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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
August 3, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Mob Museum adds FIFA Scandal Exhibit
Jumping from historical stories about Vegas mobsters to ripped-from-the-headlines scandals, the Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas has launched a new exhibit all about the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the organization that runs international soccer. FIFA has been generating lots of those headlines lately with corruption, bribery, and game fixing allegations ripping the group apart and leading to mass arrests. The new display is on exhibit now and is a permanent part of the collection. Read the review of the Mob Museum.
9. Riviera Sign Lights Up Neon Museum
One of the signs that used to light up the Riviera is now lighting up the Neon Museum boneyard. It's one of the few signs at the facility that is in working order and is thanks to a donation of not only the sign but a new electrical system and bulbs from YESCO, the company that manufactured and owned the sign. Trivia... most neon signs on hotels are just leased to the hotels so when they close they go back to the manufacturer. This sign lived at The Riv over the east porte-cochere up until it closed in May of 2015 after the hotel closed after more than 60 in business. Read more about the Neon Museum and The Riviera.
8. Blink Drummer Doing Residency at Hyde
Travis Barker, the drummer for rock band Blink-182, is going to be doing a mini residency at Hyde nightclub at Bellagio to promote his solo album. The set will reportedly feature both live music and Barker's skills in the DJ booth for what he promises will be a high energy evening. He's currently set for one date a month from August 2015 through March 2016. Read the review of Hyde Bellagio.
7. Caesars Bacchanal Buffet Adds Pricey Upgrades
What's that? The more than $50 you have to pay for dinner at the Bacchanal Buffet isn't enough? Well, feel free to upgrade your experience with a whole fish, lobster, or caviar and champagne although it's not actually free of course. Throw in a Norwegian Mackerel for $21 per pound, New Zealand Snapper for $26 per pound, lobster and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for $150, or caviar and a bottle of Dom for $500 for two people. If you decide you want the lobster or caviar, just walk straight up the cashier and tell them - you don't need to wait in line and they'll seat you right away. Read more about the Bacchanal Buffet.
6. Kanye, Sam Smith, Janet Jackson Included in Big Vegas Music Fest
The iHeart Radio Music Festival is coming back to Las Vegas in September and as usual they have lined up an impressive roster of talent to take the stages. On the bill of the two-day event are Kanye West, Sam Smith, The Who, Coldplay, Demi Lovato, David Guetta, Kenny Chesney, The Weeknd, Tove Lo, Lil Wayne, Fall Out Boy, Disclosure, Hozier, Jason Derulo, Duran Duran, Prince Royce, Diplo, Trey Songz, The Killers, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, and Janet Jackson with more to be announced. The festival is held at the MGM Grand September 18-19 and tickets are available now at Ticketmaster.
5. Wynn Nightclub Boss Heads to New Vegas Resort
You may not know the name Jessie Waits but you have definitely been at least aware of his impact in Las Vegas. As one of the driving forces behind XS nightclub at Encore Las Vegas and Tryst at Wynn Las Vegas, he has helped shape the city into the biggest club destination around, with XS generating more revenue than any other club in the world - over $100 million a year. Word is that he is leaving Wynn to join with Australian casino magnate James Packer to run the nightlife operations at the upcoming Alon resort that is going to be built right across the street on the former Frontier land. Waits joins several former Wynn execs who are working on the Alon project, which can't make Steve Wynn very happy. Read more about Alon.
4. Man Leads Cops on Chase through Bellagio Fountains
From the "Only in Las Vegas" file comes the story of Manuel Acevedo-Gutierrez who for reasons unknown decided it would be a fine idea to jump into the lake in front of Bellagio and do a little interpretive dance. The police got a boat and then chased him through the lake by the Bellagio Fountain jets and lights, which he allegedly kicked and damaged to the tune of about $5,000. He was eventually caught and arrested and after some minor repairs, the fountain shows started up again. The whole thing was caught on video by bemused diners at the hotel's restaurant. Read more about the Bellagio Fountains.
3. Life Is Beautiful Announces Learning Series
With headliners like Stevie Wonder, Duran Duran, and Imagine Dragons, the Life is Beautiful Festival could just stop at music and be done with it. But they also add in art and a "Learning Series," where global leaders in pop culture, science, sports, art, and more join for an informative, entertaining, and often edifying speaker series. A few of the people included this year are Zappos CEO, Tony Hsiesh; "The Vampire Diaries" actress, Kat Graham; "Jane the Virgin" actor, Justin Baldoni; Bill Nye the Science Guy; the co-founder of Priceline, Jeff Hoffman; professional surfer, Anastasia Ashley; transgender activist, Geena Rocero; and more. The Life is Beautiful Festival takes places September 25-27, 2015 and will take over more than a dozen block sof Downtown Las Vegas. Learn more on lifeisbeautiful.com.
2. Blue Man Group Gets Another Sweet Treat
First the Blue Man Group got an ice cream flavor in their honor at BLVD Creamery at Monte Carlo and now they are getting their very own souffle. Head into Andre's Restaurant & Lounge at Monte Carlo and try the new Blueberry Blue Man Soufflé. Inspired by the deep blue guys and their wacky show, the dessert is a blueberry soufflé topped with a fondant marshmallow, one carefully-placed blueberry, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. You have to hurry though - it's only available through August 31st. Read more about the Blue Man Group.
1. Shake Shack to Host Mass Elvis Wedding
The Shake Shack burger chain has inspired some rabid fans in its time but is there anyone nuts enough about the place to want to get married there? What if they threw in an Elvis impersonator just to "shake" things up? Shake Shack at New York-New York and world-renowned Elvis impersonator Harry Shahoian are going to host a mega wedding/vow renewal Strip-side in honor of Elvis Week on Monday, August 10 at 6pm. Following the group ceremony, couples will toast to the nuptials and will also be treated to the restaurant's "All Shook Up" concrete (shake), a customer favorite which features vanilla frozen custard and chocolate toffee bits blended with a slice of banana peanut butter cheesecake. If you want to join in, they are asking you to RSVP via Facebook and reminding you that you need to provide your own bouquet, rings, and valid marriage license. Read more about wild places to get married in Las Vegas.
How The Mirage Changed Las Vegas
Rumors are circulating wildly this week that The Mirage may be getting a new owner. The gossip says owner MGM Resorts is nearing an announcement that it will be selling the iconic resort to Starwood Capital, an investment firm that owned The Riviera until they sold it earlier this year to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It is believed they will bring on a partner to run the casino operations in the form of Paragon Gaming, the company that ran the gambling at The Riviera and now handles similar duties at the Westgate.
MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren commented on the rumors saying that the Mirage was not for sale, but that hasn't stopped the gossip mill (of which I realize I'm now a part of, but whatever...)
If this happens it will be a seismic shift in the landscape of Las Vegas, turning one of the city's most well-known resorts into an independent operator as a standalone property - a first in the hotel's nearly 30 year history.
To say that The Mirage revolutionized Las Vegas is an understatement. To gain a full appreciation, you have to go back to the decades before it opened, a time in which the city was at a cultural relevance nadir.
After the building booms of the 1950s and early 1960s, Las Vegas ground to a halt in terms of new casino development. The only major resort to open on The Strip in the 70s and 80s was Circus Circus, which added hotel rooms to its already existing big tent casino in 1974. Many of the existing resorts of the time - The Dunes, The Sands, The Aladdin, and The Desert Inn - expanded and remodeled, but the city was battered by economic woes and the fallout of an effort to get the mafia out from behind the facades of the Vegas casinos. While organized crime certainly had its downsides, they did have a ton of money to invest. When that dried up so did Las Vegas.
Vegas became a bit of a joke - the land where has-been singers went to do cheesy variety shows and the idea of fine dining meant you got an extra plate at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Most hotel rooms were nothing more than basic motel accommodations in high-rise towers and several of The Strip's once grand resorts had faded into dusty shadows of their former glory.
Then along came Steve Wynn, a man who wanted to change the face of Las Vegas and was willing to gamble big to do it.
Wynn had been an investor in the Frontier on the Las Vegas Strip and he used the money he made there to buy a small piece of land next door to Caesars Palace from none other than Howard Hughes. The narrow parcel was along what is now Flamingo Road, where the Octavius and Augustus towers are now located, and was barely wide enough for the Caesars overflow parking lot that sat on it.
In what is an almost legendary display of either hubris or genius, depending on your viewpoint, Wynn announced grand plans to build a 500-room resort and casino on the tiny slip of land and managed to convince everyone that he was serious (whether he actually was or not is still up for debate to this day). Fearing the micro-mega resort would both literally and figuratively overshadow their hotel, the owners of Caesars offered Wynn a huge sum of money for the land and Wynn walked away a very rich man. He used that money to start his process of becoming the majority stakeholder at The Golden Nugget, which he accomplished in 1973. He was 31 years old, the youngest casino operator in US history.
He took that property, which was just a casino at the time, and built it into Downtown's premiere resort with hotel towers, a showroom, restaurants, and more. By the mid-1980s, flush with success from the Vegas Nugget and its sister in Atlantic City, Wynn turned his attention back toward The Strip.
He purchased a small casino-motel located next door to Caesars Palace called The Castaways and developed plans to create what was originally going to be called the Golden Nugget on The Strip. His wanted to build one of the biggest hotels in the world and it was going to come with a huge price tag - a then (and still) staggering $630 million, more than any other hotel in history to that point. The bulk of the project was financed by the sale of junk bonds, a risky move that could have ended spectacularly poorly if it hadn't worked so brilliantly.
The Mirage opened on November 22, 1989 and instantly set a new standard for luxury in Las Vegas. It made the other "high end" hotels look like a glorified Holiday Inns and garnered worldwide headlines for its over-the-top extravagance.
The hotel had 3,044 rooms when it opened and they were stunners for the time, bigger than most Vegas accommodations and certainly more opulent with fine furnishings, marble baths, and high-end amenities. The resort had windows tinted with 24-carat gold; lushly landscaped grounds; a massive swimming pool; several restaurants serving world-class, award-winning dining; a dolphin and white tiger habitat; a 20,000 gallon aquarium behind the front desk; the biggest casino in the city; its own indoor rain forest; and just because it could, a volcano in front that erupted with flames several times a night.
That attraction in and of itself was revolutionary. The idea of putting something free outside of the hotel in the hopes that people would come inside after experiencing it had never been done before. Without it there wouldn't have been a Treasure Island Pirate Battle or a Bellagio Fountains (both Steve Wynn inventions). The volcano was such an attention grabber that it literally stopped traffic on The Strip - people would get out of their cars in the middle of the street to watch.
Entertainment in Las Vegas had mostly come in the form of topless showgirl reviews and cheesy impersonator shows, but Wynn wanted something bigger in that regard as well. He brought in Siegfried & Roy, the famed illusionist duo who had been performing in other shows in Vegas for years, and gave them a multi-million dollar theater and a huge budget for their spectacular. Their show with its high production value and special effects raised the bar for what Vegas audiences expected and laid the groundwork for Cirque du Soleil, The Blue Man Group, and more.
Their show played until 2003 when one of the white tigers used in the show attacked Roy and nearly killed him.
A second theater was built for celebrity voice impersonator Danny Gans, who moved into the hotel in 2001 and stayed there until 2009 when he followed Steve Wynn over to Encore Las Vegas. Gans died of a prescription drug overdose in 2009.
The Siegfried & Roy theater was gutted and revamped to host Cirque du Soleil's LOVE featuring the music of The Beatles, which opened in 2006. Impressionist Terry Fator took over the theater Gans had once occupied.
But one of the biggest game changers was the cost of everything from food to shows to rooms. Prior to The Mirage opening, the idea of charging more than $100 per night to stay at the hotel was folly in Las Vegas. The opulent level of amenities and service moved The Strip up several notches in terms of what people were willing to pay, not just for hotel rooms but for everything else. Up until The Mirage that "everything else" - shows, restaurants, shopping, etc. - was considered a loss leader; an excuse to get people into the casino where the real money was made. Within a decade, the resorts of Las Vegas were making more money off of non-gambling pursuits than they were from people dropping coins into a slot machine or plunking down bills at the blackjack table.
Steve Wynn went on to create Treasure Island and Bellagio before selling his portfolio of hotels to MGM Grand, inc. in 2000. Owing to the importance of the hotel in their lineup, the company changed its name to MGM Mirage, which it kept until 2010 when they switched to the current MGM Resorts.
Although they are not commenting on the rumors of The Mirage's sale, the common wisdom is that the company wants to focus more of their energy and money on the South Strip area where the bulk of their properties are located including MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and Aria. This is where they are building a massive new entertainment project between their Monte Carlo and New York-New York hotels known as The Park, featuring restaurants, nightclubs, a pedestrian plaza, a 5,000 seat theater, and a 20,000 seat sports and event arena.
Other than perhaps El Rancho, the very first resort on The Strip in 1941, The Mirage is absolutely the most important and significant hotel to ever operate in the city. Virtually every hotel that followed patterned itself off The Mirage in one way or another and modern Las Vegas wouldn't exist without it.
Show Review: Mariah Carey
Pop music royalty doesn't get much more royal than Mariah Carey. During her decades-long career she became one of the top-selling artists of all time, moving an estimated 200 million albums worldwide and racking up 18 Billboard number one hits that collectively have spent 79 weeks at the top spot - more than any other artist in history.
Those 18 chart-toppers make up the set list for #1 to Infinity, her headlining residency gig in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Done chronologically, she starts with 1990's Vision of Love and moves forward through songs like I Don't Want To Cry, Emotions, Dreamlover, Hero, Fantasy, and more, all the way to her last number one hit, Touch My Body from 2008.
A lot has been written - and YouTubed - about the shape of Mariah's voice these days, most of it negative. It is true that she no longer has that famed five octave range that she did when she was first starting out but she still has a strong mid and lower range with a lot of belting power when she wants to.
The challenging thing about this current reality is that they try to be relatively faithful to the original versions of the songs, meaning the high notes are still there - she's just not singing them. It is a miracle of modern technology that they are able to blend the parts where she is actually singing with the parts where she is just lip-syncing, often within the same song, but in the end it's still lip-syncing. She's pretty good at it - there were only a couple of places where it was totally obvious - and even if half of the concert was a recorded track, that still puts her ahead of a lot of other "singers," especially ones in this town (yes, I'm looking at you Britney).
She could have been better served by some fresh takes on the litany of hits. Everything here was a carbon copy of the recordings, which resulted in a sometimes plodding sense of "sameness." A lot of the songs are ballads and mid-tempo R&B jams so by the end of the two hour concert it felt a lot like we had heard five or six songs repeated instead of 18 distinct tracks.
I was also a little disappointed to learn that some of my favorite Mariah music - Make it Happen, Anytime You Need a Friend, I Still Believe, and Loverboy to name a few - apparently never made it to number one. They weren't included here.
The biggest problems with the production, though, are not Mariah but all the stuff going on around and on her - the staging and costumes. Regarding the former, giant butterflies, her signature flourish, frame the stage but the rest of it is plain white with a retro vibe that winds up looking more like a '70s variety show than the old-school funky thing I think they were going for. They do use the big LED screen at the back of the stage to good effect at times, with film and cartoon graphics evoking (or sometimes just showing) the original music videos.
And then there's what she wore. Mariah, sweetheart, you aren't an 18-year-old size 2 anymore and you shouldn't try to dress like one. Her leotard days are firmly behind her (no pun intended) and even the more gown-up dresses wound up looking like someone had sewn them in a basement with very little lighting. Mariah Carey is a beautiful woman and she deserves better than this.
The talented band, backup singers, and big troupe of dancers kept it from getting too staid and she even gets a couple of assists from Trey Lorenz on their hit I'll Be there and with him standing in for Boyz II Men on One Sweet Day. That song, by the way, still holds the record for the longest run at number one having topped the charts for 16 weeks in 1995.
Despite the show's flaws, I still enjoyed myself. Although not all #1 hits are created equal, many of the songs here are pop and R&B classics. I dare you not to get emotional during One Sweet Day and I dare you again to not want to get up and dance during Fantasy or Dreamlover. Change up some of the arrangements to better suit her voice, be a little more creative with the staging, and fire the costumer and you could have a great show. For now, mainly on the strength of the songs, it's just an okay one.
Restaurant Review: The Goodwich
A couple of places spring to mind when thinking about places in Vegas to score a really good sandwich. Capriotti's, of course, and their massive sub sandwiches laden with deli goodness. And Earl of Sandwich, naturally, not just because it's from the family of the guy who invented the sandwich in the first place.
But both of them could take a backseat to The Goodwich, which very well may need to rename itself Bestwich.
Located, for now, on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Wyoming Ave., in a grungy part of the strip between the Stratosphere and Downtown, the restaurant is really nothing more than a take-out hut. There is no dining area unless you want to eat it in your car or get it delivered into Dino's Lounge next door. The latter is a dark, smoky, bar with video poker and frequent karaoke but usually pretty deserted if you go at lunch time so it's a decent option if you don't want to take your food all the way back to your room.
And you may not be able to wait that long - the aromas may drive you to dive in well before you get to the hotel valet.
The menu is pretty simple and groups things by price. $3 sandwiches include grilled cheese, fried egg, and tomato. $5 options are summer corn with goat ricotta; thick cut ham and cheddar; or egg salad with Spanish chorizo. $7 choices include a patty melt with cream cheese and pepperjack; a falafel with chick peas and kale; or the BTLG, with bacon, tomato, lettuce, and pimento grits. For $9 you can get the chicken with crispy skin and ginger; the "El Pig" with pork butt and belly plus black beans and avocado; or their version of a Rueben with Swiss and fennel kraut.
You can double stack any sandwich and you can add on things like fried egg, jalapenos, bacon, chicken skin, and avocado for a buck or two more.
I went for the Patty - their version of a patty melt, served on toasted thick white bread with a beef burger that was one of the freshest I have tasted anywhere. I wanted to check out back to see if there was a cow that had just made the sacrifice so I could have a really, really good meal. The cream cheese made it a bit sweet, the pepperjack added a kick, the onion gave it a tang, and I piled on a fried egg just because I felt like my cholesterol was a little low that day and tied together the whole thing perfectly. I want to go back and order the entire rest of the menu.
By fall of 2015, I should be able to do that in an eat-in environment. The restaurant has signed a lease on a proper space about three blocks up the street. But you really shouldn't wait until that happens to go get one of these amazing sandwiches.
Sorry Capriotti's... your sandwiches are great, but The Goodwich's are the best.
1516 Las Vegas Blvd S.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A