MEN OF THE STRIP Hosts Gala Premiere

Fans and media converge for opening of Jeff Timmons revue at Hard Rock Live…


Revisiting the evening that fans and media converged for Jeff Timmons’ male revue at Hard Rock Live…

Men Of The Strip Premiere

The ironies couldn’t be any clearer. A fledgling show, years in the making, hosts a gala event just a few doors down from the casino that failed them. The new performance space shares branding with a hotel that’s home to a competing production.

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Both shows are spearheaded by heartthrob celebs, but only one bothers to show his face…and lots more. After many false starts and obstacles galore, Men of the Strip has landed on the Strip.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Male revues are just like actual men. They come in all styles, attitudes, levels of sex appeal and price points (just kidding about the last one…sort of). As ticket buyers for an adult-themed show, it’s up to you to decide which one scratches your particular itch.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

In the case of Magic Mike Live at Hard Rock Hotel, some fans of hunky productions are feeling cheated. My own review called it “delusional”, “fun-sucking” and “an overblown bomb”. Your very expensive ticket will get you inane blather from a shrill harpy “comedienne”, striptease dancers who neglect to actually strip, a so-called story line involving a waiter and a mystical unicorn (WTF?).

The real kick in the pants comes from an absentee star – actor Channing Tatum – whose only “appearance” in a show bearing his name is via an audio recording.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

At Hard Rock Cafe’s live-music Strip venue (next to MGM Grand Hotel), things are quite the opposite. All the pretense, social lectures and broken promises of Magic Mike Live have been thrown out the window. In their place are seven talented singers/dancers/actors who sound good, look great and actually take their clothes off.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Fun-filled production numbers involve plenty of audience interaction, selfie ops (the show is camera-friendly) and tipping with cash (something forbidden in casino showrooms). Most of all, the celebrity attached to Men of the Strip is in the house…and a big part of the show.

Jeff Timmons, the ageless and ab-tastic founder of vocal group 98 Degrees, has been intent on launching the next generation of male revues ever since his stint at legendary Chippendales. Jeff and I sat down to chat several times in the months leading up to this weekend. It’s clear that his passion for the project is boundless. Fortunately,  that enthusiasm comes through onstage and energizes the cast.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

MOTS’s tightly-knit production rarely slows down to let you breathe. The troupe makes its first appearance from the rear, hidden under sleek black helmets and leather gear. 

Walking in formation, they gather for a hard-edged sequence created by famed choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard (Michael Jackson, Pink, Whitney Houston). Packard, pictured below, is hands-on throughout the performance and also serves as emcee.

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Next up, singer Colin Cahill briefly goes mellow with an acoustic version of  Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You” that segues into a sultry chair number. Various takes on masculine fantasies follow, delivered with a lighthearted playfulness that MML doesn’t even strive to achieve.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Timmons was a crowd-pleaser at the show’s premiere on Friday. Not only did he debut a new song written especially for MOTS, but he got raw and sexy with an audience member in his own set-piece. Shredded to the max and tanned to perfection, Timmons tore off his shirt and flaunted a body that even Channing Tatum would envy.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Packed with die-hard 98 Degrees fans, the crowd went wild when band mate Justin Jeffre joined Timmons for their hit “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)”. Other surprise guests are sure to follow, as the singer has promised to feature his celebrity friends when they’re in town.

“Come Play With Us” is Men of the Strip’s marketing slogan. Splashed on billboards around the city, the ads promise a night filled with music, muscle, sweat and laughs. MOTS delivers on those promises throughout the show and well into the evening. The guys hop up on the bar after the performance and guests are encouraged to party, pose for photos and indulge in drink specials.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

The third-floor showroom offers amazing views of the Strip and boasts an outdoor balcony. Parking is available in the Showcase Mall garage behind the cafe for easy in/out access.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

If a party atmosphere is what you’re looking for in a male revue, steer clear of Magic Mike Live. Make your way to Hard Rock Live for Men of the Strip…on the Strip.

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Update – Since the original publication of this article last July, Men of the Strip has gone on to tour the country. The show also achieved my highest ranking of guy-friendly male revues, tying with Aussie Heat at Planet Hollywood. The video clip below will give you some indication of just how gay-friendly the run at Hard Rock Live actually was. 

Cast member Tyler Froehlich, whom I featured in the piece Hot Guys of Vegas – Dad and sons, is now a part of the legendary troupe at Chippendales. He’s already become a fast favorite with audiences both in Las Vegas and when touring around the world.

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                        Tyler Froehlich, real-life soldier turned dancer…

Jeff Timmons has since toured with a reunited 98 Degrees for a series of concerts to promote their Christmas album. They’ll be returning to Green Valley Ranch this coming November 17th (click here for tickets). I attended a performance on December 23rd and the show was astounding. Don’t miss it this year.

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   Myself with Timmons, Mike Foland and Daniel Kouretas at 98 Degrees Xmas…

MOTS’s frontman Mike Foland has assured me that the groundbreaking production is planning another return, mostly like to be launched with a reality TV series tie-in. I’ll be the first to keep you up to date on any developments that cross my desk. 

– Sam

Photos and Video: [Sammasseur]

 

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Seek and Discover BAR SAKE

Bar Sake – Westgate’s hidden gem is worth the search….

 


The concept of hotels-within-hotels may be lost on some, but it’s been growing steam. Nobu of Caesars Palace, Delano at Mandalay Bay and SLS‘s new W partnership are examples of the latest in maximizing square footage while blending brand recognition with something new (and hopefully exciting).

Westgate Las Vegas recently rolled out a similar idea with Bar Sake. Tucked away inside “The Village”, Bar Sake was a bit difficult to find. Silly me – it never crossed this writer’s mind that there was more to Benihana‘s themed village than just Benihana.

Bar Sake Westgate

Not having been to Westgate’s location before, I had no idea that there was an entire complex inside the familiar Japanese chain steakhouse. Among the ornate gardens and koi ponds is Rikki Tiki Sushi, with Silk Road Asian Bistro nestled to one side and the relaxing and lovely Bar Sake in the far rear.

Now in its third month of operations, Bar Sake is a bit of a hidden gem. Opened with minimal fanfare, it’s one of those places that you hope just enough people will discover to make it successful…without losing the atmosphere of intimacy that made our “guys’ night out” so satisfying.

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The small dining and bar area is bathed in rose-colored hues. We took seats around a low table and were offered a welcome sake as once served to President Obama by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. The smooth beverage set a wonderful tone for the prepared menu of food and drinks we were invited to sample.

Bar Sake Westgate

My companions and I started with an assortment of Signature Cocktails, created especially for Bar Sake by Eddie Perales, GM of Beverages at the Westgate Resort. Perales is an award-winning mixologist who’s been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

As a world-reknown flair bartender and ice sculpturist, Perales knows how to infuse his cocktail creations with a hearty slice of fun. He came to our table to share his enthusiasm for the Bar Sake cocktail list…and the excitement of trying out new creations in the weeks and months ahead.

Bar Sake Westgate

Much like Fresco Italiano‘s GM Angelo Cordero, Perales came to Westgate by way of Caesars properties. Whatever is luring these top-level experts to the off-Strip property, Westgate guests are all the better for it. The resort continues to please and surprise with superlative offerings, and Bar Sake is no exception.

As you might expect, the cocktail menu here is built around sake, the famed Japanese rice-based alcoholic drink. Perales has whipped up unique creations like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon Liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour. All were light, refreshing and absolutely delicious.

For those wishing to stick strictly to sakes, the list of options is divided into four sections: “Fun”, “Expressive”, “Pure” and “Classic”. The beverage list also includes a wide variety of wines, whiskey, beers and non-alcoholic beverages.

Bar Sake Westgate

Despite the name, Bar Sake isn’t strictly a “sake bar”. It offers a wide variety a sushi and spectacular plates created before your eyes. Based on a centuries-old method of North Japanese food preparation called Robata, Chef Masa Shiga slow-grills his dishes on skewers over a high-heat charcoal “Robata” grill.

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Bar Sake Westgate

Hamachi Kama is Yellowtail Cheek, the most flavorful part ($12)…                  

Robata cooking originated with Japanese fishermen, who gathered to prepare their meals around a communal hearth. Sharing these delicious dishes with my friends carried on that tradition, albeit in extremely different surroundings.

Bar Sake Westgate

TOMATOMAKI ($4) are bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes…           

Robata skewers come three to a plate for $16. Choices include TSUKUNE (chicken meatballs), GYU filet, SAKE (Atlantic Salmon), SHITAKE, NISU eggplant and SHISHITO (a sweet Japanese pepper).

Bar Sake Westgate

Tsukune chicken meatballs and Gyu fillet, each 3 for $16…             

Bar Sake Westgate

Bacon-wrapped asparagus (far left, $5) join two other Robata skewers at Bar Sake…

Small plates are broken up into four categories: poultry, vegetables, seafood and meat. They range in price from $4 vegetable dishes to $18 for the likes of black cod, duck breast and lobster tail. All are presented with color, flair, and delicious seasonings like wasabi, Yuzu pepper paste and sweet miso.

Bar Sake Westgate

Gindara is a black cod seasoned with sweet miso ($18)…                  

Bar Sake Westgate

         Kohitsuji (above right) are soy/garlic-marinated lamb chops ($18)…  

Sushi lovers can choose from a list of five, ranging in price from $12 to $18. Although we were tempted to try a few, our collection of macho gents decided to save any remaining taste buds and close out this magnificent meal with a couple of sweets.

Bar Sake Westgate

Bar Sake Westgate

There plenty of Asian-themed restaurants and bars in Las Vegas, making it difficult for one to stand out so distinctly. Our visit to Bar Sake was magnificent, worthy of the raves.

Unique in location, offerings and atmosphere, Westgate’s Bar Sake is the perfect little venue to gather at with friends, a loved one…or to discover all by yourself.

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BAR SAKE is located within “Restaurant Row” of Westgate Las Vegas, inside the Benihana Village. It is open Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.  For reservations or info, call (702) 732-5755.

Photos: [Sammasseur]

 

 

      

Prince Lives Through THE REVOLUTION

“The Revolution has done the unimaginable and reformed to honor their front man”.


The funkmeister’s original Minneapolis band rocks Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas…

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We’re just the band, okay? We’ll never replace him…we’ll never be him…we’ll never try. We’re just going to be The Revolution.

Last year, in my review of Westgate‘s resident show Purple Reign, I had this to say:

Reign is as close as you could get…and ever will again…to a genuine Prince concert”. And while that production still sizzles with jaw-dropping authenticity and onstage talent galore, the original band from Purple Rain has made a bit of a liar out of me.

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The Revolution has done the unimaginable and gotten back together to honor their front man. The reunion show, currently touring nationwide, brings the gift of their music back to the stage for a landmark evening.

Having lived the songs and experiences as they happened, only The Revolution is able to deliver the early songs of Prince to fans in a way that no tribute show ever could.

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

A somewhat anonymous backup group from their beginnings through the double-length album 1999, The Revolution officially received its name and identity via Purple Rain. That iconic 1984 movie highlighted their memorable talents and personalities. It also depicted the real-life struggle that Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman had in getting the Purple One to recognize their own compositions.

After his death in 2016, guitarist Melvoin, keyboardists Coleman and Matt (Doctor) Fink, bassist BrownMark and drummer Bobby Z performed a series of sold-out shows at First Avenue Nightclub in Minneapolis. Returning to the actual setting of Purple Rain inspired them and healed them. So, they decided to take that therapy on the road.

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

Wendy recently told Billboard Magazine “We all sort of had this moment where it felt like this was almost too much. But at the same time we made people smile and they felt good and they got to grab onto at least the legacy of him so that his death didn’t feel so permanent.”

BrownMark added “We have the ability now to give people a glimpse of what we experienced with him, and I think that’s a powerful thing. I know it helped me heal.”

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

One of the biggest live-entertainment regrets this writer has carried through the years is that I’d never gotten to see Prince and The Revolution performing together. The many Prince concerts I’d attended were subsequent to their disbanding in October of 1986.

Prince had constantly reinvented himself throughout his career and changed (or lost) backup performers with regularity. So it was with great pleasure that I got the opportunity to witness The Revolution at Brooklyn Bowl on June 21st.

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

Still shot from the 1984 film (above)….                 

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…and at Brooklyn Bowl on June 21, 2017…                            

The Brooklyn Bowl concert venue, bathed in purple floodlights and a light veil of fog, was the perfect place to recreate the legacy of First Avenue. Of course, Wendy, Lisa and the others made the illusion a reality, performing with precision and plenty of heart.

Opening with the infamous “Wendy…is the water warm enough?” line from “Computer Blue” and seguing into the politically-charged anthem “America” (from Around The World In A Day), it was clear that the 80’s lyrics resonated just as strongly today. Next came the euphoric “Mountains” from Parade (aka the Under The Cherry Moon soundtrack), followed by 1999‘s “Automatic”.

With that quartet of opening numbers, the band had already visited four massively successful albums in as many years, spanning multiple genres with ease. But there was plenty more to come in the nearly two-and-a-half hour show.

Video highlights…    

Eschewing their trademark frills, make-up and lace for conservative slacks and jackets (Dr. Fink rocked the scrubs and stethoscope), The Revolution delivered that rare reunion performance that didn’t feel like an obligatory money grab.

They also left behind the posturing and characterizations that once provided memorable foils to their flamboyant leader. With Prince now looking down from the Heavens, what remained was a very genuine group of friends…who touched the audience with sentiment, appreciation and love.

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

The band was joined on several numbers by Stokley Williams, lead singer of Mint Condition. Rather than mimic the vocals and stylings of Prince, Williams gave them his own flair, infused with energy and plenty of funk.

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

At one point the venue felt silent as Melvoin delivered an emotional tribute via “Sometimes It Snows In April” (also from Parade). As she approached the mic, an electronic thump boomed from the speakers. “Is that you, Prince?”, she mused.

Always cry for love…never cry for pain. 

He used to say so strong unafraid to die.
Unafraid of the death that left me hypnotized.  

Sometimes it snows in April.
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad.
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending.
But all good things, they say, never last….

The guitarist took several opportunities to remind the audience that all of these great songs now belonged to the fans. Through them, Prince and The Revolution would live to sing another day.

Prince The Revolution Brooklyn Bowl Vegas

It’s important to know when you leave here tonight that these songs really belong to you guys. If you wondered “Who’s singing these tracks?”… if you came here going “Who’s gonna do this? Who’s gonna do that?” YOU guys are!  Wendy Melvoin of The Revolution

The Revolution continues their tour of North America through August 11th. Cities and dates are available by clicking here

Photos and video: [Sammasseur]

Men of the Strip FINALLY Sets Debut Date


The super-charged male revue signs deal for HARD ROCK LIVE on the Strip…

Those who’ve followed my column through the years at two other sites know that the journey of Men of the Strip has been filled with drama, emotion, sweat and unexpected twists. The saga was even covered in a two-hour E! Network documentary, but that’s only been a fraction of the story.

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The wait is over, boys…time to work it.        

Throughout the journey, singer Jeff Timmons and crew have had one goal in mind – a residency on the Las Vegas Strip. As of this afternoon, the time has arrived. HARD ROCK LIVE, a large performance venue inside the Hard Rock Cafe (next to MGM Grand Hotel), will be hosting MOTS for a limited run starting July 14th.

 

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Choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard puts the troupe through its paces…              

The interesting thing here is that the high-powered Timmons-backed show has been entangled in many ways with competing Magic Mike Live (with actor Channing Tatum as the in-name-only front man). That revue, launched with enormous hype (and subsequently large ticket sales), is also at a Hard Rock venue…the off-Strip Hard Rock Hotel on Paradise Road.

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Magic Mike Live turned out to be a major fiasco in terms of a standalone production. Despite hefty audience turnout, the show itself is one of the worst productions for Sin City in recent memory. Men of the Strip, on the other hand, delivers everything it promises in top-notch fashion.

Here is the press release that was sent out just a short while ago:

HARD ROCK LIVE WELCOMES MEN OF THE STRIP THIS JULY

 All-new male revue to perform limited engagement on The Strip

LAS VEGAS (June 28, 2017) – Summer just got hotter with the announcement of Las Vegas’ newest male revue, Men of the Strip, coming to Hard Rock Live this July. With a limited engagement of six performances, the multi-faceted all-male cabaret show is sure to heat things up on The Strip.

Created by Emmy-nominated celebrity choreographer, Glenn Douglas Packard, Men of the Strip takes the art of seduction to a whole new level with the hottest male entertainers delivering the ultimate live adult entertainment experience.

Jeff Timmons (who has enjoyed phenomenal success with his internationally-renowned boy band 98 Degrees, sold millions of records worldwide and had gold and platinum records in 27 countries around the world) combined talents with Packard (who has worked with legendary performers such as Michael Jackson, Pink, Usher, and Ricky Martin) to create an all-new show that is sure to leave audiences wanting more.

Starring some of the most seductive men handpicked from auditions held nationwide, the show features original choreography, music, one-of-a-kind personalities and explosive energy in a fun, interactive and intimate setting. Guests will enjoy getting up close and personal with Timmons and the sexy “six pack” of male dancers and singers. Whether it’s to celebrate a birthday, bachelorette or divorce or just have the ultimate Girls Night Out, Men of the Strip aims to please!

Performances are scheduled for 9 p.m. on:

 Fri., July 14, Sat., July 15, Sun., July 16, Fri., July 21, Thurs., July 27, Fri., July 28

Tickets are on sale now and priced at $50 per person for general admission and $100 per person for VIP (includes preferred seating, meet & greet and photo), plus tax and fees. Tickets can be purchased online http://www.ticketweb.com/venue/hard-rock-live-las-vegas-las-vegas-nv/189164?REFERRAL_ID=twvenues or by calling 702.650.8590. VIP tables that seat up to four people are available for $500 (plus tax and fees) and include premium seating, a meet & greet, photo and a bottle of champagne. Tables can be booked by calling 702.650.8590 or by emailing lisa_hendrixson@hardrock.com.

Men of the Strip is produced by Jeff Timmons and Top Level Entertainment. For more information on Men of the Strip, visit menofthestrip.com.

As a fan of Jeff Timmons, choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard and the entire cast and team of Men of the Strip, this writer couldn’t be more pleased to be sharing this announcement with all of you. I will be there on opening night, and hope to see you there as well.

Photos: [Sammasseur, Men of the Strip, Hard Rock Live]

 

 

Vegas Don’ts: “What Was I Thinking?”


A YOUNG MOTHER SHARES HOW TAKING HER CHILD TO SIN CITY RUINED HER LOVE FOR LAS VEGAS…

Not long ago I struck up a conversation with a staffer at my orthodontist appointment (in Salem, Oregon where I moved from last fall). When asked what I do for a living, I described my column and how it offers unfiltered reviews/advice/news on all things Vegas. Her reply was an unpleasant “Ugh…Vegas!”.

Obviously there was a story behind her response. “I went to Vegas recently” she offered. “It’ll be a long time before I go back…if ever.” It turns out that she and her husband had decided to take their eighteen-month-old baby for a few days in Sin City. “What was I thinking? It was a miserable experience”.

As a person who cringes at the sight of little children being dragged around Vegas at all hours (and in truly inappropriate locations), I was eager to explore this young mother’s experiences. But more importantly, I had to find out what would ever possess her to take a baby there in the first place.

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“I used to hear that it was a cool place for kids. Lots of fun things for them to see and do – animal attractions, amusement rides, neat stores and lots of things to look at. I figured we could stick to those sorts of activities. And if one of us had the itch to do something more “adult”, my husband and I could trade off watching the baby”.

Well, let’s be honest and take a look at that last statement…doing something “more adult”. That’s the REAL reason any grown-up heads to Las Vegas – for things you can’t experience in your everyday life. But don’t some parents want to have their cake and eat it, too?

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                Check this out, kids. Can you say “Gentleman’s Club”?

Carrot Top frequently disses Vegas-bound families in his comedy show. “What the #&*! is it with all the kids on the Strip?” he asks. “Drugs, booze, gambling, and prostitutes. Yeah, bring the kids!” he intones. And he is so very right.

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The fact is that there is absolutely NOTHING family-oriented in and around the Strip (excluding natural attractions like Red Rock Canyon) that can’t be done cheaper/better/funner somewhere else. Your kids want a rollercoaster ride? There are family parks all over the nation. Animal attractions? Same thing. And those places aren’t surrounded by “porn slappers”, suggestive billboards, inebriated revelers, homeless beggars and adults doing grown-up things with a drink in their hand.

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Then there’s that small matter of temptation. All the things that parents want to do when the kiddies aren’t around are suddenly within reach 24/7. Sure, parents can trade off, leaving one adult feeling left out and completely eliminating the opportunity to do things together as a couple or family. Or little Bobby can stay with a sitter in the hotel room while you get your groove on. And that circles right back around to “Why did you bring your children here in the first place?”. Could it be absolute and utter selfishness?

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  Another role-model mother lavishes attention on her brood at Fremont Street…

That selfishness manifests itself in another significant but frequently unmentioned way. Having your children around in an adult playground completely disregards the fact that many if not most Vegas tourists come here to GET AWAY FROM KIDS! A screeching, bawling baby on the casino floor at 2 am is hardly what somebody wants to hear when they’re about to roll the dice.

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Who feels like watching their language and behavior when they’re strolling around with a cocktail in their hand? I’ve encountered situations where entitled parents have scolded revelers both on the Strip and at Fremont Street with a stern “Watch your mouth, there are kids here!”.

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    Family outing to Budweiser Beer Park at midnight. Nothing wrong here…

Alrighty, mom….that’s your fault, not theirs. Thanks for displaying your self-importance and driving a stake through other peoples’ good times. Nobody wanted to stumble over your rugrats on their way to the bar. Put them in bed or leave them at Grandma’s house…where they belong.

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  Little Sally loves dancing in the streets….right next to that stumbling drunk…

While these parents are here spoiling fun for others, they also make it difficult for our service employees to do their job. I’ve witnessed a mom and dad arguing with Golden Nugget security to allow them to bring their stroller out onto the Fremont Street Experience after midnight on New Year’s Eve, despite the fact that 1) it was an over-21 ticketed event, 2) there were thousands of drunk people crammed into that tiny four-block area, and 3) their baby didn’t even have a blanket over it and the temperature was below freezing.

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      Don’t worry, kids. Security only comes around every 30 minutes or so…

Another common thing I see is parents allowing their children to sit at slot machines, which is blatantly against the law. After security comes and orders them to get up, those irresponsible moms and dads tell them “Okay, he’s gone. You can sit back down now”. What a way to teach your children right from wrong, eh?

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How about that time I spotted Dad sitting down with his two boys at the LINQ Sports Book. Or the Mom that settled in with her babies at the Art Bar of Downtown Grand for a little story time? Again they had to argue with security when informed that they weren’t allowed here. It’s a scenario that just gets repeated over and over and over….

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           A model mother reads to her children at downtown’s ART BAR…

“Kids in Vegas” is one of the hottest and most volatile subjects on any Vegas message board. I’ve gotten into many a heated discussion with those of dissenting opinions. My stance is that your children should vacation in places meant for children. A tourist destination promoting “sin” is not that place.

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The most frequent defense that people use for being pro-kids is “My parents took me to Vegas and I turned out alright”. But did you really? There are plenty of parents who would contend that deliberately exposing children to the dangers and excess of Las Vegas is anything but “alright”.

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   I watched this inspirational family hop the monorail gates without paying…

The classic Vegas of a few decades back is long gone, my friends. Mobsters notwithstanding, the Strip and Fremont Street are much grittier and more dangerous now than ever before. Visits here are no longer classy affairs filled with evening gowns, elegance and lounge singers.  

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I’m cutting straight to the truth at this point. Contemporary Vegas is the worst place for a caring parent to take a kid. It regularly sees violent crime in the streets, casinos and sidewalks. Shoot-outs, robberies, murders, police stand-offs and a deliberate attack on Strip pedestrians by a motorist have filled headlines in recent months. I could also bring up the deadliest massacre in modern American history if you’d like, but if you haven’t gotten my point by now you’re never going to.

Then of course there are the rapes, muggings, pick-pocketing, suicides, drug overdoses, etc. that go unreported or unpublicized. You’re unlikely to encounter any of that with your family at Magic Mountain or Lego Land.

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Here are a few sobering statistics to consider before packing  a suitcase for the little ones:

The overall crime rate in Las Vegas is 37% higher than the national average.

For every 100,000 people, there are 10.73 daily crimes that occur in Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas you have a 1 in 26 chance of becoming a victim of any crime.

Las Vegas is graded an F for crime compared to all U.S. cities.  (Source – areavibes.com)

Another popular argument from parents who bring their families to Vegas is “The kids wanted to go”. Did they, really? If so, ask yourself where their information comes from. Surely your precious little ones haven’t been allowed to watch The Hangover or CSI. So they must be hearing how fun Vegas is from Mom and Dad, right?

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It’s doubtful that parents share the true Vegas experience with their kids. Those descriptions get sanitized and romanticized, leading kids to envision the city as one big carnival. Somewhere along the way, details about drinking, gambling, smoking joints, three-ways and lap dances got left out of the story. So don’t blame the kids if you’ve made Vegas sound appealing to them.

Remember that bizarre 90’s attempt to rebrand Vegas as family-friendly destination? It’s now viewed as ill-advised phase, if not downright embarrassing. Most of the rides, attractions, free shows and kid-friendly casino themes have been scaled down or stripped out altogether.

Back then, the MGM Grand had a theme park and the hotel itself was designed as a replica of Emerald City. But Dorothy and the Munchkins are long gone, and with good reason. The concept didn’t work.

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Let’s circle back to the mom at the beginning of this piece. She told me that bringing her baby along truly spoiled the love she and her husband felt for Vegas. “We couldn’t do anything we wanted to do. I felt guilty – just awful – for exposing my baby to that kind of environment. It made me second-guess what I loved about going there, and it’s unlikely that we’ll be returning before my daughter grows up”.

She paused to think for a moment, then offered a final bit of wisdom that stuck with me…and inspired this article.

“You know, we’re the ones who wanted to be parents. Nobody forced us to take our child along. We chose to do that ourselves. Only one of those decisions was a mistake…and we won’t be making it again”.

Other sites give you a glossy vision of Sin City…you won’t find that here. Get real.

 Photos: Sam Novak

Winter Is Coming To Vegas With THRONES! The Musical Parody

The critically-acclaimed production is headed to The Space….

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Rejoice, Game of Thrones fans! You’ve seen every episode, loved (and hated) the characters through six seasons of sex, intrigue, dragons, back-stabbing and throat-slashing. Now you are clutching your sword, eagerly waiting for the next season to begin. Well, no need to behead your kinsman in frustration. Vegas is about to get their own taste of GoT-style adventure at The Space.

THRONES! The Musical Parody comes from the same creative group behind 50 Shades – The Parody (currently at Bally’s). This affectionate spoof played to sold-out audiences at Chicago’s famed Apollo Theater, with a similar runaway stint in London. After a six-month run in California, the wild and irreverent Los Angeles THRONES! cast will be heading to The Space for nine performances, beginning July 14th.

Fans of 50 Shades – The Parody will recognize the premise and style of THRONES! The Musical Parody right away. A group of GoT fans gather to enjoy a season finale of the show and end up acting out the entire plot and characters for a friend who’s never watched the series (oh, the horror!).

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Expect lots of belly-laughs, improvised dialogue, wacky costumes and well-deserved skewering…with actual blades. Of course, there will be plenty of tongue-in-cheek musical numbers:

 “Will Tyrion’s accent ever improve? Can Jon Snow possibly know more than nothing? Just how red can the Red Wedding get? And is Gandalf still alive?! [wait…]”

If you haven’t visited the innovative location known as The Space, now would be a great time to check it out. The brainchild of local favorite Mark Shunock (Rock of Ages and Magic Mike Live), The Space is a community-driven off-Strip home for arts, entertainment and philanthropic events (like the ever-popular Mondays Dark).

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Shunock has teamed up with Ethan Walker of Rapidfire International to bring THRONES! to Sin City. The show is produced by Baby Wants Candy, a Windy City troupe whose live musicals are improvised on the spot…based on audience shout-outs. Can you guess which dragon-infused fantasy drama was their most popular choice?

THRONES! The Musical Parody runs July 14 through 23rd at 8pm (dark the 17th). Tickets start at $35 and can be ordered at thespacelv.com. There is currently a Groupon offer for $22.50 (inclusive of taxes and fees) available by clicking here.

The Space is located at 3460 Cavaretta Court, across the interstate from Aria Hotel Casino.

 Photos: [THRONES! The Musical Parody via Facebook]

 

Fresco Italiano Is A Journey For Your Senses

Westgate’s authentic eatery is the REAL tour of Italy…

Last year, on another site, I did a multi-part piece on Westgate Resort, aka the former Las Vegas Hilton. That series included a visit to Edge Steakhouse, which was so impressive that it’s still my top recommendation for a Vegas “special meal”. Right next door is another possible treasure I’d been yearning to try – Fresco Italiano.

Fresco Italiano

Forget about the restaurant chain that offers a Tour of ItalyFresco Italiano literally gives you a trip through the Italian countryside using sights, sounds, scents….and most importantly, tastes. You’ll be transported beyond dining into a full sensory experience…without the need for a Vespa scooter.

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You’ll understand what I mean when you walk into the Tuscan-inspired main seating area. Running across the far wall, to the left of the kitchen, are a series of screens arranged like windows of a vehicle. Gorgeous scenery glides by at a leisurely pace, all in a single direction and consistent speed. The effect is of moving through lush Italian landscapes via a slow boat or train. Click here for a gorgeous peek.

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Fresco Italiano

The decor of Fresco Italiano is classy, understated, elegant…yet somehow very warm. A full bar and “wine cellar” situated across the front of the main room offer ample seating that’s even more relaxed and inviting. The open kitchen and outgoing staff will have you remembering visits to Mama’s place for holiday meals.

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As the name implies, Fresco Italiano is all about freshness – fresh ingredients, recipes and preparation…along with a fresh attitude towards fine dining. My companion and I found the overall visit to be surprisingly fun and just as memorable as the dishes we enjoyed.

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GM Angelo Cordero delivered a selection from the Fresco Italiano wine cellar…

Although we were invited guests of the restaurant (which undoubtedly resulted in PLENTY of special attention from the staff) there’s no question that guests surrounding us were just as enthralled as we were. The atmosphere is a bit infectious, as this video will attest to:

The very colorful Michael will serenade your table…

Angelo Cordero, who recently took over as General Manager (after stints at Rao’s and Carmine’s, both at Caesars Palace), knows how to deliver an immersive culinary adventure to every table. Although he’s only been there a few months, it’s clear that he and the staff have melded together into a wonderful pairing.

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No Italian meal should be enjoyed without a proper Fettunta ($4), this one sprinkled with grana padano…

Mr. Cordero greeted our table and was eager to start us with some wine or cocktails. He recommended a gorgeously-prepared Fresco Red Sangria ($12) for myself and a White Sangria (also $12) for my companion. Both were bursting with flavor, color…and of course, freshness. After a small chat about vino, Cordero brought over a new addition to his collection…a 2013 Ferrari-Caranoblack muskat. It made a nice compliment to the entrees that would follow.

Fresco Italiano

Our server Robert recommended that we try his favorite starter – Meatball Flatbread ($16). It’s topped with peperonata (sweet peppers “melted” in olive oil, onions and tomatoes), fior de latte (a mild cow’s milk cheese), black olives and basil. It was as mouth-watering as the above photo would suggest. Other choices included a traditional MargheritaSausage or Proscuitto and Ruchetta, ranging from $14 to $16.

There are plenty of other appetizers to pick from, like meatballs, bruschetta, three varieties of mozzarella and two styles of mussels. Click here for the menu.

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Before the flatbread arrived, we tried in a couple of salads. I had an Italian Chopped ($12) combining romaine, arugula, salami, peppers, onion, cabbage and house vinaigrette, capped with flash-fried proscuitto. My companion enjoyed a picture-perfect Classic Caesar ($12) topped with white anchovies and a large slice of Parmesan frico. Both were light, crisp and large enough to be an entree (but who comes to an Italian restaurant just for a salad?). Other offerings are an Heirloom Caprese and two soups – Minestrone ($10) and seafood-based Zuppa di Pesci ($12).

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While waiting for our entrees, Sous Chef Larry Morris sent over a stunning Calamari Fritti ($14) marinated in buttermilk and dished up with mouth-watering sweet-and-spicy peppers. For a person who normally avoids calamari, this one was irresistible.

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Pasta dishes are offered Modo Mia style (my way). A variety of different pastas and sauces can be matched to make your favorite entree. Fettucini, spaghetti, angel hair, gnocchi, linguini and more can be topped with bolognese, clam, marinara, carbonara, alfredo or arabiata sauces. Prices are based on the type of sauce ($19-$26). Add chicken, meatballs. grilled shrimp or sausage and peppers (at additional cost) to create that perfect dish.

My guest selected Fettucine with Alfredo Sauce and added grilled chicken breast:

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There is a list of specialty pastas like Prosciutto and Pea Fettucine with cream and summer truffel ($25), Frutti di Mare Linguine with clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops covered in San Marzano sauce and chili flakes ($28), Agnolotti with pistachio butter, garlic and arugula ($25), and of course, Homemade Lasagne ($29).

Pastas and pizza carry the weight of Fresco’s menu, but there is plenty in the way of Risottoand Carne. Free-range chicken breasts ($27), pork loin ($29) and organic veal chop ($47) are prepared in one of five different styles.

I chose an absolutely stunning bone-in veal chop, prepared parmesan style over a bed of spaghetti marinara. It was enough for two people to fill themselves up on….with leftovers to spare. The overall flavor was out of this world, although the marinara sauce was a little tart for my liking.

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Under entrees, Branzino (European Sea Bass – $34), Lamb ($36) an 8-oz Filet ($45) and a 22-oz Prime Rib will vie for your attention. All come with vegetable and a starch. Shareable sides (such as roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus, eggplant and peperonata) are $10.

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Dessert fans, take note of the new Spring Menu of sweet and chilled goodies. The General Manager’s family recipe gets top billing with Angelo’s Grandma’s Famous Tiramisu ($9). More signature sweets like Ricotta Cheesecake ($9), seven-layer Chocolate Cake topped with seasonal berries ($9), a double-helping of Cannoli ($8) and various Gelato flavors ($6) should send you on your way with a smile.

Although we were stuffed to the max (with plenty to take home), Mr. Cordero insisted on preparing a Bananas Foster for our table. See the video clip above for the dish being created on a cart by the kitchen. The spectacular flaming effect added even more to the sensory adventure we’d just undergone.

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Unfortunately, Bananas Foster isn’t listed on the menus I have, so I can’t quote the price. But be sure to ask Angelo about it…he appeared to be having fun at the flambe pan and will undoubtedly be pleased to whip up one for your group.

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There’s no doubt that this writer regrets waiting so long to try Fresco Italiano at Westgate. Like neighboring Edge Steakhouse, this restaurant is a winner for the off-Strip resort…and another new personal favorite.

Fresco Italiano is located at 3000 Paradise Road inside Westgate Las Vegas. Hours are from 5pm daily with select dates for lunch from 11-2. Call 702.732.5276 for reservations or additional information. Group menus and private dining rooms are available.

Photos: [Sammasseur]