Lost Vegas – When Your Favorites Are Gone Forever


The decision-makers of Vegas may want you to forget all about what “used to be”, but not me…

Everyone knows about the ever-changing face of Vegas. While the publicity machine churns out NEW! BETTER! BEST! in the hopes of grabbing your attention (and getting a fair share of your travel stash), they fail to mention that, in the process, you might be losing your favorite Vegas “whatevers”. Most times they’ll disappear, with no hope of returning and never to be mentioned again. In today’s round of “Lost Vegas”, I’ll share some of my own fond memories…and perhaps a couple of tears.

Chef Kerry Simon passed away in 2015 after battling MSA disease, a form of Parkinson’s. His death was preceded by the closing of two Vegas restaurants, Simon’s at Palms Place and KGB Burger Bar inside Harrah’s. While I was fond of Simon’s for its location and ambiance, it was the food at KGB that drew me back many times.

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My favorite item there was the Thanksgiving Turkey Burger, a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration on a bun: big juicy turkey patty, stuffing, cranberry relish and sprouts topped off with a layer of turkey gravy. That belt-buster was even better when washed down with a Captain Crunch milkshake.

My favorite KGB server, Chris, used to offer his own variation of the Crunch shake, topping it with strawberry syrup. All the better to evoke memories of morning cartoons with a bowl of Crunch Berries, the best variety of Captain Crunch.

Kerry’s legacy will live on at Carson Kitchen, his final culinary offering to Sin City. We’ll miss you, Mr. Simon…and those fond recollections of Thanksgiving and Saturday mornings in front of the TV.

From there we move to Neonopolis, the troubled downtown shopping/entertainment complex which has been mired by a history of failures. The biggest one-two punch came with the simultaneous closings of Krave Massive and Drink and Drag.

Both businesses catered primarily to the LGBTQ crowd, but Drink and Drag was much more of a progressive mix of gay and straight. This nightclub/bowling alley was the epitome of Vegas oddities, mixing lip-syncing drag queens, pool tables, tasty food and muscular shirtless bartenders into one wild ride.

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Always a blast, especially for those with an open mind, Drink and Drag quickly became a hit. The former Jillian’s location offered big entertainment–and a very unusual evening on the town…for chump change. Unfortunately, there was more behind-the-scenes drama than a truckload of divas sharing a dressing room. Management and liquor-license issues ultimately closed the doors, taking sister club Krave Massive (one level up) with it.

The final incarnation of Strip mainstay Krave never really took hold downtown, despite a temporary life at Rio, which kept the brand in circulation during the construction phase. Promising to one day become the biggest gay venue in the world (complete with a rooftop pool) Krave Massive was more like Krave Minor…it lasted only four months. Most sections of the club were never completed, and those that were accessible lacked…a lot.

The former occupant of that third-floor space didn’t fare much better. Galaxy Theaters at Neonopolis once offered mainstream movies to downtown visitors and residents. What started off as a 14-screen multiplex was later downsized to 11. The theater complex was poorly maintained and drew a frequently rough customer demographic. It even operated without air conditioning (unthinkable in the desert heat) for the last several months of its existence.

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The theater was closed abruptly on the eve of the new Star Trek reboot on May 7th, 2009. Neonopolis frontman Rohit Joshi explained that without digital projection upgrades, Galaxy Theaters would need to “maintain its competitive edge” by shutting down. With logic like that, it’s no wonder that Neonopolis continues to sit mostly empty.

Speaking of Star Trek, the former Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton continues to garner mentions at the annual Trek convention at Rio. Offering rides, character experiences, weddings, dining, a mock-up of “Quark’s Bar”, gift shops and a museum, Star Trek Experience drew visitors from all over the world. For many, it was the only reason to visit the otherwise-floundering Hilton (now a more successful Westgate Hotel Casino).

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At one point, Rohit Joshi (him again) promised to reopen Star Trek Experience at Neonopolis, in conjunction with a new Star Trek film on May 8, 2009. Obviously that didn’t work out so well. These days, the casino portion of the Star Trek space is being used by Westgate timeshare sales people as a presentation room. A curious end to an otherwise-legendary exhibit.

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In the 1990’s, it seemed like every casino wanted to have thrill rides – IMAX simulators, roller coasters, sometimes even an entire amusement park. A few remain, but two of my favorites are long gone. The first I experienced, on my inaugural trip to Vegas, was the High Roller. No, not the observation wheel at the Linq, but a roller coaster that once wound around the top of the Stratosphere. That slow-moving train was more about the height than the dips, but I’ll never forget stepping into the car, looking over the edge and saying “I must be insane to do this”. High Roller was closed and dismantled in December of 2005.

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Sahara Hotel was home to Speed: The Ride, a fast-moving coaster that shot riders from inside the building onto the Strip. It turned them upside down, then sped up even faster for a jaw-dropping vertical climb. Once the train came to a stop, it ran backwards and returned to the station through a cool misty fog, all in a very rapid 45 seconds.

Speed was dismantled with the closure of Sahara and was slated to be rebuilt near Mandalay Bay under the shadow of a second planned giant observation wheel called SkyVue. Years later, the pylons for that stalled project remained unfinished and the property has a “For Sale” sign on the corner of the lot. Was Rohit Joshi involved in this venture? We can’t help wondering…

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Free attractions were once a popular way to lure people into the casinos…and hopefully to keep them there. Now that gambling is no longer the hot ticket, every available space seems to be destined for retailing. Hence, the removal of the white tiger pool at Mirage for a burger joint, the lions at MGM Grand for a sports pub, the Sirens and Pirates at Treasure Island for a CVS Drugstore, and on and on.

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Many others are removed due to costly maintenance and staffing expenses, like Rio‘s Show In The Sky, the Gods of the Festival Fountain (moving statues) at Caesars Palace Forum Shops, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Roman centurions that once strolled through Caesars Palace. Some attractions just yield to the times, like Merlin’s Dragon Battle at Excalibur…and the Sphinx water/laser show and Nile River Ride, both at Luxor.

What favorite attractions, features or offerings do you miss in today’s Vegas? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photos: Sammasseur, Greg C., Banner photo via Cuningham Group Architecture

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KRAMPUS – A Wickedly-Engrossing Stunner


Majestic Theater’s interactive holiday thriller is the must-do event of the season…

For fans of live theater, the biggest gift of the season has already been unwrapped. It’s KRAMPUS, a one-of-a-kind experience you will never forget. Shrouded in secrecy and bathed in deliciously-shocking humor, this twisted evening of entertainment is brilliant in every detail.

Eschewing their typical stage at 1217 South Main Street, the cast of Majestic Repertory Theater welcomes you to an actual Downtown residence (the location is kept secret until the day of performance) for an evening of fun, food and drink. You’re there as guests and coworkers of Jerry Krumeich (Timothy Cummings), patriarch and host of the traditional family Christmas gathering.

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You and fellow attendees arrive just as Jerry is finishing decorations on the exterior. Inside, wife Marge (Anita Bean) is laying out a spread of cookies, eggnog and quiche, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive.

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Introductions are made, coats are hung up and everyone is invited to take a seat in the living room. A vintage record player is spinning atmospheric holiday favorites and a real fire is crackling in the fireplace. All that’s missing is….was that a knock on the door?

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What follows is the most convincing piece of interactive entertainment this writer has ever witnessed. Not one second rings falsely and the improvisation is sheer perfection. More guests will arrive, awkward family conflicts will surface…and a sinister decades-old secret will be revealed. To tell you any more might dilute the carefully-crafted thrills delivered by an exquisitely believable cast of gifted performers.

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If you’re a fan of KRAMPUS, the hit horror film of the same name, rest assured that this story is quite different but just as chilling…literally, in fact. Bring your sweaters, as some sequences take place outside in the dark. And pay close attention to everything you see and hear, even when it’s down the hallway or through closed doors. This house is alive with mysteries…and not everyone will survive when the dark Santa finally arrives.

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Local theater productions can be hit-or-miss, but Majestic Repertory Theater carries a reputation for consistently fantastic work. If KRAMPUS is any indication of what they have in store for 2019, then consider me a future fan.

KRAMPUS is created and directed by Troy Heard, co-directed by Natalie Senecal. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 7 pm and 8:30 pm, now through December 23rd. Tickets are $35 and can be ordered here. This production is intended for adults only. You will be required to sign a waiver in order to participate.

Photos: Sam Novak, Majestic Repertory Theater

Feel Like a Kingsman at STITCHED


Cosmopolitan’s haberdashery is the ultimate clothier for men of distinction…

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In the 2014 box-office smash KINGSMAN: The Secret Service, master spy Colin Firth passes on some valuable wisdom to young Taron Egerton. “The first thing every gentleman needs is a good suit. Manners maketh man” he tells his protege from their base of covert operations…one that happens to be disguised as a shop for bespoke tailoring.

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You may not find a lair for international intrigue hidden inside Cosmopolitan Hotel Casino. But you will encounter the most stunning and exquisite men’s boutique in all of Las Vegas. Located on the second level, just a whisper away from gorgeous Chandelier Bar, STITCHED Lifestyle Men’s Clothier and Boutique is your gateway to an incredible world of sophisticated possibilities.

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I was first introduced to STITCHED through Mr. Gordon Prouty, Director of Publicity and Public Relations at Westgate Las Vegas Resort. This absurdly handsome gentleman is well-known throughout the city via his position at Greenspun Media Group…and his ongoing involvement with many local organizations.

No matter where I’ve seen him, Mr. Prouty is always impeccably dressed…so much so that I couldn’t help but ask about his dazzling and unique wardrobe. “STITCHED at Cosmopolitan” was the answer. “I’ll take you there some day if you’d like. It could make for an interesting article”. (let’s hope he was right)…

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Gordon Prouty (left) brings his winning STITCHED lifestyle to an outdoor event…

True to his word, this dapper gent arranged for me to meet Ricci Lopez-Hammargren. Mr. Lopez is General Manager and Vice President of Sales at STITCHED. This native of Las Vegas is also an accomplished journalist, voice actor and the newest board member of the Las Vegas Fashion Council.

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When I arrived at the haberdashery, Lopez was finishing up with one of his VIP clients. As I looked around the establishment, the flamenco guitar of QUEEN’s “Innuendo” strummed overhead, creating a marvelous mood for what was to come.

Soon I was receiving a wondrous tour while Gordon tried on some new arrivals. “Shall we begin outside?” Ricci suggested, eager to describe the care that went into creating the STITCHED frontage. Rich woods, tufted wall panels and sconces will undoubtedly grab your attention as you stroll through the resort. Don’t be surprised if your eyes drift upward to the distinctive red-leather lettering that spells out the shop’s name.

Below that, a magnificent door with custom-made hardware beckons you inside. “It looks a bit like a dungeon” Lopez laughed, pointing to the huge slab of dark wood. “And a little like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia” I added in my mind. For once you pass through that doorway, you leave Sin City behind and enter a time when elegance and frivolity strolled hand-in-hand.

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The main area of STITCHED is a dazzling festival of gorgeous shirts, colorful jackets, daring neckties and classy accessories. World-class brands like Tom Ford and Scabal are displayed alongside their own signature XXXX line on racks of re-purposed metal. Those unique displays come from the biking world of Roland Sands Design. Mr. Lopez told me that in the early days of the haberdashery (it opened with the Cosmopolitan in 2010) they actually had a Roland Sands motorcycle on display…along with a Vespa or two.

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While the main selling floor of STITCHED evokes at atmosphere of sophistication, the details lend themselves to moments of the more outrageous variety. Adorning the walls are pieces of taxidermy (not my thing to be sure), photos of well-outfitted celebrities…and shelves of colorful sneakers. High-end sunglasses, luggage, hats, pocket squares and belts are lovingly displayed in glass cases and on stands next to tastefully-weathered tables and cabinets.

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“This space is much more than just a store” Ricci proudly stated, his voice as elegant as our surroundings. “We’ve held parties, art showings, celebrity meet-and-greets, fundraisers….even weddings. I’m very happy that people choose our store to host their events. It’s an honor”.

As we headed towards the back section, I informed Ricci that I’d taken some photos upon my arrival. “Would you mind if I had a chance to straighten things up first instead? I’m a bit of a perfectionist”. Naturally I agreed, but later decided to mostly use existing photos from their Official Facebook page. After all, why attempt to duplicate what’s already been done flawlessly?

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                 Men of all shapes and sizes can benefit from a custom fitting…

To our left was where the STITCHED experience really begins…the measuring room. “Notice the platform where the gentleman stands for his fitting. It’s covered with red carpeting. Being fitted for a suit should make someone feel like a star”. And indeed the atmosphere appears stellar…standing in front of a three-sided mirror as dozens of measurements are recorded.

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Customers can choose clothing from in-stock selections and have them tailored for a perfect fit. Or for the ultimate STITCHED experience, you can have a one-of-a-kind outfit completely designed for you. Ricci and Sam Glaser (Vice President of Purchasing and Operations) have everything necessary to create a suit down to the finest detail.

There are limitless combinations to create your own design. Endless selections of fabrics, buttons, stitching and linings can be ordered from stacks of books if their huge existing selection doesn’t quite make the cut. You can pick your style, cut, lapel width, etc. or have one of the team….even Ricci himself…create one that reflects your style and personality.

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Ricci showed me a stunning jacket that had just been completed for a valued regular customer. The lining displayed a series of personal photographs that belong to the new owner. The final touch was a pocket square depicting the customer’s beloved grandmother. It was a surprise gift on behalf of STITCHED.

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Beyond that area, bathed in natural light courtesy of an enormous wall of glass, the “Santa’s factory” of STITCHED is open and inviting. An actual functioning work space, it’s home to the tailors and their craft. All of the cutting, sewing, embroidery and more occur here. “Other tailors hide this area away. It’s typically just four white walls where unseen craftsmen do their work. To us it’s the heart of our operations, and we like for it to be seen”.

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Along with their usual services, the team at STITCHED are pleased to act as concierges for customers. They’ll gladly arrange for transportation, entertainment…and perhaps even a bottle of their favorite spirits. Many other clothiers have their tailoring done at the Cosmo location. It’s a true reflection of the reputation they’ve built through an epic eight years in operation.

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“We have people fly in into Las Vegas just to come to STITCHED. They arrive at our store, spend a few hours here, then return. They can relax in our lounge, have a cocktail from their own private locker and enjoy the company of friends and other guests”.

Wait, what? A lounge with personal storage areas? As amazing as that sounds, it’s the absolute truth. Our next stop was indeed a lounge that has become the stuff of legend. Offering a fantastic view of the Strip, this man-cave is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The characters of KINGSMAN would feel right at home in this hidden retreat.

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Never before has this writer felt so at home in a place that was completely out of his realm. The STITCHED lounge is indeed the ultimate hangout for athletes, musicians, celebrities and top-tier movers and shakers.

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Across the back wall, dozens of locked cubicles (72 to be exact) display the names of their “owners” while inside, personal collections of spirits and libations await the next visit. Sitting in an enormous tufted-leather sofa, I was almost tempted to reach for a cigar…and I’ve never even smoked one.

“There’s a bit of a waiting list to get one of these” Ricci explained before zipping off to address an urgent matter. While sipping some fine whiskey with Mr. Prouty,  I chatted with Glaser and JJ McKay, a Seattle entrepreneur and creator of lifestyle website The Fresh Toast.

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It was easy to envision that plenty of business deals, influential decisions and memorable moments have taken place in this rather secretive location. From a retailer’s dollars-and-cents perspective, this space could be considered as wasted. But STITCHED is much more than just a retail outlet…it’s a lifestyle. An attitude. An experience to be desired.

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The Vegas flagship STITCHED has become so renowned that Mr. Lopez and his skills are now in demand in other cities. Ricci recently returned from Houston where he was flown in to do custom suits for the Astros team. Two additional STITCHED locations now provide dazzling clothing and accessories for the men of Washington D.C. and Miami.

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The greatest plaudits for STITCHED come from fashion-forward athlete Bryce Harper. He may not have started as an official spokesman, but that didn’t stop him from praising the wonders of his favorite clothier to his legion of fans. Bryce even got married in a tuxedo created by STITCHED for his nuptials.

Back here in Las Vegas, names like the GOLDEN KNIGHTS and Jaymes Vaughan (Celebrity Page TV, The Talk, Chippendales) have permanently-engraved plates identifying their own stored collections. Vaughan frequently shares his @StitchedLife fascination on Instagram. And you’ll see Ricci and team’s creations adorning hot local celebs like Micah Manalo (KTNV-TV), Matt Goss and Ricardo Laguna.

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It would be understandable to feel humbled in the company of such elite clientele. Ricci assures us that everyone is worthy of a quality suit…and he couldn’t be more proud to provide great clothing for the guys of Sin City. “A gentleman always dresses for the occasion” he says. “Strive for excellence and make your work worthy of being in front of a camera”.

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With the holidays and a new year nearly upon us, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to impress…and create memorable photographs. You owe it to yourself to step onto that red-carpeted riser. Enjoy one of the finest things that Las Vegas has to offer and indulge in some custom-tailored clothing from STITCHED. I know I will….see you there!

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STITCHED is located inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel Casino. Hours are from 10 am through 11 pm daily. Call 702-698-7630 for more information. To schedule a personalized fitting, click here.

Photos: STITCHED, Sam Novak, Ricci Lopez/Jaymes Vaughan/Ricardo Laguna/Micah Manalo/Bryce Harper/Gordon Prouty via public social media

 

 

 

LOVE 2.0 Merges Tech, Heart…and Lots More Beatles


“The Beatles: LOVE” remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town…

When Cirque du Soleil unveiled “The Beatles: LOVE” twelve years ago at Mirage, it was a first in many ways. The custom-designed 360-degree theater had an immersive sound system with speakers built into the seats. Intricate stage platforms quickly transformed the set from one sequence into another. Hi-tech projections created the illusion of a unique concert experience that couldn’t be seen anywhere else.

And the biggie of them all…the Montreal-based acrobatic company had built their first-ever show around an existing musical property – the Fab Four. Dozens of works by the Beatles were intricately woven into a musical tapestry that defies explanation. It was lovingly created for LOVE by Sir George Martin (aka “the fifth Beatle”) and his son Giles with the blessings of Ringo StarrPaul McCartneyJohn Lennon‘s wife Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, widow of George.

A lot has changed in the ensuing years, especially in the relationship between Cirque and Las Vegas. Further collaborations resulted in productions featuring Michael Jackson (hit), Elvis Presley (fail) and Criss Angel (where do we start?). With the closure of Zarkana two years ago (the second of their shows to fail in the Aria theater), it’s fair to question whether CDS has over-extended their brand on the Strip. Still… LOVE started out…and remains…a critically-acclaimed crowd-pleasing hit.

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        May 5th, 2016 – Massive crowds lined up to see “Beatles: LOVE” at Mirage

For the tenth anniversary of LOVE, Cirque took on the challenge of revising, updating and fine-tuning what many already consider to be the best show in the city. A risky proposition, but with Giles and original artistic director Dominic Champagne at the helm, the updating was nearly flawless…and quite beautiful.

Those unfamiliar with the show…or who haven’t seen it multiple times (this writer clocks in at 14 and counting) will be oblivious to the more subtle tweaks. But the new sound system, updated video elements, and three-dimensional projections stand out as clearly state-of-the-art.

LOVE’s pacing is also much tighter in this new incarnation. What once began from an incredibly slow build to explosive action, then back to a more solemn World War II sequence now drives continuously forward, thanks to the addition of Twist and Shout.

There’s less focus on the Beatles as children (in fact, during the media event that I attended for the tenth anniversary, only three child actors were present, but their downplayed roles hardly made it noticeable). Another absence, seemingly permanent, was the “Eleanor Rigby” character (portrayed by beloved Brazilian actress Silvia Aderne since the beginning).

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It seems as though the re-sequenced songs and staging are now meant to represent an emotional interpretation of the Beatles’ cultural impact, more so than just a chronological depiction of their rise. LOVE has always been quite a bit on the dreamy side, with surreal visuals and characters.

Now the show is even more trippy, with wildly colorful costumes and props that are vivid and vibrant. Whimsical touches, like characters and sea creatures from Yellow Submarine and Octopus’s Garden, permeate every corner of the massive arena.

Two significant numbers have been re-imagined by replacing marionettes with projections. Lady Madonna has jettisoned the dancing yellow galoshes. The once-black floor now comes alive with moving multi-colored spots that turn the surface into a living Twister game board.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps has done away with the giant marionettes made of letters. In their place, a sole female character now dances with an animated sketch of a man that moves, morphs, and flies from one screen to another throughout the auditorium. The scene and staging are hard to describe, but their beauty brought tears to my eyes.

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The biggest sequence – and a fan favorite – is the enormous mushroom-cloud bedsheet that spreads over the audience during Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows. That set piece remains, but it was unclear from my seating position whether anything going on above the canvas had been updated (that statement might only make sense if you’ve seen LOVE in the past).

Check out the YouTube video below for a brief look at this mind-blowing segment.

Speaking of the previous version, it’s worth noting that the four band members were once only shown in silhouette until the final moments. Now their faces are front and center, sometimes using archival footage that syncs with the soundtrack. That effect and a few others might need a little tweaking (the show was briefly interrupted on the night I attended, due to a glitch) in the weeks leading up to the official tenth-anniversary celebration.

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That gala on July 14th 2016, presented the return of Ringo, McCartney, and the widows of John and George for a formal event. It was truly an epic night and one for my personal Hall of Memories.

It’s terrific to know that one of my favorite Vegas shows is just as wonderful as ever. Whether you’re a fan of the Liverpool quartet, Cirque du Soleil or just great productions, The Beatles: LOVE remains one of the most spectacular and satisfying shows in town. Don’t miss it.

The Beatles LOVE performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets and information on behind-the-scenes tours and VIP  experiences are available through this link. Our friend at VegasFool.com has tickets starting at $75 (plus taxes/fees) by clicking here.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared on another site. It has since been updated.

Photos: Sam Novak

Serenity Helicopters: the Ultimate Grand Canyon Experience


VIP service brings another dimension to Las Vegas dinner-and-a-show dates…

Sometimes the fates are determined to bring certain individuals into your life….not once, but many times. Such was the case two short months ago when I met a charismatic couple on a flight from Portland, Oregon to Las Vegas.

During my conversation with them, I stated that for a variety of reasons I’d never join them as residents of Sin City. Fast-forward to a few short weeks later. Now I’m buying a Vegas home…and ran into them again at the AFAN Black and White Party. It was clear that yet another encounter was ahead…one that would culminate in a return trip to the skies.

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The couple is pilot/company instructor Jim Gisclair and his wife Trina Larmony, Operations Manager at Serenity Helicopters. Just the mention of choppers pricks up my ears, as riding in a helicopter has been one of my longtime desires. I told Jim and Trina about my website and how I’d absolutely love to do an article on their service. After all, it would make a great companion piece to my one on Sin City Skydiving, which you can read here.

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Jim and Trina are amazing people who are worthy of their own profile article. I could tell you about Jim’s experiences as an former UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot for the United States Army. I could go on endlessly about Trina’s tireless charitable work on behalf of children with special needs.

Perhaps they’ll end up in a future edition of SEXY POWER DUOS. Trina and Jim certainly are a stunning pair. But let’s focus on Serenity Helicopters for now…and what sets them apart from similar companies in the Valley.

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Much like in Hawaii, the Vegas area is perfect scenery to view from the sky. Spectacular sunsets, brilliantly-colored lights on the Strip and close proximity to the Grand Canyon make helicopter tours a must-do for thousands of visitors.

There are many helicopter tour agencies operating in and around Las Vegas. They offer various levels of service to fit most budgets. Naturally, you get what you pay for….and sometimes that includes the safety record that comes with cost-conscious services.

Serenity Helicopters is the ultimate in Grand Canyon tours. First and foremost, they carry a one hundred percent perfect safety record. This company has been operating for more than 25 years, first as Air Maui before expanding to Sin City. Their small exclusive fleet is meticulously maintained.

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At each day’s end, an entirely new crew takes charge of the aircraft. Our FAA-certified and factory-trained mechanics inspect and maintain our helicopters to ensure that every component and system meets the highest standards of safety and quality. Our standards are simple: “If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t fly.”

Jim explained to me that Serenity knows the ins and outs of each of their aircraft very well. He flies his route with confidence, much like you do when driving your own personal vehicle. And each of their pilots are the absolute best in their field, bar none.

Most of Serenity’s captains, like Jim, come from a military background…so you could say that they’re “battle tested and time tested”. They’re also skilled tour guides, giving you a bunch of intriguing insights during your journey…along with witty stories and plenty of laughs.

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The aircraft interiors are relatively spacious, comfortable and super-clean. Windscreens provide panoramic 180-degree views of the scenery. Your flight will be smooth as glass with a minimum of noise and vibration. You’re provided with noise-reduction headsets to keep you in touch with your guide as you enjoy atmospheric music personally chosen by your pilot to enhance the visuals.

Serenity Helicopters offers a number of daytime and sunset tours, with or without meals. You can even request a personalized flight plan for custom charters. My pal Danny and I were lucky enough to be welcomed aboard for their best offering – the Sunset Grand Canyon Tour and Dinner. This VIP experience is a two-hour trip over Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, continuing into the Grand Canyon for a gourmet evening meal.

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For our excursion, we were picked up at a Strip hotel by one of Serenity’s luxurious vans. It was plush and spacious, offering leather seats, a high-end sound/video system, bottled drinks and internet tablets at every seat. The 20-minute drive to Serenity’s base of operations concluded with a brief video safety presentation before were escorted inside.

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Our parties checked in with the gracious staff, then we relaxed in the lounge-like office before receiving final safety instructions. Soon we were heading through the hangar and onto the tarmac to board our flight. (A final visit to the restroom is highly suggested as there are no facilities from this point until your return.)

Liftoff was a breeze and in no time our group was sailing over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The visuals were absolutely stunning and had me feeling like Christopher Reeve flying over the same spot in 1978’s SUPERMAN THE MOVIE.

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Serenity Helicopters

After passing Memorial Bridge and the lake we crossed into Arizona, over an extinct volcano and deep into the desert. It wasn’t long before our flight brought us right to the edge of the Grand Canyon…then into the heart of one of the world’s greatest wonders.

Gorgeous vistas, sun-drenched rocks, stunning colors and amazing unspoiled nature. What passed around and under us was almost too much to drink in. I found myself with tears in my eyes and my heart pounding. Yet in retrospect, the simultaneous peacefulness (dare I say “serenity”?) of the experience was remarkable.

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As the journey into the canyon continued, we flew past the Grand Canyon Skywalk and over the Colorado River before arriving at Serenity’s own private landing area. There we took in a flawless panoramic view of the valley. While we explored the terrain, pilots from both aircraft set up their tables for a piping hot gourmet meal…complete with china, table cloths and champagne.

Serenity Helicopters

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Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters

As our pilot topped off our glasses of bubbly, he described to me how Serenity devised a way to transport their dinners to such a far-off locale while keeping them hot, flavorful and satisfying. I won’t give away trade secrets, but layers of custom-shaped pizza stones inside the insulated totes might have been mentioned.

 

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Soon the sun was dipping towards the horizon, so our pilots gathered passengers for the return trip. I was able to catch this cool video (above) of our tour-mates lifting off. Then our own chopper headed for the horizon. The most awe-inspiring moments lie ahead. Words can’t describe them, so I won’t even bother to try.

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Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters

If you only watch a single clip, make it the one below. Be sure to click “HD” and expand it to full screen:

After a smooth and glorious landing, Jim and Trina allowed us to stay behind a little while as our copter was brought into the hangar for meticulous safety checks and maintenance. Then it was back to the van for our return trip to the Strip.

 

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Much like my skydiving adventure, the Grand Canyon helicopter tour was one of those unforgettable moments that you have to do at least once. And if you’re ready to do something this monumental, why not go with the best in the industry?

Serenity Helicopters not only sets the standard for aerial tours, but they surpass it each and every time.

Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters operates daily. The company is a TripAdvisor Hall of Fame recipient, having been awarded their Certificate of Excellence for eight consecutive years.

Check the Serenity Helicopters website for flight options, pricing and more. Insider tip: single fliers can get special pricing on unsold seats when available. Call for information on this offer at 702.589.7700. 

Photos and video: Sammasseur, Danny Angel, Jim Gisclair, Trina Larmony, Serenity Helicopters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manilow: The World’s Greatest Showman


Barry returns to Westgate’s International Theater in a must-see event…

Thanks to Hugh Jackman’s recent hit film The Greatest Showman, a new generation regards P.T. Barnum as the greatest showman. But look a little closer at history and you’ll find a career marked in controversy and ethical concerns.

No such worries with the revered Barry Manilow. This legendary performer is universally respected, admired and loved….with good reason. No living singer/songwriter has done for entertainment what the Brooklyn native has been able to accomplish. And the fact that he’s still bringing crowds to their feet at 75 years of age is beyond remarkable.

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It goes without saying that after more than four decades, Manilow has begun to show signs of aging (ya think?). The voice is a little less velvety than you may remember. And after some serious health issues, his gait can be a bit wobbly at times.

But make no mistake – the man still owns the stage and can belt them out with aplomb. As Manilow said himself last night: “What is your 75-year-old grandfather doing tonight? I’m STILL a sex god!”. Yes, sir, you are.

As for the production, Manilow: The Hits Come Home is a landmark achievement in Vegas entertainment. Returning to the stage that he ruled for so many years (under the “Hilton” banner), Manilow’s entrance is preceded by a video intro that builds an unbearable amount of suspense. When the screen arises and the icon steps into the spotlight, it’s a true “pinch me” moment.

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The set list begins with 1975’s “It’s A Miracle”, which seems fitting considering the circumstances. The significance of this early hit was not lost on a packed house of diehard and casual fans. “Daybreak” and “Looks Like We Made It” round out the opening medley, setting the tone for 105 minutes of pure hits and touching moments.

There are very few performers of his era that can maintain the energy level that Barry does during a show. Eschewing the usual time-borrowing distractions…like solos from back-up artists and endless video packages (I’m looking at you, Cher), Barry is onstage from curtain-up through final bows.

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It’s clear that the singer’s primary reason for being onstage is because he enjoys doing it so very, very much. He wants you to have a great time, sing along and reminisce with him about an era that looks so great in the rear view mirror.

“I just love these songs”, he says. “Whatever happened to melodies? Today’s music is great….there’s lots of rhythm…but where did the melodies go?”. Then he answers that question by diving right back into his huge bag of goodies, which includes “This One’s For You”, “Even Now” and “I Made It Through The Rain”.

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Between songs, Manilow recounts his childhood…and the endless support he got from his family. This was especially true of his grandfather, who took little Barry into the city to record his voice at a coin-operated sound booth. Amazingly, the audio of that scratchy vinyl disc still exists. He shares it with the audience, along with photos of them together on their adventure.

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Speaking of adventure, Barry briefly turns on the campy charm with a 3D-enhanced flyover of New York City (everyone gets a pair of 3D glasses, glow stick and collectible tumbler), set to the lyrics of “This Is My Town”. That self-penned single is from his newest album. Released in 2017, “Songs of New York” is the 31st studio release, which rose to number 12 on U.S. charts.

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Another heartwarming moment brought tears to this writer’s eyes. It’s when Manilow is seen in a clip of his 1975 performance of “Mandy” on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. After a few phrases, Barry himself appears, already seated at a piano. The two Manilows share a duet, separated by 43 years and a lifetime of experience. Try not to get choked up.

The television has always kind to Barry, especially in the formative years of his career. He began as a songwriter, creating jingles for the likes of State Farm, Band-Aid and McDonald’s. He shares a few of those ear worms, much like he did in a legendary 1978 HBO concert.

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That program, “Manilow: Live at the Greek Theater”, was HBO‘s first-ever music special…and a breakthrough for modern programming. It was also the first cable program to ever beat the big three networks in the ratings, cementing HBO‘s place in American homes (bet you GAME OF THRONES fans didn’t know that you have Barry to thank!).

I remember going to a friend’s house to watch this concert (we couldn’t afford cable back then) and being utterly mesmerized. And that’s how I felt at the Westgate Hotel Casino as this master of entertainment brought all those memories back to vivid life.

The nearly two-hour show flies by at a rapid pace, culminating in the glorious “I Write The Songs”, a masterpiece that united the many generations in attendance. This clip will show you just how moving a song can be. And of course, there’s an encore of “Copacabana (At The Copa)” to send you dancing in the streets.

If there’s one show you absolutely must see while in Vegas, it’s Manilow: The Hits Come Home. 2019 dates were just announced today, so you still have some time to witness the legend. But don’t put it off…even the World’s Greatest Showman will have to hang up his flashy jackets someday.

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Manilow: The Hits Come Home performs Thursday-Saturday at Westgate’s International Theater. Tickets start at $22 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here.  Our friend at VegasFool.com is offering discounts via this link

Photos: Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Eyes On Vegas Once More


Publication is resuming from a new vantage point at the upper edge of the Valley…

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A few weeks ago I announced here that I would be leaving Oregon and moving full-time to Sin City. A lot has happened since that article was published, most of it great…and some a bit sad.

It’s rare that I share personal details at Vegas Unfiltered…that is, unless they’re related to the topic at hand. But I’m pleased to say that my crew of rescue kitties and I survived the two-day drive.

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We settled into our new home (a gorgeous four-level structure with a roof-top deck) and are adjusting quite nicely. All have done remarkably well…except for a big orange tabby named “Sunny”.

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Sunny enjoys watching the sunrise with his dad on our overnight drive to Vegas…

Sunny has had a really tough life. I found him dying in a snow storm four years ago in rural Salem Oregon. He had been run over and left for dead. I took him to a vet, he survived surgeries and an extensive recovery period. Despite having the feline version of HIV called FIV (yes, it’s a real thing), Sunny grew to be healthy, happy and loved.

Sadly, only two days after unloading my moving truck, Sunny was at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center. His new oncologist and I were discussing options to treat his nasal lymphoma, a non-curable cancer.

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As I write this, Sunny is in the next room being comforted by his gal-pal Tasha. My buddy underwent his first chemotherapy treatment last Thursday and is still hanging in there. Life for him will go only as long as the fates (and wonders of science) can allow.

My pal will enjoy being with us only. as long as his quality of life warrants it…then we’ll sadly say goodbye. Tasha will take it the hardest. She showed up a few months after I found Sunny and they’ve become inseparable.

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            George Blick will be in the Vegas Unfiltered spotlight very soon…

In the meantime, yours truly is ready to get back to publishing new profiles and experiences. Next up will be a profile of multi-hyphenate performer George Blick. Soon after will be a luxury Grand Canyon tour with Serenity Helicopters, a true VIP service. I’ll also be publishing my next piece through BestOfVegas.com. More on that one later.

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Thank you for sticking with me during this time of transition. I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait….these Vegas sunrises are certainly inspiring enough! Our Vegas Unfiltered adventure together is just beginning!

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Photos: Sammasseur, Serenity Helicopters, George Blick