Malta and Tenerife Await


Vegas Unfiltered will be taking a two-week hiatus…

I hope everyone is enjoying the dawn of springtime. Yours truly will be jaunting off on an extended visit to Malta and Tenerife (in the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa) with brief stops in London and Barcelona.

Tenerife

I’ll be returning to the States on May 4th and will hop right back into things here asap after that. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep you up to date via the official Facebook Page. That is, of course, as time allows.

Until then, keep thinking those happy thoughts, thank you for reading my site and enjoy your Vegas daydreams!

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                                              Sam Novak aka “Sammasseur”

Spiegelworld’s OPIUM is a Space Voyage from Uranus (sorry) to your Heart


Absinthe’s new cousin is the schlocky 70’s sci-fi variety show that never was….

Imagine that you’re scanning the channels and come across TV Land, the cable network specializing in beloved 60’s and 70’s programs. They’re airing a weird science-fiction variety show that you don’t remember at all…and you can’t look away.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

The wacky neon-and-spandex-clad passengers and crew of the starship OPIUM are headed towards Earth. For some reason they perform musical and acrobatic acts when not doing naughty things on and with each other. No, it’s not an episode of The Twilight Zone or the super-bizarre Brady Bunch Variety Hour (yes, that was really a thing!). It’s Spiegelworld’s OPIUM…and the ship of fools has landed at Cosmopolitan.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

OPIUM takes over the space once occupied by Vegas Nocturne, another Spiegelworld creation. That lamented masterpiece of hysteria now lives on through OPIUM, which infuses the spirit of Vegas Nocturne with a psychedelic vibe all its own.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

An ethereal mood is instantly established when you enter through Rose.Rabbit.Lie‘s ring of mysterious doors and head for the bar. The lounge is bathed in pink and purple neon tubes and 70’s kitsch like lava lamps and portable televisions (who didn’t have one of those?) line the walls. There, under a shower of electronic bleeps and Moog synthesizer music, you can peruse a 3D menu of specialty cocktails via an authentic View-Master reel.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

Comparisons to Absinthe will be unavoidable, but as my guest at a recent performance noted, OPIUM is the exact opposite of the nearby production. While that long-running hit at Caesars is back-to-back acts of world-class quality, OPIUM deliberately revels in its own awfulness. It’s pure camp and overacting on an epic scale.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

It would be unfair to give away the plot or tell you too much about the characters. They’re pure delight and half the joy is in discovering them. Instead I’ll focus on some of the variety segments, which don’t all achieve the stellar heights of Absinthe but soar on their own plane of existence.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

“Dusty Moonboots” is the songbird of Starship Opium’s crew. She (or he…I can’t be totally certain) belts out ballads and pop numbers with aplomb, sporting an outlandish series of costumes that seem re-purposed from a roadshow version of Priscilla – Queen of the Desert.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

Vegas Nocturne returning performer Brett Loudermilk is unrecognizable as the ship’s resident sword swallower. His risque oral act is exactly what you might be thinking. Armed with a suitcase full of swords of varying shapes and sizes (along with a rather large “personal item”), Brett’s stunts will shock, nauseate and have you holding your aching sides from the laughter.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

The ship’s all-purpose handyman “Scottie” seems determined to fly his inner rainbow flag through the solar system. Armed with dozens of bright pink hula hoops and streamers trailing behind his go-go shorts, the chubby crew member amazes with his balance, flexibility and grace.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

By far my favorite sequence involved America’s Got Talent duo Christian Stoinev and Scooby. The hunky shirtless young strongman and his faithful chihuahua are so entertaining that they alone are worth the ticket price. This video clip from the performance I attended is a real treat:

Despite the seeming randomness of OPIUM’s concept, it really is cohesive…and surprisingly touching. There’s a story arc, character development, audience interaction and some pretty kick-ass music from a live band. If you’re a Freddy Mercury fan, you’ll love the Queen sing-alongs that form a framework of universal love and acceptance.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

OPIUM’s goal is to amuse, titillate, revolt, befuddle and entertain. Most of all, it’s about delivering the unexpected. On that OPIUM succeeds beyond your imagination. It might not reach the heights of either of its Spiegelworld relatives, but OPIUM is one schlocky sci-fi tale that deserves to run for at least a five-year mission. William Shatner would be proud.

Opium Spiegelworld Cosmopolitan

OPIUM performs nightly (except Tuesdays) at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. Ticket are available online or at the OPIUM box office on the second level. Click here for show schedule and times. Discounts of 25% on select seats are available courtesy of our friend at VegasFool by clicking here

 

Spa Days Are For Guys, Too


Yours truly indulges in a manly head-to-toe experience at Westgate’s Serenity Spa…

There’s an outmoded perception that spa treatments are something that only women are likely to enjoy. But those in the know realize that occasionally pampering our overworked bodies allows them to recuperate, regenerate and regroup for what lies ahead.

Men are most likely to use the fitness center and steam room/massage at a resort’s spa…but why stop there? Your skin, hands and feet take as much abuse as your muscles. They’ll also benefit from a bit of professional attention. And who knows…perhaps you’ll get other kinds of welcome attention in return.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

As a guest of Westgate Resort, I was invited for a courtesy MVP for the Day package at Serenity Spa. The three-hour session included an aromatherapy elixir massage, Versailles rejuvenating facial and a spa pedicure. The retail cost for this package varies by weekday/weekend rates, but if you’re a regular visitor to my official Facebook Page you’ve seen the Groupon specials I post there (why not head over and click “Like”?).

If you’re new to the atmosphere and procedures of a spa, then read on. Being a former licensed massage therapist myself (hence the pen name “Sammasseur”), I know my way around these places and can help you to feel comfortable and prepared.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

You’ll want to make your appointment(s) in advance, much like visiting a medical office. The staff at any legitimate spa is a collection of highly-trained and licensed professionals. They need to keep to their schedules just like your doctor does. You can always call to check availability during moments of spontaneity, but it’s best to plan ahead. If you happen to arrive late, it’s standard procedure for your service to finish at the originally-scheduled time.

To acquaint yourself with a spa’s services, check their online menu to see what’s available. Then decide what fits your needs and budget. Services can be chosen a la carte or in a variety of specially-priced packages. It’s worth noting that most spas in Vegas have adjoining fitness centers, pools and steam room/sauna/hot tub areas. Your fees normally entitle you to use of these amenities, allowing you to make a full day of it if you so desire.

As spas exist to promote relaxation and balance, it’s best to ease into your visit. Ideally, you’ll want to arrive a half hour or more before your first scheduled service. Once you’ve checked in, an attendant will take you to your gender-appropriate area for a tour. They’ll provide you with a locker, sandals, robe and some bottled water.

Cell phones are strictly prohibited, so you’ll want to shut off your ringtone and store the phone with your other valuables and clothing. On your initial visit you’ll be asked to fill out an intake form with questions about health and special needs. You can look over a description of proper spa etiquette by visiting here.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Before your appointment you may wish to shower, steam or slide into the hot tub to set that “Ahhhhhh” mindset into motion. Many spas are clothing-optional, but it’s best to bring a swim suit. You’ll want to make a trip to the restroom, too. Once prepared, head for the “relaxation room” until your attendant summons you for your services.

Relaxation rooms are generally equipped with plush chaise lounges, fruit-infused water, light snacks and fresh fruits. There may be magazines, a fireplace, candles and a TV with captions (no sound). Conversation should be quiet and kept to a minimum to foster the atmosphere of peacefulness.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

My three-part package began with the massage. Eric, my usual therapist, is the talented young man whom I mentioned in a past article. Whereas previous sessions had been performed with Himalayan salt stones and deep-tissue therapy, today’s was structured around aromatherapy.

I was presented with a choice of fragrances based on natural elements like fire and water. Each selection is designed to promote a certain type of therapy or wellness. I went for “metal” which offers detoxifying benefits….perfect for recovering from Vegas indulgences.

A first massage can be a little disconcerting for the uninitiated. You can ease that concern by watching internet videos of how pro massages are performed. Let the therapist know of any sore, sensitive or ticklish areas….or just places that you don’t like being touched (bottoms of feet are a common one).

You’ll be placed under a blanket on a warm table with only the treated areas being exposed as necessary. There’s no need to worry about modesty, but once again keep in mind that you’re in the company of a state-licensed professional. Trust the skills of your therapist and allow your body to relax freely. Take deep, regular breaths and provide feedback if something doesn’t feel comfortable (pressure, speed of massage strokes, etc.).

spa11

At the midway point you’ll be asked to turn over. Some clients like to take a sip of water during this pause, which is another good time to confirm that all is going well. After you change from a prone position to supine (on your back), a soft cloth may be draped over your eyes to keep out the light. BTW, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to fall asleep if you achieve a point of deep relaxation.

After the massage you’ll be escorted back to your respective spa area. You might wish to use the bathroom once again, and be sure to have more water….an essential ingredient in all bodywork applications. Then it’s back to the relaxation room to await your next service.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Step two for me was a facial. Once again, there are a variety to choose from based on your needs and skin type. There’s even a Gentleman’s Facial geared towards shave-weary faces. My slightly-aging (ahem) skin was eager to receive a rejuvenating treatment branded as Queen of Versailles. The line of products used for it are inspired by Jackie Siegel, wife of Westgate Resorts owner David Siegel.

Aside from short demonstrations at department-store counters and fitness expos, this writer had never received a full-service facial. They’re performed in a room that combines the tranquility of a massage studio with the clinical precision of a dentist’s office. My licensed esthetician, Kellee, invited me to get comfortable on a multi-position table before discussing my current skin concerns.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

After covering my eyes to block out light, she closely examined my pores and skin texture under intense light and a magnifier. Then she discussed options for blemishes and trouble spots that might require special attention. Next was a multi-step process that included steam, applications of various creams/cleaners, massage…and some high-tech equipment.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

Most of the facial was a relaxing and pleasant experience….some not. You see, trained estheticians perform “extractions” of blocked pores. This process can be little on the painful side…but so are most trips to the dentist. Fortunately it was followed with soothing gels and more massage to reduce redness and impart a healthy-looking glow. Improving your looks isn’t always wine and roses…but the end result was fantastic.

Speaking of wine, MVP Spa Package includes a glass of your choice. It was offered during my final hour, this time in the spa’s nail salon. Tori Lyn invited me to settle into a comfortable recliner with controllable heat and massage. Placing my feet in a glass bowl of swirling, heated water (and enhanced with LED lighting effects), I stretched out and allowed Tori Lyn to work her magic.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

Getting a professional pedicure was another first for this guy. As you might imagine, the procedure involved trimming and shaping of the nails, neatening of cuticles and more massage.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

The part I most benefited from was buffing and removal of calluses and dead skin from the toes and heels. That might sound uncomfortable, but soaking in moving jets of water beforehand made the experience quite pleasant. Moisturizers and soothing oils were applied to my feet and nails as a final touch.

After three hours of continuous pampering, I rose from my recliner feeling like a new man. As stated previously, you’re free to stick around and enjoy other areas of the spa. You might even want to get a contemporary new cut and style from the hair salon (Westgate’s iBlowDry Salon is open daily from 9am to 8pm). For myself, this was the perfect time to head back to the suite for a nap.

If you’re next stop after the spa is something more formal, be assured that full showering and grooming facilities are at your disposal. They usually include razors, styling products, antiperspirants and dental hygiene accessories. Ask your attendant for anything that might be lacking. They’re sure to have it…even a plastic bag your your damp swimsuit.

It’s standard procedure in American spas for the proper gratuity to be added to your charges (20% is the current norm). This will be disbursed in appropriate amounts to those who provided your services. I tend to give a little extra cash to the locker attendants, but the choice to leave additional for anyone is yours.

After a “guy’s day” at the spa, you’ll be prepared for whatever the setting sun has in store. With a full package of treatments to make you look and feel your best, there’s no limit to what you’ll be able to achieve in Sin City.

Westgate Serenity Spa’s business hours are from 6am to 8pm daily. Special discounted package rates are available. For more information or to book a service, call 702.732.5648. Groupon is currently offering limited-time deals for up to 50% off. 

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Quora

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexy Vegas Power Duos: Lupita and Michal Furmanczyk


Absinthe’s rippling acrobat and Golden Nugget’s model dealer make pulses races from center-Strip to the heart of Downtown….

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I’m obsessed with gorgeous people. From the lusciously stunning Savannah Cross to the hunky likes of Willie Gomez and Chris Hodgson, Vegas Unfiltered is unapologetic in its constant praising of the stunning people of Vegas.

But what makes them beautiful goes way beyond their physical traits. Unique architecture and world-class offerings are what may attract visitors to Las Vegas, but it’s the men and women who give it a heart and soul. Humanitarians like Noel Dahl and Eric Roy, talented chefs like Steve Young and voice-perfect singers like Anne Martinez are what really makes Sin City a very special place to visit and enjoy.

Two very different people from distant parts of the world were drawn to Las Vegas to fulfill their dreams. When their paths crossed under random circumstances it was like lightning in a bottle. The couple hasn’t been apart ever since.

Now the entire valley is an enormous, joyful playground for this pair to share their passion for Las Vegas…and each other. Ladies and gentlemen…meet Lupita and Michal Furmanczyk.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

The former Miss Lupita Ruiz comes from a small town in Veracruz, Mexico. “It’s the kind of town everyone knows each other and everything is within walking distance”, she told me. The middle of three children (an older brother and younger sister), Lupita graduated high school in El Paso, Texas then immediately whisked off to Reno Nevada to further her education.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

After a semester at University of Nevada Reno, Lupita dropped out to pursue a career in poker. “I used a fake ID to be able to gamble in the casinos because I was underage” she confided. “During my short poker career I met all the professional poker players and my best friend Jerry Buss (owner of the Lakers, who passed away from cancer). And, a number of celebrities from David Beckham to my favorite George Lopez“.

After four years in Reno, it was off to Florida to major in Valencia College‘s dental hygiene program. With her degree nearly completed, the call of Las Vegas drew her back to Nevada. “I came here for school but i didn’t really have to come here for it. I’m just impulsive and one day felt like changing the scenery”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Although Lupita planned to finish her degree, the fates had other plans. “I missed the deadline due to my credits taking too long being transferred. Instead of skipping the semester I decided to attend their Performing Arts School”. That’s where destiny put Lupita in the path (and arms) of a towering hunk from Warsaw, Poland.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Michal Furmanczyk is also one of three children. His older brother Kamil is an engineer and sister Kasia, the eldest, is a teacher. Despite Michal’s muscular exterior, he too is an intellectual. “I graduated from the University in Poland in 2008 with a degree in psychology. My dad had wanted me to be a policeman but I had very different plans for my future, haha!”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Somehow, that career in psychology gave way to performing astounding acrobatic feats in front of live audiences. “Many people might think that I attended some “circus school” or something associated with sports. Partially its true” he laughed “as lots of my classmates in high school were Olympic Champions”. Like his future wife, Michal followed his inner voices…and they led him to what would become a well-known big top on the Strip.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

         Michal and partner Lucas (standing) during their hand-balancing act…

“I’m the only person in the family who end up working in circus. In the winter of 2010, my partner Lucas and I were working in Munich when Spiegelworld producer Ross Mollison and artistic director Wayne Harrison’s Cheep (yes, that’s his name) saw us performing. Right afterwards they came up to us and said that they’re opening a new show in Las Vegas. Ross told us he’d like us to be a part of it…how could we refuse such a great opportunity?”

That was seven years ago. Since then, Absinthe has become the must-see breakout hit at Caesars Palace. After awhile Misha, as he’s affectionately known, wanted to broaden his formal education, this time in the world of performing arts.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

“I felt need to go back to school and learn something. At first I wanted to try a program from behind the camera but that didn’t match with my show schedule. So, I signed up for acting classes….I thought it might be helpful since I work on stage nightly. There is always something new to learn. Lupita and I were classmates and became friends right away. We met in June of 2014 and by the end of that year we were already living together”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

The two were married in January of 2017 and has been sharing the life that so many couples dream of. They travel frequently to Hawaii (Maui is their special place) and relish outdoor activities like hiking and swimming…when they aren’t working out to keep their bodies in such impressive condition.

The couple’s dogs Romeo (a Florida pooch with his own fan page) and Coco (whose heartbroken appearance won them over at a shelter) love to frolic in the water. As Misha tells it, “Meyo (Romeo’s nickname) goes nuts when he sees the water. He used to jump over the fence at the house where we lived before, just so he could swim in the neighbor’s pool”.

The foursome sometimes take day trips to Willow Beach, Arizona so the pit bulls and their parents can frolic in the water. It’s a scenic locale that’s great for plenty of photo ops. “We both enjoy photography…Lupita in front of the camera and I like to be on both sides”.

It’s easy to see why Lupita’s career in modeling is as successful as being a model dealer at downtown’s Golden Nugget Hotel Casino. And of course having her husband behind the lens brings out the best in both of them. But that hasn’t stopped the professional photographers from making Lupita one of their favorite subjects.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Of course, a sexy young couple living in Sin City is bound to indulge in all that the Strip has to offer. Lupita and Michal enjoy dressing up for a night on the town, taking in the delicious foods (Lupita’s partial to the chicken tikki masala at TUMERIC – Taste of India on Fremont Street), great entertainment and spectacular views. Sometimes they just like to clown around together.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

SHOWSTOPPERS at Wynn/Encore was their favorite production…until the show came to a close. Now Michal is high on OPIUM at Cosmopolitan. “OPIUM’s the newest show from Spiegelworld. It’s hilarious and totally different from any other show you have seen anywhere. Totally must-see!” (look for my review in an upcoming column).

The pair currently owns two homes, a condo Downtown and another on the south end of the Strip. “I love real estate and home decor projects” Michal told me. “Lupita has a great vision and searches for inspiration online to find out what would look nice and match in our places”. His wife added “We both are artistic people so anything creative we enjoy”.

One thing this writer admires about the Furmanczyks is that they totally embrace their sex appeal. They have no hang-ups about their physical selves and don’t feel the need to hide what their hard work and dedication have created.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Says Michal “We just know who we are and we do we what we want. I don’t work out to keep my body under a t-shirt. Sometimes yes, but in general I like to wear nice fitted clothes. Many guys don’t really know their bodies and they just follow others without being conscious that they can dress nicer”.

Being an influential power couple in the City of Entertainment might be a dream come true, but both of these fine individuals have worked hard to overcome difficulties and humbler times. Michal is especially grateful for achieving respect as a performer after a personal tragedy nearly crippled him.

“In 2007, I had an accident where I broke both of my legs and completely shattered my ankles. A doctor told me that my career was over. I wasn’t able to walk for about a year. Then I started walking slowly for another year…like an old man. After that I was able to start slowly running. Now I’m proudly rocking the stage every night”.

 Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

He closed out our interview with one final thought. “We’ve got to remember to never give up and be very strong. Luckily I had great, true friends that never left my side and kept my spirits high. I’m very thankful to each person who helped me at that difficult time. And I remember very well who was there for me”.

Power Duo Michal Lupita Furmanczyk

Now that the Furmanczyks have found one another, their futures should be very bright indeed.

ABSINTHE performs Tuesday through Sunday at Caesars Palace. Show schedule is available by clicking here. VegasFool.com has discount seats available via this link
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Photos: Michal and Lupita Furmanczyk, Miguel Vazquez, Ramiro Cervantes,  Jose Karelin Gonzalez

SAW Escape Experience Takes to the Strip via FLO Advertising’s Mobile Digital Billboard Trucks


World-famous Egan Productions teams up with the latest high-tech advertising firm to deliver the deep cuts of Lionsgate’s slasher movie series…

Mobile advertising is a rich part of American culture. From Depression-era sandwich boards to Goodyear Blimps hovering over stadiums, advertising has always been most effective when it’s on the move.

Las Vegas has its own popular collection of mobile billboards and taxi toppers. They keep visitors up to date on the hottest shows, best restaurants and newest headliners on the Strip.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

New Vegas-based FLO Advertising is the latest such venture. FLO Advertising features high-tech digital mobile billboards mounted to a fleet of sleek black trucks. Gliding up and down the Strip with the brightest eye-catching electronic signs, FLO Advertising estimates that they reach up to four million potential customers each month.

FLO’s mobile digital billboards are 23% larger than the conventional mobile digital billboards you’ve been seeing on the Strip. Their electronic signage is staggering 10,000 NITS brightness which is 25% brighter than the competition. Their state of the art technology is instantly update-able and flexible, allowing for unlimited creativity and immediate response to marketing demands.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

It’s no surprise, then, that innovative Egan Productions , a full-service production company also based in Vegas, has partnered with FLO Advertising to promote their new Official SAW Escape Experience. Inspired by the long-running series of Lionsgate hit films, SAW Escape Experience brings your biggest horror-film fears to life.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

Now open at 2121 Industrial Road, just behind the Stratosphere and a bone’s throw from the world famous Golden Steer Steakhouse, SAW Escape delivers a full-building multi-room experience that is entirely immersive and absolutely terrifying.

As the unwitting player in Jigsaw’s twisted games, you’ll need to rely on wits and reflexes to survive a harrowing tour of Egan & Co. Meat Packing Plant. That’s where things will undoubtedly take a sinister turn for you and your friends.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

Since their inception, escape rooms have quickly overtaken murder-mystery dinner theater as the hottest interactive thrill. Egan Productions ramps up the octane by building theirs around a familiar and frightening villain.

“Jigsaw”, the vengeful mastermind behind SAW’s traps and pratfalls, has sliced and diced his way through eight successful films. The latest was released just last Halloween to over 100 million dollars at the box office.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

             Jason Egan (far right) is embraced by the world of horror films…

SAW Escape benefits by having the best creators at the helm. Egan Productions is the firm behind Fright Dome, the infamous Halloween attraction held each year at Circus Circus. Company creator Jason Egan knows his way around the world of horror. He’s served as Executive Producer on cult horror films like Bloodsucking Bastards and The Neighbor (with Vegas favorite Bill Engvall). He even partnered with legendary director George Romero for a Night of the Living Dead-themed house.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

                                      Egan on the set of The Neighbor

Jason’s Fright Dome attractions featuring the SAW franchise have been standouts in recent years. So when he decided to launch a permanent escape experience in Las Vegas, it seemed natural to integrate the twisted puzzles and traps of Jigsaw’s sinister universe. And Egan’s successful past collaborations with Lionsgate Studio enabled them to entrust their signature character to his team.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

               Jason Egan and actor Tobin Bell, the iconic “Jigsaw” himself…

With the Official SAW Escape Experience now welcoming victims visitors, the creative team has entrusted their mobile marketing plans to FLO Advertising. Research shows that 73% of Vegas visitors have seen mobile billboards. Of them, 53% say they remember specific ads that they’ve noticed.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

If something like a traditional billboard can garner that much attention, imagine the number of impressions that an enormous mobile LED-style ad can achieve with 17,000 tourists walking the Strip every hour.

A large number of visitors wait until they get to Vegas to arrange their entertainment and dining plans. Strip-level mobile advertising is a great way to make arriving tourists aware of what’s new and exciting in Sin City.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

With the partnership of FLO Advertising and The Official SAW Escape Experience taking to the streets, you can believe that horror fans will be lining up to take their crack at the challenges of Jigsaw. “Do You Want To Play A Game?”

SAW ESCAPE EXPERIENCE operates Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 11pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm until midnight. Click here to purchase tickets. Information about FLO Advertising Mobile Digital Billboards is available on their website. Click here to learn more or request a quote. 

Photos: FLO Advertising, SAW Escape Experience, Jason Egan via Facebook

 

NEON DREAMS – RENO: Where “Old Vegas” Went To Thrive


Yours truly visits Sin City’s sister and re-discovers treasures you thought had long disappeared….

Reno Old Vegas

Last week, three downtown Boyd properties quietly began charging resort fees. Popular Main Street Station, California and Fremont hotels were three of the last four to avoid the reviled mandatory daily charges. Now only Four Queens remains as the sole truly value-laden destination in what was once considered a refuge for those avoiding Strip-style gouging.

To make today’s Vegas seem even more frustrating, our friend Scott Roeben of VitalVegas.com recently exposed a sneaky, expensive trick being played on patrons at nightclubs like Tao, Omnia, Hakkasan and Wynn’s XS. It’s not unlike the bogus CNF charge he warned us about two years ago. And yet, Sin City continues to find new ways to rip you off.

You’d think that all this bull-shittery would have pushed Vegas fans passed the tipping point long ago…yet they continue to flock in. Those of us who are savvy and sick of being gouged may be seeking out more value-laden destinations for our Vegas fix, and rightly so. It never hurts to discover new places…or in my case, to rediscover an old one.

Nearby Laughlin, an easy two-hour drive from the Strip, boasts an old-time atmosphere you may be craving. Smokey casinos, cornball shows, sticky slot machines, cheap buffets and oceans of blue hair vie for your attention.

Reno Old Vegas

Hotels with familiar names like Golden Nugget, Tropicana and Harrah’s still have that out-of-the-seventies feel (brass, glass and tacky carpeting). Alas, Laughlin’s version of the Strip is quite small, with only nine hotels to choose from. In its favor, they all line up along a scenic riverside location.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno, on the other hand, is a full city of adventure. Nicknamed “The Biggest Little City In The World”, it’s very much like the Las Vegas I discovered over a decade ago….right before everything started to go to shit for the sake of “upscale” improvements.

Once downtrodden and decaying, Reno still carries a sad reputation. Some of it is deserved, as certain sections of the city remain sketchy and unattractive. Yet at its heart, “Little Vegas” is alive and thriving. And lots more fun these days than you’d expect.

My most recent visit to Reno was last weekend after a three year hiatus. The experience was positive from arrival to check-out time. There was an intense feeling of deja-vu during the entire stay. It felt as though I’d been transported to my first Vegas visit…and all of that excitement of discovering Sin City came flooding back.

Reno Old Vegas

Even if you’ve never been to Reno, you’re likely to feel right at home immediately. The local airport is small but efficient and well-equipped and it’s an easy drive to the heart of the city. You’ll recognize familiar names like El CortezCircus Circus and Harrah’s. In fact, the current Caesars Entertainment Corporation began life right here in Reno.

Reno Old Vegas

        Cool, overcast days are part of the seasonal weather variety in Reno…

For this stay, my hubby and I decided to try Whitney Peak Hotel, a newly-renovated building that was once known as Fitzgerald’s Casino Hotel. Yes, the same as THAT Fitzgerald’s on Fremont Street (now known as The D – a stupid rebranding that I still can’t make myself say out loud). Despite being less-than-impressed with the Whitney Peak website, we were curious to finally see the inside of this long-shuttered tower, so we took a chance. And what a breath of fresh air it was.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Before getting into details of Whitney Peak, I want to focus on what made Reno such a great alternative. First off, the ambiance was fantastic…very much like “lost Vegas”. The neon is bright and blinding, the tackiness is more atmospheric than literal (things in every major casino appeared to be polished and well-maintained) and employees were uniformly pleasant if not outright endearing.

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Reno10

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

When I first started visiting in 2011, Reno was in a really sad state. Casinos were shuttered, businesses were boarded up and vagrants lined the sidewalks. These days, those elements are disappearing at a rapid pace…and in their place are fun new restaurants, shops and hotels. Street fairs and events are commonplace and an eclectic vibe has moved into the area.

Reno Old Vegas

After storing our luggage at the Whitney Peak reservation desk (we had driven overnight from northern Oregon and arrived around breakfast time), it was off to the casinos to play while waiting to be notified of early check-in availability.

Reno Old Vegas

Hubby quickly ate through a few twenties at the slots (as is his norm), but I quadrupled my cash while enjoying some very tasty Bloody Marys at Eldorado Casino. And yes, just like in Vegas, your cocktails are free as you play.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Silver Legacy is Downtown Reno’s most popular hotel. Blame the Bloody Marys…

Next we strolled through adjacent Silver Legacy, a spacious and slightly more luxurious offering than its neighbor. Cocktail service was speedy here as well and the Bloody Marys were abundant with celery stalks, green beans, olives and lime. While scoping out dining and entertainment options for the weekend, we realized we were quite hungry. So, it was back the way we came for lunch at the Club Cal-Neva.

Reno Old Vegas

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Reno Old Vegas

The Cal-Neva originally opened in 1962 and is one of the longest-running and most historic casinos in the downtown area. For a while it also operated the adjacent Virginian Hotel. The sixteen-story Virginian had 125 rooms that were shuttered in 2004. In that way and many others, the casino’s history and resemblance to Binion’s Gambling Hall on Fremont Street are remarkable.

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Along with a large and popular William Hill Sportsbook, the biggest draw at Cal-Neva appears to be the Top Deck diner. If you’re a fan of the former Binion’s Original Coffee Shop in Vegas, (the basement location, not the current casino cafe) you’ll love Top Deck.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

The interior design is all hunter green and brass…very reminiscent of the Paradise Buffet at Fremont Hotel in Vegas. Open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays and from 6am to whenever the rest of the week, Top Deck has portions and prices that are insane.

If you’re a fan of Hash House a Go Go, you can get your Sage Fried Chicken Benedict fix at Harrah’s Reno. That hotel casino also has their own buffet named Carvings. While similar in size and quality to Flavors of Harrah’s Vegas, the prices are way lower (dinner is $20 vs. up to $33.99). There’s also Bavarian World for you Hofbrauhaus aficianados.

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Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

                    La Strada Italian Restaurant is an outstanding choice…

If fine dining is your thing, there are plenty of steakhouses and higher-end international options. We chose La Strada inside Eldorado Casino for our anniversary/Saturday-night pre-show meal. Ranked as one of the top ten Italian restaurants in the country with an award-winning wine list, La Strada was definitely a top-notch experience. And our tickets to Cirque Paris in the main showroom entitled us to 50% off our entrees.

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Speaking of the show, Cirque Paris is a new variety production at Eldorado that can give nearly any similar Vegas show a run for its money. A brilliant cast, excellent acts and clever production design was a little Zumanity, a slice of BAZ and a whole lot of Absinthe.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Cirque Paris evokes a turn-of-the-century Parisian cabaret. Sexy courtesans and muscular ushers help guests to their seats and mingle with patrons at a full-service circular bar in front of the main stage. If you’re lucky, one of them might slap a gold seal on your shoulder, which upgrades you to front-row seating that magically appears when the bar transforms into part of the stage.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

It turns out that the ushers and bar staff are actually performers. They bring in a row of lounge chairs to surround the stage before taking their places on the set. The effect is dazzling, as is the show itself.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Former members of Cirque du Soleil, along with other world-class acrobats and comedy acts, mix sexy flirtation with astounding athleticism. And at $59.99 for top-tier seats (which include champagne), Cirque Paris is one of the most outstanding entertainment deals you can find.

Reno Old Vegas

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Reno Old Vegas

Today’s Las Vegas seems intent to scrub away or tear down its own history, but Reno casinos embrace it. Walls are festooned with plaques commemorating legendary performances. The Cal-Neva is celebrating 56 years of operation by charging its customers even LESS than normal. And hotels don’t strip away their themes but boast about them.

Reno Old Vegas

Whitney Peak may be a newly-opened hotel but it dares to have a theme of its own. Unlike the office-building blandness of Aria, Whitney Peak offers a unique theme that appeals to sports enthusiasts of the literal kind. Armchair quarterbacks might feel at home in the city’s sportsbooks, but adventurous Spiderman wannabees are encouraged to climb right up the side of Whitney Peak’s exterior wall.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

The second floor of the new hotel is home to Base Camp Climbing Gym, an indoor rock-climbing facility and workout center. Guests of all ages can challenge their abilities with boulders in varying degrees of difficulty, all in a safe and monitored environment. Group workout classes, climbing instruction, fitness center and steam room/sauna combine into one unique experience.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

The rooms at Whitney Peak have been gloriously refitted and decorated with modern yet rugged appeal. We were kindly upgraded to a top-floor suite that included a top-of-the-line Keurig coffee maker, kitchen with microwave oven and fridge, dining counter and expansive seating area. Wi-fi is included in all rooms, it’s pet-friendly, purified water dispensers are located on each floor and the entire resort is smoke-free. And the most innovative thing of all? NO RESORT FEES!

Reno Old Vegas

Whitney Peak doesn’t have a casino…but it does have its own excellent restaurant called Roundabout Grill. Despite the top-notch service, excellent ambiance, live music and delicious cuisine, the prices aren’t a dollar more than you’d expect to pay in your own home town. And I dare say that Whitney Peak is LGBTQ-friendly, as we were treated with the utmost respect.

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Reno Old Vegas

The hotel offers a selection of Club Level rooms on the fifteenth floor. An accompanying lounge provides a small breakfast buffet, private sitting areas, computer access, board games and a happy hour every evening.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

   Atlantis Casino (above) evokes an underwater city theme with large domes…

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

   Peppermill is Reno’s most luxurious resort and features a rich Tuscany flavor…

If bigger resorts are your thing, the town is surrounded by modern, larger casino hotels. The Atlantis rivals most anything you can find on the Vegas Strip. Reno does Sin City one better by turning Peppermill Restaurant into an epic casino resort. The signature bright pinks, purples and ultra-high-def visuals of the popular north-Strip diner are amplified to the Nth degree at Peppermill Reno. It’s blinding, dazzling…and delicious.

Reno Old Vegas

For nostalgic moviegoers, the beloved West Wind 6 Drive-in Theater of Las Vegas has its own twin in Reno. Operated by the same company, West Wind El Rancho 4 offers four screens of first-run double-features (yes, two new films back-to-back) for only $7.50 per person ($5.50 on Tuesdays). Compare that to the typical price of a film at Century Theaters Orleans Casino, where a single evening movie costs $11.00 or higher.

Reno Old Vegas

Reno Old Vegas

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If watching films, enjoying great shows or gambling aren’t your thing, Reno has plenty of outdoor activities to relish like skiing, boating, hiking, camping, golfing, mountain biking and more. Gorgeous and glorious Lake Tahoe is a short day trip away and Tahoe has its own collection of hotel casinos like Harvey’s, Hard Rock, Biltmore and of course, another Harrah’s.

With all these positives, it’s no surprise that Reno is starting to get renewed media attention…and population growth. Vegas ABC affiliate KTNV-TV recently reported that the city outranks Las Vegas as a great place to live, citing cultural events, outdoor activities and job opportunities.

As you can see, there’s a whole lot to enjoy in Reno. A vacation there won’t drag your wallet through the mud and you’re sure to have a blast. There’s still nothing to replace the actual Las Vegas. But as the city you love continues to re-invent itself ad nauseam, you can still get your nostalgic “old Vegas” fix in Nevada’s other Sin City.

Reno Old Vegas

You may find yourself returning to Reno again and again.

Photos: Sammasseur, LaughlinNevada.net, WhitneyPeaks.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegas Pastry Chef Earns Top Nationwide Honor In NYC


Westgate’s Chef Stephen Sullivan “Takes The Cake” at 29th Annual Pastry Competition…

Admit it, Vegas fans…you love sweets. Chocolate, ice cream, pastries and desserts…the city is absolutely teeming with places to satisfy your cravings. We’ve got M & M’s World, Hershey’s Chocolate World, Ethel M. Candy Factory, Sugar Factory, The Chocolate Lounge and the World’s Biggest Chocolate Fountain at Bellagio.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

With all of those superlatives, it should come as no surprise that the nation’s top pastry chef calls Las Vegas his home. And since he acquired that title just a few weeks ago, you can be assured that the opportunity to savor the country’s best pastries and desserts will be available on your next trip. Just head over to Westgate Las Vegas and ask to sample the world-class creations of Chef Stephen Sullivan.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Before delving into how he achieved the title of U.S. 2018 Pastry Chef of the Year, let’s take a look at how things began. Just like all legendary journeys, Chef Stephen’s story plays larger than life. His path to the pastry shop began in the United States Marine Corps while serving during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Chef Sullivan was assigned to the kitchens and learned to bake for the overseas troops. With no previous background in baking or culinary training, his career seemed like destiny…and was about to become stellar.

Marine training gave me discipline. To make things at this level, you have to have training and discipline. God gave me artistic talent and the ability to care for quality and craftsmanship. Lots of what I learned ended up being self-taught.

To that end, Chef Sullivan opened up his way of thinking beyond the kitchen. He began by reading numerous books on pastry creation. That expanded to visiting museums and studying the shapes of sculptures, ceramics, pottery and glass artworks…something that he continues to do in his leisure time.

Sullivan’s formal education also became expansive, earning him certificates from Notter School of Pastry Arts, Jean Marie Auboine Chocolates and Pastry School, Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy the World Pastry Forum and many more.

The Long Beach California’s mentor in Iowa was Master Chef Richard Schneider, a member of the American Culinary Federation and a faculty member for Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas.

Chef Schneider has decades of experience in the hotel and casino industries, so it’s no surprise that his protege began a professional career in those types of kitchens as well. Chef Sullivan actually ended up as Executive Pastry Chef for his mentor’s son Chef Justin Schneider to open the new MGM Grand Casino Hotel in Detroit in 1999.

Hotel environments are great to spur creativity because I’ve been able to get better at different things…like coming up with great flavors and textures. Experimenting with various ingredients…sugars versus chocolates. Demands are unique at hotels than at regular restaurants or pastry shops. You get unpredictable requests. I can make something small that touches people or roll out something massive.

Massive, epic creations are indeed what had landed Chef Stephen his biggest accolades to date. While serving as Executive Pastry Chef for the renowned Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, he designed and constructed a detailed, scale model of Golden Gate Bridge entirely out of chocolate. The giant “dessert” was commissioned in honor of the actual bridge’s 75th anniversary and was unveiled at the nearby Ghirardelli Square.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

    Chef Sullivan’s chocolate recreation of the Golden Gate Bridge on display…

Work on the project involved about forty hours of making the various sections and another three to assemble them. But researching the actual structure (he visited the bridge itself to accurately depict sections that were partly obscured by the surrounding landscape) and coming up with the designs took much, much longer.

“I enjoy making 360-degree desserts” he told me. “Things that can be examined so they’ll look great from all angles. I want you to be able to see as many different details in the back and sides as from just looking straight on”.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Using that same philosophy, Chef Stephen must have reasoned “Why stop at things you can walk around when you can bake something that can be physically walked through?” By that I mean a life-sized gingerbread house, made from thousands of molasses and ginger “bricks”.  Those rectangular cakes were mortared together with frosting and capped by a nineteen-foot roof covered in chocolate shingles.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Chef Sullivan and his Fairmont Hotel colleague, Executive Chef jW Foster, constructed the gorgeous gingerbread house in 2010, an annual holiday tradition at the luxurious hotel. Guests and visitors were invited to walk freely through it.  As you might imagine, the gingerbread house was another media sensation, even receiving coverage in Martha Stewart Living magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

After making significant impact in Michigan and California, the future star of Westgate‘s already-stellar culinary team relocated to Sin City. This was to accept a position as Assistant Executive Pastry Chef at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas.

As much as he loved Las Vegas, the Californian’s home state was soon calling with an offer he couldn’t refuse…a position as Executive Pastry Chef for the iconic Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. One of the largest and most luxurious in the Four Seasons portfolio, the Beverly Wilshire gave Chef Stephen the opportunity to present his creations for some of the most discerning and famous clientele in the nation.

No matter what he came up with, Chef Sullivan made sure his desserts were rich in visual appeal to add to their fantastic taste. I asked him if he felt any type of emotional loss when his spectacular cakes and creations were cut into and consumed. “Not at all” he replied. “That’s their purpose. And I’ll always have the pictures”.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

One picture that will forever grace Chef Sullivan’s portfolio is above. It depicts his winning entries for the 29th Annual Pastry Chef Competition at the 2018 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show in New York City last month. This was an achievement eight years in the making…and Sullivan gives a great deal of credit to Westgate Las Vegas for helping to make it happen.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

The reason I came to Westgate to improve their offerings and operations. Developing a team that works together is the key. Yes, it’s a creative job, but everyone needs to be productive, too. It helps to have people who care.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

                     Chef Sullivan and Chef Steve Young at Edge Steakhouse…

That mutual support was very apparent when Chef Stephen was ready to throw his chef hat back into the competition world. After the super-successful presentation he and Westgate colleagues like Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young pulled off for the prestigious James Beard Foundation on Valentine’s Day 2017 (read about that event here), it was time for him and the resort to focus on the U.S. Pastry Competition in New York City.

Sullivan had first experienced this competition in 2010 and was eager to try his hand again. The timing needed to be right, though, as he wanted to be sure that everything at Westgate was running smoothly first. That required a self-sufficient support staff.

It helps to have people who care and are productive. I’m able to be successful because my team takes ownership of the business aspects. It wouldn’t be possible to advance my skills if this position required me to be stuck in an office, not working with the product.

Once he decided that 2018 would be the year to enter again, nearly two years of cumulative preparation were required:

I wanted to take things to New York represented the spirit and quality of Westgate. After all, they were sponsoring my participation and fully supportive. That was reassuring for me. There was never a time when I was nervous. It all came down to planning…lots of planning.

He also wanted to honor those who had dedicated their efforts with Chef Sullivan in the past. As he told So Good pastry magazine, his desire to win would “show respect to all the chefs who took their time to mentor and train me and show them that I did not waste their time”.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

       Being awarded Pastry Chef of 2016 at Las Vegas Food and Wine Festival

Each year’s U.S. Pastry Competition, hosted by Paris Gourmet, is built around a particular theme. The requirements are for one plated dessert, six signature pastries and a highly technical sculpture utilizing chocolate products by show sponsor Cacao Noel. In January 2018 it was announced that all entries would interpret “The Great Race” using any recognized form of racing…boating, cycling, swimming, etc.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Chef Sullivan quickly decided to design his showpiece around the horse racing he regularly sees on the world’s largest LED screen at Westgate Superbook. Once again, he committed plenty of personal time for research, studying the physical aspects and movements of horses and jockeys. And he wanted to make sure that the smallest details like flower petals and stems were convincing and lifelike.

After sketching the structure, he consulted another mentor who would become his coach for the project…World Chocolate Master and Executive Pastry Chef Vincent Pilon (of Cosmopolitan Hotel Casino). Together, they had less than two months to plan and design the entry in physical terms.

Chef Sullivan’s fascination with three-dimensional detailing depicted a horse and rider that seemingly leap out of the chocolate sculpture. To make it a reality, they had to fabricate various sections (horse, rider, trophy, flowers, etc) by selecting ingredients for color/shape/texture/flavor and a feasible means of bringing them all together. As you might imagine, the hours involved were intensive.

Once Chefs Sullivan and Pilon had everything created to their satisfaction, there was the matter of safely transporting all of it from Las Vegas to New York City. The delicate materials would require proper care to ensure that temperature and movement wouldn’t cause damage. Spare pieces were made as back-ups and everything was packed into custom-made wooden cases for the long flight.

Also traveling for the Westgate team were Chef Aaron Losch, head of the resort’s culinary operations (learn about him soon in an upcoming profile) and baker Alfonso Menendez.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

       Alfonso Menendez (left) and Chef Stephen at the U.S. Pastry Competion…

Mr. Menendez is Sullivan’s right-hand man and has twenty-five years of experience in the field. He came to Westgate with Chef Sullivan from the Beverly Wilshire to continue working together in the resort’s pastry shop. “The pastry family is small”, Sullivan told me. “We take care of those who have helped us”. Obviously it’s a partnership that Las Vegas pastry fans can be excited about.

All of that planning, effort, sponsorship, mentorship and collaboration came together when Chef Sullivan’s showpiece crossed the finish line in first place. He and the team brought home the title, trophy and the sculpture itself, which was displayed inside the Westgate Resort’s lobby.

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It’s pretty remarkable to take top honors in an event of this scale after only the second attempt, but Chef Sullivan knew he had come there to win. Reflecting on the experience with me in a quiet section of the resort’s Restaurant Row last month, I was struck by how humble and truly genuine this gentleman is.

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                  Wife Eva Sullivan joined Chef Stephen in New York City…

More than anything else, he seemed grateful to the people who believed in and sponsored him. And the mentors and colleagues who gave him their time. Most especially, he cherished the limitless support of wife Eva, who was by his side when the big moment came.

I got the impression that the happy couple enjoys the quieter side of Las Vegas. Despite living in a city of glitz and glamour, some of the best times they have are right at home. Sullivan told me they appreciate sharing their lives with parrot Puff and cats Zorrita (rescued in Atlanta) and Maya, whom they brought from Los Angeles.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Now that he’s crossed another major accomplishment off his list, Chef Sullivan envisions taking his skills to the international level. But first he wants to continue improving his contributions at Westgate Las Vegas. He feels that recent experiences at the competition will assist with that.

I always want to be a better manager and chef than the year before. Competing gives you the opportunity to advance your skills…not just in pastry-making, but in management and team-building. This experience allowed me to carry my team upward.

Those who own and run Westgate are a class-act. If your company doesn’t invest in you, then you can’t properly train your team and the guests won’t benefit. We do the same things here that I did in Beverly Hills. Westgate runs a smart business. They make the guest feel appreciated and still gives them value.

Anybody who comes here should feel good about spending their money.

Having spent three years at Westgate and being a part of the group that has reinvented this classic resort is something Chef Steven Sullivan will continue to treasure. It’s the little things, though, that he doesn’t want to overlook.

On a personal level, I want everything I make to continue being top level…and to still touch people. Hand-crafting a nice plated dessert or a good cookie are just as exciting as creating something on an epic scale.

With all the political crap going on in this world, the one thing that brings people together is food. Being a part of it is something special. That’s very exciting.

Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan

Chef Stephen Sullivan’s pastries, desserts and cakes are served throughout Westgate Las Vegas at banquets, special events, and daily at restaurants like Edge Steakhouse, Fresco Italiano, Sid’s Cafe and Fortuna.

Photos: Sammasseur. artandentertainme.blogspot.com, Chef Stephen Sullivan, Alfonso Menendez, Westgate Las Vegas, Beverly Wilshire via Facebook, U.S. Pastry Competition via Facebook, San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

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