‘The Vegas Room’ Announces Month-Long Christmas Extravaganza

Twenty-part celebration of Peace On Earth To serve stellar musical productions and gorgeous holiday feasts…


One month ago I penned what would end up being the most troubling article I’d ever published. Drained by disturbing events of violence this spring and summer, I closed out this difficult piece with the following statement:

Vegas Unfiltered Blog will be taking an indefinite break. If and when there is a reason to put Sin City back on your to-do list, you might see this site return. Until then…stay safe, stay smart and be well.

In the ensuing four weeks, this writer has monitored all of those troubling incidents and trends on the blog’s corresponding Facebook page. Along the way, I’ve been hoping for something positive to report…anything uplifting enough to justify a return to the keyboard. And it happened this past Thursday after a trip to my beloved new hangout…The Vegas Room.

Since the pandemic caused a total shutdown of dedicated live entertainment, one venue has been a godsend. Glamorous The Vegas Room supper club has preserved and protected the heartbeat of Sin City for everyone to enjoy. All summer and into the fall, this tribute to the Golden Era has safely offered a healing cocktail of music, merriment, and delicious meals to a city split asunder by COVID-19. It’s been an amazing place to share with friends old and new.

Click here and here for my previous write-ups of this amazing destination. 

If it wasn’t for my regular visits to The Vegas Room, this entertainment addict might have gone completely bonkers (instead of just moderately imbalanced). And now that we’re heading into the holiday season, imagine my joy in learning that their team is about to fill the entire month of December with the sights, sounds, and flavors of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”!

During a return engagement by Eric Jordan Young (in a salute to Sammy Davis Jr.), I was asked by the proprietors to stay and discuss their upcoming holiday showcase. Surrounded by amazing talent like Michelle Johnson, Phillip Officer and Philip Fortenberry, entertainment director Brent Barrett gave me a little taste of what they had in store. Then Barrett and President Thomas Michel asked if Vegas Unfiltered Blog would be interested in chronicling their showcase from production meetings through the opening night. Ya think???

Throughout the month of December, The Vegas Room will feature rotating casts of four world-class artists, all known for their work in stellar productions. Most have already appeared at the venue or are slated to have their own events in the coming weeks and months. 

I’ve been told that plans are underway to expand the performance space to accommodate a larger production, quite possibly the only month-long Christmas series in Las Vegas this year. General Manager Sean Stephenson is sure to have his hands full with all of the upcoming activities.

Sets and decorations will whisk you away to “Columbia Inn” of Pine Tree, Vermont. That’s the setting of White Christmas, Irving Berlin’s perennial film favorite. Stage Direction will be by Eric Jordan Young, with Musical Direction by Keith Thompson (Jersey Boys, Hairspray).

Talent will be culled from various shows including BAZ, Vegas! The Show, Mayfair Supper Club, Pin-Up, Rock of Ages and Phantom- The Las Vegas Spectacular. While it’s too soon to share further details on the event, it’s definitely one that you’ll want to put on your calendar….and order advance tickets for. 

Chef David James Robinson will be creating memorable five-course meals as part of the heartwarming experience. Known for his daring twists on traditional dishes, Chef David creates everything from scratch in The Vegas Room kitchen:

“We care enormously about the food and service we provide. Our guests at The Vegas Room will see that for themselves when they experience the reality – both in look and taste – that everything we make is handcrafted and made from scratch”.

“For example, all of our salad dressings, soups, and stocks are uniquely ours and made fresh. Additionally, all breads, muffins, and biscuits were baked fresh that day, and every component of every dish was sourced and prepared with great care…and it always will be.”  – Chef David James Robinson

As a personal fan of Chef David’s work, I’ve found great delight in every colorful dish…from ratatouille and a vegan “Southwestern Fiesta” to truffle chicken and slow-roasted beef loin. Even the July 4th appetizer course was “fireworks on a plate”. It’ll be exciting to see what he plans to do with traditional holiday favorites. 

Despite the year we’ve endured, it’s incredible to realize that the holiday season is just around the corner. Thank goodness The Vegas Room is establishing a brand-new tradition of warmth and joy. Plan ahead by securing your reservation now. With all of the hardships this city has faced in 2020, we all deserve some peace on Earth, goodwill to men. And you’re sure to find it “A Vegas Room Christmas”.

Follow this link for complete information on pricing, schedules and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18 in the historic Commercial Center complex. 

Photos: Sam Novak, The Vegas Room, KTNV

Farewell to “Le Reve – The Dream” at Wynn


The most-loved production show in Las Vegas announces its closure due to COVID-19.

The word “devastated” took on a whole new meaning at 4pm today when the cast and crew of “Le Reve” received word that the show was permanently shuttering. I’ve gotten an avalanche of texts and messages from friends and colleagues who know what this show means to the city of Las Vegas…and to myself personally.

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While I allow this news to digest this evening (and mourn the loss of my favorite show), I’ll leave you with this article that I penned for VegasChatter.com in January of 2014. Be safe, stay strong, and be smart.

Click here to read (archived articles may take longer to load).

Six and a half years ago I wrote what would be one of my favorite articles and THE BEST EXPERIENCE I’ve had in this city. Farewell, Le Reve. You’ve earned a place in Vegas history that time will never erase, and I thank each and every person involved for creating one of the most beautiful productions Las Vegas will ever see.

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Cover photo courtesy of Alexander Stabler, performer at “Le Reve – The Dream”

‘Duo Transcend’ Poised to Electrify CELESTIA at The STRAT


TV talent show’s breakout stars add thrills and emotional heft to STRAT’s circus extravaganza…

transcend –

1: to be greater, better, or stronger than

2: to go beyond the limit of

3. to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of 

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The Las Vegas Strip is a beacon for fledgling performers hoping to succeed in the entertainment industry. One young couple known as Duo Transcend has longed for the applause of a captivated Vegas audience. Now that dream is about to come true under the Big Top of CELESTIA, Sin City’s newest, boldest and brightest circus-themed extravaganza.

‘Celestia’ Comes to Earth By Way of the Vegas Strip

When you perform for a nationwide television audience under the name “Duo Transcend”, you’ve already set the bar pretty high. Fortunately for viewers of America’s Got Talent, the husband and wife team of Mary Wolfe and Tyce Nielsen delivered sexy thrills and heart-stopping chills that brought down the house.

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Much like CELESTIA, The STRAT‘s award-winning production that they recently joined, the duo’s story is fraught with determination, wonder, and a passion to entertain. It’s also one of overcoming near-impossible odds in the face of a debilitating medical condition – one that threatened to permanently end their career.

The couple began their collaboration at a stunt show in Salt Lake City. Performing together for the first time, they fell in love and decided to create their own solo project. The result was a jaw-dropping trapeze and skating act that catapulted Duo Transcend to fame on America’s Got Talent…and most recently, its global face-off known as AGT: The Champions.

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Due to quarantine restrictions, I was unable to meet with Duo Transcend in person for this article. Through email, Mary had this to say about their origins:

We began our performance career as cliff divers in a stunt show. That’s where we met and decided to put a duo act together so that we could stay together and not have to take separate contracts.

In the first year, we lived on saved money so that we could focus on training. In 2013 we were hired for our first trapeze contract and since then, performing has been our only job. We slowly worked our way into companies and were able to support ourselves one hundred percent by performing.

Despite all of the planning that went into their career path, one variable was completely out of their hands. Tyce suffers from keratoconus, a progressive eye disease that affects the corneas. With their skills dependent upon precision and timing, Duo Transcend faced the very real possibility of having to withdraw from show business.

A medical procedure called cross-linking can often help victims of the disease, but for Tyce, that option appeared to be out of the question.

When I first met Tyce, the doctors in Utah said that his corneas were too thin to get cross-linking done. We were told the only option would be to get a cornea transplant, maybe in his 40’s or 50’s depending on how it progressed. Tyce’s older brother and younger sister also have keratoconus. We don’t know why. – Mary

The decision was made to continue performing, and eventually, the duo became three with the birth of son Jaxx. Being new parents was challenging enough, but a life on the road made it especially tough. So the couple aligned with the venerable Cirque du Soleil, who provided flexibility for them and their young progeny.

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It was hard to leave Jaxx home so much. Luckily we have a supportive family who we could leave Jaxx with. Sometimes we could take him with us, like when we would do gigs with Cirque (du Soleil). For a lot of gigs, it was just too expensive to fly him with us. We have performed with Cirque Du Soleil since 2017 in their special event traveling shows. They were very accommodating to have Jaxx with us. – Mary

Duo Transcend then decided to take their next big leap of faith by auditioning for America’s Got Talent. The star-making competition has been at the forefront of new Vegas acts for over a decade. Headliners like Terry Fator, Shin Lim, and Mat Franco all have AGT to thank for their successful residencies on the Strip. And while the series has launched numerous careers into the stratosphere, it’s also an intimidating option that opens you to criticism…and the potential for crushing disappointment.

The decision to try out for America’s Got Talent wasn’t an easy one:

Auditioning on TV is a huge gamble. Circus people like us have already been training and working professionally for years, then go on TV with little stage practice time and have a judge hate you. Art is subjective. Some people will like you, some won’t, and having that happen on TV can be devastating for an artist. – Mary

Those fears were never realized, though, as Duo Transcend‘s audition brought three of the AGT judges to their feet. Throughout the competition, they continued to up their game, captivating voters and the panel week after week. Despite numerous standing ovations, the couple didn’t win but was invited to return this year for AGT: The Champions. This time they placed second overall, then unveiled their plans to join CELESTIA in Las Vegas just a few weeks later.

  Don’t have weights? Use your partner! 😂 Hope you all are staying safe. – Duo Transcend

Once again, fate has intervened. After only a handful of performances, CELESTIA and all other productions in Las Vegas have been shut down amid COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine precautions. Mary tells me that they are using their free time to stay in shape and help others in doing the same.

Right now during the shutdown we have been focusing on creating at-home workouts for our social media followers.

Here Mary and Tyce get physical with “Contortion Sisters“, who are currently laid off from Cirque du Soleil. The Nielsens have been sharing their home with the acrobatic siblings during the pandemic. They’ve also been posting regular updates on their social media pages and YouTube, offering hope and positive thoughts for fans and other out-of-work performers.

Since their national television exposure, something incredible has happened regarding Tyce’s eye condition. He credits AGT with getting him the help that he desperately needed:

When we first auditioned, it wasn’t of a question of “if” I would go blind…but “when”. Because of AGT, we had one of the most successful eye surgeons in the country reach out to us personally. And he was able to do a procedure where he stopped the progression of the disease. So, I will no longer go completely blind. Now there’s a future that looks completely different, and I would have never known if it wasn’t for AGT. – Tyce via AGT

It’s clear that when Las Vegas reopens for business, it will be a very different place. Expensive shows will undoubtedly need to scale back (some are likely to disappear altogether). Very serious financial troubles for Cirque du Soleil were hinting at possible closures for at least a few of their Vegas shows even before the virus outbreak.

Fortunately for fans of CELESTIA, the production presents a large-scale spectacle at an extremely friendly price (tickets start at only $29 plus taxes/fees). Plus it’s financially supported by host hotel The STRAT, which is rare in the current “four-wall” climate (see my article HERE to learn more on that subject). In the current economic crisis, that offers job security that bodes well for the cast and crew.

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This year we were super happy to get a job offer with CELESTIA. We had been wanting to settle down in one place. We love touring but now that Jaxx is getting older we want him to be able to go to preschool and make friends. We’re thankful for the journey that AGT has brought us and thankful for all of you.  – Mary Wolf

Photos: Duo Transcend, CELESTIA, Sam Novak, America’s Got Talent screencaps via YouTube

INSIDE THE PREMIERE OF ‘RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE LIVE’ AT THE FLAMINGO


Daring new revue holds star-studded red carpet gala for premiere performance…

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Click HERE to read this article via the awesome BestOfVegas site and save $42 on tickets to RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!…

Drag performance has been an entertainment mainstay for centuries. From Shakespearean times to Milton Berle, from Tootsie to Mrs. Doubtfire, audiences have long enjoyed gender-reversal characterizations. Vegas, in particular, has embraced the art form with Frank Marino as the longest-running headliner in Sin City history. Now Frank and other Sin City “divas” are facing fierce competition from RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! at Flamingo.

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Last week’s splashy red-carpet premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! was a star-studded gala featuring celebs from the worlds of fashion, entertainment, media and of course, plenty of drag queens. A pre-show party with themed cocktails was held at Flamingo Patio Bar, adjacent to WERK ROOM.

The outrageous WERK ROOM is an interactive retail outlet and make-up salon designed to complement the new production and immerse you in the world of drag. There, guests can experience a mini-transformation and get their own cosmetics, accessories, and gifts to take home.

Of course, it was curiosity about the show itself that brought out the crowds, and the famous Flamingo Showroom was packed to capacity. What could have been a clumsy attempt to modernize drag entertainment in less-capable hands became one of the biggest surprises to hit the Strip in years. The fully-conceptualized production, directed by RuPaul herself, features a soundtrack of new original songs and exciting choreography by Jamal Sims (Disney’s Aladdin – 2019).

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A rotating cast of six “contestants” takes the audience, by way of song and dance, through various personal experiences and how they came to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. They explore the ways that the long-running TV series changed their lives and what it means to influence our ever-changing and troubled culture. Never preachy, the storyline acknowledges the difficulties faced by those of alternate lifestyles while maintaining a tongue-in-cheek perspective brimming with positivity and love.

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No expense has been spared to bring RuPaul’s Drag Race vividly to life on a stage. Flamingo’s showroom has been outfitted with amazingly realistic video backdrops, dazzling LED curtains, a booming sound system, and eye-catching sets. Costumes and make-up design are suitably outrageous, and each featured “queen” is given an opportunity to shine in solo numbers. Following the TV show’s format, RuPaul then has them compete in various challenges before a big showdown to determine the winner.

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Fans of La Cage and DIVAS may think that drag queens are simply celebrity female impersonators. That may have been true in the past, but no longer! What makes RuPaul’s Drag Race Live a complete re-invention of traditional drag is that this time, the “ladies” themselves are the stars. Every performer has created a unique character and persona, each with their own legion of rabid fans.

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The exception is Derrick Barry, the world’s best-known Britney Spears impersonator. Barry is a Vegas local who’s achieved international stardom thanks to appearances on television shows like America’s Got Talent and years of live performance. But it’s his personal journey into show business and through worldwide acceptance that’ll capture your imagination.

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Along with Barry, the opening cast includes series favorites Asia O’Hara, Kameron Michaels, Naomi Smalls, Vanessa “Vanjie” Matteo, and Yvie Oddly. They’re backed by the “Pit Crew”, a troupe of sizzling shirtless muscle boys whose dance skills could make the Chippendales envious. It all comes together in an outrageous night that redefines drag shows…and Las Vegas stage productions as a whole.

At a press conference the next morning, RuPaul stated that he hopes to see the show expand beyond Vegas, perhaps even to Broadway. But for the time being, he’s just very excited that RuPaul Drag Race Live! has become a sparkly and explosive reality. “The show is a smash hit” he exclaimed to the cast. “The show is a smash hit!”.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! performs Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 9:30pm. Save $42 by ordering tickets at BestOfVegas

Photos: Denise Truscello via The Publicity Lab, Sam Novak

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Aussie Heat’ Fires Up the Strip


The “other” Down-Under male revue is faster/hotter/better than you’d ever expect…

In the world of sexy productions, male revues get very little respect. Audiences unfamiliar with these productions may have had their perceptions tarnished by cheesy appearances on 90’s daytime talk shows. But today’s male revues are polished, contemporary and well-mounted stage productions. And they’re enjoyable by all adult audiences, not just breathless bachelorette parties.

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Naturally, their are noticeable differences in what they have to offer. Chippendales remains the gold standard with a cast of towering, beefy clean-cut hardbodies. Magic Mike Live wraps their slim young pretty-boys in a ribbon of female-empowerment with the unusual addition of a female host. Black Magic Live offers an African-American cast direct from Lifetime Television Network. Then there’s Thunder From Down Under, the long-running production at Excalibur packed with sweaty wild boys from “Oz”.

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If you’re wondering why Sin City would need another Australia-based male revue, then you haven’t seen Aussie Heat.  Two minutes into this daring production and you’ll know that it’s completely different from anything else in the city. You owe it to yourself and your friends to head over to V Theater inside Planet Hollywood Miracle Mile Shops and experience this stunning show right away.

While other male revues tend to recruit guys based on their looks/physique then teach them how to groove, the Aussie Heat hunks are established dancers and acrobats. Break dancing, flips, pop-lock moves and sensual grinds were already in their blood long before joining the troupe. It’s just so happens that their athletic bodies and handsome faces match their amazing abilities. It’s a surefire combination delivering thrills that can’t be topped anywhere. 

When not raising temperatures onstage, the Aussie Heat cast is actively involved in a number of charitable causes. The guys conduct dance classes and an annual fundraising show at Opportunity Village, a local organization dedicated to enriching the lives of disabled adults. They actively support the American Cancer Society via an ongoing “Real Men Wear Pink” fundraiser and participate at numerous events like AFAN‘s annual AIDS Walk and Black and White Parties.

Aussie Heat also carries the distinction of welcoming men to participate in their show. They promote equality for everyone and actively invite members of the LGBTQ community in their advertisements. They’re regulars at Pride events and have partnered with a variety of gay and gay-friendly organizations like QLife, a Vegas-based media firm now in its 41st year.

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Another thing that sets Aussie Heat apart from their comrades-in-bulging-arms is audience interaction. Billed as “The Most Hands-On Show In Vegas”, Aussie Heat is far from a “stand and model” production. Audience members vie for prizes via body-shot competitions and blindfolded lap dances inside the intimate showroom.

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Click HERE to continue reading…

 

 

Inside “The NAKED MAGICIANS” at MGM Grand


Genre-bending illusionists reveal more than magic tricks….

Click HERE to read this article at BestOfVegas.com

There are some who say that Sin City doesn’t always live up to its name. Perhaps there is no such thing as shock value anymore? Well, don’t be so sure of that. A pair of bawdy Australian illusionists has arrived at MGM Grand and they plan to rip the roof off the resort by tearing away their top hats and tails.

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Unless you’re Mariah Carey, most performers would rather focus on their craft than how much skin they put on display But for Mike Tyler and Christopher Wayne, fans of The Naked Magicians wouldn’t have it any other way. These two handsome hunks are constantly goaded by audience members to “take it off”. And eventually, they do!

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Australian men are already recognized as some of the hottest on the planet – for proof, look no further than the success of Thunder From Down Under at the Excalibur. Add in the resurgence of the popularity of magic shows and Criss Angel’s sex appeal with the bawdiness of Absinthe and Opium, and it’s clear that the time is right for The Naked Magicians.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Despite a similar-sounding name, this is no Magic Mike LiveThe Naked Magicians actually have more in common with Mike Hammer’s Comedy Magic than any male revue. But where Hammer’s humor is insult-based, the Aussie boys’ focuses on sexual innuendo and in-your-face mayhem.

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Tyler and Wayne were perfecting jaw-dropping feats of illusion long before they decided to pair up and drop their trousers. When the boys went full-frontal and took their family jewels on the road, the response was unexpectedly overwhelming. Venues sold out in over two hundred cities around the world, and rave reviews poured in, ensuring that The Naked Magicians would eventually take their hit sensation to Sin City.

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If you haven’t already guessed, The Naked Magicians is an adults-only production. Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club blends the perfect amount of late-night intimacy to the proceedings – double entendre intended. An opening-night crowd on February 13th filled the venue, which is located at “The Underground” inside MGM Grand. A large percentage of attendees was gentlemen, a fact the duo joked about as they took to the stage.

Surprisingly, the magicians began their performance fully clothed, sporting flashy tailored suits that showed off their chiseled physiques. Despite a conservative entrance, their first illusion –  which involved a six-foot representation of male genitalia sailing through the crowd – shattered any concerns that these performers would play it safe.

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The rapid-fire performance is heavy on comedy, nearly all of it laced with some form of wink-wink humor. Bits involving a blow-up doll, cell phone hook-up apps, a crowd-made porno film, a “gay” straight jacket and other R-rated material fill the 90-minute show. It’s not long before the guys strip off their shirts, doing a little bump-and-grind to thaw out those chilly libidos.

As the guys’ off-the-chart charms electrify the crowd, more clothes fall away, and so do any apprehensions or uptight conventions. It’s safe to say that even straight-laced husbands in the crowd found this unusual form of entertainment to be “cool.”

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It’s worth noting that even though The Naked Magicians have gone “full-throttle” in places as tame as Salem, Oregon and Grand Rapids, Michigan, they’ve actually been forced to tone things down a bit for their Sin City run, as local laws prohibit total nudity in establishments that serve alcohol.

So, if encountering the “Full Monty” might have kept you from seeing the show, your worries have been covered. Just know that The Naked Magicians have found a new way to use a magician’s hat – and it doesn’t involve a rabbit.

To learn more about Mike Tyler’s magical talents, visit his website by clicking here

 

 

 

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

Area 51 and the Alien Head


Guest writer Tasja Dubenko takes us on a modern-day treasure hunt into the forbidden desert….

A year ago, my friend Crysti succumbed to a new-found obsession called geocaching. To many it’s known as the world’s largest scavenger hunt. A few months ago she turned me on to the idea of trying her new addiction. At first I was apprehensive of such a “frivolous hobby”, but with the right company it could be an enjoyable past-time.

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For those who aren’t familiar with geocaching, it’s basically treasure hunting for adults. You follow the coordinates on your smartphone’s geocaching app and look for hidden containers. Those vessels can hold anything from undesirable trinkets to something worthwhile…or even “trackables”.

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Trackables are objects or coins with a code on them. The code can tell you (through the app) where they have been previously placed by other geocachers. Sometimes you will find trackables that have traveled all over the world.

My first find was a swift but exhilarating experience. Crysti found hers instantly but I took a good ten minutes or so of searching. When I found it, placed in a birdhouse behind some trees, there an instant reward. I popped the bottom loose and watched a scroll of paper with some miscellaneous items fall out.

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After about a month of accompanying Crysti on her adventures, she turned to me and said, “What would you think about flying down to Las Vegas, renting a car and driving the Extraterrestrial Highway to the Alien Head to geocache?”

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                                           Photo by geocacher JBase…

There are 2,000 geocaches along the E.T. Highway and fifty-one are in the shape of an alien head in the middle of the desert. At first when she asked I thought to myself how crazy that sounded. I was convinced as a novice that there was no way I could accomplish such a task.

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However, the impulsive and adventurous side of me whispered the words, “Let’s do it!”. Within the very next moment we had already booked our flight and hotel and had reserved a car. Fast forward a couple months later, we had only two hours of sleep each night for three out of our six-day Vegas trip.

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When the big day arrived, we woke up at 2 am and grabbed our backpack (that had been packed the night before) and drove our car two and a half hours into the desert. We had wanted to watch the sun rise over the mountains and grab a few caches in the dark before reaching the Alien Head.

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The plan was to complete the three-four hour hike before 10 am…when the heat would reach an unbearable temperature. Crysti is worry-free and a thorough planner whereas I prepare for obstacles, potential dangers and am a more “go with the flow” type of person. Despite these differences, we make an excellent team leaving no potential situations unconsidered.

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I’d had my reservations about the trip but what happened next I couldn’t prepare for. By the time we had driven an hour and a half into the desert, we were far from the nearest gas station or town. The view was absolutely incredible. We had just enough light from the moon to see the outline of the mountains and grab a few quick caches under its brilliance.

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                    Our first geocache of the trip on the E.T. highway…

After ten or so caches, we could stand on one side of the mountain range to watch the moon slowly begin to peak behind the mountain top while turning 180 degrees towards another mountain range and watch the sun begin to rise. At that moment I looked at my friend in awe and said, “You can’t buy experiences like this. You have to go live it.”

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             The moon slowing beginning to hide behind the mountains…

It was truly remarkable to witness the ending of night and beginning of day simultaneously in the heart of nature. Another hour or so later, we finally reached our destination at the Alien Head in the most desolate area I had ever dreamed of experiencing.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

             We got to watch the sun rise in the desert. What an experience…

There was nothing but the land and the highway we drove on, which stretched miles far away from our hiking spot. Our pictures did us a disservice attempting to capture the raw beauty of nature at its finest. With that being said, it was an experience not for the novice hiker or geocacher.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

The hike took us roughly three hours (which is above average) in 112-degree weather. We came fully prepared with our fifty-pound backpack stocked with water, sunblock and some rocks with alien heads we had painted onto them to place at a few of the cache spots.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

The desert was mysteriously quiet. Aside from the sound of your own footsteps or a lizard running across your path, the only sound you could hear was your own blood pumping and circulating throughout your body. It was a place where I had pushed my physical and mental limits while obtaining clarity I had never previously experienced.

However, there was something else about this barren area that seemed to hold a silent secret or contain an eerie vibe about it. I had heard before that this particular area has a reputation for multiple UFO sightings and having unusual events occur. During the first thirty minutes or so of our hike, it had been complete silence between us as we were fixated on our goal.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

Suddenly, I stopped walking and turned to her and asked, “Do you hear that?”. She stopped to listen. “I don’t hear anything,” she replied. “I swear I heard a man yelling at us,” I stated.

I turned 360 degrees, taking in everything around me. “Obviously there is no one here,” I concluded. I had sworn I heard distinctive but inaudible yelling, yet nothing was within miles of us as far as the eye could see.

Alien29

We pressed on for another forty-five minutes and I forgot about the event until Crysti abruptly stopped. “Do you hear that?” she asked. I closely listened and heard nothing. “No, I don’t hear anything.” “That’s so weird, because I swear I heard someone yelling at us now too,” she remarked.

This unusual event had struck an unsettling feeling for both of us for many reasons. Clearly, we were the only ones out there. Not another soul was around for miles and if there was, we would have noticed long before they would’ve been able to approach us. At first I had thought maybe we were experiencing some sort of “delusion” from being out in the desert.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

However, the other thing that struck me as odd was that we previously drank plenty of water before our hike as well as during. So dehydration wasn’t a concern, nor was the duration since we hadn’t been out there long before it happened the first time.

We did not have any more experiences like that, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was something beyond my comprehension lurking in the back of my mind. The longer we hiked, the more thankful I became that Crysti had downloaded a map on her phone to use offline since we anticipated losing service. Everything began to look the same the longer we pressed on.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

                    A little unsettling to find in the middle of the desert…

I couldn’t help but wonder if some unimaginable or sci-fi things actually took place around this area. Just as the thought crossed my mind, something caught my eye. It was some sort of skeleton. I have been a vet technician for seven years and it didn’t resemble any dog or cat skeleton. It quite possibly could have belonged to a deer, but there was something peculiar about it. There was only half of the pelvis and seven vertebrae attached.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

                                      The things you find in the desert…

The rest of the skeleton was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, we hadn’t seen anything living except the lizards. But earlier in the day while driving I had seen two separate cows along the highway. Both were deceased with a perfect split down their sagittal planes.

The cows were perfectly hollow with no bodily organs or parts. It was simply the skeleton and skin. The fur had been sliced open with such precision that I couldn’t help wondering what had caused their deaths. As I gazed at the skeleton in front of me now, I wondered the same.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

At the end of our journey we met our goal of all fifty-one geocaches. And we’d accomplished it while walking ten miles under a blazing sun in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. It was unlike any experience I had ever had.

As we left in our car it was all I could do to look in the rear view mirror for a last glance at the untamed ground we had just covered.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

I turned to my dear friend as a smile crept upon my face and exclaimed breathlessly, “I can’t believe we just did that”.

Photos: Tasja Dubenko except where otherwise indicated

Sky Villas Part 2: The Versailles


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

Ceiling1

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

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

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

entrance

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

Security

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

Suite2

Ceiling2

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

Suite3

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

Suite4

Suite11

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

Suite7 - pool

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

Suite8 - elevator

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

Suite5

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

Turnberry Place

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

View atop Westgate

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

Deck area

Pool looking down from deck

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

Suite10

Suite9

Suite6

Suite13

Suite15

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

Suite14

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

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

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

Photos: Greg C.

 

Hidden Vegas: Aladdin’s Desert Passage


Looking skyward for the next entry in my series…

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

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

Desert Passage

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

Desert Passage

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

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

Desert Passage

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

Desert Passage

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

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

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

The other is nestled under the indoor rainstorm.

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

Desert Passage

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

Desert Passage

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

Desert Passage

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

Hidden Vegas

Desert Passage

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

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

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