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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
June 30, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Harmon Hotel Should Be Gone in a Year
Demolition on the structurally unsound Harmon Hotel at CityCenter is kicking in to high gear now, despite the ongoing litigation over who is to blame for the bad building. So far, crews have removed the exterior glass from many of the floors and are busy cutting concrete and steel in other areas. Because of its proximity to neighboring buildings like The Cosmo and Crystals at CityCenter, they decided the slow "deconstruction" was a better option than quick implosion, but that means it will take about a year for them to completely remove the building from the Vegas skyline. Still no word on what will replace the hotel. Read more about the Harmon.
9. Palms Goes to the Dogs
The self-proclaimed "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan is going to be staging a one-night only live show at The Palms and is looking for dogs to be part of the production. A "casting call" is starting today for pups with "common misbehaviors" or rescued dogs with "inspirational stories" to join him on stage while he educates people on how to deal with their pets. The form is calling for "Vegas dogs" but there's nothing that explicitly says you have to be from Vegas to qualify so if you're going to be in town on August 15 - the night of the show - and want to bring Fido with you, give it a shot. Only trouble is that if Fido doesn't get chosen, he can't come to the show - only people (and service dogs) are allowed in the audience. To apply visit cesarsway.com/vegasdogs. Read more about The Palms.
8. New Bus Site for Riders
I've always said that depending on the Las Vegas city bus system to get you around is one of the worst decisions you can make when visiting; the buses are notoriously late and overcrowded during peak times and they have to sit in the mind-numbing Strip traffic to get anywhere (unlike cabs or a rental car, which can use side streets to do things faster). Having said that, it is economical and now a little more convenient with the lauch of a new website aimed at visitors. It details the Strip and Downtown routes, lists fares and other info, and even has as feature that will use your smartphone's GPS to locate you and tell you how long it will be until the next bus arrives. A new downloadable app that will allow you to buy tickets online is coming soon. To see more visit rtcsnv.com/touristms/index.html. Check out the story below about the Best Ways to get around Las Vegas.
7. NeNe in Zumanity
Reality TV star and actress NeNe Leakes is joining the cast of Zumanity at New York-New York for 10 shows only as the Mistress of Sensuality. The role, which is normally performed by drag artist Edie, acts as a ringleader of sorts for the sexy circus, introducing acts and bantering with the audience. Leakes is best known as one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta but also has a burgeoning acting career with a recurring role on "Glee" and as a regular on the now-cancelled series "The New Normal." Read my full review of the non-NeNe Zumanity.
6. Caesars Shuts Down Showboat AC
Caesars Entertainment, the parent company of iconic Las Vegas resorts like Caesars Palace and The Flamingo, has announced plans to shutter one of four casinos it operated in Atlantic City, the Showboat. Although AC used to have a virtual gambling monopoly in the eastern part of the United States, there are now casinos in many states in the region including New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, and, coming soon, Massachusetts. The company blames the competition for declining revenues and visitation to the AC market, reducing the need for rooms and gaming options, but Caesars massive $23 billion debt load is believed to be a factor as well - they can't afford to keep underperforming properties afloat. This is the second Atlantic City casino to close this year after the Atlantic Club shut its doors in January and it's the second US property Caesars is losing after closing Harrah's in Tunica just a few weeks ago.
5. Fun Features Out at The Palms
While most hotels were going out of their way to do things that actively turned off visitors (I'm looking at you, resort fees), The Palms had instituted a couple of things that were fun, unique, and valuable - but no has taken them away. The first was the advent of a 24 hour check out, allowing you to leave 24 hour after you checked in as opposed to a prescribed 11am or noon time. The other was a Beverage Butler, which basically turned hotel registration into a drinking game. Apparently both programs have been suspended, or seriously curtailed, and thing are much less interesting at The Palms now in my opinion. The hotel says both programs were tests and that they may come back in the future. Read more about The Palms.
4. Two Deaths Related to Electric Daisy Carnival
The massive EDM festival Electric Daisy Carnival was held in Las Vegas last weekend and mostly went off without incident other than the typical arrests for drunk and or drug-fueled behavior. But the event did have a bit of a dark cloud attached this year with the deaths of two festival-goers, one who collapsed in a parking lot shortly after Friday night's concerts and another who was found dead in his hotel room at Vdara after attending the festival Saturday night. Both were young men - 24 and 25 years old respectively - but it is unknown whether they had existing medical issues that could have contributed to their deaths. Full reports from the coroner's office on cause of death are pending.
3. Heat Alert
If you're a fan of the desert heat you may want to jump on a plane and head to Las Vegas this week because there's going to be plenty of it. Forecasters are predicting this may be the hottest week of the year with temperatures expected to hit 111 and be close to that throughout the entire Fourth of July holiday weekend. Keep in mind that temperature is the official one, recorded at the airport. It often gets hotter than that along the concrete jungle of The Strip. Check out the Summer Survival Guide I did in the Weekly Column a few weeks ago.
2. More Money Wagered in May
The sound of relief you hear is coming from Las Vegas casino operators who are rolling in the dough after a surprising, substantial uptick in gaming revenue in May. The casinos in Nevada took in just over $970 million with those on The Strip accounting for $841 million of that total. Both figures are more than 8% higher than May of 2013. Baccarat seemed to be fueling the bulk of the increase while two big events - a boxing match and the Kentucky Derby - are what drew a lot of gamblers to town during the month. Read more about Gaming in Las Vegas.
1. SLS Opening Week Room Rates
The SLS Las Vegas is readying for its August 23rd debut and now that the announcement hype has worn off we're getting a better idea of what room rates will be like. I checked late last week and found their standard Story King room running at $239 for the first night but then $109 for each of the weekdays through the 27th. Labor Day weekend is more expensive, unsurprisingly, with rates going for $254 on Friday, $359 on Saturday, and $269 on Sunday. Then it drops back down to $109 on Monday. If you were to stay the entire week it would work out to an average of about $180 per night. The larger rooms are more expensive of course but not by a lot - their World Superior King on a high floor is about $20 more expensive per night. Read more about the SLS Las Vegas.
Fourth of July Fireworks in Vegas
Looking for something to on Independence Day? Well, there are still plenty of rooms available in Las Vegas and there will be plenty of fireworks for your amusement in multiple locations around town.
With the 4th falling on a Friday this year, rates are high for the three-day weekend but not outrageously so. Rooms on The Strip are available at places like Flamingo for $132 on Thursday the 3rd, $245 on Friday the 4th, and $178 on Saturday the 5th; Bally's for $90, $281, and $180 respectively; Planet Hollywood for $90, $244, and $243; Luxor for $59, $239, and $160; and Bellagio for $159, $299, and $269. Those rates are not significantly higher than normal - in fact, the following weekend at Bellagio rooms are well north of $300 for Friday and Saturday nights.
So you've got your room, now where are you going to see some pyrotechnics?
Caesars Palace will have a fireworks show starting at around 9pm. It will be viewable from in front of the resort, nearby hotels, and from the High Roller Observation Wheel across the street.
Speaking of which, a second Caesars fireworks show will start at 9:30pm, launching from the parking lot behind the High Roller. You probably won't be able to see much of that one from The Strip with the big buildings in the way but if you go down to the end of The Linq shopping complex you will be able to get a prime viewing spot.
If you want a more bird's eye view, you can get a ticket on the High Roller for $50 during the fireworks shows.
Mandalay Bay will have a 9pm show over their beach with a concert by local band Phoenix. You will be able to see the fireworks from The Strip but if you want the best views you can get a ticket to the concert, which includes admittance to the Mandalay Bay Beach, for $20.
The Stratosphere is also having a party and concert from popular local singing group Zowie Bowie on the hotel's pool deck and fireworks at around 9pm. Tickets to the pool party are only $10 or you can pay $28 to go up in the tower for a sky-high viewing opportunity.
Life is Beautiful Festival 2014 Lineup & Tickets
Last year's inaugural Life is Beautiful Festival was a huge success, with over 60,000 people attending the weekend event that took over 15 blocks of Downtown Las Vegas with music, food, arts, and learning programs. This year the festival is back and its going to be even bigger, expanding to three days and including some marquee names on the stages and kitchens.
An eclectic lineup of nearly 70 internationally established and emerging bands on four outdoor stages, includes Kanye West, Foo Fighters, OutKast, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex, Lionel Richie, The Flaming Lips, The Weeknd, Girl Talk, Alt-J, The Roots, Broken Bells, TV on the Radio , A-Trak, Kacey Musgraves, Fitz & The Tantrums, Phantogram, The Head and The Heart, Panic! At The Disco, Matt & Kim, Neon Trees, Jenny Lewis, G-Eazy, OK Go, Tycho, Mayer Hawthorne, Switchfoot, tune-yards, MS MR, RAC, Holy Ghost!, Dizzy Wright, St. Lucia, Trampled By Turtles, Galantis, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Ryan Hemsworth, DJ Mustard, Vintage Trouble, J. Roddy Walston and The Business, The Orwells, Asgeir, M4SONIC, Sleeper Agent, The Preatures, DJ Cassidy, MisterWives, ASTR, holychild, Night Terrors of 1927, Nostalghia, Catfish and The Bottlemen, Paper Route, Rusty Maples, Moksha, Ekoh, Sabriel, American Cream, Rabbit! and more, plus a special performance from The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil with members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic orchestra.
Over on the food side, Life is Beautiful's culinary programming will feature its popular Culinary Village experience - this time multiplied and integrated more seamlessly into the overall festival footprint - and will feature the best local restaurants that Las Vegas has to offer as well as curated, handcrafted pairings of beer, wine, and spirits from some of the world's most distinguished mixologists, wine makers, and brewers. They will also be reprising the intimate Chefs On Stage demonstrations where guests can get an up-close and personal look at chefs' techniques and inspirations.
The lineup of culinary talent participating in this year's festival includes Giada De Laurentiis (Giada), José Andrés (minibar by José Andrés), Cat Cora (Co-Founder of Chefs for Humanity), Bruce Bromberg and Eric Bromberg (Blue Ribbon, Brooklyn Bowl), Scott Conant (Scarpetta), Hubert Keller (Fleur by Hubert Keller), Nancy Silverton (Mozza Restaurant Group), Spike Mendelsohn (Good Stuff Eatery), Marc Forgione (Restaurant Marc Forgione, American Cut), Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto NYC, Adele's Nashville), Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes), Rick Moonen (RM Seafood, Rx Boiler Room), Kim Canteenwalla (Honey Salt, Buddy V's, Made.LV), Jet Tila (Kuma Snow Cream, Pakpao Thai), Donald Link (Cochon, Herbsaint, Butcher, Peche), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill Restaurants & Truck), Susan Feniger (Border Grill Restaurants & Truck), Larry Forgione (Conservatory at Greystone, Culinary Institute of America), Frankie Pellegrino Jr. (Rao's Restaurant Group), Shawn McClain (Sage and FIVE50 Pizza Bar at Aria), Sam Marvin (Echo & Rig), Bryan Forgione (Buddy V's), Mike Minor (TruckUBarbeque), Madison Cowan (Madison Cowan LLC), and more.
The lineups for the Arts and Learning portions of the program will be announced later this summer.
Tickets are on sale now at lifeisbeautiful.com.
The Best Ways to Get Around Vegas
Congratulations - you survived TSA searches, a long flight with bad food and no legroom, and a baggage claim that bears a striking resemblance to Thunderdome.
Now you have to get to your hotel and then get around the city after that, so what's the best way to get from point A to point B in Las Vegas? Here are some tips on how to get around town.
I've said it before and I'll say it again... if you are planning on spending any significant amount of time in Vegas (more than 1 or 2 days) then you absolutely should rent a car. Yes, traffic in this city is a pain, but that's no different than in any other major city, and the advantages are legion.
If you're planning on doing any exploring of the city, you'll have a much easier time with a rental car and in the long run will probably save yourself some money over taking cabs everywhere. Parking, both self and valet, is free and plentiful at every major hotel on The Strip (and most Downtown) and attraction that you'll want to visit. Read more about car rentals.
But if you are dead set against renting a car, there are other ways to get around. Just outside the baggage claim area is where you can grab a cab or a shuttle bus to The Strip. Don't worry about calling in advance - they are always there, although at peak times there may be a line to get transportation. Unfortunately there's no way around that.
Cabs are also usually in plentiful supply no matter where you go - certainly at every hotel and near most off-Strip restaurants and major attractions. Hailing a cab here is easier than it is in New York City, land of a million cabs.
They aren't cheap - in fact, cabs in Las Vegas are among the most expensive in the nation with a $3.30 fee just to get the car moving and $2.60 per mile after that. An average cab ride will start at around $15-$20 to get anywhere that is too far to walk and can go upwards of $30 if you are heading Downtown or to the far-flung attractions around the city. For those kinds of rates you could have gotten a really nice rental car and cruised The Strip in style.
For getting around The Strip you have four options: drive yourself if you have a car, cab it, walk it, or take public transportation. We've already covered cars and cabs so let's talk about the other options.
The Las Vegas Monorail connects MGM Grand with The SLS Las Vegas and stops at Paris & Bally's, The Flamingo, Harrah's & The Quad, the Convention Center, and LVH: Las Vegas Hotel in between. It's convenient if you are going where it goes but not so much if your final destination is somewhere off the route. Read more about the monorail.
Another public transportation option is to use the city bus service. The Deuce is a double-decker bus that trolls The Strip from Downtown Las Vegas all the way out to the Las Vegas Outlet mall, with stops at every major hotel along the way. Read more about city buses here.
Several off-Strip hotels also have shuttle buses that run to their properties. If you're interested in visiting a specific place, check their website or call to see if they have shuttle service.
Nightlife Review: Vesper
People like to drink in Vegas. Well, they like to drink just about anywhere, but Vegas seems to hold sway over many that may rarely pick up a cocktail in their normal lives but do it a LOT in Sin City. For most, though, their idea of a drink is rarely more fancy than a giant souvenir drink cup full of beer or those pre-mixed margaritas.
Vesper wants to change that attitude and if you let them, they just may be able to do it.
The casual space is The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' version of a lobby bar, located just adjacent to the check in desks, partially under escalators up to the buffet, and next door to the main casino. It should come as no surprise, then, that this is not exactly the place for quiet reflection - it's loud; almost hectically so, with lots of people walking by, talking, and gambling.
Like pretty much everything at The Cosmo, this bar is gorgeous, all shades of white with intricate crystal and glass fixtures everywhere. It's elegant but not stuffy, modern but not pretentious. There are seats at the main bar and casual groupings of furniture spread around so there are plenty of places to relax, although I recommend the big banquette-style booths toward the back. It's still loud back there but not as loud, perhaps.
The bar is named after the classic martini that James Bond drinks and their specialty is reinventions of classic cocktails - think Manhattan, Gin Fizz, Bloody Mary, and the like. They also have new and original concoctions of just about every type, barrel-aged cocktails, and a full bar to mix up whatever you may be itching for. I was there with a large group of people, many of whom are cocktail snobs (but in a good way), and we sampled several of their signature drinks and couldn't find a bum note in the bunch. These are crafted cocktails, using the best alcohol and ingredients, and the attention to detail is obvious.
Prices are typically high, with their specialty drinks running $12-$18. Service is as finely crafted as this drinks, although be warned that these are not the kinds of things that are made quickly so order your next round well before you finish the one you are working on so you won't have a gap.
Las Vegas History: The Frontier
The Frontier was one of the longest continually operating hotel casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, lasting for over 60 years from its debut in 1941. But in a way, its history actually started more than a decade earlier.
Out in the middle of the desert along a desolate stretch of Highway 91, miles from the glittering lights of Fremont Street, a small private nightclub called Club Pair O'Dice first opened its doors in 1930. It had a restaurant, a stage for live bands, a dance floor, a bar, and a small casino with a few gaming tables. Those last two features are noteworthy because at the time both were illegal - the sale of alcohol was banned under prohibition and gambling had been illegal in Nevada for twenty years.
But by 1930, both activities were rampant throughout Las Vegas, usually barely concealed from law officials who knew it was happening and either didn't care or were finding a way to profit from it themselves.
When gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, the club had a grand re-opening on July 4th as a public nightclub. Two years later, when prohibition ended, they brought alcohol sales out into the open.
The establishment had many names over the next decade including Club Ambassador and the 91 Club.
Texas businessman R.E. Griffith bought the land in 1941 after seeing the El Rancho, the new resort casino that had opened up the street that year. Griffith, who made a fortune owning and operating movie theaters throughout the Midwest and South, wanted to build a rival to El Rancho and did so by creating a near copy of it.
Both hotels had western themes, both had big pools that faced the highway (designed to lure weary travelers off the road), both had casinos, bars, lounges, a buffet, restaurants, and a showroom.
But Griffith's hotel took the western theme even further by making the property look like an Old West town, with a rambling facade of buildings evoking a pioneer settlement. It even had a rodeo arena (that later became a race track) and partnerships with local dude ranches so the guests could go horseback riding. A western themed wedding chapel called The Little Church of the West was located on north side of the property.
The original building that housed Club 91 was incorporated into the new construction.
He named it Hotel Last Frontier. Its 105 rooms opened to the public on October 30, 1942.
Griffith died in 1943 and ownership of the hotel transferred to his nephew, William Moore who helped design the property. Moore brought in more investors and began expanding the property.
In 1947 the Last Frontier Village was added on the north side of the property. It featured a street scene partially made up of authentic pioneer era buildings that were moved on to the property, a steam train, Conestoga wagons, vintage autos, and a collection of artifacts in a museum. A children's play area featured miniature train rides and a carousel while a playhouse featured daily shows.
It's primary purpose at first was to create a tourist attraction with stores and the like but in 1950 they added gaming with the Golden Slipper Gambling Hall. That later became the Silver Slipper, famed for its giant rotating neon sign in the shape of a high-heel shoe.
Under the new ownership, the hotel was renamed the New Frontier in 1953 and a major renovation and expansion got underway. This was in response to the Desert Inn, which was doing gangbuster business right across the street since it opened three years earlier. They basically built an entirely new hotel just north of the existing one, in between it and the Frontier Village. It had a more modern take on the western theme, mixing frontier era cues with jet age styling. The construction was so extensive that in 1954 it required moving the Little Church of the West to the south side of the property.
The new section of the resort had new rooms, showrooms, restaurants, bars, and additional casino space.
Over the years, multiple people invested in the hotel and the ownership became a tangled web. This came to a head when a series of lawsuits between the presumed owners and investigations by the gaming officials eventually resulted in the casino portion of the property shutting down in late 1957. By the fall of 1958, desperate for a resolution, the various owners agreed to sell the property to a smaller group that was led by Warren Bayley, who owned the Hacienda hotel down the street.
The casino finally reopened in April of 1959.
One of The New Frontier's "star moments" happened at the Little Church of the West when Elvis and Ann-Margret married there in 1963 for a scene in "Viva Las Vegas."
The hotel changed hands two more times in 1965, first being sold to an insurance company Bankers Life. In 1967 it transferred to a new group of owners that included none other than Steve Wynn.
Under Wynn's direction, the original part of the hotel was demolished and construction began on a new 650 room expansion. The newer New Frontier portion of the property remained.
Shortly after the group that included Wynn took over, allegations of mob influence were cast toward the other owners. Wynn denied knowledge that any of his partners had mafia ties. Eager to rid the city of organized crime, the federal government is believed to have convinced Howard Hughes - who often stayed at The Frontier when he visited Las Vegas - to buy the property. He dropped $14 million on the place in September of 1967 and promptly changed the name to simply The Frontier.
The new portion of the resort opened in 1968 and included what was billed as the largest pool deck in the world.
After Hughes' death in 1976 the hotel was overseen by his company, The Summa Corporation.
The southern part of the land was sold in 1979 to a group of investors who wanted to build the Fashion Show Mall. The project threatened The Little Church of the West but it was rescued by the owner of the Hacienda who had it moved to the grounds of that hotel. Parenthetically, it was moved in 1996 when the Hacienda closed to its current location across the street from Mandalay Bay.
In 1981 a new show debuted called Beyond Belief. It featured the Las Vegas debut of a magic duo who called themselves Siegfried & Roy.
The hotel changed hands again in 1988 when it was purchased by Margaret Elardi, former co-owner of the Pioneer Club in Downtown Las Vegas, and one of the only women to have owned a Las Vegas casino.
Elardi went on a cost-cutting rampage, closing and tearing down the Frontier Village, shuttering the showroom and making Siegfried and Roy disappear, and removing any extra frills in an effort to go after the low-budget gambler. The only major addition that happened under her guidance was the addition of the 16-story Atrium tower, which debuted in 1989. The only reason that made it through is because it was already under construction when she bought the hotel.
Her biggest claim to infamy, however, was attempting to bust the unions that were firmly entrenched at the hotel. Elardi went on a campaign of slashing wages, reducing or eliminating benefits, and stripping pension plans. 550 workers from four different unions walked off the job in September 1991 and started what would wind up being the second longest strike in US history, lasting more than 6 1/2 years. The hotel and casino remained open and the picket lines and union information booths in front of the property became as an accepted part of the scenery as the neon signs that lined The Strip.
The only thing that ended the strike was another transfer of ownership when Wichita hotelier and businessman Phil Ruffin bought the property for $167 million. His first order of business was to settle the labor dispute and put all of the employees back to work.
His next step was to dump another $20 million into a renovation of the hotel, which had become a low-rent dump in the last decade under Elardi's ownership. Rooms and the casino were renovated, new entertainment and restaurants - including a branch of the famed Gilley's nightclub - were added, and the entire property was renamed for a fourth time, going back to its 1950s era moniker The New Frontier.
In 2000, Ruffin announced plans to close the hotel and build a San Francisco themed resort called City by the Bay. Money issues and a lawsuit from a competitor saying that Ruffin stole the idea conspired to keep the thing from every getting built.
Other redevelopment ideas were floated including a 2006 plan to build a new resort called Montreaux, based on the Switzerland city and home to the Montreaux jazz festival, and a partnership with Donald Trump, who was building a condominium hotel on the back of the Frontier property.
But instead of redoing the property himself, Ruffin wound up selling it in 2007 to and Israeli based company Elad Group for $1.2 billion. It is, to date, the most expensive land sale (in terms of dollars per acre) in Las Vegas history.
Elad planned to build a $5 billion version of New York's famed Plaza hotel, another property they owned. The plan was to have more than 5,000 rooms in several towers, the biggest casino in Las Vegas, a huge mall, and more.
The New Frontier closed on July 16, 2007 and was imploded on November 13, 2007.
A ceremonial groundbreaking The Plaza was held in early 2008 but shortly afterward the global economy went into a tailspin and construction never started. After years of insisting they would still build the project when the economy improved Elad finally admitted in 2012 that it was dead and they were looking for buyers for the land. It remains an empty lot today.