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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
April 20, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Quacking Up
Officially proving that humanity has run out of ideas, the new musical based on the series Duck Dynasty has opened at The Rio. "Duck Commander Musical" is based on the lives of the Robinson family who have generated a fortune - and quite a bit of controversy - first with a duck call business and then with a reality show on A&E. According to early reviews, the show is not as bad as everyone was expecting it to be but still may not be quite ready for its Broadway debut anytime soon. Read more about The Rio.
9. MGM Resort's Arena Will Be Watching You
Ready to get a little creeped out? The new 20,000 seat arena under construction behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo will feature a sponsorship by electronics giant Toshiba. No big deal, right? Except that the company will introduce new technology in the plaza in front of the arena that will scan the crowd and custom deliver ads to them on giant screens. So if you have a crowd of teenagers attending a One Direction concert the system will recognize that and deliver different ads to them than if it was a crowd full of monster truck rally fans. They swear it doesn't get down to the individual level (yet) and that they don't record or store any personally identifiable information.
8. Uber Bill Hits a Setback
The bill working its way through the Nevada legislature that would effectively legalize ride-share services like Uber and Lyft in the state has hit a bit of a snag. Although it was approved in committee it was narrowly defeated in a State Senate vote after partisan wrangling on various amendments got out of control. The bill is not officially dead though. Backers are sending it around the loop again to see if the sticking points can get hammered out in committee and then it could come up for a vote before the end of May.
7. Guy Fieri Celebrates a Year in Vegas
How did celeb chef and TV personality Guy Fieri celebrate the one year anniversary of Guy Fieri's Kitchen at The Linq? With food, of course. Fieri was on hand for the celebration last week handing out slider versions of his insanely popular (and caloric) bacon mac and cheese burgers to fans and taking photos with the crowd. Then he picked several people in the crowd to go off on a ride of the High Roller Observation Wheel in a specially decorated cabin complete with a bar. See photos of the event on on the photographer's Facebook page and read my review of the restaurant.
6. Jeff Civillico's Stripped Down Unicycle Ride on The Strip
Comedy juggler Jeff Civillico promised fans that if he won Best Family Attraction in the Las Vegas Review Journal's Best of Vegas awards he would ride a unicycle down The Strip wearing only a pair of "booty shorts." Last week he made good on his promise, riding the cycle from Fremont Street Experience to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Here's a video of the stunt:
5. Las Vegas Premium Outlets Expansion Opens
The big expansion at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North mall near Downtown Las Vegas opened last week. Among the three dozen new outlets are a two-story, 44,000 square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Helmut Lang, Clarins, and a Cheesecake Factory, although the latter does not offer "irregular" versions of its food (hopefully). Read the review of the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North.
4. Britney Bites Back
The funniest thing about the news stories running around about Britney Spears telling off a heckler at a recent concert are the surprised reactions from people who realized that her microphone is really on during the show. Apparently someone in the audience said something derogatory to La Brit while she was on stage at Planet Hollywood and she quickly told him where he could stick his opinion of her loudly enough for the entire audience to hear and appreciate. Good for her if for no other reason than it seems to give credence to that whole "singing to track" story they tell. Read the full review of the Britney Spears show.
3. Lion Cubs Born at Vegas Habitat.
Get prepared to break out your "awwwwww" -- six new lion cubs were born a couple of weeks at the Lion Habitat Ranch in Las Vegas. Although one of them later died the rest seem to be in good health and are available for viewing at the ranch, from a respectful distance behind glass so as not to bother the newborns. Read my review of the Lion Habitat Ranch.
2. World's Biggest Hooters Set for Vegas
Well, of course... where else would you put the world's largest Hooters? The company has confirmed rumors that they will be putting a new restaurant into The Palms and it's going to be a doozy. Spread across more than 15,000 square-feet where Rain Nightclub and later Heraea restaurant were located, the new two story restaurant will feature a poolside bar, dozens of televisions showing non-stop sports, seating for 500, and a staff of, um, ample waitresses. The bar part is expected to open in May with the rest of the joint following along over the summer. The Hooters Hotel and restaurant over on Trop is still struggling along although rumors persist that it will get a new name and remodel sometime soon. Read more about the Palms.
1. Suicide at M Resort Blamed on Loss of Free Buffet
53 year old John Noble of Las Vegas was a regular customer at the M Resort Buffet after having won a "Free Buffet for Life" promotion. But he was banned from the hotel after allegedly harassing several of the female employees. Losing that buffet and his perception of the way he was treated was reportedly the reason he gave for his suicide in a series of letters and a DVD sent to the Las Vegas Review Journal by Noble that arrived Monday, April 6, the day after he had killed himself. According to police, Noble parked his car in the hotel's garage, set it on fire, and then walked into the buffet and shot himself in front of horrified onlookers. A couple of other people received minor injuries as they rushed to get away from the scene. Read more and see some of the disturbing video at the LVRJ.
Elvis Attraction Opens This Week
From 1969 through 1976, Elvis Presley performed hundreds of shows at the hotel that was known then as The International or Las Vegas Hilton. He even lived on the 30th floor of the building for several months of the year.
Debuting this week with a big party overseen by Priscilla Presley, The King will be returning to his old stomping grounds with the debut of "Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition, The Show, The Experience at the same hotel, now known as Westgate.
Done in partnership with the Graceland estate, the new attraction has taken over the area that used to house the Star Trek exhibition and ride. 28,000 square-feet of space will be devoted to memorabilia and artifacts from the late singer's career including costumes, furniture, jewelry, and more. Many of the items will be things that have never had room to display at Graceland in Memphis and some of it is specific to his time in Las Vegas. Examples include a contract to perform at The International written on a tablecloth and a two-story high sign advertising his 1956 concerts at The New Frontier.
The exhibit also has interactive features and video including a 26-minute film retrospective of Elvis' best performances.
A series of tribute shows will take over the main theater at the hotel where Elvis performed. The first is called the Vegas Experience and features impersonator Martin Fontaine, a full band, back-up singers, and sets designed to emulate the original production. They are eventually planning on redesigning the venue, getting rid of the theater style seating and taking it back to classic showroom layout with tables and semi-circular booths.
The hotel will also debut a wedding chapel managed by the Graceland team but in a bit of a shocker, you won't be able to be married by an Elvis impersonator. They want it to be classier than that. Instead you'll be hitched on a set that will make it appear as if you are standing on the front steps of Graceland.
Priscilla will be on hand to act as matron of honor for one lucky couple who was chosen in a contest by NBC's The Today Show.
The exhibition will be open daily from 10am to 10pm. Tickets cost $22 and are on sale now.
The show will run Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30pm and Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets range from $49-$80 and are also on sale now.
Both the show and the exhibit debut April 23, 59 years to the day when Elvis first performed in Vegas at The New Frontier.
What's New in Downtown Las Vegas
Once the bastion of cheap gambling, cheap booze, and cheap souvenirs, the Downtown Las Vegas area has experienced a rebirth over the last few years with new hotels, bars, restaurants, shopping, and attractions creating a new energy. In the past you only went Downtown if you couldn't afford to go anywhere else. Now, you go Downtown because it's cool and yet still relatively affordable.
The upward mobility of the area has continued recently with several new things opening up that are worth knowing about.
6th Street Parklet
Proving its urban core bona fides, Downtown Las Vegas has its first "parklet," a 160-square-foot miniature park created out of a parking space. Popular in cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia, the teeny parks are designed to provide a whimsical bit of greenery in an otherwise concrete jungle. The one in Downtown Vegas is located on 6th Street near the corner of Carson Ave., a few steps down the street from La Comida and The Commonwealth and around the corner from Carson Kitchen and O Face Donuts. It features a table showing various natural features around Las Vegas like Red Rock Canyon and has a few stools where people can sit and relax while waiting for tables at the increasingly in-demand nearby restaurants, hence its name The Waiting Game. The parklet will be there for the next year and could extend beyond that.
The Market Downtown Las Vegas
Critical to an urban revitalization are people - both those that work in the area and those that live there as well. But one of the biggest blockers to creating a residential footprint in Downtown Vegas is the lack of basics like a grocery store. So far none of the supermarket level chains have been willing to move into the area but Downtown Las Vegas recently got its first grocery with The Market, a small storefront with a Trader Joe's or Whole Food style selection of organic and farm fresh food. It's located at 611 E. Fremont, across the street from El Cortez. Visit The Market website to learn more.
The Writer's Block
Remember books? They were these things made out of paper with a bunch of pages and written words on them that people used to read before things like Kindle came along. Although they are few and far between these days, there are still a few stores dedicated to the concept of books and a new one is open in Downtown Las Vegas now. Located at 1020 E. Fremont Street, across the street from Atomic Liquors, The Writer's Block features books (naturally) and some other quirky items (badminton accessories?) plus a small book printing/publishing shop and workshops for writers. Read more at the Writer's Block website.
Chef Bradley Manchester has debuted Glutton in Downtown Las Vegas, featuring an eclectic menu of New American cuisine for lunch and dinner daily. Located on Carson Avenue, across 7th Street from Downtown Container Park, Glutton showcases savory meats, locally sourced produce, house-made pastas, and seafood from the Pacific Northwest. Glutton is housed in a renovated midcentury building and maintains the original oak ceiling from its original 1955 construction. The restaurant seats approximately 78 patrons indoors and an additional 25 on an outdoor patio, where guests can dine among the fresh herbs Manchester will cultivate there. Visit the Glutton website to learn more.
What You Can Buy from the Riviera
The classic Riviera hotel and casino will shut its doors forever at noon on Monday, May 4, but if you are interested in snagging a piece of that particular bit of Vegas history mark May 14 on your calendar. That's the day they will be starting the liquidation sale at the hotel where everything that isn't bolted down will be sold off to anyone who wants it.
The sale is being administered by National Content Liquidators, a company specializing in this type of sale. This is the same company that ran the everything-must-go festivities at The Sahara after it closed to be remade into the SLS Las Vegas.
Anyone can attend as long as you are willing to stand in line (there is almost always a line at these things) and pay the $10 admission fee. It might be worth it just to get one last look at the hotel before it meets its fate with a wrecking ball. The sale will go every day until it is all gone.
Although most of the things of significant monetary or historic value will be removed before the sale, there will be plenty left over to choose from. Here's a rundown of the items listed on the sale preview page:
Guestroom and Suite Items
The Riviera has more than 2,000 rooms and everything inside of them will be for sale including flat screen TV's of all different sizes, king and full size Serta Perfect Sleeper pillow top beds (used, of course), granite top chests and desks, nightstands, writing desks, pictures, mirrors, lamps, chairs, sofas, loveseats, chandeliers and sconces, wet bar accessories, bar stools, bathroom fixtures (want an old Riviera toilet? It's yours for the right price!), and tables of multiple varieties including end, coffee, sofa, dining, and game tables. And that's just to start. They'll be selling absolutely everything from the rooms including the hangers in the closet and the rods on which they hang.
Like most casinos the slot machines are rented from the manufacturer so they will go back to the companies who own them, but everything else will be up for grabs including the stools and chairs that you would sit in to play those slot machines, the pedestals on which they would sit, gaming tables, cashier cage equipment, signage, flat screens TVs, car and motorcycle display stands, sports book furnishings and equipment, and much more. The hotel has more than 100,000 square-feet of kitchens throughout its footprint so there's a lot of stuff to get rid of.
Bar and Restaurant Items
If you need a bar stool or an industrial grade ice machine, this will be the place to get one. All of the items from the hotel's various drinking and eating establishments will be up for sale including the actual bars themselves (as in the marble tops), booths, light fixtures, wall decor, coolers and freezers, stoves, ovens, griddles, dishwashers, and every last bit of kitchen equipment you can think of from pots and pans to ladles.
Looking to start your own party rental service? Come here and get your choice of thousands of banquet chairs and hundreds of tables along with risers, a portable dance floor, glassware, china, flatware, serving dishes, and more.
They say the show must go on but if that's true it's not going to happen in one of the four theaters in the Riviera that will be stripped to the studs. Curtains, drapes, microphones, mixing boards, sound equipment, theatrical lighting equipment, tables, chairs, and more will all be included in the sale.
The hotel had a fitness center so if you're looking for a cheap used treadmill, you can get one here. How about a cash register? They have a few those around. Maybe a forklift? Yep, you can get one (or twelve) of those here. If you are in need of some carpeting, they have a few million square feet of it, both new and used. They are even getting rid of the doors and a leaded glass ceiling.
So of course the biggest question is what is going to happen to the Riviera's most prized feature? You know what I'm talking about - the bronze Crazy Girls butt statue at the front of the hotel? Nobody is saying for sure yet but word has it that it will be saved and resurrected in the new convention center facilities that will eventually be built here.
For more information on the sale visit the NCL Sales website.
The 60th Anniversary of The Riviera
Talk about bittersweet... The Riviera turns sixty years old this week, just two weeks ahead of the day when the doors to the once grand hotel will close forever.
Like many Las Vegas hotels, the original concept for what would become The Riviera was for a much different thing. Originally the idea, first floated in 1952, was for a $3.5 million, 250 room property called Hotel Casa Blanca. It was going to have a South Beach Miami theme and be patterned after that city's high-end Fontainebleau hotel.
The idea was floated by various "businessmen" including William "Lefty Clark" Bischoff, a reputed associate of notorious (alleged) mobster Meyer Lanksy. As the proposal went through the licensing and approval process, state gaming regulators became concerned about Bischoff's acquaintances and he was forced out of the project - at least officially. His name and several others were replaced on the paperwork with a set of Miami businessmen who were widely considered to be front people for what was still a mob endeavor.
This went on for the better part of a year as different people signed on and dropped out of the management, ownership, and financial backing of the hotel, all done to try to assuage the gaming commission that the mob was not involved (even though it was).
Then in mid-1953 they finally found the right name to include on the application, The Marx Brothers. Gummo and Harpo were among the investors in the property along with a group of Hollywood types, which gave the project enough caché to finally free it from the regulatory clutches.
Groundbreaking occurred May 24, 1954 and by then the project had been renamed The Riviera. It would be the first high-rise on The Strip, with a nine-story room tower. The cost ballooned up to $10 million.
The spring of 1955 was a busy time for Las Vegas as four major hotels opened within a month of each other. The Royal Nevada debuted on April 19, the Riviera one day later on April 20, and the Dunes and Moulin Rouge both coming online in May.
Liberace provided the entertainment for the opening and beyond for which he got an insane-for-the-times $50,000 a week, making him the highest paid entertainer in the world. Joan Crawford was the official greeter and was paid $10,000 for four days work saying hello to people. Keep in mind that in 1955 the average salary in the US was about $5,000, and that was for an entire year!
The hotel had 291 rooms and a Miami South Beach feeling that was much more subtle than originally intended. The small casino, which only had a handful of tables and about 100 slot machines, was done in a what we now call mid-century modern. There was also a 700-seat showroom and dinner theater called The Clover Room, several restaurants, an Olympic sized swimming pool, and more.
Most of the hotels of the era were relatively casual spaces, often with western themes and marketed to a wide swath of people. The Riviera on the other hand was conceived of and run as a place for high rollers, going after a high-end luxury crowd that apparently had other places to go. The property didn't attract the kind of everyday crowd that was needed to sustain business. That and the high likelihood that the mob was siphoning money out of the operation, put the Riviera into bankruptcy in July 1955, only three months after it opened. Unfortunately for The Riv, it wouldn't be the last time the hotel went bankrupt.
A reorganization with new backers kept the doors open and the hotel afloat. One of them was Gus Greenbaum, the man who took over the Flamingo after Bugsy Siegel met his unfortunate end in 1947. Greenbaum was named manager and the hotel worked on reestablishing itself although it was still positioned as a luxury resort for many years to come.
By 1958 Greenbaum was becoming notorious for his onsite gambling, drinking, drugs (he was reputed to be addicted to heroin), and womanizing. According to legend, he stole money from the casino to support his various vices and in December of 1958 he and his wife were found with their throats slashed in their Arizona vacation home. Despite the fact that pretty much everyone believed it to be a mob hit, officials declared that it wasn't and the murderer(s) were never found.
In 1960 the hotel ran into money troubles again. Although it didn't officially declare bankruptcy, it required a massive infusion of cash from new investors to keep it afloat . Among them was another alleged mob figure Moe Dalitz.
Between 1962 and 1963 a $3.5 million project added rooms, bringing the total to 415, and renovated the existing ones. Some of the luxury accoutrements were toned down to try to broaden the hotel's appeal.
During this period, the hotel became a haven for entertainers. Elvis, The Rat Pack, and Barbra Streisand (who made her Vegas debut here as an opening act for Liberace) took the stage and brought in huge crowds.
More rooms were added in 1967 along with a new lobby and other amenities. By then the property had 770 rooms total and the main tower had increased up to 12 stories high.
In 1969 Dean Martin became a 10% owner of the hotel and a resident entertainer, doing several runs of shows periodically. That lasted until 1972 when a contract dispute about how many performances the singer would do each week led to him exiting the property both physically and financially.
The property was bought by American International Travel Services of Boston for $56 million in 1973 and those new owners added the $20 million, 17-story Monte Carlo room tower. The total inventory was up to 1,000.
The 200 room San Remo tower was added in 1977.
In 1984 the hotel sank into bankruptcy #2. The hotel remained open throughout the reorganization and a new set of owners and managers came in.
It took them a few years to get things back to something resembling "on track" but by 1988 they invested $28 million to add the Monaco Tower, a 24 story addition that brought the resort up to over 2,100 rooms total.
They also went to work on renovating the front of the property. In 1990 the casino was expanded to more than 100,000 square-feet and the neon and glass facade was added.
A year later, in 1991, came bankruptcy #3. Riviera Holdings Inc. was formed out of that to manage the hotel.
Frank Sinatra's last headlining engagement in Vegas was at the Riviera in 1992 and there's a room that was designed to his specifications. You can still stay there - room 2902 in the Monte Carlo tower - but be warned: it is supposedly haunted. It was even featured on an episode of "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel.
The Vegas boom of the 1990s that brought new, modern resorts like The Mirage, MGM Grand, and Luxor to The Strip relegated The Riviera to second (or even third) tier status. With all of the attention focused on the South and Center Strip areas, the North Strip languished and foot traffic slowed to a crawl. A lack of investment caused the once grand Riviera to become a dated shadow of its former self.
In 2010 the hotel saw Bankruptcy #4. Starwood Capital Group, a private investment firm,rode in to rescue the property and take over the management. They threw some money into it, redoing some of the rooms, putting in a new sports book and bingo hall, and updating some of the casino and other public areas, but the bulk of the Riviera is pretty much the same as it has been for the better part of the last 30 years. It is now considered to be a bargain hotel with room rates as low as $25 during the week.
In February 2015 the hotel was sold to the Las Vegas Convention and Authority. They plan to close it on May 4, 2015 and tear it down to make way for new convention facilities.