Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Attack on The Riviera Planned

If you're in Vegas this week and see armed FBI agents swarming The Riviera or helicopters buzzing overhead, don't worry, the shuttered casino is not being under attack - at least not a real one. The FBI is planning to conduct an anti-terrorism training exercise at the hotel for their elite Hostage Rescue Team. The bureau is not releasing any details about what is involved in the exercise including whether or not any of it will be visible to tourists passing along The Strip, but could look a little scary to anyone who doesn't know what's going on. The Riviera closed in May after more than 60 years in business and will be demolished this summer to make way for more convention facilities. Read the history of The Riviera.

9. New Performance Driving Track Proposed

Those of you with a need for speed will have a new place to pretend you are a race car driver with the proposed Speed Vegas high-performance driving facility. The attraction will cover 85 acres near the M Resort on the far south side of town and will have a road course where people can drive fast cars by makers like Lamborghini, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Audi, and Mercedes Benz among others. There will also be a restaurant, viewing facilities, a store, and a bar, although one would presume that's where you go after you have driven their insanely expensive automobiles. They are hoping to have the track open by early next year. If you don't want to wait, there are other go-fast attractions in Vegas including Exotics Racing and the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

8. World's Largest Hooters To Be Exposed in July

The restaurant... get your mind out of the gutter. Yep, because what the world really needs is a "largest Hooters restaurant in the world," it is being built at The Palms and is now set for a July debut. It's going into the space once occupied by Garduno's back in the day and more recently the short-lived Heraea sports bar and eatery. When it is done it will have space for 500 people overlooking the pool area and will be a place for quiet, Zen reflection and epicurean feasts worthy of James Beard Awards. No, it'll have hot girls in tight t-shirts and shorts, 50 TVs blaring sports, and buckets of fried things. God Bless America! The existing Las Vegas Hooters restaurant is expected to stay put despite the fact that the building it is in will probably not be a Hooters Hotel for much longer now that it has a new owner. Read more about The Palms.

7. Mariah Carey Video Filmed at Caesars Palace

Now that she is doing a residency at Caesars Palace, it makes sense that Mariah Carey would film her new music video there. Shot on location inside the Colosseum showroom, various high end villas, and the valet parking area, the video for her new single "Infinity" also features a cameo from actor/model Tyson Beckford, who just wrapped up a guest hosting stint in the Chippendales revue at The Rio. Here's the video...

6. Hard Rock Wins Best Hotel Pool in the USA Today Voting

The readers of USA Today spent a month voting on their picks for the best hotel pools in the United States and the playground at the Hard Rock Las Vegas took the top spot. It beat out the swimming holes at major resorts in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, and California for its collection of pools they call Beachlife, which features guests-only relaxation areas and party pits that are open to the public for their popular REHAB events. The only other Vegas pool to get into the Top 20 was the sandy beaches at Mandalay Bay. Read more about the Hard Rock Las Vegas.

5. Twizzler Statue of Liberty

Hershey's Chocolate World inside New York-New York Las Vegas has unveiled a replica of the Statue of Liberty made entirely of Twizzlers last week. To celebrate, they ran a contest where people got to guess how many Twizzlers it took to make the sculpture without going over. Dwayne and Shelly Adams won with a guess of 21,222, which was a few dozen packages away from the correct answer of 21,456. They won a night at New York-New York, a $50 food and beverage credit a the hotel, a $100 gift certificate to Hershey's Chocolate World, and assorted Twizzlers merchandise. Read more about the Hershey's Chocolate World store.

4. Boyd Gaming Celebrates 40 Years

Sam Boyd is a name you may have heard of if you frequent Las Vegas. There is a stadium on the east side of town named for him and several casinos in town operate under the Boyd Gaming banner, a company that is celebrating its 40th year in business in 2015. Sam Boyd is one of those legendary, almost mythical Vegas figures who got his start in the gambling business in 1928 when he started running bingo games on a ship anchored off the coast of Long Beach, California. According to the official story, Boyd moved to Vegas in 1941 with only $30 in his pocket and began working in the city's casinos first as a dealer and later as a manager. Over the years he owned all or part of historic casinos like The Sahara and The Mint, eventually starting his own company in 1975 with the opening of The California in Downtown Vegas. From there the company would go on to either build or buy properties throughout the city including The Fremont, Main Street Station, The Plaza, Sam's Town, and The Stardust. Today they own the Coast Casinos properties like The Orleans and Suncoast plus casinos in Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey. Sam Boyd died in 1993 but his influence on Las Vegas will be felt for generations to come. Read more about the history of The Stardust.

3. Silverton Expansion Taking Shape

It's pretty hard to build a hotel tower quietly but somehow the Silverton has managed to do it. They first started talking about an addition to the property located along Interstate 15 just south of The Strip way back in 2013 and then again in the spring of 2014 but it seemed as if it was falling into the "I'll Believe It When I See It" bucket. Now, without any fanfare or hoopla, the new tower is rapidly reaching upwards and appears to be on track for a 2016 debut. When complete it will add 390 rooms to the Silverton's portfolio, more than doubling the overall inventory. There is also expected to be new restaurant and lounge space added when they hook up the two sections of the hotel. Read more about The Silverton.

2. Cook E. Jarr Returns to The Strip

If you have never seen Cook E. Jarr perform you have missed out on a vital part of the Vegas experience. He is a lounge lizard extraordinaire, who usually styles himself with overly coiffed, flowing locks, gold chains, and too much chest hair showing as he sings cheesy cover versions of pop and traditional hits and tells groan-worthy jokes. The line between whether this is who he is or a character he has created was probably blurred to the point of extinction years ago, but he has been performing at various bars and restaurants up and down The Strip decades. Although he has been sadly absent for the last year, Jarr is coming back to Sin City to perform at Napoleon's Lounge at Paris Las Vegas every Monday at 6:00pm. Do yourself a favor and go check it out. Read more about Paris Las Vegas.

1. Resorts World NOT Going to Have Panda Exhibit

The new Resorts World Las Vegas project currently under construction on the North Strip where the Stardust used to be is going to still going have an Asian theme but what it's not going to have is pandas or a water park. The original plan for the resort called for more than 3,000 rooms in multiple towers plus a 175,000 square-foot casino, multiple restaurants, a Chinese-themed shopping village, a replica of the Great Wall of China, a live panda exhibit, and a family-friendly water park with slides, rides, and more. Most of that is still on but the pandas and the water features are moving to "phase two" according to an interview with the parent company's CEO in the Las Vegas Sun last week. The first phase is scheduled for sometime in 2018 but the second phase, which could also include a movie studio backlot style attraction, do not have a firm date. Read more about Resorts World.

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Vegas Restaurant Week Menus

Now entering its ninth year, Las Vegas Restaurant Week brings together a lineup of some of the city's top dining establishments in a benefit for Three Square, an organization that aims to end hunger in Southern Nevada.

Each restaurant creates a special menu and all you have to do is order it. A portion of the proceeds goes to Three Square. The group says that each meal you purchase through the Restaurant Week program could provide up to 18 meals for needy families in Las Vegas and nearby communities.

There are more than 100 restaurants participating this year and some of the menus they have created sound pretty amazing. Here is just a sample:

Alizé at the Palms is offering a three course meal starting with French onion soup and escargot followed by your choice of a filet of beef in a cognac-green peppercorn sauce, a pan roasted chicken breast with truffled potatoes, or sauteed salmon with a king crab leg, plus dessert for $50.15.

Austins at Texas Station is serving up an appetizer of pan fried pork belly plus a 12 ounce NY strip steak and dessert for $40.15.

Buddy V's at The Palazzo has a choice of appetizers including their famous meatballs plus a main course of pasta bolognese, sea bass, or carbonara with pancetta plus tiramisu and cookies for dessert for $40.15. They also have a lunch with soup or salad, pasta or salmon, and cannoli for $20.15.

Culinary Dropout at the Hard Rock is offering soup, salad, or soft pretzels for an appetizer; fried chicken or meat loaf for the main course; and pie or custard for dessert. The cost is $30.15 and they also have a lunch option substituting a salad, burger, or sandwich for the entree for $20.15.

Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace is doing a lunch option that starts you off with their famous tortilla soup or a blue corn pancake with barbecued duck and follows that with a choice of shrimp tacos, spiced pork tenderloin sandwich, or spicy chicken and sweet potato hash. The meal ends up with a chef's choice of dessert for $30.15. The dinner menu swaps in choices of a pork porterhouse chop or pan seared sea scallops for $50.15.

Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace is doing breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a dessert "shot" of their Oreo Kiss & Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. There's other stuff, but really, who cares? Frozen Hot Chocolate, y'all!

The Steakhouse at Circus Circus is offering a choice of starters, filet mignon, and a choice of desserts for $50.15.

Todd's Unique Dining in Henderson is serving a couple of different salads to get you going then moving you on to their Scottish salmon with charred lemon thyme cream or the petite filets with green peppercorn and sweet potato gratin. They finish it off with either a warm chocolate cake with raspberry and vanilla sauce or butterscotch pudding. The cost is $30.15.

Other restaurants taking part in the event are B&B Burger & Beer at Palazzo, Border Grill at Mandalay Bay and The Forum Shops, BLT Burger at The Mirage, The Charcoal Room at Santa Fe Station, China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian, Diablo's Cantina at Monte Carlo, Dick's Last Resort at Excalibur, Emeril's at MGM Grand, Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Fix at Bellagio, Gilley's at Treasure Island, Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill at Caesars Palace, Julian Serrano at Aria Las Vegas, Nine Fine Irishmen at New York-New York, Red Square at Mandalay Bay, STK at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Stack at The Mirage, Table 10 at Palazzo, Umami Burger at SLS Las Vegas, and Yusho at Monte Carlo just to name a few.

Las Vegas Restaurant Week runs this year from June 15-26. If you aren't going to be in Vegas during that time, you can find out more about Three Square and help them out on their website at threesquare.org.

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Restaurant Review: Viva Las Arepas

From Wikipedia: Arepa (Spanish pronunciation: [a'repa]) is a flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour prominent in the cuisine of Venezuela and Colombia. It is eaten daily in those countries and can be served with various accompaniments such as cheese (cuajada), avocado, or (especially in Venezuela) split and used to make sandwiches. Various sizes, maize types, and added ingredients are used to vary its preparation. It is similar in shape to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa. Arepas can also be found in Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and the Canary Islands.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let's talk about how good they are and let's talk about the best place to get them in Las Vegas (and possibly anywhere outside of South America).

Viva Las Arepas is a small storefront restaurant located in what is otherwise a rundown stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between The Stratosophere and Downtown. It's the stretch of the street with the no-tell motels, bail bonds offices, pawn shops, and wedding chapels that most people drive through on their way between The Strip and Fremont Street. If you are looking for recognizable landmarks, it is right across the street from the White Cross drug store and about a block almost smack dab between the Olympic Gardens strip club and the Chapel of the Flowers wedding facility. So yeah, it's a neighborhood most people don't go to unless they have something to sell or want to drunk-marry that girl "Cynammon" they just met at the strip club.

If you let the somewhat less-than-desirable (but certainly not the worst) neighborhood deter you from coming here then you only have yourself to blame for missing out on some amazing, affordable food.

The restaurant itself is like a colorful oasis in the midst of urban blight. There's a lovely little canopy covered outdoor patio in front (where you can get a nice view of people going in and out of the 7-11 or AM/PM) and the inside is all sunny yellows and oranges with a few tables and counter service.

The menu is authentic Venezuelan, which is not the same as Mexican in case you are wondering. They have empanadas with shredded beef or chicken; pastelitos, which are sort of like a puff pastry filled with ground beef or guava and cheese among other options; grilled meats done over mesquite wood including chicken, pork spare ribs, beef, and more; and of course the arepas, which are the centerpiece of the offerings.

They come in more than a dozen varieties including wood fire or shredded beef, chicken, pork butt, black bean and cheese, garlic shrimp, ham and cheese, eggs with ham and cheese, beef with plantains, and more. If you are having a hard time deciding, note that each one is a little bigger than a CD so feel free to get a couple if you want to sample the options. Each comes with a tangy sauce and you can also get sour cream, avocado, or more cheese if you are feeling crazy. Just note that they are more filling than they look so be prepared for a waddle back to your room if you eat more than one.

The fluffy corn bread mixes perfectly with the stuff stuffed into it and add that little dollop of sour cream to the top and it's just heaven. We sampled a bunch of them and found every one to be better than the last although if I had to pick a favorite I'd probably go with the roasted pork.

So hopefully I have convinced you to come here for the food alone but if you need an extra incentive, how's this: nothing on the menu is over $10 except for the whole roast chicken, which weighs in at least three pounds, and comes with two sides at $17. The arepas are $5-7, the empanadas $3, and the pastelitos less than $3. You could easily do a full, very satisfying meal with a beverage (they have a variety of fruit drinks and Venezuelan sodas) and tax for under $15.

It's hard to find food this good that is this inexpensive anywhere in Las Vegas and virtually impossible on The Strip. So get out of your billion-dollar resort digs and head here for a great meal, even if you aren't on your way to marry Cynammon.

Viva Las Arepas
1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
702-366-9696
website
Daily 8am-12am
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A

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Vegas4Visitors Museum Special: The 60th Anniversary of The Dunes

May 23rd passed by without much fanfare in Las Vegas. It was Memorial Day weekend, but other than massive crowds showing up for the holiday weekend there really wasn't anything noteworthy happening in town. But 60 years earlier on that date, there was a lot happening in Vegas when one of the most legendary hotel-casinos opened its doors to the public: The Dunes.

Al Gottesman is credited with being the driving force behind one of the most influential and longest-lasting Las Vegas hotels, The Dunes. But who exactly was he? According to most Dunes histories, Gottesman is referred to as a "movie mogul" but the only thing that seems to support that reference is that he owned several movie theaters in Connecticut and Massachusetts, including the famed Palladium in Worscester. But Gottesman sold those theaters to Warner Bros in 1929 and what he did between then and the early 1950s when he popped up in Las Vegas are not well-documented. There are certainly no indications that he ever produced, directed, or had anything to do with an actual movie.

Could he have been a part of an organized crime syndicate? It certainly wouldn't be surprising considering that most Las Vegas hotels developed during the time period came from mob money in one way or another, but since the history books are unclear let's just refer to Gottesman as a the accepted "movie mogul" and leave it at that.

Gottesman and partners from Las Vegas bought a horse ranch at what is now the southwest corner of The Strip and Flamingo. Although now one of the busiest intersections in the world, in 1953 it was fairly desolate territory. The Flamingo had been up and running for nearly a decade across the highway but most of the action with hotels like The Frontier, The Desert Inn, The Sahara, and The Sands were happening much further north. The property was the southernmost to be dedicated to a major resort and would be, for a time, the first one that visitors driving in from California would encounter.

Whether Gottesman was involved in organized crime or not is unknown but it is widely accepted that money raised to complete The Dunes came from less than reputable sources. A alleged Rhode Island crime syndicate and the infamous Teamster's Pension Fund were responsible for the bulk of the $3.5 million required to build the resort.

The Dunes opened on May 23, 1955 with 200 rooms. It came in the middle of a boom time for the Las Vegas Strip, coming only a month after The Riviera and The Royal Nevada.

The hotel had an Arabian nights theme complete with a 48-foot tall sultan statue atop the porte corchere. There was a dinner theater showroom called The Arabian Room, a double-Olympic sized swimming pool in a V-shape billed as the "largest in America" at the time, restaurants, bars, and a casino, of course.

With all of the competition boiling over on The Strip, The Dunes wasn't able to compete and suffered from money woes almost immediately. Management from The Sands was brought in to try to right the ship but the casino shut down at least twice in late 1955 into 1956 although the motel portion stayed open. The property was sold to a Chicago firm and had a "grand reopening" in June of 1956.

In 1959 the hotel added a golf course, convention center, and more parking.

In 1961 the hotel joined the high-rise boom by adding a 21-story tower bringing its room total to 450. Much of the property was redone at the same time, pulling back (a bit) on the Arabian Nights theme and going for a more modern, 60s contemporary look. Not long after the Sultan was removed from the top of the porte corchere and the iconic neon Dunes sign was added at the front of the property. He was moved to the golf course at the back of the hotel, visible from the interstate.

A 1965 addition to the property was the Dome of the Sea restaurant, a clam-shell shaped structure used projections inside to give the illusion of dining under water. It was located at the front of the property, more or less in the middle of what is now the lake where the Bellagio Fountains are located.

The next major expansion to the property was in 1979 when a 17-story hotel tower was added. In 1983 a second casino was added with an entrance closer to The Strip's foot traffic. Dubbed the Oasis Casino, it was located where the current Via Bellagio shopping area is

The following year, saddled by debt and an underperforming casino, the owners of The Dunes declared bankruptcy. It was sold in late 1984 to the owner of The Maxim, a hotel on Flamingo just east of The Strip.

The hotel was sold again in 1987 to a Japanese investor who promised big things but could never raise the money to upgrade the property.

I personally remember staying at The Dunes in the early part of 1989. I had booked one of the cheap motel style rooms out back but when I got there they gave me a room in the main tower overlooking The Strip for the same rate. By that time the entire property was seriously run-down and only a shadow of its glamorous former self.

In 1992 The Dunes was sold to Steve Wynn, who had opened The Mirage and was working on Treasure Island.

The Dunes closed on January 27, 1993 and was scheduled for demolition later in the year but a fire in the mostly unoccupied buildings took care of a great deal of that work. The September 16, 1993 blaze destroyed much of the original motel style buildings at the back of the property and seriously damaged the casino and portions of the high-rise towers.

The final moments of The Dunes were quite spectacular. Treasure Island opened on October 27, 1993 and owner Steve Wynn connected the occasion to the implosion of remaining portions of The Dunes. A faux cannon shot from the pirate ship in front of TI "triggered" a massive fireworks and implosion spectacle that brought down the northernmost room tower and the Dunes sign. The remaining hotel tower was imploded "quietly" in 1994 to make way for the construction of Bellagio, which opened in 1998.

By the way, in case you're wondering what happened to the giant Sultan statue... in 1985 a presumed electrical short in the lighted figure caused a fire that reduced the Sultan to ash.

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