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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
August 10, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Unique New Starbucks Opening Soon on Strip
There's yet another Starbucks coming to Vegas, this one going into the Grand Bazaar shops at Bally's. But the people behind it say this one is going to be different from the nine bazillion other outlets of the coffee pusher in town. How different? Well, try bleacher seating and a movie screen. Instead of the normal tables and chairs, the bleachers will allow more people to sit down while enjoying their java. They weren't specific about what will be shown on the 150 square-foot projection screen but watch out for special events because I'm sure what you want to do while you're in Vegas is sit in a Starbucks and watch a movie. The big question is whether this will result in something other than tumbleweeds passing through the Grand Bazaar Shops. Read more about them in the review below.
9. Show Shake Ups at the Westgate
Looks like the folks at The Westgate are trying to find their footing on the entertainment side of things. Robin Leach is reporting that Suzanne Somers show is closing and that longtime Vegas magician Dirk Arthur will be opening. There's also big doubt that the planned Elvis tribute shows will continue after one run earlier this year. Word on the streets is that the new management at Paragon Gaming who were brought in to run the casino are the ones behind all the changes and that more are on the way. Kinda sorry about Suzanne Somers - it was a fun show. Read more about The Westgate.
8. Jeff Civillico to Stay at The Flamingo
Comedy juggler Jeff Civillico relocated his show to The Flamingo from The Linq earlier this summer as they renovated that hotel's showroom from its Imperial Palace days. It was supposed to be temporary but now has become permanent, with Civillico playing 2 and 4pm shows through Labor Day and then opening September 20 as a 5:30pm show. He's playing in the Bugsy's Cabaret space where the X Burlesque and X Comedy shows run at night. Check out the review of Jeff Civillico's show.
7. Wynn Buffet to get Multimillion Dollar Makeover
The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace has been such a huge success... and I mean huge in terms of size, amount of money it costs to eat there, and lines that are usually formed to get in... that at least one other high end buffet in town is fighting back by kicking up the luxury level even higher. The already fancy Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas is reportedly due for a makeover estimated to be costing the hotel millions of dollars that will expand it, revamp both the physical layout and the decor, add in new cooking stations, and more. No word yet on when all this is happening but you can expect the buffet to be closed for awhile when it does. Read the review of the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas.
6. Nicki Minaj Wax Figure Debuts at Madame Tussaud's Vegas
Because what the world apparently really needed was a wax figure of Nicki Minaj and her, um, assets... On display now at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas at The Venetian, the figure debuted yesterday after 20 artists spent six months creating it. It's a permanent part of the music room set among her Anaconda music video jungle backdrop complete with backup dancers and special effects. Presumably those other than her, um, assets. Read more about Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.
5. Gold Strike Becoming Terrible
Well, Terrible's Road House to be specific. The hotel-casino in Jean, Nevada near the border of California, is undergoing changes with its new owners most notably with the name, which makes it a sister of the small casino/bar in Pahrump, Nevada and a distant cousin to the Terrible's that used to be in Las Vegas (now the Silver Sevens). Other changes include a revamp of the casino floor to modernize the slot offerings and a replacement of the buffet with a Denny's. The owners say more upgrades are on the way designed to lure people on their way to Vegas off the interstate.
4. What's going to Replace the Harmon?
If you have been by CityCenter lately you might notice something missing... it's the big empty space where The Harmon sort-of-Hotel was for the last few years. Plagued by construction defects, the hotel never opened and they are now nearing completion of a year-long deconstruction project that took the building apart piece by piece. So what will go in its place? Owners MGM Resorts hasn't fully decided yet but they have strongly indicated that it will be an expansion of the Crystals, adding more luxury shopping to The Strip. Not the most exciting thing in the world, but at least it won't be another CVS. Read more about The Crystals at CityCenter.
3. MGM Says Mirage Not for Sale
The CEO of MGM Resorts says the rumors about a sale of The Mirage are not true, adding that the hotel is "not on the market." His comments seemed to hint that they may have met with some prospective buyers who were making an offer but that the deal didn't go anywhere because they "covet" the hotel too dearly. There may be a little wiggle room in the way he phrased things that would not 100% rule out a possible sale but he seems pretty definitive that the Mirage isn't going anywhere. Read more about the Mirage.
2. The D Has Got Legs
There's a new Miss D Legs - well, five of them actually. A competition recently aimed to find a new model for the signature sexy legs that show up on the billboard wrap on the outside of The D Las Vegas and throughout its marketing campaign. Thirty women competed for the new title and a $5,000 top prize but the judges, which included the hotel's owner Derek Stevens, and some male strippers, couldn't pick just one so they wound up selecting five. They split the cash and will each be featured in an ad or promo for the hotel. Read more about the D Las Vegas.
1. New Tropicana Owners Speculate on the Hotel's Future
The prospective new owners of the venerable Tropicana hotel got approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board last week, clearing the runway for them to formally take over the hotel later this year. Penn National also runs M Resort on the south side of town so it was pretty much a given that they'd get the thumbs up on running the Trop. Once they get the keys they plan on integrating the company's nationwide players club, Marquee Rewards, and update other technology to bring them into the corporate family. Sometime after that at the earliest, they want to throw about $200 million at the property to update rooms, shops, restaurants, and more. They haven't given a timeline although maybe it will coincide with the hotel's upcoming 60th anniversary in 2017? Hmmm... Read more about The Tropicana Las Vegas.
Fall Vegas Must List
Summer in Las Vegas is a great time to visit if you are looking for cheaper room rates and slightly shorter lines at the buffets. But it's one of the worst times to visit if you want to be outside at all. With temperatures well into the triple digits for most of June, July, and August, considering waiting until autumn when the mercury "only" gets up into the high double digits is not a bad idea.
If a late 2015 trip to Vegas is on your to-do list, here are several things in Vegas that I am going to put on your must-do list for the fall.
See a New Show
There are several new productions in Las Vegas that may be worth your time and money. Topping the list is For the Record: Baz, the mashup of music and story from the Baz Luhrmann films Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge now playing at Light Nightclub at Mandalay Bay. It's a thrilling, totally unique concept that is unlike anything playing in Vegas right now. Or you could go check out the upcoming residency from America's Got Talent winner Mat Franco, who will be bringing his illusions to The Linq starting later this month. And if you are a fan of the Broadway musical, you really should make a stop at Showstoppers at Wynn Las Vegas, which combines some of the greatest hits of the greatest Great White Way shows from over the years performed by a stellar cast.
See an Old Favorite Show
Everything old is new again, at least with a few of the shows in Las Vegas. Celine Dion is returning to her Vegas residency at Caesars Palace after a year off to care for her ailing husband. She has promised an entirely new production so seeing it again may not be a crazy idea. Don't forget that the wacky Blue Man Group is moving to a new, smaller theater at Luxor in October. They recently revised the show to bring it back to more of the basics that made them so famous and this new venue will probably force even more revisions that could be very interesting. Also in a new theater is comic juggler Jeff Civillico, who will be performing at Bugsy's Cabaret at The Flamingo for a 5:30pm show. Any excuse to go back and see his terrific show is a good one as far as I'm concerned.
Try a New Restaurant
Most people aren't very adventurous when it comes to their dining choices in Vegas, choosing to go to buffets or chain restaurants. Instead, why not blaze a new gastronomic path by visiting one of the newer restaurants in town? Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey in Downtown Las Vegas has a delightful menu of Japanese street food from potstickers and grilled corn to bowls of their signature ramen and it's all delicious. The Goodwich serves up some of the best sandwiches in town and they will be moving to a new location this fall, also in Downtown Las Vegas. And if you haven't tried Tom's Urban at New York-New York, you're really missing out on one of the best restaurants on The Strip right now.
Do Some Al Fresco Shopping
Fall means cooler weather so the outdoor shopping malls start to make a lot more sense. The Las Vegas Premium Outlets North near Downtown Las Vegas recently expanded, adding more than a dozen new stores and restaurants so you should probably check that out. There's also the relatively new Downtown Summerlin on the west side of town next door to Red Rock Resort. It's got more than 100 stores in a complex designed to evoke a small city downtown (hence the name). Similar in concept is The District over by Green Valley Ranch, which isn't new but has some interesting shopping opportunities.
Get Back to Nature
Speaking of outdoors, why not use the relatively moderate temperatures as an excuse to actually go outside and get a little nature in your Vegas experience. The Springs Preserve is a great facility with an entertaining interpretive center about water usage in the Vegas valley plus hiking trails where you can see the flora and fauna of the region. The Henderson Bird Preserve is a must for anyone who knows the difference between a whippoorwill and a thrush. Or if all that is a little too outdoors, you could do the scenic 13-mile drive of Red Rock Canyon and at least look at nature from the air-conditioned comfort of your own car.
Have a Drink Somewhere Interesting
After all that nature-gazing, you might just need a really good drink. I know I would. But instead of getting a four-foot-tall plastic container of beer shaped like The Stratosphere, why not go someplace different for a really interesting cocktail. Fizz at Caesars Palace serves some of the most inventive and delicious drinks in town as far as I'm concerned. Or, if you want something a little less fancy, try Atomic Liquors in Downtown Las Vegas and you can even sit in the stool that bears Barbra Streisand's name. They also have great drinks at Hyde Bellagio, which offers up some up close views of the Bellagio Fountains to go along with your libations. Go early before it becomes a high-energy nightclub to get the more relaxing experience.
Downtown Las Vegas is cool again and it is crammed with all sorts of interesting bars, restaurants, museums, and casinos. You really are doing yourself a disservice by not visiting.
Live Like a Local
Most tourists spend most of their time doing touristy things, but what do the Las Vegas local do? Well, mostly they stay far away from The Strip, but they also host some entertaining diversions such as the First Friday festival, which takes over many blocks of Downtown for art, entertainment, and food and the Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market, which has locally sourced fruits, vegetables, and other goodies for sale each week. And while many tourists go to the annual Life is Beautiful Festival, it is one of the few big events that draws a lot of Vegas residents as well. This year's is taking place September 25-27 and features Stevie Wonder, Duran Duran, and Imagine Dragons as some of the big name acts.
Show Review: Zumanity
Anyone who has seen a Vegas Cirque du Soleil show can probably attest to the fact that the company knows "sexy." Portions of those shows are downright erotic in a way that doesn't pander or talk down to the audience so it seemed like a natural extension of that ethos to develop an entire show immersed in sexuality and a celebration of same. That was the theory behind Zumanity, the Cirque du Soleil production playing at New York-New York since August of 2003.
When I first saw this show shortly after it opened, I was unimpressed to say the least. Somewhere between the theory and the reality the concept of what is truly sexy got lost along the way and Zumanity wound up failing to rise to the challenge in more ways than one. Instead of titillating we got tacky; instead of naughty we got nasty; instead of erotic we got "ewww." Instead of aspiring to the relative class of "Playboy," it was what the magazine "Hustler" would be if it Larry Flynt could turn it into a musical.
Then along came Absinthe, the dirty circus that succeeds because it isn't trying to be classy - it wants to be crass and it is. Zumanity wanted to be classy but wound up being crass in cringe-worthy ways.
So now Zumanity has pivoted, evolving as most long-running shows in Las Vegas do, most recently with a substantial revamp in early 2015. I'm happy to report that it has improved dramatically.
Happily, one of the best parts of the show, the force behind the ringmaster of this particular circus known as the Mistress of Sensuality, has been held over and it makes a big difference from the get go. For years it was led by legendary female impersonator Joey Arias, but she was replaced by popular drag queen Miss Edie a while back. The difference between female impersonator and drag queen is not a subtle one and Edie brings some much needed levity and camp to the proceedings. It's a lot more fun with her at the helm.
Like other Cirque productions, Zumanity is a blend of avant-garde theater and circus-style acrobatics only here many are staged with an eye toward sex and some of its various permutations. There are topless contortionists swimming in a glass bowl, a woman doing a variation on the silks aerialist using bondage straps instead, a barely clothed couple doing some intense gymnastics (and no that's not a euphemism), a twosome in a tub that turns into a threesome, and a couple of guys in heels doing an aggressive ballroom-style dance in a giant cage as a few examples.
The show bills itself as a celebration of all forms of human sexuality and boy oh boy are there a lot of them included here. Men with women, men with men, women with women, masochism, auto-asphyxiation, self-gratification, simulated orgies, certain... um.... "devices" for lack of a better word... strippers, and costumes (French Maid anyone?) are just a few of diversions featured in the show.
And then there are other acts that only hint or toy with the sensual aspect of things. The guy that spins around in what amount to giant hula-hoops starts out with some sexy silhouettes but eventually is just a guy spinning around in a giant hula-hoop, which is cool and impressive but not exactly sexy. Ditto the contortionist, the hand-balancer, and the African dance routine. Not sure exactly what they have to do with sex or sensuality, but they're fun to watch anyway.
Thankfully, most of the truly vulgar bits that made up the bulk of the original show have been excised. The comic relief bridge acts with a randy married couple offering up advice on everything from do-it-yourself breast implants to some inept seduction techniques are quite funny. Just do your best to avoid being chosen out of the audience to come up on stage - you'll thank me later.
For most of its run, Zumanity failed by trying too hard to be provocative. The people and the things that are truly "sexy" don't need to work so hard to be that way - they just are. Catherine Zeta-Jones is sexy in a way that almost dares you to not look at her. Miley Cyrus tries to be sexy by begging you to look at her and more often than not doesn't succeed.
This new incarnation of Zumanity may not exactly be Zeta-Jones, but it's a lot closer to her than it is to Cyrus and that alone is an achievement. Absinthe has cornered the market on dementedly crass and now Zumanity can take claim the sexy high ground with delicious class. It has finally become the titillating, naughty, and erotic spectacle that it always wanted to be.
Shopping Review: The Grand Bazaar Shops
The idea behind the Grand Bazaar at Bally's is a good one, I think. They transformed what was a fairly boring entryway into a colorful sea of boutiques and quick-serve restaurants done as a modern interpretation of an urban marketplace. People love to shop and eat in Vegas so offering more of that seems like a solid concept, especially since it replaced what basically amounts to a sidewalk and an escalator.
But somewhere between idea and execution, something got lost in translation and I'm left wondering if they had just been better off sticking with the sidewalk.
There is space for about 150 stores although as of this writing they aren't all filled. None of them are very big - remember, this is mean to evoke a marketplace so they are more like glorified stalls than actual stores. That's not a bad thing at all but if you are expecting a giant CVS you might be disappointed.
Actually, you won't be for long because they are adding a giant CVS on the side of it, due to open in 2016.
When they do it will be one of the few recognizable name brands in the place. Swatch, Swarovski, Lush Cosmetics, Havaianas, and Disney Fine Art are the only ones I recognized with the rest made up of independent and small chain stores selling clothes, health and beauty products, sunglasses, jewelry, pet accessories, art, magic supplies, vaping supplies, and various other stuff you probably don't actually need.
Snacking - it's hard to call this dining - includes the Honolulu Cookie Company, Sugar Factory sweets, a Waffle Bar, and a couple of other take out places. The branch of Wahlburgers that was supposed to be going in here has apparently decided otherwise.
So yeah, there are really no marquee names that can draw people in off The Strip and that was exactly the case when I walked through. This is not an exaggeration - I was literally the only person there on a Saturday at around 1:00pm. Seriously. The sidewalk out front was packed with tourists but not a single, living soul other than me was walking through the Grand Bazaar. The only other people I saw were the ones working there, all of whom looked at me with a bit of desperation (or was it simply dispair), hoping against hope that I might actually stop at one of their stores. I felt a little guilty that I didn't.
Now, to be fair, it was roughly 172 billion degrees on the day I was there so a casual stroll through an outdoor concrete and metal shopping complex may not have been high on anyone's list, but as mentioned The Strip was teeming with people so you'd think at least a few would veer off to see what was up. Nope.
I'm told that special events like food truck festivals and the like lure more folks in and that the colorful lights that enhance the place at night are attractive, but I don't have any idea how this is going to be able to sustain itself unless it adds some serious name-brand shopping to the roster. Until they do, there is no compelling reason to visit unless you happen to be walking by and it isn't 172 billion degrees outside. Maybe the CVS will help.
Or maybe they can just go back to the sidewalk and escalator into Bally's. For the record, the latter is still there... but of course it was broken and surrounded by caution tape on two separate days when I walked by. Metaphor? You decide.