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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
July 13, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. How Bad is Traffic in Las Vegas?
Everybody knows that traffic in Las Vegas, especially on and near The Strip, sucks. But how much does it suck? The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada did a study recently that measured how long it took to drive from Excalibur on the south end of The Strip to The Venetian on the Center Strip. For the record, that is about two miles. On Friday, May 22, at around 9:30pm it took 23 minutes to make the journey. The next night, Saturday, May 23 at around the same time, it took 35 minutes, averaging 3.5 miles per hour. Now, granted, this was Memorial Day weekend when things are extra sucky because of the number of visitors in town, but even when it isn't a holiday weekend that journey on a typical Friday or Saturday night will take significantly longer than it should. What's the solution? Take back streets (although many of those are just as congested these days), use the Las Vegas Monorail if it is going near where you are going, get wherever you are going early, or just walk.
9. There's an App for That: Parking in Downtown Vegas
Downtown Las Vegas has gotten very popular over the last couple of years and it has made parking a bit more of a challenge, especially on weekend nights or when there are big events. Many of the hotel parking garages are charging or restricting access only to guests. If you can score a metered parking space you have to figure out the overly-complicated payment kiosks (I used one recently and it is not at all intuitive) and then hope you remember to get back to your car before the time runs out. Now the city has partnered with Parkmobile, an app that allows you to pay directly from your phone and even will send you an alert telling you that the meter is about to expire. All city of Las Vegas parking meters are reportedly included in the app.
8. Flash Floods Hit Vegas
Whenever it rains hard in Vegas, there are flash floods and yesterday was no exception. Several parts of the Vegas valley received an inch of rain in less than an hour, something the city just isn't built to deal with. One of the usual flooding spots is at The Linq, where the driveway under the hotel (which is now the only way in and out), always turns into a raging river when heavy rains hit. There were a couple of swift-water rescues in other parts of the city and a few car accidents blamed on the rain but there were no serious injuries. Check out pictures of The Linq flooding at The Las Vegas Sun.
7. Blue Men Get Their Own Ice Cream
The Blue Man Group has teamed up with BLVD Creamery at the Monte Carlo to create their very own ice cream flavor. Blue Man Scoup features blue vanilla ice cream with some of their favorite things: marshmallows, Toblerone, and Twinkies. If you have ever seen the show, you'll understand why those ingredients are wholly appropriate and kind of funny. The concoction will be available through the summer and can be purchased on its own or as a package with Blue Man Group tickets - $79 gets you a seat at the show and a $10 ice cream voucher at BLVD. Read more about the Blue Man Group.
6. Lagasse Stadium Launches Radio Studio
Emeril Lagasse's Stadium at Palazzo has been a haven for the sports minded, complete with hundreds of TVs showing pretty much every sporting event you can think of and a nearby sports betting window. Now they are getting into the radio business with the launch of a new studio. Sports X Radio with Ken Thompson is broadcasting daily from the new facility during the week and Ballin' Live with Tracy Murray, Van Coleman, and Brett Grant is doing a weekly show with more on the way. Read more about Lagasse Stadium.
5. Diana Ross Returning to the Venetian
Legendary singer Diana Ross had a sold-out run of shows at The Venetian in April and got such a good response from the public and the critics that she is coming back again in November. Ross will perform nine shows from November 4-21 in the Venetian Theater, where Phantom used to play. Ticktes are on sale now through Ticketmaster and range from $65 to $245 before taxes and fees. Read more about The Venetian.
4. What's Happening with the SLS Las Vegas Owners?
SBE Entertainment is the company that runs not only the SLS Las Vegas but SLS hotels in Beverly Hills and South Beach plus a host of restaurants around the country including the Katsuya and Cleo brands. Or at least they used to. SBE has been on a selling spree, dumping the hotels in California and Florida and now selling off Katsuya and Cleo to the One Group, which manages restaurants like STK at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. For now the SLS versions of those restaurants will be staying put and SBE will continue to manage those outlets under a deal with One Group, but this is raising even more questions about the health of not only the SLS but its parent company as well. Since it opened last year, the SLS Las Vegas has shuttered or revamped restaurants, clubs, and shops; drawn back on the operating hours of some of the stuff it has kept open; and slashed its room rates to as low as $50 per night during the week. Read more about the SLS Las Vegas.
3. Mirage Volcano Having Fewer Eruptions
When the Mirage Volcano launched with the hotel in 1989 it literally stopped traffic on The Strip. Today it is just another bit of the crazy Vegas landscape, despite several upgrades that have amped up the wow factor. Now you're going to be seeing less of it. The "eruption" schedule has been cut from six shows a night to just two on weekdays and three on the weekends. You can see the volcano show Sunday through Thursday at 8 and 9pm and Friday and Saturday at 8, 9, and 10pm. Read more about the Mirage Volcano.
2. Insert Coin(s) Closes
Ms Pac Man has left the building. Insert Coin(s), one of the best bars in Downtown Vegas with its selection of both classic and new video games has closed. The owners swear that it's just temporary but various reports are saying that the club ran into money trouble and that an eviction notice was served by the people who own the property. Too bad - I really liked this place. Maybe they still have some extra lives they haven't used up yet.
1. Luxury Movie Theater Planned for Downtown Vegas
Downtown Las Vegas is enjoying a renaissance of late, with new restaurants, clubs, and attractions pulling in both local and tourist audiences. But it is still struggling to catch up on some of the basics that many downtown cores have - for instance movie theaters. There used to be a movie complex at Neonopolis but that closed years ago. The Eclipse Theaters project wants to change that. A group of developers is proposing an 8-screen luxury complex at 3rd St. and Gass Ave., about seven blocks south of the Fremont Street Experience on the edges of the Arts District where the First Friday festival happens. It will have high-end, reservation seating, a restaurant, a lounge, and private event space for their showings of both first-run and arthouse films. The people behind it say the groundbreaking is set for next month and they hope to be welcoming movie-goers by spring of next year.
Blarney Stone One of Many Bizarre Vegas Thefts
The Blarney Stone at the D Las Vegas has been a kitschy fixture for longer than the hotel has been The D. It dates all the way back to the 1990s when the property, then known as Fitzgerald's, completed its luck o' the Irish theme with an actual chunk of the Blarney Castle that, according to legend, will bring luck to those who kiss it.
For the record, you are supposed to hang upside down to kiss it but the casino has always discouraged that. In fact, the never really recommended that you kiss it all, preferring instead that folks just give it a pat or a rub before heading off to the blackjack tables.
Anyway, the stone has been sitting on a podium in the casino encouraging gamblers for decades... until last week when someone stole it.
The theft occurred at about 2:30 in the morning on July 8 when a man, who had been gambling and drinking in the casino, walked up to the stone, hefted it over his shoulder, and sauntered out with it. Security cams caught the brazen Blarney thief looking pretty casual as he exited while carrying a big rock.
This of course brought up a lot of questions about why the stone wasn't tied down and what casino security was doing at the time, but still, the stone was gone and hotel owner Derek Stevens took to social media to plead for its return, even offering up a reward.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Vegas, a guy woke up and started getting calls from his friends who had seen a photo of him on the news stealing the Blarney Stone. I like to think that the conversation included the phrase, "I did what?"
The contrite man took the stone back to The D the next day, blaming the incident on too much tequila. That there was alcohol involved was probably the least surprising part of the story.
The hotel decided not to press charges and the stone has been returned to its podium, now with a tether that will keep it from being hijacked again.
The Great Blarney Stone Caper of 2015 was not the first wacky theft to have occurred in Las Vegas.
Earlier this year, someone made off with a truckload of stuff from the Crazy Girls show that were being moved to storage after The Riviera closed. Included in the haul were costumes and props including a six foot tall statue of a penis that shot streamers out of it. The truck was recovered but the rest has never been seen again, leading me to believe that somewhere, someone has a really interesting coffee table.
Speaking of things being stolen from people who take off their clothes for a living, a man decided to it would be a good idea to sneak backstage at the Thunder From Down Under male strip show at Excalibur and try to steal a suitcase of props and costumes. The whole thing ended with the team of muscled dancers beating the crap out of the guy and gunfire - luckily no one was seriously injured except for the guy that got the crap beat out of him.
But of course a discussion of bizarre Vegas thefts wouldn't be complete without a look back at 1999 when someone made off with a two-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin's head.
When the Red Square restaurant at Mandalay Bay first opened, there was a giant statue of Lenin outside the front doors. People complained about the optics of it - a statue of a someone who is considered by many to have been a brutal dictator - and the restaurant did what many people in Russia did to similar statues - chopped off the head. They hung it from a hook on the ceiling above the statue.
And that's when someone stole it.
The details of how the thieves managed to take a 14-foot-tall, 4,500 pound Lenin head off of a hook in the ceiling and get it out the casino without anyone noticing are still unknown to this day, but at some point someone said something like "Hey... what happened to the Lenin head?" and then called the police.
A few weeks later the employees of a local thrift shop went to go check the after-hours donation lot behind the store and I envision the conversation started with "Hey, is that a giant statue of Lenin's head sitting in our parking lot?"
They never found out who took it and the head was returned to the restaurant where they encased it in a block of ice for their vodka bar. It's still there today.
Restaurant Review: Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey
If restaurants like Carson Kitchen, La Comida, and Eat haven't convinced you that Downtown Las Vegas has the most dynamic and interesting dining scene in town, then let me introduce you to Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey.
It's located on the ground floor of the Ogden residential apartment and condo building, in between Neonopolis and El Cortez. Although it has a Las Vegas Boulevard address, it actually faces Ogden Street along a strip of storefront style windows. There isn't much in the way of signage so you kind of have to keep your eyes peeled - I knew where it was, generally, and I still walked right past it twice.
The multi-level room is small but airy, with big windows facing out to the street. There's a bar area where they serve up a wide variety of Japanese beer, whisky, sake, and more plus a full array regular spirits. Do sample one of their specialties - you won't be able to find them everywhere.
The centerpiece of the inventive menu is the make-your-own ramen bowl. You start with a choice of either thick or thin noodles then add your broth, either tonkotsu (pork), shoyu (soy), or miso (chicken). Every bowl comes with green onion, braised pork, bean sprout, and egg but then you can add tofu, buttered corn, spam, dried seaweed, and more. I lost track of what we put in the one we created but it was darned good and absolutely nothing like those dried packages of ramen you used to eat in college when you couldn't afford anything else.
But don't be distracted by the ramen and miss the small plates portion of the menu. It features a wide variety of shareable Japanese dishes, much of it with a street food kind of flair. The pot stickers were nothing short of perfect, cooked to a golden crisp and stuffed with flavorful pork (you can also get them in veggie or shrimp varieties). The Korubuta sausage were like small hot links, so juicy and popping when you bit into them, served with a tangy mustard. The Japanese chicken bites were dark meat bits of deep fried deliciousness. Tempura vegetables included sweet potato, broccoli, onion, and more, not too heavily battered and fried simply to retain the flavors. And do not miss the Robata skewers, with either beef, chicken, or pork, done smoky and juicy and incredible.
Other options include things like tuna sashimi, kimchi, miso soup, and seaweed salad.
And as if that all was not enough, they also have a variety of rice bowls and sushi.
I often run out of words to describe really good food and I hate running to the thesaurus just to make things more interesting, but let's just call it one of the best meals I have eaten in Vegas and leave it at that.
Prices are incredibly affordable. Most of the small plates and skewers are in the $3-$7 range, rice and ramen bowls are around $10, and sushi goes from about $5 for a single roll up to just under $20 for five. Three us of did six small plates and a bowl of ramen for under $40. Start throwing in some of the expensive beers, whiskeys, sushi, and a really good tip for the very good service and it could easily double that, but it's still a lot less than you'll pay for a comparable meal on The Strip.
And really, this place is kind of incomparable. The closest you'll find to it are the amazing Roku Grill on the west side of town and the terrific Yoshu at Monte Carlo, both of which are great options, but with the flavors still lingering fresh in my mind I'm just an itsy bitsy bit more inclined to put Itsy Bitsy at the top of the list.
Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey
Downtown Las Vegas
150 Las Vegas Blvd. N., Suite 100
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Fri 11am-1am; Sat 4pm-1am
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A
Show Review: Reba, Brooks& Dunn
I should state for the record that I am not a fan of country music. I don't actively dislike the genre, but I have just never paid that much attention to it. Still, even with that limitation, I know who Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn are and even know a few of their songs, so I wasn't walking into their residency show at Caesars Palace completely blind.
If you are, here's a primer: Reba is a bit of a legend, having released more than two dozen albums since the 1970s that have generated 40 number one singles and more than 85 million copies sold worldwide. She's also an actress with a long-running sitcom and Broadway stints under her belt.
Brooks & Dunn released a dozen albums, have had 20 number one singles, and toured relentlessly until they "retired" in 2009. They have reunited for this series of shows with Reba in Las Vegas, but this is not the first time the three of them have performed together in a big concert production.
The concept of this show is fairly simple - the three appear together to collaborate on a few songs from each other's catalogues, then Reba does a few of her songs, and then Brooks & Dunn do a few of theirs, and then they join forces again.
The set list is a greatest hits package with Reba doing full or medley versions of songs like "Little Rock," "The Last One to Know," "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "Fancy," and "Why Haven't I Heard From You," while Brooks & Dunn riff through "Neon Moon," "Boot Scootin' Boogie," "My Maria," "Brand New Man," and more. And of course they perform their collaboration "If You See Him/If You See Her" from 1998.
If you're a fan of the music, it probably doesn't get much better than this. The threesome sounds terrific, together or by themselves, and the songs are about as classic country as you can get. And there is a lot of it. While the show may change as they settle into it, the version I saw was over two hours long.
The trouble with the show, from my viewpoint, is that it focuses perhaps a little too heavily on the music and not enough on the personalities. Reba has proven herself to be charming and personable, but here she spends very little time chatting up a connection with the audience. For their part, Brooks & Dunn, who were reportedly never terribly close, barely interact with each other. What you are left with is someone singing to the center of the audience, then walking across the stage to left side to sing to them, and then to the right side to sing to those folks, and then back to the center again. There may be a few words in between songs and a little interplay when the three of them are on stage together, but for the most part it's song after song after song and for someone like me, who might not have a deep appreciation for the genre, it got a little boring.
The staging was fairly static as well. There are large metal arches that sort of float in and out to make the huge stage a little more intimate on quieter songs and the big LED screen in the back, used to great effect in other artists' residencies, is either generic wallpaper or completely dark.
I also noticed some trouble with the sound mixing - it was too heavy on the bass and a little out of sync with some echoes from the open drum kit. I saw the show fairly early in its run so maybe this is something they will work out over time.
Ultimately if you are fans of the artists or country music in general, this is like a master class taught by some of the best professors in the business. I just wish there was a little more energy and personality built into this particular lesson.