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Las Vegas

Neon City Remade

Las Vegas is on a roll again. Ever since "Bugsy" Siegel planted the Flamingo Hotel in Nevada in 1946, the town’s 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 hotel’s 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 Tut’s 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 Arthur’s 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 Bellagio’s 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 the amusement.


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 area’s 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 treats–Nathan’s hot dogs, soft pretzels and Haagen Daz ice cream–are sold at the snack bars.

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


Blackstone’s 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 its class.

Blackstone’s Steakhouse, Monte Carlo Hotel, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-730-7777. 888-529-4828. Expensive. www.monte-carlo.com/superset.php3/dining/blackstone.php3

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 specialties–crisp 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 presented.

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 billing.

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 Venetian’s St Mark’s 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 fraiche–a nice counterpoint to the fish–and 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 kitchen’s 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. http://www.venetian.com/dining/dining.cfm?ID=2

Wolfgang Puck started the Las Vegas restaurant revolution when he opened Spago, a duplicate of his celebrity-studded Los Angeles hangout, in the Caesar’s Forum Shops in 1992. He had been an instant success when a decade earlier he and his wife unveiled Spago on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Adam Tihany, America’s 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.

Spago’s 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 sizzle–the entertainment–hasn’t 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 you’re so inclined, you can comfortably take in two in one night. Why not live it up!

Joan Rivers is probably jealous of Frank Marino’s 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 themselves–Bette Midler, Cher, Celine Dion, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson–are 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. There’s 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 today’s world, the production’s 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. www.bellagiolasvegas.com/pages/ent_main.asp

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


It’s 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 Canyon’s 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

Winter 2000-01