds the record is unknown - even bigger wheels are being planned for New York and Dubai.

1. Cromwell Opening This Week

The former Bill's Gamblin' Hall is going to get its first public unveiling this week as The Cromwell, an upscale boutique hotel that will be a far cry from its former incarnation. The building was basically stripped to the concrete and completely redone in a $200 million renovation that includes new rooms, a new casino, new restaurants, a new parking garage and porte corchere, a new restaurant from Giada De Laurentiis, and a new rooftop pool and nightclub from Victor Drai. The hotel rooms and casino are expected to open their doors to VIP guests and the public as early as Monday this week and there is a media preview later in the week. The restaurants and nightclubs are due to be open by Memorial Day weekend.

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Bank Trying to Sell The Cosmo

Got an extra couple of billion dollars lying around? If you do, you could own your very own Las Vegas casino.

According to a story by Bloomberg financial, Deutsche Bank is currently actively trying to sell The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the hotel/casino located on The Strip between Bellagio and CityCenter. The reported asking price is between $1.5 and $2 billion.

The hotel has had a bit of a tortured history. It was originally conceived by real estate developer Bruce Eichner, whose 3700 Associates LLC company had mostly done condominium and retail projects in New York and Miami. Although many believed that it was somehow affiliated with MGM Resorts neighboring CityCenter development, that company never had anything to do with the property.

Eichner got a $760 million construction loan from Deutsche Bank and construction on the $4 billion property - a record for a single hotel-casino - began in 2007. It was supposed to have 2,000 hotel rooms managed by the Hyatt corporation and 1,000 condo units, many of which were sold long before a shovel full of earth was ever turned.

But as construction costs ballooned and the economy started to tank in 2008, Eichner's company ran into problems and soon defaulted on the construction loan. Deutsche Bank foreclosed on the partially built hotel and sent most of the construction workers home.

They tried to sell the property and, when that didn't work, tried to find an established company to help run it, but none were willing to take on that kind of risk.

Faced with a huge potential loss if they mothballed the project, the bank instead decided to go into the casino business and started construction back up again in earnest. They hired several well-known casino industry executives to manage the property, dumped the condo plans, and invested billions more in finishing the project. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas debuted in December of 2010.

Since then it has won rave reviews for its cutting edge design, swank rooms, insanely popular nightclubs and restaurants, and more. It has many of the top grossing food and beverage outlets in the city and has one of the highest average room rates on units that are often sold out.

But the property has never made a dime, showing yearly losses that are mostly driven by the debt load and a casino that has failed to lure in the kind of big-spending high-rollers that others in town have. Hence the for sale sign.

According to the Bloomberg report there are at least four companies currently circling the Cosmo. Although no one is naming names, it is believed that they are all established casino-hotel companies but none that currently have operations in Las Vegas (or at least not on The Strip). The most likely candidates are Penn National, which operates M Resort on the south side of town and dozens of others around the country and in Canada, and Melco Crown, a big player in Asian markets who may be itching to get into Vegas now that rival Genting Gaming is building Resorts World Las Vegas up the street.

Whoever winds up buying it will most likely keep the Cosmopolitan branding and the successful lineup of restaurants and clubs. The primary change would be the casinos inclusion in a broader marketing database that the new owner will utilize to try to draw in new gamblers.

One oddly interesting note in the Bloomberg report... much like any person selling a house has to include a list of known defects, Deutsche Bank is going to have to put a big one on their disclosures. During construction of the 4-story underground parking garage, crews hit the water aquifer and now water pumps have to run 24 hours a day to keep them from flooding. And you thought having a little mold was bad.

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Las Vegas History: The Royal Nevada

The Royal Nevada is one of the least known of the major resorts that was built on The Strip, which could be surprising considering the fact that it welcomed visitors for more than 50 years. The trouble was only four of it was as The Royal Nevada and the rest was as part of another hotel.

The idea for the Royal was born in the early 1950s, and like most of the other big resorts of that era was most likely driven by organized crime. A group of Miami and Chicago "businessmen" led by Frank Fishman put up the bulk of the money for the development of the hotel. Where they got the cash and what type of "business" they were in, was shady enough that Fishman was unable to get a gambling license to run the casino of the $5 million resort he was building.

Construction started in 1953 on a plot of land on the north end of The Strip. It's neighbors at the time were The Frontier, directly next door to the south, the Desert Inn across the street and a little to the south, and El Rancho and The Sahara a little ways to the north. The Riviera was under construction almost directly across the street as was The Dunes a little to the south and a race was on to see which would open first.

Just three months before the scheduled opening, in February of 1955, Frank Fishman and many of the other less-than-savory characters were dropped from the ownership ranks of the hotel. A bunch of new people stepped in, all still most likely involved in one way or another with the mob, but with clean enough hands that the state gaming commission granted the gambling license.

The Royal Nevada sits in the record books for a couple of interesting "firsts" in Las Vegas history. Co-owner Robert May Simon was the first woman to get a gaming license in the state of Nevada and architect Paul Revere Williams was the first African-American to have a hand in the design of a resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Interestingly, Simon would not be officially allowed to enter the hotel he designed due to segregation in the city, which didn't end until 1960.

Parenthetically, Williams also designed the La Concha Inn and its iconic clamshell lobby is now the welcome center for the Neon Museum in Downtown Las Vegas.

The hotel was dubbed the Showplace of Showtown, USA and focused on entertainment as its calling card with a major showroom and several nightclub style lounges. It had a desert theme with a neon enhanced "dancing waters" fountain in front and a massive crown sitting above the main entrance. There were more than 100 rooms in low-rise motel style units, several restaurants, and what was billed as the Strip's largest hotel gift shop.

There were four hotels that opened in the spring of 1955 and The Royal Nevada was the first, cutting its metaphorical ribbon and welcoming guests on April 19th. The very next day, on April 20th, the high-rise, more modern Riviera opened and stole the spotlight with a headlining stint by Liberace, who was at the time the highest paid entertainer in the world. The Dunes opened a month later on May 23rd and the Moulin Rouge opened a day after that on May 24th.

Keep in mind that this was after several years of major expansion in Las Vegas. In just the few years prior, major properties like The Sahara, The Sands, and The Desert Inn had all opened and the national economy was struggling to adjust to the downslide after a post-World War II boom. All of the four 1955 hotels struggled financially shortly after they opened and the Royal Nevada changed hands at least twice within the first six months of opening. Competing with the better funded and more high profile resorts elsewhere on The Strip, it was unable to draw the kind of big name entertainment it had hoped and that meant people didn't were drawn elsewhere.

The property closed on January 1, 1956 because the owners couldn't afford to pay the licensing fees necessary to keep it open into the new year. According to legend, the owners had various staff members show up on New Year's Day to cart all of the food to various charitable organizations so it wouldn't go to waste in the now closed kitchens.

The hotel reopened in March of 1956 and went through at least two more sets of owners before it finally closed again in 1958, the same year that The Stardust opened right next door. Infamous mob figures like Moe Dalitz ran the Stardust, which was, at the time, the largest casino and the largest hotel in Las Vegas.

At some point in 1959, the owners of The Stardust bought the shuttered Royal Nevada and annexed it into their property. The casino was turned into convention center space and the rooms and pool were incorporated into the main resort.

Although The Stardust was remodeled and redesigned many times over the next nearly five decades, the original bones of the Royal Nevada remained a part of it throughout. The original Royal Nevada rooms were rented out as bargain basement, no frills accommodations that were one of the very first that I ever stayed in when I visited Las Vegas in the 1980s.

The Stardust closed in 2006 and was imploded in 2007 to make way for the multi-billion Echelon project that never got built. As of this writing, the land will be redeveloped into the multi-billion Resorts World Las Vegas project, due to open in 2016.

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Shopping Review: M&M World

When visiting a place like M&M World it is hard to balance my love of chocolate with my disdain for crass commercialism. This place has both in massive quantities and so I both love and loathe it; am amused by and repulsed by it.

The one thing to be clear about is that this is, primarily, a retail venue. It used to have more of an attraction feel, with a theater, a section about the history of M&Ms and how they are made, and more. The theater is still there, showing a silly 3-D animated movie, but the rest of the place is filled with stuff to buy.

And oh my, what you can buy... clothing, housewares, electronics, games, furnishings, and more all with the M&M logo and/or characters emblazoned on them. And of course you can buy the candy in all the various permutations and colors you are used to and a bunch more.

One of the features is a color wall that has dozens of hues that go way beyond the red, yellow, green, blue, orange, and brown in the standard M&M packages. You can mix and match and create your own rainbow of chocolate candy. You can even customize your M&Ms with messages - I had a batch done up that say Vegas4Visitors on them.

So yay, chocolate! But then you look at the prices and the horror starts to creep in. $30 for a t-shirt? $20 for a couple of ounces of customized M&Ms? Crazy. You can probably find most of the merchandise items online for significantly less and can get M&Ms pretty much anywhere. They may not be purple ones that have your name on them but still...

M&M World
Showcase Mall
3785 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-736-7611
website
Daily 9am-12am
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B-

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Shopping Review: World of Coca Cola

Las Vegas loves to separate you from your money. The casinos are the most obvious examples of this but then too are places like the Everything Coca Cola, overpriced souvenir shops that masquerade as something more than just a store and then somehow get you to think that you absolutely must pay $30 for a scratch 'n sniff cherry coke t-shirt.

Yes, they sell those and pretty much anything else they could slap a Coke (or affiliated product) logo on. Clothing, housewares, jewelry, furniture... you name it and you can probably find here.

There's also a small cafe serving every Coca Cola flavor known to man and a few quick bites.

Unlike the massive World of Coca Cola attraction in Atlanta, there is nothing else here other than stuff to buy. There used to be some exhibits about the history of the product but all that is gone now.

I don't get the lure of Coke merchandise at all, but if you do you'd be better served going online to do your shopping. You'll be able to find pretty much everything they have here (and much more), usually at cheaper prices.

World of Coca Cola
Showcase Mall
3785 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-270-5952
website
Daily 10am-11pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: C+

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Shopping Review: Harmon Corner

The Harmon Corner is less a shopping mall than a store-lined pedestrian walkway. It's located, unsurprisingly, on the corner of Harmon Avenue and The Strip and while it looks like it is a part of Planet Hollywood, it isn't. You can't access any of the stores or restaurants from inside that hotel; only from the sidewalk or the bridges that cross the streets from The Cosmopolitan and near the Harley Davidson Café.

The big eye-catching piece of it is the massive, multi-story, curved LED screen that wraps around the top of it. It is billed as the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 65 feet high by 320 feet long, bigger than a football field. It displays advertisements and pretty much makes the intersection below the best lit in town.

Underneath the big screen are three levels of shopping and dining. The first floor is mostly taken up by a big Walgreen's Drug Store and there's also a McDonald's and couple of other quick-serve style eateries.

The second floor has a few more casual restaurants like Panda Express and a couple of mostly skippable souvenir style stores.

On the third floor are two bigger chain restaurants - Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Twin Peaks sports bar and grill. This is where you also used to be able to find the bulk of the Goretorium haunted house style attraction but that has closed and the space is vacant right now.

The main reason you want to know about the Harmon Corner is just because of the convenience factor. If you're at a nearby hotel and need aspirin, shampoo, snacks, a quick bite, or a souvenir t-shirt, this is a handy place to find all of the above, often at prices that will be cheaper that what you'll pay at your hotel's gift shop.

Harmon Corner
Center Strip
3717 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
website
Store Hours Vary
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B

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Shopping Review: Sweet Spot Candy Shop

The evolution of Downtown Las Vegas from a cheap, Glitter Gulch wasteland to a robust community for both locals and tourists requires more than just casinos and bars, the two things that are driving most of the development in the area. You also need restaurants, entertainment, and cool boutique stores like this one serving up a retro-meets-modern array of sweet treats.

The original store on Las Vegas Boulevard closed, but the newer one at the Downtown Container Park is still going strong and has everything that made the original so yummy.

Retro sweets are one of the biggest draws here, with things like Goo Goo clusters, Mary Janes, vanilla cremes, and the like dominating a big bookcase on one side of the room. These blast-from-the-past goodies will stir both nostalgia and stomach rumblings.

Old fashioned candy jars display the wide assortment of gummie candies, taffy, and premium chocolate and a small case is dedicated to retro sodas and root beer served in actual glass bottles.

I sampled several of the chocolates including a heavenly dried strawberry, a sweet and sour sea-salt caramel, and a mint chocolate caramel that was disconcerting at first bite for its mix of flavors but then totally addicting once I got used to it.

Prices aren't exactly cheap but certainly less than you'll pay at the tourist-trap candy stores on The Strip. You can easily stock up for a very full day of periodic sugar rushes for under $10.

This is one more very sweet reason to get off The Strip and visit Downtown Las Vegas.

Sweet Spot Candy Shop
Downtown Container Park
707 E. Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
702-324-2777
website
Mon-Sat 10am-9pm
Sun 10pm-8pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A

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Shopping Review: Jo Jo's Jerky

I've never been a huge fan of jerky. I don't know why. I like meat, I like salt (which jerky usually has a lot of), and I like things with basically zero nutritional value, so I'm not sure why jerky has never done it for me but it just hasn't.

Jo Jo's could change all of that, or at least make me reconsider my stance.

Located at the Downtown Container Park, Jo Jo's is a tiny slip of a place that has big attitude and flavor. You can get a wide variety of jerkies - beef, turkey, and even cactus - done with various spices including Original Pepper, Caribbean Jerk, Carne Asada, Wasabi Horseradish, and the like. As you can probably glean from the name, most are spicy to some degree or another; sample the Hell on Earth at your own risk as it uses the ghost pepper, widely considered to be the hottest in the world.

If you like the concept of the spices but not the jerky itself, you can get many of them as dry rubs that you can add to your own meats for barbeque or grilling.

And of course if you are really into the jerky lifestyle, you can buy all manner of gear - shirts, hats, and more.

I sampled several of the jerkies including the teriyaki, which was a little too bland, and the Thai Chili Beef, which was a little too spicy for me. Just right flavors to my palate were the Original Pepper and Caribbean Jerk, both of which had a great flavor and a good level of chewiness.

This stuff is not cheap but good stuff never is. A 3.5 ounce package (which is bigger than you think it is from that description) runs $8. Rubs are $7 and shirts... well, if you are seriously interested in getting a Jo Jo's Jerky t-shirt you probably don't really care how much it is.

There are lots of cool, interesting stores and restaurants in the Downtown Container Park and this is definitely one you shouldn't miss.

Jo Jo's Jerky
Downtown Container Park
707 E. Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
702-812-2457
website
Sun-Thu 10am-9pm
Fri-Sat 10am-11pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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Shopping Review: Fashion Show Mall

There is some serious shopping going on here. The Fashion Show Mall on the Vegas Strip is not only the biggest shopping center in all of Nevada, it's one of the biggest in the world. With nearly 2 million square-feet of space including seven major department stores and over 250 other retailers, people who haven't reached their credit card limits should make a pilgrimage to the Fashion Show immediately.

Outside, along The Strip just opposite Treasure Island and Wynn Las Vegas, you'll notice the giant space-ship looking thing hovering over the main entrance. That's called The Cloud and it's part of a multi-million dollar multimedia display system that features lights, video displays, and music in yet another "hey look at me and then come inside" gambit not unlike the Bellagio Fountains. It's not as interesting but it certainly stands out.

Once you get inside check the maps because it's easy to get turned around in the place. There are several levels with a rising terrace effect as you move from front to rear so it's not as simple as taking the ground floor from one end to the other and then coming back on the second floor like you do in most malls.

The overall design of the place is very sterile and more than a little cold in my opinion but maybe that's to get you out of the public areas of the mall and into the stores where you'll actually spend money. And boy oh boy do you have a lot of spending opportunities here.

The major department stores include Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Dillard's, and Nordstrom. In between those big box retailers you'll find just about every other store you can possibly imagine and quite a few that you couldn't. Among the more recognizable names: Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, bebe, Brookstone, Coach, Diesel, Forever 21, Fredericks of Hollywood, Gap (of course), Guess, Hot Topic, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Lucky Brand, Nine West, Puma, Swarovski crystal, Tiffany & Co., Tommy Bahama, Urban Outfitters, and Victoria's Secret.

Note that the above list is less than 1/10th the number of actual stores in the mall so it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

Things worthy of a pilgrimage if you are fans of the respective brands including the huge Apple Store, the not quite as large but still big Microsoft Store, and the interactive Disney Store.

There's also a big food court with lots of name brand fast-food style eateries so if you're longing for a taste of home via Wendy's or California Pizza Kitchen, head here first. Several full-fledged restaurants are located at the north end of the joint, including a steakhouse, a Mexican restaurant, and more.

In the center of the mall is a fashion show runway theater of sorts. Equipped with giant televisions, lights, and a massive sound system, the area can host everything from concerts and special events to actual models on a catwalk. There's even a giant stage that rises hydraulically from the floor to reveal an enclosed display area.

Prices are pretty much what you'd expect to find at a huge mall in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, which is to say "not cheap." Although you can find deals, especially at the more "average" stores, you can expect to pay a little bit more for that Gap t-shirt here than you would at the Gap in the mall near your home.

Malls like this are for the faint of heart. Comfortable shoes, a fat wallet, and the ability to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed are key. Like I said: serious shopping.

Fashion Show Mall
3200 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-893-4800
website
Mon-Sat 10am-9pm
Sun 11am-7pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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