Print Story It was Vegas.
By technician (Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 03:09:54 PM EST) (all tags)
It was two nights and three days.  Parts of it were an endurance trial.

Thirteen years after we got married, we decide to take a trip to Vegas.  Lucky number 13 and all. We figured, hey, why not?  Initially I looked at going to New York.  The flights, hotels, food, and say one show...maybe...would have been around $2k.  That's a lot of scratch in a recession.  I looked for package deals and whatnot, and started expanding to other cities.  We'd talked about going to Vegas, but could never justify it...we don't gamble.  We don't like tourist-y things.  We're not big into nightclubs.  The wife hates most people.  However, there were some stunning deals, and restaurants there are now sort of world famous, and hey, the people watching and the potential for gonzo weirdness?

I booked flights (Southwest has two-way non-stop tickets for less than is reasonable, really, and it makes me wonder what parts of the plane have been hocked for fuel), rooms, and show tickets.  The rooms were at the Venetian, a faux-Italy that is roughly ten times the size of the actual country, holding anywhere from fifteen to twenty million souls in a maze of twisty passages, all alike (once you get past the many floors of restaurants, theaters, and shops).  The show tickets were for Blue Man Group.  I sort of wanted to see something cheesy and classically Vegas.  Call this neo-classically Vegas.

A few words before we get there: my father and his second wife lived for a time in Las Vegas.  She still lives in Vegas somewhere, assuming she didn't go the route of most coked-out whores in the early 80s. The Vegas I barely remember as a child is some twenty six years distant, blown to bits by precision implosions ordered up by faceless mega corporations in pursuit of the tourist buck.  Replacing, mind you, the faceless crime syndicates that laid the foundations for the joint; only in America can we be nostalgic for the mob.  The Vegas that I last saw was mainly burned yellow desert with a trench of bright lights.  Downtown was still the place to be, with the strip a sparsely populated barely inhabitable nut heavily monied area.  Downtown, there were enough lights that night time was daytime, and they'd air condition the sidewalks.  There were no leaflet-loaded hispanics hawking cheap escorts, no streetside come-ons.  The entrances to the casinos were braced by big guys in suits who'd give you a stern look if you stood around, and ask you to move on, keep moving.  Since I was too young for the casinos, the only time I saw them was in transit to the second floor of Circus Circus, where they had an arcade like I'd never seen, plus a shedload of midway-type games and a running circus act.

Really, Circus Circus was a harbinger of the family friendly Vegas that now exists.  They were not very well liked by the core gamblers, the ones who played deep into the night at the Horseshoe or the Nugget. The Circus had RV parking. It had kids, tons of them. Old people by the RV full.  It was a bizarre premonition of what was coming.

Fast forward to now, with Vegas being a place where you can gamble, sure, but less construction energy is being put into casino floors than is being put into "general" entertainment.  Consider the Venetian.

When we got there, the wait in line in the lobby was 45 minutes to get to check-in.  This was a Monday, not on a holiday, and not a peak travel week.  The lobby is a gigantic marble affair, filled with reproduction statues, paintings, and a fountain. The ceilings are murals, the walls are faux tapestry.  Once we got our room keys we wandered through the casino.  The casino is a large-ish space, but compared to the total property it was easily less than a tenth of the available area.  The casino floor space is second to the shopping and eating areas, essentially high-end malls joined by canals. You can buy a Lamborghini there, next to the Rolex shop.

Then you have 36 floors in three wings of hotel suites.  I'd guess the population of the hotel on Monday was about the same as the town I grew up in.  All but the oldest hotels are the same: the grounds, the attractions, the shopping and eating and drinking are all given more attention and real estate than the gambling.  If you want gambling, go to Reno.  If you want Disney with some gambling, go to Vegas.

Our stay was short.  Two nights, starting on the busiest monday they'd ever seen (according to several casino and hotel staff).  Here's what I learned:

1) Normally Mondays are busy, but not that busy. I can only guess that the recession is over; no-one at the casino was prepared for the tens of thousands of people there.  That being said, the prices for rooms are cheapest Monday through Wednesday; we got our suite for $150 a night and had a HUGE room with a decent view of the strip.
2) Expect lines for everything if you're there and it is at all crowded.  If you want to eat at one of the better restaurants, make reservations a week or so in advance. We made our reservations to Delmonico a week in advance and they were booked for 7pm through 8:15pm already.
3) Anticipate the weather. I'd go so far as to say, only go during the summer if you have cash for cabs (assume $20 per trip) and / or you're staying put. We walked a lot, as did a lot of other people.  Cabs are pricey and take a while to get, plus traffic is amazingly awful.  Everything seems to be under construction on the roads, sometimes with random lane closures, usually at night.
4) Anticipate the price.  Back in the bad old days, the casinos made enough cash to supplement the entertainment, so things like show tickets, food, and drinks were cheap or free. The quality was questionable, the service poor to decent, and the main focus was gambling.  The food now is five star in places, the shows are really good, and the drinks aren't free.  We spent more on shows than gambling. More on food than gambling. More on alcohol, wait.  I wasn't drinking because it was too hot to drink (dehydration was a real risk).
5) Nightclubs typically have dress codes (at least, the slightly upscale to full-blown exclusive ones).  Many restaurants do, as well.  Bring a suit just in case.
6) Gambling...every kind of game is available.  I saw everything from bizarre "three card high chicago" to standard slots, to you name it.  The poker rooms are reservation based in some casinos.  Baccarat is reservation based in most. The floor is home to low stakes blackjack, low stakes or quick poker (Pai Gow and 3 card, for instance), low stakes roulette, and craps.  The majority of a casino these days seems to be slots and video poker...mostly slots.  I don't find slots to be fun or even encouraging. Video poker is fun if you play low stakes...I stayed on one machine for a long damn time with the same five bucks.
7) There are myriad services available for getting you to a location, doing something to / for / with you, then getting you back.  The concierge desks at every hotel are packed with people who know all sorts of crazy crap to do with your money.  Tours to all sorts of places, guest lists for stuff, you name it.
8) Some shit is still illegal.  You can drink on the streets (using a plastic or metal container, including scary yard long containers of frozen drinks) and smoke inside, you can lose your house gambling...but there are limits. That being said, unless your intent is to pursue illegal activity, odds are you'll never know there are any limits to your behavior. I saw at least four women of various ages and walks of life strip down and run half naked screaming through a crowded sidewalk, with almost no reaction.

The things that caught me by surprise were the costs of things, and how good the food + service is at the restaurants, plus how great the service is at the hotel.  They charge for every damn thing (internet access? $10) but the people are truly helpful and nice, especially if you're not a jerk.

All told, I'd give our two nights a 7 out of 10, and at least a point of that was my poor planning.  Should you go to Vegas?  No.  But if you want to, even if you don't gamble, it can be fun.  Interestingly, the gonzo seems to have been filtered right out of it, something that was at one time, something that has been bred out of the system, treated like a strain of some root disease that occasionally surfaces and is quickly cut down, mown over, and made into a golf course or a water feature.  If you have the right set of eyes and you're on a little ether, you can catch a whiff of the stale lounge air in places like Circus Circus, where they still play a strange, low game with the unwashed masses. Even there, though, the desperation has been overwhelmed by a safe and sane glossy alcoholism, one that wears Prada and has a turbillion instead of a watch. A sleek, empty, pretty face to a mechanism that has lost even the criminal soul, all of it drained into billion dollar resorts, pirate ships themed family hotels, and faux marble.  The very best place to see the highest speed that capitalism runs at is Vegas. Even the nostalgia is young and empty.

But the food, the food is good.
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It was Vegas. | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I've never been to Vegas by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 04:08:15 PM EST
I have been to Atlantic City, it was odd. In the 80's, across the street from the billion dollar casinos were the slums.

I think a lot of the by technician (2.00 / 0) #2 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 04:16:57 PM EST
Casino places are like that. In Vegas, get a few blocks away from the strip, or even just a block away downtown, and you're in dire straights.

[ Parent ]
gonzo seems to have been filtered right out by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 04:20:06 PM EST
Too bad. Last time I spent any time in Vegas was over 10 years ago. And the gonzo was there, if you looked. Especially in North Vegas.

Every American should go to Vegas at least once. It's the height of American Bad Taste. I love it.

But Vegas in July? 120°F in the shade, and there ain't no shade.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

And I expected by technician (2.00 / 0) #4 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 04:52:18 PM EST
the heat, but I expected a dry heat. It was 30-ish percent humidity at the worst.  That's like here....just freaking terrible.

[ Parent ]
the food is good (and varied)! by infinitera (4.00 / 1) #5 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 04:56:58 PM EST

I didn't have a particular desire to go to Vegas, but I had a conference there, and it was paid for.

Cirque du Soleil (Mystère) was awesome as well.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

Indeed. by technician (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 05:06:25 PM EST
There's an amazing array of food types...but it is a tough town for vegetarians.  My wife had a heck of a time.  There's a place in the Venetian, though, that is a slow-food "green" restaurant with a classical Italian was fantastic.

[ Parent ]
canyon ranch cafe? by infinitera (4.00 / 1) #7 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 05:38:14 PM EST
I remember that being in the Venetian, and having lots of vegetarian options, but I don't recall if it was Italian or not..

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

[ Parent ]
Enoteca San Marco by technician (4.00 / 1) #13 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 07:04:33 PM EST
here.  They're pretty freaking awesome.  Menu changes quite rapidly, and the prep methods change seasonally.  Good stuff, and fantastic service. The website menu is a representation, but they had an additional four (vegetarian, you can add sausage) pastas and three (veggie, you can add meats) pizzas.

[ Parent ]
Is there an easy town for vegetarians? by garlic (4.00 / 1) #8 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:32:50 PM EST
In the US anyway? What would qualify? I mean, I guess you could say that there are options in the places around here, but I wouldn't call it easy town when option 1 is a iceberg lettuce sandwich, and option 2 is replacing a single entree's meat with cheese.

[ Parent ]
sandwich? no, salad. by garlic (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:33:17 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Austin, by technician (2.00 / 0) #12 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 07:01:47 PM EST
Berkeley, Santa Fe....

...any place where Whole Foods outsells Albertsons.

[ Parent ]
replacing meat with cheese by gpig (4.00 / 1) #14 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 07:31:32 PM EST
As long as it's halloumi, I'll buy it ....
(,   ,') -- eep
[ Parent ]
San Francisco? by R343L (2.00 / 0) #15 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 11:56:38 PM EST
Really most of the Bay Area. Most (non-chain) restaurants make an effort to have at least one or two genuinely vegetarian options and almost all are good about substitutions and leaving things out. Even burger joints and pubs and the like will have veggie burgers or grilled eggplant sandwiches and the like.

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
That's my point though. by garlic (2.00 / 0) #16 Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 12:31:37 AM EST
Having 2 vegetarian options put there to keep the veggies happy, but without actually making a good dish (and veggie burgers are typically at most mediocre) doesn't seem like being veggie friendly. Sitting at the back of the bus isn't ok, because at least you were let on the bus.

[ Parent ]
Yes, but that's the *minimum* by R343L (2.00 / 0) #17 Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 02:02:20 AM EST
Even an avowedly not-veggie restaurant (say a fish house or a steak place) will make that effort. A "California cuisine" restaurant might be have a quarter or more of their menu items be vegetarian. Considering that even here vegetarians aren't that big a percentage of the population, it seems perfectly reasonable to me.

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
We were somewhere on the edge of the desert by Herring (4.00 / 3) #10 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:40:28 PM EST
around Barstow when the Maalox began to take hold. I remember saying something like ...

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
i had a great time in vegas by clock (4.00 / 2) #11 Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:40:59 PM EST
brought home a couple of amazing souvenirs.  we'd go back.  i was surprised, but it's true.  we'd go back.

I agree with clock entirely --Kellnerin

I loved Vegas by Phil the Canuck (4.00 / 1) #18 Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 07:15:39 AM EST
The wife absolutely adores it, and dragged me there for our honeymoon.  Venetian, overlooking the strip.  Maybe you stayed in our room.  Not being much of a gambler, I just remember being completely relaxed the entire time we were there.  Good times.

Vegas .. by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #19 Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:29:10 AM EST
Fly there because it's cheap, and makes the drive to the Grand Canyon easy enough.

Like some other commenters, I went on an expense-paid conference.. Was a good conference goer, so I spent my time going to the seminars and classes, learning shit, not getting drunk by noon.. Didn't explore too much, didn't care too.. Grand Canyon was much more fun anyway..

It was Vegas. | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback