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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
May 12, 2014
Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week
10 - Show Anniversaries
Congratulations are in order for several of the show people and shows on the Las Vegas Strip. Absinthe at Caesars Palace recently celebrated its 1,500th show a few weeks ago; Donny and Marie just celebrated their 1,000th show at The Flamingo; and Frank Marino, star of Divas Las Vegas, is going to be celebrating his 25,000th show on the Las Vegas Strip on May 31st. The latter includes the female impersonator's nearly two decades performing in La Cage at The Riviera and will be celebrated with a presentation of a "Key to The Strip" and a $25 commemorative chip at The Quad. Congratulations to all. Read the full reviews of Absinthe, Donny & Marie, and Divas Las Vegas.
9 - Vegas Bids for Major League Soccer
According to reports published in several major newspapers, Las Vegas is in the running to get the final slot opening up for a major league soccer team expansion. If Vegas gets it, it would be the first major league team for the city after years of trying to get an NBA or NFL franchise. A proposal has already been issued to build a 24,000 seat soccer stadium in Symphony Park right next door to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. If it happens, the goooaaaaaal (sorry) would be to have the team in place by the 2016 season.
8 - Money Woes at the Hard Rock
Maybe they shouldn't have messed around with Batman. A story in The Street is indicating that the parent company of The Hard Rock Hotel missed a debt payment and has until June 2 to come up with the cash or face possible foreclosure. What that means to the off-Strip property is anyone's guess but if history is any judge, there probably won't be any major changes in the day to day of the hotel while all this is going on - in other words, the Hard Rock will probably keep on rockin', just with someone else signing the checks to pay for things. BTW, if you don't get the Batman reference, go read the story in the Weekly Column from May 12 about Ben Affleck getting kicked off of a blackjack table at the Hard Rock for card counting. Read more about the Hard Rock.
7 - Downtown Grand Introduces New Dice Game
If you have an idea for a new casino game, it would help to be the CEO of a casino. That's the case with Seth Schorr, the CEO of the Downtown Grand, who created Street Dice, a new game that is being introduced at the casino he runs. The game is sort of a simplified version of craps, attempting to emulate the old dice games that happened in back alleys with oversized dice and a ground-level tub in which to shoot them. Basically you roll the dice, push if you get 7; win 1:1 if you get 11; lose if you get 2, 3, or 12; and have three rolls to re-roll any other number. There are a few additional hard way bets that can win you up to 25:1 on your wagers. The game will be available on Fridays and Saturdays on 3rd Street outside of the casino. Read more about the Downtown Grand.
6 - A Bad Sign for the Fontainebleau
In case you don't know what the Fontainebleau is, or rather was supposed to be, just look north the next time you are in Vegas. It's that huge blue tower near The Riviera that was going to be a $3 billion, nearly 4,000 room casino resort before it went bankrupt during construction and was mothballed. Billionaire Carl Icahn bought the place for a fraction of what it had cost thus far and threw a padlock on the fences and let it rot for the last several years. Now they are dismantling the construction crane atop the hotel, which probably means that there is no saving the Fontainebleau. When something finally does happen on that land it will most likely involve tearing down the massive building and starting over, which some are saying would be cheaper than trying to finish the existing construction. Read more about the Fontainebleau.
5 - No More Free Parking in Downtown
While self-parking is free and plentiful on The Strip, there has always been a small charge at most Downtown casinos (although you can usually get validation that makes it free). Two major exceptions this rule were Main Street Station and The California, where you used to be able to self-park for free. Note the "used to be able" part of that sentence. The two hotels are now charging $3 per weekday and $5 per weekend day to self-park. There are some exceptions - hotel guests, people who spend at least $5 at a restaurant inside one of the hotels, or gamblers who wager at least $5 per hand at the tables for 30 minutes don't have to pay. Now that Downtown is becoming more and more popular and parking spaces more and more limited, expect to see more and more of these kinds of charges added or upped. Read more about Main Street Station.
4- New Shopping Mall Set to Debut in October
Downtown Summerlin is the new name that Vegas' next big shopping complex will debut with when it opens its metaphorical doors on October 9, 2014. Located right next door to Red Rock Resort, the October opening will be the first phase of what will eventually be a 400-acre complex features more than 125 stores, restaurants, movie theaters, offices, residence, and a hotel. Among the companies already lined up to take a spot on the directory are Macy's, Dillard's, American Eagle Outfitters, Old Navy, True Religion, Victoria's Secret, Wolfgang Puck, and more.
3 - Lipshtick is Vegas' First Ever All-Female Comedy Club
The Venetian is breaking new (and might I say long overdue) ground by launching a new comedy series at the hotel that will feature a rotating line-up of female comedians. Okay, so perhaps the step forward in visibility for women in comedy is tampered a bit by the fact that they called the thing Lipshtick, but I guess you take what you can get. Anyway, the lineup includes a who's who of women on the comedy circuit including Joy Behar, Jennifer Coolidge, Rita Rudner, Caroline Rhea, Whitney Cummings, Lisa Lampanelli, Susie Essman, Wendy Liebman, and Wendy Williams among others. Each will get their own night with shows starting in July. Tickets start at around $40. Read more about Lipshtick.
2 - Viva Las Vegas 50th Anniversary
May 20th will mark the 50th Anniversary of "Viva Las Vegas," the 1964 film starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret that gave the city its unofficial theme song. The movie was filmed in 1963 at locations around Las Vegas including The Sahara, The Tropicana, The Flamingo, and the Little Church of the West wedding chapel, which was on the grounds of The Frontier at that time.
1- Im-Pure Thoughts
Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace, which used to be the biggest, most popular nightclub in Vegas, is closing after Memorial Day and will get a full-scale remodeling, expansion, and rebranding. Although specifics have not been confirmed, rumor is that the new club will have its own rooftop pool overlooking The Strip and that it will nearly double in size by taking over the adjacent poker room. Pure is now owned by the Hakkasan Group, which runs the current biggest club Hakkasan at MGM Grand. No word yet on what the new name or concept will be or when it will open, although they are probably going to try to get it done by the end of 2014 to capitalize on New Year's crowds. Read more about Caesars Palace.
How much does it cost to buy a Las Vegas mega-resort? How does $1.73 billion sound?
That's the final price that the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas went for last week when it was purchased by a New York based private equity firm in an all-cash transaction. Not a bad deal considering that it is estimated to have cost almost $4 billion to build.
The new owners are The Blackstone Group, or rather Blackstone Realty Partners VII, a division of the main company (and yes, there is a Blackstone Realty Partners I, II, II, etc.). They are the largest alternative investment private equity groups in the world (meaning investing in things other than stocks and bonds), managing $30 billion in assets in the United States alone and more than $200 billion worldwide. Some of the marquee names they own all or part of include Hilton Hotels Corporation (including the legendary Waldorf-Astoria in New York City), Legoland, Publix Supermarkets, Houghton Mifflin book publishers, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museums, La Quinta Inns & Suites, General Growth Properties (which manages malls across the country), The Weather Channel, Busch Entertainment (Sea World, etc.), and Wyndham Worldwide.
Although this is their first foray into the casino market, it is not their first in Nevada. They founded the development of residential tracts with more than 1,000 homes and they own the Hughes Center, a collection of office buildings just east of The Strip.
The big question here is what all this means to The Cosmo.
The hotel has never made a dime in profit since it opened, which was a big reason that Deutsche Bank, the company that inherited the property when it sank into foreclosure during construction, wanted to unload it. Much of the problem was the debt load the property was operating under, which weighed heavily on the bottom line. But beyond that was another weak spot. Interestingly the restaurants, nightclubs, and hotel side of the business do pretty well (Marquee is one of the top grossing nightclubs in the world), but the casino has always lagged behind in terms of revenue.
The problem was primarily a database one, meaning that as a standalone property, the Cosmo never had a deep pool of gamblers on a mailing list that it could bring to the tables and slots. If MGM Resorts, for instances, wants to open a new casino all they have to do is send an email to the millions of people they have in their players' club database from hotels like Bellagio, Aria, and MGM Grand and suddenly there's an audience for their new place. The Cosmo never had this advantage, a thing that really hurt it especially in the high roller arena.
Insiders have already started dropping hints that Blackstone will partner with an established casino company to manage the gaming operations. Several have been mentioned including MGM Resorts, Penn National, and Boyd Gaming but here's a really interesting twist: Blackstone owns a small stake in Caesars Entertainment, the company that owns Caesars Palace, Harrah's, The Flamingo, and the new Cromwell among others.
Caesars is struggling under its own massive debt load so a deal with an existing partner that would provide Caesars with a chunk of cash and a cut in the Cosmo casino revenues in return for hooking it into the company's Total Rewards players club sounds like synergy to me.
There's also a possibility that that the hotel portion could get folded into the Hilton or Wyndham operations. It currently operates under a marketing partnership with Marriott and Ritz-Carlton but again, companies like Blackstone love synergy.
For now though, don't expect much in the way of changes at The Cosmo. It will take many months for the deal to be completed once you factor in all the regulatory and licensing hurdles that owning a casino in Las Vegas comes with.
Who Owns What? Your Guide to the Las Vegas Casinos & Their Owners
The sale of The Cosmopolitan to a private equity firm introduces yet another new player in the crowded Las Vegas casino market. There are about 70 major hotel-casinos on The Strip, Downtown, and in the surrounding neighborhoods but there are actually only a handful of companies that run most of them. This reason this might be important to you is because often the casinos share players' clubs and marketing databases, meaning that if you spend time at one hotel you might be able to parlay that into some freebies or discounts at another.
The biggest player in Las Vegas is MGM Resorts, which operates:
- Circus Circus
- Delano Las Vegas
- Four Seasons
- Mandalay Bay
- Mandarin Oriental
- MGM Grand
- The Mirage
- Monte Carlo
- New York-New York
Caesars Entertainment is actually bigger globally (in terms of number of properties) but comes in second in terms of number of rooms in Vegas. They operate:
- Caesars Palace
- The Cromwell
- The Flamingo Las Vegas
- Harrah's Las Vegas
- Nobu Hotel Las Vegas
- Paris Las Vegas
- Planet Hollywood
- The Quad
- Rio Suites
Boyd Gaming, and their subsidiary Coast Casinos, runs a lot of the Downtown and neighborhood properties including:
Station Casinos is the dominant player in the local Las Vegas market, operating:
- Boulder Station
- Fiesta Henderson
- Fiesta Rancho
- Green Valley Ranch
- Palace Station
- Red Rock Resort
- Santa Fe Station
- Sunset Station
- Texas Station
Although small locally, Wynn Resorts has a big presence abroad including in Macau, China. Here in Vegas they operate:
Also big elsewhere is Sands Corporation, which in Las Vegas runs:
All of the others including Aliante, The Cannery and Eastside Cannery, The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate, Downtown Grand, El Cortez, Four Queens, Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Hooters, JW Marriott/Rampart Casino. LVH, M Resort, The Palms, The Plaza, The Riviera, South Point, Stratosphere, Treasure Island, and The Tropicana are all owned inividually or in pairs by companies that often have bigger operations elsewhere.
Britney Spears Has Last Laugh on Vegas Doubters
When it was announced that Britney Spears was getting a headlining deal in a 4,000-seat venue at Planet Hollywood Resort in Las Vegas, many people scoffed, suggesting that there was no way that Spears could fill that many seats and bring in the kind of revenue required to justify the expense.
For the record, I was not one of those scoffers. Okay, I scoffed a little, but to me it made more sense than it did to others. Need proof? Here's what I wrote in this Weekly Column back in September of 2013 when the deal was formally announced:
Say what you want about Britney, she is still a force to be reckoned with. A lot of people thought she was "over" a few years ago but she clawed her way back and became the top grossing female artist of 2012 and continues to rack up number one hits worldwide. Her latest single, "Work Bitch" is already a Top 10 hit on iTunes and is climbing the Billboard charts.
Unlike headliner stints from artists like Celine Dion and Elton John, whose days of having songs on pop radio seem to mostly be over, Britney is still a current pop hitmaker. True, she's not Lady Gaga or Beyonce, but she knows how to create a buzz around whatever she does and this will probably be no exception.
So, will it work? It's hard to predict anything in a town like Vegas but it certainly is interesting. Britney's fans were teenagers when she first hit the scene in the late 1990s so now they are in their twenties, the kind of folks who visit Vegas not to gamble but to party at the city's clubs and bars. It's a demographic that Las Vegas covets but this is the first time that an artist in residence is aimed at them so who knows if it will work.
Well, now we know. It's working (bitch).
All of the concerts so far have sold out and they have just added more dates through February of 2015 to keep up with demand. What was supposed to be 50 shows a year to the end of 2015 has already been upped to around 70 in 2014. And now there are rumors that Spears is being offered $12 million to extend her residency through the end of 2016.
So what is Britney doing right and how could so many of the scene-watchers have been so wrong?
First, and probably most importantly, Spears knows how to put on a show. Yes, there are the inevitable complaints about her not being able to dance as well as she used to and that she lip-syncs (or sings to track) through most of it, but in the end none of that really matters here. Like I say in my review, anyone who goes to a Britney Spears concert and expects to hear her actually sing has probably not been paying attention for the last 15 years. It's about the spectacle and the show is big on spectacle.
It's also one of the few entertainment experiences geared toward the 20- or 30-something audiences who are coming to Vegas in droves to party in the nightclubs. Celine, Elton, most of the Cirque shows, and just about everything else in town (save for Absinthe and Vegas Nocturne), are aimed at an older audience and so the younger set doesn't have a lot to do before they head out to light up their glow sticks.
They're also spending money, not just on Britney Spears show tickets but at the casino, restaurants, stores, and bars that are nearby. About the only thing that Planet Hollywood doesn't have is one of those high-energy nightclubs and rumor on the streets is that will be corrected soon - perhaps even with Britney as a creative partner of some sort.
Now that Britney is such a big Vegas success story, the next big question is who is next? Could this drive even bigger deals with even bigger, more contemporary artists? There are already rumors running around town about other big name, younger acts going into a rotating residency at Planet Hollywood when Britney isn't on stage (much in the same way that Celine, Elton, Rod, and Shania share the Colosseum), and other hotels are eager to get in on the act (I'm looking at you Wynn Las Vegas with your empty theater).
But all of that is just speculation at this point. What isn't is that Britney Spears is getting the last laugh on all the scoffers. I'm just glad I wasn't one of them.
Dining Review: Yusho
Just when you thought Vegas had run out of other cultures' food to appropriate comes this delightful foray into the world of Japanese and Asian "street food." Picture yourself walking down one of those market-like alleys in Tokyo, with vendors selling all manner of tasty treats - that's what you get, only you don't have to go to some dank alley in Japan to get it.
Before you get to the food (and during and perhaps after) you'll want to pay attention to the drinks. The most inventive items are their on-tap cocktails, updates on classic drinks like a daiquiri and a gin & tonic, mixed, and then lightly carbonated then served on tap. They offer a flight of these that is absolutely worth the dough so you can get a sampling of all of them. They also have standard cocktails, imported beers (including a Japanese rice variety that was absolutely fantastic), and an extensive sake list. Regarding the latter, try the "road sake," which comes in little cans and can be served over ice with cucumber - delicious!
The offerings are mostly of the small plate variety so you'll need three or four to get a full meal, or you could go for their multi-course tasting menu. Choose the latter and you put yourself in the chef's hands so as logn as you are willing to give up a bit of control, that may be the best way to taste a lot. You'll also get things that aren't on the main menu or even listed as specials.
If you are ordering on your own, start with the kimchi, assorted pickled veggies, or the tempura, assorted fried veggies. The former requires armor plated taste buds because the pickling is teary eyed strong (in a good way) and the latter has some unexpected surprises. A deep fried slice of lemon? Who knew?!
A variety of items listed as steamed buns includes a chub sausage with red pepper that is fantastic. It isn't a traditional dim sum style bun, but rather a deconstructed array of ingredients in a small bowl. Delicious and a cool presentation. Other options include crispy cod with cucumber, charred eggplant, and pork shoulder with kimchi.
Noodles offer up some ramen dishes while the "Fried" section has everything from chicken "drummies," boneless chicken wings done with a red miso and garlic, a Maitake mushroom with an egg vinaigrette, and a Japanese griddle cake with octopus, all of which were as close to perfect as you could expect without being in that alley in Tokyo.
You can also select from the "Grilled" section many of the same things plus steak, duck breast, and more.
But it's the off-menu items that really sparked the biggest reactions from the people at my table. We had a cobia that was done simply with light grilling and it was fantastic plus a Teppan lobster that was drowning in a buttery sauce. The real star here was the fried chicken skins, which were basically like fried chicken flavored potato chips, topped with zesty pepper and a dab of honey. You should demand these no matter what the menu says.
Prices run the gamut. About half of the two dozen or so items on the menu are under $9 while the rest run from around $15 all the way up to $39. Since it will take several dishes to get a full meal, you could easily rack up quite a bill or you could get away pretty cheap depending on what strikes your fancy. Figure at least $30 per person and more like $50 or $60 once you add in a few of the more expensive items, drinks, tax, and tip. The actual "street food" food in Japan isn't going to run you that much but then again you would have to factor in a plane ticket to Japan to get to it so perhaps this is a better bargain than it appears.
The staff is unfailingly friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about their product. I got a real sense of pride in what they were doing.
The only real complaint I had was about the restaurant space itself. They are going for casual, with concrete floors, wood accents on the walls, and minimalist decor but it just comes across as bland. The metal wire chairs at the tables are supremely uncomfortable for any stretch of time and while the big windows out toward The Strip offer some nice views, the fact that they don't open makes it feel like you are a fish in a bowl being watched by the passing crowds or perhaps vice versa. The tables outside might be nice on a day when the weather is cooperating.
I'm a fan of trying something different when it comes to food in Vegas and this place offers some expertly prepared items you won't find anywhere else.
Unless you want to buy that plane ticket.
Nightlife Review: 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque by Holly Madison
Several years ago there was a club here called Ivan Kane's 40 Deuce, an ultralounge concept that had a DJ and contemporary music plus a jazz combo and burlesque acts throughout the evening. It was a fun alternative to the high-energy, high-pressure megaclubs offering a more casual vibe and some eye-candy entertainment beyond waiting to see which girl trying to walk in 6-inch heels would fall down first. Sadly, that club closed, and this space has been mostly unused ever since.
Now it has been reinvented as Holly Madison's 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque, an ultralounge concept with a DJ and contemporary music plus a jazz comb and burlesque acts throughout the evening. Sound familiar? It should and that's ultimately a good thing because this new version of the burlesque club is just as fun as the former and maybe even more so.
For those of you who haven't been paying attention to pop culture for the last decade or so, Holly Madison gained "fame" as one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends on the E! reality television show "Girls Next Door." She has been on "Dancing with the Stars," dated Criss Angel, had her own reality show "Holly's World," and starred in "Peepshow," the naughty reimagining of fairy tales that ran at Planet Hollywood for several years.
Madison's involvement in the club goes beyond just putting her name in the title; she is a frequent performer in the burlesque interludes as well, singing, dancing, and shimmying.
The club has a 1920s prohibition speakeasy theme, right down to the classic car parked out front and the entrance through a bookcase wall. Although tiny compared to most Vegas clubs, they manage to pack a lot into the space with a big central bar, several groups of casual seating, a small area that isn't really a dance floor but acts as one when the places gets jumping, an second bar, and a narrow catwalk stage hugging two walls.
The latter is where the various acts strut their stuff, most of which involve comely lasses doing peek-a-boo stripteases, but also include a jazz quartet and singers. It's worth noting that you will not see any actual nudity here - it's more about the tease part of striptease. You want to see a breast, go get a lap dance. Although the lineup may change and the schedule is not fixed, cross your fingers that you get to catch vocalist Skye Dee Miles, a fierce diva who not only blows the roof off the place with her singing but has the audience laughing out loud with her bad girl antics.
There's a full bar, of course, but they specialize in reinventions of classic cocktails like the pisco sour and gin fizz, and a very long bourbon and rye list. They also offer hand-rolled cigars, which means that the place is heavy with the smell of them just in case you are sensitive to that kind of thing.
Cover and drink prices are typical for a Vegas club, which is to say expensive.
In addition to 40 Deuce there were several other burlesque nightclubs in town for awhile, including the famed Pussycat Dolls Lounge. They faded for whatever reason - competition, certainly, but also perhaps they were trying to establish an intimate venue beachhead just as megaclub trend was hitting its zenith. There is no more competition in the market right now and I think a club like this deserves to be a hit. It's different, relaxed, and fun in ways that Vegas needs.