A look back at the second half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…
In the first half of this column, I began the year at a vacant, frozen outdoor carnival and left you hanging with the world’s biggest buttcrack at a stadium that was beginning to resemble a giant toilet bowl. Brace yourself, though…things were just starting to get weird. This is going to be a long one…
When the intense heat of Vegas summers reaches its peak, residents often enjoy their own version of “snowbirding” by heading to milder climates. With this being my first July as a local, I took the cue and headed for a ranch in the mountains of Oregon. The cool, fresh air revived my spirits, but then it was time to return for July 4th festivities back at home.
July 3rd was when the world moved…literally. While sitting on my couch writing a column for BestOfVegas.com, I felt the house begin to rumble and sway. Wondering if I was having a stroke or seizure, I scanned the internet and read page after page of “Did we just have an earthquake?” postings on Facebook. Although the city was a little “shaken”, the day continued.
The early part of July 4th came and went with the usual pool parties and firecrackers, then the sh*t really hit the fan. I was at AMC Town Square watching a horror film when the Big One hit. Halfway through the film, the seats started bucking and the rows of chairs were visibly moving. I captured a quick video of the theater evacuation (above) which was picked up by local TV stations, Telemundo and NBC News out of New York City.
Evacuating the shopping complex in my car, I barely dodged a tree that fell onto the road, then braved the bridge over the interstate to get home. Neighbors were in a panic and my underground irrigation system was ruptured, but other than shaken nerves, there was no real damage. Nevertheless, some of us have been a little on edge ever since.
The LGBTQ community came out to witness the official opening of ICONIC Nightclub. The reborn party spot took over a venue once occupied by SHARE. Despite a strong start and plenty of effort to make it a great alternative to popular PIRANHA, the turnout wasn’t strong enough to cover expenses and ICONIC shuttered in just a few months.
As a regular patron, I was really disappointed by the lack of support for ICONIC. Owner Adam Simmons went above and beyond to provide outstanding staffing and make everyone feel at home. ICONIC offered great cocktails (my favorite was “Cucumber Fantasy”), wild entertainment and what may be the most attractive crew this city has ever seen, all at very affordable prices. So kudos to Adam and husband Jason for what they brought to the scene.
My trip to Oregon had caused me to miss the grand opening gala of FLIGHTS Restaurant at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. Fortunately, owner Alex Hult welcomed me and allowed me to experience the establishment’s fantastic food and beverage options for this review. I’ve been a regular ever since. I’m just glad I wasn’t under that fuselage during the tremor. It must have been impressive to see the safely-secured airplane “taking flight” for a minute or two.
Monsoon season arrived by mid-July but was supposedly weak compared to previous years. It’s not unusual for the Las Vegas Strip to experience significant flooding during summer downpours.
Remember to NEVER park on the ground level in the Linq/Harrah’s area, as that spot is prone to violently flooding.
Scott Roeben (VitalVegas.com) joined the gang on his first visit to Golden Tiki
As neighborhoods around the city cleaned up mud and debris, I took a watery trip of a different kind…down the rapids and over the falls to the Land of the Lost. Actors Wesley Eure (Will) and Kathy Coleman (Hollie) of the classic TV series paid a visit to The Golden Tiki, where the legendary TV siblings were presented with shrunken-head replicas of themselves, courtesy of Branden Powers and his ever-expanding Cabinet of Curiosities.
On a whim, I invited Kathy and Wesley to join me for another rip-roaring ride…this time to Chippendales. The expressions on the faces of my childhood icons as the men of Chippendales strutted their stuff were priceless! Performer/host Jayson Michael gave the stars a rousing introduction and the crowd loved it. Talk about surreal!
Lest anyone forget, the biggest WTF of the year…and perhaps the decade, remains the Grasshopper Invasion of 2019. The final days of July made worldwide news as Sin City was covered in a blanket of billions of migratory grasshoppers. The swarms were so thick that they showed up on weather radar as thunderstorms. Luxor‘s light beam acted as a beacon, creating a scene straight from the Bible.
Was Sin City being visited by one of the great plagues? The wrath of God, perhaps? Well, according to the scientists it was just a side effect of the valley’s unusually most spring. Those same experts also predicted that the invasion would last for several weeks, which it didn’t. So I’m sticking with the “Ten Commandments” explanation.
Allegiant Raiders Stadium was just about to complete its frame-out, casting an impressive shadow along Interstate 15.
Rio Las Vegas seemed to constantly be in the news. Will it be sold? (It was.) Will it be leveled for a new stadium? (Time will tell). But for fans of all things Star Trek, what mattered was whether the annual Official Star Trek Convention would return for another year (it did).
Once again, thousands of fans from around the world flocked to the off-Strip resort, which was transformed into the USS Enterprise. Just about every square foot of the convention hall was utilized for lectures, interviews, broadcasts, photo ops, virtual reality exhibitions, vendor space and a recreation of Quark’s Bar (formerly located at Las Vegas Hilton).
That same weekend, the Las Vegas Hilton, now known as Westgate Las Vegas, celebrated 50 years of history and rebirth with a massive gala. I was honored and excited to receive an invitation. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom with live entertainment, a spectacular dinner, and tributes by Mayor Carolyn Goodman and resort owner David Siegel.
I learned that August is apparently the unofficial month of hangovers, thanks to nonstop parties in Las Vegas. First up was the Annual Black and White Gala, a benefit for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). This year’s event returned to Hard Rock Hotel (soon to be Virgin Hotel) after a so-so outing to Mandalay Bay’s Daylight Beach Club in 2018.
The adults-only soiree’s attendees are encouraged to wear black and white (as much or as little as they dare) while enjoying live entertainment and a variety of bites and cocktails provided by sponsors. Attendees including an array of performers like the cast of Sex Tips, members of Tenors of Rock and my main girl Endia Abrante of ShowgirlArrivals.com.
Much of the decor was provided by Michele Rothstein‘s Balloons With A Twist. Michele recently became engaged to comedian John Di Domenico, best known as the World’s Greatest Donald Trump Impersonator.
John provided the laughs at last year’s Mondays Dark year-end celebration and had proven to be a perfect foil for Ester Goldberg and Anne Martinez at Totally Outrageous Brunch. Congratulations to one of Sin City’s happiest couples and thanks to Michele for making the colors black and white even more beautiful.
The next party was a media launch at Sugar Factory’s Chocolate Lounge for burlesque performer/singer Melody Sweets‘ new single “Flavor of the Month“. Guests included Amy Saunders of Miss Behave Game Show, fitness competitor/health coach Mandy White Eskelin and husband Sami Eskelin (Chippendales, sports fitness entrepreneur). My prolific colleague Chris Yandek of CYInterview.com posted this interview with Ms. Sweets soon after.
More festivities followed at Silverton Casino‘s VEIL Pavilion with the CFO of the Year Awards, sponsored by VegasINC and City National Bank. Next up was Havana Nights: Top Men of Success hosted by MyVEGAS Magazine and Blue Martini at Town Square.
As for the Stadium, it had now come full circle…..er, “oval”.
Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer, where the pool lines start to thin out and tourism drops. If all of that August party-going didn’t exhaust you, the final holiday of the summer surely would.
I spent the evening enjoying the sounds (and sights) of DJ Nick Ayler, whom you may remember from this profile piece. Nick and I had a great time chatting (and downing tequila) between his sets at AVANT Lounge inside Iconic Nightclub. The crowd was a bit thin but the fun was certainly memorable.
Over at OYO (the former Hooters Hotel Casino), master mixologist Eddie Perales was keeping things smoking with his longtime partner and fellow cocktail craftsman Bobby G. You may remember Eddie from his many contributions to the Rio, Paris, and Westgate hotels, among others. He is also a world record holder in cocktail creation and a longtime Sin City resident.
The newly-rebranded Sahara Hotel held a bubbly premiere for their champagne-themed adult variety show Blanc de Blanc. The men of Aussie Heat joined celebrities like SEXXY‘s Jennifer Romas, magician David Goldrake (who’s been teasing a Vegas comeback), BMX pro Ricardo Laguna, mentalist Marc Savard and musician Vin A. from The Bronx Wanderers.
A pre-show gathering was held at the brand-new CASBAR LOUNGE before moving to the main event. Cast members from Thunder From Down Under and FANTASY enjoyed the performance from their VIP Premium-seating hot tubs. Yes, you read that correctly. Hot-tub seating for a Vegas show….why not?
Just like the Star Trek Convention, this year’s Olympia Fitness Expo and Competition lured in thousands of devotees. Celebrities like Mark Wahlberg enjoyed top billing while Tropicana‘s own Chef Robert Irvine peddled his products and posed for pics.
No matter where you looked, hot bodies and healthy lifestyles were on display. Vegas nightclub favorite and romance-novel coverboy Nick Bennett was busting his sleeves while promoting CELSIUS fitness and energy drinks, taking over for rapper Flo Rida from the previous year. I was unsuccessful in getting his shirt off for a pose, but there’s always Olympia Expo 2020…
Community-driven venue The Space was host to special fundraising event The Power of Pink and Purple to benefit the American Cancer Society. Organized by the big-hearted Logan Seven, the evening gathered those same tireless performers from Aussie Heat, SEXXY and David Goldrake along with Swing It Girls and “Pink” illusionist Kenneth Rex.
Even though Monsoon Season 2019 was about to officially come to a close, the skies above Vegas offered one final reminder to never become complacent.
The tenth month of the year began on a solemn note, as it will continue to do so for decades to come. October 1st marked the second anniversary of the mass shooting across from Mandalay Bay. I happened to capture the above photo from the hotel’s rooftop Foundation Room. You can spot the location across Las Vegas Boulevard as a darkened area that was once home to Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
No city does Halloween the way that Las Vegas does. Things get an early kick-off here, too. October 2nd saw the debut of SCARE at Town Square, an immersive and expansive experience to be shared by young and old. And best of all, there was an adults-only nightclub area, too.
The charity-driven UNDEAD MAZE rose once again, this year at Tivoli Village in the northwest section of the city. A passion project by tireless entertainer Shaun Friedrichs with ample assist from big-hearted Heidi Elkhill, it’s rated as one of the top haunts in the city.
Hofbrauhaus on Paradise Road continued their annual tradition of Oktoberfest celebrity keg-tappings. The line-up this year included Zowie Bowie‘s Chris Phillips, Chippendales, Australian Bee Gees and Ricardo Laguna. If you’ve never experienced an evening at Hofbrauhaus, you owe it to yourself to visit. BTW, the talk is true….the staff paddles patrons on their birthday.
Historic Mansion 54 in the Arts District kicked off costume parties with The Shade Tree‘s 30th Anniversary Mask Off Gala. The Shade Tree is an organization that provides sanctuary and support to women in jeopardy along with their children and pets.
Entertainment during the fundraiser was provided by the cast of Le Reve. PHo headliner Christina Aguilera made a brief appearance to accept an award. Amazingly, I missed seeing the superstar, as it was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief. Thank goodness the food by sponsors like Evel Pie, VegeNation, PublicUS and Le Thai was so memorable.
Campy horror-comedy EVIL DEAD: The Musical made a “splashy” return to Las Vegas, this time with a significant upgrade. The onetime hit at V Theater had a two-week run as The Evil Dead HD Tour at The Space.
The community-driven venue was draped in plastic and outfitted with immersive high-resolution video “sets” that were used to brilliant effect. Rabid fans of the “Deadites” clamored for the front sections, where they’d be soaked in a spray of gore. How often do you see audience members exiting the theater while wringing blood from their hair and clothing?
This fellow was so soaked in fake blood that he threw his shirt in the trash…
The penultimate month of the year was a mellow one by any standards. No swarms of insects, not a single earth-shaking event…just a few new openings, a haloed moon and the return of one very bright star.
Once again, The Space was THE place to be for noteworthy activities. While the best little theater in the city had been serving up gore and body parts just a few weeks earlier, now it was dishing out good old southern cooking and a night of unforgettable vocals.
Demonstrating a level of class and warmth rarely seen these days, songstress Ruby Lewis made a triumphant return to the Vegas stage. The star of BAZ and Marilyn: The New Musical brought her one-woman show for a single-night event that was treasured by fans. Offering a clever mixture of prose, memories, laughter and towering vocals, Ms. Lewis and her band reminded everyone that the best performers are never too great to lose their sincerity.
Ruby greeted guests with a crock of her own black-eyed peas, turkey, and cornbread, then joined them after the show for pictures and hugs. Self-proclaimed “divas” like Mariah and Madonna could learn a vital lesson from this classy young woman – R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
ARIA opened KALOLOGIE, the very first and only medspa located on the Strip. Housed within the hotel’s expansive spa, KALOLOGIE offers treatments like body contouring, laser skin treatments, injectables and get this…..IV hydration therapy.
So if the effects of Vegas partying take their toll on your face and body, you can still return looking better than when you left home. We in the media were treated to a flashy shindig with free B12 shots and a bag of goodies to take home. I’m addicted to my FOREO sonic skin cleansing device.
ARIA was also one of the first hotels to officially kick off the holiday season. Their culinary artists from Aria Patisserie created a life-size gingerbread house in the main lobby, along with a counter to purchase hot beverages and sweets. I happened to be there when the pastry chefs were gathering for official photos, and they seemed deservedly proud of their work.
Beloved charitable photographer Noel Dahl presented yet another beautiful fundraising calendar, this time to benefit Amor Peludo Animal Rescue. Featuring adorable kittens, pups and hot male celebs like Ryan Worley, Adam Barr, and Gerry Haro, the event took place at Lazy Dog Restaurant in Town Square.
Alas, Mr. Dahl was once again the victim of higher-than-thou patrons who found his artistry to be offensive. A few faint-hearted Sin City parents complained to management that photos of shirtless men were in view and demanded that the fundraising display be removed.
You may recall this article that I penned detailing Noel’s work being dragged through the mud by parents on local television. These are the same hypocrites who choose to raise their children in a city where prostitution billboards roll down the streets. To them, I say “Go f*ck yourselves”.
Speaking of billboards, this riotous monument to failure was spotted along I-15 and the Desert Inn overpass at the tail end of November. Apparently, the abrupt closing of KAOS right after Halloween left no contingency funds for pulling down the advertisements. That meant we had to continue looking at the smelly remnants (aka “Cardi B”). Don’t let her roofie and rob you, guys.
The always colorful Golden Tiki brought the month to a memorable close with their annual Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Traditional Peanuts favorites like jelly beans, pretzels, toast, and popcorn were served on a pingpong table while a pair of naughty parrots sang dirty limericks and farted overhead. Only in Vegas, friends….
The month of December was bitterly cold by Vegas standards. Just like in February, the snows arrived on a recurring basis. Roads to Mt. Charleston, the Red Rock scenic driveway and interstate to Los Angeles were closed to traffic, leaving thousands of motorists unable to reach their destination during the height of holiday travel. Luckily, the city has thousands upon thousands of extra hotel rooms in what is always the slowest tourist season of the year.
The days leading up to Christmas turn Sin City into a bit of a ghost town. The only real activity comes from the residents, who go about their business as usual. Shows and restaurants go on hiatus, casino workers use their vacation time and hotels drop their rates to the lowest of the year. For those looking for a quiet, affordable getaway, mid-December in Las Vegas is bliss.
While the resorts took advantage of the downtime to dive into construction projects and improvements, the tireless members of The Bronx Wanderers were adding more shows to the schedule. In addition to special Christmas performances of their residency at The Linq (moving soon to Harrah’s showroom), breakout star Vin A. was spearheading a collection of three holiday spectaculars around the valley.
I was fortunate enough to attend A Very Swingin’ Christmas at M Resort on December 21st, where Vin was joined by studly guitarist David Braun and patriarch Vinny Adinolfi. A crackerjack band, members of the Beach Boys and other talented musicians made for an unforgettable night that I hope will return next year.
One entertainer who won’t be back is funnyman Jeff Civillico. After a decade of shows on the Strip, Jeff has decided to step off his unicycle, put down the juggling balls and focus on other ventures. The handsome comedian has been outspoken with his frustration at casino management over lack of support for entertainers. So he’s decided to step away from the Vegas stage. We’ll miss him.
Russ White of QLife Media and The Charity Gurus was able to provide me with one final photo of Allegiant Raiders Stadium construction for the year. He took it from his condo in Veer Tower, part of CityCenter complex on the Strip.
Over at Rio, WOW – The Las Vegas Spectacular celebrated two years and 1,000 performances. A post-show party at CHAYO was attended by cast, crew, publicist Michael Caprio and the creator Hanoch Rosènn, who flew in from Israel to attend. Mr. Rosènn was incredibly kind and complimentary regarding the article I’d published on the show a few weeks earlier. During the tumultuous times for live entertainment productions, it’s wonderful to see WOW‘s success.
Venetian/Palazzo is gearing up for another success of their own. Continuing their tradition of opening new restaurants at the close of the year (Matteo’s, Mott 32), my favorite luxury resort gave a sneak peek at Majordomo Meat and Fish. The latest offering from Chef David Chang is a massive undertaking located on Palazzo casino’s northwest side.
The invitation-only gala was attended by my wonderful colleague Allison Duck, hunky FREEZONE bartender Ric James Naughton and KTNV personalities JJ Snyder, Jason Dinant and Micah Manalo along with talented singer Brandon Nix (Magic Mike Live, Rock of Ages, Velvet Elvis). Majordomo Meat and Fish is open daily from 5:30opm to 10:30pm.
At last, New Year’s Eve was upon us, so it was back to Westgate Las Vegas for their annual gala. This year’s attendees included FOX5 Emmy-winning anchor Jason Feinberg, the cast of Soul of Motown and prolific go-to photographer Ira Kuzma accompanied by his lovely wife Marie.
After an incredible dinner, dancing, east-coast ball drop and entertainment throughout the resort by classy crooner Mark O’Toole and David Perrico’s Pop Strings Orchestra, the party moved upstairs via private elevator to Westgate’s famous Versailles Sky Villa. The rooftop mansion’s outdoor deck provided the perfect location for fireworks viewing of both the Strip and nearby STRAT Skypod.
From there it was off to Charlie’s, a country-western bar near Orleans Casino that has somehow become a destination for local drag queens. They hosted a costume contest into the wee hours that was as funny as it was outlandish. And that’s how 2019 came to a close…as oddly as it began. Because nothing says “New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas” like cross-dressers and barechested muscle boys. Happy 2020, everyone!
This year-end wrap-up is dedicated to the memory of my little lady Daphne, who passed away on Christmas Day.