line up in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas to
watch the water show in an October 2007 file image.
VEGAS — Las Vegas rises, Oz-like, from the scorched
brown earth of the desert, an Emerald City whose hue is
the color of money. Money, one casino employee joked, that
comes from vice and virtue — its two biggest industries
being gambling and weddings.
Vegas mystique is writ large. Chevy Chase took a memorable
vacation here; Hunter S. Thompson found "fear and
loathing" here; Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis
woke to the mother of all Hangovers here. Las Vegas —
for better or worse — affects all comers.
legalized gambling came to this sleepy southern Nevada
town in 1931, it was the 1960s that saw Vegas transformed
into an international playground for the famous and
of the most famous was eccentric billionaire oilman Howard
Hughes, who after being asked to vacate his room at the
Desert Inn, retaliated by buying the entire hotel. Around
that same time, a trio of entertainers — Frank Sinatra,
Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. — dubbed the "Rat
Pack," became regulars on the Strip. Las Vegas never
iconic properties such as the Sands and the Dunes have
given way to bigger, glitzier ones — the Venetian and
Bellagio respectively — Vegas is still a town of
one-name headliners. Dean, Frank and Sammy are gone; now
there's Britney, Reba, Donny and Marie.
it's not just the entertainers who have achieved a
one-name level of fame. Check out the myriad of
restaurants in the resorts, and you'll find Gordon, Giada,
Wolfgang and Emeril. In Vegas, it seems celebrity trumps
everything, except, of course, money.
ON THE STRIP
you're a regular, when you first arrive on the Strip, you
may find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it
all — the skyscraper resorts, neon signs and towering
billboards. A good way to get your bearings is to purchase
a GO Las Vegas Explorer Pass (choice of 3, 4, or 5
attractions and good for 30 days.)
the attractions your pass will get you into are the
outdoor gondola ride at The Venetian Hotel and the High
Roller at the LINQ, Vegas' answer to the London Eye. You
can walk on the wild side at the Mob Museum or stay on the
right side of the law at CSI: the Experience. You can even
party like Elton or Rod on the Rockstar VIP Club Tour.
you wish to do your own thing, just remember: taxis are
expensive (second only to New York City) and distances
between places — even on the Strip — can make for a
long walk, especially in 100-plus temperatures.
Vegas is not, with every property vying to out-glitz its
competition. My first stop was the Bellagio, which dazzles
with the Dancing Fountains spectacle on its artificial
lake (get there early for a prime viewing spot); Cirque de
Soleil's most spectacular show, O, (which transforms the
stage into a gigantic swimming pool) and the lobby
Conservatory, which draws as many people as the casino.
Conservatory changes its floral display five times a year
— for each season and the Chinese New Year. An
ocean-themed display was up during my stay. To say it's
eye-popping is an understatement. Giant seahorses cavort
with equally large turtles; oysters open to reveal
shimmering pearls, and a 7-foot mermaid lounges on a rock.
It would have been spectacular even if the entire display
hadn't been fashioned of real flowers, which are replaced
every couple of days as needed.
properties are equally over-the-top. The Venetian has
gondoliers to take you on a ride through indoor and
outdoor lagoons; Caesar's Palace has a Roman-inspired
shopping street featuring the best Italian brands —
Ferragamo, Versace, Armani and Gucci — and Paris Las
Vegas has a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.
these properties are all about conspicuous excess, the
Cosmopolitan is the very definition of cool. Large
graphics that explode in a kaleidoscope of colors and
shapes dominate the lobby, and make the often-lengthy
check-in process at least entertaining.
entertaining is the Cosmopolitan's Chandelier Bar. The
multi-level bar, cocooned in rows of crystal beads, is
meant to resemble, what else, a chandelier, but I felt
more like I was sipping champagne in a giant jeweled
the craziness gets to be too much and you need a quiet
retreat, don't despair. You can find one in the peaceful
oasis of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Tucked away in an
enclave, there are no garish lights or signs here, just
the tranquil zen-like feel of an Asian garden.
booked a table at MOZEN for lunch one day and had a
delicious sushi/sashimi platter accompanied by a
plum-flavored sake with delicate notes of blood orange and
cinnamon. That was followed by a 60-minute massage in the
Mandarin Oriental's acclaimed spa. It was so relaxing that
I was ready to take on the Strip again.
as popular as gaming in Vegas are the shows. Everyone who
is anyone in the entertainment world makes Las Vegas a
regular stop. Everyone from pop stars to Cirque de Soleil,
which has no fewer than eight shows running on the Strip
(the Michael Jackson Thriller scene at Mandalay Bay will,
pardon the pun, thrill you.)
if you are into nostalgia and want a look at Las Vegas in
the days of glamorous showgirls, magicians and animal
acts, save a night for Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino's
Saxe Theater production of VEGAS! The Show.
with Frank, Dean and Sammy, the show segues through all
the great performers who left their mark here: Judy
Garland, Elvis, Sonny & Cher, and Tina Turner come
alive through talented impersonators singing and dancing
their hearts out.
the $3.99 buffets. Las Vegas is a food lover's paradise.
Your only problem will be how to squeeze in all the places
you want to go in the time you have. During my three days,
I managed three lunches and two dinners.
from the previously mentioned MOZEN, lunch spots included
TREVI at Caesar's Palace and GIADA at the Cromwell Hotel
(they do love capital letters here.)
out of the white-hot glare of a desert afternoon into the
lavender twilight of the Eternal City at TREVI. Tables
surround the Fountain of the Gods in the Forum Shops at
Caesar's Palace, which has been designed to resemble a
Roman street, right down to the painted blue ceiling with
fluffy white clouds. It may sound kitschy, but it really
does give the feel of dining al fresco in Rome.
a more sophisticated take on Italian cuisine, I had lunch
another day at GIADA, the only restaurant of Food Network
superstar Giada De Laurentis. The oval-shaped dining room
in soothing earth tones of beige, cream and burnt orange
has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Bellagio
food matched the view. I started with a
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dish with wild sage honey, and
followed that with more cheese in the form of a lemon
pesto grilled mozzarella and fontina cheese sandwich with
both nights were small plate affairs where the emphasis
was on taste rather than size. Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan
showcases the exquisite tapas of Barcelona-raised chef
Jose Andres. Here, my chilled gazpacho, watermelon and
tomato salad with goat cheese and pistachios and the
signature shrimp tapa sauteed with garlic were accompanied
by a 2005 Reserva from Bodegas Ontanon in Spain's Rioja
overlooking the Bellagio Lake, is also known for small
plates — Italian rather than Spanish (I loved the
roasted green olive focaccia with pecorino.) The outdoor
terrace is a great spot for dining, if you can get over
the unsettling feeling that Donny and Marie are watching
you eat from their billboard-size images on the side of
the Flamingo Hotel.
resorts to restaurants, gaming to golf, Las Vegas puts on
a show that's destined to run forever.
Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S; Bellagio.com.
Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S;
Gate Hotel & Casino, 1 Fremont St.;
you're looking for something away from the Strip, this
historic property is downtown and next to Fremont Street,
with its famous nightly experience. Opened in 1906, the
Golden Gate likes to say "what happens in Vegas
3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S; Caesars.com.
Bistro, 3752 Las Vegas Blvd. S; Mandarinoriental.com.
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Bellagio.com.
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S; Jaleo.com.
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S; Trevi-italian.com.
the ultimate in spa services, go to the Mandarin Oriental
(Mandarinoriental.com) or the award-winning Canyon Ranch
Spa Club & the Palazzo at the Venetian Hotel, which
offers 150 services on two floors (Canyonranch.com/lasvegas).