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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
October 13, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Bellagio Suites Being Remodeled
Over the last 18 months or so, Bellagio has redone all of their standard rooms in both of their towers with a lighter, brighter, bolder color palette and more modern furnishings. Now they are moving on to the suites with a similar plan. More than 400 suites in the main tower are getting an overhaul that will replace carpet, furnishings, fixtures, and technology. The project is underway now and should be complete in February but the new suites should start to come online as early as November. Read more about the Bellagio.
9. Hard Rock Hotel Vegas Gets an AC Sibling
Toronto based Brookfield US Holdings is probably not a company that most Vegas visitors have ever heard of, but you may have been at their casino: The Hard Rock Hotel on Harmon Avenue just east of The Strip. Now the company has won the bidding for the shuttered Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The 1,400 room resort opened in 2012 but sank into bankruptcy and closed a few weeks ago. It cost more than $2.4 billion to build and Brookfield got it for $110 million - talk about a bargain. They are planning to reopen it as a hotel-casino but haven't said when, what changes they may make, or what they may call it (Hard Rock Hotel Atlantic City?). All of this is despite the fact that Brookfield has reportedly missed at least one key payment to lenders on the Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and is trying to renegotiate their debt. Brookfield also owns Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Read more about the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas.
8. Neon Museum's Boneyard Bash
Add another fun thing to your list of stuff to do for Halloween in Vegas now that the Neon Museum has confirmed a return of the Boneyard Bash. The event on October 31st encourages folks to come in costume for contests, food trucks, free beer and wine, and roving jugglers, stilt-walkers, tarot card readers, and other entertainment. All this is done in the boneyard with the special lighting on the classic Vegas signs giving it a super spooky vibe. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased through the Neon Museum website. Read more about the Neon Museum.
7. Caesars Money Troubles Continue
Caesars Entertainment, the parent company of Vegas hotels including Caesars Palace, Paris, Harrah's, and Planet Hollywood to name a few, has been struggling to find ways to deal with their staggering $24 billion debt. Now, one of the companies that carries about $3.7 billion worth of that debt has served Caesars with a notice of default. This is primarily a bookkeeping thing - there is virtually no chance that it will impact day to day operations at any of the company's casinos - and Caesars is continuing to work with the various bondholders to restructure their debt in a way that will allow the company to better manage it. Read the review of Caesars Palace.
6. Two Big New Year's Eve Concerts Announced
The announcements are starting to roll in on Vegas New Year's Eve entertainment with a show confirmed for Lady Gaga with Tony Bennett and two shows from Maroon 5. Gaga and Tony, who just released an album together, will be performing at The Chelsea showroom at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and their show will include a midnight countdown (so no fireworks for you). Tickets go are on sale now starting at $125. Maroon 5, featuring The Voice's Adam Levine, will do two shows at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on 12/30 and 12/31. Tickets are available starting 10/11 and run from $100-$225. The show starts at 8pm so you'll be able to go see the fireworks afterward. Read more about The Cosmopolitan and Mandalay Bay.
5. Hard Rock Honors Breast Cancer Awareness Month with Pinktober
The Hard Rock Café on The Strip has kicked off their 15th annual Pinktober event designed to raise awareness for breast cancer. Various bands and music artists will be signing and decorating special pink guitars, which will be auctioned off for the American Cancer Society. Throughout the month, they will also have fundraising walks, fashion shows, and special menu items that drive a portion of their prices to breast cancer charities. Read more about the Hard Rock Café.
4. Downtown Grocery Store Opens
Downtown Las Vegas has been getting a lot of attention lately with its new bars, revamped hotels, destination restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and more. So much so that more and more people are moving into the area to work and live. Those residents - and intrepid tourists - have been missing one key ingredient in making the neighborhood something more than a tourist trap: an honest to goodness grocery store. Now they have one. The Market debuted earlier this week at 611 E. Fremont, right across the street from El Cortez. It's relatively small by super market standards - only about 6,000 square feet - but it has a Whole Foods inspired line up of organic and farm fresh products, a service deli and bakery, a coffee bar, and more.
3. Boyz II Men Wins Big Award
The R&B group Boyz II Men has won a top honor at Casino Entertainment Awards - Musical Artist of the Year. They beat out Britney Spears and Guns N'Roses, the latter of which did a short "residency" at the Hard Rock Hotel. Other winners included Jeff Dunham for Entertainer of the Year, Carrot Top for Comedian of the Year, and Wayne Newton who took home the Casino Entertainment Legend award. Boyz II Men's high energy show at The Mirage has been playing to packed audiences for the last year and has recently been extended another year. Read the review of the Boyz II Men concert at The Mirage.
2. The Linq to Celebrate Halloween
Spooky Strip celebrations are in store for The Linq shopping promenade later this month in honor of Halloween. Starting on October 24, the street will be done up with lots of creepy-crawly decor and trick or treat bags will be distributed to all kids under 17 years of age. On October 30th and 31st, candy will be passed out by retailers along the promenade and there will be costume contests, live bands, and more. All of this will coincide with the anticipated official grand opening celebration of the Linq hotel (formerly Imperial Palace), which happens on the 30th. Read more about The Linq.
1. High Roller Goes Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, Flamingo Las Vegas headliner and breast cancer "thriver" Olivia Newton-John ceremoniously lit the High Roller - the world's tallest observation wheel - pink last Monday night. Olivia was joined by Chippendales from Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, who donned special pink cuffs and collars. Breast cancer survivors and anyone wearing a pink ribbon in support of breast cancer awareness got to ride the High Roller for free that night. Read more about the High Roller.
Gay Marriage Becomes Legal in Nevada
A wild week of legal maneuvering ended on Thursday, October 9, as Nevada officially became the 26th state in the union to allow gay marriage. The first licenses to more than a dozen same-sex couples were issued in Las Vegas starting around 5pm and the state's first legal gay marriage ceremony occurred shortly thereafter on the steps of marriage bureau building as State Senator Kelvin Atkinson married his partner of more than six years Sherwood Howard.
It had been a whirlwind week for gays and lesbians seeking the right to marry in Nevada.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear appeals in cases from several appellate courts on the overturning of bans in a handful of states around the country. The next day, the 9th District Court of Appeals officially overturned the ban in both Nevada and Idaho and both the Governor and State Attorney General said they would not pursue any further legal challenges. The state's marriage bureaus were planning on issuing the first same-sex licenses on Wednesday at 2pm.
Those bureaus had been prepared for such a move, having changed their forms to be gender neutral.
But all of that came to a halt on Wednesday, when the state of Idaho filed an injunction against the 9th District's ruling and Justice Kennedy granted a stay of their ruling pending an appeal. Although Kennedy's stay was only supposed to cover Idaho, it was ambiguously written and so state lawyers in Nevada refused to allow the marriage bureau to start issuing licenses.
A clarification on the Idaho-only issue came a few hours later and seemed to clear the way but at about the same time a citizen's group hoping to block gay marriages filed their own injunction and things got put on hold again.
The injunction was pulled on Thursday when it became obvious that it wasn't going to work and the wedding licenses started flowing.
Las Vegas already bills itself as "The Marriage Capital of the World" and the city wants to be that for all couples, gay and straight. It's not because of any moral or social justice reason, but for a purely economic one. According to a study performed by the New York City, gay marriage generated over a quarter of a billion dollars in additional revenue to the city in its first year of being legal. Vegas wants to own that market and so you can expect to see some aggressive marketing for gay couples to get married in Sin City.
All of the major hotel chapels and most of the smaller independent ones already did same-sex commitment ceremonies and pretty much all of them were eager for the real deal to become law. As soon as the county clerk started issuing the licenses, several independent chapels started running specials for gay and lesbian couples. Chapelle Delamour was offering free ceremonies to same-sex couples and the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, which has been doing commitment ceremonies for more than 16 years, was offering discounted packages.
Caesars Entertainment sent out a press release touting their various venues including the High Roller Observation Wheel, the Eiffel Tower Experience, and chapels at Caesars Palace, The Flamingo, Planet Hollywood, and The Linq Hotel, all of which are proudly hosting gay couples for weddings.
Local bars, both gay and straight are getting in on the action. Any gay couple visiting Liaison at Bally's that shows a license issued in Nevada gets in for free on Wednesday nights and Rockhouse is offering $250 off their pop-up wedding package for any couple which includes a party of up to 15 people, a cake, and a ride on their mechanical bull (no comment).
And the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority took out a full-page ad in the USA Today with the image to the right of this story - two caketopper grooms overlooking the city. The short version of all this is that Vegas is ready to take your money if you want to get married here.
The day to day impact of all this in Las Vegas will probably only be felt at the wedding chapels and marriage bureau and even then it will be a relatively small part of their business. But for gay and lesbian couples who want to get married in Nevada, the impact will be life-changing.
Best Places to Get Married in Vegas (Whether You are Gay or Straight)
If you decide to get married in Las Vegas you won't be alone. More than 100,000 wedding licenses are issued in the county every year making it the wedding capital of the world. You also won't be lacking in places to do it. Every major hotel-casino has at least one chapel and several have multiple venues in which you can exchange your vows. Plus there are dozens of independent wedding chapels around town that run the gamut from simple little woodsy churches to crazy theme palaces with drive through windows.
The type of chapel you choose should depend upon your personal taste. You can go from classy to wacky and from simple to extravagant, often just by walking next door. Here are some of the places I think are worth considering - a handful of hotels and independent chapels that might offer you a memorable place in which to say "I Do."
I really like the chapel at Mandalay Bay but this is really a personal taste thing. It's lovely, simple, and modern with none of the baroque filigree you'll find at some other places. The hotel also offers guests the chance to get married pretty much anywhere on their property including several outdoor patios (one overlooking a swan filled pond), on the sands of the Mandalay Beach club while the waves (of the wave pool) crash in the background, or even in the Shark Reef attraction surrounded by big-toothed predators, although I'm not sure this is the metaphor you want to go with when starting your life with your beloved.
The Stratosphere also offers a variety of options starting with their Chapel in the Clouds. Located high up on the tower it has huge windows overlooking all of Las Vegas and its views are probably only outdone by the weddings they do on both the indoor and outdoor observation decks or on a balcony way up on the 112th level. If you are a thrill seeker you can even get married on one of their extreme rides atop the tower including the X-Scream or Insanity: The Ride. Regarding the latter, again I have to caution you about metaphors.
Bellagio has a very traditional chapel, done in rich golds and browns and with the kind of fancy detail that could lend itself to "fairytale" type weddings. It's not my taste but it's probably the nicest of the hotel chapels in town in terms of luxurious appointments. They also offer weddings in the various gardens around the property and on a terrace that overlooks the Bellagio Fountains.
Over at Venetian and Palazzo they have a couple of different chapels, both with views of outdoor gardens where you could also choose to exchange vows. If you want something more photo-op worthy, you could get married in the Grand Canal Shoppes on the Bridge of Love in the St. Mark's Square replica or in a gondola as you float down the middle of a mall. I'm sure it is nicer than it sounds on paper. They also offer ceremonies by the big waterfall just inside the Grand Canal Shoppes entrance from Palazzo and outside by the canals facing The Strip.
The Mirage has a fairly pedestrian chapel that you can bypass but consider the outdoor options including a wedding by the lagoon or in front of the lava-spewing volcano. I'm sure there's a negative metaphor in there as well but the pictures you get just might be worth it.
My favorite in town is the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, located at 1205 Las Vegas Blvd. S. This is the undisputed capital of the wacky Vegas wedding, offering themes that range from Elvis to outer space to vampires and beyond and if they don't already have a package that fits whatever theme you have in mind, they'll design a new one for you. They also do traditional weddings but you can do that anywhere.
I also really like the Little Church of the West, located at 4617 Las Vegas Blvd. S., just south of Mandalay Bay. This chapel has a really interesting history in that it was first built on the north side of The Frontier in 1942, moved to the south side of the property in 1954, moved again in 1979 to the grounds of the Hacienda (where Mandalay Bay is now), and then finally moved again to its current location in 1996. It is also the place where Elvis and Ann-Margret got married in the iconic movie "Viva Las Vegas." Beyond all that, it's a lovely, woodsy building with a lot of character that will provide a nice backdrop to your wedding pictures.
The Little Chapel of the Flowers is another noteworthy contender, located at 1717 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Despite the name, they are one of the biggest independent operations in town with several chapels each with their own vibe and a crack staff that runs things with Swiss Army precision.
Finally, the Wee Kirk o' the Heather chapel is a simple little place at 231 Las Vegas Blvd. S. that is primarily noteworthy because of its friendly, familial vibe and the fact that it is believed to be the oldest chapel in the city, in business since 1940.
Don't forget to check the Resources section of Vegas4Visitors.com for more information on getting married in Las Vegas including a Wedding FAQ, guides to more hotel and independent chapels, and a list of the Wildest Wedding Spots in Las Vegas.
Nightclub Review: Liaison
Las Vegas has a pretty decent gay and lesbian nightlife scene, with several bars and clubs of all different types and stripes. The only problem, at least from a tourist point of view, is that all of them are off-the-beaten path, located in neighborhoods and areas that require a cab ride if you are staying on Las Vegas Boulevard.
In a sign of the changing times, now we have Liaison, the first ever permanent nightclub to be geared toward a GLBTQ audience inside of a Las Vegas Strip hotel/casino.
Before you start splitting hairs with me, let's work on our definitions. Yes, there was Krave for a long time at Planet Hollywood but it was not inside the hotel, rather sort of tacked on outside the shopping mall and only accessible from Harmon Avenue. And yes, Krave moved to The Rio for awhile but that was only temporary. And sure, there are some clubs like Revolution at The Mirage that do "gay nights" but the rest of the time the club is for a straight audience.
Liaison is located inside Bally's in the space once devoted to the temporary home of Drai's After Hours while that club was closed during The Cromwell construction across the street. In fact the club is the brainchild of Victor Drai, who is currently holding the crown of "hottest club in Vegas" with his Drai's on the rooftop of The Cromwell. Unlike Krave, Liaison is located right off the main casino floor along the restaurant row so about the only way they could have made it more high profile would be to hang giant flashing neon lights on it.
The club is fairly small but only in comparison to the behemoth straight clubs on The Strip. Hakkasan, for example, is 80,000 square-feet on five levels whereas Liaison is 1/10th of that in two rooms. Still, that's plenty big enough especially when they do as much with the space as they do here.
It is decidedly upscale in atmosphere, with nice dark wood and leather accents and fine accessories. It feels luxurious in ways that gay bars usually aren't. The first room has a bar, a DJ booth, a small dance floor, and lots of VIP booths plus some non VIP seating, a nice change of pace. The second room is a bit bigger with another DJ booth, a larger dance floor, more booths and tables, another bar, and a small stage. The concept here is that the two rooms will be playing different music styles, so at any given time you could hear EDM in one room, walk a few feet and be listening to hip-hop or vice versa. The sound and lighting systems in both rooms is top notch, although with the low ceilings and relatively intimate space it isn't the kind of deep immersion experience you get at the bigger clubs. That's actually okay with me, but I'm old.
Of course they have the requisite hot guy bartenders, waiters, and go-go dancers plus they have various interactive entertainment. The night I was there was a guy wandering around with a giant flashlight on stilts, done up in Cirque du Soleil style theatrical makeup and costuming. I'm not sure why but it was different and therefore kind of interesting. Pay attention to the calendar for theme nights and other special events.
The crowd is mostly tourist and mostly male, but after that it draws a fairly wide variety of types within the constraints of what a "mainstream" gay club usually draws. By that I mean you'll see younger and older, khakis and jeans, twinks and jocks and average Joes, and maybe even a drag queen or three, but if you're looking the kind of place where you can wear your chaps and harness, you might want to go check out The Eagle or Funhog Ranch.
Prices are a few bucks cheaper than what you'd get at a straight nightclub on The Strip and about even with the other big clubs in Vegas like Piranha and Share, but note that is more expensive than your typical bar or nightclub in your hometown. Figure $6-8 for beer, $10 for a well drink, and upward from there for call, with a $20 cover fairly standard.
This kind of club in this kind of space is long overdue. That they have done such a good job of executing it is almost like a bonus.
Show Review: Olivia Newton-John
I have a confession to make before we begin this review: I was totally, madly, and completely in love with Olivia Newton-John when I was a kid. I owned all of her (pop) albums, I had posters of her on my wall, and I even went through a headband phase in large part because of her.
So the junior and senior high school version of me was geeking out a bit over the prospect of finally seeing the singer in person, although I was a little worried about doing it now some 30 plus years after my obsession was at its peak. Would she still be able to be the ONJ both in voice and attitude that I had loved when I was a kid?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Just in case you have been living under a rock, Olivia Newton-John first shot to popularity in the United States with a string of country (and country adjacent) hits like "Let Me Be There," "Have you Never Been Mellow," "Please Mr. Please" and "I Honestly Love You." But it was 1978 that made her a superstar with her portrayal of Sandy in the movie "Grease." It was the top box office hit of the year and spawned a number of powerhouse singles including "Hopelessly Devoted To You," "summer Nights," and "You're the One That I Want."
In the early 1980s, she changed her image into a modern pop star with roles in the disco-tinged "Xanadu" and her phenomenon of a hit "Physical," a song that got banned on radio stations around the country for being too racy (something that seems quaint considering what is on the radio today).
Her concerts in Vegas at The Flamingo are basically a career retrospective, focusing mostly on the early country days, a little bit of pop, and a lot of "Grease." She both looks and sounds terrific, still able to hit the high notes even on songs that require her to go up into the stratosphere with a falsetto. Even Elton John has given up trying to hit the high notes on songs like "Daniel" so that she still can is nothing to sneer at.
The production itself is fairly simple - a small but impressive band, a few back-up singers, and some video. There are no elaborate sets, dancers, or special effects - you want that, go to Britney's concert down the road. Instead what you get here is a solid 90 minutes or so of a singer who knows how to sing and knows how to connect to an audience. She was charming and completely engaged the entire time, a nice change of pace from some artists who you can sometimes see just going through the motions.
My only complaint about the show was just a one of song selection. I became more of a fan post "Grease" and "Physical" so I was hoping to hear more of her pop hits like "Heart Attack," "Make a Move on Me," and "Twist of Fate" but that's just me being selfish.
I'm not sure there's enough to hold on to here for people who aren't fans of Olivia Newton-John and her music, but for those that are - or at least are familiar with her work - this is a must-see show. Of course if you're a fan you probably didn't need me to tell you that. After all, you probably had posters on your wall as well.
Note: the show does not perform every week. Check the schedule on the website for dates.