MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
September 29, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Ronn Lucas at Suncoast
Ventriloquist Ronn Lucas used to host one of the best daytime shows in Las Vegas, a fun and family friendly set that featured a variety of his puppet friends such as Scorch the Dragon and Buffalo Billy. The good news is that Lucas is coming back to Vegas although the less good news is that it's only for two shows at the Suncoast on November 8 and 9. Tickets start at a remarkably cheap $16 and can be purchased through the suncoastcasino.com website. Read more about the Suncoast.
9. Downtown Retail & Residential Complex Delayed
The company that owns the Downtown Grand had big plans to build a shopping and condo complex across the street that would essentially surround The Mob Museum. In its original form it was to contain 95,000 square-feet of retail in a first phase and another 330,000 square feet of residential or office space. Construction on the was supposed to have started by now but they are citing a need for more time to get the proper permits and finalize plans so they asked for an extension from the city on deadlines for development. There is no word on when, exactly, construction will begin but the company says it is still committed to building the project. Read more about the Downtown Grand.
8. Lawsuit of the Week: MGM Resorts v. Pot Shop
Medical marijuana is coming to Nevada and there has been a cloud of concern from the heavily regulated casino companies about it. Now there's a lawsuit with MGM Resorts going after one of the local dispensaries that wants to set up shop as M'Life Wellness. You see, MGM Resorts players' club - the one that covers hotels like Bellagio, MGM Grand, Luxor, and more - is called M Life. I don't know... I think there might be a possibility for a really interesting new set of rewards. Diamond, Platinum, and Green level?
7. Rock Moves
Rock and Roll shows are in the news in Vegas with one staying and one moving. Rock of Ages, the Broadway musical featuring hair band hits of the 1980s, has been extended until the end of 2015 at the Venetian/Palazzo. Meanwhile Raiding the Rock Vault, the concert show that puts together various members of rock bands, closed suddenly at the Westgate but is reportedly going to reopen in November at the Tropicana. The latter had a disastrous attempt to re-stage "Mamma Mia!" the ABBA musical, which only lasted a few months but maybe rock music will do better for them then pop did. Read the full review of Rock of Ages.
6. Calvin Harris Dances in 2015 at Hakkasan
If you don't know who Calvin Harris is, you haven't been paying attention to music lately. The superstar DJ is one of the highest paid entertainers out there right now with hit songs, sold-out club dates, and more. He spins periodically at Hakkasan at MGM Grand but it was announced recently that he'll be hosting the biggest party of the year at the club on New Year's Eve. General admission tickets are $100 for women and $200 for men and that's just to get in the door. VIP tables will be going for tens of thousands of dollars that night. Read more about Hakkasan.
5. Absinthe Tour & Web Series
The outrageous Absinthe at Caesars Palace - one of my favorite shows in town - is aiming to dramatically expand its world domination by adding a touring version of the show, launching a new web series, and adding new acts to the Vegas edition. The latter includes tap dancing brothers Sean and John, last scene in Vegas Nocturne. The touring edition is in the works for 2015 and the Web Series starring the show's host The Gazillionaire and his assistant Penny Pibbets, debuted last week on YouTube. With cameos from Robin Leach and Neil Patrick Harris, it is just as profane and off kilter as you would expect a web series from this show to be. You can watch it (at your own risk) on YouTube youtube.com/spiegelworldtv and don't forget to read my review of Absinthe.
4. New Slots Debut
The big Global Gaming Expo is happening this week and that means all sorts of new slot machines are debuting. Coming soon to a casino floor near you will be: two different machines with an Ellen Degeneres theme - one called Dance Party Video and one called 12 Days of Giveaways; a Wonder Woman themed machine; and new machines showcasing the TV shows "Sons of Anarchy," "Mad Men," and "Friends." Most of these are multi-reel, penny video slots with all sorts of bonus rounds, integration of clips from the shows, and the usual (literal) bells and whistles.
3. Oldest Casino Sold
The Railroad Pass Casino is not one that most Vegas visitors ever see. It's located on Boulder Highway on the way to Lake Mead, about 10 miles south of Sunset Station and has about 11,000 square-feet of casino space, a few hundred slots and a handful of table games plus a small hotel a couple of restaurants, and that's about it. The thing that makes it special is that it is the nation's oldest continually operating casino, having first opened in 1931 to capitalize on traffic headed to the Boulder Dam construction site. The casion was owned for years by MGM Resorts but now has been sold to a local developer who plans to make some improvements but promises to keep the historic nature of the property in tact.
2. Cook E. Jarr Show Closed
Cook E. Jarr is one of those only-in-Vegas acts that you kind of have to see to believe. He is at once the epitome and parody of a sleazy lounge singer and part of the entertainment value has been wondering whether or not he is on the joke. He has been a fixture in Vegas for decades, performing at small hotel lounges up and down The Strip, most recently at Harrah's. His show there ended a few weeks ago and although there is talk of him coming back to another lounge in another location, for now Vegas is without a little bit of its cheesy magic. Read more about Harrah's Las Vegas.
1. Britney the Biggest in Vegas; Extends Through 2017
During the unveiling of her new lingerie line in London, pop princess Britney Spears confirmed rumors that she is extending her headline residency at Planet Hollywood through 2017. Originally booked for 100 shows through 2015, the entertainer's extravaganzas have been such a huge hit that she has become the top grossing concert act in town now that Celine is taking a break. In other words, get used to that massive building wrap of La Brit to be staring down at The Strip for quite some time. Read the full review of Britney Spears show.
Rock in Rio Announces First Acts
The inaugural Las Vegas version of Rock in Rio music festival will be held in May of 2015 and organizers have finally unveiled the first acts that have been confirmed for the shows. They include pop/country princess Taylor Swift, heavy metal heroes Metallica, pop gods No Doubt led by current "The Voice" judge Gwen Stefani, R&B superstar John Legend, and hard rockers Linkin Park and Deftones.
The folks behind the concerts say this is just the beginning and that the full festival, which is spread out across two weekends, will have dozens of marquee names once the lineup is rounded out. It's easy to believe them if their track record in other countries is any judge. The Rock in Rio concerts in Brazil, Spain, and Portugal are some of the biggest music festivals in the world, regularly drawing hundreds of thousands of people to multi-day events that feature some of the biggest names in pop, rock, country, and more. Past performers have included Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and many more.
The event will be held at a new festival grounds that are under construction on the land just opposite the new SLS Las Vegas hotel (formerly The Sahara. Originally the location of El Rancho, the first major resort to be built on what would eventually become the Las Vegas Strip, the 40-acre site has been empty since that hotel burned down in 1960. The new facility will feature multiple stages, streets with food and merchandise vendors, amusement rides like zip lines and a Ferris wheel, bathrooms, and more.
Tickets for the Rock in Rio festival are on sale now and cost $295 per weekend, which gets you in-and-out access to all of the concerts and the attractions. If you feel like a VIP experience, once is available for $495 per day and includes an open bar and food.
You can find out more at rockinrio.com.
Halloween in Las Vegas
Las Vegas can be a scary place all year round but during the Halloween season, the city pulls out all the stops to throw a few frights into the proceedings. Here are a few of the most noteworthy things to do this spooky season in Vegas.
Fright Dome at Circus Circus
The annual scary takeover of the Adventuredome at Circus Circus has six haunted houses this year including one based on the classic horror movie "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and others with zombies, killer clowns, and murderous hillbillies. They even have one that you have to go through completely alone (no hiding behind your friends as scary stuff leaps out at you). There are also creepy shows, horror movie screenings, "scare zones" (where random costumed performers will try to elicit a scream or two), and the rides running in the dark. It starts October 3 and runs through November 1. Tickets, which start at $35, are available at frightdome.com.
OktoberFrightFest at Fremont Street Experience & the Las Vegas Halloween Parade
Proving that Vegas has the best ideas ever, the Fremont Street Experience combines two of October's biggest events - Oktoberfest and Halloween - into one month-long OktoberFrightFest. Special Halloween themed shows will play on the Viva Vision light and sound canopy including seasonal songs like "Monster Mash" and "Time Warp" plus there will be free concerts, costume contests and more. It all leads up to the Las Vegas Halloween Parade on October 31st, which will wind around Downtown starting at 7pm - those in costumes can participate and potentially win prizes, those who aren't can watch. During all of this, various casinos along Fremont Street will be celebrating all things beer including the Golden Nugget's Beer Festival the weekend of October 10th. For more information on all of this, visit the Fremont Street Experience website, the Golden Nugget website, and thelasvegashalloweenparade.com.
Rocky Horror Picture Show at Bourbon Room
The camp classic Rocky Horror will be playing at the Bourbon Room at the Venetian on Halloween night, October 31, with a party running from 10pm until 4am. Everyone is encouraged to put on their best Frank-N-Furter or other RHPS costumes and take part in the traditional audience participation bits - including dancing the "Time Warp" - that have become iconic bits of Americana over the last few decades. Admission is free and there will be a $2,000 top prize for the best costume. Read more about the Bourbon Room
Henderson Zombie Run
The walking dead invade Henderson for the inaugural Zombie Run 5K and Family Fun Walk on October 25. Participants, who are encouraged to wear costumes, will use their brains (pun intended) to outsmart hungry zombies along the 3.1-mile course on Equestrian Trail. A shorter, zombie-free route will also be available for families. Afterwards, runners and walkers of all ages will enjoy a bounce house and Halloween-inspired activities at Equestrian Park South. Visit the city of Henderson's parks website for more info.
Many of the major attractions in Vegas also get "dressed up" for Halloween. Specifics and schedules vary but you can usually find some festivities at Springs Preserve, Titanic: The Exhibition, The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, and the Eiffel Tower Experience.
Of course Vegas doesn't really need an excuse to party but Halloween offers a really good one. October 31 falls on a Friday this year so you can expect some really wild events including Tiesto at Hakkasan Las Vegas and Nicky Romero at Light to name a couple. And don't forget about the Fantasy and Fetish Ball at the Hard Rock Hotel, the annual outrageous party that has been called on of the best events in the country.
Restaurant Review: Umami Burger
A few years ago if you wanted a burger in Vegas you either had to go to the hotel's usually boring 24-hour cafe or to the McDonald's in the food court. Now there is a plethora of options of burger joints, most of which turn the boring meat on a bun experience into something bigger, more extravagant, and usually more expensive. I have more than half a dozen burger-specific restaurants reviewed on Vegas4Visitors.com and there are probably another dozen or so that I haven't gotten to yet.
So why do we need Umami? Well, first, there's a reputation to consider. There are about two dozen outlets in California, New York, and Illinois and pretty much everywhere they go they get lots of "best," "greatest," and "most" accolades thrown at them. GQ Magazine named their creations "Burger of the Year" and they have generated an almost cult like following from burger devotees.
They do it by upping the quality level on all of their ingredients, from the house-ground premium steak to the trademarked special seasonings to the house-made condiments to the slightly sweet, lightly toasted bun on which they are served. Then they add all sorts of fun toppings with options including shitake mushrooms and caramelized onions; truffled aioli and truffle cheese; braised short ribs; bacon lardons and onion strings; roasted tomato and butter lettuce; and much, much more.
In Vegas at the SLS now, the restaurant has a bit of a split personality. The main room is all industrial chic, with exposed brick and ductwork, lots of wood, cozy booths, some tables, and a few couches that go along with the TVs all over the place. The latter is because the restaurant doubles as the casino's sports book so you can grab a burger and place a bet on the big game at the same time. There's also a big outdoor patio/beer garden that faces The Strip and has a full bar. There isn't much foot traffic on this end of The Strip right now so there isn't a lot to look at other than traffic, but the antler-style light fixtures above the tables are kinda cool.
I was tempted to start with the tempura onion rings but decided to go all potato, with an order of the "smushed" variety with roasted garlic aoli, and their "smothered" fries topped with braised short ribs and house gravy. Both were amazing but I'll take meat topped fries any day of the week because, well, if I have to explain why that's amazing then we have nothing more to talk about. They provided us with some of their special sauces to go with it, including a fiery habanero sauce that brought tears to my eyes.
We went for a couple of their burgers including the Royale, with more of the braised short ribs plus truffled aioli and truffle cheese - genius and delicious. The Manly Burger comes with beer cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, smoked-salt onion straws, house made ketchup, and mustard and was as hearty and satisfying as it sounds. We also sampled the Greenbird - a turkey patty with crushed avocado, green cheese, and sprouts. Calling that a burger is kind of an affront to real burgers, but it was darned good so it was hard to argue too much.
Just in case you want to continue the effrontery, they also have an Ahi tuna burger with sprouts, gingered carrots, and wasabi tartar sauce and a vegan version with lentils, mushrooms, cheddar, jalapenos, onion strings, and more. You could also do it without a bun or with portabella mushroom instead of meat, but at that point go get a salad and leave the rest of us alone, would you?
A couple of bratwurst and hot dogs round out the menu, all with equally upscale toppings.
Oh and don't forget about the desserts - specially made ice cream sandwiches from Coolhaus including chocolate chip and Tahitian vanilla, chocolate chip and mint, snickerdoodle and salted caramel, and more.
And if that doesn't satisfy you can belly up to the full bar with a bunch of craft beers on tap and in bottles plus wine and specialty cocktails.
The costs are higher than McDonald's, which shouldn't surprise you, but are about the same as what you'll pay at the other gourmet burger joints around town - figure about $11-15 plus another $4-5 for sides. You can do it for under $20 per person if you don't go crazy with drinks and dessert but $25 is a safer benchmark.
The service was also noteworthy - fast and efficient, of course, but also fun and personable. Naturally they were paying extra attention to us because I was there to review the restaurant but I watched how they were treating other guests and saw the same kind of interactions at other tables so this one is getting it right.
Simply put, the burgers here are fantastic. Although they haven't quite reached the level that they can knock the incredible KGB from the top of my favorite burgers list, if you have already those, come here next.
Dining News & Notes
I hope you're hungry... there is lots to talk about in the Vegas dining world...
The biggest, most successful, and most expensive buffet in Las Vegas by far is the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, which celebrated its second anniversary earlier this month. The buffet has served more than 2 million people - an average of 3,500 people every day! A few new dishes have been added recently in honor of the occasion including Alaskan cod, Thai beef, shaved ice with toppings and syrups, and much more.
There is both good news and bad news in the 24 hour cafe world. Good news for those who might get a craving in the middle of the night is that two new ones have opened. The Pantry at The Mirage is operating in the space that used to be home to BB King's Blues Club, serving breakfast 24 hours and things like burgers, flatbreads, fried chicken, and more from 11am to 11pm. Meanwhile over at Harrah's, the Fulton Street Food Hall is now open in the space that used to be Ming Table and the Harrah's Cafe. The Food Hall is basically a glorified food court sort of like what Cypress Street Marketplace at Caesars used to be - where you can order from a variety of stations and then pay at one central cashier.
Meanwhile, in Downtown Las Vegas, two hotels are celebrating the SlotZilla Zip and Zoom Line attraction by serving up some "Zilla-Sized" offerings. Sisters The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate are both pouring ShotZilla, a neon green boozy concoction that mixes vodka, melon liqueur, apple schnapps, and sweet and sour in a 8-ounce glass for $7. It is supposedly designed as something you can guzzle to give you courage to ride the zip line. Du-par's at The Golden Gate has unleashed StackZilla, a pile of 10 of their award-winning pancakes that you can get for free if you can finish it in 15 minutes or less. The only rule is that you have to use a fork. It's $17 otherwise.
And finally, the burger wars in Vegas show no signs of stopping. In addition to the dozen or so burger joints that already exist, we have the new Umami Burger at SLS (review above) and now word that Five Guys is opening another outlet in Summerlin and Wahlburgers is coming to Vegas with three outlets. The latter is the Boston based burger joint run by the family of actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg and featured in a reality show on A&E. It'll be opening sometime next year at a location that has not been announced but probably on The Strip somewhere.