2018 Events, Trends & Moments…The Personal Side


Sharing some of the more intimate moments and thoughts of 2018 as I bring this year-end retrospective to a close…

THAT WONDERFUL HELICOPTER RIDE

There were a lot of changes in my personal life during the latter half of 2018. The biggest began during a fortuitous flight from my home in Salem Oregon to Las Vegas. A conversation with my seat mate and his wife, who was directly in front of him, led to a new friendship. And that friendship yielded one of the most (if not THE most) spectacular events of the year.

It’s quite common to see helicopters slicing through the skies of Sin City, but only one offers the experience as a luxurious jaunt over Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon. I could go on and on with words, but this one deserves a visual. Thanks to Trina Larmony, Jim Gisclair and all the wonderful folks at Serenity Helicopters for making my heart soar. Read about the full experience here.

GONE AND FORGOTTEN – Vegas Bright

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VegasBright.com was an idea that had so much potential. The brainchild of a fan of VegasChatter.com (the site that got me started in this industry), VB could have been an enormous success. I was approached by this particular reader with a proposal to gather former VC contributors, regroup and carry on the tradition. And I’d get to work (sans compensation, mind you) with wonderful photographer and friend Greg C. once more.

Alas, there was no direction, organization or cohesive path from the very start. Writers left with abandon and those who stuck around offered pedestrian pieces like the painful series “My Halloween Visit to Fremont Street” (that began the first week of November and carried on for ten insipid chapters into June of the following year), endless burger joint reviews (which earned our site the nickname “Burger Bright”) and week after week of fluffy reader-contributed “Must-do” filler.

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If I sound bitter about this matter, I most definitely am. There was no excuse for such a wasted opportunity. My attempts to bring our team to a unified whole were consistently met with resistance by the founding editor. In fact, our writers never actually gathered a single time. Articles that I penned about fresh and exciting events were set aside for dusty reviews of long-running shows (that had nothing new to report on) and restaurants that had been around forever. It became a predictable and boring snooze fest, nothing at all like the site we’d set out to emulate.

After I departed in frustration to start this blog, a replacement editor came in. This guy subsequently put Vegas Bright on hiatus…not once but twice. That didn’t stop him, someone whom I’ve never actually met, from slandering both me and my brand-new page on Twitter (several times, actually). Not cool, dude! He mocked my readership and writing abilities (“You write? I’ve never heard of you”). Such childish behavior, despite the fact that dozens of my articles continue to fill the archives of his now-dead site.

Sounds an awful lot like our current White House regime, doesn’t it? When you feel inferior or threatened, it’s easier to insult than to up your own game. All bluster, little logic, zero action.

I feel pride in having an intimate and discerning readership (thank you all) and for not churning out the same recycled news bits as others do. What’s really cute is that, despite ripping my page apart, there were at least three separate incidences where Vegas Bright cribbed my headlines, articles, layout and photographs.

The most recent…or final…Vegas Bright piece was published on June 8th, 2018. It, too, was a knockoff of my ongoing series on Sin City oddities hiding in plain sight. Thanks for flattering me….yet again.

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There’s been no explanation for the continued inactivity, no official “farewell” and no reason to believe that Vegas Bright will ever return. What a nice way to disrespect your loyal readers. Not that anyone actually cares. If a website utters its dying gasp in the virtual woods, does it make a sound?

MOVING TO LAS VEGAS

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The biggest personal event I have to share is the decision to relocate from Oregon to Las Vegas. To say that frequent flying between the cities is trying would be an understatement. Southwest Airlines, the primary carrier between the two cities, has yet to master the art of an on-time departure. Competitor Alaska Airlines, my preferred airline by leaps and bounds, has unfortunately scaled back the number of non-stops between the two cities.

To make things more frustrating, an incident at McCarran International Airport last November had me deeming their TSA checkpoint “the worst in the nation”. Then there are all the recent changes that make staying in a hotel on the Strip much less pleasant and affordable than just a few short years ago.

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      A typical morning view from my home in the Mountain’s Edge community…

Surprisingly, life for Vegas locals is quite a pleasant affair. Homes are newer, cheaper and slicker than you’d expect. The cost of groceries, gasoline and dining out are lower than where I came from (which is why so many locals see the Strip for the ripoff it is), and there are many outlying attractions and activities that tourists never know about.

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       My four-level home has a rooftop deck with a view of the entire valley…

After making the decision spontaneously, I contacted Jeff Desruisseaux, a realtor whom I’d recently met at Leon Spinks’ birthday party. We arranged to meet and I headed down here to go house-hunting. Within 24 hours I had an offer in on my dream home, a four-level beauty, which was accepted immediately. Some things are meant to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                     I’ve made a lot of fantastic friends in this city…

In no time I was back in Oregon, packing the SUV with my rescue cats and getting on the road. On board was my orange tabby Sunny, who had lymphoma and was about to begin chemotherapy. Sadly, he passed away on January second. But the time we spent together on the highway was unforgettable.

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My little buddy stayed hidden for most of the trip, but when the sun began to break the horizon, he came out of his carrier and watched the beautiful sunrise with me. As we drove along the lake, the warmth of the sun hit both of our faces and I knew it was a special moment never to be forgotten.

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It was hard to start 2019 by saying goodbye to my little pal. Thank goodness he was treated with loving care by the staff and oncologists at Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center right up to his final moments. Amazingly, both Branden Powers of The Golden Tiki and Chef Bruno Morabito of Sid’s Cafe at Westgate have offered to make tributes to Sunny at their respective businesses. This community has a deep soul indeed.

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Life in Sin City has taken some adjusting to but there are no regrets….only new opportunities. This valley is packed with wonderful, giving and talented men and women. I look forward to telling you about them in the weeks and months ahead. And why, despite all the things that make Vegas less than perfect, it’s still a wonderful place to call home.

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Thank you for being a loyal reader and friend. Happy New Year.

 

 

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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).

Star Trek entrance

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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

Westgate Turns Strip-side Gouging On Its Ear


Find out why I’m constantly fawning over Westgate Las Vegas…

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It’s worth noting that, since this article’s original publication nearly two years ago on another website, I have stayed numerous times at Westgate during non-peak/non-convention periods. During those visits, the gates were conveniently open..and so were the opportunities for free (and hassle-free) parking without even the need for ticket validation or a room key. Apparently the resort is enforcing controlled access only when the situation demands it…to enhance the experience of their own guests.

The following section, although a re-publishing, has been updated and revised with current information.

Ever since MGM Resorts instituted a complex and ever-rising parking charge at their Strip properties, it was only a matter of time before others like Caesars properties, Cosmopolitan and Wynn/Encore followed suit (let’s call it “resort fee deja vu”). But while these insulting fees basically stick it to everyone (excluding certain levels of play and resort-branded credit card holders), Westgate Las Vegas has a parking policy to protect and reward their guests.

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That statement might initially sound like the infamous public-relations nonsense issued by Caesars Entertainment Corporation when they instituted resort fees “because the public demanded them.” Not so at Westgate, where the intent is clearly to ensure that their lots aren’t being jammed by drivers who are actually heading elsewhere.

You see, Westgate Las Vegas is in the sticky position of being both 1) adjacent to a convention center that charges hefty parking fees, and 2) located on a monorail line that takes riders all the way to MGM Grand and other properties along the way that now charge parking fees.

When I met with reps from the Westgate marketing team a while back, the subject of parking policies came up. Rumors had been swirling about MGM’s plans and Westgate was already considering their options to address the ramifications.

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Soon after, both my friend (photographer Greg C.) and I separately discovered that the multi-story garages and open-air lots had been secured. Automated ticketing kiosks had been installed and a ten-dollar daily fee was now in effect.

But….this is important….the fee was reimbursable for hotel guests, restaurant diners, attendees to Westgate shows and those who come to visit the casino and sports book.

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The “To Serve You Better” double-talk that’s usually issued in these situations is actually genuine here. Westgate patrons won’t have to be concerned that conventioneers and monorail riders are using up the available parking spaces.

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Signs are liberally posted throughout Westgate to show where to get your ticket validated. Naturally, you’ll need to present your dining/show ticket/betting receipt/player’s card as proof of your patronage.

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Then you simply insert that validated ticket into the automated exit gate at the lots and garages. Hotel guests have it even simpler, as their room key operates the exit gates as well.

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In addition, Westgate charges $20 to utilize their valet service during events and conventions, especially those at the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center. But once again, this fee is reimbursed for hotel guests.

While walking the property to photograph the lots, gates and kiosks, I noticed several circumstances where cars approached the gates, read the new policy signage, then backed out and left. This is only conjecture, but I have to assume that these persons weren’t actually Westgate customers, meaning the intent of the fees is working.

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If this program turns out to be successful, perhaps we can eventually expect other resorts in similar situations (think Tropicana, Venetian/Palazzo and Treasure Island) to try their hand at customer-friendly parking programs. And once again, this could work in their favor to take on the money-grubbing bigger chains.

The policies and practices in Las Vegas are ever-evolving…and they’re rarely designed to truly improve the Vegas visitor’s experience. So, while MGM and copycat properties are using parking fees as a blatant cash grab, more guest-friendly resorts will be protecting their own.

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That’s why I’ll be booking more stays at Westgate. You should consider them, too.

Follow this link for a current list of Westgate Las Vegas discounted room rates, packages and promotional specials.

 

Photos: Sammasseur

“Racy Magazine” Protest Exposes Sin City Parents as Hypcocrites


Outraged residents object to publication’s presence near libraries…

You know, there are certain subjects that push my buttons…REALLY HARD. Judgmental parents with conveniently-fluctuating standards of morality is certainly one of those matters. Something of that nature was brought to my attention recently. I want to tell you about it. And why I feel the way I do.

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My frustrations regarding this complaint are actually two-fold. On the surface, my skin crackles at the behavior of parents who feel that having children somehow grants them the position of Moral Compass Overseer. And deep down, my stomach knots up at the notion that anyone would find sexy material unacceptable in a place known as Sin City.

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Last evening I attended a performance of Zombie Burlesque with a friend who recently moved here. During a striptease number, he leaned over and commented at how odd it was that ladies were required to wear pasties during the show. He clearly was under the impression that “anything goes” in Las Vegas. But that is far from the truth, which he’ll continue to learn as he settles into the community.

In 2018’s corporation-run Las Vegas, you never know when the next “adult” behavior will be frowned upon, restricted…or eliminated altogether. For instance, a 2014 law was passed to prohibit drinking booze from open cans and bottles on the Fremont Street pedestrian mall.

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The move was made to supposedly protect everyone from injuries related to fights and such. But would this really have come to pass if so many parents hadn’t decided in recent years to bring their little ones to “Glitter Gulch”? You can still get drunk and dance in front of the stages, but now you’ve got to watch out for those four-year-olds who are right there by your knees at one in the morning. Because, you know, every tourist destination has to cater to children.

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You may recall how incensed I was recently when Palms Casino deemed it unacceptable for a group of athletic male show performers to gather at their poolside cafe for lunch…because they’d be shirtless most of the time (for photos and such). What a ridiculous stance, especially in a town that promises sin, smut, excess and discretion for all types of adult activities. #LasVegasHypocrisy, if you will.

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Don’t promise debauchery then pull your panties high and tight, Las Vegas. That statement is targeted at specific residents of the city…those who choose to raise their children here. There are fifty states in our Union and thousands of cities and small towns across the nation. But YOU chose to raise your little ones here. You know, the place where mobile billboards offer women directly to your room. So why are you suddenly so prim, proper, conservative and offended when an adult-skewing magazine is found on the racks in public places?

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“I’m shocked. It shouldn’t be here. There’s a school right across the street”. So says Phillip Castillo, a resident speaking on-camera to KTNV, the local ABC affiliate that’s stoking the fires on this non-controversy. Joining him with her expressions of revulsion was Angelica Torres, whose seven-year-old comes to the library to learn about life on this big blue marble.

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Well, Ms. Torres, your little daughter is in luck. The issue you’re so worked up over hails the talents of Noel Dahl, a highly-respected local photographer. If your child happened to be scouring, unsupervised, through the racks of magazines near the door of the county library and picked up that January issue of Las Vegas Night Beat, she might have learned all about this amazing man and his philanthropic work for the community you live in.

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      Noel Dahl (in tuxedo) is inadvertently at the center of a controversy….

While I researched the TV segment for this article, Mr. Dahl was in the process of donning his tuxedo to host a fundraiser for Golden Rainbow. That’s an organization providing housing, education and direct financial assistance to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada.

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          Photographer Noel Dahl and others serving food to the homeless…

No doubt Mr. Dahl’s heart was a little heavy after having been metaphorically dragged through the mud right before bedtime on his own television set. Nevertheless, the day after the fundraiser, he was back to business as usual. While those parents were probably rinsing out their offspring’s eyes with peroxide and painting picket signs for a protest march at the library, Noel was spending his Valentine’s Day distributing meals to the homeless in one of the city’s parks.

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I myself am no stranger to Noel Dahl’s work. Last year I purchased and proudly displayed a calendar that he annually photographs and distributes to raise funds for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). Noel donates 100 percent of the proceeds to this cause.

Throughout my years as a photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting countless men for my own portfolio, but I have always strived to find a way of utilizing my photography skills to give back to the Las Vegas community. I hope to make a change with this project. 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.

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Here’s the kicker – it features sexy men in provocative poses. And that’s what these up-in-arms parents aren’t taking the time to absorb or acknowledge…that sex appeal can be channeled for great purposes. While Ms. Torres was on camera exclaiming “I see a lot of nudes. And flesh…skin…crack!”, she was simultaneously suggesting that the human body is something to be reviled…and completely misses the point.

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      A Vegas parent readies “Bobby” for an afternoon at the local playground…

I can’t help wondering if Mr. Castillo, the outraged father, ever visits Erotic Heritage Museum where the Golden Rainbow fundraiser was held this week. Does he drive around town with his daughter in the car? What exactly do Vegas parents do with all of this provocative material facing them from every direction? They’re even on billboards that line the roads and highways.

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Or should I scratch even deeper to ponder whether these frazzled mothers and fathers…and KTNV-TV by extension…are really just upset that these magazines are geared towards the LGBTQ community? If so, that’s just another form of judgmental, bigoted behavior being justified under the guise of “protecting our little ones”, i.e. suggesting that homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia.

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I’m not sure what makes people think that, because they’ve procreated, they’re immediately granted a higher position in society. It takes no special gifts or skills to make babies. If it did, there wouldn’t be over seven billion of us on this planet. Creating offspring doesn’t make you smarter, more educated or a more worthy person. In fact, it shouldn’t entitle you to anything that parent-free people don’t have.

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It can get unnecessarily ugly when folks protest the freedoms of others within their own community, especially when they do so in public forums like television. We’re living in dangerous times, my friends, and you never know when something you say or do will be misconstrued or used against you down the road.

Thank goodness that the people at Las Vegas-Clark County Library District maintained their heads. A spokesperson addressed the complaint in a fair, professional statement that should hopefully bring this non-issue to a close:

The Library District collects, gathers, and makes available a wide variety of information and we understand that some people may occasionally find these materials offensive or inappropriate. The public library is a First Amendment public institution.

Yes, the Library District is aware of various magazines that are displayed in our lobbies. Our Display Policy, adopted by the Library Board in 1999, allows for free community-based publications that contain news and feature articles relevant to either segments of a district-wide population or to smaller geographic areas within the Library District to be circulated.

The presence of these materials in the Library District is not a form of endorsement. We encourage individuals to form their own opinion about what they choose the read or view.

In this case, the simple act of recognizing the talents and contributions of a gifted photographer has put an entire subculture under the microscope. I have no idea if Noel Dahl and his models are homosexuals…and it’s none of my business. But before citizens of this community…and the media outlets who cover it…decide to vilify other members of society, it might be worth their time to do some research. And a whole lot of self-examination.

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One final thought…if you’re so worried about what your child might pick up around the public areas of Sin City….then keep a better eye on them. It’s YOUR job…nobody else’s.

Photos: Sammasseur, Noel Dahl Studio, Oscareando Vegas, KTNV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Sin City Determined To Drive You Away?


Asking the tough question that’s probably on lots of minds…

UPDATE #2: This week at SLS’s The Sayer’s Club, I ordered three small vodka/tonics from a cocktail waitress. What should have been served was “well liquor” was charged as top-shelf (big difference in price) and came with a request to tip TWO individuals. I added 15% to the base charge and didn’t dispute the bill (if well liquor is not available, it is the responsibility of the server to state “We carry ______ brands only, is that okay?”. Nevertheless, speak with your wallet and refuse to patronize establishments that knowingly gouge their patrons.

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UPDATE: This Saturday, after attending the Black and White fundraiser at Mandalay Bay, I stopped at Dick’s Last Resort inside Excalibur for a quick bite…and to get re-hydrated.

Being charged $33.98 for an appetizer and salad was bad enough…but I was also slapped with an insulting fee for the glass of water that I asked for. Yes, it’s only 75 cents. But if you don’t see what this means for the future of Vegas tourism, you need to read on.

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That makes this article as timely as ever. Blatant gouging of guests will continue and grow worse as long as Vegas visitors shrug it off. MGM Resorts is at the forefront of this practice. Speak with your wallet and refuse to be ripped off. 

Back in 2016, while editing a guest writer’s article about the de-theming of Luxor Hotel Casino for another website, I felt a long-brewing flame inside me suddenly become a flash fire. The article reminded me of all the things I fell in love with that Vegas was so intent on removing. I felt the need to rant about the path that Sin City has headed down. This is the result of that emotional rush.

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   “Has anyone seen those talking camels?”...                       

Since beginning my own Vegas addiction in 2005, I’ve helplessly watched as some of my favorite attractions have been yanked out and tossed into that box labeled “When Vegas Was Better”. They include SPEED, the roller coaster at Sahara, the HIGH ROLLER ride atop the Stratosphere (their own roller coaster, not that slow-moving LINQ observation wheel), MGM Grand‘s Lion Habitat and the indoor white tiger pool at Mirage.

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          Rio’s “Show In The Sky” was scaled way back and ultimately removed…

Then there are the gorgeous exterior fountains at Paris and Monte Carlo, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay BayRio’s legendary Show In The Sky, moving statues and costumed Roman gladiators strolling around Caesars Palace …and on and on.

With rumors swirling of both Luxor and Excalibur getting another strip-down, that guest writer’s article really hit home. It prompted me to finally vocalize something that I’m convinced is on lots of other readers’ minds.

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         The Linq Hotel – from dump to overpriced eyesore in the name of progress…

Not only have the attractions and free shows been ripped out, but the campiness and fun of hotel themes have been chiseled away ad nauseam. Sure, Imperial Palace was a flophouse. But it was also extremely affordable, had a unified faux-Asian charm…and those unforgettable Dealertainers. Now we have The Linq – a stupidly-named, generic exercise in blandness stocked with Ikea-grade furniture, glaringly-bright interiors and a hideous exterior paint job that defies explanation.

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                                                   Sorry, SLS, but I prefer this…

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                                                                    …to this…

In an alternate universe, Imperial Palace regulars might have moved down to Bill’s Gambling Hall or up the Strip to Sahara to get their affordable room and themed surroundings. But not in THIS reality, where Sahara’s Moroccan stylings were jettisoned in favor of white-on-white at the absurdly-overpriced SLS (three letters that represent nothing, really).

Remember the Victorian-era rich woods, stained glass and gorgeous chandeliers at Bill’s Gambling Hall (originally Barbary Coast)? That stylish little hotel got put on a salt-free diet of beige, blandness and more beige. It was refitted and renamed the meaningless Cromwell a few years ago (who exactly is Cromwell…a stuffy old butler?).

Bye-bye, Victorian Rooms $4.99 steak and eggs…hello to Giada and $60.00 for a 7-oz filet. I’m sure that Giada’s dental work didn’t come cheaply, but should you have to pay for it?

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                                           $36.00 for ravioli…just because I can…

There was once a time when guests arriving at Paris were greeted with quaint French phrases. Those arriving at Luxor could take a Nile riverboat to their inclinator (an angular elevator in the pyramid). Treasure Island was alive with buccaneers and a swashbuckling outdoor show.

The mirage-themed….er, Mirage was lined with bamboo accents and staff members wore tropical shirts (the volcano erupted way more frequently, too). Now the only thing that really sets these hotels apart from one another is the amount of their respective mandatory fees.

The fact that this trend continues could mean two things from where I stand. Either people don’t really care, or the powers that be aren’t concerned with what you want. When you poke around the internet and read things like “I’m done with Vegas. I can visit shopping malls at home and gamble at my local casino without being ripped off for everything”, you have to ask yourself who is right.

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                      These prices are long gone…and so is the restaurant itself…

I still love Vegas, enough to visit at least twice a month. But you can believe that my spending habits, entertainment choices and lodging selections have been altered dramatically. At first, it was a retreat into the Downtown area. where hotels and restaurants were much cheaper, parking was free and resort fees where unheard-of. Then Fremont Street and the surrounding area got bit by the same dollar-sucking bug.

These days, the ancient and crumbling Golden Gate Hotel tacks on an additional $20 per day to your bill (for nothing, really). Mermaids and the 99-cent hot dog are both gone. Parking meters line the city streets, gates block your entrance into hotel garages until you pay up, and the Gold Spike‘s $5.99 Prime Rib special will set you back $37 at Oscars (and side dishes are no longer part of the meal, by the way).

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                Those talking statues have left Caesars Palace for parts unknown…

After Downtown and the Strip both nickeled-and-dimed me to the point of defeat, I scoured the outlying areas in search of new haunts. And what did I find? Themes! Value! Free attractions! Yes, they’re still out there, waiting for you die-hards to discover. There really aren’t many remaining, and even the resorts that offer these beloved relics of yesterday’s Vegas have been affected by money-grubbing, albeit to a much lesser extent.

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                            Eastside Cannery – new, gorgeous, affordable…

We’re talking the likes of Sam’s Town (excellent cheap Firelight Buffet and lovely Mystic Falls attraction and show) and Eastside Cannery…one of my favorite Vegas hotels with no resort fees until very recently, extremely reasonable rates, free Wi-Fi and Strip-quality rooms on Boulder Highway.

Stations Casinos dot the entire valley, each one offering a different personality with plenty of attractions and dining options that won’t break the bank. They’ve also taken ownership of the faltering Palms Casino west of the Strip. My favorite of their value-geared locations is Texas Station for its atmosphere, cheap dining and movie theaters.

Palace Station, which is currently undergoing a major renovation, is my go-to for Feast Buffet. There, weekday dinners are only $10.99 and breakfast is $7.99 Monday-Saturday. Sunday brunch is $11.99 vs. $23.49 at Excalibur and $25.99 at Mandalay Bay, making it totally worth the drive for quality basics. And parking is still free…as it SHOULD  be.

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     Serene Hotel on E. Harmon Ave. offers a nice alternative to Strip gouging…

Let’s not forget the wide array of smaller boutique hotels, like SereneArtisan, aging Royal Resort and Tuscany Suites that offer a lot more style and personality than the Aria “office complex” ever could. Unfortunately, most of these have tacked on mandatory fees like their Strip counterparts, but are far less expensive overall than the big boys. And you won’t have to stand in line and be subjected to a pat-down just to take a dip in the pool.

It’s no secret that Vegas casinos have seen a drop in revenue, resulting in actions to make up that money elsewhere. Bottle service, admission fees, higher show prices, fewer free drinks for casino players, rationed complimentary cocktails using less alcohol and cheaper spirits, cutbacks on Player’s Club rewards. Maybe if they never rolled out the universally-hated 6:5 Blackjack odds, a bottle of water wouldn’t cost seven dollars?

I know that there are those of you out there, reading this now, who say “Things change. Vegas moves forward. The days of old Vegas are over”. To you I respond “That’s true if you accept it”. But why have we as a collective group of Vegas-goers allowed this to happen?

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                                 Sorry, Holly…we’re not buying into your lies…

Can you really state, with total honesty, that it’s fair for this city to tack on Resort Fees, Parking Fees, Energy Surcharges, Live Entertainment Taxes, Customer Facility Charges, Concession Recovery Fees, Concession and Franchise Fees, Room Preference Fees, Telephone Call Convenience Fees, Ticket Convenience Fees, Credit Card Usage Fees, Live Reservation Operator Surcharges, Early Check-in Fees, In-room Safe Usage Fees…and many more…to your visit?

How soon before they install machines to collect quarters before you can use the casino restroom? When I was a writer for VegasChatter, we learned that some restaurants were starting to tack on an extra charge to serve you a glass of tap water along with your meal. Yes, tap water! Of course, their response was the typical “to serve our customers better” nonsense.

Isn’t it outrageous to you that free in-room coffeemakers, continental breakfast and wireless internet (things that are standard in just about every basic motel around the nation) are not provided in Las Vegas? Apparently not, because thousands of people shrug it off every day.

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Stratosphere has attempted to counteract “Today’s Vegas” with an ad campaign that has wonderful intentions. Called “Take Vegas Back“, Stratosphere is running commercials and filling the city with billboards and print ads. They plead for a return to the days when average Joes and Janes could enjoy themselves in Sin City without having to be super-rich or super-gorgeous. Too bad the hotel itself is a bit hypocritical by charging a $32.99 plus tax Daily Resort Fee…and a bacon double-cheeseburger is $15.99 in their casual Roxy’s Diner.

Once this city is completely consumed by blandness, fraudulent extortion charges, soaring prices and declining customer service, this writer may reach the point where Vegas becomes the rare once-a-year destination. After all, there are plenty of other places to visit where you can get bang for your buck. You know…like Vegas USED to be.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Things could revert if we stopped being so docile towards this nonsense and actually spoke out/fought back/refused to go along. Perhaps we’re seeing signs of this already, at least in regards to MGM’s parking fees, where rumors of show closings and dramatically-dropping retail sales quickly surfaced.

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                 HEXX and Budweiser Beer Park – two levels of scamming…

Why stop there? Let the hoteliers, restaurateurs and politicians know that you’ve had enough. Scott Roeben of VitalVegas.com put it beautifully when he exposed the CNF Concession and Franchise Fee at HEXX, Budweiser Beer ParkCabo Wabo Cantina, Senor Frogs and others:

Vegas visitors have long bemoaned the fact hotels charge resort fees, but Cabo Wabo Cantina and a few other Strip restaurants charge this concession fee, and it’s far worse than a resort fee because you get nothing whatsoever for it. It’s just a fee tacked onto your bill.

The CNF charge is, in fact, worse than a resort fee, because guests typically don’t learn about the gratuitous fee until their bill arrives, when it’s too late to choose another restaurant.

Adding to the outrage of the CNF charge is the fact it’s added to your bill before the sales tax is calculated, so you’re paying tax on a tax.

What can you do if you’re presented with a bill that includes a CNF charge you didn’t know about? Refuse to pay it. Talk to a manager, demand the charge be reversed and raise holy hell. Tell everyone you know to stay away. E-mail. Tweet. Comment on Facebook. Rant. Rail. Fight back.

Let these venues know we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it in the cornhole anymore.

Scott has also gone on camera and used his site to expose other customer-gouging practices, particularly at MGM Resorts.

And then there’s Branden Powers, the man behind Golden Tiki and the new Evel Pie pizza joint in Downtown, who wrote this beautiful treatise on the “old ways” for Las Vegas Review Journal:

Because of my history with this great city, I want to make sure that its past is not forgotten. We need more Las Vegas. Nightclubs, arenas and professional sports teams are all great. But we need places where people can go talk to each other, share a cocktail and dine on a great steak while watching a classic performer.

People want to experience the Las Vegas of yesteryear because they love its history as much as I do. We need to make sure that is protected. Our history like all things in the desert is slowly evaporating. We never should have lost JUBILEE, the last classic showgirl revue. We should have rallied around it, supported it and funded it as a community.

It’s important that places like The Golden SteerFrankie’s Tiki RoomCasa Di AmoreHugo’s Cellar and The Peppermill Lounge, just to name a few, live on.

I intend to carry the torch and not only protect our legacy but also rebuild it anew with places like The Golden Tiki that seem as if they’ve always been there. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 12, 2016

If more folks had the fortitude of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers, Las Vegas could actually return to the days of being affordable. And it would be lots more fun than it already is.

This article previously appeared on another website in a different form.

Photos: Sammasseur, Stratosphere.com, Caesars.com. Excerpts used by permission of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers