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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
February 2, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Mob Museum's 3rd Anniversary
Instead of getting married on Valentine's Day in Vegas, why not head down to the Mob Museum and look at guns instead! The guns in question are two Tommy guns used in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and they'll be on display at the Museum on Feb 14-15 only to celebrate the facility's 3rd Anniversary. Locals will get in for free on Feb 14 and out-of-towners will get 2-for-1 admission all day. Read the review of the Mob Museum.
9. Celebrity DJs Sign Up for Vegas Residencies
It used to be that young kids would dream of being pop-stars to make their millions. Now they dream of being DJs, the real stars of the radio and clubs these days. Several of the biggest names behind the (virtual) turntables have made deals to become exclusive residents of Vegas nightclubs including Avicii, David Guetta, Jermaine Dupri, Kaskade, Lil Jon, Martin Solveig, Skrillex, and Zedd who are locked down at the Wynn/Encore clubs like XS, Tryst, and Surrender while Calvin Harris, arguably the most famous of the DJ set, has reupped his exlusive deal with Hakkasan at the MGM Grand. So how much does a superstar DJ make? The Harris deal is reportedly worth 8 figures. Check out all the Vegas nightclubs, bars, and lounges.
8 Cosmo Raises Resort Fee to $30 Per Night
A few weeks ago the high end hotels in town like Bellagio, Aria, Wynn, and others raised their resort fees to over $30 per night with tax. I predicted others would quickly follow suit and lookie here... the Cosmopolitan has now bumped their up to $30, which when you add tax takes it to $33.60 per night, the highest in Las Vegas. Who's next? I'm guessing the Venetian/Palazzo, which as of this writing are still $25 per night. Read the review of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
7. Hooters Raises Resort Fee
Or it could be Hooters. Yes, the Hooters hotel is still there despite the fact that they went bankrupt and were planning a remodel and rebrand, none of which has happened. Maybe the new $15.95 (plus tax) resort fee will help pay for that. That's up $1.50 from the old fee and no, they didn't add anything to account for the increase. I still say a hike at the Venetian/Palazzo to around $30 is imminent. Read the review of Hooters.
6. Diana Ross to Play The Venetian
The legendary Diana Ross has been performing in Vegas periodically for decades at Caesars Palace, but she has picked The Venetian as the place to do her "mini-residency" of 9 shows this April. The show, entitled "The Essential Diana Ross: Some Memories Never Fade" will be a greatest hits compilation and will be held in the intimate, 1,800 seat Venetian theater. Tickets run from $59 to $200 and are on sale now to Grazie players club members and the general public on Thursday. Visit the Venetian website for tickets. Read more about The Venetian.
5. Cromwell Going Keyless
For those who hate hunting for that little plastic card in order to get into your Vegas hotel room, there is good news from The Cromwell. The boutique luxury hotel is launching eKey, an app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology that will replace the traditional key card. Once you download the app, you open it and tap an option to "Unlock Door." It'll tell you your room number (which is handy in Vegas sometimes) and then you wave your phone in front of the lock and presto, your door opens. The app will eventually roll out to all Caesars Entertainment hotels including Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood. I'm not quite sure that finding your phone, opening an app, tapping, and waving is more convenient that grabbing the little plastic card, but you don't have to use the app if you don't want to - you can opt for a key card instead. Read the full review of The Cromwell.
4. Griddle Café Closed
The restaurant I picked as my favorite affordable eatery in Vegas for 2014 closed its doors last weekend. The Griddle Café, based on the LA diner with an almost cult-like following, took its big breakfasts and walked away, a victim (reportedly) of the low foot traffic that is causing trouble at the new SLS Las Vegas (the buffet shut down for similar reasons a few months ago). The Griddle was replaced by a 24-hour diner, although why that would work when Griddle didn't is beyond me. Ah Vegas... why do you keep taking away the stuff I like?! Read the review of the SLS Las Vegas.
3. SLS v. Dean Martin
Speakign of trouble at the SLS Las Vegas the hotel is reportedly in hot water with the estate of the late, legendary crooner Dean Martin. Martin's image appears in the carpeting and various other locations at the hotel as part of the decor celebrating the era of the Rat Pack, which used to hang out at the property back when it was The Sahara The estate says the use of the image was not approved or paid for and wants to be compensated or they will sue to have the photos removed. The folks at the SLS might be sweating a bit since images of lots of famous folks adorn the walls from Frank Sinatra to Steve McQueen, so that could get pricey quickly.
2. Celebrating 10 Years of KÀ
February 3 marks the 10th anniversay of the debut of KÀ by Cirque du Soleil. When it bowed in 2005 at MGM Grand it was unlike any other Cirque show before it, employing use of a story about twins separated by war that tied together the various aerialist and acrobatic acts. It is also one of the most technologically advanced productions, featuring a giant stage that rotates and flips to become everything from a jungle to a beach to a mountain. The show suffered a tragedy in 2013 when one of the performers fell from her safety harness and died during the climactic battle scene, which was cut from the production for almost a year. It was recently reinstated. Despite the tragedy, KÀ remains one of the most incredible, awe-inspiring shows in Vegas. Happy 10th Anniversary! Read the full review of KÀ by Cirque du Soleil.
1. White Castle Craze
Vegas' first White Castle opened at Casino Royale on The Strip and was so successful that the 24-hour a day restaurant had to shut down a couple of times to allow workers to catch up. According to reports people were waiting in line for upwards of 3 hours and the restaurant served more than 4,000 burgers per hour in the first 12 hours, shattering company sales records. They closed around noon on Wednesday to regroup, restock, and clean and then opened again at 3pm to start serving the hordes of people waiting in the long lines - then did the same thing early the next morning. In other words it looks like they have a hit on their hands. Keep reading the column for more about burgers in Vegas.
Dining Review: Tom's Urban
It's not easy to categorize Tom's Urban from a cuisine perspective. Is it a gastropub? Is it a continental small plates concept? Is it a new millennium comfort food diner? In a way it's all of the above and none of the above at the same time so let's just call it fantastic and move on from there.
Based on the popular eateries in Denver and Los Angeles from restauranteur Tom Ryan (who also created the Smashburger chain), it was added to New York-New York as a part of The Park revamp, which added new stores, restaurants, bars, and more to The Strip facing and north side of the hotel. It is accessible both from inside the hotel and from outside with a great outdoor patio, a glass wall that can be opened in nice weather, three separate bars, and lots of cozy booths and tables. It's brightly lit (but not too brightly), has a simple blue and brown color scheme, and lots of weathered wood accents giving it a lived in, comfy feeling.
The menu here is not a carbon copy of those outlets, but rather a "best of," taking the most popular menu items from each and adding some new stuff. It's eclectic and wide ranging, with burgers, barbecue, sandwiches, burritos and tacos, small plates of multiple varieties, fish, steak, pizzas, and much more. As such you can do your meal in a bunch of different ways, from noshing to full on food frenzy. A lot of it has an international patina layered on top such as the ginger chicken potsticker salad or the pizza with jalapenos and spicy giardiniera.
You can make a meal with the small plates that range from calamari done with green chile and ranch dipping sauces, crispy duck wings, spicy edamame, steak nachos, or a variety of sliders. Or you can do what we did and troll this section for our appetizers. We chose the low country shrimp and grits, a yummy southern throwback, and the mac and cheese topped with slow cooked carnitas and pork-green chile. That was a huge hit at the table; tangy and taste and the bowl it came in was practically licked clean.
For main courses consider the house favorites like the Urban Slopper. It's a huge hamburger with a thick juicy patty and a buttery bun smothered (actually drenched) in pork-green chile, queso fresco, pico de gallo, and melted cheddar and jack cheeses. Slopper is an appropriate name - it's impossible to eat with your hands so have a fork ready unless you want to walk out with it all over your clothes. I sampled that and it was a spicy, smoky delight; an interesting and amusing twist on a boring burger.
Add a couple of fried eggs and you get the Hangover Slopper. Subtract the burger and replace it with a ham and turkey sandwich on sourdough and you get their Colorado Hot Brown. You can also take out the sandwich all together and substitute a big burrito.
They have a variety of what they call "urban street tacos," with varieties including steak, carnitas, chicken, lobster and shrimp, and pork belly. A handful of sandwiches offer a big spectrum of choices from pork BBQ to carnitas Cuban press to a half pound hot dog topped with grilled onions and cheese sauce.
Over the entree category they have a bunch of steaks and seafood dishes plus a selection of burgers including a green chili version and one done Korean BBQ style with Sriracha and Asian peanut slaw.
In addition to the aforementioned Slopper we also tried the Texas Pulled Pork BBQ sandwich, which is pit-smoked on the premises and served on a soft bun with mustard slaw and apples. It was as good of BBQ experience as you can expect to have west of the Rocky Mountains. We also sampled the filet mignon sliders, which is served with Havarti cheese and hollandaise, and they were also delicious. There was not one bum note in the entire night.
Service was fantastic, friendly, and knowledgeable. We could tell that our team had not only tasted the food but enjoyed it and that makes a huge difference.
Prices are all over the map. You can probably get away with a check under $20 per person but you aren't going to get much more than a couple of small plates for that. Figure more in the $30-$40 range once you add in tip, tax, and a drink. That keeps it in the affordable zone but it's definitely on the high side of that category.
But with food, service, and an ambience as good as this, who needs categories?
Every* Burger Place on The Strip (*that I could find)
The cult favorite White Castle hamburger joint opened on The Strip last week and immediately became the most popular place to eat in Las Vegas. There were reports of lines stretching down the block with people waiting for upwards of three hours to get the chain's famous (some might say infamous) sliders. According to a company spokesperson, they were serving on average 4,000 burgers every hour (which equates to a burger every second, give or take) and at one point had to shut the doors for a few hours so they could restock and take a breath.
Burgers are big business in Las Vegas, with almost every major hotel on The Strip featuring at least one hamburger joint of some type and many having more than one.
I thought it would be fun to try to catalogue all of the burger places on The Strip just to see what was out there. Turned out to be a lot of work. I put the asterisk next to "Every" in the title of this article because the list below represents every one I could find through searches and knowledge of what's out there. For the purposes of this exercise, I am only doing places that are directly on Las Vegas Blvd. between Town Square Mall on the south end and Stratosphere on the north and I'm only doing restaurants that primarily serve burgers. Chains like Chili's or Denny's may have popular hamburgers and many other restaurants in Vegas serve them (from 24 hour hotel diners all the way up to gourmet restaurants), but I narrowed this down to places at which burgers make up the bulk of the menu.
There are a few hotels that don't have any burger-focused restaurants such as Tropicana, Aria, and Bellagio but those are rare. The hotel with the most is the Venetian/Palazzo complex, where I counted five!
- Bally's - Wahlburgers, the chain from the family of actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg, is opening soon at the Grand Bazaar Shops
- Casino Royale - White Castle, the East Coast chain's first in Vegas
- Caesars Palace - Smashburger, a fast-growing chain with about eight outlets in Vegas including this one in the new food court
- Circus Circus - McDonald's is a kids' favorite
- CityCenter - Bobby's Burger Palace, the gourmet shack from celebrity chef Bobby Flay
- Cosmopolitan - Holstein's Shakes & Buns was one of the first gourmet burger places on The Strip
- Excalibur - Johnny Rockets and McDonald's both have outlets here
- Fashion Show Mall - Wendy's and Johnny Rockets both have restaurants here plus there's the independent Stripburger
- Flamingo - Johnny Rockets is in the food court
- Harrah's - KGB: Kerry's Gourmet Burgers is my personal favorite, from Chef Kerry Simon
- Linq Promenade - Fukuburger (pronounced foo-koo) gained popularity in Vegas as a food truck and has set up permanent shop inside the marketplace style FAME
- Luxor - McDonald's is in the food court
- Mandalay Bay - Burger Bar is from Chef Hubert Keller, whose Fleurburger at sister restaurant Fleur goes for a whopping $5,000!
- MGM Grand - McDonald's
- Miracle Mile Shops - Ketchup Premium Burger and Cheeseburger are two indie outlets in the mall at Planet Hollywood
- The Mirage - BLT Burger, from Chef Laurent Tourondel, took over the space where the White Tigers used to frolic
- Monte Carlo - McDonald's is in the food court
- New York-New York - Shake Shack just debuted in December at the front of the hotel and there's also the Broadway Burger Bar inside in the Village Eateries section
- Paris Las Vegas - Burger Brasserie has been a longtime visitor favorite
- Planet Hollywood - Gordon Ramsay Burgr serves up extreme concoctions from the Hell's Kitchen chef
- Riviera - Big Burger is their food court
- Showcase Mall - Wendy's is in the food court
- SLS - Umami Burger, a small chain with a rabid following, set up shop here when the hotel opened in 2014
- Stratosphere - McDonald's is in the mall on the second floor
- Town Square Mall - I Love Burgers, a gourmet joint, has two locations - this one at the mall south of Mandalay Bay and one at Venetian/Palazzo
- Venetian/Palazzo - I Love Burgers, as mentioned above; B&B Burger & Beer is from Mario Batali; and three more including San Gennaro Burger, Johnny Rockets, Shake & Burger
Elsewhere on The Strip you can find McDonald's at:
- 2896 Las Vegas Blvd. S., next to Circus Circus (but different than the one that is actually in Circus Circus)
- 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S., next door to Harrah's
- 3717 Las Vegas Blvd. S., at the Harmon Corner mall next to Planet Hollywood
- 3999 Las Vegas Blvd. S., across the street from Mandalay Bay
Jack in the Box
- 6150 Las Vegas Blvd. S., near Town Square Mall
- 2001 Las Vegas Blvd. S., across from The Statosphere
And although they aren't actually on The Strip, I'd be remiss for not mentioning the Steak & Shake at South Point; Burger King Whopper Bar at The Rio, In 'n' Out Burger at the corner of Tropicana and Industrial, and Five Guys at 4065 S. Maryland Parkway.
If you know of another burger joint that I missed, shoot me an email.
Vegas4Visitors Museum Special: The Stardust
Throughout the history of Vegas there have been several major hotel projects that have had starts, stops, and bumps in the road toward them becoming reality but few were as drama filled as the twisted journey it took to get The Stardust opened.
The Atomic Age themed hotel was dreamt up by Tony Cornero, a colorful character who had run a string of barely legal and flat-out illegal operations in California including a bootlegging enterprise that ended with him in prison. He flirted with Vegas in 1931 shortly after gambling was legalized by opening The Green Meadows, a small casino/nightclub along Highway 91 (now The Strip) and it was a success - so much of a success that the mafia came calling and asking for a cut and when he turned them down they burned the club to the ground.
Cornero returned to LA where he launched two large casino ships, which were anchored off the coast in what he believed were international waters and therefore immune to the laws of the state that forbade gambling. California disagreed and sent the Coast Guard to shut them down but Cornero turned water hoses on the approaching officials and held them at bay for more than a week. He eventually gave up and the ships were closed.
He took his profits and went back to Vegas, taking over the Apache hotel in Downtown and renaming the casino on the ground level the SS Rex after one of his gambling ships. Citing his unsavory past, the state refused to give him a gambling license and he was forced to close the property (it went on to become Binion's).
More bad luck followed when he moved back to LA and was shot four times by Mexican gangsters who were trying to stop him from horning in on the illegal gambling and booze trade south of the border. As soon as he recovered, he went back to Vegas and bought 40 acres of land and announced his intention to build the world's largest hotel - The Stardust.
He filed with the SEC and began selling shares of stock in the project in order to finance the construction, which began in 1954. He ran into more trouble when the state once again refused to give him a gambling license and so he did what many other mafia figures did to get around the restrictions by turning control of the property over to a front man, Milton Page who had run the Boulder and Pioneer Clubs in Downtown Vegas.
Meanwhile, with money running out on the project that was estimated to be costing upwards of $7 million, Cornero when courting the very mob bosses that had a hand in burning down his first casino years earlier. Notorious organized crime figures Moe Dalitz and Meyer Lansky both invested but the cash either wasn't enough or, more likely, was going into various pockets instead of into the construction of the resort.
On July 31, 1955, Cornero met with investors and told them that he would need nearly another million dollars to finish off the hotel. That night he was playing craps at the Desert Inn and he dropped dead of a massive heart attack.
There has been a longstanding belief that Cornero was poisoned by the mob who had gotten tired of the money pit that the Stardust was becoming, but this was never proved. The glass he had been drinking out of that night was washed before authorities could examine it and no autopsy was ever performed.
Regardless of how it happened, Cornero's death threw the Stardust into a whirlpool of confusion, accusations, and lawsuits that lasted for nearly three years with all of the various people who had sunk money into the project trying to claim their stake. It was mostly settled when Dalitz stepped in and took over, installed several new front men who also ran The Desert Inn for Dalitz, and got the construction completed.
The Stardust opened on July 2, 1958 with over 1,000 rooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at the time. The casino, restaurants, and 700-seat showroom were located near the front along The Strip, behind a long astronomy themed facade featuring stars, planets, and more fashioned out of more than 7,100 feet of neon tubing and 11,000 light bulbs. The rooms were located in rows of two-story motel buildings that stretched out behind the casino and were offered at a mere $6 per day when the hotel first opened.
Entertainment came in the form of a massive pool, a drive-in movie theater, and a rodeo arena along with the topless revue Lido de Paris.
Despite struggling under massive debt and fighting against the 50s over-building boom that saw no fewer than ten major resorts open on The Strip, The Stardust had become Moe Dalitz' baby and he pushed it forward in surprising ways. The neighboring Royal Nevada, which had opened in 1955 and closed in bankruptcy in 1957, was purchased and incorporated into the Stardust, adding more rooms and a convention facility in the space that had once been the Royal's casino. The bones of that resort would remain a part of the Stardust until the day it was demolished.
The hotel was expanded in 1964 when a nine-story tower was added, bringing the total room inventory to just shy of 1,500. The front of the hotel and its iconic starburst signage was also redesigned and expanded. A 71-hole golf course was added in the 1960s as well.
By the mid-1960s, the United States government was on a push to try to get the mob out of Vegas and had been encouraging Howard Hughes to buy up properties in an effort to legitimize them. He came after The Stardust in 1966 but got denied because of antitrust laws - he already owned The Desert Inn, The Frontier, The Sands, and more.
The rodeo grounds were expanded in 1967 and the roadways around it were used for a Formula One Grand Prix event. Mario Andretti received a "Driver of the Year" trophy at the event.
The hotel was sold in 1969 to a Los Angeles based company that was also part owner of the Aladdin. It was affiliated with a St. Louis company that was widely believed to be yet another front for organized crime. Eventually by the mid-1970s it was owned by the Argent Corporation, the same company that owned the Hacienda and The Fremont and it got dragged into raids by federal agents alleging profit skimming. This became the basis for the movie Casino and led to the Nevada Gaming Commission leveling a $3 million fine against the property in 1984, the largest in history at the time.
The Stardust was purchased in 1985 by Sam Boyd, the Vegas hotelier who had owned or managed hotels like The Sahara and The Mint and was, by this time, owner of The California in Downtown Las Vegas and Sam's Town on the east side of town.
Over the next few years, Boyd oversaw a $300 million renovation and expansion of the hotel that added a new hotel tower, a revised showroom, more restaurants and convention space, and a new facade that got rid of the last vestiges of the atomic era theme.
The resort faded in the 1990s and into the 2000s, becoming a budget property for gamblers who were lured by its low rates on rooms at the back of the property that dated all the way back to its opening in 1958.
The hotel closed on November 1, 2006 to make way for Boyd Gaming's grand plan of a resort called Echelon - a $5 billion complex of more than 5,000 rooms, a huge casino, a mall, multiple showrooms, a couple of dozen restaurants, and more.
The main tower of the Stardust was imploded on March 13, 2007.
Construction on Echelon began later that year but when the economy took a dive in 2008, Boyd Gaming shut the project down and the steel and concrete skeletons of the partially built building stood there untouched for years.
The property was purchased in 2014 by Malaysia's Genting Group, who are creating plans to build a multi-billion Resorts World Las Vegas on the land that will incorporate much of the original Echelon construction. Construction is supposed to start in late 2015 and be complete by late 2017 or early 2018.
Conventions in Vegas
Las Vegas is one of the top convention destinations in the world, drawing more than 5 million people annually to the exhibitions, conferences, and meetings both big and small, generating more than $45 billion in revenue for the city. Some of that is a build-it-and-they-will-come type of self-fulfilling prophecy; the city has more square-footage of meeting space than any other city in the world.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority maintains a list of conventions of all sizes held throughout the year and it's fun to peruse the list. You might be surprised at some of the things you find.
The Consumer Electronics Show held every January is the biggest all year, with over 160,000 people flocking to town to see the latest high-tech gadgets. This is a great place to scope out the big new TV that you could buy to watch all the porn you could get at the Adult Entertainment Expo, which happens about a week later in Vegas and pulls in more than 25,000 people including the, um, actors who appear in those DVDs or downloads that you hide from your wife.
Need to build something? February brings the World of Concrete show to Vegas, with nearly 50,000 construction and masonry professionals coming to see the latest machinery, tools, equipment, and more.
If fashion is more your speed, you might be more interested in MAGIC, the Men's Apparel Guild in California, which has been running in some incarnation or another since 1933. The show, held in February and August in Vegas, draws over 80,000 buyers from clothing retailers around the globe to see the latest in men's, women's, and kid's fashions.
You may want to consider not flying in early March because that's when the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has their annual convention in Vegas. I'm sure they have someone watching the radar while they are at their meeting, don't they?
Thirsty? How about attending the Universal Whisky Experience at Encore, which features four days' worth of tastings in March.
Let's just hope that after that you don't need the services of the folks who attend the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Meeting in October.
Hungry? Late March is when the National Association of Pizzeria Operators has their international expo, showing off the latest in... I don't know, ovens? Pepperoni? Regardless, over 12,000 people are expected to attend.
As we all know, the nightclub scene in Vegas is currently ruling the city in a lot of different ways, generating more than a billion dollars' worth of revenue on The Strip. So it's no surprise that the Nightclub and Bar Show is held in Vegas and that it pulls in nearly 40,000 people each year.
The middle of April is a tough time to visit Vegas if you happen to be trying to be here at the same time as the National Association of Broadcaster's convention. About 100,000 folks from the TV and radio industry show up for that one, filling the bulk of the city's hotel rooms.
The big automotive showcase SEMA, which exhibits aftermarket car accessories, is held in November and draws 140,000 people. But if you're coming off a tough winter you could always attend The Car Wash Show in April, which showcases the latest innovations in getting your ride clean.
What's that smell? I'm sure it's not coming from the Waste Expo, the convention for waste management professionals held in June (you know, when it's hot).
If you're looking for a little pampering and prettifying, you could consider attending the International Esthetics Cosmetic and Spa Conference along with the 25,000 or so beauty and salon industry folks looking for the latest in hair, skin care, and make-up advancements.
The Bowl Expo is scheduled for June of this year. No, not things you eat out of but the thing you do when you are holding a heavy ball and want to knock down pins. The 7,500 or so attendees will be able to enjoy a keynote speech by Magic Johnson and entertainment by REO Speedwagon. No, really.
20,000 pet store retailers will be in Vegas for SuperZoo West, a convention that is sure to generate lots of people saying "awwwwwww."
Although most of these conventions are restricted to people who work in the industries to which they cater, it's still a good idea to know about the bigger ones because they can impact room rates in Vegas. Check the LVCVA Convention Calendar for what's happening in town when you're planning on being there.