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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
December 21, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
A car ran up onto the sidewalk near Planet Hollywood and Paris Las Vegas late Sunday evening, December 20, 2015 killing at least on person and injuring dozens more, some critically. The driver is in custody. I'll post more updates at they become available on the Vegas4Visitors.com Facebook Group.
10. Monorail to Stay Open Around the Clock for New Year's
Anyone who has visited Vegas for New Year's Eve knows that one of the biggest challenges is getting... anywhere. The Strip is closed down to vehicle traffic, making the side streets an impossibly clogged nightmare, and the wall-to-wall crowds on the street mean you pretty much find a spot and stay there. The Las Vegas Monorail wants to be a solution to that problem and is planning to stay open for 44 hours from 7am on December 31st to 3am on January 2 to help revelers get from one party spot to another. Read more about the Las Vegas Monorail.
9. Mob Museum's Millionth
Today, the 1 millionth visitor walked through the front of door of The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. To celebrate this milestone, the Museum showed Bill Tveitnes of Las Vegas with Champagne, balloons, a confetti launch and showgirls. He also received a complimentary lifetime membership and the "key" to the Museum that was presented by Executive Director Jonathan Ullman and a proclamation by Oscar B. Goodman. Goodman told the crowd on this cold Tuesday afternoon, "Only in Las Vegas can you have a Museum like this in the greatest in the city in the greatest country in the world." A surprised Tveitnes remarked he "had always wanted to see the Museum. What a day to choose (to visit)." Read more about The Mob Museum.
8. White Cross Closing... Again
Longtime Vegas visitors may be familiar with the White Cross. Located near The Stratosphere along the seedier part of Las Vegas Boulevard between The Strip and Downtown, it included a pharmacy with a little lunch counter inside called Tiffany's, famous for its burgers and shakes. The White Cross pharmacy closed in 2012 after nearly 50 years in business and then became a market but now that is closing also. The lunch counter, now called Vicky's, will remain open for now.
7. O Face Doughnuts Closing
Say it isn't so!! Word came down last week that O Face Doughnuts, the best doughnut place in Vegas, is shutting its doors. Located Downtown near the Container Park, they were best known for their "extreme" concoctions like doughnuts mixed with breakfast cereal (Cap'n Crunch was a favorite of mine). The owner says the crowds on Fremont a block away just didn't make their way to the store and they'll be shutting down before the New Year.
6. Several Strip Hotels Go Smoke Free
Before you get too excited, note that I said "hotels" and not "casinos." MGM Resorts has removed the option for smoking rooms at several of its hotels including Aria, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Luxor, and Circus-Circus. It is likely they will roll this out to the rest of the hotels in their portfolio like Bellagio and Mirage in 2016. With the more restrictive laws that went into effect a few years ago, this basically means that only indoor spots at those hotels that people can smoke are the casinos and bars/nightclubs that don't serve food.
5. Bubbly and Buble at MGM Grand's Mansion for New Year's Eve
Here's a VIP experience for you... a limousine from the airport to the MGM Grand where you'll get a super-swank Skyloft suite complete with your own butler, two tickets to the Michael Buble New Year's Eve show, and unlimited drinks at the concert. The next day you get dinner in a private room at the exclusive Mansion inside the MGM Grand, which is usually reserved for high rollers. The price tag? $8,000! Sure, let me get right on that. Read more about the MGM Grand.
4. Jubilee! Offering Discounted Tix Through End of Run
As mentioned in last week's column, Jubilee! at Bally's Las Vegas is going to have its final curtain call in February 2016 after 34 years of showgirls and head dresses. To honor that, tickets to the remaining performances will be available starting at $34 plus taxes and fees. Jubilee! opened in 1981 and has outlived every other traditional showgirl production in Vegas. You can find out more on the ticket offer at JubileeVegas.com and read the review of Jubilee!
3. Uber/Lyft Affecting Vegas Taxis
The taxi companies in Vegas fought hard to keep ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft from operating in Vegas, saying it was unfair competition that would hurt their business. They were right, sort of. In November, the first full month that Uber and Lyft were in Vegas, the number of taxi trips declined by 5.5% year over year, despite the fact that the number of visitors increased. The good news for the taxi companies is that despite fewer riders, revenue is up due to increases in fares. Read more about ways to get around Vegas.
2. Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil Closing April 2016
Talk about burying the lead... a press release from MGM Resorts spent an entire page talking about the $154 million expansion of the convention facilities at Aria Las Vegas, a noteworthy development but nothing that most Vegas visitors would get to excited about. Then the last line... "The new convention space will take the place of the location currently occupied by Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana, which will close April 30, 2016." Wait. Wha...?! This is almost seismic, not because there will be one fewer Cirque shows, but because it means Aria will be without a show or showroom of any kind, instead hoping to capitalize on the new arena and 5,000 seat theater going into the nearby Park complex. First Jubilee! and now a Cirque show? That may not be a trend yet but it's certainly worth paying attention to. Read more about Zarkana.
1. In-n-Out Coming to The Strip
Those of us who live on the west coast don't view In-n-Out burger with the same kind of reverence that those living in places without them do, but the fact that one is going to open at The Linq Promenade in 2016 is still a big deal. The burger joint's location at Tropicana and Industrial, the closest one to The Strip, is always jammed so you can expect long lines at this one when they get up and running. Read more about The Linq Promenade.TOP
What Closed in Vegas in 2015
One of the most difficult things about Vegas travel writing is keeping up with everything that changes during the year. In most cities you might have a few different things coming or going but in Vegas there are often dozens of changes in restaurants, nightclubs, shows, and even hotels. Vegas in 2015 was no exception.
Of course the big news in closures came in May when The Riviera shut its doors for good after more than 60 years in business. It opened in April of 1955 and for years was one of the most luxurious resorts on The Strip. In later years it decline in popularity and in presentation and became mostly famous for its cheap rooms, low-limits gaming, food court, and risque shows. The hotel will be torn down in 2016 and replaced, eventually, with a new conference facility from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
The most infuriating closure of the year came when For the Record: Baz shut down after only a few weeks at Light Nightclub. It was, by far, the most inventive, original, and interesting show in Vegas and deserved better. The good news is that it may be getting what it deserves. Unconfirmed rumors say it will be opening again in a much bigger space at The Palazzo.
In headliner news, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham closed his residency at Planet Hollywood this year so he could go back out on the road; Suzanne Somers was shown the door at the Westgate after her cabaret show failed to draw big enough crowds; and comedian Louie Anderson's bazillionth Vegas headlining gig, this time at The Plaza, got its last laugh in 2015. He will probably be back somewhere eventually.
In the "Not Surprising" category, Duck Commander, the musical based on the Duck Dynasty reality show and family, closed after six weeks.
We lost some amazing restaurants in 2015 including several of my favorites. Bartolotta from Chef Paul Bartolotta at Wynn Las Vegas was widely considered to be one of the best Mediterranean seafood restaurants in the United States. It was expensive but worth it. As mentioned further up on this page, O Face Doughnuts is closing before the end of 2015 and doughnut fans everywhere should have a moment of silence. And of course we can't forget about KGB at Harrah's, the best burger joint in Vegas as far as I was concerned. It closed when its founder Kerry Simon, who was battling a rare degenerative neurological disease, became too ill to oversee it anymore.
The Griddle Café at the SLS Las Vegas made it to the top of my Top 10 Affordable Restaurants in Vegas for 2014 and then closed a few weeks later in 2015.
Other noteworthy restaurant closings include Comme ça, the fantastic French bistro at Cosmopolitan, Radio City Pizza in Downtown Las Vegas, and the Sugar Factory at Paris Las Vegas - although it's worth noting that a new Sugar Factory restaurant is coming to The Fashion Show mall in 2016.
The nightclub scene in Vegas is one of the most dynamic in the world, with things closing and opening at a rate that is almost impossible to believe. The ones that served their final drinks in 2015 were Body English, the intimate club at The Hard Rock Hotel; The Bourbon Room, the 80s throwback at The Venetian; Insert Coin(s), the video game bar in Downtown Las Vegas; Liaison at , The Strip's first gay bar; Shadow, the lounge at Caesars Palace; and Stoney's, the country-western bar south of The Strip. The latter reopened in a new location later in the year.
Dining Review: The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas
The battle for the most extravagant buffet in Las Vegas got more intense a couple of years ago when Caesars opened its Bacchanal Buffet, an over-the-top experience both from a size and cost perspective. It edged out the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas, which for years had been at the top of the pecking order when it came to luxurious buffet experiences.
So Wynn fought back in 2015 with a multi-million dollar makeover that changed not only the look of the place but the food that it serves and the result is pretty spectacular.
I was worried when I heard they were going to redo the room, which I always thought was one of the most beautiful spaces in Vegas. The good news is that it was just a bit of cosmetic details - a palette that features more green and vibrant splashes of pink, red, and orange in whimsical touches here and there - leaving the overall effect in place. Flooded with natural light and tons of blooming flowers and trees, the space is broken up into various dining rooms that provide a more intimate feel. You may not be able to totally fool yourself into thinking you're having dinner in a traditional restaurant, but it definitely has none of the eating in a barn feel of many big buffets.
The food spread was epic before but seems even more so now. To try to list all of the food offerings would be silly, not just because the list would be so long but because the menu items change regularly. But like most modern buffets, the various stations serve up a wide variety of dishes from all corners of the globe plus plenty of fresh salads, fruits, and desserts.
It was brunch when we visited so I focused mainly on the breakfast style items. Special shout-outs go to the made to order omelets and pancakes, the latter of which come in buttermilk, chocolate, or red velvet varieties with everything from authentic maple syrup to chocolate chips as toppings.
A carving station served tender slices of a variety of meats including turkey, ham, thick bacon, sausage, brisket, and more; a Chinese station had plenty of Asian favorites and a teppanyaki grill allowed you to get a custom made dish; a seafood station had piles of crab legs and shrimp; and that was just the beginning.
Unlike most buffets, this one is highly interactive, with many of the dishes made just for you to your specifications. Even the stuff sitting under the warming lamps appeared to be recently prepared and I didn't experience a hint of the "warmed over" taste you'd usually expect.
The dessert area was one of the largest I've ever seen, a satisfying change of pace from what most buffets offer in this part of the meal. Baked goods of all stripes were present plus hand-scooped ice creams, made-to-order crepes, Bananas Foster, bread pudding, and more.
In all more than 120 new items were added to the menu and although I certainly didn't sample them all, I couldn't find any that weren't fantastic. The quality is obvious as is the care in preparation.
Yes, it's still expensive, unsurprisingly. Breakfast and lunch are within a couple of bucks either direction of $25, brunch is around $35, a regular dinner is over $40, and their "gourmet" dinner on Friday and Saturday is over $50. Remember when an all-you-can-eat buffet on The Strip was one of the cheapest meals you can eat? Yeah, neither do I.
Even though there are less-expensive buffets there are few that offer the level of food quality, selection, and atmosphere as this one. You absolutely get your money's worth here.
Show Review: Recycled Percussion
It should come as no surprise really that a production with the name "percussion" in the title is not going to be what you might call a "quiet" show. What may come as a surprise is how crazy loud this "not quiet" show at the David Saxe Theater in the Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood actually gets, not just from the noise generated by the people on stage but from the audience members, all of whom are supplied with metal pots and drumsticks and then encouraged to go nuts. Bring ear plugs is all I'm saying.
The group of four guys includes a guitarist, a DJ, and two drummers who bang on stuff - drum sets, single drums, improvised drums, things that sound like drums, metal, wood, plastic, and on and on it goes. They take the occasional side trip to make noise in other ways like a chorus of industrial metal grinders as a symphony of sorts, but for the most part it's about the drumming and their sheer energy and brio more than makes up for a lack of a narrative other than "let's make more noise."
There are a few inspired moments: one of the guys literally uses his body as a drum set and the brilliance/lunacy of the whole thing elicited ecstatic cheers from the audience; whatever you call the drumming version of a rap battle between two of the performers explodes into an all-out war of ever-escalating challenges; and the entire show shuts down briefly for "Totally Random Cookie Time," which involves distributing cookies to the audience for no discernible reason (hence the "random" part).
If you saw the show when it was at The Linq and recognize those bits, rest assured there is still plenty of new material. Their segment when they make music from a series of old toys (Simon, Operation, Bop It, a Slinky) is mad genius while the part where they dress up in costumes to protray various song titles is dumb but intentionally so and hard not to laugh along with.
The show is family friendly and kids will probably love the opportunity to be as loud as they want to be and not get yelled at for it. Parents who embrace irony by yelling at their kids for being too noisy may want to go watch the flowers bloom at the Bellagio Conservatory.
If you can take the sonic disruption, this is a fun, energetic, and original show. Just remember to bring your headache medicine of choice.