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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
February 23, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. LAX Reopens with New Look and Programming
The fiercely competitive Vegas nightclub scene has been forcing major venues to go to extremes to stay current, something evident at LAX, the often overlooked club at Luxor. They just unveiled a multi-million dollar makeover that includes all new furnishings, an updated light and sound system, a bigger dance floor, an exclusive lounge space, and more. Instead of big name DJs like the other clubs have, LAX is trying to lure partiers with mainstream programming including retro music from the 1980s through today on Thursday nights and commercial pop music on Fridays. Read more about LAX.
9. Win a Trip to Vegas
Every now and then I like to check in and see what kind of sweepstakes there are out there that include trips to Vegas. The link below on about.com has a bunch of them including ones that include dinners, airfare, concert tickets, rodeo tickets, and even a brand new Ford F-150 truck in a prize package valued at more than $50,000. If you're dreaming of Vegas, it can't hurt to enter them all! Vegas Sweepstakes.
8. Second Vegas Implosion in a Week Goes Better Than the First
A week after the Clarion refused to fall completely down in an implosion, the same company had more luck with another demolition. A partially constructed residential building at a development on the west side of town was brought down Sunday morning without incident. The building at Gramercy, a mixed used project near Russell and the 215, has been sitting abandoned for years and was deemed to be structurally unsound so it had to go. Watch the video of the implosion.
7. Pussycat Dolls Out at Caesars
You'd think a town that appreciates scantily clad women as much as Vegas does would be better for a group that made its name for scantily clad women, but the Pussycat Dolls have had a rough road here in Sin City. There used to be a PC branded lounge inside Pure nightclub at Caesars Palace but that closed years ago. They tried again over at Planet Hollywood but that last long. The longest lasting success has been the Pussycat Dolls gaming pit at Caesars, in between the main entrance and the sports book, but apparently that is now gone as well. The area is being made over in anticipation of the big new nightclub Omnia opening next month. Oh well, I guess you'll just have to look elsewhere to find your scantily clad women. This being Vegas, you won't have to go far.
6. Shadow Bar Closes at Caesars
The long running Shadow Bar at Caesars Palace has closed. The lounge space near the Colosseum had been a popular party spot with a unique draw - what appeared to be naked (or at least barely clothed) women dancing behind opaque screens casting sultry shadows for all to see. It is unknown what will replace it but it is expected to be another lounge space, possibly connected to superstar DJ Calvin Harris. Read more about Caesars Palace.
5. Power Outage on The Strip
Two nights before the lights on The Strip were going to put shut off on purpose the lights on The Strip went out by accident. A power outage caused trouble at hotels on the west side of The Strip including The Mirage, Circus Circus, The Stratosphere, and more. It was caused by what officials say was an animal coming in contact with an electrical substation (I'm guessing it didn't end well for the animal). Emergency lighting and the hotel's own generators kept things working at the hotels and the power was restored quickly. Speaking of the lights going out...
4. Strip Lights Dim for Basketball Coach
The lights on The Strip dimmed last week in honor of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who passed away last week. This only other people this has been done for are JFK, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Ronald Reagan, and George Burns. There are several videos on YouTube of the event including this one.
3. Cosmo Celebrates Year of the Ram with a Lucky Cat
The Cosmopolitan is getting in on the Chinese New Year celebrations with Lucky Cat, an interactive art exhibition based on the fabled cultural icon of good fortune. Located in the pop-up space off the Las Vegas Strip, Lucky Cat features a nine-foot tall talisman of good fortune that invites passers-by in with a smile and upright paw. Put your hand on the paw and you will get a fortune card. Visitors can interact with Lucky Cat from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily although you have to be 21 years old to "get lucky." Read more about the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
2. $300,000 Meal at Bellagio
During a recent MGM Resorts shareholder earnings call, the company's chairman suggested things are getting better in Vegas because of a recent dinner check at Prime Steakhouse at Bellagio, where about two dozen people racked up $300,000 worth of food and beverage. Mostly beverage, apparently, because they were ordering $40,000 bottles of wine. And yes, there is such a thing as a $40,000 bottle of wine. Reports surfaced that the meal was hosted by Vice Media CEO shane Smith and was a splurge after a lucky blackjack run. Read more about Bellagio.
1. 700 Club
This week's column is a special one... it is the 700th that I have written since it started way back in 1999. I'm someone who gets bored very easily so the fact that I have done this 700 times is a testament to the city that we all know and love. It continually amazes me that Vegas continues to amaze me. It's been a strange and wonderful 16 years and I really appreciate you all coming along for the journey. Thank you!
Riviera to Close May 4
The Riviera, one of the oldest continually operating hotels in Las Vegas, will be closing its doors forever in May, just a couple of weeks after it celebrates its 60th anniversary.
The hotel was purchased last week for by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a group that runs the nearby Las Vegas Convention Center. They plan to demolish the property and use the land to build new meeting and exhibition facilities as a part of a $2.3 billion expansion project designed to lure more business to Vegas. They paid $182.5 million for The Riviera and the large plot of land it sits on that stretches from The Strip all the way back to Paradise Road, near the northern edge of the current convention center campus.
Although the LVCVA now owns the hotel, they have made arrangements to lease the property back to Paragon Gaming, the company that has been managing the hotel for its previous owner Starwood Capital Group. They plan to keep the entire property including rooms, restaurants, shows, and the casino 100% operational until its last day, which is expected to be May 4, 2015.
The closure will affect about 1,000 full- and part-time workers who are being given severance packages and job-placement assistance.
The timing of what happens after May 4 has not yet been determined. The hotel will be stripped of everything that isn't a part of the physical structure of the buildings and some stuff that is. Slot machines, the pinball machine exhibit, and other material that is leased will go back to their owners and more valuable equipment and materials will be removed. There will most likely be an auction to get rid of everything else. The last one that was held after the closure of The Sahara saw items as wide and varied as historic signage to silverware to light fixtures.
About the only thing that may survive is the long-running Crazy Girls topless revue, which is rumored to be looking for a new home. Whether that will include the bronze "butt" statue out front is to be determined.
Then the wrecking crews will move in. The low-rise buildings including the main casino, the lobby, the showroom, and existing Riviera meeting space will probably get torn down with cranes and bulldozers. The rest of the buildings are high-rise and may need to get imploded. This would include the four hotel towers - the Mediterranean tower at the front of the property, portions of which date all the way back to the Riviera's 1955 opening; the 17-story Monte Carlo tower located on the north side of the property near the showroom; the San Remo tower on the south side along the swimming pool; and the 24-story Monaco tower at the back of the property closest to the parking garages, which may also need to be imploded.
All of that should happen before the end of the year.
It's worth noting that the Springhill Suites hotel and the Arco gas station located at the far east side of The Riviera acreage along Paradise Road were not included in the sale, so they are staying put (for now).
Once the land is scrubbed, construction will start on the new facilities, which may include upwards of one million square-feet of meeting and exhibition space, parking, and a transportation system that will connect everything. The latter is going to be important since the northwest corner of the Riviera property is nearly 1.5 miles away from the southwest corner of the existing Las Vegas Convention Center land. That would be quite a hike.
There may also be a new hotel added to the project. Several of the renderings show a glass-enclosed tower toward the back of the property, but the LVCVA isn't being specific about any of it just yet.
The LVCVA will also be renovating and expanding facilities on their current campus and partnering with developers to revamp Convention Center Drive, which leads to current facilities from The Strip just south of The Riviera. They are hoping to turn it into an entertainment district with new boutique hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and more. This would include whatever will be built on the land that was home to the recently imploded Clarion (Greek Isles/Debbie Reynolds) hotel.
For those of you concerned about what else this may impact, the owners of the legendary Peppermill restaurant, which sits smack dab in the middle of all of this, say they aren't going anywhere and the plans will not affect them. The trouble there is that they only own the building and the business - they don't own the land underneath. That belongs to the same guy that just imploded the Clarion across the street.
The other big question for all this is if the massive influx of new convention business that will come with the new facilities may finally spur something to happen with the partially constructed Fontainebleau hotel located just across the street to the north of The Riviera property. If you look closely at the rendering you will see the big building behind the Convention Center sign - that's the Fontainebleau. It has been sitting mothballed for years since the project collapsed into bankruptcy during the recession, but it will be just steps away from the LVCVA's new exhibit halls and right across the street from the upcoming Resorts World project so we may see some life breathed back into that project.
The earliest you will see any of the new LVCVA facilities will be late 2016 but 2017 is more likely.
Topgolf to Build Flagship Facility at MGM Grand
Topgolf International, Inc. today confirmed long-standing rumors that it is building a state-of-the-art driving range at MGM Grand. The company had a groundbreaking ceremony last week, revealing the renderings for the $50 million entertainment facility that is expected to open in spring 2016.
Located at the back of the property near the intersection of Koval Lane and Harmon Avenue, Topgolf will offer competitive golfing games for all ages and skill levels and advanced technology to track the accuracy and distance of players' shots. The four-level, 105,000-square-foot Topgolf Las Vegas will sit on eight acres and overlook a 215-yard outfield. There will be 102 hitting bays on the first three levels while the fourth level will showcase VIP areas with water features that resemble wading pools in the renderings.
The building's plans also include a stage for live musical performances and 3,000 square feet of private meeting space.
The technology aspect is interesting. Instead of just hitting balls and trying to see where they land, at Topgolf facilities players hit microchipped golf balls at targets on an outfield. Picture a larger-than-life-sized outdoor dartboard - but for golf. And for a little friendly rivalry, the high-tech balls instantly score each shot's accuracy and distance.
Topgolf started in 2000 and currently has location in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and the United Kingdom with many more on the way. The Vegas location will be their largest and most extravagant.
Construction on the facility should kick into high gear by the summer and is expected to be complete by the second quarter of 2016.
Updated Show Review: Le Rêve
In Las Vegas, things that last a long time usually evolve over time. Sometimes that evolution is subtle and sometimes dramatic, but those things that grow and change and refuse to remain static are often the ones that can keep people entertained over the long haul. Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas is a great example of how can a show can evolve from derivative to unique, from challenged to challenging, and from good to absolutely fantastic.
When this water-themed show debuted at Wynn Las Vegas in 2005, the Cirque du Soleil style theatrics and acts seemed like carbon copies of O at Bellagio but it was accompanied by dark imagery that was at times disturbing. A clearer and less threatening storyline, enhanced special effects, new acts, and an integration of ballroom dancing have set it apart as its own creation and it is a stunning one at that.
Created originally by Franco Dragone, the man who created Cirque du Soleil's O, Le Rêve has many of the same thematic elements, most notably the giant water tank that people dive into, swim through, and do dramatic aerial stunts above. As with "O" the conceit can be a bit limiting but part of the show's evolution has been to emphasize more of the aerial stunts and dramatic Latin dance numbers, making it a richer experience.
The story, such as it is, involves a woman who is torn over whether or not she should allow herself to fall in love and then dreams of an aquatic world of angels and demons, hopes and fears, comedy and drama. It's a romantic quest - a stumble through the kinds of insecurities we all feel when exploring the boundaries of a relationship. I could've done without the unnecessary "love is hard" type lyrics that have been added to some of the previously instrumental-only songs, but it's still a relatable concept.
From there, though, it goes into Cirque du Soleil territory with lots of gasp-inducing diving, swimming, and stunts mixed with dramatic set pieces, many of which are darker in tone than anything Cirque does (at least here in Vegas). One particularly affecting segment looks like an aerial ballet of angels falling to earth (or water, as the case may be), only to have some scooped up by a grim-reaper-esque figure collecting the dead and the rest reeled back up into the heavens, screaming as they go. Whether or not that's the intended meaning behind that part the show, or whether that's how you'll interpret it, is almost irrelevant. The very fact that these elements exist to challenge the willing members of the audience who want something more than people diving into a pool is noteworthy.
But for those who do want the mindlessness, Le Rêve can still deliver on that. It is certainly darker than similar shows but it now contains enough humor and all of the eye-popping visual stunts and set pieces that people have come to expect from this particular genre.
The addition over the last couple of years of some new numbers keeps it fresh. A version of a fan dance uses soaring, billowing fabrics and a lovely snowfall accompanies acrobats performing in a birdcage, a rope, and a lamp post suspended above the pool. The ballroom style dance is also enlivening. Mostly Latin inspired from "Dancing with the Stars" dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the choreography and the dancers are championship caliber even before you consider the fact that often they are doing it all on narrow, wet walkways and sometimes actually up to their ankles in water. How they manage to accomplish that without sacrificing the aesthetics of their choreography (or breaking their ankles) is nothing short of amazing.
In late 2014 they installed a new production piece that was estimated to have cost around $3 million featuring walls of water that feature projections and lighting on and in them along with. Its sort of like a smaller, more colorful version of the Bellagio Fountains. It's impressive from a visual standpoint but I kind of miss the human element that infuses the rest of the show. It felt a little "tacked on" to me, but it doesn't harm the overall impression of the show.
If you are intrigued by the way they do the show there are many opportunities for a deeper dive (see what I did there?). A fascinating Backstage Tour gives a full access pass to the behind the scenes goings-on that make a huge show like this tick; special packages include upgraded seats with monitors that show you the underwater action; and there's even a package where certified diver's can get in the pool and see how it's all done from that angle.
It's almost not a real comparison anymore since, other than the water aspect, they are completely different shows but if you were to force me to choose between them I would pick Le Rêve over O. Its heart-stopping acrobatics and diving mixed with the emotionally resonant storyline and visuals make it a more complete theatrical package and an experience that you will remember long after you leave the theater.
Attraction Review: Erotic Heritage Museum
In its original incarnation, the Erotic Heritage Museum was one of my favorite attractions in Las Vegas, a fascinating examination of all different aspects of human sexuality. Run as an adjunct of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, it balanced the lurid with the literate, delving into everything from free speech to pornography to the AIDS crisis and more.
The people behind the first version of the museum got into a dispute with the owners of the property and some of the exhibits and they weren't able to keep it up, so to speak. The museum closed for but was brought back under new management, which is more closely aligned with the landlord who also happens to run the giant strip club next door. Although a lot of it is the same as it used to be, a lot isn't and something seems to have gotten lost in the translation.
The entry room is a combination erotic library and gift-shop. No, you can't buy porn here, but they do have reproductions and original artwork and your basic souvenir style tchotkes, albeit with a sexual bent to them. There is also a performance space that doubles as an erotic wedding chapel, complete with Egyptian temple style backdrops and big plush daybeds. Take that Elvis impersonator ceremonies!
The main exhibit hall is accessed through a lobby designed to look like a red light district alley, complete with neon signage and cardboard stand-ups of various stars from the adult entertainment industry.
Once inside the museum, you are confronted with an almost overwhelming series of experiences, from artistic to graphic to humorous. There is art, photography, interactive exhibits, video, literature, and historical objects providing insights and context around a topic that is too often dismissed as "dirty."
While there are a few serious explorations of things like the politics of pornography, some of the best exhibits from the original verison of the museum are gone. For instance there used to be several panels from the AIDS quilt displayed near graphic video and photography of 1970s era gay erotica, which created a dichotomy that almost forced you to pause and consider the impact one had on the other. That's gone now, replaced by props from a "Star Wars" porn parody. Another room is dedicated to the non-stop showing of celebrity sex tapes, so yes if you always wanted to see what made Paris Hilton a star, you can. The shift in tone is not radical but it is noticeable and the whole place feels like it is trying to be titillating instead of thought-provoking.
The most disappointing thing about the new version of the museum, though, is the almost obscene hike in admission price. It used to be $15. Now it's $30. Double the price for a less interesting experience?
Still, it is a unique, one-of-a-kind Vegas experience and there is enough here to still at least consider a visit, even at the new price point. But just in case you hadn't figured it out yet with a name like the Erotic Heritage Museum, it shouldn't be surprising that this is not a family attraction. It is in no way appropriate for anyone under the age of 18 or prudes so leave your judgments in the parking lot. You know... the one next to the strip club.
Erotic Heritage Museum
3275 Industrial Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A