Lost Vegas: The Fall of Neon’s Reign


Greg C. brings us another photo essay, this time on sadly-departed classic neon…

When you hear the words “Classic Vegas” or “Old Vegas,” your mind probably tends to gravitate towards Rat Pack shows or tales of the Mafia. For my photographer friend Greg C., the classics are spelled out in miles of glowing neon. Glorious, painstakingly-created works of art…

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There’s nothing like memories from past visits…arriving in the city under a blanket of darkness, turning onto the Strip and seeing the dazzling light show that stretched out for miles ahead of you.

Driving past the dual ivory and gold towers of Tropicana, gawking at the multi-colored rings of Bally’s futuristic entry, basking in the flickering of Bill’s Gambling Hall…eventually reaching the ultimate Vegas throwback…Sahara Hotel Casino.

For me, the colors of the Sahara will always hold a special place in the hall of memories. It was the second place that I stayed in the city. I vividly remember getting out of the taxi and listening to the buzzing of the neon tubes and on-off clicking of the bulbs around the porte -cochere.

It was chilly that night, but the signage and blinking lights gave off their own warmth, inviting me inside for an adventure not to be forgotten.

After my scathing analysis of current Vegas trends was published, Greg suggested taking a more visual approach to what we’ve recently lost around the Strip:

I am assembling photos of all the neon signage and cool structures that have vanished in Vegas since 2010. When the photos are seen all together, it creates a vivid idea of how much has been lost in only the last six years.

Greg is absolutely fascinated with Sin City architecture. His photo essays of Westgate Sky Villashidden structural oddities and recent implosions speak for themselves. Now he’s ready to turn his lens towards the demise of long-loved neon signage and very familiar landmarks.

The beautiful neon and bulbs from the Barbary Coast were kept by Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall….. but scrapped when they transformed the simple old-school place into the bland Cromwell….

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O’Shea’s gave its life so that Project Linq could live. The new version is a pale ghost of the original…a raucous, cheap, easy-access place for casual fun lovers to get plastered and grab some basic eats. Naturally, it had to be wiped out as it runs counter to the modern corporate ideal of high-end, high-budget fun. The old façade was awesome — lots of neon and flashing bulbs. Yep….get it outta here! No place for that in Vegas.

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Imperial Palace: Yeah…it had really gone downhill. Still, it was a cheap place to hang if you wanted to be on the central Strip and were on a budget.

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The entrance of Bally’s being destroyed to create the wonderful ghost town of retail shops — the “Not-so-Grand Bazaar”. And the cool purple-glowing section of Casino Royale, destroyed for the modern blah Walgreens and White Castle additions. Gotta have retail now, don’t we?

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And out on Flamingo and Paradise, the familiar neon outline of Mr. T (of Terrible’s) was replaced by Silver 7’s. Adios to $9.99 Baby Back Ribs….

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Tropicana is still there (well, most of it) but the old-school signage with neon and flashing bulbs is gone…as is the Folies Bergere, which was the resort’s trademark entertainment for most of its pre-renovation life.

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One of the older wings of the property was demolished in 2010 (the 300-wing)……half of it by a little-known implosion. Today’s look is much more bland without the alternating dark/white stripes and the gold-accent glass on the tower tops that was whited out during the refit. The tower along the Strip also had a cool electric-blue waterfall going down the end (which they turned dark — bad decision). We need all the neon we can get…..

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Convention Center Drive:  Greek Isles was not a big name for sure…..it was actually a dump–in bad repair. The hotel has the dubious distinction of being the most renamed joint in Vegas….Debbie Reynolds before Greek Isles…. and the Paddlewheel before that……..and the Royal Americana before that……and finally the Royal Inn (its original name when opened in 1970)…. it was bought by Clarion in 2010 and imploded wearing that name.

The elderly Somerset House Motel across the street dated to the early 60’s. It was leveled in 2011. Nothing but empty lots where both stood (seems to be a recurring trend in that area).

It’s hard to get excited by the new trends of “office-building chic”, multi-toned beige and monochromatic blah. Even some room renovations have stripped out colors in favor of hospital-room white (see Delano‘s clinical decor at Mandalay Bay, which feels like being in a padded cell). When Sahara became SLS, the cans of white paint must have numbered in the thousands.

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The north end of the Strip has clearly been hit the hardest. Not only have historic properties like New Frontier and the legendary Stardust been turned into rubble, but ballyhooed projects meant to rise from the debris have fallen into their own decay. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen where Riviera once stood.

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Can’t begin to say enough on this one–it’s already been talked about enough…. but it has to be mentioned as it was probably the greatest loss of neon glory in recent years…..

These days, visitors are greeted by huge LED screens that rival those in Times Square. Sure, they’re eye-catching, but also cold and clinical.

Fremont Street is the best remaining place to see authentic neon artworks in all their splendor. But they, too, are falling out of favor as hotels get purchased and modernized (think The D and Golden Gate).

If you love neon like Greg and I do, be sure to visit your favorites and snap some photos while you still can. The pile of carcasses at Neon Museum will most likely grow higher as Sin City continues to rip out its own electric heart.

Photos and quotes by Greg C

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Sky Villas Part 3: The Verona


Photographer Greg C concludes his photo essay on Westgate’s Sky Villas…

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In the world of casino hosts, the most coveted type of client is the “whale“. These super-high-rollers are enticed into visiting and remaining loyal by being showered with lavish treatment and perks. Usage of limousines and private jets, shopping excursions, star-studded parties…and of course, lodging in the hotel’s most palatial Sky Villas. All are intended to keep that high-roller on the property long enough to bet (and ideally to lose) large sums of money, and hopefully, to return in the future for more high-stakes wagering.

Sky Villas are rarely seen by the general public, and even more rarely are photographers allowed access to the degree that Greg C has been at Westgate Las Vegas. Today’s tour of the Verona Suite concludes his trilogy of photo sessions (take a look at the previous two here and here).

With any luck, we’ll be able to turn this collection into an ongoing series, one that gives our readers unparalleled access to those dreamy suites that adorn the clouds over Sin City. But for now, enjoy the Verona Sky Villa, courtesy of the staff and management at Westgate.

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“My first impression was like stepping into a palace of Old World splendor…a blend of Italian Renaissance and Roman Glory. They say that you come to Vegas to party and see the sights — the room is just to sleep and shower (and, you know). Well, not so here. The Suite itself is an adventure. You could make a vacation out of it”. – Greg C.

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The city of Verona in northern Italy is known for its art, architecture and spirit of romance. After all, William Shakespeare placed his titular characters in Verona for Romeo and Juliet. Once a colony of Rome, Verona is rich with statues, arches, domed ceilings, pillars and artistic motifs. True to its namesake, the Verona Suite at Westgate is ornate and overflowing with gorgeous detail and accents.

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The Verona was the first of the three to be built (completed December 1994) and is the largest at 15,400 square feet. If you were a fan of the Robin Leach series “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, you might recognize the three-bedroom Verona, which was once featured on that popular show.

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Filmmakers used the Verona Suite as a stand-in for Liberace’s residence in the 2013 biopic Behind The Candelabra.

“The piano is a nice touch. If you’re a piano player, you have another reason to “stay home” in your suite. Talk about a nice ambiance to practice”.

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“Those statues! The one staring back at you with imperious Roman hauteur….the demure young beauty protecting her modesty in the garden”.

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“Yep…another awesome bedroom “suite within a suite”. And, of course, TV in bed…just what a vacationing Roman senator would require in the 21st century”.

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“Relax by the fireplace AND soak in the tub at the same time”.

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New hotels in Las Vegas have become somewhat clinical, almost office-like complexes. Their suites are tech-heavy and massive, yet could easily be found in any other city. It’s nice to know that glossy, lavish places like the Verona Suite still exist in Vegas and are treated with reverence today. They’re living reminders of a time that represented the true spirit of Sin City.

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You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them.

There’s always room at the top. Don’t let them tell you that there is not. – Singer Adam Ant

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

Sky Villas Part 2: The Versailles


“Themes may be a bygone era in Vegas as a whole, but they live on atop Westgate” – Greg C.

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Wordless sighs…that’s a typical reaction to the trio of Sky Villas that sit atop the Westgate Las Vegas tower. Resting like a crown atop the existing 29 floors, they are brimming with opulence and European style. Ornate, sprawling, and bordering on gaudy, the TuscanyVersailles and Verona Sky Suites are the epitome of Las Vegas excess.

Photographer Greg C. returned for the second day of shooting at Westgate (part one is here) in 2016Having been up there myself, I can assure you that very few things can prepare you for the extravagance…but a fancy-schmancy elevator embellished with artwork, mirrors, and a padded throne…er, bench, certainly helps.

“This suite was called the “Conrad” until recently……IMO the switch to “Versailles” was a good one– the old name was at odds with the classy “Verona” and “Tuscany”…. Conrad sounded a bit too “Joe 6-pack” to my ears…. wonder how they ever picked it.” – Greg C.

entrance

Stepping through the rotunda and into the Versailles Suite, one might expect a choir of angels to be singing overhead. This three-bedroom accommodation spreads out over 12,600 square feet.

Security

High-rollers with concern for personal safety (and privacy) can bring their own “goons” to man the elevator rotunda’s security station. Bodyguards aren’t included in the villa’s rental rates, which start at $6,000.00 per night…and a three-night minimum.

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Impressive columns, hand-carved furniture, domed ceilings and plenty of genuine gold accents over a peaches-and-cream palette make it easy for you to pretend that you’re in a French castle.

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“Versailles does have plenty of decadent appeals. I could easily picture Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette living here if they got yanked into the 21st century. I almost expected to see servants in powdered wigs and pantaloons walking around in the suite…..those wall-sized paintings (and ceilings) really emphasize the theme.” – Greg C.

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After a workout in the private exercise facility, guests can relax at an intimate dipping pool situated within the grand courtyard.

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The two-story Versailles Suite has three bedrooms that can be accessed by a spiral staircase that rises 30 feet….or a dedicated elevator that is hidden behind an inconspicuous door.

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Luxury abounds in the multiple bedrooms, with mural-covered walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.

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This particular bedroom not only has the modern touch of a flat screen television at the foot of the bed, but also a terrace that opens onto this magnificent view.

Turnberry Place

“That open balcony – talk about the ultimate place to watch a sunset. You have a panoramic view of the Strip and mountains up there…a better view than many places, as Westgate is set back away from the Strip and allows you to really catch in the sights.” – Greg C.

View atop Westgate

“The upper-level balcony is well-concealed. You have to move back the drapes at one end of the windows to reveal the catches where the window swings out to allow access to the open deck. You can look down on the private pool area.” –  Greg C.

Deck area

Pool looking down from deck

What happens in Vegas might stay here, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be witnessed by somebody with a well-positioned telescope.

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Guests won’t have to go far to relax in a marble whirlpool bath, which also comes with a view.

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It may seem strange to use the word “small” in reference to the Versailles Suite, but it is the smallest sky villa at Westgate. The massive three-bedroom Verona Suite tops out at 15,400 square feet and will be featured in the final segment of this series.

If you happen to be a high roller in WOW Rewards Program and have scored access to any of the Westgate Villas or Specialty Suites, send me your photos and you might see them here. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting at the penny slots…playing small and dreaming of living large.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

 

Sky Villas That Will Blow You Away


Photographer Greg C. unveils Westgate’s legendary 30th floor sky suites…

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As the sun went down on the final days of Riviera, it’s unofficial title of “the Last Grand Old Dame of Vegas” quietly drifted eastward across Paradise Road. There, another vintage edifice continues to evolve and change while embracing its historic past. The more we explore its various facets and offerings, the more photographer Greg C. and I continue to be enamored by Westgate Las Vegas.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort began life as the International Hotel Casino back in 1969 and it rightfully took its place as one of the premiere destinations in the city. Elvis Presley was associated with the property much like Riviera and Sahara shared the Rat Pack. These days, while SLS Las Vegas has scraped away any significant remnants of the SaharaWestgate salutes its history with a bigger-than-life statue of Elvis right in the heart of the lobby.

As Greg puts it, “I have to admit I really like how the place looks and feels. It has the nostalgia of the 20th century blended with the hustle of the 21st. Kind of like Caesars on the Strip, they have managed to keep the place going without getting stale and musty”.

While roaming the property on my own, I noticed the care in the details with which the resort had changed over the logos from “Hilton” and “LVH” (Westgate’s other former names) to the current one. It was evident in the ones laid into the marble flooring, etched into door glass and positioned on directional signs…as if they had been there all along. Brass accents, gold-toned trim, and glass chandeliers had been lovingly restored and polished, too, giving a vibe of “old Vegas” that still looked somehow contemporary.

My three-night stay a while back included a sleepover in the massive and ornate Hollywood Suite, which was stunning. So much so that I requested that our resident photographer Greg C have the opportunity to visit and shoot more of the upper levels. Well, it took awhile for things to come together, but now I have plenty of Greg’s photos to share with you.

One of Westgate’s representatives was kind enough to take Greg on a tour in 2016. Their first stop was the four-bedroom Tuscany Suite.

Rotunda

As Greg describes it: “The Tuscany is one of three Sky Villas built on the top level (30th floor), this one atop the east wing. Its decor dates back to the Hilton era. When you go up by elevator, you step out into a rotunda with three doors, one for (each of) the three high roller suites”.

“The Tuscany is the second largest of the villas at 14,500 square feet. It was opened in 1995, and some of the space that it occupies had once been a penthouse that Elvis stayed in back in the 1970’s. It was vastly enlarged in the 90’s”.

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The pool view is an interior view as it is completely surrounded by the suite”. Greg C.

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You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them. They range from a serene Napa Valley decor to the pristine bliss of the Bahamas…and of course, that glitzy Hollywood Suite (below).

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Next up will be the Versailles Sky Suite

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur (Hollywood Suite)

Bring Your Summer Sexiness to THE PLAYGROUND


New adults-only day club advances the Westgate evolution and invites you to be a kid again…

Earlier this year I introduced you to Eddie Perales, the famed master mixologist who bubbles with as much excitement as his creations. Known to the world as a Guinness record-holder and creator of outlandish displays of liquid madness, Perales promised me that he would have more in store for the summer season at Westgate. After my most recent visit, I can say that he was true to his word…and then some.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

While other Vegas resort pools are just getting started, Westgate has been in the game since March. The sleek, sunny deck was opened two months ago with a heated pool, bright luxurious loungers, dazzling cabanas, attractive model-servers and a fresh, inviting color scheme.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Over on the south end of the sprawling deck, The Playground day club has been launched. This area’s designed for revelers twenty-one and over. Says Eddie “Our pool deck is a hidden gem. Families can share in the fun and excitement every day, but for the grown-ups, it’s The Playground“.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

The Playground invites partiers to toss their inhibitions out the window and act like a kid again. The 21-and-over space has daily DJ’s starting at 1pm. There are games like cornhole, chess and jenga and plenty of space to stretch out in VIP Cabanas. Drink specials, discounts for WOW Reward Card members and themed days should have fun-lovers coming back all summer.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

“Our ultimate goal here was to create something for everybody. The pool was like a blank canvas to me. It’s an great space and part of an iconic resort. I mean…just look at that view! We’re doing things in a different way here at Westgate” he added “and how we’re doing it is the key”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Eddie’s unique background in the world of beverage service gives him a distinctive edge that few in the city can boast about. “I’ve worked on the supplier side as well as being a mixologist, so I understand all aspects of this business. I’ve been able to identify liquor partners that other resorts blindly miss. We highlight them to make unique drinks that you won’t be able to find elsewhere”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

For instance, Eddie is big on Santoyo Grand Leyenda Organic Tequila. The premium tequila is derived from agave grown on Mexican lands that must be virgin for at least four years. Tequila Tuesdays feature the product and WOW Reward Card members get happy hour prices all day. “You may remember that I was once a Tequila Ambassador. I know my tequilas, and this one is terrific”.

Another hot-ticket new partnership is with the legendary Dole Whip. That frozen pineapple soft-serve from Oahu’s Dole Plantation was once an exclusive to guests of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Now, along with The Golden Tiki and Cowabunga Bay Water Park, Westgate is one of the few places in the continental U.S. to offer the refreshing treat.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

As you’ve probably guessed, Perales created a special cocktail using Dole Whip and Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum. Topped with a slice of fresh pineapple and an orchid, the Dole Whip Cocktail ($13) comes with both a spoon and a sipping straw.

The Playground‘s Signature Cocktail Menu has thirteen varieties, each running thirteen dollars. Eddie points out that any of them can be ordered as a pitcher for $27, which equals four servings for roughly the price of two. “Our prices are way cheaper than what you’ll find on the Strip”.

Perales has a signature style of combining fresh fruits, bright colors and unusual combinations for the brightest, funnest cocktails imaginable. One look above will show you what I mean…a bright array of tempting and luscious indulgences that will have you feeling happier with each sun-drenched sip.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Perales and I met early one morning at The Playground before the crowd started kicking up. After sampling all thirteen concoctions with names like Strawberry Blonde (Ketel One, lemonade, Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade), Bigger in Texas (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime, Baritt’s Ginger Beer), Passion Fruit Smash and Bananarama, I had to choose one to relax and chat over.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

               Eddie whipped me up a special size of Fireball Mojito…in a bucket!

Eddie watched closely as I stood up…and reached for the Fireball Mojito (Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, lime, mint and club soda). “Really?” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite, too. People said that you can’t do something like that. So of course I had to try it”. And yes, it was a fabulous contrast of flavors that had me back for an industrial-sized serving the next day.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Along with The Playground‘s new specialties, there are also familiar frozen drinks, beer, wine, and what Eddie calls “The least expensive bottle service in Las Vegas. It starts off at $65 for Hug L’originale Sparkling Wine (a European import that’s being called the hottest brand for summer 2018). Nobody else offers bottle service at that kind of price”.

Next to The Playground, Cabana Pool Bar and Grill offers a wide variety of snacks and meals. Choose from pizzas, beef and turkey burgers, sandwiches, wraps and healthier fare like California Rolls and Chef Bruno Morabito‘s famous Mojito Fruit Bowl from Sid’s Cafe. Of course, all of these items and more can be brought directly to your chair or cabana by the poolside servers. Check out the online menu here.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Also ready for roll-out are cabana-side cocktail carts. “I was inspired by the table-side guacamole carts at Mexican restaurants. Why not do that for cocktails? We can fill them with colorful fresh fruits and make drinks right at your own space”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Sounds like a great idea to me…why bother to leave your lounger when you can be pampered like a celebrity? And the sight will surely attract new friends to your space. Eddie’s presentation certainly was a hit with these Vegas newbies who came over to hang out with me.

And speaking of pampering, adjacent Serenity Spa has joined The Playground to formulate a collection of Summer Spa Cocktail Body Treatments. Based on your favorite Playground Signature Cocktail, these pedicures and body scrubs include a serving of the actual cocktail, too.

Fox-5 KVVU-TV recently ran this segment on the Playground/Serenity Spa mash-up:

http://www.fox5vegas.com/clip/14352395/kicking-it-poolside-at-westgate-spa-pool

And here’s a terrific video of Eddie and the team in full “party mode” –

With the summer pool season just gearing up, now’s the perfect time to discover The Playground. You can party like a rock star without breaking the bank. And you might make a few sexy new friends before pool season is over. I know I will…wink wink.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

The Playground launches daily at 1 pm during the summer season at Westgate Las Vegas Casino Resort, 3000 Paradise Road.

Photos: Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

MAGIC OF JEN KRAMER Is Delightful, Frothy Fun


Award-winning illusionist brings laughter, surprises and boundless charm to Westgate’s Cabaret Theater…

P.T. Barnum has one of the most memorable legacies in entertainment history. His recent resurgence in popularity, thanks to “The Greatest Showman“, reminds us that despite decades of change in entertainment culture, the master of deception had universal ideas:

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”. – P.T. Barnum

In the world of magic shows, there is an extremely familiar collection of illusions that most entertainers fall back on: card tricks, disappearing/reappearing, nail-biting escapes, “mind reading”, audience predictions and the classic saw-a-lady-in-half are all favorites. What makes or breaks these acts is how they are presented….and whether or not the entertainer is indeed a great showman. Or in this case, show person.

Much has been made in other media about the disproportionate amount of male magicians. I won’t belabor the point other than to say that it’s refreshing to see a lovely young lady front and center as the headliner of a magic show. And Jen Kramer has certainly earned her place on a Las Vegas stage.

Magic of Jen Kramer

Already familiar to fans of television shows like Masters of Illusions and Penn and Teller: Fool Us, Ms. Kramer has risen quickly through the ranks of the magical boys club. Think of her as a “Hermoine Granger” to David Goldrake‘s “Harry Potter”. Despite a young age (she graduated from Yale University in 2014), Jen’s already received honors such as the Merlin Award and Female Magician of the Year 2016 by the International Magicians Society.

Ms. Kramer kicked off her new residency at Westgate Las Vegas just last week. I attended on the second evening of what might be considered a soft opening. Despite a couple of minor technical gaffes, it was a fast-moving and altogether enjoyable 70 minutes. The intimate Westgate Cabaret is the ideal location for Jen’s illusions, many of which rely on detailed sleight of hand.

Magic of Jen Kramer

What Magic of Jen Kramer lacks in large production values is made up for with plenty of comedy, audience participation and charm. Kramer brims with enthusiasm for her craft, drawing the audience into her prestidigitation with a magnetism that Criss Angel could only hope to match.

Kramer’s ability to engage her guests is quite noteworthy. I immediately fell for this young performer, despite know nothing about her background or achievements. What followed that evening was indeed a collection of tried-and-true favorites, but delivered with a next-generation spin.

Magic of Jen Kramer

While the show could actually use some theatrical bombast, it’s off to a solid start. I’ll avoid describing individual illusions (nobody likes review spoilers, anyway). Instead, lets boast about the fact that Jen was able to pull off the near-impossible by stunning me with a few tricks that I’d never seen before (the Rubik’s Cube is still haunting me). That in itself makes this production worthy of the admission price.

The family-friendly show is suitable for all ages and an early start time makes it a perfect pairing for dinner at one of Westgate‘s adjacent restaurants (yes, that’s a blatant plug since I’m a known fan of their dining offerings).

Magic of Jen Kramer

Surprise me once and you can consider me a fan. Do it twice and I’ll call you amazing. Jen Kramer astounded me numerous times in her new residency. So I guess you can label me a “groupie”. Being a fan of Vegas magic acts, that can be considered high praise.

Magic of Jen Kramer performs Wednesday through Saturday at 6pm. Tickets start at $19.99 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here or purchased at the Westgate Box Office. 

Photos: Jen Kramer, Westgate Las Vegas, Beckett Studios, Sammasseur

 

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Aaron Losch


Getting to know the big man behind the resort’s food and beverage services…

Last fall I met with one of Westgate Resort‘s executive team to discuss this series on their culinary team. During our luncheon we were unexpectedly joined by a third person. Big, burly, and with a serious expression on his face, this mountain of a man made an imposing first impression. Then he broke into an enormous smile…and everything changed.

Chef Aaron Losch is a fascinating person to watch in action. Omnipresent, he seems to be everywhere at once. Being Director of Culinary Operations over the vast array of Westgate’s food and beverages, that perception surely works to his advantage. His presence is felt even when he’s not around.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                Westgate’s Fresco Italiano’s lounge and bar area…

Now that I’ve covered most of the Westgate dining outlets at this point, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Chef Losch. He’s introduced me to other members of his team, invited me to sample new offerings at The Court and greeted me in passing while going about his day. But we never got to sit down and actually converse in depth until recently.

We started off our interview by getting a little dirty, so to speak. I’d checked out Chef Losch’s Facebook page and was fascinated by posts about him participating in Tough Mudder competitions. The images were a far cry from his usual pristine white attire, so I had to find out how someone gets involved in those extremely dirty endurance events.

“Why not do something insanely stupid?” was his remarkably direct response.  The trendy gauntlet-like courses are usually over ten miles long and test mental as well as physical strengths. “Your first one is a rite of passage. Every first-timer gets an electric shock” he said.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

These courses are made up of several kinds of obstacles, like plunges into ice water, monkey bars slicked with butter…and live wires hanging over a field of mud. “It’s really extreme” he laughed. “People go down from the electric shocks and they don’t get up. It’s really funny to watch”.

My face must have conveyed its own kind of shock, as Chef Aaron continued to laugh. He told me that his nine-year-old daughter participates in Tough Mudder, too. Losch doesn’t worry about coddling her, though. A natural prankster, he has a unique angle on parenting. “I’m the kind of dad who wraps grapes to make them look like chocolate Easter eggs”.

The Losch family lifestyle is all about adventure. Chef Aaron, wife Jamie and children Abbie (9) and Ethan (7) love to travel. Whether it’s zip-lining in Mexico, swimming with dolphins, visiting the Statue of Liberty or dabbling in Harry Potter’s magic at Universal Studios California, the quartet of thrill-seekers always has a blast.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Before marrying Jamie eleven years ago, Losch had already covered a lot of ground in the culinary world. Born in Santa Monica, he grew up in Port Angeles Washington. At nineteen he moved to my area of Portland Oregon to enroll in Western Culinary Institute. The school later became Le Cordon Bleu of Portland before permanently closing its doors in 2017.

Like many of his Westgate colleagues, Chef Aaron got his first taste of kitchen experience at an early age. “My parents told me to get a job while I was in high school. I applied for a dishwashing spot at the family restaurant of a friend. It was one of only two fine-dining restaurants in Port Angeles”.

It wasn’t long before Losch moved from scrubbing plates to working on the line. “After awhile I got to do prep in the kitchen and ended up being at the restaurant for three years. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush!”. That thrill motivated the budding chef to change his career plans from accounting to culinary school.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                             The Mansion at MGM Grand…

Moving to Vegas, Chef Aaron gained experience in several high profile locations. “Michael Mina’s Nobhill Tavern was my intro to fine dining in Las Vegas”. That famed spot, which was home to the legendary Cable Car Cocktail, shuttered in 2013. His tenure at MGM Grand also included The Mansion, one of the most opulent and revered destinations in the city. Despite the prestige of working in that exclusive location, the pace just wasn’t for him. “I wanted to shoot myself. It was so up-and-down there. I wanted volume!”.

Within those pre-Westgate years were a collection of valuable opportunities and beneficial experiences. One of them was the chance to open a restaurant from the ground up for Piero Selvaggio. “Caffe Giorgio Ristorante at Mandalay Place was the first one that I got to build out. It wasn’t the fit I was looking for either, so I only lasted eight months”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

BOA Steakhouse at Forum Shops of Caesars was more to Losch’s liking. “I walked in, got recognized and was hired on the spot. I went from Sous Chef to Executive Sous Chef and remained there for another year and a half”.

Throughout the ensuing years, quality and prestige went hand-in-hand in the varied establishments that added to Chef Aaron’s portfolio. Renaissance Hotel (home to ENVY Steakhouse), Wynn/Encore, T-Bones Chophouse at Red Rock Resort…all fabulous restaurants recognized for their top-quality dining. While at T-Bones, he received an award for his contributions to the Vegas Food and Wine Festival.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Chef Losch was wooed away from Red Rock by an opportunity to work with famed hotelier/restaurateur Chef Alex Stratta. Stratta is best known to Las Vegans as the name behind Alex and Stratta at Wynn Las Vegas. Hired as Corporate Executive Chef for the Stratta Restaurant group, his time there was a mixed blessing.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                With Chef Alex Stratta (center) at TAPAS…

“The level that Chef Stratta was doing things was at one I’d never seen before”, he told me. Despite those high ambitions, Stratta’s desire to bring Strip-quality fare to outlying areas didn’t quite work out. Efforts such as Tapas at Tivoli Village and an Italian steakhouse at The Gramercy either closed quickly or didn’t happen at all. A partnership with Vegas-based Preferred Restaurant Brands also collapsed.

But such is life in a profession where concepts soar, tastes change and new opportunities lie in wait. For Chef Losch, that next adventure would take place at a legendary destination, itself in the midst of reinvention and elevation.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                          Westgate’s Silk Road Asian Bistro…

Now the new Executive Chef of Sid’s Cafe, Losch worked alongside noteworthy names like Grant MacPherson and Charles Wilson. Last August he accepted a promotion to his current position. “As Director of Culinary Operations, my job is to help the chefs in the room to be creative”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                         With award-winning Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan…

“I’ve worked with a lot of really good chefs” he continued “but some are not always the best people. I’ve been very lucky with my team here”. That collection includes the chefs that I’ve previously profiled on this site as well as his four assistants. Together they’re the driving force behind the restaurants, events, catering and banquet menus.

Being in charge of so many aspects of a department can be daunting, but out of it comes results. “I want to earn my position…I’m my own worst critic. The pressure comes from wanting to succeed”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                                          Fresco Italiano…

As the resort continues to evolve alongside ever-changing preferences, so do the concepts that Westgate’s culinary team rolls out. “Falling back on ‘What we always do’ never works. If you’re continuously doing the same thing, time after time, but expecting a different result…well, that’s the definition of insanity. You have to change and re-evaluate your approach. Of course, ‘corporate’ has their own ideas, too. You’ve got to integrate that all together. Ultimately, I want my bosses to succeed”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                Entrance to Westgate’s “Restaurant Row”…

During our conversation, Chef Losch and I were joined by Gabrielle PerezGeneral Manager of Casual Dining. She and Chef Aaron had previously worked together at Wynn Las Vegas. It was clear from their camaraderie that being at Westgate was a positive and beneficial change of pace. Especially from the corporate mentality at other Vegas resorts.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

“I enjoy building strong and dynamic teams that are passionate, committed and engaged to making hospitality fun, beautiful and profitable”, she told me. “I love the atmosphere at Westgate. There’s lots of professionalism here. So much of it that I’m continually amazed. But it’s mixed with fun and plenty of creativity”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Such positive words coming from a member of his own team must make Chef Aaron feel very proud. Despite the challenges of his field, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his personal time as much if the culinary team wasn’t a smooth-running machine.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

After our interview, Chef Aaron showed me his office in the depths of the resort’s inner workings. Covering the walls and shelves were memorabilia and mementos. Crests from Game of Thrones. Disney character statues. Bottles of Las Vegas Knights wine. “I LOVE the Knights”, he exclaimed.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

When I mentioned how serene things seemed in his personal space, Chef Aaron chuckled. “It’s not always this way. Sometimes I have a line of people out the door. Situations need to be addressed, emergencies come up, decisions need to be made. But that’s why I’m here”.

With things going so well at Westgate, it’s safe to say that everyone is glad that Chef Aaron is the big man in charge. And that’s why dining at the re-invigorated off-Strip resort is such a satisfying and mouth-watering experience.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

For a list of Westgate’s casual and fine dining options, menus and operating hours, click here.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Aaron Losch, Jamie Losch, Vegas.com, Vegas Food and Wine Festival, Tough Mudder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Guys of Vegas: Eye of the Beholder


Checking out the beauty of Sin City’s hunks from both sides of the lens…

For some guys, the camera is like a best friend. It can tell a story, show the world who you are…or allow you to share your vision with others. In this edition of “Hot Guys of Vegas”, I introduce you to professional models and photographers who are just as beautiful.

NICK AYLER – Deejay/model/actor

 

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                                                          Nick Ayler

Where you’ve seen him – Bond at Cosmopolitan, Abercrombie & Fitch, GQ

Some men make the world look better just by being so handsome. Deejay/actor/model Nick Ayler makes it sound better too. This hot hunk is a nightclub favorite who brings his own take on music to dance spots in Vegas, Los Angeles and around the world.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

I was first introduced to Nick when he was heating up the crowd at Bally’s Liaison Nightclub, a unique experiment in Strip-side gay nightlife by legendary club purveyor Victor Drai. Handsome, chiseled and flashing a boyish smile that kept his simmering sex appeal in balance, the stud from Buffalo NY instantly won me over.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Ayler’s talents have been a favorite at LGBTQ spots like Piranha and the former Share. As you might imagine, having a shirtless, muscular hunk at the turntables tends to draw that type of crowd. But as you can see below, it takes all kinds of revelers to fill Nick’s dance floor.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

In a culture where being a multi-hyphenate is a requirement, Ayler has been racking up stacks of additions to his resume. Actor, model, humanitarian, philosopher, music producer, percussionist and fitness guru are all ingredients in the Nick Ayler cocktail. But even a muscle hunk needs a little junk food sometimes.

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Noteworthy traits – smoldering gaze, electric charisma

 

Preston Thompson – model/dancer/fitness competitor

 

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                                                      Preston Thompson

Where you’ve seen him – romance novel covers, private gigs, photo ops on the Strip

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If you’re a regular reader, you know that I cover the Mr. Olympia Fitness Expo every year. It’s hard to stand out in that type of crowd, but Preston Thompson makes it look easy. He’s earned the right to lift up his shirt in front of that “Muscle and Fitness” banner.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Preston came to Sin City two years ago by way of Atlanta. He grew up in a log house on a farm in Knoxville, TN then moved through five different states before heading for the bright lights of the Strip.

When he arrived, the twenty-six-year-old hunk was determined to take Las Vegas by storm: “Every move I make is calculated” he says. “This isn’t a guessing game”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Now that he’s here, Preston juggles many different hats…and shirts, costumes and gear. You’ll find him on the cover of romance novels by Vegas-based Wander Aguiar Photography. And he shakes up parties and private events by performing as “Bradley” for Wild Entertainment, the Steve Kim entertainment agency I told you all about right here.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Like Thompson, gal pal Natasha Kirby is a fitness enthusiast. She recently competed in the Salt Lake City Showdown, and the couple hopes to do fitness competitions together soon.

In their spare time, Natasha and Preston like to visit shelters just to spend quality time with the animals. Preston is especially fond of felines. Although having pets isn’t currently permitted where he lives, adopting cats is high on the list of Preston’s goals.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Despite his brawny frame and steely gaze, Preston is a philosopher at heart:

When you figure out in life that everything’s made to be broken….then you’ll truly understand how fragile life is. Just make me a Believer and I’ll follow… no matter the path.

All that introspection might be a little heavy at times, so he likes to lighten things up with a little outward inspection. By that I mean lots of selfies through the years…to chart his progress, of course:

On some evenings, you might spot Preston and his beefy friends (they call themselves G.I. Hoes) posing for photographs in front of Planet Hollywood or at the Linq Promenade. While other characters might hide behind padded suits or just stand there for a tip, Preston struts his stuff…and sometimes defies the laws of gravity.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Noteworthy traits – deep blue eyes, action-movie physique

 

Noel Dahl – photographer/humanitarian

 

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                                                                  Noel Dahl

Where you’ve seen him – charity events, cover of Las Vegas Night Beat

Most photographers like to let their pictures do the talking while they remain in the background. For Noel Dahl, those photos recently put him in the center of a controversy that played out on a Las Vegas television station.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

You might remember Dahl from an expose I penned earlier this year. In it, I described how the highly-respected photographer was having his tasteful work slammed by ABC affiliate KTNV-TV as “lewdness”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

As always, this man with a generous and forgiving soul moved forward and continued to support the community as he has done for years. From raising fund for AIDS programs to providing food for the needy, Dahl approaches life with dignity and respect for all.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                         Noel Dahl and friends serving food to the homeless…

Last year Noel created a pin-up calendar featuring all-male subjects and donated 100 percent of the proceeds to charity:

Throughout my years as a photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting countless men for my own portfolio, but I have always striven to find a way of utilizing my photography skills to give back to the Las Vegas community. I hope to bring together local talent, the photographer community, and with the help of a few graciously supportive company sponsorships, I hope to rally support for the HIV/AIDS community and unite the LGBT community in Las Vegas.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

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Noel’s work for traditional family-style landmarks like weddings, engagements and portraits are stunning pieces of art. And his sexy fitness/physique photography draws performers from numerous Las Vegas productions like Aussie Heat, Zumanity, WOW – World of Wonder and Men of Sapphire.

“I love my job but what I love more is working with beautiful souls” said Noel. Those souls include gorgeous animals like his cat Jelly, who recently crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.

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“It’s hard to be alone in my house/studio and not have him. He was always next to me, following me around. I have over thirty-one thousand pics, and almost half of them are of Jelly”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Hubby Justin Dahl, who’s an events services manager for MGM Resorts, shares Noel’s grief over their lost fellow. But they have several other cats in the family to keep the couple’s hearts warm. As Justin told me “What can I say? I’m a sucker for a cute face”.

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That would explain why he and Noel make for such a photogenic couple. Good thing they’re both as great in front of the camera as Noel is behind it.

Noteworthy traits – love for all creatures, unbeatable personal style

 

Ryan Worley – dancer/model/NPC competitor

 

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                                                            Ryan Worley

Where you’ve seen him – Chippendales, charity events, NeuroLYFT fitness training

Sometimes it’s rough to be the new guy on a team. Not so for Ryan Worley. This twenty-seven year old hunk joined Chippendales last summer and hit the ground running. Ryan immediately became an audience favorite, attracting a legion of fans with his winning smile, shredded physique and fun-loving spirit.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Ryan’s colleagues at Chippendales tell me that they’re smitten by his infectious spirit and outrageous sense of humor. They say he’s unpredictable, spontaneous and wonderfully good-natured. I hear he’s a pretty good guitar player, too.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Those fun-loving qualities undoubtedly help Worley and his cast-mates get through arduous rehearsals, numerous public appearances and a wide variety of charity events.

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Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

It was only last July that the Danville, California native auditioned for Chippendales. Excitedly posting the news on his Facebook page that he was joining the world-famous revue, Ryan packed up and headed for Sin City. He quickly adjusted to a new life of celebrity encounters, calendar shoots and a real highlight: sharing the stage with reknowned dancer/choreographer/philanthropist Tony Dovolani.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

While all of this sudden fame might to go the heads of lesser men, Ryan has remained humble and somewhat awestruck by the experience. He’s earned his place in the spotlight by remaining true to his goals and pushing towards success:

Never stop working toward your dreams regardless of what people think!! People will always try to push their insecurities and fears on you!

Having been raised in the Mormon religion, it must have raised a few eyebrows when Ryan announced he was about to become a sexy performer in Sin City. “It was a crazy transition”, he laughed. Ryan promises to tell me about that journey and lots more for an upcoming profile article. Stay tuned.

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This summer, the fitness enthusiast and NPC competitor will be working even harder to prepare for his next bodybuilding show. Worley will be squaring off against other hard-bodied athletes in the “classic physique” category for the NPC Las Vegas Classic at UNLV‘s campus on November third.

I competed in bodybuilding in the NPC (National Physique Committee) back in 2014. Fitness is a huge passion of mine. It’s been the only constant in my life.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

If that wasn’t already enough to fill Ryan’s slate, he’s teamed up with fellow Chippendale star Matthew Marshall to launch a new fitness brand called NeuroLYFT. The site and service promise an innovative approach to wellness:

Matt and I teach all the hacks to fitness. In addition, we focus on getting your mindset right for you to continue a healthy lifestyle. Meditation, nutrition and training are what we focus on…and in that order.

Most personal trainers only take you through workouts and then you are left on your own with the most important aspects of fitness. That’s why people fail.

At NeuroLYFT, we make the protocol to wellness easier. From life to the kitchen to the gym. We take your goals and reformat your life to show you the easiest, most effective way to transcend you past your fitness goals.

Staying in shape is not only a passion of mine but my career as well. It’s what I love to do. I want to share my passion with others and help them achieve their ideal physique…whatever that may be.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

One look at the above photo proves that Ryan Worley knows how to inspire others. Where do we sign up?

Noteworthy traits – minimal body-fat level, maximum heartthrob appeal

 

Patrick Rivera – photographer/model/musician

 

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

                                                          Patrick Rivera

Where you’ve seen him – wherever gorgeous people are to be found

Apparently it’s not that unusual for professional photographers to look fantastic in front the lens, too. Such is the case for Patrick Rivera, a highly-respected camera-jockey whose services are sought after by many of the movers and shakers of Sin City.

Patrick’s gorgeous wife Mariah Nieslanik Rivera, dance captain and performer in FANTASY at Luxor, was behind the camera for this portrait shot above. But as she joked later, “He did the settings and everything… I just clicked the button”.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Having covered lots of red carpet events, I know that lugging camera equipment around can be quite a workout. In Patrick’s case, those efforts have paid off in spades. This mountain of imposing muscle looks fierce, especially when he’s relieved of his shirt. Whatever is in that camera case is working.

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Patrick’s work is everywhere in Sin City….on billboards, in nightclubs, on magazine covers and in performer portfolios. His commercial clients cover the gamut from Chippendales to skin care lines and fitness services.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

While Patrick enjoys the lighthearted aspects of his career, he’s quick to point out the seriousness of a picture’s lasting impression. He believes that one photograph has the ability to shape the way you feel and bring you into the moment with just one look.

To fully capture the spirit of an artistic subject, it is essential that the photographer embodies the lived experiences of many…having to dwell in darkness to dance in the light.

Art captures the intersection and interpretation of life’s saints and serpents, life’s triumphs and  tragedies…reflecting the close calls, the soulful escapes, the beauty and raw emotion of our kindred spirit.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Patrick and Mariah share an entertaining and heartwarming view of Las Vegas. They’ve even hosted their own show on WCOBM.TV called “All About It! with Pat & Mariah“.

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The fun-loving couple are currently enjoying some well-deserved sunshine on the sands of Hawaii. While they’re relaxing, Patrick’s latest project has been stirring up some excitement in the media. It’s a session with gifted singer/actress Ruby Lewis, who’s about to light up the Strip in her forthcoming production MARILYN – The New Musical. Enjoy!

 

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                                     Patrick with MARILYN star Ruby Lewis

Noteworthy traits – muscles and tattoos, ability to make stars shine brighter

 

Photos: Nick Ayler/Preston Thompson/Noel Dahl/Justin Dahl/Patrick Rivera/Ryan Worley via Facebook, Gelena Vainblat, Wander Aguir Photography, Noel Dahl Photo Studio, Patrick Rivera Studio. Cover photo by Jean N. Young

Hidden Vegas: Aladdin’s Desert Passage


Looking skyward for the next entry in my series…

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Finding remnants from the bygone days of Vegas is always a treat. I’ve been scouring the mezzanines, peering under tarps and poking a camera through keyholes to add to my Hidden Vegas series. In the previous installment, I even flew overhead to photograph massive construction projects that are hidden from the average tourist’s point of view.

Recently I looked to the skies once more…from the inside of Miracle Mile Shops of Planet Hollywood. And there I found remains of the formerly Arabian-themed Desert Passage Shops.

Desert Passage

I started coming to Las Vegas in 2005, and had only been through the Aladdin Resort once or twice. At that time, the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain was in deep trouble, with closures taking place around the country.

Desert Passage

The announcement that Aladdin would be re-branded as Planet Hollywood Hotel Casino seemed very foolhardy. Sure, the movement to de-theme Strip resorts was in full swing, and Middle-eastern-flavored places like Aladdin and Sahara had fallen out of fashion in a post-9/11 world. But Planet Hollywood??? That decision seemed as out-of-touch as renaming it after dying restaurant chains like Chi-Chi’s or Kenny Roger’s Roasters.

Shows how much I knew, as Planet Hollywood Hotel is now a hip, popular middle-tier destination, with stars like Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani on the marquee. Somehow their biggest draw was Britney Spears, proving that there’s still plenty of dried-up cheese on the Planet Hollywood menu.

Desert Passage

The existing hotel is the second Aladdin to be built on this part of the Strip. The original opened in 1966 and was imploded in 1998. A new Aladdin was rebuilt from the ground up and opened its doors in 2000. Seven years later it officially became Planet Hollywood Resort.

Desert Passage

The Arabian motif was gradually stripped from both the hotel and adjoining Desert Passage Shops, which received a new frontage and glossy modern exterior. Inside, the corridors got a top-to-bottom makeover. Most of the ceiling was painted into a matte-gray finish, discouraging shoppers from gazing upward at the former faux skies.

However, not everything was taken away. There are two distinct areas within the mall where the original decor survives. One surrounds the V Theater complex and fountain show.

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

The other is nestled under the indoor rainstorm.

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Perhaps it’s telling that the domes, citadels and faux village structures that comprise the Desert Passage remnants exist where other attractions demand your attention…and offer a convenient distraction. You’ll find be hard-pressed to find any mention of them on the glitzy, contemporary Miracle Mile website.

Desert Passage

The Arabian architecture of Desert Passage is clearly…and hilariously…out-of-sync with the rest of the Mile.

Desert Passage

Until very recently, the south-facing exterior of the mall along Harmon Avenue still carried the Aladdin facade. The removal of Krave nightclub and eventual opening of Buffalo Wild Wings and another Nacho Daddy finally jump-started the finishing of that section.

Hidden Vegas

Desert Passage

It’s uncertain if the remaining Arabic interior will eventually get stripped out and de-themed. But for the time being, it’s another chapter in my book of Vegas curiosities.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been revised with updated information.

Images: Sammasseur with additional stills from Miracle Mile Shops via Facebork, wishuwerehere.com and Greg C.

Hidden Vegas: Man-made Wonders from the Sky

I do a fly-over of the Valley to reveal more unusual structures….

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I’ve had a great time bringing you our series of “Hidden Vegas” oddities…things that are sometimes right under your nose. Like the abandoned Rocket Ship Ride at Circus Circus. A cleverly-hidden unfinished St. Regis Tower at Venetian. The massive phallic erection inside Shops at Crystals. Today’s entries aren’t on the Strip, but if you’ve flown into the city a few times, you’ve no doubt seen one or more.

First up is Ascaya, a failed luxury housing project. This massive abandoned development in the Henderson area is etched into the side of the McCullough mountain range. It’s easy to spot from the sky, southeast of the Strip and not far (when viewing from a plane seat, that is) from the M Resort.

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The Ascaya project was intended to provide 331 lots for high-end mansions. It was shut down and barricaded in 2009, after more than $200 million was spent on blasting into the mountainside to construct housing pads and connecting roadways.

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My buddy, photographer Greg C. offered these memories:

I recall shooting some pics up there in the foothills near that development back in 2009. I biked up there a number of times from the Anthem housing area where my parents used to live. Got a rude shock one day when an accidental blasting charge went off in open air as they were working in another zone near that area.

I was actually facing in that direction and could see the distortion of the shock wave hit me about a half-mile away. The shock wave shattered windows in nearby completed homes. I have been to eleven hotel implosions and this shock wave exceeded anything I ever felt at those…..

I dug up one pic from 2009 showing my bike out there in the foothills behind that area…..you can see the Strip in the distance… Used to go up there all the time…..

Bike in foothills

“You can also see where some of the work was going on cutting into the hills.” Greg C.

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“You can see the Ascaya terraces here from behind. The city is beyond the ridge”. 

Twilight Henderson foothills

“The homes on the little hill knob were the ones that took blast damage in 2005. (photo from 2011)

According to VegasInc, the site was re-opened in August of 2014 to sell off parcels of land in phases. The article also described plans for a clubhouse to lure prospective builders, with an intended summer 2015 start date. I can see no evidence of it in my aerial photos taken in July 2016 .

The official Ascaya website had you believing that everything in the project is going according to plans of its creator, Hong Kong billionaire Henry Cheng. Panoramic motion photography sweeps over the gigantic corpse layout and invites you to envision the gorgeous community that awaits. Good luck with that…even the site itself appears to be dead these days, although a dedicated Facebook page is (somewhat) alive.

Only time will tell if the Ascaya Luxury Community ever lives up to the promises of its designers. Until then, much like the Fontainebleau behemoth on the north Strip, Ascaya will be a shrine…and a testament….to over-reaching ambition.

Once your eyes have finished taking in the Ascaya debacle, allow them to drift in a southeasterly direction. There you should be able to spot another massive project, albeit a very successful one.

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The Nevada Solar One plant lies in the Eldorado Valley, south of the region between Las Vegas and Boulder City. If you’ve ever taken a day trip to Laughlin, you’re sure to have seen this massive solar power plant. After all, it covers 400 acres of prime sun-fed Nevada desert.

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Nevada Solar One took sixteen months to construct and went online in June of 2007. Unlike the Ascaya project, which literally blew away fifteen million cubic yards of mountain rock, the Solar One plant’s 760 parabolic trough concentrators follow the natural terrain of the desert floor.

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The silent and somewhat aesthetic complex generates about 136 million kilowatt-hours annually. And according to Wikipedia, the amount of carbon emissions it reduces by creating clean energy is the equivalent of removing 20,000 automobiles from the road each year.

A different kind of power plant…hydro-electric…is just a short drive from Nevada Solar One. Of course, I’m talking about Hoover Dam. This man-made wonder continues to generate enormous amounts of electricity for Arizona, California, and Nevada. That’s despite the fact that continually-dropping water levels have dramatically changed the appearance of Lake Mead.

Man-made Lake Mead has shrunken in both depth and width, with shorelines crawling far inward throughout the past several years. The entire Lake Mead Marina had to be relocated in 2008 as water disappeared. It was floated two miles downstream to join Las Vegas Marina. This was a huge effort that moved hundreds of boats, slips, a restaurant, and store at the pace of 1 mph.

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Lake Mead Marina was only one of several dock and marina relocations required due to the drop in depth. Flying overhead, you can clearly see what remains of this dwindling body of water…and where the shoreline once was. It’s a sad, extreme example of the impact of climate change.

Just a little farther north of Lake Mead, you may spot another debacle to rival Ascaya. But at least this one actually was completed before falling apart. Lake Las Vegas Resort is a never-was destination of hotels, residences, golf courses, shops, restaurants and a casino.

Casino Montelago

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The centerpiece of this resort community is a 320-acre artificial lake that was built atop the Las Vegas Wash. The wash feeds contaminated…and radioactive…run-off from the Vegas valley into Lake Mead (keep that in mind if you’re ever planning a boating or swimming excursion there). Filling of the new lake began in 1990, and over 3,500 acres of land surrounding it were made available for retail and housing development.

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Since then, Lake Las Vegas Resort has had a depressing history of closures, lawsuits, and massive debt. Hotels have been closed, re-opened by other owners and then closed again. Empty storefronts spread out across the retail “Village” area and abandoned golf courses eventually turned from green to brown (they have recently sprung back). The Monte Lago Casino ceased operations twice before being relaunched as a barely-used events center.

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         Lake Las Vegas Resort, surrounded by unfinished construction projects.

As with Ascaya, the official Lake Las Vegas website is full of gorgeous photos depicting a successful and glamorous destination. But one look from above will tell you that it’s anything but.

Photos: Sammasseur (aerial), Greg C.