What Happens in Vegas

September 2, 2008

Once a parched, rough-edged gambling town that separated miners and Hoover Dam builders from their paycheques, Las Vegas evolved into a 24/7 vacation spot for grown-ups and then into a family-themed destination. The quickie wedding chapels, all-you-can-eat buffets, and nickel slots are still there, but they lurk in the shadows of gleaming, billion-dollar complexes that are easier to enter than to leave. Today’s Vegas is all about celebrity, stellar shopping, luxe digs, fine dining, and over-the-top shows: it’s the land of Prada and Chanel, Cirque du Soleil, Joël Robuchon and Mario Batali, Paris Hilton and Celine Dion. You can laze by oversize pools, attend world-class sports events, order $5,000 bottles of Château Haut-Brion, and pamper yourself in just about any way you can imagine.

Oh, yes—and if you like to gamble, you can do that, too. 

Where to Stay

Las Vegas surely holds the record for most hotel rooms rented out but never occupied. In case you're actually planning to get some sleep, here are three of the best deals (and most comfortable digs) on the Strip.

FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS

3555 Las Vegas Blvd S., 800-732-2111

STATS 3,545 rooms, seven restaurants, five bars. While other Sin City veterans like the Stardust have closed their doors, the Flamingo pulled itself up by the bootstraps and began a massive (ongoing) renovation two years ago. In homage to its days of glory in the ’40s, the owners have retrofitted 1,000-plus rooms with a modernist concept: ceiling-high ebony vinyl headboards, deep plush rugs, cantilevered curved sofas, and avocado, chocolate, and pink colourways. The Flamingo sits on the hub of the Strip known as the Four Corners (across from the Bellagio)—high value for location alone. DON’T MISS The 15-acre outdoor wildlife habitat with Chilean flamingos, black-necked swans, and cockatoos roaming around three sprawling swimming pools. RESERVE Go Rooms (extra $50) have mp3 player docking stations, wireless Internet, and high-def flatscreens. Doubles from $129

WYNN LAS VEGAS

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S., 888-320-7123

STATS 2,716 rooms, nine restaurants, five bars. Concealed behind the 140-foot, pine-covered manmade mountain at the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard sits Steve Wynn’s posh three-year-old resort. After reportedly pouring $2.7 billion into the crescent-shaped monolith, Wynn set a new standard for Vegas-style hedonism: the casino is flooded with natural light, amenities include access to the only golf course on the Strip, and even basic rooms are palatial in size (starting from 640 square feet). The grande dame houses celebrity chefs like Alex Stratta and Daniel Boulud, and if that isn’t enough to keep idle minds occupied, there’s always Louis Vuitton, Manolo Blahnik, and Chanel, not to mention a Ferrari dealer. DON’T MISS A slab of beef ($48) from Country Club, the Wynn’s swank steakhouse that overlooks the waterfall on the golf course’s 18th hole. RESERVE a Panoramic Corner Room (from $300), with views stretching down the boulevard to miles upon miles of blinking lights in the distance. Doubles from $200

PALAZZO LAS VEGAS

3325 Las Vegas Blvd S., 877-883-6423

STATS 3,066 suites, 14 restaurants, five bars. Following three years of construction, the Venetian’s youngest sibling opened last December. The look is more down-to-earth (if that’s possible with 1.9 million square feet of marble and stone floors) with muted colors, wide walkways, and designated nonsmoking corridors. The hotel brought in Mario Batali, Charlie Trotter, and Emeril Lagasse to stake a substantial claim in the celebrity chef free-for-all. There are acres of shopping for padded wallets, but it’s the friendly, unpretentious service that sets the Palazzo apart from its rivals. DON’T MISS The Aquavanaspa at the newly expanded Canyon Ranch SpaClub spanning the Palazzo and Venetian. RESERVE A Concierge Lounge suite on the 23rd floor—it includes breakfast, happy hour, snacks, and Wi-Fi. Doubles from $199

Where to Play

NIGHTCLUBS

PURE CAESARS PALACE

3570 Las Vegas Blvd S.,
702-731-7873

SCENE The mainstay in town for celebrity sightings thanks to 40,000 square feet of stark white walls (except for the Red Room) and a terrace with a sunken fire pit and private cabanas SEEN Ben Afleck, Lindsay Lohan, Louis Hamilton

LAX NIGHTCLUB LUXOR

3900 Las Vegas Blvd S.,
702-262-4529

SCENE Opulent medium-sized watering hole with two floors of black chandeliers and art nouveau balustrades SEEN Pussycat Dolls, Pamela Anderson, Jermaine O’Neal

THE BANK BELLAGIO

3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd. S.,
702-693-8300

SCENE The nine-month-old club is Vegas’s latest hot spot; its formula of catering to a select crowd in a much smaller room (8,000 square feet) seems to be working SEEN Eddie Murphy, Tiger Woods, Paris and Nicky Hilton, Jamie Lynn Sigler

GOLF

Wynn Golf Club

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S., 888-320-7122

Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn's lush 18 holes feel more like bucolic North Carolina than Nevada desert (by way of 100,000 shrubs and 800 tonnes of earth used to create dramatic elevations). This two-man design team reoriented the par-70 course (a memento mori of Desert Inn Golf Club) from an east/west bearing to north/south, to keep you from playing into the sun. It's a great way to spend an afternoon-if you're feeling flush. $500 (includes rental clubs, shoes, and caddy).

Shadow Creek

3 Shadow Creek Dr., North Las Vegas, 866-260-0069

Thirty minutes north of Las Vegas, guests (and only guests) of MGM's 12 properties can play Tom Fazio's masterpiece. The intimate par-72 course is designed as much for a walk in the park as it is for a golf game-Fazio's goal was to make Shadow Creek his most enjoyable course. Shadow Creek will begin accepting reservations in October, and reopens in December (after a fine-tune and a short-game area add-on). Put the number on speed dial because the limited Monday to Thursday tee times are tough to score. $500

Bear's Best

11111 W. Flamingo Rd., 702-804-8500

Ten miles from the Strip, up against the Red Rock Mountain range, you'll find Jack Nicklaus's par-72 tour de force. He picked 18 of his favourite holes from his portfolio (265 designs worldwide) and laid down a magnum opus. (Most of the holes came from desert courses like PGA West, Desert Mountain, and Desert Highlands.) Known for superb conditions, the seven-year-old club just went caddy-free, but handheld GPS systems will guide you (and afford the rare opportunity to have Jack Nicklaus introduce each of his fairways). From $90.

TPC Las Vegas

9851 Canyon Run Dr., Summerlin, 702-256-2500

Stunning vistas of the stark Red Rock Mountains envelop Summerlin's natural desert-style, 7,063-yard course, about 11 miles west of the Strip. A canyon runs through the demanding back nine, and don't be surprised if you see PGA tour members sharpening their game behind the second and third tee boxes; TPC Las Vegas is PGA owned and operated-which means tip-top service and impeccably manicured lawns. If your swing could use an adjustment, there's a PGA academy onsite, too. $75.

Where to Indulge

SPAS

BATHHOUSE

3950 Las Vegas Blvd S., 877-632-9636

This high-ceiling wellness centre, on the second floor of THEhotel, at Mandalay Bay, is a minimalist's dream, with clean lines and slate walls; it's the ultimate antidote to Sin City's peccadillos. A 20-foot-long Jacuzzi lined with scarlet chaises longues is the centrepiece of the pared-down spa. The $30 day pass is a bargain; it gives patrons full run of the red-walled gym, separate male and female pools, eucalyptus steamroom, and the redwood sauna. For the Bathhouse's signature Scents-of-You scrub, fill out an über-personal questionnaire so the therapist can blend a custom aromatherapeutic oil tailored to your "issues."

DRIFT SPA

4381 W. Flamingo Rd., 702-944-3219

A steamy coed hammam (first and only in Vegas) laden with copper mosaics opened this past spring in Palms Place, the new residential tower west of the Strip. The theme here is simplified elegance in gold and burgundy tones with an oversize heated stone slab at the centre of the steam bath. The waterfall, seating alcoves, and mood lighting all deliberately encourage co-mingling between the sexes (note: clothing is required). We highly recommend the Muscle Melter massage (50 minutes; $150)

QUA BATHS & SPA

3570 Las Vegas Blvd S., 866-782-0655

The Roman-style Qua is an unexpected reprieve from Caesars Palace but, like everything else at the casino-hotel, the spa is a behemoth. You might get lost among the thermae, Vichy showers, herbal steam rooms, and tea lounges. Treatments begin with a series of dips in mineral cleansing pools (Tepidarium, Caldarium, and Frigidarium), followed by the Arctic Ice room, where falling snow will cool you after an intense steam (while heated floors and seats prevent hypothermia from setting in). A tuxedoed barber in the Men's Zone delivers straight-razor shaves and hair styling. Skip the tattoo parlour and check out Vegas's only Crystal Body Art Room where a Crystal Artist applies patterned Swarovski crystals for temporary skin bling (60 minutes; $130).

THE SPA AT TRUMP

2000 Fashion Show Dr., 702-476-8000

At the lonely northern end of the Strip sits the new $1-billion Trump Tower, swathed in 24-karat-gold glass. (Crazy, no?) The spa, like the lobby, literally drips with crystals. An assigned attaché guides you from start to finish through the wood-panelled rooms, and fetches water, tea, and just about anything else you require to relax. Angeleno skin guru Kate Somerville's products are stocked for facials, but do the Trump-ish thing and go all out with the super-luxe Royal Lulur Ritual, a perfuming, scrubbing, and hydrotherapy derived from 17th-century Indonesian bridal traditions.

SPA AT THE RITZ-CARLTON

1610 Lake Las Vegas Pkwy, Henderson, 702-567-4700

To truly relax, consider decamping from the city that never sleeps to the Ritz's non-gambling Tuscan-style resort 30 minutes east in suburban Henderson. The traditional spa has a private beach on manmade Lake Las Vegas (modelled after Italy's Lake Como) and offers an untraditional treatment: with the al fresco Lunar Rhythms (80 minutes; $350), masseuses rub you down under the stars. Afterward, check out the desert sky (free of the Strip's light pollution) through one of its high-powered telescopes.

SHOPPING

ON-STRIP

The Wynn Esplanade targets the well-heeled with Dior, Brioni, and Manolo Blahnik, plus a Ferrari/Maserati dealership. Down the boulevard, near Trump's new tower, Fashion Show Mall (3200 Las Vegas Blvd S., 702-784-7000) has all the major department stores-Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom-plus a few small boutiques, like Talulah G, carrying indie labels. In January, the Shoppes at The Palazzo (3327 Las Vegas Blvd S., 702-414-4525) opened to great fanfare with Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, and Van Cleef & Arpels anchored by an 85,000-square-foot Barneys New York

DOWNTOWN

Arts District Old Las Vegas has been experiencing a cultural renaissance over the past decade thanks to a growing community of artists. On the first Friday of every month Casino Center Boulevard hosts a block party: galleries open up their studios, and the street becomes a quasi-flea market. Check out the Contemporary Arts Collective (101 E. Charleston Blvd, 702-382-3886) for affordable art, and the Attic (1018 S. Main St., 702-735-3033) for your next Halloween costume. This vintage clothing shop (Robert David Morton-designed maxi dresses from $100 to $175) also has an affordable in-house design atelier on the first floor

OFF-STRIP

Designer labels at half price? Deep breath, shopaholics. Las Vegas Premium Outlets is the closest of a handful of outlet malls (875 S. Grand Central Pkwy, 702-474-7500). Fifteen minutes and a $20 cab ride later, find yourself tearing through 150 storefronts, including Elie Tahari, Theory, and Dolce & Gabbana. Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas is our pick, with Tod's, Versace, Kate Spade, and Burberry (32100 Las Vegas Blvd S., 702-874-1400). The complex is 40 minutes southwest of the Strip, but shuttle service is available 15 minutes past the hour from MGM Grand-the selection, and the savings, are worth the trek ($15 roundtrip)

Where to Eat

Lotus of Siam

953 E. Sahara Ave. (in the Commercial Center Mall), 702-735-3033
THAI

One mile east of the boulevard, tucked away in a strip mall, sits a no-frills joint that belies chef Saipin Chutima's eye-popping Thai dishes. Skip the overrated buffet and order from the kitchen (with the help of the chef's husband, Bill): nam kao tod (sausage ground up with lime, green onion, fresh chili, and ginger, served with crispy rice) and sua rong hai (sliced grilled beef) are two standout dishes. Lotus is beloved by oenophiles (like critic Robert Parker), who come for the 350-bottle list, with its endless pages of hard-to-find German Rieslings. Entrées from $9 to $25

Joël Robuchon, MGM Grand

3799 Las Vegas Blvd S., 702-891-7925
FRENCH

You'll break the bank (if you haven't already at the craps table), but Robuchon's exorbitant room is a must-visit while you're in Sin City. The French stronghold harks back to the Parisian élan of the '30s. Chef recommends langoustine ravioli and a light pea velouté atop sweet onion custard, both of which are on the 16-course tasting menu ($385 without wine). However, if you have neither the appetite nor a five-hour time slot, duck in next door to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. The open kitchen has a stylish bar for casual seating; order from a less overwhelming but equally sensational menu that features lambchops, pommes frites, and buttery pommes purées (and a 10-item tasting menu from $135).

Guy Savoy, Caesars Palace

3570 Las Vegas Blvd S., 877-346-4642
FRENCH

Two years ago, Caesars Palace baited French luminary Guy Savoy to open his first post outside of Paris. His stateside dining room is austere and peppered with modern art. From the neoclassicial menu comes his signature artichoke-and-black-truffle soup as well as crispy veal sweetbreads and Color of Caviar (a shot glass of osetra caviar and a caviar-vinaigrette foam). Appies top out at $90, so the 10-course Prestige tasting menu with oysters, sea bass, poussin, and fromage, for $290, is good value. The 20-seat Champagne bar is more than just a waiting room; the menu lets patrons sample Savoy's cuisine at a fraction of the price ($40 for four small plates).

Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Wynn Las Vegas

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S., 702-248-3463
ITALIAN

Paul Bartolotta's theatrical dining room-with its outdoor tented cabanas perched beside a lagoon filled with floating reflective spheres-receives more than one tonne of fresh seafood from the Mediterranean each week. The Italian basics are the best dishes here. From the heaped cart, pick out gilthead sea bream, imperial snapper, Adriatic sole, or slipper lobster and it returns to the table whole roasted or grilled with a shot of olive oil, lemon, and parsley. (The seafood grand feast, served family-style, is a bargain at $155 per person.) And the best news is chef Bartolotta is almost always in the kitchen-which is practically unheard of in this town.

Bouchon, the Venetian

3355 Las Vegas Blvd S., 702-414-6200
FRENCH

Modelled after the bouchons of Lyon, the bistro delivers French country classics like boudin noir ($24) and trout amandine ($26). Chef Thomas Keller-of Napa Valley's French Laundry-is a big fan of the roast chicken ($28). While away an afternoon at the zinc bar over a Grand Plateau (two tiers of sweet oysters, poached Maine lobster, and Bouchot mussels, $99). And take our word for it-the $50 pâté is entirely worth every buttery, whipped dollop. Bouchon is also Vegas's best bet for a hangover-banishing breakfast (order the French toast in brioche bread pudding).

Bradley Ogden Las Vegas, Caesars Palace

3570 Las Vegas Blvd S., 877-346-4642
CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Across from the Colosseum's box office, this contemporary room is perfect for a preshow supper (and welcome reprieve from Vegas's other maximalist restaurants). Bay Area chef Bradley Ogden has created a triumvirate of farm-fresh outposts with One Market and Lark Creek Inn, all riffs on his updated, California-style comfort food. Ingredients arrive daily from ranchers, farmers, and fishermen, and appear on a menu that spans West and East coasts with Maine diver scallops ($44), South Dakota bison tenderloin ($65), and Monterey squid. The menu changes daily, but don't miss the mainstay twice-baked Maytag blue cheese soufflé. Three course prix-fixe, $55.

Carnevino, The Palazzo

3325 Las Vegas, Blvd S., 702-789-4141
STEAKHOUSE

The newest canteen on the block opened its doors in the Palazzo hotel in December. The renowned New York-based chef Mario Batali and his sommelier, Joe Bastianich, are trying their hands at a steakhouse-cum-trattoria. The top half of the menu includes hearty Italian standbys like lardo drizzled over beef carpaccio ($18), cannelloni stuffed with braised duck ($18), and gnocchi Bolognese ($16). Adam Perry Lang of Manhattan's Robert's Steakhouse heads up the beefy lower half of the menu. The man knows how to grill a mind-blowing steak (in fact he's passionate about it) with just a rub of olive oil, salt, and pepper-but expect to pay a premium (from $51).

Where to Buy

What $1 Million (Or Less) Will Buy You…

#2103 2877 Paradise Rd. – $995,000

2,195 square feet, two bedrooms, 2.5 baths

On the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard, this luxe, 21st-floor condo in the posh Turnberry tower has views of the Strip's bright lights. The seven-year-old high-rise rivals amenities of luxury hotels with a membership to the exclusive Stirling Club that grants access to Charlie Palmer's Veranda, his and her spa facilities, pool, and fitness centre. Jason Ekus, RE/MAX Central, 702-940-9576


1400 TURNBERRY ST. – $549,000

3,584 square feet, five bedrooms, 3.5 baths

A steal for a family. This eight-year-old home with lofted ceilings is on a corner lot with tonnes of yard space, a three-car garage, and granite countertops in the kitchen. This one is a "short sell." Jason Ekus, RE/MAX Central, 702-940-9576


9005 OPUS DR. – $995,000

3,029 square feet, three bedrooms, 2.5 baths

Twenty minutes west of the Strip, in a gated community with 24-hour security surveillance, this Italian-style villa sits right on Canyon Gate Country Club's golf course, looking onto the fifth fairway. Cathedral ceilings, travertine and wood floors, gourmet kitchen, and two-car garage make this an ideal second-home property. Kenneth Lowman, Luxury Homes of Las Vegas,
702-216-4663

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