When asked what city I consider to be quintessentially ‘American’, many people are often surprised to find that my answer is not New York, Los Angeles or even San Francisco. Instead, my response to this query is invariably Las Vegas.
Because Las Vegas is the kind of place that could only exist in America. From its bright lights to its towering buildings to its non-stop entertainments, Las Vegas is a dizzying spectacle of delights, the like of which is not to be found in any other part of the world, though many attempt to emulate it.
That fact established, there is a great deal to discover in contemporary Las Vegas. In fact, there is an entire world beyond the gaming tables and slot machines which makes having a game plan for any visit essential. With that thought in mind, I offer my own itinerary from a recent 72-hour visit to Las Vegas as a guideline for planning your own Vegas vacation.
My host hotel for this visit was the Tropicana Hotel, a Las Vegas legend that has recently undergone a major renovation which has craftily balanced celebrating the property’s historic early days with the contemporary travelers’ demands for modernity. The result is a fun retro-chic hotel with a decidedly South Beach vibe and a dash of kitsch thrown in for good measure. Club suites are beyond spacious and, on a sunny afternoon, the property’s lush two-acre pool area is more dreamily reminiscent of South Florida than the Nevada desert (that is, of course, if you make allowances for the pool’s terribly convenient swim up black jack tables).
After exploring the property and getting settled, it was off to a special dinner hosted for myself and my fellow cohorts at Tender, the Luxor’s signature steakhouse. To be sure, there is no shortage of steakhouses in Las Vegas proper but Tender is exceptional on all counts. Do prioritize a visit to this wonderful surprise of a restaurant. Do order the chilled seafood tower. Do try any of the dry or wet aged specialty steaks on the menu. And for the love of Liza Minelli and all things gayly sacrosanct, make it a cheat night and sample the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding for dessert.
What would a stay in Las Vegas be without breakfast in bed on at least one morning? Taking advantage of a little break in my itinerary, day 2 of my visit began with this required indulgence.
Midday I headed down to the Neon Museum for a complimentary walk down what might literally be considered Las Vegas’ very own memory lane. A veritable graveyard for the signs that have brought Las Vegas worldwide renown, the Neon Museum is infinitely more interesting than you might think at first glance. The guided tour lasts just under an hour and is filled with all sorts of interesting tidbits about Las Vegas history told through the story of the signs that once adorned the city’s most popular destinations. Better yet, it’s the perfect diversion for anyone wanting to dodge the gaming tables for a spell and/or give their drinking wrist a good solid rest.
Following a quick dinner back at the Tropicana’s Bacio, it was off for a spin on the 550-foot-tall High Roller Observation Wheel at the LINQ to experience some of the best views in all the city. For those not familiar with Observation Wheel, it’s basically a gigantic Ferris wheel with enclosed cabins, some of which, like ours, are even outfitted with bars. Best of all, each revolution takes a full 30 minutes so there’s ample opportunity savor the sights and the cocktails.
Views, cocktails and the lights of Las Vegas…what could recommend a thing more highly? Enough said.
To wind down the night, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas show at the LINQ, which shows no signs of wear and tear despite being one of the longest running shows on the Strip (Marino, for the record, is the Strip’s longest running headliner). As the name suggests, the show features a number of drag performers serving up memorable lip-sync performances to the musical stylings of legendary divas like Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Patti Labelle as well as current favorites like Britney Spears, Pink and Beyoncé. It’s 75-minutes of great fun and innumerable glitzy costume changes by Marino who deftly weaves the performances together seamlessly with bawdy humor, sequins, and what I can only imagine is an awful lot of hair spray.
I spent the early part of day 3 strolling down the Strip and nipping into those “only in Vegas” spots that always seem to call to me. No matter how many times I visit, I am always confronted with the same sense of awe by all the options Las Vegas presents. As I wandered, I honestly wondered if there was any other place on earth with such a massive concentration of global brands and eateries in such relative proximity. My conclusion was that if there was, I had not yet discovered it.
Later that evening I was treated to the chef’s tasting menu at Sage, one of the menagerie of restaurants at the ARIA. An extravagantly expansive space, elegantly outfitted with all the trimmings of a standalone eatery, entering Sage is to enter a world unto itself from the minute guests cross the threshold of its entrance. Meanwhile, with James Beard award-winning Chef Shawn McClain at its helm, the restaurant’s nuanced menu which is laser focused on New American cuisine is more than the equal of its impressive environment. The meal began on a high note with an artfully presented starter comprised of egg yolks, topped with Kaluga caviar, crème fraiche and dill and continued rise to higher heights with each successive course. Of particular note was the Grilled Beef Ribeye Cap served alongside silky celeriac and bone marrow which was as exquisite to the eye as it was to the palate. With other favorites like Grilled Foie Gras, Venison, and Oyster Beef Tartare lining its menu, it’s little wonder that Sage remains a Las Vegas favorite.
Finally, for my last night in Vegas I was invited to check out Spiegelworld’s Absinthe show which takes place in a big top tent on the forecourt of Caesars Palace. More intimate than many Las Vegas shows, Absinthe is a thoroughly updated, wickedly sexy production that is part circus, part cabaret and part vaudeville act with just a hint of burlesque. While the outrageous stunts performed in the show keep the audience members on the edge of their seats (of which not one is bad), the show’s ringleaders keep things moving along with debauched humor well beyond the bounds of PG-13. Interestingly, not long before this trip I had lamented to a friend that it had been a while since there had been a revolutionary entertainment event in Las Vegas, but after seeing Absinthe I realized that I just hadn’t looked hard enough.
With my trip at an end, I reflected on the previous 72 hours as my taxi pulled away from the Tropicana en route back to the airport. That old saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” came to mind and I wondered if it might not be time to put that statement to rest just like the signs on display at the Neon Museum. Because what one experiences in Las Vegas these days is most certainly not something that should be quietly filed away, it is instead something to shout about. Just a thought.
Find out more information on planning your Las Vegas adventure at www.lasvegas.com,