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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 2, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Las Vegas Club Sports Memorabilia Up For Sale
The Plaza will be hosting an exhibition and sale of sports memorabilia that had been on display at the now shuttered Las Vegas Club across the street. Jerseys, bats, pennants, baseball cards, stadium seats, photos, and more from the long histories of baseball, basketball, football, and other major sports will be on display and for sale. The exhibit is open to the public daily from 3-11pm and is free to browse through. Prices on the items start at about $25 and go up from there. Read more about The Plaza.
9. MGM Resorts Sells Strip Hotels... To Itself
In another one of those moves that only people or companies with billions of dollars truly understand, MGM Resorts has decided to form a new company, MGM Growth Partners, and move several of its Vegas properties to the new entity. Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Excalibur, Luxor, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, and the Park development between those last two hotels will all be a part of MGP while the rest like Bellagio, Circus Circus, and MGM Grand will remain with MGM Resorts. Why? Well, MGP is what's called a REIT or real estate investment trust and among its many financial benefits is the fact that it doesn't have to pay ANY federal income tax as long as real estate is its primary source of income and they distribute at least 90% of earnings to shareholders. Caesars Entertainment did a similar thing a couple of years ago.
8. Ridesharing Now Operating at Airport
Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft are now operating at McCarran International Airport, dropping passengers off at the departures curb and picking them up from a dedicated section the parking garage adjacent to the main terminal. Hail your ride via the app and you'll get instructions on where to go to find your car. But beware the dreaded surge pricing where they jack up rates when it gets busier. I saw it at 2.9 times the going rate, which would have meant a car from The Mirage to the airport would've been about $80 instead of around $30 for a cab. The LVRJ had a story later in the day yesterday about the surge pricing also, seeing inflated rates for trips all over town that were 2-3 times what a cab would cost. Uber says that surge pricing is here to stay but should be less prevalent when they get more cars on the road - they hope to have thousands of drivers in their pool when they get things up to full speed. Read more about ridesharing.
7. Huge Real Estate Deal on The Strip Is Not About a Hotel
There was a major sale of a big chunk of real estate on the Las Vegas Strip last week worth tens of millions of dollars and it had nothing to do with a hotel-casino but about the other type of hot property in Sin City: a pharmacy. The Walgreens at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Convention Center Drive, and the 1.6 acres of land underneath it near the shuttered Riviera, sold for an eye-popping $37 million to the same company that recently bought a big chunk of the Showcase Mall near MGM Grand. That works out to about $2,300 per square foot for the store, which happens to sit right across the street from the upcoming Resorts World Las Vegas complex.
6. Bruno Mars Funks Up Bellagio Fountains
"Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars has been one of the biggest hits of the last year and now it's taking its place among the rarefied air of songs that get Bellagio Fountain shows. It wasn't easy getting the water jets and lights timed right to the funky workout jam, with fountain show creators spending almost a month trying to make it all work. The "Uptown Funk" number is one of about 30 in the rotation of songs at the fountains. Check out this video of Bruno Mars catching the show.
5. Multi-Billion Hollywood Themed Casino Opens in China
Melco Crown, the same company that is planning to develop Alon on the former Frontier site, just opened a $3.2 billion resort in Macua, China last week despite the region's slumping casino revenue. Studio City has 1,600 rooms, a figure-8 Ferris wheel suspended about 40 stories high between two towers, a 4-D Batman interactive ride, a Warner Bros. arcade, a 5,000 seat theater, more than a dozen restaurants, and more. The opening of the Hollywood themed resorts was attended by Robert De Niro and Leonard morewho premiered a new short film "The Audition" filmed at the resort and directed by Martin Scorsese. The opening night entertainment was presented by Melco Crown chairman James Packer's girlfriend, also known as Mariah Carey.
4. Palms Buffet Closing for Revamp
If you saw last week's column (or the item last week on Facebook) you'll know that the Rio Seafood Buffet is closing permanently and the Wynn Buffet is closing for a month for a major overhaul. Now comes word that the buffet at The Palms is also shutting down for a do-over including decor upgrades and a new, probably more expensive, menu. A lot of this is being driven by the success of the outrageously expensive but outrageously popular Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, which is forcing everyone else to up their game to compete. Read more about The Palms.
3. Piff The Magic Dragon Gets His Own Show!
I didn't discover Piff the Magic Dragon but I knew and wrote about him long before his attention-grabbing stint on "America's Got Talent" over the summer. He was one of the best things about Vegas Nocturne, a deliriously entertaining show that ran briefly at The Cosmo and was absolutely the best thing about X-Comedy, a revue at The Flamingo. Now, he's finally getting what he deserves - his own show in Vegas. Piff, a deadpan guy in a dragon costume, and his equally deadpan Chihuahua Mr. Piffles will be performing at 8pm Monday through Wednesday night in Bugsy's Cabaret at The Flamingo, allowing him time to travel to do shows elsewhere the rest of the week. I think this will be the stepping stone to a much bigger show somewhere in Vegas for Piff.
2. Crazy Girls Celebrates 28th Anniversary
One of the few things that survived the closure of The Riviera is the long-running topless show Crazy Girls, which last week had a party to celebrate its 28th anniversary of performing in Las Vegas. The raunchy revue debuted in September of 1987 and played at The Riviera until that hotel closed earlier this year, then relocated to the aptly named Sin City Theater at Planet Hollywood. The famed bronze statue of the ladies' "assets" was relocated to Planet Hollywood with the show but they never did find the scoundrel who stole a truckload of costumes and props, including a six-foot tall phallus that shoots streamers. Amazing shows like For the Record and Vegas Nocturne can't make it more than a few months but the show with naked girls and penis shaped props lasts for 28 years? Welcome to Vegas.
1. New Guy Fieri Restaurant Planned for Vegas
On the heels of his enormously successful eponymously named restaurant at The Linq, celebrity chef Guy Fieri is branching out with plans to open a second Vegas restaurant, this time at The Rio. El Burro Borracho, which is Spanish for the drunken donkey, will go into the space now occupied by Buzio's seafood at The Rio. The outlet will reportedly be a bigger version of the one at Harrah's in Laughlin, which serves a wide variety of Mexican specialties and lots and lots and lots of tequila. It's due to open in early 2016. Read the review of Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen at The Linq.
Will You Be Paying for Parking on The Vegas Strip?
Vegas blogs and even some newspapers are abuzz with rumors that MGM Resorts is thinking about instituting a fee for parking at its Vegas resorts. Before you lose your mind too much, let's take a look at what's driving the conversation and what might actually come out of it.
MGM Resorts is building a 20,000 seat sports and entertainment arena behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo as a part of its new Park complex of shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues, one of which is a 5,000 seat theater. The one thing they aren't adding is a single new parking space.
The parking garages at New York-New York and Monte Carlo will be connected via pedestrian bridges to the new arena and MGM Resorts says there is plenty of room in the two structures and at other nearby resorts in their portfolio like MGM Grand to handle the extra cars that will be coming to The Strip for big concerts or sporting events at the facility. The garage at NYNY, for example, was built to accommodate enough vehicles for another 1,000 hotel rooms that never got built at that hotel.
But it's more than just a space issue that is going on here. MGM Resorts is in the midst of a multi-year plan to basically squeeze more revenue out of its hotels by doing things like raising resort fees and putting in cost cutting measures at its properties. Charging for parking is just another idea on the option list that would drive a few more bucks into shareholders' pockets.
Free parking, both self and valet, has been a tradition on the Vegas Strip since forever but anyone who has traveled to a major city knows that it is an aberration. I have recently stayed at hotels in the hearts of Atlanta, Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco to name a few and have been socked with parking fees that ranged from $25 per night on the low end to $51 on the high end. Likewise, I have attended special events at major arenas and theaters in Los Angeles and expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $50 to park depending on how close I want to be to where I want to go.
Interestingly, free valet parking has become increasingly rare at the major casinos with most of them reserving their main valets for people with higher levels of players' club cards. The primary valet at Caesars and Planet Hollywood, are now almost always reserved only for those with Diamond level or above Total Rewards cards. It's also worth noting that many hotels are including parking, which they already provided free, as a perk included in their resort fees.
And of course, most Downtown Las Vegas hotels have been charging for parking for as long as I can remember but usually only a couple of bucks and you can usually get a validation that makes it free inside the casino.
So would MGM really charge for parking so you can go inside and gamble in their casino? Let's take a look at the various scenarios that might play out.
The first is that they will put in a parking charge whenever there is a special event and only at certain properties that they expect to be most affected like New York-New York, Monte Carlo, and maybe Aria or MGM Grand. In this case they would probably keep it free for guests of those hotels and maybe offer some sort of discount for people who are there to eat or drink or shop.
The second option is that they put in charge at all of their hotels all the time but let some people get out of paying it like hotel guests or players' club members who have hit certain levels.
The last option is they put it in and charge everyone regardless of whether you are staying or playing at the hotel.
I don't think they'll go as far as the last one but it wouldn't surprise me to see a special events parking charge that eventually builds to an all-the-time charge with some exceptions, similar to the way they started with a small resort fee at some of the hotels and now have huge ones at all of them.
Resort Fee Shockers: Nearly Two Dozen Hotels Raise Fees!
The last time I did a full rundown of resort fees at the major hotels was the middle of June, just four short months ago. It's amazing how much can change when you aren't looking.
A long list of Las Vegas hotels have raised their resort fees in the last few months, with a few going all the way up to $32 per night!
Those offenders are all in the MGM Resorts stable, which has raised resort fees at all of their hotels. Aria, Bellagio, the Four Seasons, and Vdara have all gone from $29 per night to $32 per night plus tax, meaning you can now ad $35.84 to every single night of your stay.
That company's Mandalay Bay, Delano, MGM Grand, Mirage, and New York-New York have all gone up as well from $29 to $30 while Monte Carlo has gone up from $28 to $30, for a post tax total of $33.60 per night.
But it isn't just MGM Resorts making all the moves. Station Casinos has raised resort fees at most of their properties including Boulder Station and Santa Fe Station, both up from $14.55 to $15.67 tax included, Sunset Station from $16.94 to $18.07 tax included, Green Valley Ranch from $28.24 to $29.37 tax included, and Red Rock Resort from $27.99 to $29.11.
Back on The Strip, The Palazzo and Venetian have raised their resort fee from $29 to $30 before tax ($33.60 with tax), SLS Las Vegas has jumped from $25 to $29 plus tax, and The Stratosphere has gone from $17.99 to $20.99 plus tax.
Even the Downtown hotels are getting in on the greed with the Downtown Grand going up from $18 to $20 per night plus tax.
And if you think getting even slightly off The Strip is going to help, forget it... The Westgate has rasied their resort fee $24.64 to $28 including tax.
The good news, if you can call it that, is the short list of hotels that don't charge resort fees has not gotten any smaller. Arizona Charlie's, The California, The Cannery, The Eastside Cannery, The Four Queens, The Fremont, M Resort, and Main Street Station are still resort fee free.
Get a full rundown of which hotels charge and how much on the Resort Fees page on Vegas4Visitors.com.
Restaurant Review: Hexx Kitchen & Bar
Hexx has not only taken over the space at Paris Las Vegas once occupied by the Sugar Factory restaurant and sweet shop but it has also taken over its basic concept: a wide variety of good food, served 24 hours a day, with a healthy dose of sugar thrown in to keep you motivated. While it may not be as perfectly sweet as its forbearer, it is still an excellent place to grab a bite to eat, people watch, and zone out on chocolate overload.
The indoor/outdoor space is lovely, with a white and gold design scheme keeping things sunny and a big patio providing great views of the throngs crowding The Strip and the Bellagio Fountains across the street. It was roughly a billion degrees on the day I visited so I chose to eat indoors but plenty of people were braving the heat under the broad canopy and didn't seem bothered by it.
Consider starting with one of their signature cocktails, done as a "potion" complete with a dry-ice container spewing faux-fog across the table. Hexx. Get it? Cute, but a little on the pricey side.
There are three menus. Breakfast has items like fresh fruit, smoothies, steak and eggs, quiche, Eggs Benedict, build your own omelets, French toast, pancakes of several varieties, breakfast pizza, and some "Not Breakfast" options like a hamburger, salad, or even filet mignon. Lunch cycles in sharable plates like fries smothered in pulled pork, baked cheese, and a charcuterie plate plus soup, salad, a Kobe beef burger, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, and entrees like jambalaya, salmon, and several steaks. Dinner removes the sandwiches and adds a few more entrees like lamb osso bucco and grilled salmon.
So yeah, a little bit of something for just about every taste.
I visited at lunch but was still in a breakfast kind of mood so I split the difference with a starter of their "Overcooked Bacon," thick slices of Applewood smoked meat, done extra crispy, and served with a cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple aioli (which in this case was sort of a fancy name for sweet mayonnaise and I for one think there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). It was divine and didn't have a hint of cholesterol, I'm sure.
For my main I went with the chicken and waffles, a personal favorite. The waffles were fluffy and crunchy at the same time - in other words perfect - and came with a rich maple syrup and a house made apple butter. The latter was amazing and I found myself going back to it more than the syrup, which should tell you something. The chicken was basically three big breast tenders, fried to a golden crisp, and fine but nothing overly special. Everything else was so good I was willing to forgive the pedestrian bird on top.
I went by myself so I didn't have a chance to get multiple dishes with guests like I normally do, but I chatted up a few of the people sitting near me and I got nothing but raves for the meals they were eating. One woman had an eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head reaction to the spaghetti carbonara and another proclaimed the smothered fries to be a perfect hangover remedy.
There's a full, extensive dessert menu of cakes, pies, shakes, and sundaes, many of which are done with chocolate made in their own mini-factory. They source beans from Peru, Tanzania, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Madagascar then roast them on site and put them through a production and aging process that takes weeks to get to the final product. I sampled all of them, of course, and each was quite delicious but if I had to pick one I'd go with the Peru, with its hints of fruity raisin flavor.
If chocolate doesn't do it for you, spend some time in the sweet shop with all manner of sugary confections available to go.
As you would expect from a restaurant in this high-profile of a location on The Strip, prices are a bit on the high side. If you go really basic you might be able to do lunch for $20-$25 but it's easy to go a lot higher than that. If all you're looking for is a quick refueling, this may not be your best option but if you want a proper, high-quality meal you could do a lot worse for your money in this town.
I was a big fan of the Sugar Factory and while Hexx may not quite hit the same sugar high that its predecessor did, it still casts quite a spell.