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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 23, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Billy Idol To Do Vegas Mini-Residency
Platinum-haired rocker Billy Idol has signed a deal to do a 12-show residency at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. The singer, most famous for his '80s hits like "White Wedding," "Dancing With Myself," and "Rebel Yell" will be doing the shows in March and May of 2016 with tickets starting at $79.50. You can get yours now at ticketmaster.com. Read more about Mandalay Bay.
9. Fontainebleau For Sale
Billionaire Carl Icahn has finally decided it's time to unload the mothballed Fontainebleau on the north Vegas Strip and has put the partially constructed hotel/casino on the market for $650 million. Icahn bought the property out of bankruptcy in 2010 after construction on the project stopped the year before because there was no money to pay anyone. It has sat there untouched ever since but Icahn's engineers insist the structure is sound and could be completed. About $2 billion was spent on the project before it shut down - Icahn bought it for $150 million - and it'll probably take at least another couple of billion to finish it. The other option might be to tear it down and start over. Read more about the Fontainebleau.
8. British Pub Coming to Downtown
Longtime tourist and local favorite Crown and Anchor Pub is going to open a satellite location in Downtown Vegas, bringing a bit of British flair to the area. The Downtown Crown Pub will be located next door to the Arts Factory on Charleston just west of The Strip, in the space formerly home to Bar + Bistro. It'll have a similar menu and the same spirit of fun and games as the original located on Tropicana Avenue for the last couple of decades. Read more about the Crown and Anchor Pub.
7. Vegas Acts Extend Headliner Residencies
Three retro headliner acts in Vegas have just signed up to stay on the Strip stages for awhile longer. Donny and Marie Osmond have just re-upped their contract at The Flamingo through the end of 2016 where they have been performing since 2008. Sharing time in the same showroom is Olivia Newton-John, who just inked a new deal to stay at the hotel through 2016 as well. Over at The Mirage, Boyz II Men have signed an additional three year contract extension that will keep them doing shows at that hotel through 2018. Read the reviews of Donny & Marie, Olivia Newton-John, and Boyz II Men.
6. Mirage Opens New Center Bar and Lounge
The revamp going on in the middle of the Mirage casino is finally complete, with the walls coming down to revewal a new Center Bar and Parlor Lounge. The open layout and contemporary design are housing a notable cocktail program headed by Liz Pierce, who was recently named "Best New Mixologist" by Food and Wine magazine. A couple of examples of her creations: Baller Old Fashioned: a modern take on the classic made with Angel's Envy boutique bourbon, Tippleman's Barrel-smoked Maple Cordial and Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters; and the The Skara Brae: a twist on the original Rob Roy cocktail created in 1894, made with Highland Park Dark Origins scotch, Gran Classico Amaro, Vedrenne Crème de Cacao, Grand Marnier, a touch of cardamom cream, nutmeg and garnished with a honey cluster. Read more about The Mirage.
5. Beasts On Display at Natural History Museum
The Las Vegas Natural History Museum has obtained a prestigious museum quality animal collection from Nevada casino developer and wildlife enthusiast, Gary E. Primm. The rare Gary and Matthew Primm Wildlife Collection features approximately 99 exotic and domestic species including a pride of lions, buffalos, bears, giraffe, crocodile, baboon, and more. The exhibits are in "better than museum" condition and have been worked on and crafted by the nation's top artists since the collection was started more than 20 years ago. Select pieces of the Primm Wildlife Collection are available for viewing by museum guests now. Read more about the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.
4. Serendipity 3 Eating Challenge
Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace hopes you're hungry... available now through the end of November, the Epic Unholy Huevos Rancheros Challenge weighs in at approximately five pounds and sits six inches high with a 12 inch diameter. The massive dish features 12 eggs, flour tortillas, chorizo, black beans, cotija cheese, avocado tomatillo sauce, a monterey jack and cheddar cheese blend, pico de gallo, sour cream, avocado lime sauce and bacon. Guests who successfully finish the entire dish within 30 minutes will receive it for free. If you want to try it but don't want to try to down the whole thing that fast, you can get it for $45. Read more about Serendipity 3.
3. Golden Steer Offering Sinatra Menu
The Golden Steer Steakhouse is one of those places that most people know about but have never visited. Located on Sahara, right off The Strip, since 1958, it was a regular haunt of Frank Sinatra, who would have turned 100 on December 12. To celebrate, the restaurant has put together a three-course menu based on what Sinatra ordered when he regularly dined at the restaurant. It features Clams Casino, a NY Strip steak, Bananas Foster, a drink of Jack Daniels on the rocks, red wine, a Zippo lighter engraved with the Golden Steer logo, and one ticket to the Mob Museum. Plus, you get to eat it in the actual booth that Sinatra sat in when he dined in the restaurant. "Frank's Menu" will be available until December 31, 2015 and costs $100 per person not counting tax or gratuity. Visit the Golden Steer website for more info.
2. Treasure Island to Get Avengers & Transformers Attractions; No Pirates
Treasure Island has inked a deal to bring two family-friendly attractions to the new addition above the CVS. Two walk-through interactive exhibits will go into the second and third floors, one honoring Marvels Avengers and the other all about the Transformers. Details of what will be in them are sketchy but expect hands on displays, movie memorabilia, and some cutting edge technology to wow the crowds. They are both expected to open in the spring of 2016. The one thing you won't be seeing at the hotel? Any kind of return of the pirate show. The owner of the hotel said it was too expensive and didn't lure people inside so it just wasn't worth it. Read more about Treasure Island.
1. Wynn Buffet to Reopen This Week
After a multi-million dollar makeover, the high-end Wynn Buffet will reopen its doors on November 23. In addition to a revamp of the decor, the lineup of food has also gotten an overhaul with more than 120 new dishes from around the world featured. This is an effort to compete with the stunningly successful Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars, which eclipsed the Wynn Buffet as the pinnacle of food excess . I'm planning on visiting the buffet next weekend so I'll have a report soon on what its like and, importantly, how much it costs. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
Can W Save the SLS Las Vegas?
It isn't much of a secret that the SLS Las Vegas is in trouble but help might be on the horizon in the form of The W brand of hotel, which is planning on taking over part of the resort.
The SLS is a reinvention of the old Sahara hotel and casino on the northernmost end of The Strip. More than $400 million was spent to redo the property into a link in the swank and hip SLS boutique hotel chain. It was aimed at a young, party set who would be lured by its multiple nightlife outlets, trendy restaurants, hip shopping outlets, and funky rooms.
Flash forward a year and the SLS is floundering. It has lost money consistently since it opened; several restaurants have closed or been replaced by non-brand-name copies; hip retailer Fred Segal abandoned all of its shopping outlets; and the main nightclub closed. The man who drove the development of the SLS, Sam Nazarian, got into legal trouble and was denied a gaming license, leading to him eventually selling his entire stake in the hotel to partner Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Starwood could have immediately put a big "For Sale" sign on the lawn but instead is doubling down by investing even more money into the property to revamp and rebrand a chunk of it into Vegas' first ever W Hotel.
The 289-room LUX tower, which has the biggest rooms in the SLS portfolio, will be remodeled and will operate as a W hotel within a hotel, sort of how the Four Seasons operates at Mandalay Bay. It will have its own lobby, a dedicated entry and reception area, a spa, and its own pool just for W Hotel guests.
The rest of the hotel, including the casino and remaining rooms, will stay with the SLS branding although it wouldn't be surprising to see the W take over the whole resort at some point in the future if their scheme works.
The one thing the entire resort will get is incorporation into Starwood's loyalty program. Or will it?
The W announcement came about a week before the news broke that Marriott is buying Starwood Hotels & Resorts for $12.2 billion. Whether or not that will affect the W plan or how the SLS will fit into Marriott's portfolio is yet to be seen.
For now the SLS and W plan is still moving forward as are some other changes at the hotel designed to lure in new guests. For instance the former Life nightclub will become an 1,800 seat live-event venue called Foundry Hall. It'll be home to concerts and comedy acts by early 2016 and will be competing with places like The Cosmopolitan's Chelsea.
The biggest question in my mind is if we agree that the original plan to turn the old Sahara into a swanky, hip resort under the SLS banner has failed, why do they think turning part of the hotel into a swanky, hip resort under the W name will make any difference? True, W has more cache than SLS, but is it enough to lure people away from The Cosmopolitan and Aria? I have a hard time seeing how the math adds up on this one.
Parenthetically, this is not the first time The W has set its sights on Las Vegas. There were plans back in the early 2000s to build a major resort on Harmon Avenue between The Strip and the Hard Rock Hotel that would have had thousands of hotel rooms and condos and its own casino, restaurants, clubs, and more. It obviously never got built.
Nightlife Review: LAX
When LAX first opened at Luxor it came with celebrity backing (Christina Aguilera was an investor) and a certain caché that comes along with taking the place of what many consider to be the first major nightclub on The Strip (RA). It was successful, naturally, as almost all new clubs are, but for some reason, be it the far South Strip location or just that the competition got too fierce, LAX never really hit the pinnacle as THE place to see and be seen. It was a fun, party spot - the kind of place you'd go if the lines at the really hot clubs were too long.
I, for one, consider that to be a good thing. Whatever clubs happen to be the clubs of the moment can be prohibitively expensive and outrageously exhausting. Where's the fun in that?
They gave the place a makeover in 2015 and it has dramatically improved the overall atmosphere of the club but the good news is that they have not lost that fun, relatively low-pressure party vibe that those who just want to have a good time can still appreciate.
Everything in the club has been opened up, from the rotunda like entryway now featuring a big chandelier overlooking the VIP queuing area, to the main room where walls were removed, booths were realigned, and the DJ booth was repositioned to give everything a more airy feel.
You enter the party by descending a dramatic staircase that spills right onto the dance floor, something that might be challenging for those in high heels or those who have already had a drink or three. The two story main room has a long, relatively narrow dance floor that doesn't come close to the size of those at the mega-clubs but is still big enough for you and several hundred of your closest friends to get your groove on.
The VIP bottle service booths were redone and put on tiers so they have good views of the action and there are two bars on this floor so you don't have to walk far if you aren't sitting in one of the places where someone will bring you a drink. The DJ booth was moved back a bit so now there is something resembling a small stage overlooking the dance floor where lithesome beauties strut their stuff. These are not just your average go-go girls - instead they get professionally trained dancers, many of whom appear in some of the bigger shows in town, who do choreography and have a great deal of interaction with the crowd. It's a refreshing change of pace from the blank-faced hotties gyrating on the platforms of most big clubs.
Upstairs are more VIP booths and another bar, although they don't always have that open so they can keep the crowd focused on the main action.
The vibe was fantastic the night I visited - friendly, low-pressure, zero attitude, and just there to have a good time. It's mostly younger and a lot of tourists but it doesn't have the same kind of "I'm hotter than you" snobbery or aggressive bro testosterone that can often ruin a good nightclub. There were a lot of people there but not too many people - everything felt just right.
The music will vary, of course, but when I was there it was a heady mix of hip-hop, EDM, and old-school. How can you resist a segue from Tiesto into the Eurythmics? Naturally, I was one of the few people in the club who was alive when "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This" was first released, but everybody screamed when it came on so I guess the '80s live on.
Prices are high but no higher than the other clubs in town and, in fact, maybe even a little cheaper by comparison. The staff had a professional detachment, which you kind of need to survive working in a Vegas nightclub, but they were cordial.
I like what they've done here and hope that the club gets the kind of attention it deserves - but not so much attention that it turns into one of those overwhelming experiences that kills the fun.
Restaurant Review: Sid's Café
There is nothing terribly special about Sid's Café at the Westgate Resort & Casino and that, in and of itself, is what kind of makes it special.
These days restaurants in Vegas want to have some sort of a hook - a theme, a fancy chef pedigree, a cuisine specialty, or some sort of unique location (eat while watching the fountains!). Most of the time this is just an excuse to charge more for food that you could get without those things for significantly less.
Sid's doesn't operate under such pretensions. It's basically a 24 hour diner (although it isn't open 24 hours) serving up down-home cooking for moderate prices. While the room it's in seems kind of fancy, with plush chairs and luxe décor, it's really just a nice coffee shop and I'm a fan of nice coffee shops.
The menu is all over the place. Starters include the cute chicken lollipops, which are chicken wings done in your choice of Buffalo, garlic, or Thai glazes. There are a couple of soups including homemade chicken noodle and matzo ball plus a variety of salads to get you going.
Main courses are mostly of the comfort food variety with items like meatloaf, fried chicken, prime rib, steak, salmon, and a lobster penne if you really want to go crazy. You could also choose from a variety of sandwiches including a lobster roll, cheesesteak, an Italian grinder, ham and cheese, or a build your own burger option. Lunch and dinner offers a couple of breakfast type items (egg dishes) but if you want a bigger selection you'll have to come at breakfast time.
We sampled the aforementioned chicken lollipops and if I had to choose just one I'd go for the garlic parmesan glaze. The Buffalo was a little too spicy for my tastes and the Thai was a little too bland so garlic felt just right.
The also had an Italian wedding soup special that was fantastic, with a nice juicy meatball and plenty of veggies, done with just the right amount of zesty flavor.
The meatloaf came sitting on top of a bed of mashed potatoes, all drowned in brown gravy, which is not my favorite way to serve this particular dish - I'm more of a tomato sauce fan myself - but it was hearty and rich and entirely too much food for one person to consume. Ditto the prime rib, served in a similar gravy with an open-faced sandwich presentation.
A massive piece of delicious chocolate cake finished off the home-cooked feeling.
Again, nothing here made me want to write sonnets about it, but everything we tried was well-prepared, flavorful, and satisfying, especially when you consider the prices. We did a shared appetizer, two soups, three entrees, and one dessert plus beverages, tax, and tip for around $100. Try that at any diner/café/coffee shop on The Strip.
Is Sid's worth going out of your way for? Probably not. I'd actually prefer to eat at one of those restaurants that is trying to be special in some way, even if it means paying a few more bucks. But if you're in the neighborhood and you're in the mood for a home cooked, comfort food style meal, this is one of the better places to find it.