Las Vegas is on a roll again. Ever
since "Bugsy" Siegel planted the Flamingo Hotel in Nevada in 1946, the towns
modus operandi has been compulsive development. In the 80s, Las Vegas
tried to go mainstream and transform itself into a destination resort as well
as a gambling mecca. Up went casino hotels with theme parks, exploding volcanoes
and pyrotechnic sea battles.
In its present reincarnation Disneyland
in the desert is journeying upscale with all-suite pricey luxe resorts, cutting
edge cuisine and shopping that rivals Madison Avenue. Gambling is still the
major industry, but there is so much going on in Las Vegas that vacationers
never have to sit at the gaming tables or put coins in the slots for entertainment.
You can travel the world along the
three- and one-half-mile Strip that houses a string of dramatic hotels. Almost
every one of them has entertainment based on the hotels concept. Much
is free; a nominal fee gains entrance to others.
Ride the Manhattan Express Roller
Coaster at New York-New York. Ascend to the top of the Eiffel
Tower at Paris Las Vegas. Let a gondolier guide you through the canal
at The Venetian. Look out over all of Las Vegas and the surrounding area
from the top of the 1,149-foot tower at Stratosphere. See a mini-zoo
at Mirage, home of the White Tiger Habitat, the Secret Garden
with six rare animal breeds and the Dolphin Habitat. Stop at King
Tuts Tomb in Luxor, a recreation of ancient Egypt. Watch Merlin
the Magician battle a fire-breathing dragon in the moat at Excalibur,
a copy of King Arthurs castle. Explore the aquarium that houses
sharks, crocodiles and rare fish at Mandalay Bay, designed to simulate
the South Seas. Enjoy the circus acts at Circus-Circus. At Bellagios
eight-acre Lake Como there is a dancing water show with 1,200 fountains.
In Las Vegas where imagination has
taken hold and revitalized the city, visiting the hotels is a major part of
Some consider the Big Apple to be
the capital of the world. New York-New York Hotel & Casino
has brought the magic and excitement of the original city that never sleeps
to the eponymous hotel. The façade replicates 12 famous Manhattan
skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Soldiers
& Sailors Monument and a Coney Island roller coaster.
Enter the cavernous casino lobby and a pageant of famous neighborhoods and landmarks
vie for your attention.
|New York-New York Hotel & Casino
Greenwich Village is the one
that is most faithfully represented. Hook and Ladder Company No. 9 is
the areas firehouse and the Christopher St. Station is the local
stop on the IRT. The section of small townhouses and tenements features store
fronts of TV and shoe repair shops, a hardware emporium, laundry, fortune teller
and informal eateries and cafés with sidewalk dining.
The Coney Island Emporium
has boardwalk attractions from earlier decades, such as carnival games, shooting
galleries and a giant scale to "guess your weight."
Design elements also reflect the
history, color and diversity of Park Avenue, Central Park, Times
Square, Broadway and the Financial District. Adding to the
realism are lamp posts, trees and manhole covers spewing steam. New York treatsNathans
hot dogs, soft pretzels and Haagen Daz ice creamare sold at the snack
Guests are housed in 12 adjoining
skyscraper towers named for famous buildings, such as the Empire State,
Century and Chrysler Buildings and the New Yorker Hotel.
New York-New York Hotel &
Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV 89109. Tel. 1-888-696-9887, 702-740-6969
. Rates begin at $59. http://www.nynyhotelcasino.com
Blackstones Steak House
has a look that is typical for its genre. The clubby dimly-lighted saloon atmosphere
is carried out with stained glass windows, comfortable leather banquettes, beveled
mirrors and small shaded table lamps. A spritely Mediterranean salad ordered
as a starter had fresh greens and beans that were cooked just right. The balsamic
vinegar dressing with which it was tossed was excellent. Meats are grilled on
a mesquite charcoal broiler. Roasted prime rib of beef was juicy and flavorful.
The porterhouse, the featured steak on the menu and the most expensive, was
neither tender nor tasty. Most of it was left on the plate. Portions were unnecessarily
oversized. Some of the side dishes also suffered. Mushrooms were bland and a
"colossal" baked potato missed the mark, possibly because it had been on a steam
table too long.
A dessert of crème bruleé
with a crisp crunchy topping that had been properly browned was at the top of
Monte Carlo Hotel, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-730-7777. 888-529-4828.
The name Chinois, which means
Chinese in French, hints that this restaurant is no ordinary Asian establishment,
but is a temple of haute cuisine. Cantonese and Hong Kong style dishes with
American and French touches are featured here. The menu changes daily and also
includes Japanese specialtiescrisp tofu, shrimp tempura, barbecued salmon
and seared tuna. There is a complete sushi menu and several Japanese beers and
sakes to accompany them. Not too many restaurants serving Chinese food can produce
admirable sushi and sashimi, but at Chinois the raw fish is pristine and beautifully
Two of the best entrées are
the Shanghai lobster in a coconut curry sauce and the terrific charcoal grilled
Szechwan beef with wasabi potato puree and caramelized shallot sauce.
All desserts incorporate the flavors
of fresh fruit. The passion fruit cheesecake with candied tangerines gets star
Rare artifacts from Asia decorate
the two-level restaurant with its Zen-like rock garden, water fountain and yin
and yang motif.
Chinois, The Forum Shops at Caesars,
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Tel. 702-369-0360. Moderately expensive.
Dining in Venice under the open sky
is a memorable experience. Dining at Postrio in The Venetians St
Marks Square at the Grand Canal Shoppes is just as unforgettable. When
you sit on the patio and look up it is almost impossible to believe that you
are inside. The sky is blue, the clouds are feathery, the air is cool and dusk
is at hand. Of course, you can sit indoors in the formal dining room, but you
would miss the strolling musicians and singers dressed as though they were entertaining
the Medicis and all the other street action in the piazza.
The cooking, unique fusions of European
and Asian styles, is glorious. For starters shrimp were wrapped in prosciutto
and grilled with melon, watercress and radicchio, which produced a contrast
in textures. A fluffy blini as big as the plate was covered with house-smoked
salmon, dill crème fraichea nice counterpoint to the fishand
a dab of caviar.
For entrees quail was accompanied
by crisp miniature ricotta gnocchi and stuffed with seasoned bread and herbs.
Roasted veal loin came with tiny ravio-lini filled with three sharp cheeses.
The kitchens strong suit is its use of the best ingredients and pairing
combinations that work well together.
Fine wines are served by the glass.
Apricot tarte tatin and lemon meringue pie are among the outstanding desserts.
Postrio, The Venetian, 3377 Las
Vegas Blvd. S., Tel. 702-796-1110. Moderately expensive.
Wolfgang Puck started the Las Vegas
restaurant revolution when he opened Spago, a duplicate of his celebrity-studded
Los Angeles hangout, in the Caesars Forum Shops in 1992. He had been an
instant success when a decade earlier he and his wife unveiled Spago on Hollywoods
Sunset Strip. Adam Tihany, Americas pre-eminent restaurant architect,
designed the stunning surroundings. Whimsical sculptures hang in the colorful
two-story premises and an open kitchen adds to the informality.
California style cuisine with trademark
Puck touches is served, including his signature pizzas; he was the first chef
to use innovative toppings.
A basket of herb crackers and olive
bread baked in-house was irresistible. Veal sweetbreads were crusted with brioche
crumbs so that the finished dish had crisp exteriors, but remained delicate
on the inside. Scampi style shrimp were prepared with distinction and superbly
complemented by tomato orzo, garlic, chili flakes and arugula pesto.
Spagos desserts shine, too.
What could be better than a Macadamia nut tart or melting warm chocolate cake?
Nothing except, perhaps, some of the other sweets on the menu.
Spago, The Forum Shops at Caesars,
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Tel. 702-369-6300. Moderately expensive.
The real sizzlethe entertainmenthasnt
changed direction; hence, Broadway need not worry about competition. Would you
really want to see Stoppard, Shakespeare or serious theater in this environment?
New extravaganzas spearheaded by modern technology and talented performers keep
getting better and better. Unlike the Great White Way, no evening is completely
dark and most shows have early and late curtain times. If youre so inclined,
you can comfortably take in two in one night. Why not live it up!
Joan Rivers is probably jealous of
Frank Marinos wardrobe. While impersonating her as M. C. for An Evening
at La Cage, he introduces each song wearing a different and glamorous Bob
Mackie gown. What style! Marino is a great comic, too, and has the audience
laughing at a volley of jokes. What perfect timing!
The rest of the cast is also fantastic
at mimicry. Their mannerisms, make-up, clothing and wigs are so convincing that
it takes a while to figure out that they are lip-syncing. Images of some of
the real singers in performance are projected onto two large screens and heighten
the perception that the stars themselvesBette Midler, Cher, Celine Dion,
Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Michael
Jacksonare on stage. For 15 years a changing cast has been strutting its
stuff. "Joan Rivers" just got a new 10-year contract and not at QVC or Fox but
at the Riviera.
An Evening at La Cage, The Riviera,
2901 Las Vegas Blvd. Tel. 702-794-9433. http://www.rivierahotel.com/entertainment_lacage.asp
Blue Man Group is post-modern
theater at its best and yet at the same time it is a throw back to the psychedelic
happenings of the 60s when actors parodied the absurdity of modern life.
Violent music is coordinated with visual modes, flashing lights, dissident images
and hallucinatory visions. The audience is very much part of the performance,
which begins the moment you take your seat. Theres no wait for the show
to begin. The genuine and the contrived score with the crowd who love the streamers
that snake around the hall creating large and inclusive sculptures. And that
is the point for there is nothing that is mocked as much as modern art. To create
paintings the Blue Men fling balls of dye out of their mouths and an actor in
a paint-splattered suit is hung upside down and thrown against a canvas. The
disdain for advertising and business in the revolutionary 60s is shown
in a farce about dry cereal.
The three indistinguishable and silent
Blue Men are reminiscent of "Waiting For Godot." Among the references is "Alice
in Wonderland" as a prototype of a fantasy world. To illustrate the sensory
overload in todays world, the productions funniest moments are when
the men quickly turn over 12 posters. You are supposed to read only one of them,
but you try to read them all, which is absurd and impossible.
You come away having been richly
entertained and in awe of the imagination of Blue Man Group.
Blue Man Group, Luxor, 3900 Las
Vegas Blvd. South. Tel. 702-262-4400, 800-557-7428, http://www.blueman.com/ticketinfo/lasvegas.shtm
If you think Irish dancing is revelers
doing a jig at a county get-together, think again. Producer-director Michael
Flatley has taken it to another level in his production, Lord of the Dance.
Based on his association with Celtic music, dance and legend, Flatley stretched
the boundaries into an accelerated version of traditional Irish dance. Performing
with the precision of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall the troupe taps,
leaps, pivots and moves dreamily across the stage to act out a story filled
with symbolism about the forces of good in combat with the forces of evil. In
a contest for the Lord the virtuous woman wins against the temptress. A Pan-like
spirit sprinkles stardust as protection, but, nevertheless, her opponents break
her flute. The Lord magically restores it. Interspersed between the segments
are a soloist who sings lovely ballads and also two young women who play violins.
Many of the numbers are rousing and all the performers are talented.
|"O" Cirque du Soleil
(credit: Joan Marcus)
In the Canadian province of Quebec
street theater is a prevalent form of merriment. Nearly two decades ago in Baie-Saint
Paul a crowd gathered to marvel at the showmanship of fire eaters, jugglers
and stilt-walkers. The performers responded by organizing a festival, which
grew into the renowned Cirque du Soleil, an original kind of creative
mix: sophisticated circus art and polished street entertainment. Twelve productions
later "O" at the Bellagio is, perhaps, the most unique. Performed entirely
in, on and above water, "O" is the phonetic pronunciation of the French word
for water "eau." It may be no accident that Bellagio, a resort whose theme is
also water, was chosen as the setting in which to construct an intricate aquatic
environment, one whose water levels change to accommodate each act. Dancing
and acrobatics, as well as swimming, are the mediums through which this magical
story is told.
Haunting music, striking costumes,
stunning props, magnetic lighting, a daring cast and brilliant creators add
up to dazzling theater.
"O",Cirque du Soleil, Bellagio,
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-796-9999, 888-488-7111.
Siegfried & Roy have been
illusionists for over 30 years, the last 10 of them at Mirage, and yet, they
appear to be ageless, perhaps because they "create fantasies, awe, wonderment
and dreams of the child within." This is no mere magic show with card tricks
and rabbits, but a spectacle in which the leads think of themselves as storytellers.
Not only do they succeed in accomplishing the inconceivable on an epic scale,
but they also have you believing that they are the "masters of the impossible."
The pageantry and costuming are mind-boggling.
With great panache and backed by dancers and actors, they handle fire, float
on air and disappear only to reappear in unlikely places. Siegfried and Roy
are known for their great devotion to their rare white tigers and lions, which
are an important part of the production. In a movie of them frolicking with
the animals at home, their love and concern are unmistakable.
In Las Vegas where resort themes
and entertainment are matched the Mirage features a rain forest and animal sanctuary.
Siegfried & Roy, The Mirage,
3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-792-7777, 800-627-6667. www.themirage.com/pages/ent_seig.asp
Its ironic that Las Vegas,
the capital of make-believe, is not far from one of the true great wonders of
the natural world, the Grand Canyon. When you want a break from fantasy,
you can visit the Canyon on a one day or overnight excursion. Scenic Airlines
picks up visitors at 7 a.m. at their hotels and transfers them to the airport.
One hour later a 14-seater is airbourne. The flight is as important as the destination.
Because the plane flies low, you can see the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead
and the Colorado River and its tributaries. The Canyon is actually a
250-mile gorge in the Colorado River located in northwestern Arizona and known
for its unusual shapes and colorations. The vast network of gullies, chasms
and fissures must be seen from above. Each passenger has his own headset for
listening to a running narration about the sites over which the pilot flies
and anecdotes about the formation and the exploration of the region.
After a one hour and 15 minute flight
the plane lands near the Canyons rim. Buses transport the group to Grand
Canyon National Park for a spectacular real life look at the canyon from two
different viewing spots. As familiar as the site seems because it is so frequently
photographed, the true awesome beauty must be seen in person. Before departing
for Las Vegas the participants are fed a buffet lunch at a local hotel restaurant.
The only downer on the entire trip was the meal, which was so dreadful that
any fast food outlet would have been preferable.
Day-trippers arrive back at their
hotels at 3 p.m. Afternoon tours are also available. The advantage of taking
an overnight excursion is that depending on the time of year you can see the
sun set or rise over the canyon. Anyone who has ever been at the edge of the
canyon at dusk or dawn says that the experience is phenomenal.
Scenic Airlines, 2705 Airport
Dr., N. Las Vegas, NV 89032. Tel. (702) 638-3300,1-800-634-6801. www.scenicairlines.com