A look back at the first half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…
When this writer relocated here from Oregon a short 14 months ago, I knew that it would be a huge lifestyle change. But even for the folks who’ve lived here the vast majority (or all) of their lives, 2019 brought about some seriously weird and wacky shit.
New Year’s Day started out on a bizarre note with a visit to Rio’s GLOBAL WINTER WONDERLAND. The bitterly cold conditions kept just about everyone away, meaning you could walk through a colorful electric representation of the entire world AND enjoy the amusement park thrill rides of your choice while being nearly alone. As long as you held on tightly to a steaming hot cup of cocoa, it was actually pretty damned fun.
Employees at the Rio assured me that this attraction would not be returning (and they were correct), as it had caused a major disruption to hotel operations and employee/guest parking. While one of the attraction’s team members swore that at least the Midway part of Global Winter Wonderland would remain through Chinese New Year, the entire area was empty soon after….save for a few sad, abandoned pieces that were left on the side of the lot.
Historic attraction Bonnie Springs Ranch announced on January 9th that it was being sold and razed for luxury housing. The beloved ranch had been operating in various forms since the 1950s. Locals began flocking to the charming themed attraction for one last visit, many bringing their children to share the same experience they had when growing up.
The property offered a motel, western town, event barn, horse rides, petting zoo, wax museum, train ride, saloon, restaurant, and a wild west shootout show. Attempts to protect the property by having it declared a historic landmark failed and the ranch closed its barn doors one final time on March 17th.
On a sad personal note, my handsome pal Sunny, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for several months, took a turn for the worse the day before Christmas and passed on January 2nd. It was a rough start to 2019.
The shortest month of the year will always be remembered for the snowfall. Not once, but THREE times within the span of two weeks. The first layer hit shortly after Valentine’s Day, and by the final downfall, my home in Mountain’s Edge was under at least four inches.
While that’s nothing in most parts of the country, in southern Nevada it’s life-altering. From my rooftop deck, I could see the entire valley under a beautiful blanket of white. Pilot Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters captured some stunning views while heading out to the Grand Canyon. Schools shuttered, longtime locals went bananas and those who grew up in chilly climates just enjoyed a pleasant few days of relative quiet.
The Naked Magicians, a pair of Aussie hunks with a penchant for bawdy humor, magic tricks and bare skin launched at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Despite their name, the worldwide sensations found Sin City’s liquor laws to be a bit challenging, as this prevented the boys from going full-frontal (ironic, isn’t it?). Even with a bevy of positive reviews and a legion of fans, ticket sales proved to be a challenge. So the handsome duo put on their pants and headed back to OZ to regroup. Perhaps we’ll see more (or all) of them down the road.
The Sahara Hotel was still operating under the SLS banner in February, but changes were already underway with new owners from Reno. The Sayer’s Club premiered Ester Goldberg’s Totally Outrageous Brunch, a fun mixture of singing, acrobatics, dirty humor, Donald Trump, deviled eggs and a host in drag.
A few months into the run, show creator Michael Airington (Ester Goldberg) was fired by the producers, who promised that the show would go on without him/her (it didn’t). Airington is hoping to regain the Goldberg character and has been very vocal on social media about wanting satisfaction:
“Can’t wait to serve up some Karma Whoop Ass in 2020!!! NEVER EVER count this old Jew broad out! Happy Hanukkah Bitches” – Ester Goldberg
Totally Outrageous Brunch premiered on February 23rd, which happened to be my birthday. After enjoying the show, it was off to The Golden Tiki that evening for a celebration with friends. You can’t find a more enjoyable place to commemorate a special event than this magical spot on Spring Mountain Road.
Head honcho Branden Powers, whom I’ve mentioned numerous times in this column, was kind enough to make a little memorial for Sunny, whose plight he had followed. Thanks to you and your staff for making it a very special night, Branden.
In March, Excalibur Hotel Casino tried to shake up its image a little bit with the opening of Fuerza Bruta, an avante garde international production housed inside a tent along the Strip. A true winner in terms of innovation and the “wow factor”, Fuerza Bruta proved to be a hard sell to Sin City ticket buyers and petered out within 6 weeks.
98 Degrees founder (and world’s hottest man) Jeff Timmons used his considerable clout, industry knowledge and fanbase to launch a new boy band called OVERNIGHT. The fledgling group’s one-night performance at Orleans Casino left this writer underwhelmed (and that’s being kind). The official Twitter page has been dormant ever since, suggesting that OVERNIGHT has already said “good night”.
As for Timmons, he did a spectacular rebound with longtime hit-makers 98 Degrees, with whom he continues to tour. The group is scheduled for Ontario next and is heading to Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines soon after. With luck, we’ll see Jeff on a Vegas stage sometime soon, minus OVERNIGHT and of course, without his shirt.
Construction at both Allegiant (Raiders) Stadium and Resorts World (finally) began to shoot skyward. Although both have announced delays (and escalated final costs), their progress through the year has been rapid and remarkable. Blue monolith monster Fontainebleau/The Drew remains a dormant reminder of overreaching ideas, while the Las Vegas Convention Center has spread its reach onto the Strip, rising on the ruins of historic Riviera Hotel.
Venetian welcomed CHICAGO – The Musical to its grandest theater for a short run (April 10th through 14th). The Broadway revival was sold on the star power of supermodel Christie Brinkley, who at 65 years old was way past the point of being believable as femme fatale “Roxie Hart”. While the staging and supporting cast were top-notch, Brinkley’s gravely vocals were a constant reminder that some performers should be seen and not heard. Who thought that this was a good idea?
Thanks to my friends Allison Duck and cast member Derrick Boyce, I was able to meet the legendary Donny and Marie Osmond after a stellar performance. The duo’s long-running show at Flamingo closed in late November and the months leading up to the final performance were packed to the rafters.
Tropicana Hotel hosted the annual NPC Jay Cutler Desert Classic, a bodybuilding competition created by the former Mr. Olympia competitor. Cutler is a beloved resident of Las Vegas, a city filled with athletes, models, acrobats, and dancers.
Chippendales cast member Ryan Worley, whom you may remember from this profile piece, realized a longtime goal by stepping back into the competition ring. Happily, he went home with an impressive medal hanging from his perfectly shaped chest. Yours truly was there to cheer on this big-hearted cat dad.
Warmer temperatures saw the welcome return of many outdoor activities…and a dreadful allergy season. As the snow began to melt from the western mountain ridge, hot air balloons became a regular sight on the morning horizon.
Kaos Nightclub opened at the newly-renovated Palms Casino. Millions were poured into the venue and millions more into paychecks for headliners like barely-human trashbag Cardi B. and celebrity deejays Kaskade and Marshmello, who alone was offered a $60 million contract. A fool’s errand from day one. the disastrous project closed right after Halloween.
Progress photos of Raiders stadium taken by me on April 27th…
One month after it opened at Harrah’s, I finally made it over to see Heartbreak Hotel in Concert. This Vegas-style version of the musical play stripped out plotlines and characters in favor of songs and narration by the cast. Despite a talented team, the show was never a big hit and will be closing at the end of this year. I think it’s time for producers to realize that today’s audiences have had their fill of Elvis Presley and his music, nostalgia be damned.
Primm Valley Premium Outlets landed in this writer’s crosshairs after an unfortunate encounter with mall security. While strolling through the struggling mall on Mother’s Day, I decided to snap some photos of the numerous closed businesses. Apparently, this was an indication of terrorist activity, as I was accosted and interrogated by an over-zealous rent-a-cop.
I detailed the encounter in a tongue-in-cheek article that sadly spelled out the true cluelessness of business establishments in the region. In 2019 Las Vegas, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are….you’ll be treated suspiciously while simultaneously being gouged for every spare penny in your wallet. I recently heard that the long-suffering space would be remodeled and rebranded, something it desperately needs.
Magician Jen Kramer celebrated her first year at Westgate Las Vegas with a gala celebration. Food was provided by Fresco Italiano and Edge Steakhouse, two of the best restaurants in the city.
And of course, there were more progress shots of stadium construction. As the structure began to take shape, so did the jokes.
Summertime in Vegas used to be considered “off-season”. Tourists avoided the city’s scorching heat and hotels commonly closed off entire towers to reduce cooling expenses. Then came the “Day Club” and “Beach Clubs” and all of that changed. Now the mean season brings openings and events galore.
After numerous delays, CELESTIA finally debuted at the newly-rebranded STRAT Hotel Casino. The star-studded media premiere was a splashy event and the casts of many other productions stopped by to lend their support. The show continues to evolve under the guidance of Kim Scott, formerly of Cirque du Soleil.
Ms. Scott just invited me back to experience a new “VIP Star Seating”, in which CELESTIA guests will actually be on stage for the performance. Prior to the show, they’ll be welcomed into the tent through a private entrance and treated to a complimentary cocktail and popcorn. Sounds like a blast!
Speaking of blasts, MGM Grand brought The Hunger Games: The Exhibition to Las Vegas in June. An interactive attraction based on the popular movie series, The Hunger Games comes from the same company that designed Marvel Avengers STATION at Treasure Island.
Downtown’s Cockroach Theater Company outdid many Strip productions with SATANGO, featuring Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) and Human Nature‘s Toby Allen. A clever musical based around the “dance of temptation”, SATANGO envisions a one-night ballroom gala where the denizens of Heaven and Hell call a truce to lure members to the opposite side. Simply brilliant!
Finally, June marked my first appearance in front of the cameras, via Vin A.‘s hysterical web talk show “WHAT THE CL#@CK?!”. Vin A. is best known as the musical director and outrageously-energetic member of The Bronx Wanderers. A brilliantly engaging host with a firm grasp on the balls of current events, the talented singer/songwriter/musician welcomed me along with his pal Michael Shapiro of ReCkLeSs in Vegas.
Our conversation covered everything from strippers and strollers to fiery California and flaming Elton John. You can watch the entire episode right here:
After a rip-roaring good time at the studio, I headed home and nearly crashed into oncoming traffic. Some things are just never meant to be seen with the naked eye, especially at 65 mph. And that’s how June came to a
Coming up in the second half, Sin City encounters the Wrath of God. Rainstorms and grasshoppers and earthquakes! Oh, my!