I haven’t been back from Las Vegas, Nevada for very long and I’m not still sure how to really sum it all up. The constant flow of visual and audio communication makes it even more awe inspiring than I imagined. That’s right, this was my first time to the infamous city of sin. As someone who doesn’t spend time dreaming about winning big at the slot machine, or drinking my face off until eventually passing out on the bathroom floor at 4AM, the thrill of Vegas might have been lost. Seriously, I have no desire to pawn off what little I have just so I can meet Big Hoss and Chumlee. However, I needed to use some vacation days in a short time period and that meant something quick and dirty. Vegas must fit that bill, no?
Clearly November is part of Vegas’ off season as the pools were closed, jackets were donned by visitors, and many a slot machine sat empty. Heck, even most of the hotels closed a good portion of their bars after midnight because they didn’t have the sheer volume of wild n’ crazy gamblers that require 7 bars in one hotel to be open 24 hours. I made my home at Planet Hollywood. Sadly, I missed seeing one of America’s sweet heart train wrecks by one month as she starts her residency in December. Nope, it’s not Amanda Bynes or Miley Cyrus, but the one and only Britney Spears. Crazy as it sounds, I would have loved to see what kind of show she put on.
Situated in the center of the strip, PH was actually a really nice place to be. Close enough to both middle of the road shopping and high end shopping, as well as easy walking access to almost every other hotel on the strip. As an active guy, I would certainly say that the strip is a walkable experience. Maybe not in July when it’s 110 degrees or after 10 pints of dark ale, but in the middle of the day before you get granny drunk, why not get in some exercise and enjoy the sights and sounds on foot. You never know what fake Disney character you will run into or what assortment of adult business cards you will be handed.
While not a gambling dreamer, I did spend a few bucks here and there. The big surprise was how different the minimum bids were at different hotels. The classier the hotel, the more their minimum bid was. You might find a $5 hand of blackjack at the Flamingo while the Cosmopolitan charges $25. Not so bad if you are playing one or two hands, but this could quickly blow your budget if you’re in it for the long haul. My suggestion would be to spread your gambling around. Not only will you get to see the cornucopia of casino offerings, but you’ll get a few minutes to free your mind as you stumble from one building to another. Remember, when you’re drunk and you think to yourself, “This is going to be a great idea”, it’s probably not.
Now shopping is something I can get down with and Vegas has it all. Maybe you win big and want to buy a $50,000 watch. Well, in Vegas you can do that. Not me though. I’m more of a Premium Outlet shopping kind of guy when I’m in the states and thankfully Vegas has two locations to choose from. One south of the strip and one north of the strip; both are accessible by quick and easy public transportation which charges $8 for 24 hours of use. Do yourself a favour and just stick with the north location. It’s an open concept outlet mall (like my favourite PO in Palm Springs) that offers everything you need. Including a beautiful J.Crew outlet! The south location is built around fragrance stores and cheap off-brand clothing. It reminds me more of Capilano Mall than a Premium Outlet location.
Food and drinks are almost as plentiful in Vegas as one arm bandits. At every turn and corner, something is ready to whet your appetite. As someone who traveled solo to Vegas, I was honored to spend time with a Vegas regular. Kelly’s knowledge of the area, willingness to try new things, and patience to answer all of my Vegas questions made the culinary experience unlike anything I could have imagined. From the first night when we went north of the strip to eat at Tacos El Gordo (including tripa and brains), to a delectable bowl of Sapporo style ramen at Sora, Kelly was certainly willing to show this first time visitor that many of the best eats are nowhere near the strip. I can’t thank Kelly enough for her time. Sharing foods with great people is something I love to do and there is just so much food Vegas to share. From the high end – Joel Robuchon and Le Cirque – to the cheap and popular – Pink’s Hot Dogs and In-N-Out Burger. There is everything. Don’t forget the world of buffets! I wouldn’t want you to miss an opportunity to eat as many cold shrimp as possible now would I.
For me, Bouchon Bistro in the Venetian makes breakfast like no other. The comfortably and classy restaurant takes breakfast to another level. Th range of offerings, from the savory to the sweet, had me going back more than once to sample Thomas Keller’s creations. Whatever you do, make sure to order the mixed pastry basket and a cup of coffee. You will thank me. Unless of course you hate delicious pastry because then you might as well get back to gambling.
So many other highlights are worth a mention. A visit to Gordon Ramsay’s Steak in the Paris Hotel was my high cost splurge of the trip, after being unable to secure a table at Guy Savoy. It was a great overall experience, with delicious food, but not amazing enough to rush back. Of course, there was the fact that I had to pay $9 for sparkling water. This drives me CRAZY! Enough with the bottled water already. Get yourself a still/sparkling machine that pumps out the bubbles for free. I can’t stand high end restaurants that still charge ridiculous amounts of money for water. I’ll pay $100 bucks for a steak, but I despise paying $9 for a glass of sparkly water. Might as well order another $50 glass of vino.
The izakaya experience I had was over the top. It was one of those moments when you push your stomach boundaries and then keep going. Kelly and I indulged in classics like yakatori beef tongue and chicken gizzards, both of which were stand outs. We also enjoyed ridiculously awesome mini curry corn dogs and chicken wings prepared so all you had to do was bite off the boneless hunk of juicy meat. The kicker was fresh opaleye from Nagasaki. Being a special for the night, the whole fresh fish was brought out to the table and prepared with delightful perfection in front of us. The skill and craft was awesome.
Before I get so long winded that you fade away, the last food experience to share is from Kabuto-Edomae Sushi. A beautiful, simple, and clean restaurant with an attention to detail above so many others. There was a high level of respect for the food and a passion to feed you the best. From the start to the finish, this is a meal that may have changed my life. It filled a void that I once thought could only be satiated by a trip to Japan. Ask me in person, because I can’t think of the words to do this meal justice.
While drinks flow like water on the strip, I made two stop at Todd English’s pub, and would easily go back from more. The craft beer menu is impressive, and while unfortunately out of many options, I was still able to take down 16-17 different beers. All while eating endless peanuts and popcorn. Here’s hoping the new Craft Beer spot in Edmonton can provide a similar experience.
The last thing I want to mention about this trip, is how amazing the service was. While we often get painted with the overly friendly neighbor card in Canada, the service personnel in Vegas delivered like there jobs depended on it. At Todd English’s pub for example, the bartender paid for 4 pints of beer after promising to be back in 30 seconds, only to take 4 minutes. 4 pints of craft beer at $12/pint and he whipped them clean off the bill. This wasn’t a casino either, this was a pub. They had no reason to do it, but they did anyways. The only way you’d ever get a comp in this city, is if you complained about how the wait staff poured hot soup all over your lap. That’s just one example of many, and it’s why I feel it’s worth a nod.
While I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Vegas by myself, I would certainly go back with someone else. The on-strip experience is one that needs to be seen to be believed. The sheer scope of Vegas, the dreams of the big score, the world class shows, the constant barrage of strip clubs and escorts, the food options, and the warm dessert sun add up to one thing; Vegas. There must be no other place like it. The attention to detail, the level of service, the value of your dollar (in restaurants and bars), and the contagious excitement…what a place.