MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
June 23, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10 - Summertime at Bellagio
Summer began a little early at the Bellagio last week when they debuted the Summer Garden Party display at the Bellagio Conservatory. Featuring kites, a greenhouse filled with birds, and a tree house among other details, the summer display will be running through September 7. If you want to get a taste of summer without the desert heat, you can take a look at the Conservatory with a live Earthcam feed on the Bellagio website. Read more about the Bellagio Conservatory.
9 - Al Pacino to Headline at The Mirage
No, he's not going to do a magic show or a variety revue. Instead, legendary actor Al Pacino will be bringing his "Pacino: One Night Only" production to The Mirage, which features the actor reminiscing about his career, commenting on clips from his body of work, and chatting with the audience in an unscripted Q&A session. True to its title, the show will be one night on Saturday, August 16 at 7:30pm and tickets, which are on sale now, start at $150. You can purchase them online through ticketmaster or call 800-627-6667. Read more about The Mirage.
8 - Man Dies at Electric Daisy Carnival
The biggest event of the year in Las Vegas happened over the weekend with the Electric Daisy Carnival drawing an estimated 400,000 people to the electronic dance music festival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and as many as another 100,000 or so to town for all the big parties at the clubs. The event features dozens of big-name DJs performing sets on elaborate stages, carnival rides, fireworks, and more. The three-night event was mostly peaceful but there were dozens of narcotics arrests and one man collapsed and died in the parking lot on Friday night. There has been no cause of death found yet for the 24-year-old California man.
7 - Circus Steakhouse Celebrates 32 Years with $32 Deal
In a town that delights in reinventing itself every few years, it's remarkable that a place like The Steakhouse at Circus Circus has been going strong for more than three decades. The local and tourist favorite turns 32 years old this month and to celebrate they are offering a special of a petite filet mignon, choice of potato or rice, choice of soup or salad, veggies, and bread for only $32. That's a great deal for any steakhouse, much less one that is as good as this one. Read the full review of the Circus Steakhouse.
6 - Flood Closes the Linq
A water main burst at The Linq shopping complex between The Quad and The Flamingo last weekend forcing the closure of many of the stores and restaurants including the Brooklyn Bowl. The water was about ankle deep in some spots and went into some of the businesses. It was all cleaned up and things were mostly back to normal by late Monday. Operations at the High Roller were not affected. Read more about The Linq.
5 - Jackie Gaughan Tribute Display Unveiled at El Cortez
A new display of casino memorabilia honoring gaming legend Jackie Gaughan is now giving visitors to El Cortez a glimpse into the remarkable history of one of the most influential casino owners in Las Vegas history. The display case features dice, chips, and other memorabilia from the nine different casinos that Gaughan owned or co-owned over the years including The Las Vegas Club, The Gold Spike, the Plaza, The Showboat, and more. Gaughan lived on the top floor of El Cortez up until his death in March at the age of 92. Read more about the history of El Cortez.
4 - Wiener's Circle Open at Red Rock
A Chicago landmark has landed in Vegas but without some of its trademark, um, "appeal." Wiener's Circle is famous - or maybe infamous - in the Windy City for it's staff that regularly heaps abuse on the customers (who heap it right back). If you don't mind a LOT of profanity, go look it up on YouTube - it's entertaining in a car crash kind of way. The Vegas version at Red Rock Resort has the Chicago restaurant's popular menu of hot dogs, chicken fingers, and trademark Krispy Kreme breakfast sandwich (bacon, egg, and cheese on a donut) but not their sassy staff. A second location will open at sister Santa Fe Station later this summer. Read more about Red Rock Resort.
3 - New Exhibits at Mob Museum
The must-visit Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas has installed two new exhibits, one looking at one of the opening of one of the most influential casinos in Vegas history and the other examining the influence of illegal gambling in the United States. The first exhibit, Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo Hotel, features rare photos, artifacts, casino memorabilia, and more from the 1946 opening of the hotel, which may not have been the first on The Strip but was certainly one of the splashiest. The other exhibit looks at Illegal Gambling Halls in places like New York, Florida, and Louisiana run by major organized crime figures like Moe Dalitz and Meyer Lanksy. Read more about the Mob Museum.
2 - SLS Las Vegas Has a New Opening Date
This is rare... construction is running ahead of schedule at the upcoming SLS Hotel so they have decided to move up the opening date. Originally slated to debut over Labor Day weekend, the SLS will now open a full week earlier than that, on Saturday, August 23. The former Sahara hotel has been completely revamped with new rooms, a casino, restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and more. Read more about the SLS Las Vegas.
1 - Drinking Ban on Fremont Street
Downtown Las Vegas has undergone a major turnaround, and now regularly draws big crowds to the casinos and bars along Fremont Street. But too much of a good thing is apparently too much for the Fremont Street Experience, where it is now illegal to consume alcohol on the street from the original container - so no more drinking from bottles or cans. You can still carry cups - including those obnoxious souvenir things shaped like The Stratosphere for instance - but if you get caught drinking a beer from a bottle, the fine ranges from $250-$500. The ban is an effort to curb some overly-boisterous behavior in the area that officials believe is being driven by package liquor sales from stores along Fremont Street (although some say this is just a casino-driven ploy to get you buy more booze at their bars rather than cheaper drinks from the convenience store next door). Worth noting... the 5 blocks of the pedestrian mall that is Fremont Street Experience is the only part of Downtown where you can legally drink outside at all. In The Fremont East District, where all the new bars and stores are, you can't drink outside legally at all (although people still do it). Read more about the Fremont Street Experience.
LVH to Become a Timeshare?
Rumors have been running rampant for the last few days that timeshare king David Siegel is finalizing a plan to buy the LVH (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) for a reported $150 million. Although no one is confirming the rumors, the deal is reportedly more or less done and will result in the LVH being turned into the world's largest timeshare resort.
Siegel is the founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, a Florida based company with timeshare complexes in Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Park City, Williamsburg, Branson, Miami, and more. They had a presence in Las Vegas briefly as the original developers of the PH Towers at Planet Hollywood but that building was later sold to Hilton Grand Vacations.
Siegel and his wife Jackie gained a bit of notoriety via a 2012 documentary entitled "The Queen of Versailles," which was about the couple's failed attempt to build a 90,000 square-foot mansion near Orlando modeled after the Palace of Versailles.
The LVH got its start in 1969 as the International, then the biggest hotel in the world with more than 2,000 rooms featuring opening night entertainment from Barbra Streisand. The hotel gained fame as the home of Elvis Presley's headlining series of concerts from 1969 through 1976.
It became the Las Vegas Hilton in 1971, the name it operated under until 2012 when it became LVH, or Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
The specifics of what will happen to the LVH under the new ownership are unknown, but a name change to Westgate is likely. The fate of the casino, entertainment, and dining lineup is to be determined but it will probably undergo some revamping as it transitions to a timeshare facility. Like most timeshares, rooms will most likely still be available for standard rentals when the units aren't occupied by residents.
A Look at Las Vegas Timeshares
Most people who visit Vegas do so when the mood, budget, and timing strikes, finding the best hotel deal they can find to get them in to one of the city's 150,000 or so rooms. They take their chances on rates and availability and may wind up paying a premium for vacationing during peak times. On top of that, the money they spend on their room - which can easily top $1,000 for a few days - is gone as soon as they settle their bill.
These are the kinds of arguments people give for eschewing the room rental model and instead investing in a timeshare.
Timeshares are not unique to Vegas; you can find them pretty much anywhere people take vacations. But there are a lot of them in town and they offer some interesting alternatives to staying in a regular hotel room.
The details of timeshare ownership vary from property to property, but generally speaking instead of renting a room, you buy a unit for a specific length of time. That's usually one week per year and depending on the terms of your investment, it could be a "fixed week" during the year or it could be a "floating" week based on availability. When you buy it, you own it just like any other piece of real estate and you can sell it, rent it out, bequeath it, or give it away (although most timeshares have specific contractual limitations on some of those functions).
Most timeshare units are more like condominiums than standard hotel rooms. They usually feature suite-style accommodations with separate bedrooms and full kitchens.
Just like any real estate, the costs of a timeshare unit in Vegas vary dramatically based on the location, amenities, and features of the property. Current ads are showing prices from around $7,000 to over $30,000 for units on or near The Strip.
In addition to the cost of the unit, there are often additional associated fees such as maintenance or homeowner's association dues.
Most timeshares put their units up for rent on weeks when an owner is not in residence, so if you really want to stay in one you often have the opportunity to do so without actually buying in.
There are way too many timeshares in Vegas to list, but here are some of the more high profile ones located on or very near The Strip.
Please note that all prices were collected from the timeshare consolidator website timesharesonly.com and may not offer a full range of available units and costs.
The Carriage House
Located at 105 E. Harmon, just north of the MGM Grand, the Carriage House has been a fixture in Vegas for 40 years. It has 155 rooms ranging from studios with kitchenettes to one bedroom suites. Current prices for timeshares here are running between $5,000 and $12,000.
Elara by Hilton Grand Vacations at Planet Hollywood
Originally a Westgate branded timeshare property, this tower at Planet Hollywood features studio, one-, two-, and four-bedroom suites that have dramatic designs, kitchens or kitchenettes, full access to the main resort, and more. Timeshare prices are currently listing from about $12,000 on the low end all the way up to $75,000 for one of the huge 4-bedroom units.
Hilton Grand Vacations at The Flamingo
Located directly behind The Flamingo, right along the monorail line and next door to the High Roller Observation Wheel, these one and two bedroom units feature full condo amenities, a private pool, and access to all of the main resorts amenities. Most prices are running between $7,00 and $15,000 although there are a few units asking significantly more than that.
Hilton Grand Vacations Suites on The Strip
The north end of The Strip has been mostly a wasteland for the bulk of the last decade but that is all changing now with the anticipated opening of the SLS this August and Resorts World in 2016. That positions this massive timeshare complex, located just north of Circus Circus, in what could be one of the hottest neighborhoods in town. Units here are full condo-style with kitchens, laundry, and between one and three bedrooms while the complex has a pool, two restaurants, and a bar. Prices here start at around $7,000 and go all the way up to $84,000 (!!).
This used to be one of the best-positioned timeshares in Vegas, located just south of Bellagio with great views of the fountains from the north-facing units. But then The Cosmopolitan came along and literally surrounded it, building a massive resort that encircles the Jockey Club on three sides. North facing units still get the Bellagio view but south facing ones look at a big wall. Units range from studios with kitchenettes to two bedroom units will full condo-style amenities. Prices run from about $5,000 to as much as $20,000.
Marriott's Grand Chateau
Located on Harmon Avenue, just across the street from Planet Hollywood, the Marriott branded time share has studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units with kitchenettes or full kitchens; a rooftop pool; and a top floor bar. Prices run between $10,000 and $30,000.
This is another long term fixture on The Strip, located just north of the MGM Grand behind a strip mall. The one- and two-bedroom units all feature full kitchens and balconies and the facility has a rooftop pool, tennis courts, a lounge, and more. Prices are running between $10,000 and $20,000.
Wild Casino Ideas that Never Happened
A story in the UK's Daily Mirror made the rounds last week, claiming that a deal has been struck to build Ye Olde English Casino, a British themed resort on the Las Vegas Strip. According to the story it would feature "Cocktail waitresses in police helmets, refreshment booths under giant black cabs and red telephone boxes serving coffee and pastries are all on their way to Las Vegas."
The problem is that it's a little lacking in the truth department. Not only does it quote a city council person who doesn't exist, but according to Las Vegas officials there are no current proposals matching this description.
This is not the first time that a wild idea for a Vegas casino has made it into the media including at least a couple of London-themed resorts. One would have gone onto the land that now has the mothballed Fontainebleaus tower on it and the other was envisioned for a plot of land across the street from Mandalay Bay. The latter would have had a US version of Harrod's department store in it.
Obviously those never happened but that's just the beginning of the list of wild ideas that never became reality.
There were also several plans to replace the former Frontier hotel including one that would have built a San Francisco themed resort, complete with a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, another to build a Montreaux jazz themed hotel, and a third to build a theme-less luxury resort. It was torn down in 2007 to make way for a $5 billion homage to the Plaza Hotel in New York but that project is dead and the land is just an empty lot now.
Speaking of San Francisco themed resorts, for a while the one that would've replaced The Frontier was getting some competition from another one that was being pitched for just up the street. The guy behind the second City by the Bay resort was fairly notorious for his big plans that never materialized.
When MGM Grand Corporation inherited the former Boardwalk Hotel on The Strip when they bought Mirage Resorts, their first idea for the property was to create a hip resort that would cater to the Gen-X crowd, possibly with a James Bond theme. Another idea was to build a resort in partnership with Cirque du Soleil. CityCenter was built there instead.
Gen-X was also the target for a planned Maxim hotel, named after the magazine of the same title. It was going to go on a chunk of land once occupied by the Westward Ho.
An Elvis themed resort was planned at least twice for Vegas, once as a rumored replacement for The Riviera and once as a new construction project on The Strip at Harmon where the Harley Davidson Café is located.
There were several plans floated (no pun intended) for the former Wet 'n Wild site just south of the upcoming SLS Las Vegas including one that would have built the tallest building in the country at more than 1,800 feet and another that would have had its own marina complete with yachts that would double as hotel rooms.
That was not the only tallest building idea for Vegas. Another would've built a 200-story hotel, casino, and condo complex near Downtown Vegas.
In the late 90s, the World Wrestling Federation planned to convert the former Debbie Reynolds hotel on Convention Center Drive into a wrestling themed resort complete with a huge arena for matches. After many delays, they eventually said the building and the property it sat on was too small for their ambitious plans.
In Henderson, there were plans in 2001 by a company known as VSS Enterprises to build a $150 million, Polynesian themed hotel near Sunset Station and Fiesta Henderson (then known as The Reserve). The plans were announced one week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which dealt a blow to a lot of big Vegas ideas.
A Miami themed resort to be called South Beach was planned for the former Howard Johnson's site on Tropicana and Industrial (just west of The Strip). It was going to be a 460-room hotel with a 26,000 square-foot casino. The plans were scuttled when giants MGM Mirage and Station Casinos banded together to oppose it.
Stations most likely didn't like it because of their plans to build Viva, a 10,000-plus room resort and casino on the opposite corner where Wild, Wild West currently stands. The economy got the better of that one.
There were multiple pie-in-the-sky ideas to rebuild and/or reimagine the historic Moulin Rouge casino near Downtown. It was the first racially integrated hotel in the city but closed after only a few months in operation in 1955. What was left of the hotel burned down - twice - and now only the historic sign remains at the Neon Museum.
And of course there are the granddaddy grand ideas of them all... Moon Las Vegas and Titanic: The Resort.
Moon would've featured 10,000 rooms, a 40-story replica of the moon with the casino inside, a wave pool in the shape of a moon crater, a replica of the International Space Station hovering over the lobby, an indoor winter sports arena with downhill skiing and ice skating, an indoor golf course, a 60,000-seat arena, the largest convention center in the world with private helipads, and a showroom featuring a moon-themed Cirque show called Cirque du Lune.
The Titanic idea actually had two incarnations, one located on the vacant land across from the upcoming SLS Las Vegas and the other a few blocks north of The Stratosphere. Both would've featured a replica of the ship and an iceberg shaped shopping mall.
Then again, some wild ideas actually get built. Resorts World is the new resort planned for 2017 on the former Stardust site. Although some of the plans are being considered for future phases, the Asian themed resort is considering a replica of the Great Wall of China and a giant panda habitat. This one seems like it will actually happen but then again considering all of the above maybe we should believe it when we see it.
Restaurant Review: Cosmopolitan "Secret" Pizza
One of the ways in which The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas stands out is through its unusual marketing campaigns. You've probably seen them - surreal commercials with things like bunnies and kittens or evocative dancers along with the tagline "Just the right amount of wrong."
Well, one of the things they did "wrong" is they built a restaurant and then didn't tell anyone about it. It isn't listed on the hotel's restaurant list; it doesn't show up on the resort maps; and it doesn't even have an official name. And in typical Cosmo fashion, it was the exact "right" thing to do.
I'm breaking some sort of unspoken rule by divulging the "secret" pizza place's location, but it's really not that hard to find. Head up to the third floor where most of the other restaurants like Estiatorio Milos and Comme Ça are located and look for the unmarked hallway between Jaleo and Blue Ribbon Sushi. It's lined with record album covers and you'll hear music blasting from other end so "secret" is probably overstating it here. It's not like it's behind a secret door guarded by a bouncer who requires a password to get in.
At the end of the hall is a small, white-tiled space of a pizza joint. There are a few stools at counters and a pinball machine, just to keep things lively, but this is more of a grab and go kind of place than a dine in. They sell by the slice or full pizzas and the types vary depending on what moment you step in but cover all the basics - cheese, veggie, sausage, pepperoni, and the traditional "white pie" variety (done with ricotta cheese). It's New York style - big slices, thin crust, and easily foldable.
That's pretty much all they sell - pizza. There are a couple of basic salads, options of cheesecake or cannoli for dessert, and beverages (including beer).
Slices are around $5 and are, as mentioned, quite big. Full pies run from just over $20 for a basic cheese up to around $30 for the loaded versions.
Is it the best pizza in the world? No. Is it even the best pizza in Vegas? Probably not. But it's good, hearty, well-prepared, and handy for a late night nosh. I wouldn't go out of my way to grab a slice here but if you happen to be in the building and are craving something simple, this is a good, relatively affordable option.
Worth noting is that the secret is not really a secret and the place can get very busy, especially late nights when the clubs are letting out. Long lines are typical at peak times so if you are ordering a full pizza, call ahead.
Restaurant Review: Bier Garten
As food offerings in Downtown Vegas move up a few notches in terms of quality and variety, so too have costs, so it's great that you can still get a really good meal at a place like the Bier Garten without having to pay a lot for it.
Located at the front of The Plaza, the restaurant is mostly an outdoor experience. There is a small ordering counter inside, a couple of tables by that, and some food-court style tables shared with the nearby McDonald's and Subway, but the bulk of the facility is located along Main Street with a grassy lawn, picnic tables, and a shady trellis equipped with TVs and a sound system. It's a unique set up in the concrete jungle of Downtown Vegas but since it's surrounded by that, and right along a busy street, it's not exactly the peaceful backyard respite it wants to think it is.
The menu is simple. There are a few snacks like fries, onion strings, coleslaw, and a giant German pretzel served with sweet mustard that lives up to its "giant" nickname (it could easily serve four people). After that it's pretty much just bratwrusts and sausages but saying "just" diminishes how really fantastic they are.
There is a section of signature versions, all named after iconic Vegas destinations. The Golden Slipper is an Andouille sausage with bacon, cream cheese, and a fried egg; The Hacienda is a sweet Italian sausage with roasted peppers and caramelized onions; The Stardust is a classic brat with onions and sauerkraut; and so on.
Or you could choose to build your own. There are two dozen choices of sausages or wursts (from classic beef to tofurkey sausage), toppings (including roasted jalapenos and kosher relish), extras (Cajun blue cheese, cream cheese, and cheese "wiz"), and buns giving you a broad pallet from which to create a masterpiece.
The servings are huge and the quality is evident - these are hand-made wonders and the flavors are fantastic.
Be sure to get a side of fries, which were done perfectly - a little crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Our waitress, who considered herself a French fry "connoisseur" declared these to be near the top of her favorites list and we had a hard time arguing. Throw in the dipping sauces, which include German sweet mustard, siracha ketchup, chipotle aioli, chimchurri, homemade buttermilk ranch, Cheese Whiz, and BBQ, and you turn an already great French fry into a fantastic one.
Of course don't forget the beer part of the Bier Garten. There are about two dozen different choices on tap and in bottles and they even offer pairing recommendations with their various signature sausages.
Prices are downright cheap. Signature items are $8 apiece and the make your own starts at around $6. The only thing over $10 on the menu is that giant pretzel and that's only by about a buck. You can have a terrific meal here including a main course, side, beer, tax, and tip for well under $20.
Quality and quantity without paying a lot for it? I'm sold.