MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
June 9, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10 - Grand Bazaar Shops Announces First Tenants
The front of Bally's is getting a major makeover right now, with construction deep underway on the Grand Bazaar Shops. This new shopping complex will feature 150 boutiques and quick-serve food outlets in an outdoor marketplace leading to the main casino. Although it is not expected to open until late this year, several tenants have been announced including Swatch, Swarovski, Disney Fine Art, Havaianas, Sugar Factory (a candy store not restaurant), Pro Image Sports, Bettie Page, Lush, Sam Marvin, Rock & Religion, Bahama Mama, and a new outlet of the popular Tix4Tonight discount show ticket consolidator. There is no official opening date but they are still saying before the calendar changes to 2015. Read more about the Grand Bazaar Shops.
9 - Cowabunga Bay Schedules Opening for July 4
It was first scheduled to open on Memorial Day last year and then Memorial Day this year. Now the city's next big water park has gotten a new opening date: Independence Day. Cowabunga Bay is the name of the new attraction located on the east side of town not too far from Sunset Station. The $25 million water park features eight water slides, three pools, the largest lazy river ride in the state, the second largest wave pool (behind only Mandalay Bay's), a children's play area, food vendors, private cabanas, and more. Admission will be $36 for adults and $28 for kids with discounts for seniors, military, and those visiting after peak hours. Read more about Cowabunga Bay.
8 - Wet 'n' Wild Dive 'n' Movies
Speaking of water parks, the one that DID open last year on Memorial Day - Wet 'n' Wild - is ramping up for what is expected to be a second, very successful season by announcing their lineup of "Dive 'n' Movies." The family friendly schedule of films includes "Frozen," "Finding Nemo," "Monsters University," "Man of Steel," "The Lego Movie," and "Planes" to name a few. The movies are shown every other Friday after sundown and are included in the cost of park admission. Read the full review of Wet 'n' Wild.
7 - Downtown Container Park Movies
If you'd prefer to stay dry while watching an outdoor movie, perhaps you'll want to mosey on down to the Downtown Container Park where they are launching a Thursday night "Summer Movies in the Park" series. The roster includes "Jaws," "Weekend at Bernie's," "Stand by Me," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "School of Rock," "National Lampoon's Vacation," and more. The movies start at 9pm and are free although it is worth noting that no one under 21 is allowed. Read more about the Downtown Container Park.
6 - More Australian Strippers... But Women This Time
The Australian hunks of Thunder From Down Under are about to get a female counterpart show with the upcoming debut of Sydney After Dark, a new adults only show scheduled to begin at Planet Hollywood on July 7. The show features a bevy of comely "Sheilas" (look it up) strutting their stuff in a peek-a-book burlesque designed to "make you fantasize about the land down under." I don't write this stuff, folks - that was from the press release. Sydney After Dark will play Thursday through Tuesday at 9:30pm and tickets range from $39 all the way up to $99, which includes a meet and greet with the cast afterward. Tickets are available through ticketmaster or at the Planet Hollywood box office. Read more about Planet Hollywood.
5 - New Hotel Planned for Downtown Vegas
The plan for a new hotel, convention center, and condo building could radically alter the skyline of Vegas if it goes through. The Center, as it would be called, is a 40 story building - which would make it the tallest in Downtown - that would be built at the southeast corner of 6th and Fremont. That's right across the street from El Cortez and The Commomwealth bar, where Backstage Bar & Billiards and the Fremont Country Club are located now. According to the plan, those buildings would stay put and the new tower would get built on top of it with 200 residences, a 200 room rock and roll themed hotel, a 50,000 square-foot convention center, a studio for streaming events, and more (but no casino). If it all gets approved and financed (big ifs) it could start welcoming tenants and guests by late 2016. Read more about Backstage Bar & Billiards.
4 - Caesars Debt Problems
Despite the fact that they just spend about half a billion dollars on opening The Linq and the High Roller, plus another $200 million or so on The Cromwell (and that's just in Vegas), headlines about Caesars Entertainment's big debt problems continue to flow in various outlets. The latest is a story in Vegas Inc. that says that one creditor is claiming the company may have defaulted on the terms of as much as $1 billion in debt although Caesars is vehemently denying that. As of now Caesars Entertainment is operating under more than $23 billion in debt and has to make billions in interest and loan payments each year that it is reportedly struggling to meet. What all this means for the future of the company is yet to be seen. Caesars Entertainment operates Caesars Palace, Harrah's, Bally's, Paris Las Vegas, The Rio, The Quad, Planet Hollywood, The Flamingo, and The Cromwell in Las Vegas and dozens of additional casinos around the country and around the world.
3 - Giada De Laurentiis Restaurant Opens
Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis has opened her new restaurant at The Cromwell and it is already getting some pretty strong reviews... at least on Yelp. There are a couple of dozen reports from people who have dined there and most of them are coming back with 5-star ratings for Giada's summery Mediterranean meets California cuisine. Among the dishes on the menu: spaghetti with shrimp, lemon, and basil; a 28-ounce bone in Tuscan rib-eye served with lemon and a sunny side up egg; a rack of lamb crusted with spinach and raisins; and ravioli with lobster and asparagus. The restaurant is now open nightly from 5pm and apparently if you want to eat there you have have to do it early (either before 6:30) or late (after 9pm) because most of the prime time tables are booked for the next several weeks. Read more about The Cromwell.
2 - Fashion Show Mall Planning Expansion
The Linq, The Park, the Grand Bazaar Shops... outdoor shopping experiences are becoming all the rage in Vegas and apparently the Fashion Show Mall - the biggest INDOOR shopping center in the state - wants in on the action. Plans have been filed with the county to completely redo the Strip facing side of the mall by expanding the building out toward the sidewalk, adding new stores and dining venues, and revamping the plaza with new kiosks and landscaping. There is no confirmed schedule for the project but I'd expect it to happen sooner rather than later. Read more about the Fashion Show Mall.
1 - Hershey's Chocolate World Officially Opens with 1 Million Free Kisses
Hershey's Chocolate World had its official grand opening last week with a ribbon cutting ceremony and the distribution of 1 million free Hershey's kisses to visitors on The Strip. The new retail store is at New York-New York and features more than 13,000 square-feet of chocolaty goodness including pre-packaged candy, make-your-own personalized chocolate experiences, a cafe serving baked treats, and more. Read more about Hershey's Chocolate World.
Gay Guide to Las Vegas
June is Gay Pride month around the country so to celebrate, here's a guide for GLBTQ visitors to Las Vegas.
All the way up through the early 2000's, Las Vegas adopted a don't ask-don't tell kind of attitude toward the gay and lesbian crowd. Hotels and casinos didn't care who you were sharing your bed with, they just wanted your money. Having said that, they certainly didn't do much to actively court the GLBTQ audiences other than the occasional sponsorship of a float at the city's gay pride parade or participation in a yearly White Party style "pride" weekend.
That began to change a few years ago. I wish I could say it was because the major corporations became more enlightened or understood that cultural attitudes in the country were "evolving" but really it was just because they, like many other companies, started to recognize the power of the gay dollar. It is estimated that GLBTQ people will spend an estimated $200 billion on travel this year and while they are willing to spend it anywhere they are much more inclined to spend it at places that actively court their business.
These days almost all of the major Las Vegas hotels and resorts run ad campaigns specifically targeting a gay and lesbian audience. Although none have exclusively gay bars... at least not until later this summer (more on that in a moment)... some have nights at their clubs and lounges that cater to a gay audience and several are even hosting pool parties for the GLBTQ audience and their friends. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau is even getting in on the action with its first ever gay themed television commercial.
The gay audience has even had a hand in shaping the entertainment scene in Las Vegas. While acts like Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Elton John, and Olivia Newton-John certainly have a broad appeal, it is their almost rabidly devoted gay fans that have helped to keep them relevant and selling tickets.
The next big frontier for gay and lesbian visitors to Vegas will come when they will be able to be a part of the city's reputation as the marriage capital of the world. Gay marriage is not legal in Nevada yet, but just as with most other states where that is the case, lawsuits are winding their way through the courts that most legal analysts believe will end up allowing same-sex couples to wed. All of the major hotel chapels and most of the smaller independent ones currently do same-sex commitment ceremonies and pretty much all of them are eager for the real deal to become law - again, not really because of any moral or social justice reason, but purely for an economic one. According to a study performed by the New York City, gay marriage generated over a quarter of a billion dollars in additional revenue to the city in its first year of being legal. Vegas wants in on that.
While cultural attitudes are shifting, Vegas is also a town that draws a wide spectrum of people from all over the world, many of whom might not be comfortable with public displays of gay affection. Whether or not you choose to have a "that's their problem" attitude is totally up to you, but it is worth noting that much of the crowd here is often aggressively straight. You'll never hear the word "dude" used so often in your entire life.
So just be aware that if you decide to hold hands with your partner/spouse/weekend fling by the pool or plant a kiss on them after a great blackjack hand, you're bound to get some negative reactions. These reactions will rarely devolve into danger but just be aware of your surroundings.
Most of the gay life in Vegas, as in many other cities, is centered on the gay bars and clubs in town.
On The Strip right now there is only one exclusively gay bar, the long-running Krave. After years operating just off Las Vegas Boulevard in a building attached to (but not accessible through) Planet Hollywood, they moved Downtown to the Neonopolis shopping mall but that failed miserably. The club is back on The Strip at the Boulevard Theater, behind the Walgreen's just north of MGM Grand, operating only on Friday and Saturday.
In a few weeks the Strip's first gay club located inside a hotel-casino will open with the anticipated debut of Liaison at Bally's. It's going into the former space occupied by Drai's After Hours, just off the main casino, and is being operated by Victor Drai himself. He's the same guy behind the new Drai's at The Cromwell and formerly of clubs like XS at Wynn Las Vegas. The 7,000 square-foot club will go swank-for-swank with the other high-end clubs in town complete with VIP bottle service, a dance floor, celebrity DJs, and more. It is expected to open June 20 and a grand opening is due in August.
Elsewhere on The Strip, The Beatles themed Revolution Lounge at The Mirage has a very popular Sunday night gay party called Revolution Sundays; Tropicana is hosting a Saturday afternoon gay day club at their pool called Xposed; and Luxor is continuing their popular Temptation pool club on Sundays.
Off The Strip there are plenty of gay bars around town that will suit just about any mood, budget, and taste. The nearby "Fruit Loop" as it is known (don't blame me; I didn't name it) is on Harmon Avenue just a couple of blocks south of the Hard Rock that used to be the epicenter of gay nightlife with half a dozen bars within steps of each other. Now there are only a couple - the very popular Piranha lounge and dance club and the neighborhood bar Free Zone. The long-running Gipsy nightclub closed awhile back although there is talk of reopening it soon with a new theme. The leather and levis Buffalo bar also closed - that crowd now mostly congregates at The Funhog Ranch on Twain, about a mile east of The Strip.
You can find more gay bars and clubs listed in the nightlife section of Vegas4Visitors.com.
Gay visitors to town may also want to consider visiting The Center, the LGBTQ community center, which just opened a new facility at 401 S. Maryland Parkway. In addition to the usual services that centers like this provide, they also have art shows, special events, and a monthly Pride Bingo event. You can learn more at thecenterlv.org.
Las Vegas Summer Survival Guide
In case you didn't know, it gets a little hot in Las Vegas sometimes. The average high temperature in July is 105 degrees - that's average, folks. 110 degree days are not uncommon during the summer in Sin City and the hottest temperature every recorded is 117 degrees, reached in June of 2013.
Of course if you're not a fan of hot weather, you could simply not visit from June through August, but what you miss out on is traditionally the slowest time of the year in terms of the number of people coming to town. Fewer people means lower prices and shorter lines, so if you can put up with the heat, you can often get some really good deals and have to fight fewer people to use them.
Here are some summer safety tips that will help you survive the next time you visit Vegas in the summer.
Get Up Early, Stay Up Late
If you understand the basics of weather, it should come as no surprise that the peak temperature times come in the afternoon so plan your outdoor activities for early in the morning or after the sun sets. For instance, if you want to get in a round of golf, most courses have early-bird tee times and if you want to soak up some sun by the pool, most are open by 9am and not only will you have less sizzling temperatures, you'll probably have a better selection of lounge chairs (and shade, if there is any). Planning on strolling The Strip? Do it at night when it is cooler, both in terms of temperature and attitude.
Water, Water Everywhere
One thing that a lot of people don't do enough of while in Vegas is drink water. It's easy to get distracted by the general hubbub and the constant on-the-go nature of the town and people don't remember to drink as much water as they should, especially when it gets hot. Shockingly, I've heard a few of you may have an alcoholic beverage or two while you're in Las Vegas, which only dehydrates you more. Be sure to mix it up with a bottle of water here and there, especially if you are planning on spending significant time outdoors.
Know Where You Are Going
Do it right, and you could visit almost every single hotel/casino on The Strip without spending more than a few moments outside. For instance, start at Mandalay Bay and then take the indoor walkway across the Mandalay Place shops to Luxor and then the indoor walkway from there to Excalibur. Spend a couple of minutes outside as you cross the pedestrian bridge to New York-New York and go through that casino to the north end and outside briefly until you get in to neighboring Monte Carlo. Take the enclosed walkway at the back of that property through to Aria and then right into Crystals at CityCenter mall. Take the monorail from there to Bellagio and cross through that property to the north end through the Via Bellagio shopping gallery. From there it's a quick jaunt across the pedestrian bridge to Caesars Palace. Take that all the way through the Forum Shops and you are just steps from the moving sidewalk into The Mirage and from there you could take the tram connecting it to Treasure Island and then the pedestrian bridge to The Forum Shops. I have just gotten you from the south end of The Strip to the north part of it and you will have spent maybe 15 minutes outside.
Let Someone Else Do the Work
You may be tempted to walk from wherever you are at to wherever you want to go, but consider taking cabs, monorails, or buses more often when it gets really hot. Yes, it'll cost you a few extra bucks but it'll be worth it in the long run.
The Layering Effect
As hot as it gets inside, it can actually get chilly inside as most of the hotels, casinos, restaurants, attractions, and showrooms have their air conditioning systems set on frozen. If you are at all susceptible to wildly changing temperatures, you may want to carry something with you that you can slip on once you get inside so you won't be sweating one moment and shivering the next.
Sunscreen. Wear it. Always. Even if you are going to be outside for only a few minutes, it can protect you from burning or worse.
Show Review: Legends in Concert
"Legends in Concert" has been running in some form or another at one hotel or another for more than 30 years. Anything that lasts that long in a town with as short an attention span as this one deserves a tip of the hat. But is it a Vegas institution because it's such a great show or simply because it has been around for so long?
Despite moving to the showroom at The Flamingo the Legends haven't changed their formula much. It is the only major celebrity impersonator (sorry, "tribute artist") show left in town where they actually sing instead of lip-synching. This is both a good and bad thing. Since these people can't rely solely on looks, the show itself, and therefore your enjoyment of it, is going to totally depend on the talent of the particular performers on the evening you attend. Since they have a rotating cast of impersonators it's kind of a "luck of the draw" evening.
The sets have been upgraded a little - it used to be '70s variety show but apparently Joey Heatherton wanted her set back so they upgraded it to something resembling more of an '80s variety show. Late '80s. It's fine; you're not there to look at the sets.
Because they keep moving the show around and because I like to check in on things that have become a part of the background every now and the, I have seen this how four times (!!). On the first viewing I hit it on a good night. There was a very good Dolly Parton, a fantastic Charlie Daniels, a decent Elvis, and three other acts that ranged from fair to passable. A few years later I got a "who knows?" Ritchie Valens, a terrible Janet Jackson, an okay Tom Jones, a pretty good Cher, some terrific Supremes, and a downright embarrassing Elvis. Overall it was disappointing. The third time I got a mildly passable Elton John, a decent Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, a vocally impressive Tom Jones, a terrific Aretha Franklin, and a pretty good Elvis.
By the way, in case you haven't figured it out already, there is always an Elvis. Apparently it's a law.
This last time we had a breathy Marilyn Monroe who spent most of her time doing a risque flirt with an audience member; an over-exagerrated to the point of silliness Tina Turner; a visually and auditorially solid Shania Twain; a pudgy Michael Jackson, which was weird; and a mid-level Elvis. Back to a little disappointing this time.
So ultimately, whether "Legends in Concert" is worth the relatively inexpensive $50-60 is totally dependent on which "legends" you get to see. The first time I thought it was worth it. The second time, not so much. The third time, worth it again. This last time, meh.
Legends is not a Vegas institution because it is a great show - the changing cast and the quality of their performances pretty much guarantees that you'll never have a perfect experience. But there is enough "great" amidst the "kinda" to keep it going and to keep audiences entertained.
For 30 (plus) years I'll still give this one a solid B.
Nightlife Review: Krave
The original Krave nightclub was the first full-time gay nightclub on the Las Vegas Strip. Granted it was tucked away in a building that wasn't directly facing The Strip nor was it accessible from inside Planet Hollywood, the hotel to which it was attached, but it still broke new ground by bringing the gay and lesbian scene to the heart of Las Vegas.
Then somebody had the bright idea to move the club to Downtown Las Vegas and the Neonopolis shopping center. Krave Massive took over the space once occupied by a 14-screen movie theater on the top level of the mall. At 80,000 square-feet it was going to be, according to developers, the largest gay nightclub in the world and was going to eventually feature five themed dance clubs (house, hip-hop, country, Latin, etc.), three bars, a lounge, a performing arts space, a comedy club, a movie theater, and a rooftop swimming pool for day club events.
Only one of the clubs ever opened and only for a few weeks and then the place shut down in a flurry of licensing and money issues.
Now the club has moved back to The Strip under new ownership and in a new location. It's in the former Boulevard Theater (also once known as the Empire Ballroom and Utopia nightclub) just north of the MGM Grand. But in the couple of years since the place ruled the gay roost, things have changed in Vegas.
Several of the clubs at the major resorts have "gay" nights, where they turn over the dance floor to the LGBT crowd, including the very popular Sunday nights at the Revolution Lounge at The Mirage. Several hotels also have gay pool parties including Tropicana and Luxor to name a couple. There will even be some competition in the form of a new gay nightclub planned for Bally's in June. Plus, and perhaps more importantly, the lines between the gay and straight worlds are dissolving, especially for the younger generation. I have been to "straight" nightclubs in Vegas and seen guys dancing with girls, guys dancing with guys, and girls dancing with girls and nobody seemed to give a crap one way or another. It used to be that gay bars were crucial because they were the only places where the gay community could feel safe but we, as a society, may be evolving toward an era where that is less necessary.
So where does that leave Krave? Well, I have to say it does feel a little passe, or at the very least cliche. The hot, shirtless bartenders and the hot, underwear clad go-go boys and the expensive cover and the high priced drinks and the zombie shuffle on the dance floor are no different than you'll find at most of the big nightclubs these days, gay or straight. Well, okay, maybe instead of underwear clad go-go boys you have underwear clad go-go girls, but you get my point.
Maybe it's different if you're 25 and don't have places like this wherever you're from, but if you have been to a big city gay nightclub before this will look absolutely no different.
The space doesn't help. First, it's a bit hidden in plain sight. Look for the Walgreen's located directly across the street from Monte Carlo (next door to Smith & Wollensky steak house) and then walk down the driveway next to it (by the Fatburger) to the back of the small shopping complex.
Second, once you get inside it feels a little disjointed. There's a small lobby, an ultralounge style space up front, and the multi-level dance club in back. They seem like completely separate experiences instead of one unified whole.
The crowd is eclectic, to say the least. It's mostly tourists - most locals hate this place but that's more because it's on The Strip than anything having to do with the club itself. After that it's all ages and "types" although it naturally, as with most high-energy clubs, it skews younger.
Cover and drink prices are pretty high - typical for clubs like this on The Strip - but you can often get discounted admission or specials by following their social media or joining email lists.
Although it wound up being too ambitious, I liked the idea of the Downtown movie theater version of Krave. It was different, interesting, and could have been worth going out of your way for. The latest version of Krave feels like the same old thing, which is fine if that's all you need. I want more.
3765 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+
Las Vegas History: Downtown Las Vegas
Although most people think of the grand gambling palaces on The Strip when they think of Las Vegas, the city actually got its start miles to north in what we now refer to as Downtown Las Vegas.
The development of the city kicked off on May 15, 1905 when US Senator William Clark held a land auction that created most of Downtown Las Vegas. At the time there was not much there other than a railroad depot on the spot that is now The Plaza hotel.
Early Las Vegas was a wild west town, infamous for its hard-drinking, prostitution, and legal (or at least not illegal) gambling. The epicenter of this was Block 16, a red light district where all of the above was openly tolerated. About a dozen bars with gambling and brothels in back rooms operated on the block between Stewart and Ogden and First and Second Streets (now a parking lot and parking structure for Binion's).
Even after gambling was made illegal in Nevada in 1910 and Prohibition went into effect in 1920, the bars in Block 16 and along Fremont Street continued to operate, hiding their now illicit activities behind speakeasy style facades and paying off local officials to let the good times roll.
The early 1930s had three major events that turned Las Vegas into a boom town and shaped its future for decades.
The first was in 1931 when work began on the Hoover Dam (then called Boulder Dam). The project, one of the biggest public works efforts in United States history, brought tens of thousands of workers to the area, many of whom traveled to Downtown Las Vegas for recreation.
That same year, Nevada repealed the law banning gambling, allowing all of the clubs on Fremont Street and elsewhere to move their card tables and roulette wheels out in the open. Some places literally just tore down the false walls that shielded the gaming from public view.
Then in 1933, Prohibition was repealed and alcohol began flowing freely and openly again.
Downtown Las Vegas exploded in popularity with dozens of casinos and clubs opening in the area, some of which still exist today. The Las Vegas Club dates back to 1931; The Apache Hotel (now Binion's's) opened in 1932; El Cortez opened in 1941; and The Golden Nugget opened in 1946. The relatively narrow Fremont Street became lined with taller and taller neon signs for the casinos, lending it the nickname Glitter Gulch.
But things started to change in when Los Angeles hotelier Thomas Hull's car broke down on the highway leading into Las Vegas. According to legend, as Hull sat there in the desert heat waiting for a tow truck, he envisioned a cool swimming pool alongside the highway luring all of the people making the trek from California. In 1941, Hull opened El Rancho at what is now an empty lot at the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Sahara Avenue and effectively created the Las Vegas Strip.
As development moved south, Downtown became a low-cost alternative instead of a main destination for most Las Vegas visitors. Over the next several decades Downtown development slowed while The Strip boomed. Binion's opened in 1951, The Fremont Hotel opened in 1956, The Mint in 1957, The Four Queens in 1966, and The California in 1975. In that same time period more than a dozen major resorts opened (and some closed) on The Strip.
By the 1970s and 1980s, Downtown Las Vegas was considered seedy and crime ridden; the place people only went to if they couldn't afford to go to The Strip. Efforts to revitalize the area mostly failed and even those that worked were controversial. The 1992 decision to close Fremont Street - Glitter Gulch - to traffic and turn it into a pedestrian mall with a giant LED canopy over the top was met with howls of protests from purists.
It lured new audiences to the neighborhood but Downtown still struggled all the way until 2010 when Zappos.com, an online retailer, announced it would move its headquarters into Downtown Las Vegas from suburban Henderson. The anticipated influx of thousands of workers spurred development on a level not seen since the 1930s. Old hotels were revamped (The Plaza and The D Las Vegas), new attractions were added (The Mob Museum and Neon Museum), and bars and nightclubs in the Fremont East Entertainment District (Commonwealth, Vanguard Lounge) turned a once dangerous area into a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike.
The future of Downtown Las Vegas looks bright.