Travelogue: Las Vegas
Christmastime in Nevada’s manmade desert gambling metropolis
I celebrated Christmas with friends in Las Vegas. Having previously visited for work, writing about everything from Hoover Dam and aviation security to FreedomFest (where one of the libertarian Atlas Shrugged movies debuted) to the late Olivia Newton-John’s premiere performance of her Las Vegas residency, I came prepared to encounter almost anything.
I stayed at MGM Resorts’ all-suites, non-gambling and non-smoking Vdara Hotel and Spa. Young bartending trainee Isaac was a good sport about my pointing out that his is the same name as the hip bartender character’s on The Love Boat. Isaac, a car and basketball enthusiast, hadn’t heard of ABC’s nine-year series. He was probably more interested in Formula One racing, which will soon run a Grand Prix on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Talking with strangers is one of the things I enjoy about visiting Las Vegas. You can strike up engaging conversations here. I conversed with a local, male-female married couple at the Cosmopolitan, which is also owned by MGM Resorts. I danced with two of a threesome—they told me the ménage a trois was consensual—at a gay bar called the Badlands Saloon. Those who come to the city to let loose really define this unique urban outlet for expending energy. Guard your credit card and cellular phone. Mind your gambling and drinking limits. Some strangers have nefarious motives. Brace for herds and clouds of tobacco and marijuana vaping and smoking, gigantic strollers—horrifyingly, guests bring toddlers and babies into casinos and along pulsating boulevards at all hours—and the sensory assault of police and ambulance sirens, audible from the tallest skyscraper suites. A phalanx of tourist helicopters converges upon the city’s skyline every mid-day and at sunset. Pack earplugs.
The nightclub scene is dominated by “EDM” (electronic dance music) and hip hop, a music genre which, I’m sorry to say, is as entrenched as leftist college professors. Females dress like Kardashians with false eyelashes as adult men strut in sneakers and straight-brimmed baseball caps. They huddle holding drinks as they stand in the middle of dance floors. They bend over and squat more than dance. Aggressive Asian tourists and gamblers walk in packs, usually with kids and dogs. Dogs of all breeds are everywhere. Poodles—cited by emergency room doctors as being among the top biters—growl and occasionally lunge at other dogs on walkways, escalators and casinos. Pit bulls are common. German shepherds, too. Las Vegas is Dog City.
Despite reduced services, Vdara Hotel and Spa remains my favorite place to stay. Vdara’s located across from the Aria, its host resort and casino, and adjacent to the Cosmopolitan, an elegant hotel where I enjoyed daily breakfast at The Henry—no one, even the concierge, knew the origins of the name—and other places.
A night at The Barbershop, a speakeasy tucked behind a barber shop offering a $75 haircut with cocktail, featured a country and western duo. The Milk Bar and Holsteins serve delicious desserts. Marquee is the Cosmopolitan’s night club and its dance floor is tiny. The Cosmopolitan’s two-level chandelier bar is lovely, however, it’s run by an officious hostess who leaves tables empty on purpose. Vegas statisticians favor lines.
Offstrip, the Golden Tiki had the best live entertainment with a rhythm and blues band that entertained a young, local clientele. An offstrip gay men’s bar called Fun Hog Ranch offers drinks at lower prices. Back on the strip, a cashier at Cartier’s Bellagio store—near Bellagio’s popular lobby display of lights and a Christmas village with model train behind its marvelous water fountains—provided tales of Cartier’s history, including its innovative wristwatch for the pioneering South American aviator pictured above. Bellagio’s Lily Bar and Lounge, where I met a colleague and the woman he’d married at Bellagio earlier this year, satisfies. So does the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas’s Sky Bar on the 23rd floor, where I enjoyed a memorable evening.
Las Vegas is geared, gamed and engineered to control, test and gauge your every action. Almost every bet, step, expenditure, choice and movement is tracked, calibrated, filmed, studied and factored as a stimulant for profit, even if some of these measurements and “metrics” are vapid and short-sighted. Ultimately, you’re in control. Local friends took me offstrip, to the Peppermill diner, for instance, a fabulously neon-lit restaurant and fireside lounge—featuring a looping video retrospective of classic Las Vegas shows—that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The best part of Las Vegas is its abundance of manmade events, places and things. Whatever the merits, the city’s a haven for creative, commercial design and electronic entertainment, making Las Vegas an ever-changing laboratory and hub of capitalism. I marvel at its newness and lights, as well as the landscaping, interior and exterior designs. The whole magical, if artificial, experience glimmers, especially on Christmas.