If the ever-shifting sands just outside this desert resort were a metaphor for Las Vegas’ constantly-evolving hospitality landscape, the dizzying changes that have taken place this past year in the city’s casino-resorts would approximate a blinding sandstorm. But alas, this is Las Vegas, and amidst the near-constant flux of hotel revamps, restaurant turnover and show debuts, the city’s tourism industry still manages to operate with incredible efficiency while offering visitors outstanding experiences.
Remember the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino? Don’t be ashamed to admit that you don’t. The mid-Strip property never had much of an identity – until now, that is, in its reincarnation as Park MGM. And this wasn’t just a rebrand. A thorough, 2-year transformation took place that included a redesign of all hotel rooms, the replacement of all restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and a new, uber-trendy NoMad Las Vegas hotel-within-a-hotel on the top 4 floors.
In short, the property turned from seldom-discussed on the Strip to incredibly hip, and, in another example of Vegas magic, it never closed while doing so.
Notable venues include Eataly, a 40,000 square-foot, tour-de-force of Italian cuisine, and the relatively-intimate Park Theater, the perfect venue to see stars like Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson and Bruno Mars perform in their mini-residencies. And since Park MGM isn’t yet well-known, room rates right now tend to be lower than the competition for midweek stays.
Although Cirque du Soleil’s 6 large, spectacular productions take up most of the air in the room when discussing Las Vegas entertainment, some smaller shows – often flying under the radar – also deserve notice.
Ex-Cirque du Soleil performer Xavier Mortimer flexes his magic chops and shows off his all-around talent in this early evening show at Bally’s Las Vegas.
Mortimer’s charming, sweet personality fuels this feel-good, beautiful production, featuring unique illusions that are especially impressive when viewed up-close in the intimate theater. His use of video mapping and shadows is mesmerizing, and their effect, accompanied by Mortimer’s own music, creates the real magic here.
Missed seeing the late artist, Prince, in concert over the years? Now you can catch the next best thing in Las Vegas by experiencing Jason Tenner and his “Purple Reign” show at The Tropicana. Tenner has spent over 20 years honing his tribute to Prince, and his look, voice, guitar work and dance moves are spot-on perfect. As an added bonus, the show also includes impressive tributes to frequent Prince-collaborators Morris Day and the Time and Vanity 6.
Las Vegas’ hospitality sector boasts some of the best hotel values in the world, but you have to know where to look – and when to book – to snag them. The new Burgundy Rooms at Paris Las Vegas and the Resort Tower rooms next door at Bally’s Las Vegas were just completely refurbished and enhanced, representing what I consider to be the best accommodations value (midway between budget and luxury), center-Strip. Savvy Vegas visitors know to book midweek stays for the best rates, which can start from as low as $100/night (including resort fees) at both properties.
New restaurants always draw attention in Sin City, but few are as buzz-worthy as Catch at Aria Las Vegas. An L.A. import, Catch draws notice as much for its fresh and unique seafood presentations as it does from the drop-dead gorgeous floral pergola entrance and its beautiful, see-and-be-seen patrons. The oven-roasted whole branzino is perfect for two, and for dessert, the eatery’s Hit Me Cake is chocolate poetry in motion; just ask for it without the bourbon ganache (making it gluten free), then swing away to reveal the gooey liquid center.
TV chef Giada de Laurentiis recently kicked off a weekend brunch at her fast-casual Pronto by Giada outlet inside Caesars Palace. And while tiny compared with the city’s other massive, over-the-top brunch extravaganzas, this spread typifies quality over quantity, with the chef’s gluten-free small bites, carving and omelette stations, prepared salads and sweets all making appearances. Little known so far, this all-you-can-eat affair is priced at a reasonable $39.
Meanwhile, no discussion of Sin City’s gustatory delights would be complete without mentioning the city’s – and likely the country’s – ultimate culinary festival, Vegas Uncork’d. This 4-day extravaganza (typically held in May) is filled with chef-driven events that have true foodies salivating in anticipation. The weekend’s signature event, The Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace, is close to a modern-day Roman bacchanal – just without the orgy. The outdoor extravaganza brings together 50 top chefs serving tastes of their greatest hits, along with over 100 wines and spirits. And for those into celebrity-chef worship, the ability to mingle with stars like Guy Savoy, Iron Chef Morimoto, Nobu, Giada de Laurentiis, Susan Feniger, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Fieri and other notables is nirvana.
And, contrary to popular belief, great bargains and quality cuisine aren’t mutually exclusive in Vegas. A perfect example of this intersection is the new Block 16 Urban Food Hall at the Cosmopolitan. An upscale food court bringing together 6 innovative culinary concepts from across the country, Block 16 is casual, affordable and appetizing. My go-to dish, featured at Portland’s Pok Pok Wing, is the Sweet Pork over Coconut Rice with Papaya Salad. It’s delicious, completely gluten free, and only $12. Enjoy!