Monday, April 08, 2013

[Travel, Vegas] Vegas Going Vegas

Vegas Going Vegas: Her Royal Highness My Darling Miss Perfect Anna Banana turned 21. So that meant a trip to Vegas for me and for her Mom. And since Miss Anna is the center of the universe, it also meant a trip to Vegas for friends of hers from both coasts. Yeah, it was a thing.

Staying at the Bellagio for the first time in over a decade. I booked what I thought was a mid-level suite but the place was enormous -- a full sized living room, and giant bedroom and master bath, a wet bar as large as the one in my house (sadly unstocked). I actually had to double check my reservation to make sure I hadn't ended up in one of those four-figure suites by mistake. I would bet it approached 1200 sq. ft.

Another wonderful thing about the Bellagio is the pool, which is as classically beautiful as I remember. In honor of the occasion I sequestered a cabana, which turned out to be a brilliant move as it became the center for all comings and going of the various twenty-somethings all day. It had a fridge which was useful since the kids were ordering drinks by the handful then storing them fridge since the waitress couldn't keep up with them.

Naturally in Vegas, dinner is an event and our main dinner this time around was at Bouchon. Definitely high end French cuisine. Rich and tasty stuff -- I especially thought the appetizers -- escargot, bone marrow, foie gras -- were astounding. Everything was exceptionally well prepared. But identifying great restaurants in Vegas is pretty easy. They're everywhere.

Another one: D.O.C.G., an Italian place at the Cosmo. About the perfect balance of casual atmosphere and high end food. The homemade pasta was flawless. Ingredients were absolute top quality. Like I said, you run out of superlatives when describing these places.

Throw in a restorative visit to Qua, the spa at Caesars, and you have a full trip.

While we're on the topic, it seems that Vegas is booming again. There have been some lean years of late. After the boom of a decade ago, everyone and their Uncle Guido had a project of some sort. Most were cancelled outright (Las Ramblas). Some got started then killed with buildings left half done (Echelon). Others got completed and have yet to be profitable (City Center).

Now there is a huge complex in process for the area behind Harrah's called The Linq, which is going to feature an observations wheel along with the requisite bars and restaurants. In fact, there are two other observation wheels in planning -- one across from City Center where the Hawaiian Marketplace is, and one across from Mandalay Bay which would anchor the south end of the east side of the strip. Linq and it's wheel will make it. The others...?

Meanwhile, the low-end casino-hotels on the strip are disappearing and or being upgraded. Tropicana went through a major upgrade last year and the hotel operations will be taken over by Hilton's Doubletree division. That's good. Doubletrees are nice value level properties and the Trop definitely needed an influx of niceness.

The Imperial Palace is being remade into The Quad. I shall miss the IP. It was definitely low end but I had some great times in their high-energy casino back when I played table games (I confine myself to poker and sports betting now), even when I was losing big. It remains to be seen how The Quad will turn out, but it sounds like it was designed for college students. If they upgrade the rooms and restaurant it will be a plus. I would not have stayed or dined at the IP if you paid me. I'm gonna miss the Dr. Hahn's Secret Island Fortress decor most of all.

The Sahara is being remade into the SLS. Sahara was classy in the Rat Pack days, but barely on life-support for the last couple of decades. Looks like it's moving upscale. Following the theme of TLAs the former Las Vegas Hilton is becoming the LVH, although it appears little is changing there, so I would consider it mid-range. It still has the most comprehensive sports book in the universe and is right on the monorail line. The odd and out-of-place Bill's Gambling Hall, with arguably the best location in the world, is being taken over by Gansevoort - a very high-end outfit with hotels in Manhattan and South Beach. THE hotel, the high-end sister to Mandalay Bay, is going to be operated by the Morgans Hotel Group, famed for the the soaringly expensive, yet unprofitable, Delano in South Beach. Casino Royale is gone to make way for The Linq. MGM is renovating the entire west side of the strip from NYNY to City Center into a cohesive pedestrian friendly promenade including a beer garden, food trucks, and a performance stage. Wheeeee!

The biggest project is the purchase of the Echelon project by the Malaysian gambling company the Genting Group. Echelon was going to be a City Center competitor in the previous boom but got abandoned in the crash. It is now scheduled to be reborn as a sprawling hotel casino complex called Resorts World that is specifically targeting Asian tourists.

And I haven't even touched on all the changes downtown on Fremont Street. But just conceptually it's interesting to note that the portion of income Strip properties derive from gambling has been dropping. Not surprising considering how they have squeezed their low-roller gambling patrons. Gambling action appears to be moving to Fremont Street where you can get better percentages on the table games.

Interesting times. It's nice to see things picking up and getting crazy again. Gives me new stuff to see and do. Although I have to admit, with all the new development I don't see how these places are going to not end up eating each other's lunch. Through all the flash and promise, you can see the seeds of the next downturn being sewn.