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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
September 14, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Fred Segal Boutiques Out at SLS Las Vegas
More bad news for the SLS Las Vegas, the struggling reinvention of The Sahara on the north end of The Strip: Hollywood retailer Fred Segal has pulled out of the deal that gave them control of the boutique shops at the hotel. The common wisdom is that the merchandise wasn't special enough for the visitors and a little too special (money-wise) for locals so it just didn't work. Many of the shops will stay open but will be converted to non-Segal merchandise and names. Read the review of SLS Las Vegas.
9. Wynn/Encore Rents Villas & Luxury Apartments
If you wanted to live like a high roller or rock star at Wynn Las Vegas by staying in one of their super-luxe villas or custom "apartments" you needed to be an actual high roller or rock star. No longer! The swanky digs are now available to be rented by anyone with enough of a bank account to afford one. You could opt for the 5,289 square-foot Encore Duplex, which features a billiard room, exercise room, a dining room with a 16-person table, and butler service among the amenities list. Or you could go for the Fairway Villas along the golf course with wrap around terraces, infinity tubs, private entrances, and butler service. They aren't so gauche as to actually quote rates unless you call them and act all serious but figure several thousand dollars per night to stay in one. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
8. Caesars Fined $9.5 Million for Money Laundering
Closing out three years of investigation and legal wrangling, Caesars Entertainment has agreed to a $9.5 million fine to settle charges that it didn't do enough to stop money laundering at its Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas. The complaint alleged that wealthy, usually foreign (read: Chinese) gamblers were allowed to wager insane amounts of cash in the hotel's private gaming salons that basically allowed these suspected criminals to take dirty money earned through illegal activities and turn it into less-dirty money obtained through a legal one. $8 million of the fine goes to the feds and $1.5 goes to the state. The government investigators say the hotel has turned things around and is now running things above-board so the big fine closes the books on this particular bit of ugliness. Read more about Caesars Palace.
7. Passenger Jet Catches Fire at Vegas Airport
There were some scary moments at McCarran International Airport yesterday when the engine of a British Airways jet preparing for takeoff burst into flames. The jet stopped and the nearly 175 passengers and crew were evacuated as thick black smoke poured across the runway. 13 people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, mostly from going down the evacuation slides. Flights were delayed in and out of the airport for several hours but everything was back to normal by Tuesday night. No cause has been determined for the incident yet.
6. Taxi Rides Just Got More Expensive in Vegas
As if taking a cab in Vegas wasn't already a wallet-busting concept, things just got even more expensive. The "drop" fee - the rate they put on the meter the second your butt hits the seat - just went up from $3.45 to $3.50 and the state has added a 3% tax on all charges and fees. Granted, this means that the average cab ride is probably only going to go up by about a buck, but still. When is Uber going to be running in Vegas? Well...
5. Uber & Lyft Could Start Operating in Vegas This Week
After months of protracted negotiations, legislation, lawsuits, and general commotion, the path appears clear for ridesharing services Uber and Lyft to start operating in Las Vegas with cars expected to hit the streets as soon as this week. The companies had been kept out of the market by the strong taxi commission but after satisfying lawmakers that the services were safe and could abide by local ordinances, the cars got the green light. Rates for Uber are $2.40 to get in and $1.80 per mile plus a $1 safety fee and 30 cents per minute of wait time while Lyft is at $2.40, $1.85, and $1.55 respectively. The services will be allowed to pick up and drop off at the airport and the major resorts but the details of how that's going to work haven't been sorted out yet. Read more about transportation in Las Vegas.
4. Cheeky New Greeter at D Las Vegas
The D Las Vegas in Downtown has a new greeter in the form of naked peeing child. No, that's not a typo. The hotel has added a version of Belgium's famous Manneken Pis statue (Dutch for Little Man Pee), which has been gleefully peeing on Brussels since 1619. That statue is dressed up in costumes for various holidays and occasions and The D is planning the same thing with their version of the statue. The Stephens brothers who own the hotel are of Belgian descent and have been fans of the statue since they were kids. You can find it next to the main valet at hotel. Read more about the D Las Vegas.
3. Cosmo Fire Update
A investigation into that scary fire on the pool deck at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas a few weeks ago has yielded inconclusive results, meaning the exact origin of the blaze is still unknown. Fire officials found "improperly discarded" cigarettes in the general vicinity of the point of ignition on the 14th floor pool deck but were not able to prove that they are what ignited the flames that consumed furnishings, artificial landscaping, cabanas, and more. One person was treated for smoke inhalation but there were no other injuries and no structural damage to the hotel. Read more about The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
2. Shocker! Las Vegas No Longer Has World's Biggest Hotel!
Las Vegas loves its world records and one that has been touted often and with glee is that this is where you could find the World's Largest Hotel, if the measuring stick was number of rooms. That title belonged to the MGM Grand, which between its main hotel and Signature towers, has 6,852 places in which to lay your head. Now, Resorts World in Malaysia has added a new tower to their facility bringing the total there up to 7,351 rooms. Will Las Vegas take this lying down? There are no plans to add more rooms to the MGM Grand or any of the other big resorts in town right now but Resorts World is working on their own Las Vegas resort, due to open in 2018 on the land that used to be home to The Stardust. It'll "only" have 3,000 rooms to start but maybe someday it'll beat its Malaysian sister out for the title. Read more about Resorts World Las Vegas.
1. Outrage: Mirage Testing Timed Comp Drink Tickets
One of the most venerable Las Vegas institutions is the "free" drinks you get when you gamble. Of course since you are gambling they aren't actually "free," but still you don't have to haul out your wallet to get a beer or a cocktail as long as you are plugging money into the slots or video poker machines. The Mirage, however, is testing a new concept at one of their bars that lets the machine determine when you are worthy of getting your whistle wetted by spitting out free drink tickets based upon your play. Several bloggers have gone in to test the new scheme and report that you have to play a quarter machine for about an hour before you'll get a comp. The hotel is not commenting on the new system and there is no indication that it will be spreading past this one bar at The Mirage, but it is something to be on the lookout for as it could mean the beginning of the end of unlimited free drinks in Las Vegas. Read more about The Mirage.
Countdown II: Top 7 Vegas Dining & Nightlife Stories of the Week
7. World's Largest Hooters in Vegas
I never get tired of writing headlines like that. And yes, of course, I'm talking about the restaurant, which is now open at The Palms. Boasting that it is the largest of the restaurant chain's, um, assets, the new Hooters has multiple dining rooms with 50 TVs and service to the pool area. It's located in the former Heraea space just inside from the east parking garage and Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 10pm and Friday and Saturday from 9am until 11pm. The smaller Hooters over at the Hooters branded hotel on Tropicana is staying put for now but that hotel is going to be getting a major makeover and a new name so that may not last. Read the review of The Palms.
6. New Rainforest Cafe Debuts
The kid-friendly Rainforest Café has completed its move from the MGM Grand to the Harmon Corner shopping plaza next door to Planet Hollywood. The new restaurant boasts a commanding view of The Strip, taking over the space that had been occupied by the haunted house attraction Goretorium on the top level. It features all the usual jungle decor but now with an outdoor patio that allows guests to get a Tarzan treetop view of the action on Las Vegas Boulevard. Read more about the Harmon Corner.
5. Tryst at Wynn Las Vegas Closing for Renovations
Tryst, the big nightclub at Wynn Las Vegas is going to close just after Halloween to get what officials with the hotel are calling a substantial renovation. No details were released about what would be involved but the club is expected to be shuttered for at least six months so it's going to be big, especially considering that means they'll miss the insanely profitable New Year's Eve window. The move comes on the heels of the departure of nightclub chief Jesse Waits, who is jumping ship to run the nightlife at Alon, the new resort planned by Australian casino magnate James Packer's Crown Resorts. That is going into the empty lot across the street from Wynn Las Vegas where The Frontier used to be. There will still be plenty of nightlife options at Wynn/Encore including XS, the most profitable nightclub in the world, and Surrender. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
4. Wahlburgers a Go For Grand Bazaar
This story has had more will-they or won't-they moments than Ross and Rachel on "Friends." After lots of waffling it is looking like Wahlburgers, the popular burger chain founded by actors Mark, Donnie, and Paul Wahlberg, is in fact coming to the Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally's. Nobody is saying what caused the period of time when everyone was quietly looking the other way when asked if the restaurant really was going to open but apparently it is passed and now everyone involved is very excited about it. Maybe we'll find out more on the eponymously named reality show about the restaurant on A&E. The new Wahlburgers will be 5,000 square feet and should be open by the end of the year. Read more about the Grand Bazaar.
3. Hard Rock Replaces Center Casino Bar with Another Center Casino Bar
The original party pit of a center casino bar that rocked the Hard Rock for twenty years closed a few months ago only to be replaced by a new, swankier bar. The new design, made out of white spring granite and silver paneling, maintains the raised and circular form of the original Center Bar that many know and love. A LED light fixture hangs above the glowing tower bottle display and serves as the new focal point in Center Bar's domed ceiling. It also features video capabilities that allow it to stream colors that match the music videos playing on the surrounding high-definitions TVs. Read more about the Hard Rock Hotel.
2. Good News/Bad News for The Cupcakery
The good news is that the The Cupcakery, the store offering the best cupcakes in Vegas, has opened a third location and this one is closer to The Strip. It's located at 1150 E. Flamingo, just west of Maryland Parkway and offers 1,200 square feet of frosted goodness. The bad news is that the owner of The Cupcakery was arrested while attending the Burning Man festival for drug trafficking, drug possession, and child abuse/endangerment. One could argue that the number of people at Burning Man who aren't in possession of some sort of illegal narcotics is probably pretty small, but still not a great news story to hit the wires right after you have just opened a new location. The charges are not expected to affect the business, which is good because as I said, best cupcakes in Vegas. Read my review of The Cupcakery.
1. Chef Kerry Simon Dies
Kerry Simon, the brilliant mind behind some of my favorite Las Vegas restaurants over the years, has died in Las Vegas. He was 60 years old. Simon got his start in Vegas helping to open the restaurant lineup at Bellagio in the late 1990s and was the executive chef of Prime steakhouse. From there he went on to open Simon's Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel, Simon at The Palms, KGB Burger at Harrah's, and Carson Kitchen in Downtown Las Vegas in addition to restaurants around the globe. Before it shuttered earlier this year, KGB offered what I thought were the best burgers in town and Carson Kitchen remains one of my favorites for their farm fresh offerings in a simple, no-fuss environment. In 2013, Simon revealed that he had been diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy, a rare neurological disease that causes a slow degeneration of nerve cells in the brain resulting in symptoms that are similar to Parkinson's disease. During the last couple years of his life he fought tirelessly to raise awareness about and money to fight the disease. Simon died on Friday, September 11, at a hospice in Las Vegas. Read the review of Carson Kitchen.
Countdown III: Top 7 Vegas Attractions & Shows Stories of the Week
7. New Tiger Cubs Debut at The Mirage
Be prepared to say AWWWWWWW! Siegfried & Roy introduced the newest additions to their animal family when four six-week-old tiger cubs made their first appearance at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage Hotel & Casino on September 12. Born on August 5 at the Secret Garden to mother Indira and father Svengali, these are the first tiger cubs to be introduced at The Mirage in five years. Their names... Justice, Liberty, Maharani, and Hirah. Read more about the attraction.
6. Nicki Minaj Figure At Madame Tussaud's Needs Extra Security
It seemed like a good idea... put a wax figure into Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas of singer/rapper/Twitter-feud princess Nicki Minaj in a sexy pose from her "Anaconda" music video that basically involves her butt in the air. What could possibly go wrong? Lots, apparently, or at least if social media is any judge based upon the number of photos that have turned up of people posing with the figure as they do less than family-friendly things to it. Just go Google it, but not while you're at work. The facility has added extra security to make sure that the incredibly classy wax figure of a woman in a mesh top and booty shorts is not disrespected. Maybe the people who are taking the pictures will want to take the wax Nicki over to...
5. Madame Tussaud's Debuts "Hangover" Themed Wedding Chapel
If you're thinking of a Vegas wedding, how about having the ceremony with Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifinakas as your witnesses? Or at least wax figures of them. Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas has unveiled their new wedding chapel based on the move "The Hangover" and are offering packages that include up to 30 guests, an Elvis impersonator performing the service, flowers, a DJ, Jagermeister shots, food, booze, photos, and all three "Hangover" movies on DVD. You can also upgrade to include more guests, more food, more booze, and a wedding cake. Packages start at $5,500. Read more about Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.
4. Celine Dion Returns to Caesars Palace
It was an emotional return to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace for Celine Dion who took nearly a year off to care for her ailing husband, Rene Angelil, who continues to battle throat cancer. Dion reportedly came back to perform upon the insistence of Angelil and a tribute to him and their family as she sang Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" brought many in the audience to tears. The show has been revamped from its last incarnation, replacing about a dozen covers she was doing with more of her own material and new versions of other's material. Tickets are currently available for shows through December. Read my review of the previous version of the Celine Dion show.
3. The Judds Reuniting in Vegas
Mother-daughter duo Naomi and Wynona Judd are reuniting for a series of shows at The Venetian starting in October. The country music stars with 14 number one singles and multiple Grammy awards under their rhinestone studded belts broke up their act in 1991 but have performed together occasionally over the years since and even had a reality TV show on Oprah Winfrey's network. The pair will perform nine shows in The Venetian Theater (where "Phantom" used to play) starting October 7 and running through October 24. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster and range from $60 to $225. Read more about The Venetian.
2. Wayne Newton Ranch Opening Friday
This is one of those rare occasions where I'm going to have to take something out of the "I'll Believe It When I See It" file and put it in the "It's Actually Happening" file. Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah estate is opening to tourists this Friday, September 18 after years of legal machinations that involved bankruptcies and lawsuits. Three tour packages will be offered: the Gold Tour features a short film and guided or self-guided looks at Newton's private jet, auto collection, and animal exhibits including his Arabian horses; the Platinum Tour adds on rooms inside the opulent mansion; and the Diamond Tour offers a private tour guide, access to the Arabian horse barn, a tour of Newton's childhood home, and a peek at the private areas of the mansion including secret rooms and hidden passages. Tickets range from $35 to $95 and the facility is open 9am to 6pm Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit CasadeShenandoah.com.
1. Britney Spears Staying in Vegas
After several weeks of making comments that seemed to indicate that she was ready to bolt her Planet Hollywood residency at the end of her contract in December, pop princess Britney Spears announced that she has re-upped for another two year tour of duty in Vegas. The new contract will keep her as a headliner at the hotel through December of 2017 doing at least 50 shows a year but it won't be exactly the same as it has been for the first two years. Part of the big announcement included the vague promise that the show would undergo a "substantial re-imagination" so expect new set pieces to keep things fresh. The first set of 2016 dates are in January, February, and April - tickets go on sale September 14. Read my review of Britney Spears.
Dining Review: Emeril's New Orleans Fish House
In a town that loves to reinvent, revise, revamp, and reimagine every few years, it's not going too far to say that something that has lasted for 20 years has officially achieved landmark status. Such is the case with Emeril's New Orleans Fish House, which celebrates two decades at the MGM Grand acting as one of Vegas' premier seafood restaurants in the fall of 2015.
Things have both changed and stayed the same at Emeril's, with tweaks to the menu and a remodel of the décor keeping things fresh while holding on to a level of quality and service that have made it such a popular destination. What's most interesting, I think, is how the restaurant, which once was one of the most expensive in town, now feels like a relative bargain by comparison to some of the other upscale fish joints in Vegas.
The space has a warm, modern flair with "patio" seating toward the front along a busy indoor shopping promenade, a big bar, and a more sedate main dining room done in rich woods and vibrant colors. A huge walk in wine room will cause some drooling for oenophiles.
Owing to Emeril's heritage and the name of the restaurant, much of the menu has a laissez les bon temps roulez flair, with Creole influences obvious in starters like a boiled shrimp cocktail, seafood and andouille pork sausage gumbo, barbeque shrimp, and crawfish etouffee. We went for a deep dive with what they call their "swamp platter" - alligator meatballs and frog legs. The former were like spicy versions of the Italian classics, with enough of a bite (pardon the pun) to keep things interesting. The latter were a little rubbery but I understand that's par for the course for this particular dish - I don't eat a lot of frog legs in my daily life so hard for me to judge, really.
By the way, you may be tempted to save room and pass over the cornbread that comes to the table with fresh butter but don't. It's fantastic.
They have a few salads including a seafood variety with shrimp, Maine lobster, and blue crab but this is an area you can probably overlook to get to the really good stuff.
We sampled several of the Emeril's signature dishes including the seared sea scallops, a halibut served on a bed of grits, lobster, and a New York flat steak just to step away from the Ocean for a minute. It was all good but if I had to declare a winner it would be the scallops, done with smoked bacon and a corn and black-eyed peas succotash. They were tender, succulent pieces of meat and who could possibly complain about bacon and corn accompaniments? It was perfect. Like the frog legs the steak was a little tough, but it had an amazing, smoky flavor so it worked in the long run. You want a great steak, try the filet or rib eye, which are similar to the ones done at Emeril's fantastic Delmonico up the street.
Other entrée options including a few sandwiches such as a shrimp po-boy, pecan crusted redfish, barbecue Atlantic salmon, crispy seared chicken, and a double-cut pork chop.
Sides include more of the jambalaya, braised collared greens, pepperjack cheese grits, ratatouille, and bourbon and brown sugar sweet potatoes. We should have specifically asked for the latter since they sound amazing but were in a food coma and forgot.
Of course that food overload didn't stop us from sampling dessert and it shouldn't stop you either. If you walk out of this restaurant without having a piece of Emeril's famous banana cream pie, you have made a terrible error. It is probably the best example of that particular bit of sweetness that exists.
A lunch menu has similar offerings and a happy hour menu has a variety of snacks from the starters section of the main meals. It's worth noting that they are running happy hour both in the afternoon and in the evening with some bargain-priced drink specials so if you're in a cocktail mood, this is definitely a place to consider.
Speaking of prices, this is where things get really noteworthy. When the restaurant opened in 1995, it was one of the most expensive in town but this was long before hotels like Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, The Venetian, and others kicked what was considered expensive up a few notches (to use one of Emeril's favorite catchphrases). Although prices have risen here over the last 20 years, they haven't gone up to the insane levels that the really high-end fish places are charging. Starters, soups, salads, and sandwiches are all under $20 and main courses mostly fall into the $30-$45 range. There may be some specials that will go a few bucks above that, but when you have upscale seafood restaurants regularly charging upwards of $80 or $100 for an entrée this comes across as a bargain without sacrificing quality.
The service was first rate throughout the meal - this is one of those places where they make you feel special.
Even after 20 years, Emeril's should remain at the top of your list when considering seafood restaurants in Las Vegas.