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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
July 21, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Drinking Control Ban Expands At Fremont Street
Still struggling to control the often overly boisterous crowds on the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas, the city council has expanded controls aimed at cutting down on excessive drinking. A few weeks ago they instituted an ordinance the banned drinking alcohol from bottles or cans - only plastic cups are allowed now. The point was to cut down on people walking into liquor stores, buying a six-pack, and drinking it while they wandered around under the big canopy. Problem is people were still doing that, they were just taking it out of the store and pouring it into cups. So now a new ban forbids anyone from even opening a bag containing package liquor (bottles and cans) on Fremont Street. Do it and the cops can take your booze! Read more about The Fremont Street Experience.
9. Andiamo Wins Favorite Steakhouse Award
Andiamo Steakhouse at The D Las Vegas has been racking up the accolades since it opened last year, including a fantastic review from me. But now it has gotten the support of the people, specifically the readers of the Las Vegas edition of Eater.com who have picked it as the best steakhouse in the city. This is a town with some fierce competition in that category so getting picked is a pretty big deal. Read the full review of Andiamo Steakhouse.
8. Rock Band Kiss Confirms Hard Rock Residency
As had been rumored, the classic hard rock band Kiss has announced a short-term residency to play at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. The band will do nine shows between November 5 and 23 and marks the first time they have done an extended series of concerts like this in one location during the career. Tickets are on sale now on AXS.com or through the Hard Rock Hotel website and run from $50 to $255. Read more about The Hard Rock Hotel.
7. Delano Gets New Sign
The former THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is now sporting a new sign touting its new name, The Delano Las Vegas. Workers hoisted the massive letters into place last week as you can see from the photo. The tower is getting a major makeover with all new rooms, new public areas, new restaurants, a top floor night club, and more all set to formally debut later this year. Read more about The Delano.
6. Olivia-Newton John Staying in Vegas Into 2015
Australian pop icon Olivia Newton-John's residency at The Flamingo has been extended into January of 2015. When the "Grease" and "Physical" singer's shows first started they talked about a long-term residency but were only offering dates through August. Now they have added October, November, December, and January Dates including a show on New Year's Eve. I'm hoping to catch the show in a few weeks and I'll let you know what I think. Read more about The Flamingo.
5. Two Suicides Tied to Vegas Hotels in One Week
Suicides at Las Vegas hotels are relatively rare, but last week two occurred at two different hotels. On Monday, July 7, 26 year old James Tyler Kreider of Placentia, California jumped from the roof of one of the room towers at Circus Circus and fell to his death. Then on Wednesday, July 9, 30 year old Marvin Ray Reddick Jr. of Las Vegas shot himself in the parking garage at The Silverton. In both instances there were either witnesses and/or hotel security cameras, allowing the police to quickly rule out foul play in both instances.
4. Gambling Ring Busted at Caesars
Because apparently there aren't enough opportunities to gamble in Las Vegas, an illegal gambling ring had been operating primarily out of Caesars Palace but has now been broken up by authorities. Malaysian "businessman" Paul Phua was allegedly running the ring, which was taking bets on the World Cup soccer matches. Although it is unknown exactly how much money flowed through the scheme, a similar illegal betting operation in Macau China was estimated to have taken more than $645 million is bets. Phau, who is a regular at high stakes poker tables and events, is believed to be a high-ranking member of a Chinese mafia organization. Caesars Palace was not implicated in the illegal activity - apparently they were the ones who contacted authorities when they discovered what was going on in their hotel. Read more about Caesars Palace.
3. Giada's Now Serving Lunch
Giada De Laurentiis' restaurant at The Cromwell has been a smashing success so far for its dinner service. Currently, there's about a 10 day wait for a reservation and then only at less than peak hours. If you want a 7pm reservation, you're looking at about 3 weeks before you'll be able to get a table (although I have heard that higher level Total Rewards members can finagle reservations sooner through the Players Club). Now the restaurant is expanding their service - starting last week, Giada's is serving lunch daily from 11am to 3:30pm. You can expect those reservations to go quickly as well. I'm hoping to eat there in a few weeks and will let you know what I think. Read more about The Cromwell.
2. Shooting at Fashion Show Mall
There's a bit of mystery surrounding a shooting at the Fashion Show Mall this week that left one person injured and sent hundreds of panicked shoppers fleeing. The incident happened on Tuesday, July 15 when what is reported as an argument between several young men escalated into gunfire. One person was hit in the neck but was able to run out of the mall and get himself to the hospital. As of this writing, he is refusing to give his name or any other information about shooting to the police and no suspects in the shooting have been apprehended. The mall was packed with people when the shooting occurred and a brief panic ensued in the aftermath but was quickly controlled. The mall's operations were back to normal the next day. Read more about the Fashion Show Mall.
1. Siegfried & Roy Debut New Tiger Cubs
The Siegfried & Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage has some new residents and they are so cute that you just might keel over from the adorableness of the whole thing. A trio of 12-week old white lion cubs arrived at the facility last week from South Africa and have been given the names Freedom, Timba-Masai, and Madiba. Illusionists Siegfried and Roy chose the names in honor of various bits of South African heritage. The three brothers will be available for visitors (so to speak) from noon until 4pm daily. Read more about the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.
Las Vegas Becoming Music Fest Capital
Another big music festival is being planned for Las Vegas, adding to a roster that is rapidly turning the city into one of the premiere destinations for the type of multi-day events that lure tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of people to town.
The latest addition is the Route 91 Harvest festival, a country music extravaganza that will be held in the events ground across the street from Mandalay Bay. If you are asking yourself "what events ground?" you can be forgiven because really it's a parking lot. Still, it has been used for other concerts and events and will be transformed into a fair ground for the 3-day festival scheduled to run October 3-5.
Some of the biggest names in country music will be appearing with stars like Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yokam, and more already confirmed and additional artists expected to be added in the coming months. The event will feature all of the usual festival goodies including food, drink, games, and more. Tickets are on sale now and start at $169. You can find out more at rt91harvest.com.
This brings the number of big music festivals in Vegas to four and is the second to be scheduled for October.
The Life is Beautiful Festival takes over Downtown Las Vegas at the end of October. Now entering its second year, the music, food, arts, and culture event will span three days and has already confirmed Kanye West, Foo Fighters, OutKast, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex, and Lionel Richie as just a few of the dozens of acts to be playing multiple stages. Get more information at LifeIsBeautiful.com.
The inaugural Rock in Rio US festival will be happening in Las Vegas across two weeks in May, 2015. It's the first stateside version of a series of festivals that have dominated the music scene in Brazil, Spain, and Portugal for years. Past events in those countries have drawn upwards of 700,000 people for fests that have seen everyone from The Rolling Stones to Justin Timberlake as headliners. No acts have been confirmed for the US shows yet but expect to see lots of big names.
That event is going to happen on a new festival grounds being built across the street from the upcoming SLS Hotel at the corner of Sahara and The Strip. Dubbed Rock City, the permanent outdoor facility will include multiple stages, faux street scenes, zip lines, food and merchandise vendor areas, bathrooms, and more.
Get more info at RockInRio.com.
And of course the 800-pound gorilla of fests is the Electric Daisy Carnival, held in Las Vegas every June. The gathering of the world's best and biggest electronic dance music artists is now the biggest event of the year in the city in terms of the number of people it brings to town. Nearly 400,000 folks got tickets to the three-day festival this year at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and as many as 100,000 more were believed to have come to town to party in the city's high-energy nightclubs. Next year's event is expected to be even bigger. Get more information at ElectricDaisyCarnival.com.
Resort Fee Update
It's been a little more than six months since I have taken a look at resort fees across the city so I recently did a full scan of all of the major hotels to get an update on the situation. I've got both good news and bad news to report.
The good news is that, for the most part, the resort fee situation in town is stable. There are a handful of hotels that have raised their fees by a few bucks but most are steady and all of the hotels that were fee free remain that way.
I also am categorizing it as good news that most hotels are being very up front about the fees they charge and what they include. That's a big change from even a year ago when the properties were burying the fees in fine print and not including them in reservation totals, often resulting in unpleasant surprises at check out. There are a couple of hotels that still do this but most are putting them in big, bold numbers and often in multiple places so you can't miss it.
The bad news is that no one is lowering resort fees or getting rid of them either. Worse, I have heard rumblings that we may see another wave of fee increases later this year and/or into early 2015. Will someone break the current $25 plus tax high water mark that many of the big hotels are charging? We'll see.
In the category of increases, the Downtown Grand is the worst offender, raising their resort fee from $11 to $18 per night but not adding any new inclusions for the extra $7.
The Stratosphere has raised their resort fee by $3, from $14.99 to $17.99 per night. Again, you don't get anything more for the fee than you did before, although the Strat's is one of the best values in the fee category since it includes daily Stratosphere Tower admission for up to four people. They normally charge $20 for each admission so that makes it feel a little better than just getting Wi-Fi and boarding passes.
Sister hotels and neighbors Paris Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood have each raised their fees by $2, up to $22 from $20 before. This brings them inline with corporate sibling Rio Suites and leaves The Flamingo and Linq both at $20 (and Harrah's at $18). I'd expect most of the latter to get increases up to match the $22 rate sooner rather than later.
Parenthetically, the new SLS Las Vegas hotel will be launching with a $25 per night (plus tax) resort fee, which is unsurprising.
There is no word yet whether the changeovers happening with hotels that are now known as The Westgate (formerly LVH), the Delano (formerly THEhotel), and Linq (formerly Quad, formerly Imperial Palace) will affect their current fees.
You can get a full rundown of all the resort fees and their inclusions on the Resort Fees page or you can see the fees on each hotel's detail page.
Celebrating National Dance Day in Vegas
Saturday, July 26, is National Dance Day, a celebration of the art form and a way to encourage people to get active as a way to stay fit and fight obesity. It was founded by Nigel Lythgoe, producer and judge on TV's "So You Think You Can Dance" and co-founder of the Dizzy Feet Foundation, a group that works to improve dance education in schools.
Each year on National Dance Day a series of events both big and small happen around the country including official gatherings at Grant Park in Los Angeles, at Lincoln Center in New York, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC that are like the biggest flash mobs ever. This year a new event has been added to the official roster on the plaza in front of the Monte Carlo. For more information visit the Dizzy Feet Foundation website.
In honor of National Dance, I thought I'd offer up my picks for the best examples of dance you'll find on the stage of Las Vegas:
The choreography is iconic, from the zombie shuffle of "Thriller" to the moonwalk of "Billie Jean" and beyond and it is executed with such precision here that it is almost breathtaking. Bonus points for dancer who does an awe-inspiring animation to a mash-up of "Human Nature" and "Never Can Say Goodbye." He's worth the price of a ticket alone. Read the full review of Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil.
This rollicking look at Las Vegas entertainment through the years puts their dancers center stage, doing everything from the jitterbug to disco to classic showgirl struts and more. It's some of the best choreography and best dancing you'll see anywhere in Las Vegas. Read the full review of Vegas! The Show.
The hip-hop dance crew's shtick is that they are all covered from head to toe, including masks and hats, so you can't differentiate between them. In lesser hands that might lead to a boring blandness but with these guys it allows you to focus on the amazing popping, locking, animation, and b-boy moves they blaze up the stage with. Read the full review of Jabbawockeez.
Yes, it's mostly water and aerial acrobatics, but the show also features some incredible ballroom dance interludes made all the more amazing for the fact that the people doing them are standing in several inches of water. This is championship level stuff done in a sexy, modern way that gives a terrific boost to an already terrific show. Read the full review of Le Rêve.
Okay, not Britney herself necessarily - although she acquits herself just fine, thank you very much - but the dancers behind, beside, and sometimes in front of Ms. Spears are phenomenal, world-class artists. The intricate, nearly non-stop choreography is modern, evocative, and, to be honest, more fun to watch than Brit lip-synching her way through her show. Read the full review of Britney Spears.
In my review of this show I whine a little bit about the amount of dance versus the amount of classic Cirque shenanigans - and I stand by that. But that doesn't change the fact the movement and the movers here are fantastic, helping to bring some classic music to life in a way that probably wouldn't be as interesting with yet another twirling someone above the stage. Read the full review of LOVE by Cirque du Soleil.
Missing You: My Favorite Things in Vegas That Aren't There Anymore
The news last week that Vegas Nocturne was closing nearly made me want to quit writing about Las Vegas. The fact that such an amazing, original, and unforgettable evening of entertainment like it was could not survive in a town where mindless impersonator shows, inane magic acts, and past-their-prime pop stars thrive for years seemed unfair.
There are rumors that the show will come back in another venue but it's not going to be the same. It'll still be good, I'm sure, but it really was a "full package" experience, with the show woven into the food and drinks at Rose.Rabbit.Lie (which remains open, by the way).
Of course this is not the first time something I loved and championed closed. Some managed to last a for awhile and other flamed out quickly, but here are some of my favorite things that aren't in Las Vegas anymore.
Caesars Magical Empire
Based off the Magic Castle in Hollywood, this attraction at Caesars Palace was a collection of different experiences including some magic shows, dinner, bars (including one with a "haunted piano" named Invisibella), and much more. It ran from 1996 to 2002 when it was replaced by the recently shuttered nightclub Pure.
Casino Legends Hall of Fame
For years, The Tropicana had this terrific little museum dedicated the history of Las Vegas including gaming memorabilia, showgirl costumes, photographs, and more. It was at the hotel from 1999 through 2005.
This one is a no-brainer. Liberace's legacy may be fading with time but there were few people who were so uniquely "Vegas" than this outrageous, flamboyant entertainer. The Vegas museum dedicated to his legacy was kitsch, camp, and silly Vegas fun in all the best ways. It ran for more than thirty years, from 1979 to 2010.
Treasure Island Pirate Battle
Before the (now closed) Sirens came along and ruined everything, the Pirate Battle at Treasure Island was one of the biggest, silliest, and most mindlessly entertaining free attractions in Vegas. It ran from the hotel's opening in 1993 through 2003 when it was replaced by the similarly themed but much less entertaining Sirens of TI show, which shut down late last year.
Magic acts used to rule the Vegas showrooms and few of them were as entertaining as Burton's blend of big illusions and small, up-close magic that played for years at Monte Carlo. He was funny, earthy, and full of an aw-shucks good nature that kept his eye-popping illusions grounded and relatable for audiences of all ages and sophistications. The show ran from 1994 through 2010 when Burton retired.
Second City Improv
The famed improvisation group that started the career of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and more had a company in Vegas at The Flamingo for several years and their deliriously fast paced, off-the-cuff sketches were always among the most entertaining experiences in town. The show ran in various incarnations from 2001 through 2008
Terry Fator's puppet ventriloquism at The Mirage owes a debt of gratitude to Ronn Lucas, whose daytime puppet show at The Rio (and several other hotels) provided laugh-out-loud moments for all ages. His production was often much more entertaining than some of the big-budget night time shows that got all the attention. Lucas performed in Vegas for more than a decade at various Strip resorts until 2007.
The Divine Miss M's show at Caesars Palace only ran for two years but it was one of the best, most consistently entertaining headliner shows that Vegas has ever seen. Filled with music, comedy, showgirls, and mermaids, Midler took the kind of big-budget Vegas production that often takes itself too seriously and turned it on its head. The show ran from 2008 through 2010.
Nightclubs are a dime a dozen in this town so the unique and wholly interesting The Act at The Palazzo was a breath of fresh air. Turning the typical dance club into a outrageous theater experience was a stroke of genius but apparently they took some of their boundary pushing performances a bit too far and the racy club closed after less than a year in business.
I named this my favorite restaurant in Vegas one year. It was located on the far west side of the city, most of you probably never had a chance to visit so you'll never know what you missed, which was, quite simply, some of the best Pan-Asian cuisine I've ever tasted.
Tropicana Chicken Challenge
If you don't understand why I miss the chicken that played tic-tac-toe against humans at The Tropicana then you just don't know me at all.
One of the shortest runs of a big budget musical in Vegas, Hairspray only managed to make it for about four months at Luxor in 2006. I got to see it when original Broadway star Harvey Fierstein was doing it and it was one of the best nights at the theater I've ever had.
The Tony-Award Winning musical based on "Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail" was the type of entertainment that should've worked in Vegas. Light, silly, laugh-out loud funny, and not at all cerebral. Yet it closed after a little more than a year at Wynn Las Vegas in 2008.
This show never should've worked in Vegas - another Tony-Award winning musical that was sort of "Sesame Street" meets "Rent" complete with puppets that cussed, watched porn, and had sex. It was, simply, too brilliant for the short-attention spans of most people who come to this city. It ran for only nine months at Wynn Las Vegas until May of 2006.
Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas
This hotel still exists but now it is a Hilton. I don't think it's going too far to say that if it was still a Ritz-Carlton, it would still be on my Top 10 hotel lists every year. Except for its location roughly a bazillion miles away from the things that most tourists would want to do, it was a truly perfect hotel, blending stellar service with true luxury in a way that most of the 3,000 room "resorts" on The Strip can only dream of. It closed in 2010.
I've had dreams about this place that used to be at Mandalay Bay. Seriously. I've had a lot of chocolate in my life but the lovingly hand-made stuff they served here - specifically the milk-chocolate covered caramels - was mind blowing; the best I ever tasted. This was another place I would visit every single time I was in Vegas and usually the box I would buy would be half empty by the time I got home. It closed several years ago when the owner had health issues and Vegas has been a bit less wonderful ever since. It shuttered in 2009.
This was one of the first steakhouses I visited in Las Vegas and I wound up going back often, partly for its amazing, high-quality beef; partly for its unique starters like the creamy onion soup served in a giant, hollowed out onion; and partly for the really cool, up-close view of The Strip from its second floor perch at Harrah's. Other steakhouses came along and stole my heart (and stomach) and it closed in 2012, but I will always have fond memories of the meals I had here.
Attending one of Brooks' stripped down concerts was like getting a master class in the art of music. The country legend took the stage with just a guitar and ripped his way through the history of not only his hits but others as well, as he showed how genres from country to Motown influenced his style. He has been, by far, the best headliner the Vegas Strip has seen in the last 15 years. The show ran for three years at Wynn Las Vegas through 2012.
Siegfried & Roy
So yes, by the end their show had become somewhat of a pleasant diversion rather than a must-see experience, but it was still packed at every performance and would probably still be today if Roy hadn't had that little disagreement with one of the white tigers. And historically, few shows have had as great an impact. The multi-million dollar extravaganza helped to usher in the Cirque du Soleil era and forever changed the way we viewed Las Vegas entertainment. Their show at The Mirage ended in 2003.
Las Vegas History: El Rancho (1982)
There have only been a few examples of more than one casino having the same name - dual Castaways comes to mind - but one of the most famous is this, the second major resort on The Strip to be called El Rancho.
The first, of course, was literally the first resort on what would eventually become The Strip. That El Rancho opened in 1941 and burned down in 1960.
Although this El Rancho is officially dated 1982, its origins go all the way back to 1948. It was in that year that a casino resort called The Thunderbird opened. It carried that name all the way until 1977 when it was remodeled and renamed The Silverbird.
The hotel was purchased in 1981 by Ed Torres, who had co-owned The Aladdin for a time and was reputed to be closely connected to various organized crime figures. Torres remodeled the property again, adding a Spanish adobe style facade, and the next year relaunched it as El Rancho.
Torres expanded the property dramatically, adding a new room tower, a bowling alley, a 90,000 square-foot casino addition, and more.
Despite all of the revisions, the hotel suffered financially for most of its existence and by the time newer, fancier properties like The Mirage and Excalibur had opened in 1989 and 1990, El Rancho became an after-thought for most Vegas visitors.
The hotel closed on July 6, 1992, but its history would continue for years.
El Rancho became one of the Strip's biggest eyesores. Located right across the street from Circus Circus, the crumbling facade and dark buildings were a blight on the neighborhood.
Various owners over the next few years promised big things for the property including a country music themed resort (Countryland USA) and a space themed casino (Starship Orion). None of the plans ever came to pass and El Rancho remained a vacant derelict until October of 2000.
The property was purchased by the company that owned Turnberry Place, a complex of high-rise condo units on Paradise Road right behind El Rancho. Tired of their million-dollar residences looking down on an abandoned building, they bought the place and had it imploded on October 3, 2000. Green lawns were planted in its place, which remained until the land was sold in 2007 to a company intending to build a new $4 billion resort called Fontainebleau on the site.
That property broke ground in April of 2007 but sunk into bankruptcy in 2009. The partially constructed, 68-story building has been sitting abandoned ever since, taking over the mantle as The Strip's biggest eyesore from the very hotel it replaced.