Ve­gas vir­gins come of age

Sin City steals cau­tious Cana­di­ans’ in­no­cence

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE - By Gord Scott

“Ev­ery­one comes here to win,” he said with a broad smile. “But 98 per cent of you lose. Maybe 99 per cent.”

Far from a turnoff, his pat­ter was aimed at di­vert­ing at­ten­tion to the host of Ve­gas strip at­trac­tions that don’t in­volve gam­bling. And his first stop was a win­ner — the Vdara Ho­tel.

Tucked be­hind big brother Aria in the strip’s tony Ci­tyCen­ter com­plex, the Vdara rep­re­sents the new Ve­gas. Sleek, mod­ern, up­scale; this ho­tel is casino-free, non-smok­ing and pet friendly.

A classy lobby bar, mar­ket/cafe and Starbucks pro­vide the ba­sics, while the tran­quil rooms on the north side of­fer views of the famed Bel­la­gio foun­tains — as well as a multi-storey bill­board of the men­ac­ing Penn & Teller at the Rio across the free­way. Far from the mad­den­ing crowd, as it were.

But first-timers can’t hide in ho­tel rooms for­ever, so it was off to the mas­sive casino/lobby at the lux­u­ri­ous Aria for… pizza.

Celebrity chefs are all the rage in Ve­gas these days and even a pizza joint has to have one. Shawn McClain joined the rush to ca­sual din­ing by open­ing Five50 Pizza Bar. The at­mos­phere is up­beat, the decor lively, the piz­zas su­perb and the ser­vice wel­com­ing, cour­tesy of Elisa. This lovely young woman set the tone for ser­vice dur­ing the rest of the Ve­gas af­fair — warm, gen­uine and non-preda­tory.

A post-nosh walk along the strip was a good way to in­tro­duce new­com­ers to the wilder side. The crowded side­walks, how­ever, were filled with stroller-tot­ing fam­i­lies. And the skimpily clad dom­i­na­trix duo couldn’t com­pete with the cute min­ion char­ac­ters for photo-op dol­lars.

Voyeur voy­age com­plete, it was back to the Aria to eat (this was to be­come a pat­tern.)

The Ju­lian Ser­rano tapas restau­rant in the ho­tel is a bright spot — “or­ange you glad you came?” — in colour and culi­nary terms. Yes, Ve­gas’s casino buf­fets re­tain their leg­endary sta­tus, but this is se­duc­tive, se­lec­tive din­ing. The heir­loom tomato and boc­concini ice cream tapas and white-cho­co­late “dough­nuts” were worth the trip alone.

WHILE it’s true the Cirque du Soleil has had its way with our travellers in the past, a per­for­mance of Zarkana quickly brought back the thrill of dis­cov­ery.

Sexy O and Fab-ish Love get all the hype, but Zarkana de­liv­ers that orig­i­nal cir­cusy ex­cite­ment of dan­ger­ous acro­bat­ics and phys­i­cal com­edy set to at­mo­spheric live mu­sic. Who needs a back­story?

(Ve­gas Vir­gins take note: The red­couch ex­pe­ri­ence is not to be missed.)

Ve­gas morn­ings are not for ev­ery­one, but a stag­ger out into the sun proved en­light­en­ing.

The Aria Fine Arts Col­lec­tion is an im­pres­sive, and free, way to kick up the cul­ture. More than a dozen daz­zling art in­stal­la­tions range about the grounds of the Aria and Vdara — and it’s ac­cessed via a self-guided brochure ob­tained at the Aria concierge desk. The wa­ter fea­ture at Aria’s en­trance may not match the Bel­la­gio’s big show for scale, but beats it for style and colour.

An im­mer­sive new James Turrell gallery was found in­doors at The Shops at Crys­tals nearby. This mas­sive mall of ul­tra-high-end mer­chan­dise threat­ened to de­flower more than one credit card.

Still in the mood for vis­ual stim­u­la­tion, the vir­gins checked out the Gallery Row shops across the square (and ear­lier had vis­ited the Bel­la­gio Gallery of Fine Art down the strip).

More car­nal ap­petites now aroused, the new­com­ers hiked deep into the mas­sive MGM Grand to sate them­selves at Michael Mina’s Pub 1842 (it’s a num­bers game in Ve­gas). A stop at this star chef’s sig­na­ture for­mal restau­rant at the Bel­la­gio didn’t stir many pas­sions, but this ca­sual eatery had it all down. The peanut but­ter crunch burger and a host of fun twists on pub fare were just this crowd’s cup of meat (and glass of beer). A flight of sig­na­ture cock­tails was a pleas­ant — and in­tox­i­cat­ing — sur­prise.

As the sun went down — who would know in Ve­gas? — the vir­gins were lured into the dan­ger­ously ex­cit­ing con­fines of the Monte Carlo’s Hit Bar & Lounge, where two men who knew ex­actly what they were do­ing, and did so with pas­sion, set out to ed­u­cate the neo­phytes. Cock­tails, peo­ple. Colour­ful, tasty cock­tails. Lots of yummy ones.

But the in­ten­tions of Michael MacDon­nell (di­rec­tor of bev­er­age) and Philip Dow (as­sis­tant bev­er­age man­ager) were as pure as the vodka and other spir­its proudly dis­played on the shelves be­hind them.

These al­co­hol al­chemists reg­u­larly con­duct two-hour M life Mo­ment Mixol­ogy Classes, where the unini­ti­ated learn the his­tory and tech­nique of fine cock­tails — and end up tend­ing Ve­gas bar in a unique grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony. Ed­u­ca­tion and in­tox­i­ca­tion blend in per­fect har­mony steps from the high-stakes ta­bles. MacDon­nell was blunt about the ori­gins of these pop­u­lar lessons.

“Since Ma­cau opened up, the se­ri­ous gam­blers don’t come here,” MacDon­nell said, ex­plain­ing the art of fine drink­ing sim­ply com­ple­ments Ve­gas’s new fas­ci­na­tion with fine din­ing and shop­ping.

At­ti­tudes prop­erly ad­justed, the vir­gins next wob­bled over to the Blue Man Group show, where the mix of ’80s-style rock, scary la­tex guys hit­ting things, weird vis­ual cri­tiques on so­cial me­dia and an over-the-top dance-party salute to the hu­man pos­te­rior went down damn fine, thank you very much.

Re­grets? There’ve been a few. But then again, too few to men­tion.

Well, ex­cept the Donny and Marie Os­mond show at the Flamingo. Per­fect retro-whole­some fare for our first­timers, but the clock ran out.

A D & M T-shirt was spot­ted in the casino, but sadly, never pur­chased.

Next trip.

The Vdara ho­tel at Ci­tyCen­ter of­fers a break from the hec­tic Las Ve­gas strip.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.