Binion’s Cafe Gets a Menu Upgrade


Fremont’s struggling casino gives you new reasons to visit….

A few weeks back I wrote about the trend of casinos pushing their dining and retail operations to the very front of their properties. In many cases, they even go out onto the sidewalks themselves. Binion’s historic downtown property is one of those I mentioned in the piece.

Binion’s is the best example of how Downtown casinos shifted their focus from interior to the sidewalks. Exploring the property, you’ll find numerous examples of a time when guests stayed and played indoors. On the second floor, a buffet and the Gee Joon Asian restaurant are collecting dust. In the basement, a once-popular 24-hour Coffee Shop is abandoned as well.

As visitor habits changed, the once-popular Binion’s Gambling Hall shuttered their lodging operations along with my go-to favorite, the downstairs Coffee Shop. The casino-floor cafe, which was basically a lunch counter surrounded by slot machines, was best known for its fresh-ground Binion’s Burger and not much else.

Eventually the space was enclosed and converted into a full-service restaurant with improved seating and an expanded menu. That successful expansion was the springboard for another re-invention when Benny’s Bullpen (a cigar lounge/sports bar) became Benny’s Smokin’ BBQ and Brews.

While Binion’s has seen casino traffic dwindle with the closure of a short-lived bingo room and their historic Poker Room (original home to World Series of Poker), Binion’s Cafe continues to draw in long-time visitors and new guests.

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                                       Classic Pot Roast with corn bread…

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                                Linguine and all-beef meatballs…

This week, Binion’s Cafe rolled out an updated version of their menu with lots of new items to dive into. Added dishes include Classic Pot Roast ($14.99), Linguine with all-beef Meatballs ($12.99) and Poached Shrimp Alfredo over Linguine ($14.99). Entrees come with a choice of salad or soup.

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                                   Shrimp alfredo…

Binion's Cafe

                                       Mo’s Poutine…

If you’re looking for something smaller, try a plate of Mo’s Poutine ($5.99), crispy fries topped with molten cheese curds and gravy. Health nuts like myself will appreciate house-made Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Hummus ($5.99) served with warm pita bread, cucumber slices and celery sticks.

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                                                         No more chili….

I was shocked to see one of my favorite Vegas indulgences, Binion’s famous truckstop-style chili, missing from the new menu. That greasy-spoon bowl of tomatoes and beans had gotten this fellow through many a night of partying in the past. I later learned that it’s still available at nearby Binion’s Deli, but only from 12pm-8pm.

Of course, mainstay Binion’s Burger remains ($5.99) on the menu and comes with their delicious potato salad (fries and cheese are extra). Also, the Club Binion’s Player’s Card will get you special discounts on select items.

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          Ham Steak and Eggs is only $8.99 with your Binion’s Club Card….

It’s worth mentioning that meats and poultry at the Binion’s Cafe are cut daily at their own in-house butcher shop. Symbols identify these dishes, along with those designated as “heart healthy” and selections available only during limited hours.

Click here for a PDF copy of the full menu.

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Binion’s Cafe is open daily from 7am to 2am. Be sure to ask for Alicia when visiting…and tell her that Sam sent you.

Photos: Sammasseur, Alicia P., Binion’s, TripAdvisor

Westgate’s Superbook Lands a Slam Dunk at “The Court”


New dining outlet at world’s largest sportsbook is a hit with the fans…

In the past couple of years I’ve reported on the numerous improvements that have taken place in and around Westgate Las Vegas, best known as the former Las Vegas Hilton. Along with renovated rooms, modernized amenities and a new approach to customer service, a big focus of the current owners has been in food and beverage offerings.

Since the inception of VegasUnfiltered this summer, I’ve reviewed Fresco Italiano and Bar Sake, two immensely gratifying offerings along Westgate’s “restaurant row”. Last week I was invited back to experience the new, improved quick-bite outlet in Westgate’s enormous Race and Sports Superbook betting complex.

Westgate Superbook

Unlike those other two meals, The Court was anything but a formal experience…and that’s the idea. Focusing on tried-and-true favorites with elevated quality, moderate pricing and rapid service, the venues that make up The Court aim to satisfy by way of the food as much as the convenience.

Cordovano Joe’s NY-style Pizza, Drafts Sports Bar & Grill Express and Nacho Tacos Authentic Mexican are all created by Westgate’s own food and beverage team. The three share one main dining area and an additional space for overflow, which came in very handy on the Tuesday afternoon that I visited.

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The Court‘s trio of offerings are overseen by Jeffrey DiVito, Westgate’s new VP of Food and Beverage. DeVito came to Westgate Las Vegas by way of L’Auberge Lake Charles and Station Casinos (and was involved in the design and opening of both Red Rock and Alliante resorts). He joins a growing list of talented execs and chefs who have come to Westgate from other big-league Vegas properties.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

            The previous incarnation invoked a truckstop/diner atmosphere…

The Court takes over an area previously known as Superbook Deli. Glaringly-bright diner decor has been toned down with softer lighting and mellower colors, bringing the Superbook atmosphere into the service and seating areas.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

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                  So long, stadium hot dog stand…hello, neighborhood pub…

To accentuate the tavern atmosphere, pool tables and dart games have been installed at one side of The Court, making it appealing for those who may want to hang out around the Superbook without actually betting.

The Superbook’s unique placement within the resort allows for direct access via the casino or a dedicated entrance and parking lot. Those looking to drop by for casual eats and brews should be pleased by the variety of selections that The Court now offers.

Westgate Food Court

Assistant Executive Chef Aaron Losch, who made a name for himself at both Red Rock and Wynn, invited me to sample some of the new menu items that he created for The Court. We mostly focused on Nacho Taco‘s menu, with an item or two from Draft’s (I’ll have to come back for pizza during my next visit).

Being a fitness buff who tries to eat cleanly, I was a bit shocked by my mouth-watering response to the items that the staff brought over. It’s actually hard to upload the photos into this article without the same thing happening again.

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                                             Carne Asada Street Tacos…

My tasting started with selections from the Nacho Tacos kitchen. I began with a trio of Carne Asada Street Tacos ($13), served with cotija cheese and salsa on warm corn tortillas with beans and rice. All main dishes on the Nacho Tacos menu start with the basics ($8 for vegetarian), then are priced upwards according to toppings/fillings.

Westgate Food Court

                   Quesadillas with a side of Philly Cheesesteak, eh?

Grilled Chicken Breast with paprika, cumin and lime adds $3 to your dish, Carnitas (braised pork with chili and cumin) or Al Pastor (pork marinated in orange and pineapple juices) add $4, and Carne Asada (marinated skirt steak with garlic and lime) adds $5 more.

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                         Taqueria Fries topped with braised pork carnitas…

Instead of tacos, you can design your plate with a Tortilla Salad, traditional Nachos or a Quesadilla. For really hearty appetites, I’d recommend indulging in Taqueria Fries, a layer of crispy string potatoes topped with queso, pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapenos. All entrees at Nacho Tacos are priced the same way as street tacos, each according to the filling.

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Sandwiches, Caesar salads and chicken wings/tenders are the main offerings at Drafts Sports Bar. My favorite was the Philly Cheesesteak ($14), smothered in melted provolone with grilled onions and peppers.

Drafts also has a NY Pastrami Reuben on Rye ($13), 1/3lb. Grilled Angus Burger ($13) and a Grilled Nathan’s Foot-long Dog on a poppy seed bun ($9). All sandwiches include fries or coleslaw. You can make your meal a combo by adding a 20-oz fountain drink for $4 or a 16-oz draft of Budweiser or Bud Light for $5.

Cordovano Joe’s has sandwiches as well, like an Italian Hoagie ($13), Shaved Italian Beef ($14), Sweet Sausage with roasted peppers and carmelized onions ($12) and Meatball with mozzarella and marinara ($13). Joe’s specialty is individual authentic New York-style pizza. Basic 8-inch cheese pies run $6, Veggie or Pepperoni for $7, Meat Lover for $8 and finally $9 for Supreme.

Losch stated that many of Superbook Deli‘s core customers were regulars, so many favorites have remained at The Court with room for continued tweaking. He recounted how one frequent customer complained when a favorite disappeared…and just like that, they brought it back. “We’re not going to turn away people who helped to keep us going all these years” he said.

Westgate Food Court

The Court‘s newfound popularity might keep sportsbook customers off the betting floor for extended periods, but there could be a simple fix. Chef Aaron told me that they’re looking into various methods for guests to order food from the Superbook seats. “We may be able to provide cocktail servers with electronic pads so you can place a request from your seat”. And there’s always those handy smartphone apps…

Westgate Food Court

The sooner that remote ordering can be set up, the better. It’s obvious from the long lines I witnessed that The Court is serving up just what Westgate Superbook guests want. “We’ve only been open for a few weeks” said Chef Losch, “but we’ve already had some of the busiest days this space has ever seen”.

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Photos: Sammasseur, Deli pics via TripAdvisor

 

 

 

Hold On To The Memories with Richard Marx

 


Satisfied: Only The Hits at Flamingo exceeds expectations and then some…

After a recent teaser performance for Richard Marx‘s upcoming stint at Flamingo, it was clear that record-setting chart-topper was about to embark on an impressive series of shows. While only performing a handful of songs that evening, the 80’s heartthrob was in top form, looking fantastic, sounding even better…and eager to entertain Sin City crowds.

Last Tuesday’s official premiere of the new mini-residency solidified my suspicions that SATISFIED: Only The Hits would be pure gold from beginning to end. What I didn’t expect was to be caught up in a tidal wave of memories, laughter, charming banter and even a few teary-eyed moments.

Richard Marx
August 15, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Audiences might be surprised that Marx has chosen to perform his songbook in a somewhat stripped-down fashion, using only acoustic guitar, piano and a string section for accompaniment. That decision gives his flawless voice a chance to really shine, bringing an intimacy to the lyrics that might otherwise have been overlooked…or taken for granted.

After an video montage highlighted by media appearances and celebrity testimonials, Marx entered the stage, lit from behind and in a swirl of fog. Standing between two barely-open curtains, he belted out a haunting Endless Summer Nights (from the self-titled 1987 debut album).

Richard Marx

The curtains then opened to reveal a string quartet of elegant young ladies. With them, Marx revisited his career chronologically from the very first singles. Photographs of album covers like Repeat Offender and Rush Street lit up the video screens as memories flowed over his audience. In between, Richard joked about that infamous mullet and some very 80’s outfits.

Richard Marx

While clothing and hairstyles have changed, those early songs continue to remain timeless and beautiful. A very packed house of celebrities and fans was encouraged to join him in a toast to the new Flamingo gig, which is scheduled to run through September 2nd (let’s hope for an extension).

Richard Marx

Marx eventually moved to the piano to perform songs he had written or co-written with and for other artists, like Grammy winner Dance With My Father (with the late Luthor Vandross), This I Promise You (N’SYNC) and Long Hot Summer (Keith Urban).

One highlight of the evening came when Richard’s three stunningly-handsome musician sons (Lucas, Brandon and Jesse) joined him by way of video for When You Loved Me (from the live album A Night Out With Friends). That dazzling song, the only one in the set not performed acoustically, marked a resurgence of Richard’s career in 2012…and gained him a new legion of fans.

     Highlights from opening night performance at Flamingo…

Marx recounted how fun it was to hear himself back on the radio along with the likes of Lady Gaga (“Other artists don’t care if they hear themselves on the radio but I’m like ‘Turn that #!@* up!”).

Richard Marx

After a brief break, the charismatic star returned for an encore starting with 1989’s Angelia. Marx began the set by disconnecting his mic and amplifiers, walking towards the edge of the stage and performing completely “unplugged”. That surprising move, one that this writer had never witnessed in a concert before, drew audience members to the edge of their seat, riveted to every note and phrase. That is, before the clapping began…

The Way She Loves Me and Right Here Waiting closed out the show, bringing the career of Richard Marx full circle and the audience to its feet. Most attendees had no doubt embraced the music of this iconic headliner in their youth. It was obviously a joy to have him back in their lives once more.

Richard Marx’s boyish pop-idol features may have been replaced by the chiseled cheekbones and knowing eyes of a seasoned professional. But it’s also the face of a man whose musical influences have prevailed throughout four turbulent decades. That he continues to sound contemporary in a dramatically different world is a testament to Richard Marx’s talent.

SATISFIED: Only The Hits is a truly remarkable night out with one of the masters of the era. Along with long-running Donny and Marie and the recently-completed Olivia Newton-John’s SUMMER NIGHTS residency, Flamingo has firmly established itself as a go-to destination for legendary performers. These artists continue to remain relevant…and more importantly….get to revisit their legacy at a new level of perfection.

SATISFIED: Only The Hits performs at the Donny and Marie Showroom on select dates through September 2nd at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $59 plus taxes/fees and can be purchased by clicking here.  

Follow this link for discounted tickets through Vegas.com and use the following promo codes for additional savings:

$250 or more, enter SUMMER25 to get $25 off
$500 or more, enter SUMMER50 to get $50 off
$1,000 or more, enter SUMMER100 to get $100 off

Photos and video by Sammasseur, professional shots courtesy of Denise Truscello

 

 

Feeling the Love for PALAZZO


Searching for elegance at Bellagio and Wynn but finding it quietly tucked away…

UPDATE 5/19/20 Venetian/Palazzo just announced plans to reopen their resort on June 1st, 2020. Here is their official press release:

The Venetian anticipates that we will be opening our doors to guests beginning Monday, June 1st. With the reopening, we are excited to announce the launch of Share the LOVE, a program to donate 50,000 free nights to essential workers and first responders who have provided crucial services in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

For every night you stay at The Venetian through the Give LOVE offer, the resort will donate a suite night on your behalf to someone who has selflessly given of themselves. The Get LOVE offer provides the opportunity for those first responders and essential workers to receive a complimentary night at our iconic resort. As we open our doors, we can all honor the people who have carried us through this tremendous time.

Click here to learn more and how you can support the “Share The LOVE” program.


 

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8/8/17 – Once upon a time, this writer spent two weeks experiencing the pleasures of three top-tier resorts – Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo. All are established, respected and great at what they do. Each of them is a 5-star property catering to similar demographics, yet they’re distinct in style and flavor.

Palazzo is the sister property to Venetian. Opened in December of 2007, it’s listed by Wikipedia as the second-largest building in the Western Hemisphere, yet its presence on the Strip is as understated as the clean lines and Earth tones that make up its superstructure.

Inside, two cavernous domes oversee your entrance from either the main lobby or through the waterfall atrium connecting Palazzo to Venetian‘s Grand Canal Shoppes and Restaurant Row. These days the two resorts operate more as a single entity than two separate hotels, but I’ll be focusing on the Palazzo side for this article.

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Both Bellagio and Wynn sprang from the mind of legendary Steve Wynn, so of course they are essentially kindred hotels. Both have ornate decor, colorful seasonal displays, art collections, water-themed production shows created by the same man (Franco Dragone) and outdoor fountains synchronized to familiar musical standards.

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                     Deja-view….                             

For better or worse, Bellagio’s ownership and operations now rest in the hands of MGM Resorts International. That’s the money-grubbing corporation which introduced universally-reviled mandatory resort fees to the Strip, along with parking and valet charges. Their now-notorious profit-growth plan was designed to suck every last dollar out of the consumer’s pocket.

The results are even apparent in a luxury resort such as this, where you pay $12 a day to park while risking damage to your undercarriage. Some have even lost their tires and wheels (check out this mind-bending incident from April 2017), so clearly those extra fees aren’t going towards additional security, which is odd for a casino that has been robbed time and again.

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Wynn/Encore initially resisted resort fees but caved when they became the new normal. I truly expected them to continue offering free parking and valet services, but that is no longer the case. One could argue that all Strip resorts should be on equal footing in respect to their parking arrangements, yet Wynn/Encore is far removed from the core of those affected.

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“Let’s put an ATM next to the garage payment kiosks and see if anyone gets the message”….

There is little to no chance of drivers using Wynn/Encore garages to visit other properties, especially with neighbors like Treasure Island still offering free parking. Installing gates and kiosks reeked of yet another money grab…and an insult to valued guests. They’ve rolled back their policies a bit since charges were instituted, but still…

Fortunately for those of us who rent cars on our trips, the garages at Venetian and Palazzo are well-maintained and free of charge. In the case of Palazzo, conveniently-located escalators and elevators bring guests directly into the lobby, center of the casino or near the showroom. Even when not staying at Palazzo, I frequently dine at wonderful Grand Lux Cafe, in part due to the ease of access (the food, service and free Wi-Fi rock, too).

But, I digress. Let’s delve into the resorts themselves, and why I favor Palazzo over the other two. For me, it all comes down to atmosphere…how I’m treated as a guest and whether I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings.

While Bellagio is the oldest of the three, its rooms remain in tip-top shape and have recently-refreshed decor. Furniture, bedding and fixtures are all lovely, thanks to excellent maintenance. Unfortunately during my three-day stay, the room rumbled throughout the daylight hours until 7 pm with the sound of jackhammers, thanks to renovations above me.

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Bellagio Fountain-View King…          

A complaint to the front desk resulted in a $100.00 food/beverage credit being added to my account. It was willingly offered after my complaint – not something I was soliciting, as I was trying to write and needed to know when the pounding would stop so I could work. Nevertheless, the incessant noise tainted my stay and rattled my teeth loose. It would have been nice if they’d alerted us about construction prior to check-in, but they didn’t.

Noise can also be an issue at Wynn/Encore, especially if you’re hoping for a restful night. With its beach clubs and nightclubs, a constant thump-thump-thump rises up the sides of both towers. It’s a frequent complaint on travel sites for those who are accustomed to the elegance that Wynn initially offered in its early days.

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       Wynn Tower King, Strip View…                

These days, Wynn/Encore has shifted from sophistication to the trendy club scene. It lures in a rowdy crowd that carries on loudly throughout common areas, casinos and elevators, in stark contrast to their expensive, classy surroundings. The effect is very off-putting and a disappointing about-face.

It wasn’t that long ago that trouble-making celebs like Paris Hilton and bad-behavior rappers like Lil Wayne were barred from Wynn/Encore. Now their kind seem to be openly courted. The type that this element attracts make Wynn/Encore the most money…yet are openly mocked by Steve as he collects a hefty share of their trust funds…and their snickers from his supposed sexual-predator history.

           Take care not to collide with a stroller while reading Wynn’s “No Stroller” signs…

Along with “club kids”, the corridors and casinos at Wynn are inexplicably jammed to the max with real children, too. Despite a “No Stroller” policy posted at each and every entrance, there is nothing done to enforce this rule. The dreaded sound of screeching children at all hours of the day and night does nothing to convey the atmosphere of a luxury hotel…unless your idea of opulence is a cuticle trim at the Wal-mart nail spa.

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      An unattended child parties down at Wynn’s “Parasol Up” casino bar…              

Earlier a few years back, the outspoken Mr. Wynn took heat for saying “nobody likes being around poor people”. One would assume, then, that he avoids visiting Bellagio these days. My biggest gripe about that Strip-center showpiece is the massive crowd that continuously flows through the lobby and into the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

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Bellagio is one of the most expensive and well-regarded hotels in the city…yet the masses choking its heart tend make the lobby resemble a redneck State Fair. Thousands of flip-flops, cargo shorts, pajama bottoms, tank tops and yard-long drinks shuffle beneath a $10,000,000.00 Dale Chihuly ceiling every day, having no idea what it is or why it’s unique.

These everyday gawkers are in stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar surroundings, carrying their bad behavior, lack of manners, beer coolers and overflowing strollers with them. Call me snobby (I prefer the term “outspoken”, which is why this site is a one-man operation) but if I’m staying at a palatial resort, I want to be around a classier group of people.

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Palazzo Luxury King Suite (standard), Golf Course View…  

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            Every Palazzo room is a spacious suite with sunken living quarters and desk…     

That’s why I enjoyed my stay at Palazzo so much. Venetian‘s sister property has the right level of vibe, elegance and excitement to check off every box on my wish list. It has somehow managed to achieve the proper balance between fun and classy…and draws in a pleasant and appreciative crowd…minus the throngs that lug ice chests and beer koozies with them.

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Palazzo‘s porte cochere is absolutely gorgeous, but you wouldn’t really discover it unless you were a guest. Indoor attractions like the massive waterfall and spectacular atrium fountain don’t draw in nearly as many sidewalk gawkers as Bellagio‘s conservatory, either.

Palazzo hasn’t always been devoid of nightclubs, but that clearly isn’t their focus. Lavo continues to operate, but now as a restaurant and lounge. Their nightlife offerings were shuttered after a few years, allowing the focus to shift back to long-running Tao at Venetian.

A short-lived stint of The Act Nightclub on the upper floor of the shopping atrium was deemed too outrageous by the operators of Palazzo, who found nudity and shocking activity to be against the otherwise-conservative nature of the resort. The Sands Corp. forced its closure. The space will be getting a new life this fall when SPIEGELWORLD opens their new ATOMIC SALOON SHOW in September.

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The rowdy Bourbon Room at Venetian was replaced by The Dorsey, an elegant affair featuring unique cocktails by famed Sam Ross in an atmosphere that evokes the sitting room and library of a stately mansion. Somehow the shelves of books and fireplace manage to feel hip without being stuffy, again reflective of that delicate balance that Palazzo and Venetian carry out so well.

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The pool scene at Palazzo is also lively without wallowing in vulgarity, especially at the adults-only Aquatic Club. That day club offered throwback-style, super-cool server costumes and a slick intimate party atmosphere with retro sass. The service is impeccable and Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty mean turkey burger! The format is reportedly being tweaked for the 2019 season, so we’ll put that venue on hold for now.

Just like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and “Le Reve” reflect Steve Wynn’s fondness for water acrobatics, BAZ – Star Crossed Love represented the style and sensibilities of Palazzo. Hip, classy, bold and unique, the movie-musical mash-up BAZ dazzled the eye and put a song (or thirty) in your heart.

Its attention to details wass rich without smashing you over the head…just like the hotel it called home. Too bad the final performance was July 29th 2018, but hey, it had a great run!

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     BAZ: Star Crossed Love wass sass, class and flash…               

Head clearance is another pleasing element of Palazzo. Both Wynn and Bellagio have very low ceilings throughout their casinos, which accentuate an already crowded atmosphere. The vertical height of Palazzo‘s casino is easily double that of the other properties, offering more natural lighting, fresher air and a spaciousness that compliments the nicely-spread slot machines and table games.

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As for the check-in areas, the less said about Bellagio‘s, the better. While the gardens behind the reservation desk are gorgeous, the lines are chaotic and smack dab in the middle of that human tide of fanny packs. No matter what time of day or night that you arrive, you’ll feel like a silver orb inside a pinball game.

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Wynn‘s check-in area for the original tower (there’s a separate entrance and desk for Encore) underwent its own embarrassing problems. A brand-new arrival area, immediately to the right of the front entrance, lasted about a month before an onslaught of guest complaints (cramped quarters and a sloggy queuing system) shut it down.

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          Guests weren’t the only ones confused by the constantly moving reservation desk…

The backlash prompted a reopening of the original reservation desk and dismantling of the new one during my stay. For a resort that prides itself on impeccable attention to detail, this must have stung! Then again, the Strip-facing entrance to the Encore tower was dismantled mere months after its debut….to be replaced by Encore Beach Club.

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No such problems exist in the elegant and cathedral-like Palazzo reservation counter, which is as glorious as it is spacious. Despite the enormity of the property and its 3,000+ rooms, the check-in center is a model of efficiency…and once again, class.  The same could be said of the staff that I encounter whenever walking through Palazzo. Everyone I speak to is friendly, helpful, and comes across as genuine.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this article. It’s easy to fall under the spell of gorgeous surroundings, and Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo are indeed palatial resorts. But once you’ve “been there, done that” with back-to-back stays at each of the Big Three, you begin to notice the differences. You realize that one of those places stood out in ways you never noticed before.

My takeaway is that the deterioration of decorum has rendered the notion of luxury resorts to be rather pointless in most cases. Despite their beginnings as palaces for the more affluent traveler, Bellagio has now devolved into a pseudo Mall of the Americas and Wynn/Encore version 2019 is essentially douche-bag central.

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Thank goodness Palazzo remains everything a five-star resort should be. And it continues to undergo improvements to lighting, decor, casino layout and flow, lounge and dining offerings and more. No amount of glitz and glamour from Wynn’s current or former properties can replace the high-end experience of staying at the big P. It rises above the others by staying true to its purpose…and makes Palazzo my favorite luxury hotel on the Strip.

Photos by Sammasseur, Palazzo via Facebook, TripAdvisor, Expedia

Featured image courtesy Scott and Ryan Lyons

A side note:

There’s a widely-held misconception that critics and bloggers give favorable reviews when the object of their analysis has been comped. That notion is so common that even a former editor suggested that my scathing review of Magic Mike Live stemmed from not being invited to the media premiere (it’s a nauseating stink-fest no matter the circumstances).

As purveyors of our craft, it’s our responsibility to offer truthful opinions. That being said, when we’re invited guests, we’re likely to receive over-the-top service and perks galore. But as professionals, we can sift through the glitter and judge objectively.

 

Puttin’ On The Ritz at BAZ BOOT CAMP


Yours truly has a “Performer for a Day” experience at the signature Palazzo production…

Baz Boot Camp

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy.

They say he wandered very far
Very far over land and sea.

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise, was he.

Those dreamy lyrics from 1947’s classic NATURE BOY open the stunning BAZ: Star Crossed Love inside Palazzo Theater. And for one immersive day, they also described this author’s experience inside the world of Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. Well, minus the “very wise” part, perhaps.

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BAZ: Star Crossed Love is a very unique piece of live entertainment. It has the distinction of being my choice for “Best New Show” in both 2015 and 2016. How? By moving from Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub and being relaunched after a major reworking. While essentially the same production at heart, BAZ was fine-tuned to maximize the benefits of a custom-designed venue inside Palazzo Resort.

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With the full support of Sands Corporation, BAZ went from “the little show that could” to an amazing word-of-mouth success. To celebrate their triumphant one-year anniversary (in the intensely competitive Vegas show-scape, no less), a handful of recognizable media celebrities were invited to attend an afternoon “boot camp”. They were welcomed to step into the shoes of BAZ cast members and perform a number from the show in front of a live audience.

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Invitees included Barrett Foa (Eric Beale on NCIS Los Angeles), Andrew Freund (Fox Network’s Dish Nation), Las Vegas Review Journal columnist John KatsilometesMorning Blend host Jennifer Jean Snyder…and a certain small-time BAZ-loving Oregonian blogger. How I ended up being included in a group of such talented and distinguished individuals is anybody’s guess…but I wasn’t about to jeopardize the invitation by questioning it.

Upon receiving the email, it took me all of ten minutes to stop jumping up and down, clear my schedule and book a flight to Las Vegas. In no time, our group was seated in the auditorium and receiving a round of greetings from Keith Salwoski, Executive Director of Public Relations and Blair Farrington, the Show Manager.

Baz Boot Camp

On our laps were folders detailing the Boot Camp itinerary, along with statistics about the show. Introductions were made all around, then we headed to the stage for dance lessons with BAZ‘s ballroom champions Savannah Cross and Marcquet Hill.

The next sixty or so minutes were perhaps the most invigorating, exhausting, humbling and memorable since my skydive this past February. Surrounded by cast members Ron Remke, Broadway star Ruby Lewis and Anne Martinez (Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy), our stalwart band of boot-campers received expert instruction on how to kick, swoop, heel-toe-heel-toe and drop-drop-drop.

Baz Boot Camp

During all the excitement and sweat, it became clear that one member of our novice group was lagging behind….and it was me. While the others seemed to have varying degrees of showbiz experience, “Sammasseur” brought little to the stage besides laughter and enthusiasm.

Baz Boot Camp

Shaun Burgess of Vegas.com (white shirt) gets tips from cast member Ron Remke             

Baz Boot Camp

                      Johnny Kats and I go through the paces…and kicks…

To their stylish womp-womp-womps I countered with my Franken-stomps. Their high kicks were my wobbly half-kicks. At one point my left shoe even went flying through the air. While trying hard to look like Gary Cooper, I’d somehow stumbled into the tap dance scene from a certain Mel Brooks film.

Baz Boot Camp

Photographers and a videographer recorded the action as Savannah and Marcquet added more steps to the sequence. Ron Remke kept my spirits high with high-fives and “You’ve got this!” encouragement. I marveled at the ease with which his body swooped and swayed through the mechanics of the steps…just like everyone else around me.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

Jennifer, Savannah and Melinda Sheckells show the cameras what they’ve got.

Soon we were putting the sequence to music and running through the entire scene…from an opening one-legged kneel to the final thrust of our arms. This time, we sang along with the dancing (take that, Britney!). After a brief rest (not brief enough, gasp gasp) it was behind the stage and downstairs to the actual dressing rooms used by the cast.

Once there, a small army of make-up artists and hair stylists gave us the theatrical flair that help make the already-stunning BAZ performers one of the most attractive casts on the Strip. My face was covered in a sweat-proof foundation and my eyebrows were darkened and thickened.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

While in the chairs, the other guests and I were given on-camera interviews to share our initial impressions. The most common response drew attention to how difficult the dancing was. No matter what level of proficiency they’d brought to the boot camp, it was clear that our troupe had gained a greater respect for the craft of live performance.

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    NCIS Los Angeles actor Barrett Foa is used to being in the make-up chair…

Baz Boot Camp

             Andrew Freund records a clip for his Dish Nation TV series…

After donning our tuxes and dresses, it was back to the stage for a round of individual and group portraits before our actual performance. Dynamic Michael Shulman (of ShulmanSays.com) acted as emcee and welcomed our audience – guests, friends and execs/team members of various departments within the Venetian/Palazzo family.

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   Ruby Lewis returned to BAZ last week after a triumphant lead on Broadway…

The whirlwind afternoon had come to its biggest moment – a production number carried out by professional performers with the Boot Camp troupe on an actual Las Vegas stage. To call this a “pinch me” moment would be too mild…and it seemed to be over before it actually began.

Baz Boot Camp

Baz Boot Camp

Standing out there on an elevated extension of the stage, my arms outstretched with applause all around me, this total novice and dedicated fan understood the drive that brings talented individuals to Sin City stages. A lifetime of lessons, joy, pain, sacrifice, tears and ambition to perfect their art culminates in that one moment…and there’s nothing like it in the world.

Clips from the One-Year Anniversary Performance of BAZ

Returning to the dressing room, the guys and I laughed about how fun the afternoon had been, but the experience was far from over. From there, the group headed over to Venetian’s The Dorsey to sample various libations created by famed mixologist Sam Ross for their new summer cocktail menu.

Then we slid next door for an outrageously delicious array of small plates and entrees at Chica, the new Latin eatery by celeb chef Lorena Garcia. Perhaps it was the round of cocktails at Chica that gave us our second wind, but Barett Fao, Andrew Freund and I decided to grab a taxi and head down the Strip for another song-and-dance show. It was a long, exhilarating, exhausting and unforgettable day.

The next morning I grabbed my laptop to learn that reviews were pouring in for our BAZ Boot Camp performance. For once, the tables were turned…and the critic was receiving critique. Much like the day before, everyone was extremely kind:

Savannah Cross (BAZ Boot Camp instructor/performer) – Killed it!!

Blair Farrington (BAZ show manager) – Sam… you added a lot of personality to the BAZ Boot Camp performance! Welcome to the team!

Shane Scheel (creator of BAZ) – Thank you Sam Novak for your unwavering support of BAZ Star Crossed Love.

Bill Evans (BAZ emcee/performer) – You look good Sam!!!

Lisa Sundseth (VegasUnfiltered reader) – You are a STAR ⭐️!!

 

Nikki Ann Medaugh (VegasUnfiltered reader) – Dapper, very dapper. Who knew you could look so good wearing all of those pesky clothes?

 

Private Message: “Sam – you looked hot hot hot in BAZ CAMP!”

Private message from a cast member: “Sam!!! Ah Thank YOU so much for your incredible energy and presence!! Today was so incredibly enjoyable and was a reminder of why I love this this art form so much. All the love!”

Private message from a cast member – “Sam! You were fantastic and I’m so glad you had fun! Thank you for being so supportive of us!”

Rising from the bed of my Palazzo suite (which they’d kindly arranged for me), I noticed how sore my legs were from the previous day. It was a warm reminder of the incredible effort that performers give forth to keep us entertained.

Baz Boot Camp

With cast member Ron Remke and Jennifer Jean Snyder of ABC’s Morning Blend

As I went through the rest of that day, I kept thinking about how generous everyone at Palazzo and BAZ had been. They are a tightly-knit group, brought together for one purpose and working together to make BAZ the best show on the Strip…a genuine labor of love.

It was an honor to be a part of BAZ Boot Camp – and I think I made a few friends along the way.

The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return….

                                                                             – lyrics from NATURE BOY

Baz Boot Camp

Photos: [Sammasseur, BAZ Boot Camp at Palazzo, 20th Century Fox]

 

If You Build It On The Sidewalk, They Will Come. Maybe…


Vegas is utilizing every available space to sell you something – with mixed results.

Sidewalk

Taking in the north half of the Strip from the 26th floor of Wynn’s original tower, I was reminded of a trend that has swept over Vegas in recent years. An amazing amount of new stores, bars and restaurants have risen where once was nothing but sidewalk.

Sidewalk

Sugar Factory restaurant in front of Fashion Show Mall. The CVS/Avengers annex that replaced a pirate ship’s dock. Gilley’s and Starbucks over the wooden “boardwalk” of Treasure Island. One of the newest is Wynn Plaza, the fourth retail corridor at Wynn/Encore resort. All have sprung from what is now considered “wasted space”.

Sidewalk

Rhumbar at Mirage was one of the first to initiate this approach. Using square footage from decorative faux grass and shrubbery, the lounge/patio opened in March of 2009. Tellingly, it arrived around the same time that the casino’s White Tiger Pool was removed in favor of BLT, a gourmet burger joint.

This entire section of Mirage was once accessed by a “people mover” or electric walkway. As was the philosophy of the new “megaresort” concept, people-movers and free attractions would lure pedestrians inside from the Strip, where they’d hopefully stay to gamble and more.

But with this decade’s falling interest in slot machines and table games, the wise men of Mirage opted to replace that expensive tiger pool with something that could potentially generate alternate income. At the same time, the people-mover was replaced with a conventional concrete sidewalk, a cost-cutting measure that reflected the new business model.

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

Soon after, Paris Hotel Casino ripped out the gorgeous La Fontaine des Mers fountain and constructed Sugar Factory restaurant and store in its place (it later became HEXX Kitchen + Bar). Then HEXX was topped with a second level for Budweiser Beer Park. That made two bar/restaurant concepts on a spot that was once just eye candy.

Sidewalk

Interestingly, now that Sugar Factory has relocated to Fashion Show Mall, it holds the dubious distinction of rising up not once but twice from Vegas Strip sidewalks.

Once the practice of using every available inch of sidewalk space for retail took hold, entire sections of Las Vegas Boulevard literally became Strip malls. So long Bally’s fountains and gardens, hello hideous Grand Bazaar Shops.

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

As shifting trends have turned Las Vegas into an oversized Mall of The Americas, visiting the casinos is no longer a must-do activity. Why bother to go inside when you can eat, drink and shop right on the sidewalk?

Sidewalk

Monte Carlo, the rather generic-looking MGM Resorts property that was once fading into indifference, was rebranded into the even more generic-sounding PARK MGM. The first step in that process was…you guessed it…the retail-ization of the hotel’s frontage. Out went sculptures and a large fountain, in came Double Barrel Roadhouse, 800 Degrees Pizza, Boulevard Creamery and more. Decorative flourishes were gutted and replaced by pale colors and some cheap-looking olive green paint. Boring!

Sidewalk

This time, the build-out was so extreme that the hotel is essentially hidden from view. Would you even recognize it now from the photo above? It would seem that, as with casinos, the hotels themselves are now becoming a side offering.

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The retail-ization of Las Vegas Boulevard eventually spread to Downtown’s Fremont Street. Underneath the four-block canopy, a wide-open pedestrian mall is now packed to the max with kiosks, vendors, bars and patio lounges (that require a drink minimum to take a seat).

Binion’s is the best example of how Downtown casinos shifted their focus from interior to the sidewalks. Exploring the property, you’ll find numerous examples of a time when guests stayed and played indoors.

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

On the second floor, a buffet and the Gee Joon Asian restaurant are collecting dust. In the basement, a once-popular 24-hour Coffee Shop is abandoned as well.

Sidewalk

The back half of the casino floor, where guests once checked into the hotel (shuttered since 2009), is nearly forgotten. The poker room, original home of the World Series of Poker, has also been put to rest.

Sidewalk

But out front, thriving Whiskey Licker Bar and Cowgirl Up  Cantina would have you believing that all is well inside the historic property. Outdoor revelers raise their glasses and park their bums on saddle-shaped stools, most never venturing into the aging property. New visitors might never realize that a 366-room hotel once operated there.

Of course, outdoor offerings are no guarantee of success. When Lady Lucky reopened as Downtown Grand in 2013, a great deal of fanfare centered around activities planned for adjacent Third Street. Sidewalk gambling, movie screenings and indoor/outdoor dining and an open-air nightclub (courtesy of Richard Sandoval’s “Commissary”) were rolled out. Not one of those things took hold.

Then the folks at Downtown Grand took yet another cue from the Strip and announced an outdoor urban park called The Quad. Utilizing empty lots and part of a parking garage, The Quad was to feature a stage, tavern, fitness center, nightclub and climbing wall. If all of this sounds familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of LINQ Promenade or The Park at New York NY. Surprisingly, it all fell through in favor of an additional hotel tower, currently under construction.

Sidewalk

And so it goes…the constant reinvention of Las Vegas. Eventually, visitors while tire of the heat and venture back into the casinos that put Sin City on the map. Until then, the white tigers will be waiting.

Photos: {Sammasseur, Flickr]

 

 

 

Looking Down on Fremont’s “Ground Zero”

Downtown demolition zone signals changes that aren’t necessarily improvements…

A familiar phrase regarding Las Vegas is “The only constant is change”. That observation has traditionally applied to the Strip, but historic Downtown is undergoing its own cycle of reinvention…at the cost of what made it unique.

While revitalization of the Fremont East zone has brought a welcome influx of new ideas (cool restaurants, hip bars and Downtown Container Park), that same influence has resulted in dramatic differences to the Fremont Street Experience corridor that aren’t necessarily welcome.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

Demolition and construction on and around Fremont Street now faces the same scrutiny that took place when it was closed to vehicular traffic and topped with the current video canopy. Purists lamented losing the ability to drive their cars down Fremont Street to bask in historic hotel architecture and glorious neon.

In 2017, that same area is now choked with outdoor bars/patios, vendor kiosks, street performers, homeless beggars and a hideous eyesore known as SlotZilla. That thrill ride re-purposed the Viva Vision screen as a tunnel for the zip-line attraction.

For this writer, one of the saddest developments on Fremont was the closure of longtime favorites Mermaids Casino, sister operation La Bayou and the Las Vegas Club Casino Hotel. All were sentimental go-to’s that represented value, history and a true vintage-Vegas feel.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

Now two of them, along with “gentlemen’s club” Glitter Gulch, are being leveled along with nearby structures for construction of a brand-new casino/hotel. La Bayou‘s demo resulted in the soon-to-open expansion of adjacent Golden Gate Hotel, the oldest remaining building on Fremont Street. That one-time favorite had already gotten a major modernization and expansion a few years back that resulted in removal of wonderful Bay City Diner and the beloved 99-cent shrimp-cocktail counter.

It seems that whenever I fall for a business or landmark in Las Vegas, my affection guarantees it’ll wind up in the demolition cross-hairs. Sure, renovation brings new visitors and attention to an area, but for some of us, “progress” feels like a slap in the face.

Mermaids was an absolute must on my Fremont Street stops. Cocktail waitresses Gabriella and Ling Ling were bright spots each and every time. They took care of me like nobody on the Strip ever would.

Now, 99-cent hot dogs and the endless supply of free drinks have been taken away. Those friendly ladies who once recognized me from trip to trip have literally disappeared.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

The grungy smell of Las Vegas Club hotel, along with its creaky elevators and humble rooms, was a minor but tolerable drawback of staying there. LVC was a serviceable option whenever I needed clean, simple budget lodging. Just a few years back I was able to stay there for only $14 a night…with no resort fee, free parking and gloriously-easy in/out access.

The newer North Tower, which I got upgraded to on that particular stay, was easily on par with the rooms at 4 Queens and Fremont Hotel. Plus, they were absolutely massive by Downtown standards and a had recently been modernized. Both towers of Las Vegas Club were fortunate enough to get refreshed up with the same carpeting and furniture that Plaza Hotel had obtained from the failed Fontainebleau project.

This summer, the Las Vegas Club is being brought down by the same ambitious innovators who added $20 resort fees and intensely-loud music to their Downtown hotels. While many view Derek and Greg Stevens as saviors, to myself and many other historic Downtown fans, they’ve become mixed blessings.

Nobody enjoys seeing the places they fall in love with being torn down for the sake of progress. No matter what rises in those locations, it won’t be the same. They’ll be expensive, more Strip-like and less of what made Fremont Street an alternative.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

So say goodbye to Vegas Vickie and other glorious pieces of neon art that once shone down on visitors. No matter when or where they end up, they won’t be in their original home.

As for the structures that will eventually rise from the footprint of Las Vegas Club and Mermaids…they’ll only be “lip-service improvements”. New hotels can never fill the void left by long-lost favorites that were just fine back in the day.

Photos: [A friend]

RICHARD MARX Will Be “Right Here Waiting” For You At Flamingo


The 80’s hit machine previews his upcoming Flamingo residency for the media…

There’s something about the music of the eighties that makes it timeless. Despite being a very identifiable product of the era, that sound is still fresh and alive three decades later. The same can be said for Richard Marx, who shared some of his songs from that period last night at Cleopatra’s Barge.

Richard Marx Flamingo

The lounge venue inside Caesars Palace was the location for a special preview of Richard’s upcoming SATISFIED: Only The Hits at nearby Flamingo. Members of the media and Marx’s fan club filled the venue for a taste of what was in store for Vegas audiences next month.

Fit, handsome as ever and truly ageless, the Grammy winner settled in with a string quartet and guitar for acoustic versions of his hits. The superstar, who’s sold over 30 million records throughout his career, belted out those tunes with a voice that hasn’t changed a bit since his debut album in 1987.

Richard Marx Flamingo

Richard Marx Flamingo

The appreciative crowd was invited to join in for “Should Have Known Better” after being mesmerized by favorites like “Endless Summer Nights” and “Don’t Mean Nothing”. Along the way, Richard joked about his infamous mullet and those of-the-decade outfits.

While discussing Flamingo’s upcoming residency, the 53-year-old described his enjoyment in performing those iconic songs in a scaled-down fashion. “I don’t know why I waited so long to do this…I’ve been playing with myself my whole life”, he joked.

Richard Marx Flamingo

The short teaser came to a close with Marx at the piano for “Right Here Waiting”. The private performance was designed to get his fans and members of the media excited about the upcoming series of shows. It definitely left us “Satisfied”…and wanting more.

“See you guys in a couple weeks! Thank you so much”.

RICHARD MARX SATISFIED: Only The Hits begins August 15th at the Donny and Marie Showroom inside Flamingo Hotel Casino. Tickets start at $59 (plus taxes/fees). Click here for more information and show dates. 

Photos and video: [Sammasseur]

SEX TIPS Brings “Queer Eye” Humor To Life


Off-Broadway sex farce is a bawdy good time…

Fans of Bravo’s Queer Eye were excited when Netflix recently announced a reboot of the lifestyle-advice series. Until its return, Vegas audiences can get their fix with a similarly-themed romp that recently debuted at Paris Hotel Casino.

Sex Tips For Straight Women

Sex Tips for Straight Women From A Gay Man is the lengthy title of the new production inside Anthony Cools Theater. The long-running off-Broadway hit, built around an actual self-help book of the same name, has been cleverly dressed up in Sin City appeal.

Sex Tips For Straight Women

Kendra Wilkinson (The Girls Next Door, Kendra On Top) stars as Robyn Brown, uptight moderator of a book forum known as Rendezvous with Alternative Authors of the Modern Era (RAAME, aka “ram me”). Ambitious Robyn, who may or may not have poisoned a superior to advance her career, discovers that the next scheduled book discussion will be on…you guessed it…”Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man”.

Sex Tips For Straight Women

Jai Rodriguez plays Dan Anderson, a fictionalized version of the book’s very gay author. Arriving on a breeze of fizzy flamboyance, Anderson refuses to participate in Robyn’s stuffy moderation methods. Fearing his exit will sabotage her promotion, Robyn pleads with him to return. Anderson agrees…as long as he’s allowed to loosen up her stuffy book readings. AND, he wants to prove the validity of his book’s advice.

Sex Tips For Straight Women

Luckily for Dan, he’s noticed that Robyn harbors a pent-up passion for Stefan, RAAME’s studly audio-video stagehand. He tempts Robyn to try out his sex techniques by using Stefan as bait. But first, he gives the librarian-styled moderator a “Queer Eye” make-over before the pair head out to a singles bar.

At this point, Dan recruits members of the audience to join the cast. One lucky guy becomes a recipient to Robyn’s homosexual-style pick-up techniques. Then Dan teaches a trio of  blindfolded ladies how to pleasure a man’s sexual organ…as “only a gay man can”.

Various props, a fruit juicer and a neon air cannon come into play as the lessons progress. As you might imagine, these outrageous sequences bring down the house with laughter.

Sex Tips For Straight Women

Along the way, Stefan agrees to assist Robyn’s lessons…for the sake of science, of course. He’s stripped down, stretched out, groped, massaged, licked and more. Incredibly attractive Chris Hodgson shines as linguistically-challenged Stefan, the lanky stud at the center of everyone’s desires. Hodgson, familiar to fans of Jubilee! and 50 Shades: The Musical Parody, is terrific and will have audience members of both genders swooning.

Jai Rodriguez is surprisingly charismatic in the role of Dan. His comic timing and improvisational skills make him a natural for the interactive sex farce. He is especially fun as “Pearl Necklace”, an elderly female alter-ego who shares a lifetime of conquests with the flabbergasted Robyn.

Playboy alumni Wilkinson is appealing but a little stiff as Robyn. While game, the performer could have benefited from a little more stage experience before taking on a headlining Vegas role. In fairness, the reality-TV star seemed to relax during the performance I attended (as a guest) as her own character transitioned from frumpy to liberated. Kendra arrives at her comfort zone during a striptease finale in Hodgson’s bulging arms.

With clever writing, three very attractive leads and blush-inducing humor, Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man should delight adult audiences of all sexual identities. It’s bright, bawdy fun and the perfect start to an evening on the town.

Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man runs through August 20th. The show performs 7pm nightly in the Anthony Cools Showroom (dark Wednesdays) with an additional 11pm show on Saturdays. Tickets start at $42 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. Groupon is currently offering an assortment of discounts on preferred seating and VIP meet/greets with the cast. Click here for details. Audience members must be 18 or over.

Photos: [Sammasseur, Levi Walker via Chris Hodgson Facebook]

MEN OF THE STRIP Hosts Gala Premiere

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


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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

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

MOTS223

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

Men Of The Strip Premiere

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

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

Mots3

                        Tyler Froehlich, real-life soldier turned dancer…

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

Mots2.jpg

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

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

– Sam

Photos and Video: [Sammasseur]