Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

The latest weekly column will always be on this page, but you can go back through the archives (all the way back to 1999!) or take a look ahead and what's coming up next for Vegas by using the navigation on the left hand sidebar.

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Chef Shawn McLain "Social" Restaurant Planned for Mandalay

James Beard Award-winning chef Shawn McClain is going to try to make dining a more social experience with his upcoming Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay. The restaurant and bar will take over the space formerly occupied by Shanghai Lilly and will feature an upscale gastropub type of menu (think house-made grilled sausages, flatbreads, etc.) in an environment with communal tables along with regular private ones, kitchen-side dining with views of the bustling food-prep area, an outdoor patio, and more. Read more about Mandalay Bay.

9. New Show for Criss Angel

Illusionist Criss Angel is going to be closing his long-running show at the Luxor... but then opening a new one in the same theater. Believe by Cirque du Soleil will close on April 17 and the new show, Mindfreak Live! will open in previews on May 11 and have its formal debut at the end of June. New tricks, new tech, and new atmospherics will be featured all driven by Angel, but Cirque will still be the official producer of the show. Read the review of the current incarnation of Criss Angel's show.

8. Pedestrian Bridge Revamp Delayed

A project to rehab the aging pedestrian bridges at the intersection of Tropicana and The Strip has been put on hold temporarily. The $35 million revamp was expected to start in April but now it won't begin until June. The reason? The upcoming April opening of the The Park and the T-Mobile Arena, which is expected to bring lots of new car and foot traffic to the area. When it does happen it will include new escalators, upgraded elevators, and new glass and design elements. Read more about The Park.

7. Dig This Offers "Mini-Digs"

Dig This is sort of like a giant sandbox with real bulldozers and excavators for you to play around with. But if piloting one of those massive machines seemed too intimidating (or too expensive) now you have the chance to do some mini-digs. The attraction in Vegas has added a Skid Steer Track Loader and a 5.5 Ton Mini Excavator to their line up with one hour experiences starting at $169. This turns the attraction into a family affair because the minimum age on these machines is only 8 years old. Read the review of Dig This.

5. Aliante Up for Sale

Want to buy a Las Vegas casino hotel? Bloomberg News is reporting that Aliante, the locals joint on the north side of town, is looking for a new owner. Originally a part of the Station Casinos chain, the hotel became an independent operator after its parent went through bankruptcy. It's currently owned by several of those investment firms that no one has ever heard of. No price tag has been placed on property but it cost over $600 million to build and includes about 200 hotel rooms, a casino with 1,800 slots and 36 table games, a race and sports book, a pool, a spa, several restaurants, and a 14-screen movie theater. Get out your checkbook. Read more about Aliante.

5. Jewel Nightclub Sets Opening Weekend Entertainment

Jewel, the new nightclub at Aria Las Vegas, is coming out swinging with an impressive lineup of star power for its opening weekend. Academy Award winning actor and singer Jamie Foxx will host opening night on Thursday, May 19 with DJ Irie, hot DJ duo The Chainsmokers will take over the booth on Saturday, May 21, and rapper/DJ Lil Jon will spin on Monday, May 23. Friday of that weekend is someone big but they won't say who yet - it's going to be a surprise. Jewel is taking over the space once occupied by Haze and will feature a more intimate vibe than the big clubs with a double-tiered space, VIP booths, multiple dance floors and bars, and more. Read more about Aria Las Vegas.

4. Getting Ready to Speed in Vegas

There's a new racing attraction coming to Las Vegas and the video below has your first look at the main event - a 1.5 mile track with 12 sweeping turns, 15-degree banked turns, and 60 feet of elevation change. When Speed Vegas opens in April you'll be able to take the wheel of a super car like a Ferrari 458, a Lamborghini Huracan, a Porsche 911 GT3, a Mercedes AMG GT-S, and more. They have also struck a deal with Gaudin Porsche of Las Vegas to provide customers with an exciting place to test drive their vehicles. I'm going to be getting a sneak peek of the track this week and I'll let you know what it's like! Learn more at the Speed Vegas website.

3. The Fight For Starwood Could Affect Vegas Hotels

A Chinese company has upended a proposed sale of Starwood Hotels & Resorts to Marriott by outbidding the company. Anbang Insurance Group has laid out a deal worth $13.2 billion dollars and as of now Starwood says that they are accepting it. The company operates properties around the globe including several in Las Vegas - The Westin on Flamingo, the Westin Lake Las Vegas, the Four Points by Sheraton on East Flamingo, and the Element in Summerlin. It also owns the W Brand, which has a planned Vegas debut as a part of the SLS Las Vegas. Marriott could still propose a counter offer but if the Anbang deal goes through, the plans for that W Las Vegas could get put on hold while the company works through the sale process. Read more about the SLS Las Vegas.

2. J.Lo Surprises at Pitbull Show

Pitbull is doing another mini-residency in Vegas at Planet Hollywood, with a series of seven shows over a couple of weeks. Guests at the first show got a special surprise when Jennifer Lopez, headliner at PH, joined Pitbull for their hit "On the Floor." Pitbull's show goes through March 26 and Jennifer Lopez returns to her residency in late May. Read more about Planet Hollywood.

1. Hollywood Cars Museum Adds Liberace Garage

Liberace lives on in Vegas... or at least his cars do. The Hollywood Car Museum is creating a new experience called the Liberace Garage, which will include four of the entertainer's vehicles: a 1961 Rolls Royce Phantom V limo used for his shows and in the movie "Behind the Candelabra;" the "Crystal Roadster," which he used in his Radio City Music Hall shows; the London Taxi he used to pick up friends at the Palm Springs airport; and the 1956 Rolls Royce convertible, also used in performances. There will also be photos and artifacts from Liberace's homes and career. The new attraction opens April 7 and will be a permanent part of the museum. Read more about the Hollywood Car Museum.

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Buffet Review: Palms Buffet

Buffets are a dime a dozen in Vegas. Well, actually these days they are more like $500 a dozen considering how high the prices have gotten. What used to be a low-cost way to refuel has now become more expensive than many of the sit-down restaurants nearby.

That's okay in my book when the food and/or the atmosphere is something really special but when it's not, well then you have something like the Palms Bistro Buffet.

To be fair the Palms buffet is not that expensive, at least not in comparison. Breakfast is around $10, lunch around $14, and dinner ranges from $21-$26. When you have places like the Bacchanal at Caesars Palace charging double these prices, this seems like a bargain.

Take it on its own though. For $26 I better be getting a fantastic spread with really high quality food. We went at dinner and even though we had a 2-for-1 coupon, I still felt like we paid too much.

All the usual buffet suspects are here - salads, American, Chinese, Mexican, seafood, desserts, and so on. They used to have a wide selection of Middle Eastern food owing to the heritage of the hotel's former owner but that has been mostly eliminated now. Instead what you get is the same old boring stuff you get at all of the other moderately priced buffets and nothing more. Well, they did have a made-to-order pasta station but you were limited to two options, one of which was a garlic fettucine that was so garlicky I was pretty sure vampires were dropping dead six counties over.

The room itself is nothing to get excited about either. With rows of white tables, a white floor, and some green accents, it felt like a nice cafeteria instead of Las Vegas buffet. At least throw a showgirl mural on the wall for Pete's sake.

There are dozens of buffets in this town, many of which are significantly better than this regardless of how much you are paying. Spend more money and go to the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas, spend about the same and go to Planet Hollywood's Spice Market, or pay less and go Downtown to Main Street Station's Garden Court. Each of these are much better options from both a food and design standpoint and won't leave you feeling like you paid too much.

Palms Buffet
Palms Las Vegas
4321 W. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89103
702-953-7679
website
$10-$26
Daily 8am-10pm
Breakfast $10; Lunch $14; Dinner $21-26 Daily 8am-10pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: C

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Vegas4Visitors Museum: 50th Anniversary of The Aladdin

April 1 will mark what would have been the 50th Anniversary of The Aladdin, a Vegas hotel with a colorful past.

The original Aladdin, located where Planet Hollywood now stands, has one of the most troubled histories in town. Over the course of its life it had over a dozen owners, closed several times due to financial problems and criminal investigations, and went bankrupt no fewer than three times.

The property first opened in 1963 as the Tally Ho, a 450-room resort with no casino built by Edwin Lowe, a man who was most famous as the toymaker who successfully marketed the game Yahtzee. Contrary to popular legend, Lowe didn't invent the game, he just purchased the rights for it from a Canadian couple who first thought it up in the 1950s to pass the time on their yacht (hence the name). Edwin Lowe's toy company was purchased in the 1970s by Milton Bradley.

The property had all the hallmarks of a Las Vegas resort - an English Tudor theme, a golf course, four swimming pools, and six restaurants. But despite its premiere location across the street from The Dunes and within walking distance of The Flamingo, the hotel suffered without a casino and was sold to the Indiana based King's Crown chain in 1964.

They rebranded it the King's Crown Tally Ho Hotel but didn't have much better luck with the property. They added a casino but couldn't get a gaming license so the hotel failed.

The property was rescued by Milton Prell in 1966. Prell started in the casino business in California with a highly successful bingo palace. He opened Club Bingo, a non-hotel property, on what would eventually become the Las Vegas Strip in 1947 on the chunk of land that later would be home to Prell's Sahara hotel.

Prell bought the King's Crown Tally Ho for $16 million and then dumped another $3 million into the property to add an Arabian Nights theme and a new 500-seat Baghdad Theater. The property, along with the new casino, opened on April 1, 1966 as The Aladdin with comedian Jackie Mason providing the entertainment.

Part of the reconstruction of the property meant removing some of the rooms, so the "official" room count at the opening of the Aladdin was 335. Interestingly, despite the desert theme out front, the hotel wings kept their English Tudor design for years.

At opening, the Aladdin consisted of a long, relatively narrow building that sat very close to The Strip. In relation to the existing Planet Hollywood, it ran from the northern most edge of the property (where Cabo Wabo Cantina is now) to about halfway down the current building. It contained the casino, the theater, bars, and a couple of restaurants.

Behind the casino building were the original Tally Ho hotels rooms, which stretched back away from The Strip in a u-shaped, two-story building.

Behind the hotel was the golf course, located more or less where the Planet Hollywood parking garage is now.

The south end of the property, where Pinks, PBR Rock Bar and Grill, and the Elara at Planet Hollywood Tower are located now, was a parking lot.

Prell happened to be a friend of music legend Colonel Tom Parker, which led to perhaps the most famous moment for the Aladdin: the May 1, 1967 wedding of Elvis and Priscilla Presley.

Even with Prell at the helm, the hotel underperformed and lost money. Seeking investors, he sold a stake in the hotel to a Detroit woman named Mae George, who through her family, was rumored to have ties to organized crime in St. Louis. This may have been the beginning of what was long believed to be mafia involvement in the Aladdin hotel's organization.

Prell created a new corporation with himself as the primary stakeholder and effectively sold the hotel to himself in 1968 as a way to infuse new capital into the property. It was sold again in 1970 to a consortium of businessmen from St. Louis headed by Sam Diamond.

Diamond and the other investors started construction of a major expansion of the hotel in 1974. Estimated to have cost between $50-60 million, the expansion featured a new 17-story tower with more than 700 rooms, the now-legendary 7,500 seat Theater for the Performing Arts, and more casino and restaurant space to the south of the former building.

If you look at the existing Planet Hollywood building, you'll note two smaller wings that jut out from the main hotel tower. Right in between those wings is here the 1976 era hotel tower was located (more or less) and those wings were styled to resemble the old building.

The Theater for the Performing Arts was located where it is now (it's the same building, just remodeled). It was directly behind the new tower and just to the south of the old Tally Ho motel buildings, which remained in service.

The expanded and remodeled hotel had a grand re-opening in 1976 with Neil Diamond providing the entertainment.

It was the expansion of the hotel that led to its most troubled period. $50 million in 1976 is approaching a quarter of a billion dollars in today's money, so questions about where they came up with the funds began almost immediately. Under allegations of mafia involvement, an investigation was launched that eventually led to racketeering indictments and convictions.

The hotel was actually closed in August of 1979 by the Nevada Gaming Commission due to the scale of the corruption, one of the few times in history they have gone to that length, but a judge allowed the property to reopen just a few hours later. Unfortunately it wouldn't be the last time the property closed.

Hollywood came to the rescue of the troubled hotel in 1980. After an attempt from Tonight Show host Johnny Carson fell through, legendary entertainer Wayne Newton bought the property with a partner, Ed Torres, the former president of the Riviera Hotel and Casino.

Newton and Torres famously disagreed about how to run the hotel and by 1982, Newton was out of the picture. Torres couldn't manage the property effectively and by 1984 it had sunk into bankruptcy.

The hotel limped along for a couple of years until it was purchased in January of 1986 by a Japanese businessman, Ginji Yasuda. He closed the hotel in November of 1986 for a five-month, $30 million remodeling program. It reopened in March of 1987 at a time that coincided with even more rumors of mafia involvement with the hotel, including speculation that Yasuda got some of the money for the property from organized crime interests in Japan.

The Aladdin sunk into bankruptcy again in 1989 and over the next few years went through several different owners until finally in 1997, a group of investors, partnering with the London Clubs, announced plans to tear down the hotel and rebuild it with thousands of hotel rooms, two casinos, showrooms, a mall, and more. The new version of the Aladdin would be nearly three times larger than the old one. The only thing that would be spared would be the historic Theater for the Performing Arts.

The hotel closed on November 25, 1997.

On April 27, 1998, the hotel was imploded.

The new Aladdin opened on August 18, 2000. For more information on the next era of the troubled resort (hint: things didn't get better just because the building did), go to the Aladdin 2000-2007 page.

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