Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/4/2017 (1174 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Las Vegas may be the gambling capital of the world, but no casino is likely to be celebrating my losses, since I rarely spend more than a couple of hours at the tables and games.
I like visiting the city for its energy and other attractions. I have been going to Las Vegas for at least three decades and have seen dramatic changes. But at its core, Las Vegas was — and, even more so today, is — a city about names. Big names.
Las Vegas is a new city, but it does nevertheless possess an interesting history of its own. My relationship with that history is evident as I check in at the Linq Hotel.
Upon entering the hotel, it hit me: I have stayed here before. This was originally the Imperial Palace, the place where I stayed on my very first trips to Las Vegas. It was the hotel most frequented by budget-conscious Winnipeggers when the early non-stop tour packages were offered by the first Winnipeg-based charter companies going to Las Vegas, Lew Miles and Barnie Charach.
With a massive, US$223 million investment from Caesars Entertainment Corporation after they purchased the property a few years ago, the garish decor has been replaced, creating the simpler and more appealing modern vibe common in today’s forward-looking establishments.
A name that may not be recognized by most other visitors — but might be by Winnipeggers and fellow graduates of her alma mater, the University of Manitoba — is Sherri Pucci.
After graduation, she travelled south, working up in the hospitality and casino business to her current position as manager of both the Linq and the adjacent Flamingo hotels.
In a brief tour, Pucci points out that the darker side of Las Vegas’s history is memorialized by a plaque near the original Flamingo Hotel, ‘honouring’ the man who is arguably the founder of the Las Vegas casino business: Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel.
This led me to a tour of the relatively new Mob Museum, housed in the original three-storey Las Vegas Courthouse building where a number of early mobster hearings took place. I was not sure what to expect, but as much as it is about Vegas’s bad guys, the museum is equally about the stories and history of organized crime and law enforcement in all of the United States.
One of the displays has an interesting Canadian connection: the entire wall where the infamous Chicago St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place on February 14, 1929 was purchased in 1967 by Canadian businessman George Patey of Vancouver.
He took the wall down, brick by brick, and displayed it at various shows over the years.
The wall was purchased from the Patey family by the museum’s non-profit board after they launched the museum project.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. The more time you spend in today’s Las Vegas, the more you realize it relies on the attraction of recognized entities in today’s pop culture.
Cheap buffets are being replaced by quality casino restaurants run by famous chefs. Most fans of cooking shows will be familiar with the Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto. With a huge following of viewers fascinated by his integration of Western and Japanese ingredients, he has lent his name and talents to a number of restaurants in the U.S.
In October, he opened his Las Vegas Morimoto’s location in the Mirage. This is truly an exceptional dining experience.
While I love sushi and sashimi at home — or anywhere else for that matter — Morimoto’s toro tartar appetizer is unique, enhanced by its six different sauces.
If you like dining where the celebrities gather, one of the best places may be at the STK Restaurant in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Chef Stephen, who gained recognition on Bravo TV’s Top Chef, offers a menu selection ranging from seafood to steak, followed by almost irresistible desserts.
I started off with the shellfish platter, which contained oysters, large shrimps, Alaska red king crab and a delicious ceviche, all presented with the practiced design one might expect from a top-quality chef.
For my money, the dry-aged, bone-in strip steak — with one of the most delicious crusts I have ever tasted — is what I would order for a main course every time. The steak was served with sides of mushroom pot pie, creamed spinach and lobster macaroni and cheese. This is probably the most I ate in one sitting during the trip.
Canadians who live in Toronto already have the opportunity to try the STK experience at its newest restaurant in the Yorkville district. It would appear Vancouver is the next Canadian city on its expansion list. We can only hope for a future location in Winnipeg.
For wine connoisseurs, perhaps the best selection can be found at the Aureole in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Up to 10,000 wines are stored in racks that run upwards for four storeys. To retrieve your selection, ‘wine angels’ are hoisted in a pulley system to the appropriate bin.
The variety of wine is astonishing, but this restaurant also serves some superb food. Chef Charlie Palmer has already received a James Beard Best Chef award and the Aureole Las Vegas has been honoured with the Michelin 1-star on three occasions.
And, of course, if we’re talking food, I also have to mention my love of Chinese. But in Vegas, Mr. Chow’s in Caesars Palace is a different kind of Asian experience.
The only access to this second-floor restaurant is via a private elevator from the casino floor. Inside the restaurant, guests will find a rich and modern classic decor, highlighted by "a suspended kinetic sculpture, unlike anything currently in Las Vegas."
When I go to a Chinese restaurant, I am proud to show off my chopstick skills. At Mr. Chow’s, chopsticks are available but frowned upon, because of the restaurant’s fusion style.
I followed the server’s suggestion and ordered the glazed prawns with walnuts as an appetizer, followed by the steamed sea bass and their filet mignon specialty. I was glad I did.
During my stay, I managed to squeeze in three rounds of golf, each at a different course. All three courses shared one thing: they’re all associated with a major name in the sport.
Bear’s Best Las Vegas takes its name from the nickname given to golf great Jack Nicklaus, who designed this track. Nicklaus’s courses around the U.S. are well-known for many of the PGA championships held at them.
Bear’s Best is appropriately named. Nicklaus would take what he considered 18 of his best individual hole challenges and duplicate them here, hence the Bear’s Best moniker.
The Cascata Golf Course in nearby Boulder City is meant to target the luxury golfer. Service is impeccable, with a locker assigned to you sporting a plaque of your name in the change room. Here, you are obliged to hire a caddie; given the undulating nature of the course’s greens, they’re a definite help.
This course may be expensive, but it is a magnificent experience. It was designed by Rees Jones, who has created more than 100 golf courses of his own. His talents may have come to him naturally — he is the son of famed golf course designer Robert Trent Jones.
Rees also has a reputation for updating original courses, including the Royal Montreal Golf Club before the President’s Cup a few years ago.
Cascata — Italian for waterfall — is situated almost in the middle of nowhere, with deep canyon walls helping to frame most holes. A 127.4-metre-high waterfall greets golfers near the driving range and its flowing waters follow them through many of the 18 holes.
At one time the Bali Hai golf course — located not far from the international airport — would have been considered out of town. Today it sits in the shadows of city, with the Mandalay Bay Hotel as a backdrop to most of the holes. Not only is it conveniently located, it’s a fun course to play.
In the words of the irascible David Feherty, PGA announcer and host of his own show on Golf Channel, "I’ve played some of the best courses around the world and I can honestly say that some of the most unique and enjoyable courses can be found right here in Las Vegas. This is one of my favorites."
For a long time, Las Vegas marketing was focused on keeping people inside — whether for the casinos, the shows or the restaurants. But as Emily Olson, spokeswoman at MGM Resorts, says, "Las Vegas has really great weather nine months of the year. People want to be outside, they want to sit outside and they want to eat outside."
In a large area in front of the T-Mobile Arena, MGM created what they call the Park. Restaurants and bars such as the Beerhaus, Bruxies, and California Pizza kitchen line its walking area, with plenty of space for patio dining.
Similarly, the street between the Linq and Flamigo has become an outdoor food and shopping area, featuring Gordon Ramsay Fish and Chips and Margaritaville Restaurant.
Of course, the biggest attraction in Vegas is still its performers; few people who travel here will leave without taking in a show or two.
These are the entertainers who built their names elsewhere and now deserve to have their images on the billboards.
I only took in three shows, but each presented a decidedly different form of entertainment from the others.
Mat Franco is the first and only magician to win America’s Got Talent. While his disappearing act may be a highlight of the show, his sleight of hand with cards is incomprehensibly engaging.
Terry Fator, another America’s Got Talent winner, takes ventriloquism to an entirely new level. Through characters he has created, including lounge singer Monty Carlo, Winston the impersonating turtle and a little girl with a huge voice he calls Emma Taylor, he is able to impersonate Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin and many more.
Saving the best for last was a treat. It was opening week for the first visit of Céline Dion since her husband passed away. It was an emotional tribute to him in one hand and a celebration of life in the other.
I managed a lot on this one trip. But in today’s Las Vegas there is even more to see and do. I hope to return again before too long.
Read Ron’s blog at www.thattravelguy.ca. Listen to Ron’s latest podcasts via his website, or on demand on iTunes.
A writer and a podcaster, Ron's travel column appears in the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday in the Destinations and Diversions section.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.