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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
March 7, 2016
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Celine Wants to Be In Your Home
... and in your closet and on your face. Celine Dion has announced plans to expand her "brand" beyond just music and perfume. If all goes as planned, there will be household and kitchen items, clothing, and make up all with the word Celine stamped on them and, presumably, approved by the singer. She says the new businesses were a part of her husband's dying wish for her to ensure that her heart will go on. Read the review of the Celine Dion show at Caesars Palace.
9. Mob Museum Breaks Bad
In addition to its exhibits about the real life mafia, The Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas has quite a collection of memorabilia from Hollywood's interpretations of organized crime. Last week it added to that part with the installation of one of the iconic yellow "hazmat" suits worn by the lead character Walter White in "Breaking Bad." Although the show wasn't necessarily about the mob as we generally view it, it definitely dealt with organized crime both here in the US and in Mexico. The suit, along with gas masks and a rubber apron, are now a part of the museum's permanent collection. Read more about the Mob Museum.
8. Ride Share Drivers Caught Soliciting Rides for Cash
A sting by private investigators hired by the head of a local taxi company has uncovered multiple instances of Uber and Lyft drivers agreeing to give rides to passengers "off the clock" for cash. This is not only illegal its dangerous, since any rides not arranged through the rideshare apps are not covered by those company's insurance policies. During a big convention a couple of weeks ago, drivers were also openly soliciting passengers who were in a really long taxi line, another no-no. Both Uber and Lyft say they are shocked, SHOCKED about the behavior and are actively trying to root out the troublesome drivers responsible. Read more about getting around Las Vegas.
7. Frankie Moreno Coming Back to Vegas Strip
Frankie Moreno is a Vegas staple, having performed his energetic brand of classic pop music for audiences at The Stratosphere for several years. Now he's coming back to a Vegas residency this time in the PH Showroom at Planet Hollywood. The new production is called "Under the Influence" and will include his original music and some covers with a full band and choreography from Lacey Schwimmer of "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance." The show opens April 20 and will play Tuesday through Sunday at 9pm with tickets running from $40-$96. Read the review of Frankie Moreno's previous show.
6. Strip to Get First Pot Shop
Legalized medical marijuana is coming to the Vegas Strip in the form of Essence, a boutique dispensary going into a storefront at 2307 Las Vegas Blvd. S., about a block south of The Stratosphere and a block north of the SLS Las Vegas (more or less across the street from the Bonanza Souvenir Store. This is the second of four planned Essence stores in Vegas, featuring more than 20 premium strains that come in vape, topical, oil, and edible forms. To partake you must have a valid medical marijuana prescription from your state.
5. Planet Hollywood Taking Out the Hollywood
Newly revamped rooms are coming online at Planet Hollywood and while they appear to be a definite improvement over the older ones (which are still nice), there's one thing definitely missing: the Hollywood memorabilia that used to make each room unique. Each of their "Hollywood Hip" rooms had stuff from a movie or a star - I've stayed in rooms dedicated to Judy Garland, the Blade movies, and more - but the new rooms won't have that anymore, which I think is just a little sad. The new "Ultra Hip" rooms are available now for a premium (anywhere from $30-$70 depending on which room and which day). Read more about Planet Hollywood.
4. Palms for Sale?
Reports are circulating that the investment firms that own The Palms are quietly looking to sell it. According to a story in the Bloomberg News, TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners, the companies that acquired the hotel in 2011 after a debt restructuring, have hired an investment bank to poke around and see how much they could get for it and who might be interested in buying it. I think it's highly doubtful that any of the big players in Vegas like Caesars, MGM Resorts, Wynn, or Sands would be interested but some of the smaller companies might be including Penn National, which runs the Tropicana and M Resort, or the Blackstone Group that owns the Cosmopolitan. Stay tuned. Read more about The Palms.
3. Trump International Hotel in Vegas May Add Casino
According to stories in Fortune Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump's company is in discussions with Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin to add a casino to the Trump International hotel/condo tower located a few steps off The Strip next to the Fashion Show Mall. It would go on what is now a parking lot and be connected to the existing building and be a 50/50 venture between Trump and Ruffin. It's not a done deal yet. Trump has been in the casino business before, of course, at one point managing several hotels in Atlantic City, most of which didn't do great (understatement, but I don't feel like getting sued). His company recently got rid of its last bit of ownership of the Trump Taj Mahal, selling interest to billionaire Carl Icahn who owns the moribund Fontainebleau in Vegas. Read more about Trump International.
2. Crystals Mall Reportedly Sold
Crystals, the big mall at CityCenter, has reportedly been sold to Simon Properties, one of the biggest retail center managers in the country whose portfolio also includes The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and both the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North and South. The price tag was estimated to be $1.13 billion and it might come with the extra bonus of being allowed to expand the mall into the area that was occupied by the now deconstructed Harmon Hotel. This is really just a management thing so other than the possible expansion, don't expect anything significant in terms of changes at the mall. Read more about Crystals.
1. Vegas Elvis Exhibit Closes; Street Name Contested
Some 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley can still make headlines. Last week came the news that a street in Las Vegas was going to be named for Presley, but now the Presley estate is saying, "Yeah, don't do that." Why they are objecting to the idea wasn't clear but probably has something to do with the drama at the Elvis exhibit atThe Westgate. It was shut down by the hotel suddenly over claims of unpaid bills for renovations done to the space and the hotel management is not letting Graceland take back all of their memorabilia. Expect lawsuits over this one. Read more about The Westgate.TOP
More Than 2 Dozen Vegas Hotels Raise Resort Fees!
This is both shocking and also completely not. It has been just three months since I did a full sweep of resort fees at Vegas hotels and since then more than two dozen of them have raised their fees, in some cases by as much as $5!
Basically every hotel that hadn't raised their fees the last time I checked has raised their fees now. And in a couple of cases hotels that had just raised their fees, raised them again!
The biggest corporate offender is Caesars Entertainment, which jacked up prices at all of its hotels by $3-$4. Bally's, The Flamingo, Harrah's, The Linq, and The Rio all went up from $25 to $29 while Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, Nobu, Paris, and Planet Hollywood all went from $29 to $32. And this is before tax is added so it's more like $36 at the end of the day.
Other Strip hotels to raise their fees include Encore and Wynn Las Vegas, which went from $29 to $32 plus tax; Treasure Island, which also bumped up from $29 to $32 plus tax; The Mandarin Oriental, also up from $29 to $32 plus tax; and The Tropicana, which went from $25 to $29.
But it's not just Strip hotels. The Palms tied for the biggest increase, going from $25 to $30 plus tax; The Westin was another other $5 increase going from $19.95 to $24.99 plus tax; The Hard Rock went up from $25 to $28 plus tax; Hooter's... HOOTER's for crap's sake... went up from $17.95 to $19.95 plus tax; and the Silver Sevens bumped up a couple of bucks from $12.99 to $14.99 plus tax. Mind you the latter is at a hotel that will sometimes have rooms as low as $25 per night.
We're not done yet... The locals casinos got in on the action with the Boyd Gaming properties all raising their rates: Gold Coast, Suncoast, and Orleans all went up from $13 to $16 plus tax while Sam's Town went from $13 to $15.
And even Downtown was affected with the Golden Nugget tying for the biggest increase with their nightly fee going from $20 to $25 plus tax.
When will it stop? Probably never, although the MGM Resorts, which just raised their fees a few months ago, will probably stand where they are for awhile. Not because they have realized that the fees are out of control but because they are instituting parking fees at all of their hotels so they'll be too busy counting all of their money from that to deal with anything else.
Are we going to hit $40 per night this year? Considering that we're already at $36 when you factor in tax at more than a dozen hotels, I say it's almost a guarantee.
Check the Vegas4Visitors Resort Fees page for a full rundown of all the fees at major hotels in Vegas.
New Vegas Hotels In Trouble
This is starting to look really familiar.
Back in the mid-2000s, there were a bunch of big announcements about new Vegas mega-resorts that would be coming to The Strip within a few years. We had the Plaza, a $5 billion version of New York's famed hotel going in where the Frontier once stood. There was Echelon, another $5 billion complex of hotels and casinos that was replacing The Stardust. How about the Vegas version of Atlantis, a proposed co-venture between the company that runs the resort of the same name in The Bahamas and MGM Resorts that was supposed to be built on the land where the original Vegas Strip hotel, El Rancho, was located way back in 1941. And who can forget The Fontainebleau, the $4 billion, 3,000 room resort that started rising from the desert floor just north of The Riviera.
Then the economy crashed, credit dried up, and all of those plans went into the great dustbin of big Vegas ideas. The shell of the Fontainebleau was built but then the project went bankrupt and there it sits, rotting in the Nevada sun since 2009. Echelon started construction, with a few partially built towers jutting up out of the dirt but then the parent company pulled the plug. The Plaza and Atlantis never turned a shovel-full of earth before they got cancelled.
Since then the economy has improved and for awhile people were getting bullish on Las Vegas again. No fewer than four new Las Vegas resorts have been announced, all promising they'd be up and running anywhere from 2016 to 2018, adding tens of thousands of jobs to the city, thousands of new hotel rooms to the inventory, and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Everyone was very excited.
Now, everyone is nervous and some are running scared. At least three of the four projects has run into financial difficulties that are, for now, delaying construction and the fourth is only inching forward. Here's a look at the projects:
The Lucky Dragon is being billed as a boutique hotel-casino that will focus on foreign tourists with its authentic Asian theme. Located on Sahara Avenue, just a few feet west of The Strip, the 200 room hotel is supposed to have 19,000 square-foot casino, restaurants, a pool and spa, and more. Construction began in late 2015 and progressed quickly, with the exterior of the tower "topping off" last fall.
But then things hit a snag. The developers had been depending on some tax credits that lenders were requiring before proving the rest of the money necessary to finish the hotel. When those tax credits weren't approved, the money guys reportedly got skittish and construction on the project came to a halt.
Things picked up again after the first of the year but only sporadically and as recently as mid-February there are reports of crews getting laid off and progress moving slowly if at all.
The hotel was supposed to be open by the end of this year but that's almost certainly not going to happen now.
Alon Las Vegas was going to be the great hope for the empty plot of land where The Frontier once stood - the same one where the $5 billion Plaza was supposed to go. Driven by Australia billionaire (and Mariah Carey fiance) James Packer and his Crown Resorts, Alon is supposed to be an 1,100 room hotel with a casino, showroom, restaurants, nightclubs, and more aimed a hip audience. They even went so far as to steal away the guy who did the nightlife experiences at Wynn Las Vegas to be in charge of that portion of the program at Alon.
Since the announcement in August of 2014, little has happened on the land other than some minor grading leading many to speculate that the project was in trouble. Headlines of Packer leaving the board of Crown Resorts didn't help. Although he is still the primary shareholder, him not being the de facto leader of the company raised red flags.
Now Packer has announced that the project is officially on hold. He says he is having trouble securing the loans necessary to build the multi-billion project and so until the markets ease up, nothing is going to happen on Alon.
The All-Net Resort hasn't even made it far enough to be officially put on hold. This non-gaming resort was supposed to include a 500 room hotel, a 20,000 seat indoor arena with a retractable roof, and a big shopping and entertainment plaza. Grand announcement were made and they even had a ground-breaking but since then nothing has happened and since the folks behind the resort admitted that they hadn't lined up all the financing, it's looking like this is anything but a slam dunk.
But the granddaddy of all the new projects is Resorts World Las Vegas. Dreamed up by Genting Gaming, the Malaysian company with hotel-casinos around the world, this $5 billion Asian-themed mega-resort was dreamed up to take over the partially built Echelon project where the Stardust used to be.
When it was originally announced in 2013 it was supposed to include 6,500 hotel rooms in multiple towers, a 175,000 square-foot casino, a massive new mall, dozens of restaurants and nightclubs, a water park, and, owing to its Asian theme, a live panda exhibit and a replica of the Great Wall of China. It was all supposed to open in 2016.
Since the announcement, those plans have been delayed and scaled back several times. Now the "first phase" will include 3,000 rooms, the casino, the mall, and the restaurants and club, but no water park, no pandas, and no Great Wall, although the Asian theme is still intact. The last time the company discussed an opening date was at the May 2015 ground breaking when they projected a 2018 debut.
That ground breaking was strictly ceremonial and since then little has been done on the land other than a completion of the primary parking garage. While permits and other paperwork is still moving forward - the company just won a land-use permit in January of 2016 - almost nothing else has and the company is being very tight-lipped about the status of the project other than to say than to offer a vague "summer" start date of the major parts of the construction. That makes a 2018 bow unlikely unless they work really fast and are talking about the very last part of 2018.
Interestingly, it there could be a major casino-hotel that could debut before Resorts World - the Fontainebleau. The aforementioned project was bought out of bankruptcy by billionaire Carl Icahn, who picked up the approximately $2 billion building at auction for about $150 million. He sat on it for several years but recently put it up for sale for $650 million and reports are circulating that someone is closing in on a purchase. It is estimated that whoever buys it will need to spend another $2 billion to finish it but that it could, theoretically, be done in a couple of years meaning a mid-2018 bow. It's doubtful that all the ducks will get in a row quickly enough to make that happen, but it would be a delicious bit of Vegas irony.
Restaurant Review: Strip House
I have to admit, I'm a bit jaded when it comes to Las Vegas steakhouses for a couple of reasons.
First, there are roughly 11,476 of them in this town, give or take an exaggeration or two for comic effect. There are some okay ones and some great ones like Old Homestead at Caesars Palace, BLT at Bally's, and The Steakhouse at Circus Circus. After you've found great ones seems almost silly to keep trying new ones that usually pale in comparison.
Second, most steakhouses on The Strip are often overpriced for what they offer. If you're going to pay that much for a meal you should be getting something more special than a steak.
But my first visit to Strip House at Planet Hollywood a couple of years ago totally changed my mind and my second visit more recently only confirmed what I already knew: this place definitely belongs on the "great steakhouses" list.
The first thing you notice is the decor. The "Strip" in Strip House does not refer to a type of steak or the road on which the restaurant is located but rather the act of shedding one's clothes. The entire place is done up with a bordello theme - red walls, padded booths, ornate chandeliers - and features hundreds of photos, mostly of women from the forties and fifties, in various stages of undress. It's all done in an eye-popping yet tasteful way and is an immediate harbinger that things are not done the same way here that they are done in every other steakhouse in town.
A quick side note to parents: some of the photos do involve peekaboo nudity so you may want to consider taking the wee ones elsewhere if you don't feel like having that particular conversation over appetizers.
The menu is limited seems like steakhouse basic with things like jumbo lump crab cakes for appetizers, a few salads including a Caesar of course, in the starters area and some seafood, steaks, poultry, and the like in the main courses section.
But look closely and you'll see interesting items pop out at you. While I am very sad to learn that they don't offer their garlic bread with gorgonzola fondue appetizer anymore, I totally forgave them when I saw things like house cured beef jerky or roasted bacon. I, naturally, ordered the latter and got several thick cut strips of bacon, cooked perfectly, and served with a side of Russian dressing. Come on! What's not to love about that?
I skipped over the salads and raw bar and while I flirted with the idea of a roasted lamb t-bone I had to go for the steak, which I remembered as being especially delicious here. I was not disappointed. The filet came cooked to perfection with a pepper rub that is intense and intensely satisfying; a smoky, rough-hewn delight. Filets, while dependable, can sometimes be boring but this one was a pleasant surprise with every bite.
Sides run the gamut from potatoes of all varieties (good fat, whipped puree, garlic herb fries, Romanoff, baked, etc.) and several other vegetable options. How you don't go for the house mac and cheese is beyond me, to be honest.
The prices were typically expensive for this type of restaurant in this neighborhood but on par with other high-end steakhouses and totally worth it. I did all of the above plus drinks and dessert and it came out to right around $100 plus tax and tip. Not bad for something this good.
Service both times I visited was stellar.
Strip House is fantastic on almost every level and it is absolutely one of the best steakhouses on The Strip.