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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
May 26, 2014
Special: The Linq
The Linq is a big deal, in a lot of ways. This week's special column is devoted to all things Linq, including the complex as a whole and several of the restaurants and stores that you can find there.
Back in the day the idea of building a casino related facility that expressly kept people OUT of a casino would have been considered madness. But these days you have to remember that more than 50% of a resort's revenue comes from things other than gambling, so perhaps it is no surprise that Caesars Entertainment has built The Linq.
Linq is an outdoor entertainment and shopping district on The Strip in between The Flamingo and The Quad, which has turned a service alley into a pedestrian mall lined with stores, restaurants, bars, and more. It's sort of a miniature version of one of those malls designed to look like a city street (Los Angeles residents familiar with The Grove or Americana at Brand will know what I'm talking about) and has a pleasant vibe conducive to strolling, presuming it's not too hot or too cold.
It's only as wide as an alley, naturally, and as long as the hotels that adjoin it, which means that this is not an all-day destination. But if the weather is cooperating (not too hot, too cold, or raining like it was on one of the days I visited) it's worth a stroll through. There are a few trees and fountains plus they have frequent live entertainment outside plus you can window shop, maybe grab a bite to eat, throw back a drink, and waste some time bowling or going around in a big circle (more on that in a moment).
While you are wandering through, there are few venues worth stopping at.
One of the anchors is Brooklyn Bowl, an 80,000 square-foot sister to popular NYC and London venues that features a restaurant, a bar, a bowling alley, and a performance space that hosts a wide variety of acts like The Roots, Elvis Costello, Cake, Jane's Addiction, Fishbone, Steve Winwood, and more.
O'Sheas, the small casino that was torn down to make way for this project offers up cheap drinks, beer pong, a few gaming tables, and a guy dressed like a leprechaun, so there's that.
The Ghiradelli chocolate shop, which used to be located on the other side of The Quad in Carnaval Court, has relocated here and serves packaged goods, ice cream, and treats like chocolate covered strawberries. The latter are perfect for a warm day.
Speaking of treats, there is also Vegas' first outlet of Los Angeles' insanely popular Sprinkles cupcake store. You can go inside the store to order or you can use their famous cupcake ATM (an automated machine that dispenses cupcakes).
The Polaroid Fotobar and Museum offers a bit of a blast from the past, allowing people to print out their camera phone shots on Polaroid photo paper. There's also gallery space upstairs with some history of the company and rotating, photography themed exhibits such as a series of snapshots taken by Andy Warhol of famous faces.
Goorin Bros. is a cute, little haberdashery, offering up hats of all different types from fedora to beanie while Kitson is a popular "lifestyle boutique," with a little bit of everything (clothing, books, souvenirs, and more).
It all leads to the High Roller observation wheel, billed as the biggest of its kind in the world, standing at 550 feet high.
Be sure to check out the related reviews below for more details on these stores, restaurants, and attractions.
Finally, behind the wheel is a new 19-acre parking lot that will host festivals and other outdoor events. It debuted with a two-day country music festival featuring Keith Urban and Rascall Flatts in April of 2014.
The Linq is a nice addition to the sprawl of the Center Strip and a nice alternative to the more maddening malls and casinos that surround it. It has a good layout, an eye-pleasing design, and an interesting roster of tenants and while you may not be able to waste a lot of time here, you'll be able to waste enough to keep you entertained..
3536 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-
Dining Review: Brooklyn Bowl
There are several linchpins in The Linq, the shopping and entertainment plaza in between The Quad and The Flamingo. The biggest, and most obvious, is the High Roller observation wheel. Hard to miss that one.
But Brooklyn Bowl is another and it is, in many ways, even more important than the big spinny thing right outside its doors. Getting people to ride something like the world's tallest observation wheel isn't all that hard - it kind of advertises itself. But getting people to find a restaurant, bowling alley, and concert venue located on the second floor of a building toward the end of the plaza may not be as easy. If it can succeed despite its somewhat less than prime real estate, you'll know that The LINQ is a success as well.
It's a sister to the popular eatery and concert space of the same name in, unsurprisingly, Brooklyn, NY and, perhaps surprisingly, London, England. The place here in Vegas is huge and only a relatively small portion of it is restaurant. The rest is taken up by a couple of casual bars, a 32-lane bowling alley (on two floors), and a big barn of a concert venue. It's all open, with little separation between the various functions so if you are looking for a quiet meal free from the noise of balls hitting pins and/or a rock concert going on, you may want to consider other options.
The menu is eclectic, with some standard American fare mixed in with more adventurous tastes. Need an example? Take a look at the appetizer list, which includes things like hummus with olives and tomatoes, fried calamari, a potato and onion knish, BBQ pork sliders, and pork rinds with cilantro and jalapenos. That's so many different cuisine concepts that it could give your stomach whiplash.
Salads and French bread pizzas take up the rest of the first page of the menu with the latter offering up toppings like butternut squash and roasted garlic, pulled pork and peppers, or classic mozzarella and basil.
Fried chicken and BBQ wings are a big draw here. You can get the fried as dinners with white bread, mashed potatoes, and collared greens or in platters all the way up to 24 pieces.
Just like the appetizers, sandwiches and entrees are wide ranging in cuisine types. There is a fairly pedestrian hamburger or you could try the fried catfish with corn tartar, the chicken muffuletta with classic olive salad, an oyster po'boy, or a simple BLT on the sandwich side or go for vegetable kabobs, pork ribs, pulled pork, or even a chili-rubbed ribeye steak.
We sampled the aforementioned burger and found it to be just okay but we also got the "Really" Sloppy Joe and it was fantastic - zingy tomato seasoning on the ground beef, piled high on a sweet bun. It was perfect. A wedge salad with bacon bits (instead of actual bacon crumbles), tomatoes, and blue cheese was good but not exactly breaking new ground while the catfish sandwich was declared "tasty."
Prices are typical for this type of restaurant on The Strip and by that I mean they are not cheap. Appetizers are $6-$15; salads start at $9 and go up to $18; French bread pizzas all within a buck or two in either direction of $15; chicken and wings $9-$72 (the latter for a 24 piece white meat feast; sandwiches all around $15; and dinners mostly around $20 although the steak is going to be closer to $30. Our table of four was eating relatively light (no appetizers, no dessert, mostly sandwiches) and we still managed to do about $100 with drinks, tax, and tip. Like I said... typical.
Service was fine but a little distracted when we were visiting despite the fact that we were one of only a handful of tables in there at the time. We were there not long after they opened so hopefully this will improve as they get their sea legs under them.
As a restaurant, I'd rate this one mid-pack, but once you factor in the fun that surrounds the eating portion of the program it improves my opinion a bit. I'm picturing that sloppy Joe sandwich while I'm bowling a couple of games and it makes me happy.
Dining Review: Sprinkles Cupcakes
The cult of Sprinkles is a devoted one. The company got its start in Beverly Hills where they claim they were the world's first cupcake specific bakery. Since almost day one the fans have been fervent, with many saying that all other cupcakes are pale comparisons.
Here's the deal. I like cupcakes. A lot. I mean, really a lot. One might call me a connoisseur, although like most connoisseurs of anything I know what I like and what I don't.
I know I risk the wrath of a cupcake horde - I picture being chased through the streets by people armed with baking tins and jars of candy sprinkles - but I have never been a big fan of Sprinkles cupcakes.
Don't get me wrong, they are good in the sense that even a decent cupcake is better than no cupcake at all, but I have had so many superior cupcakes in my life that these just pale in comparison.
The biggest problem I have is the frosting to cake ratio, which should be 2:1 as far as I'm concerned, but here is more like 2:3. Unless you get them fresh out of the oven, the cake can be a little on the dry side in my past experience and the frosting has always been underwhelming - more sweet than rich, which is a fine distinction I know but a distinction nevertheless.
Now, the one thing that Sprinkles has that makes it a little bit better is their cupcake ATM. Yes, it's an automated teller that dispenses cupcakes instead of cash. It's a great, silly curiosity but since the store is open for 14 or 15 hours a day, one that you only really "need" when you're stumbling back to your room at 4am and you're desperate for something to soak up some of the alcohol you have consumed.
Vegas has a fantastic cupcake place - The Cupcakery - but now that their store at the Monte Carlo has closed you have to hoof it all the way out to Henderson to get some of their delicious treats. Ditto the superior Gigi's, which shut down after a brief run at The Plaza. Corner Cakes at both MGM Grand and Monte Carlo are pretty good but not significantly better that Sprinkles.
Which then brings it all down to location, location, location. If you're around the Center Strip and you want a cupcake, head over to Sprinkles because like I said, a decent cupcake is better than no cupcake at all.
Dining Review: Ghirardelli Chocolate
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has been in business since 1852, when Italian immigrant Domingo Ghirardelli opened a small sweet shop in San Francisco. One of the ways that it has remained competitive for so long is that it is one of the few US chocolatiers that controls nearly every step of the chocolate making process, from bean selection to roasting to refining and beyond. As a brand it falls somewhere above Hershey's in terms of cost and perceived quality but is below the luxury, small-batch boutique chocolate makers, represented in Vegas by places like Ethel M. or Jean Phillipe. Godiva is probably its nearest rival.
Although you can get their chocolates in most supermarkets, there are only about a dozen Ghirardelli shops in the US including this new one at The Linq. It replaces the long-standing store that was serving up sweets at neighboring Carnaval Court.
There's not much to the place in terms of scope. There are a handful of tables and chairs at a counter that serves up ice cream and other chocolate treats. If you either can't eat or aren't in the mood for the heavenly ice cream, try the chocolate covered strawberries - huge, generously dipped, and perfect for a warm day snack. There's also a small market area where you can buy pretty much any flavor of chocolate the company makes (caramel and mint are my favorites, FYI).
Prices are higher than what you'll pay for the same chocolate in your local market but not by a lot. Unless you're buying in bulk, you can easily get a more than satisfying dessert for $5-$7 depending on how many scoops you get.
I can't say that Ghirardelli is my favorite chocolate in the world - after the closure of the Chocolate Swan a few years ago I'm not sure I have one anymore - but those looking for a good, high-quality sugar fix could do a lot worse in this town.
Shopping Review: Polaroid Fotobar & Museum
Hey kids! Pull up a chair while I tell you a little story about these things us old-timers liked to call "photographs." See, back in the day we had cameras but they weren't on our phone. They were their own separate thing that you used to have to carry around and all they did was take pictures. Shocking, I know!
They had this stuff called "film," that you had to load into the camera and then take to special place to have "developed" and you'd get your pics - even your selfies - on things that were like paper that you could put into albums or frames or whatever. It's like Instagram only you don't ever need to worry about it draining your phone's battery. Weird, right?
There were some cameras that had "instant film," where the picture would pop out of it and develop right in front of your eyes. There were a bunch of different companies that had these but the one that was the most famous was called Polaroid. You remember the song "Hey Ya" by OutKast and the line "Shake it like a Polaroid picture...?"
You don't? That song is over a decade old now? I need to go lie down.
Anyway, if you want to know what a Polaroid picture is like, you can go to the Polaroid Fotobar at The Linq in Las Vegas. There you can plug your phone or digital camera into a computer, select any of the pics from your camera roll, and have them printed out on paper that resembles the original Polaroid instants. They come in a variety of sizes so you could get one for your wallet... it's a thing you used carry your money in... it's a thing you used to use to pay for stuff before bitcoins... anyway, you can get them small or you can get them blown up to poster size.
They also have a bunch of photo related stuff like albums and picture frames and the like. Albums were these things with pages... oh, never mind.
If you want to learn more, you can go upstairs to the Polaroid Museum. A museum is like a tumblr page only you can walk inside of it. This one has some basic history about the company, including some ancient artifacts of cameras that date all the way back to the 1980s.
What? Yes, they had cameras back then. Shut up.
They also have exhibit space for rotating shows. The museum opened with a fascinating display of Polaroid snapshots from Andy Warhol of famous faces like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, and more. I know you don't know who any of those people are but trust me they used to be famous.
So that's my story, kids. I hope you enjoyed it. Next week I'm going to be telling you all about how you used to watch videos on these things called televisions and could only watch them at certain times unless you recorded them on these things called video cassettes.
Now it's time for a nap. No, not you - me.
Shopping Review: Kitson
I have to admit that I don't pay terribly close attention to what's "cool" outside of Vegas. I just don't have the time or energy to try to keep up with trends that have little to do with my daily life or with Sin City.
So it took Kitson coming to Vegas for me to find out that apparently it's where all the cool kids shop. H&M? Over. Urban Outfitters? What are you, like, old? Nope, apparently Kitson is the place to buy fashionable clothes, accessories, and gifts or at least be seen with one of their trademarked blue shopping bags.
How did this happen? Like most trendy things, it got associated with famous people and that made it something the regular Joes wanted to get a part of as well. The original boutique in West Hollywood has been a celebrity haven for years and allowed the company to expand to nearly two dozen locations in California, Florida, Oregon, and now Nevada.
Kitson acts as an anchor of sorts for The Linq, the pedestrian mall between The Quad and The Flamingo. It's located right by the giant flamingo statues that flank the north entrance to the hotel of the same name and where the path takes a big jog to the left. You can see it the two-story store from The Strip and it's one of the biggest in the complex.
Inside is a bunch of stuff - clothing is the main draw here but they also have books, gifts, souvenirs, toys and games, fragrances, accessories, gadgets, and more. There's no real theme or cohesive thread to it - it's not like when you're at the Gap and everything feels sort of "Gap-ish" for lack of a better word. It's all over the place but most of it is geared to a younger sensibility. Most of the store's target audience would probably die if they saw their mothers shopping there much less wearing the clothes they sell.
Prices are upscale boutique level, meaning that a graphic t-shirt that is not of significantly better quality than the ones you can get at Target for $10 is about six times that here. Basic pants and skirts are $50-$100 and if you start looking at the designer names like Alexander McQueen you're looking at things like a $300 sweatshirt. And those kind of price tags extend across the entire store. $15 for a coffee mug? Okay.
This is the type of store you shop in if you want to be trendy or cool. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that - I wish I was trendier and cooler than I am - I'm just not willing to pay these kinds of prices to do it.
Shopping Review: Goorin Bros.
Hats keep riding waxing and waning waves of popularity. For decades in America it was almost considered impolite for men or women to leave home without one, but that started to fade in the more free-wheeling 70s and 80s. In the 1990s, hats started to become cool again, driven by their popularity with a younger, hip audience looking to find a way to set themselves apart from the herd. Today the renaissance continues, spurred on by popular culture images that include Don Draper in "Mad Men" and even Walter White in "Breaking Bad."
Goorin Bros. has been there for all of the ups and downs, all the way back to 1895 when Cassel Goorin started selling handmade hats off of a horse cart in Philadelphia. Today the company has nearly three dozen shops, mainly in hip neighborhoods like the West Village in New York, the Haight in San Francisco, Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and now in The Linq in Las Vegas.
The store itself is postage stamp sized - if they get more than a dozen people in there they are going to have a major traffic jam. But they have a great selection of hats of all different styles including fedoras, Panamas, driving caps, bowlers, western, baseball caps, and more. You can go for a hipster "Vegas, Baby!" look or you can do a poolside effect with something big and floppy. You can even go full-on Heisenberg - the trademark pork pie that Bryan Cranston's Walter White wore in "Breaking Bad" was a Goorin Bros. hat.
They also have a variety of what they call "lifestyle" choices, from their Everyday line of simple and affordable hats all the way up to the 1333 Minna collection, which features fine fabrics and exclusive designs.
Because of the mixture of types and styles the prices are all over the map. You can get something simple and basic for as low as $30 or you can go up to a couple of hundred. The average cost is probably in the $50-$75 range.
Not everyone can pull off a hat. I, for one, look idiotic in anything other than a baseball cap. Trust me, I have tried. Laughing and pointing ensues. But if you are one of the lucky ones who can, Goorin Bros. should be on your list of must-visit shopping destinations when you are visiting Vegas.