Actor/Musician Ian Ward is Ready to Rock ‘The Vegas Room’


Youthful heartthrob from “Rock of Ages” and “BAZ” possesses the soul of a legend…

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There are many who consider Palazzo‘s BAZ to be one of the greatest productions that Las Vegas has ever seen. A gentre-defying blend of modern music and the works of literary greats as seen through the eyes of film director Baz Luhrmann, BAZ provided a forum for some of the best entertainers in the business.

When Ian Ward stepped into the role of “Romeo”, the youthful performer had big shoes to fill. James Byous, LJ Benet and Myles Nuzzi had all been stunning as the ill-fated lover, yet Ian (full name Ian Ward Brininstool) managed to make his own indelible impression. His powerful, heartfelt performance of Elton John’s “Your Song” elicited cheers from the audience…and the tragic “Love Is Blindness” (below) could cause you to erupt into sobs.

Ian made his stage debut at the age of nine, landing the lead in a large scale production of Oliver. Since then he’s taken on television with a role in Veronica Mars and the New York stage in musicals like Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Leaving Eden and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

The native of La Jolla has performed on cruise ships around the world and lived in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Miami, and of course, the Big Apple. Currently completing his studies at Berklee College of Music with an album on the way, he’s released a collection of self-penned singles that reflect a variety of cultural experiences.

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Ian was performing in the hit Los Angeles production of Rock Of Ages (with fellow BAZ alumnus Sean Lessard) when the pandemic forced it to close. Since then he’s been focused on his studies and writing new music. Like BAZ, Ian refuses to be categorized, yet influences from The Beatles, Elton John and classic rock anthems come through.

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Like most entertainers, the sandy-haired Californian has been yearning for a return to live performance. He’ll be center-stage this Friday and Saturday with an intimate showcase at The Vegas Room. I caught up with Ian over the weekend, and this is what he had to say:

When did you first visit Las Vegas, and when was the first time you performed here?

Growing up in San Diego, Las Vegas has always been a vacation destination for me and my family. I clearly remember spending my 13th birthday here and doing the indoor skydiving experience with my best friend. I think somewhere deep in my subconscious, I always knew that I would be spending more time in this special city. My dream came true when I was cast as Romeo in BAZ back in 2017. This was my first time experiencing performing here and getting to know the entertainment community in Las Vegas.

Roles in BAZ, Footloose, and Rock of Ages have allowed you to stretch your acting, dancing and singing muscles all at the same time. Do you approach a song “differently” when you’re performing in-character versus as yourself? Which do you prefer?

When I am performing a song in a musical, I bring the past experiences and memories of that character into the words that he is speaking and singing. As an actor through song, you must be able to convey to the audience where this character is in their particular journey within the overall story of the play.  

When I perform an original song or a cover song in a cabaret setting, sometimes I am more focused on feeling the energy and vibe of the material and connecting with the audience. I want to communicate directly and bring them along on the ride. It’s much more collaborative with the people there enjoying the music.

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Photos: Ryan Salinas for The Vegas Room

You tend to gravitate towards explosive productions, yet your solo work is of a more romantic nature. What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

I love doing large scale productions because of the quality of lights, sound, special effects and the entire creative team that comes together to create something spectacular. However, in my solo work, I tend to gravitate towards love stories or stripped down acoustic sounds. I think this comes from my father’s influence in classic rock and my love for classic songwriters such as Neil Young, James Taylor, Sting, and The Beatles. I would love to blend high quality production with my own songs eventually.

Your cover of “Across The Universe” with Ruby Lewis is gorgeous and pure in its simplicity. How did that collaboration come about, and do you see the two of you working together again?

Ruby and I love to collaborate on songs that we share a passion for. One afternoon at my parents house, we were listening to some oldies and “Across the Universe” started playing. Ruby’s voice is so pure and strong that when we blend harmonies, it always sounds special and unique.  

We decided that it would be a nice take on a classic to do our own rendition, and I think the setting of my deck made the ambience all that more magical. She and I will definitely be doing more writing and recording together in the future. She is featured as the background singer on my song “Tru Luv” and sometimes I help arrange or cowrite on her songs. We hope to be onstage together soon!

Your IMDB and social media bios don’t list your birth year. Is there a reason behind that?

Haha! No reason for that actually. Maybe it’s just an industry thing…I think my agents might have taken it down online. I was born on Valentines Day, 1996.

You’ve shone onstage, on the screen and in the recording studio. What’s next to conquer?

I want to continue to grow my catalog in the recording industry and make songs that will make a difference to society and uplift people. A large goal of mine is to get significant progress made with my entertainment company ‘Outward Original’. This company was formed to establish artistic media that can create understanding and harmony. And, I want to collaborate with other artists to make art across all mediums. 

Many artists have reported a surge of creativity during the pandemic. Has this happened to you as well? What did COVID-19 deliver to your legacy?

This year has been very tough on everyone. Covid-19 was responsible for the closing of one of my favorite productions I have been a part of…’Rock of Ages Hollywood’…just after we had opened. It also took the life of my great friend, Nick Cordero, whom I shared the stage with in ‘Rock of Ages’.  

I went though a couple months of reflection and a form of depression where it didn’t feel authentic to be creating or trying to push my voice out into the world. However, now I am feeling invigorated and have been blessed with an influx of new opportunities, so I’m ready to get back out there and create!

Your website is “Ian Ward Out Ward Dot Com”. What is the message or meaning of that?

Ward is actually my middle name. My last name is Brininstool, of German descent. ‘Outward Original’ is the name of my entertainment company. And, being a spiritual person, I believe in the process of taking inspiration and then letting that flow freely outward into the world. So this play on words seemed both fitting and appropriate for my company and my beliefs.

Is there one well-known role that you’d love to take on? Who’s your dream onstage partner?

A dream role of mine would be to play Roger in RENT! Or be a part of a brand new, revolutionary musical where I get to build a role from the ground up. I had an experience like this when I was the first “Ren” in ‘Footloose’ for Norwegian Cruise Lines, because I got to make a lot of creative and artistic choices that became a part of the track for other actors to come! I am excited to see which great performers I get to share the stage with in the future!

The Vegas Room has quickly become the go-to venue/hangout for BAZ alumni (Randal Keith, Lisa Marie Smith, Anne Martinez, Eric Jordan Young) as well as other highly seasoned performers. Your inclusion in their entertainment line-up is testimony to your talent. What can guests expect from your showcase?

I feel so honored to have been asked to perform at The Vegas Room! My peers that worked on BAZ with me are so talented and are such gems in this city. I look forward to joining them in the roster at this great venue! The audience can expect a night of an eclectic smattering of classic songs, some originals I have been writing recently, and stories from my career that I hope will excite and interest people. I can’t wait to connect and entertain to bring some light to their night!


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Ian Ward takes to the stage of The Vegas Room on August 7th and 8th at 8pm. Options include a 6:30pm dinner/show or 7:30pm light bites/show. Click here or call  (725) 206-7059 for more information and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 E Sahara Avenue Suite E18 (Bright RED Doors), Las Vegas, NV 89104 

 

2019 – The Year in Review: ‘What The CL#@K!? – The Second Half-Dozen


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 –

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Remember to NEVER park on the ground level in the Linq/Harrah’s area, as that spot is prone to violently flooding.

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          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.

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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.

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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.

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Allegiant Raiders Stadium was just about to complete its frame-out, casting an impressive shadow along Interstate 15.

August –

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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As for the Stadium, it had now come full circle…..er, “oval”.

September –

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

October –

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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             This fellow was so soaked in fake blood that he threw his shirt in the trash…

November –

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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….

December –

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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This year-end wrap-up is dedicated to the memory of my little lady Daphne, who passed away on Christmas Day.

 

 

 

Food and Fun Come Together at ‘sixth + mill’


Venetian’s latest culinary offering brings the flavor of southern Italy to St. Mark’s Square…

If you’ve ever visited the city of Venice, you no doubt have fond memories of indulging in the wonderful tastes of the local cuisine, most likely from a scenic outdoor patio. The dining opportunities of that amazing destination are one of a kind…yet Vegas visitors can relive the experience once again…or for the very first time…at sixth + mill ristorante, pizzeria and bar at Venetian.

You may recall my previous write-up of Venetian/Palazzo‘s Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, a glorious Sin City extension of L.A.’s famed Factory Kitchen. Situated along Restaurant Row, this eatery is the brainchild of restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi and his longtime friend Chef Angelo Auriana. Now these gentlemen have brought another Los Angeles destination to Vegas, this time at Venetian’s St. Mark’s Square.

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sixth + mill takes its name from the original location in California. The restaurant is a celebration of southern Italian culture as seen through the region’s food. Here guests can enjoy “outdoor patio dining” while taking in Venetian’s signature street performer shows. This is their operating philosophy and conveys why dining there is such a pleasant way to enjoy a meal:

Experience a casual-refined atmosphere that recreates the feel of a classic ristorante – pizzeria and the platform to educate and share the culture and the lifestyle of Southern Italy and its people’s dedication to food and wine.

In Southern Italy, the rich volcanic soil has always been the fueling force of the agriculture that from thousands of years has produced unique ingredients that are intrinsically part of the much sought-after Mediterranean Diet.

Chef Angelo’s commitment is on keeping these old traditions alive today. The cuisine of sixth+mill focuses on traditional recipes that capture the uniqueness and versatility of the regional southern Italian food and include appetizers, fritters, homemade pasta, meat & poultry, seafood, and desserts, keeping an eye on traditions and looking at today’s necessity of lightness, healthiness, and simplicity.

With a description like that, it’s clear that Chef Angelo and Matteo take great pride in sharing their heritage with guests. And fortunately for Vegas foodies, we now have two restaurants by these gentlemen to choose from.

My first visit to sixth + mill was a veritable bounty of flavor, color, and presentation. Interestingly, my companion and I gravitated towards plant-based dishes that were perfect for a satisfying lunch without a heavy feeling afterward. We began with some dishes from the list of “Fritters”.

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First up was u’vroccolo, a plate of cauliflower florets accompanied by parmigiana dipping sauce ($11). It was followed by brussels sprouts toasted, a hearty mound of the divisive little cabbages prepared with a slightly smokey flavor and topped with almonds, paprika and lemon ($12).

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Our final fritter was arancinotto, a generous portion of the traditional Sicilian recipe made with rice, beef, pork, tomato and mozzarella ($12 for 3 pieces). Mouthwatering with every bite, this delight was my favorite part of the meal.

We then moved to a selection from “Small Plates” with melanzana, a warm shareable made with eggplant, parmigiana, scamorza and tomato ($15). Other small plates on the list include minestra soup with quinoa, vegetables, ricotta and chili oil ($15), crostone, an inviting mushroom toast with herbs, reggiano and provolone ($13) and rapini, a leafy green vegetable cooked with chili oil and oregano and served with ricotta and bread crumbs ($9).

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While these delicious vegetarian dishes were incredibly satisfying, there was plenty left to explore on the extensive sixth + mill menu. Our next selection from “Meat & Poultry” was brasato (braised beef with carrots, red onions and gaeta olives – $38). It was so moist, delicious and tender that I was able to separate it with a spoon.

There’s also polpette beef and pork meatballs, chicken parm, pollo romano, and siciliana prime beef steak to go along with seafood selections like acqua pazza (sea bass), pepper-couli salmone and spicy mussels mitili.

While enjoying the brasato, our table was visited by Matteo Ferdinandi himself. Jovial and clearly excited about his new restaurant, he wanted to be sure that we were enjoying our meal. Yet…he couldn’t resist chiding us in a joking fashion about not trying any of his endless combinations of pizzas.

The menu features hand-crafted Neapolitan style pizzas, traditional wheat pastas, and tomatoes chosen with purpose. They use three varieties of tomatoes for their pizza sauce; one for sweetness, one for tanginess, and one for consistency.

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There are six varieties of red pizzas and four white pizzas to choose from. You can customize your selection with ten specialty toppings like n’duja (spicy pork salume), stracciatella (water buffalo milk cheese) and speck (smoke-cured prosciutto). All pizzas are baked in one of two special pizza ovens created to achieve the best airy and chewy crust. The ovens were flown into Las Vegas from Italy especially for sixth + mill.

Pasta is a big deal at any Italian restaurant, but sixth + mill goes the extra mile. Every ravioli, cavatelli, linguine, and fusilli is made fresh in-house and topped with sauces like meat-tomato ragu, chicken sugo and lemon cream with mint oil. There are whole wheat varieties and gnocchi (potato dumplings), too.

Make sure to complete your meal with one of several delicious desserts. And check out their outstanding beveage menu of cocktails, wines, champagne, beers, and teas.

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So the next time you’re craving authentic Italian food with a view of Venice, head over to sixth + mill at Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes. It’s the perfect way to satisfy your culinary urges while indulging in a mini-vacation at the same time.

sixth + mill is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. Phone: 702.414.1227 for reservations and information…

Photos: Sam Novak, sixth + mill

 

Sipping In Style at Venetian/Palazzo’s “COCKTAIL COLLECTIVE”


Three moods and a whole lotta class at Venetian/Palazzo’s trio of sexy lounges…

Last week my house guest and I were relaxing during the late afternoon when some cool jazz came up on the CD changer (yes, some of us are still old school). Apparently that piano and saxophone set the right tone because he perked up and said “I’m in the mood for some fancy cocktails. Where do we go?”.

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                   Dr. Ryan Cooley (right) and I start our evening at Venetian/Palazzo…

If you read this blog regularly then you’d know that my immediate response was “ROSINA“. I’ve had a love affair with Palazzo’s gorgeous art-deco lounge since it opened in the summer of 2017. A sister of sorts to Venetian’s The Dorsey, ROSINA was the latest jewel in the resort’s crown.

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Since then, Venetian/Palazzo has added ELECTRA Cocktail Club, the third member of their upscale lounge offerings. Now known as the Cocktail Collective, this trio beckons you with a sophisticated take on the pub crawl. So we were off to shower and into our swanky duds for an evening of superlative martinis, signature cocktails and gorgeous surroundings.

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Our first stop was ELECTRA Cocktail Club, a high-gloss and sumptuous space just off the casino floor near Mott 32 (read my review here). The largest of the three, ELECTRA has an open floor plan with large tufted sofas and luxurious lounge chairs. The far wall is a stunning and massive video screen with amazing resolution.

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This “digital canvas” is almost subliminal as a mood-enhancer, as constantly-changing vibrant images alternately rivet your attention then become part of the background atmosphere. The effect is dazzling and memorable, helping to create the energy of a mega-club with the intimate trappings of a local hangout.

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                      Performer Ruby Lewis surprises Sarah Delgado-Rith at Rosina…

Of course any cocktail lounge is only as good as who’s behind the bar. It was pleasing to recognize bartender Sarah Delgado-Rith. This lovely and wonderfully-skilled mixologist was the centerpiece of an article I penned last year. In it, Sarah was surprised by BAZ performer Ruby Lewis, who took over her shift as part of “National Plan for Vacation Day”.

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Reintroducing myself, I brought up that article and asked Sarah if Miss Lewis had really worked her entire shift. “No, I wish!” she laughed. “As soon as the cameras were done rolling, girlfriend was outta here. But I actually did get the vacation, so that was cool”.

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We all had a chuckle then got down to business with a look at ELECTRA’s magnificent cocktail menu. The newest member of the Cocktail Collective prides itself on being ahead of the trends in mixology. Their primary focus is on rums, agricoles and mezcals, but the skilled bartenders can create absolutely anything to suit your taste. I was drawn to Unicorn Tears ($18), a tall blend of gin, Fino sherry, fresh lime, pineapple and absinthe.

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My companion, a family-practice physician from the Pacific Northwest, decided to take a walk on the wild side with Low Blow ($18). This union of bourbon, pineapple liqueur, chocolate and Angostura bitters is stirred and dramatically served on the rocks.

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The ambience at ELECTRA tends to ebb and flow. Music changes throughout the evening just like that electric video wall. Resident DJ’s supply contemporary hits, hip-hop, rock and the occasional mellow selection. On Thursdays, the club hosts a fun-filled “Shake Off” in which celebrities participate in a cocktail-creation competition. A famous pair of guests is challenged to design drinks that reflect their tastes and sensibilities…and club attendees get to be the judges!

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Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Saying farewell to Sarah and the ELECTRA staff, we sauntered across the casino to ROSINA. The eye-catching black and gold entrance lures you from the east side of the gaming floor and offers an intimate environment that’s in stark contrast to ELECTRA’s party vibe. Famous for it’s unique “Champagne Call Button” that keeps the bubbly flowing, ROSINA specializes in fine wines and classic cocktails delivered with panache.

ROSINA’s stunning space is the perfect size to host intimate groups and celebrate special events. Our visit happened to coincide with “Rosina Connoisseur Nights”, a series that recognizes noteworthy Las Vegas women. This evening was celebrating Women in Television and was hosted by reporter/personality Jillian Lopez.

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                                             Host Jillian Lopez with Kyle Markman…

The featured cocktail for the evening was Air Columbia, made with Belvedere Vodka, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, housemade simple syrup, lemon juice, fresh raspberries and MOËT ROSÉ.

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                        Claudine Grant (right) is the resort’s Communications Manager…

Guiding the festivities was Claudine Grant, the resort’s dynamic and always-elegant Communications Manager.  In attendance was Keith Salwoski, Venetian’s handsome Executive Director of Public Relations. I’d been fortunate to meet both of these wonderful people during the 2017 BAZ Boot Camp experience that I told you about here.

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Keith recommended that we try the Seasonal Fix ($18), a refreshing mixture of muddled seasonal fruit, spirit of your choice, fresh lemon, crushed ice and a whole-fruit accent. I enjoyed gin and raspberry while the good doctor chose vodka and blueberries. Open wide and say “Ahhhhhhh”….

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                    GM Luis Lopez (second from left) and Keith Salwoski (far right)…

General Manager Luis Lopez, who also helms ELECTRA, told me about ROSINA’s growing collection of “Secret Menus”. Along with the regular list of wines and signature cocktails, guests in the know (and Vegas Unfiltered readers) can request a peek at the down-low Manhattan Menu. On Thursday June 6th they’ll be debuting a Champagne Secret Menu at a special cost for one night before a formal roll-out. Be sure to attend and tell them that Sam sent you.

On a side note, I learned via this piece in Las Vegas Magazine that Mr. Lopez regularly visits sick children in hospitals dressed as Deadpool and Batman. Performing the same heartwarming work as the team at Critical Care Comics (which I wrote about here), Luis says “It’s great for me to be able to do that for the kids. I wear those suits so I can take their mind off things—so they can have some fun.”

The founding member of the Cocktail Collective is The Dorsey, our final stop for the evening. Take a short stroll through Restaurant Row, past the recently-reviewed Factory Kitchen and a right at the Venetian casino.

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The Dorsey is a distinctly fresh take on cocktail culture with a different vibe from either ELECTRA or ROSINA. An interesting blend of casual elegance, soothing atmosphere and hip culture, The Dorsey is the perfect place to begin…or close out…an evening on the town.

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My favorite section of The Dorsey is the library, where you can indulge in one of famed mixologist Sam Ross‘s legendary creations while enjoying conversation and social interaction. It’s perfect for a first date or to mark an intimate personal event.

I was fortunate on my first visit to experience Sam Ross in person…as he graced our group with a fascinating presentation of his latest creations. You may not be so lucky to visit when Ross is with, but with so many things to taste, see, listen to and enjoy, every moment at The Dorsey is memorable.

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Ross and his team now have introduced “The Dorsey Sessions”, an ongoing cultural exchange of sorts in which noteworthy bartenders from around the world come to The Venetian to share their craft, knowledge and influences on the latest cocktail trends.

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When you’re at The Dorsey with a group of friends, bring a party atmosphere to the table with one of their outlandish shareable craft Disco Punch Bowls. Presented in an open-top mirror ball with copper mugs, your punch can be made with Dom Pérignon,  Laurent-Perrier, Absolut Elix or Patrón Tequila.

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You can peruse the extensive wine, champagne, beer and cocktail list by clicking here. I highly recommend trying The Penicillin ($18), a true conversation starter made with blended scotch, lemon juice, honey-ginger syrup and a float of Islay Scotch on top. Sam Ross created this one at the Milk and Honey Bar in New York City and it’s become quite popular at The Dorsey…so much so that Ross created a frozen variation, The Penichillin, which is available at nearby ELECTRA.

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Now that you too are in the know, it’s time to follow doctor’s orders and experience the Cocktail Collective for yourself. It’s an adventure for the senses that you won’t want to miss.

Photos: Sam Novak, Venetian/Palazzo

 

 

Mott 32 – Asian Fusion on a Global Scale


Palazzo’s fine dining experience is a culinary adventure worth embarking on….

What do you get when you combine the centuries-old cuisine of China with 1800’s NYC industrialism, contemporary Hong Kong’s vibrant culture and the whimsical flair of Sin City? The answer is Mott 32, a gorgeous and glorious new addition to Venetian/Palazzo‘s ever-evolving restaurant family. And this one deserves a place at the top of your must-do Vegas adventures.

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Situated on the north side of Palazzo’s casino floor (next to the popular Grand Lux Cafe), Mott 32 may be one of the most visually striking restaurants in the city. Brought to life by famed Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang, the venue is positively teeming with cultural references, subtle nods and innovative touches.

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From a film tribute to Anna Wong (Hollywood’s first Chinese-American starlet) to a giant metal abacus and artworks of stunning detail and significance, diners could easily get lost exploring the massive 11,400 square foot space. There’s even an exclusive Boom Boom Room private dining area where guests can request a special “Red Menu” designed to conjure joy, happiness and good fortune.

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The name Mott 32 is a nod to New York City’s first Chinese convenience store, which opened at 32 Mott Street in 1891. The fact that the original Hong Kong location took its name from a NYC Chinatown business demonstrates the global scope of their vision. It’s enhanced by a commitment to ethical sourcing and using organic, sustainable ingredients.

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Of course the real reason that you should visit…and will want to return…is for the food, cocktails and service. As you might imagine, all are world-class and exemplary. Recipes are primarily of Cantonese style, with influences from both Beijing and Szechaun cooking.

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After enjoying a couple of Mott 32 Mules from the lounge (more on that later), my party settled into a secluded booth beyond the main dining room. There we had the pleasure of sampling a presentation of dishes selected for us by the Chef.

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We began with a refreshing plate of Marinated Cucumber and Garlic ($9). The Starter Menu includes a wide variety of vegetables and meats like Wild Mushrooms with Black Truffle Sauce in a lettuce cup ($20), Sesame Prawn Toast with Autumn Sauce ($18) and Cubed Australian Wagyu Beef with mustard sauce ($22).

Heading over to the lengthy Dim Sum section, we sampled the unusual but stunning Hot & Sour Iberico Pork Shanghainese Soup Dumplings ($14 for 4 pieces)an absolute must. They were followed by Crispy Sugar Coated BBQ Iberico Pork Buns ($13 for 3), whose tangy flavor offered a marvelous hint of sweetness. If your taste buds long for Chinese barbecue, try BBQ Pluma Iberico Pork ($39). It’s amazingly tender and sweet thanks to a layer of Yellow Mountain honey.

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Mott 32’s astounding meat and seafood dishes are carefully prepared using generations-old cooking methods, seasonings and recipes. The house specialty is Mott Duck, a Peking duck that is air-dried in a special refrigerator, marinated then applewood-smoked in a custom oven.

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The entire preparation of Mott Duck takes two days, requiring that you order well in advance of your meal.

Click HERE to continue reading via BestOfVegas.com.

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Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano Will Drive Your Taste Buds Into Overtime


Italian trattoria brings family recipes and Downtown L.A. flair to the Venetian…

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UPDATE: As of October, Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano is the new name for Factory Kitchen. Here’s a statement from Venetian/Palazzo: 

The Factory Kitchen Las Vegas is now called  Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano. Named for Matteo Ferdinandi, the CEO and partner of Factory Place Hospitality Group, the new moniker speaks directly to the Italian heritage of the restaurant’s founders, giving guests a clear understanding of the cuisine they can expect inside this gem of a restaurant.

Each market has its own nuances, and we feel this new name indicates exactly the type of experience guests can expect when spending an evening at our restaurant here in Las Vegas.

The restaurant’s menu created by Executive Chef and business partner Angelo Auriana continues to deliver approachable Italian dishes using fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients.

Both from Italy, Matteo and Chef Angelo take pride in sharing family recipes passed down from generation to generation.

Two summers ago I penned a piece on why Palazzo Hotel Casino earned my top spot for high-end Las Vegas resorts. Since then a lot has changed, nearly all for the better. My favorite show (BAZ)) may have left, but plenty of exciting new things have opened up or been announced.

New cocktail lounges like Rosina and Electra Cocktail Club have been added to Palazzo’s entertainment line-up. The casino has been brightened with new colors and a fresh layout. And of course, the waterfall-centric atrium is a glorious, ever-changing favorite for photo ops.

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The biggest evolution, perhaps, is a more intellectual one. Venetian’s sister property has gradually been integrated into a unified operation. Palazzo is still independent and unique but now treated more like a tower of the Venetian. The lines have also blurred with respect to their retail areas. Palazzo’s shopping esplanade has been absorbed into the Grand Canal Shoppes, allowing for greater traffic flow and clarity of identity.

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With all of these updates, I was overdue to start exploring some of Venetian/Palazzo’s updates. My first stop was Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, an eatery in the famed Restaurant Row. This is only their second location in the country. The original opened in Los Angeles Arts District in 2013 and was an immediate success.

Matteo’s is a collaboration between restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi and his longtime friend Chef Angelo Auriana. Their shared passion for Italian heritage, hospitality, and traditional recipes is what makes their ristorante so special.

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While details like that might not enter into your decisions on where to eat, consider this…the premiere Italian-themed resort in Las Vegas only welcomes the best…and Ferdinandi and Chef Auriana could have opened their second eatery anywhere they wished. The fact that these two powerful entities decided to team up suggests a match made in culinary Heaven.

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Heaven is indeed what you’ll be feeling when you encounter the wafting aromas from the open kitchen. Influences from their flagship inside a repurposed factory building can be felt here, albeit with designer touches and Vegas flair. Rustic colors, art-deco lighting, an industrial-style ceiling and reclaimed wood offer a masculine and inviting atmosphere to compliment distinctive family-inspired recipes.

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My companion and I arrived at noon for weekday lunch. After a cocktail in the sleek lounge, we were escorted to a table in the heart of the dining room. The server was extremely knowledgeable with their extensive menu, ingredients, and preparation…and had plenty of favorites to suggest.

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We began by ordering a couple of fresh, light salads. I opted for a Cortolana ($14) with field greens, watermelon radish, white onion, dates and goat cheese topped with champagne vinaigrette. On the right is the Cremosella ($15), which features creamy mozzarella, watercress, extra virgin olive oil, and black pepper.

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The next round threw my keto diet right out the window, but it was bound to happen when the Focaccina Calda al Formaggio (Cheese Focaccia) at an adjacent table looked and smelled so tempting. We shared a crisp, creamy Tradizionale ($19) made from imported crescenza cheese, baby wild arugula, and Ligurian olive oil. There’s also a Pizatta ($21) with capers and anchovies and the Tirolese ($23) with Italian-cured smoked ham and peppercress.

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Pasta was on both of our minds for the main course, and why not? With the live pasta station making family recipes fresh on-site, my mouth was watering before the plates even arrived. My companion chose Casonzei ($22), a pork sausage & veal ravioli prepared with cured pork belly, sage brown butter and reggiano cheese. Exquisite!

I had to go with what could be considered Matteo’s signature dish – Mandilli di Seta ($20). This unforgettable delight is a unique “handkerchief pasta”, thin sheets of egg dough tossed with a Ligurian almond basil pesto sauce. One bite (and a few moans later) and it was easy to see why this dish has been a longtime favorite.

While the pasta section of the menu might be a mid-point for some, our appetites were already satiated. I’ll have to return to indulge in Matteo’s great selection of entrees. Dishes such as Gamberoni ($26 – sautéed white shrimp, sunchoke purée, roasted romanesco, vermentino, saffron), Polpettone ($19 – oven-roasted turkey meatloaf, san marzano peperonata, caramelized onion, fresh oregano and seasonal vegetables) and Tagliata ($29 – prime flat iron steak, sautéed winter greens, roasted pepper bagna cauda) along with a list of daily specials should satisfy every voracious carnivore and discerning appetite at your table.

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Despite being full, my companion and I had to, at the very least, dip our spoons into a few sweets from the dessert menu. Once again we stuck to traditional favorites by requesting a sumptuous Cannoli ($13) filled with ricotta, orange marmalade and rolled in pistachio. Somehow an order of Panna Cotta ($11 – served with a pair of soft ovis mollis cookies) showed up at our table, too. Of course, we had to try it…just to be polite! 

Along with your meal, feel free to indulge in a selection from Matteo’s carefully-crafted wine list. It focuses on Italian varieties along with many other European choices. Several signature cocktails boasting whimsical names like Private Eye, Big Swifty, Afraid of the Dark and The Ugly should make for interesting conversation. Check out the beverage and wine list by clicking HERE.

Earlier this year, Chef Auriana debuted a weekend brunch menu, served from 11 am through 5 pm. Offerings include Ricotta Pancakes ($15) with kumquats, mascarpone crema, lemon zest and maple syrup, Egg Raviolo ($18) with braised greens & organic egg-filled pasta, pancetta, and brown butter. There’s also a scrumptious Steak Amore for $28 – pancetta-wrapped filet mignon medallions with mushrooms and parsley. Brunch guests through 2:30 pm can add bottomless Mimosas, White Peach Bellinis and Bloody Mary’s for an additional $28.

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So the next time you’re strolling through the Venetian/Palazzo Resort and the songs of those famous gondoliers whet your appetite for superior Italian cuisine, head to Restaurant Row. Discover the joys of Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano. Just tell them that Sam from Vegas Unfiltered sent you.

Matteo’s Risorante Italiano is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. The lounge opens daily at noon. For reservations or more info call 702.414.1222.

Photos: Sam Novak, Factory Kitchen

 

 

 

 

Best Spots for Pub Grub in Las Vegas


If you’ve been to the Venetian/Palazzo recently, you may have noticed something called the “Cocktail Collective”. It’s a trio of new lounges that offer handcrafted superior cocktails in lush, unique surroundings. The Dorsey, Rosina and Electra are each distinctive and set new standards for a classy evening out.

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As wonderful as fancy cocktail lounges are, sometimes you just want to head out for some live music, cheap liquor and rib-sticking grub. At times like this, it’s best to travel off-Strip and hang out where the locals go. Of course, you’ll want to employ the services of LYFT or UBER if you plan to imbibe, but the price of a ride is nothing compared to all you’ll save.

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Click HERE to continue reading…

 

 

 

 

The Many Sides of Savannah Cross


Palazzo’s infectious dancer brings razzle-dazzle to BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

Ever since its humble beginnings inside a small Los Angeles nightspot, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has boasted a fluid cast. Performers and celebrity guests regularly step into and out of six iconic and several supporting roles. They often swap characters and lines…sometimes within the same performance, making each night a unique experience.

The genre-bending BAZ musical, a creation by LA-based For The Record, recently celebrated its 500th performance inside a custom-designed venue at Palazzo Resort. Although its tradition of rotating casts continues, one performer has been there through four different dance partners. Her name is Savannah Cross…and she’s someone you’ll want to experience on your next trip to the Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah grew up in Sandy, Utah, just south of Great Salt Lake. She spent her earliest years learning to dance at several studios around her home state.

I started dancing at the age of 6.  Watching my older cousin compete is really what drew me into dance.  I remember thinking to myself, this is it, this is what I want to do.  From the time I started training at 6, I just never stopped and got even more immersed into dance.

During my first couple years of dancing, I saw the movie Center Stage and fell in love.  I loved the idea that dance was something I could make a career out of and watching this movie made it all even more real.  I also loved the work, energy and sacrifice that the dancers in the movie put into this crazy art form.

During high school, the ambitious teen traveled around the country with Hollywood Connection, a company dedicated to preparing dancers for their commercial careers. Despite her young age, Savannah performed in a variety of productions that displayed skills in hip-hop, contemporary and ballroom styles.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After graduating from high school, the dynamic young lady enrolled at the University of Utah‘s College of Fine Arts. While there, Savannah was member of their Performing Dance Company, which gave her the opportunity to work with several famed choreographers. As a result of her hard work and the enormous potential she displayed, Savannah received the prestigious Dizzy Feet Foundation Scholarship for her 2014-2015 year.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

While less ambitious college students were spending their summers sipping margaritas on Mexican beaches, Ms. Cross was in Leeds, England, receiving intensive training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. And somewhere in those college years she managed to become a finalist on Paula Abdul‘s Live To Dance and appeared in a music video for singer Shaun Barrowes.

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After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Modern Dance, Savannah became an instructor at Utah’s Elite Academy, a unique dance studio that teaches children as young as preschool age.  There she inspired other up-and-coming dancers and shared the knowledge she’d gained from an already extensive background.

Aside from dancing, I have really found a passion in teaching.  I started teaching dance when I was 18 and instantly fell in love. I was so lucky to have such incredible and diverse teachers growing up and because of this I felt very informed when I first started teaching.

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It was obvious that the girl from a small town in Utah was destined to accomplish great things. With the unending support of her loving mom…and her father as a faithful companion/escort to countless auditions, Savannah’s determination would soon pay off.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have the most amazing support system and especially wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom and dad. They sacrificed so much to let me follow my dreams.  Every vacation we ever took as a family was always for dance.  A large part of me sticking with this art that can be so hard and grueling is because of those two.  They never gave up on me and every second of everyday, they believed in me.

I have one sibling, a 12 year old sister named Dylann.  She is now starting to dance and train heavily and it makes my heart so happy.  Watching her flourish makes me want to be the absolute best version of myself each day.

As with so many other promising artists, Savannah Cross decided to try her luck in New York City. Although she had success there, a turn of luck would lead her to the bright lights and neon of the Las Vegas Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The innovative Los Angeles-based cabaret troupe For The Record Live was catching on like wildfire. Their musical interpretations of the film works from directors  Quentin Tarantino and John Hughes were drawing raves…and crowds. Their biggest hit so far was For the Record: BAZ, built around the scenes and music of avante-garde Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann.

The production, interweaving love stories from Luhrmann’s contemporary re-imaginings of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet was given a short stint at Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub. Plagued by problems with the venue and its relationship with Cirque du Soleil, BAZ closed prematurely…but refused to die.

In 2016, Palazzo Resort announced a relaunch of the newly-named BAZ: Star Crossed Love. Cirque was now out of the picture and Venetian/Palazzo pledged full support of the acclaimed musical. This latest version of the long-evolving production would open with a mostly-new cast, a reworking of songs and scenes and a custom theater designed to showcase its cabaret-style roots.

What would eventually become my 2017 Best Production Show in Las Vegas was about to gain a brand-new ballroom star. This time, Savannah would be required to sing, act and play characters in addition to swirling around the stage. Here’s how she became a part of BAZ…in her own words:

I really never imagined I would be a part of a show like BAZ. Before I joined the cast, I was dancing for two contemporary companies in New York and I really thought that was my path. When I initially joined the show, I was somewhat hesitant having to sing and act, but now have come to realize that I have such a passion for the two. I do strongly believe that my background in dance and immense training that I did all over the world and in different styles, informed and directed me as a strong actor.  

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

My initial start into the show was such a whirlwind! I received a phone call from a fellow dancer/friend who I hadn’t heard from in years. She started the conversation totally casual, and a few minutes into the conversation asked me if I would be interested in BAZ. I fell in love with the structure of the show and the incredible talent she described to me. Within days, I got a phone call that I was chosen for the role of Fran! I felt so incredibility lucky to be cast in the show without For the Record and the management team ever seeing me in person.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Everything happened so quickly, with only 3 days to learn the entire show, I became the first new cast member to come into BAZ. I instantly knew that I was meant to be here doing this amazing show. As of now, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem (based on the mafia films of Martin Scorcese) is the only other For the Record show I have seen, but it absolutely blew me away!!! I saw the show in Los Angeles with some others members of BAZ and I sat there thinking to myself, how lucky am I to be part of such an insanely talented family.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have now had four different partners in the show and I will say that I have really been lucky with each boy. Two of the four partners are also from Utah and we actually grew up dancing together, which made the transition pretty simple. But I will say that there is an emotional toll when a partner leaves.

You end up building such a connection and relationship with each other in which you fully trust each other. I do think that it often feels like a “break up” to some extent and can take a minute to rebuild an entirely new connection with someone else.

Being able to build a connection between herself and others is definitely one of Savannah’s gifts. Whether it’s with her fellow performers, the people in the audience or her own students, Miss Cross is magnetic, energetic and completely mesmerizing.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

This writer was fortunate enough to have once been Savannah’s student…for a day. As a member of the media, I was invited to participate in BAZ Boot Camp last summer, an event that allowed members of the press to live a day as a performer at the Palazzo Theater.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

  Savannah (center, rear) keeps a watchful eye on yours truly during rehearsal…

Despite my having two left feet and a pair of wobbly legs, Savannah and her dance partner Marcquet Hill rallied and turned us into dancers in a few short hours. Savannah’s positive reinforcement and patience were especially memorable.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Fortunately, the next round of students Savannah and cast mate Patrick Ortiz shared the BAZ experience with were fledgling local youth performers. During the past two years, the show’s team has partnered with Positively Arts Foundation to provide mentorship, collaboration and inspiration for students intent on pursuing a career in performance.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The cast of BAZ also put on the Positively Arts Holiday Spectacular at the Palazzo Theater last December. Featuring more than sixty Positively Arts students, the show brought performances of seasonal songs like “Silent Night,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to the stage with all proceeds benefiting the Foundation. For Savannah, teaching and performing on the same stage is something she will no doubt always relish:

I think its beyond amazing that I get to share something I love so dearly with others and help them find their own passion within the art.  Watching my students grow is the most inspiring and informative lesson for myself.

Now that BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has surpasseded the 500th-performance mark and is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary on the Strip, it’s clear that something special is going on inside the Palazzo Theater. With people like Savannah Cross to teach, inspire and entertain, here’s hoping that she and the cast of BAZ reach for the stars with five hundred more…and beyond.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm. Tickets start at $64 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. VegasFool is currently offering discounted seats starting at $39(plus taxes/fees). Access that offer by clicking here.

Photos: Whitney Lauren Photography, Richard Brusky, Post Productions Photography, Marc Reynolds, Abe Larmas Photography, Erik Kabik, KTNV Morning Blend, Sands Corp.

Palazzo Surprises Guests On “National Plan For Vacation Day”


Movement encourages Americans to schedule their vacations and enjoy well-deserved fun…

Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “Sammasseur really loves Palazzo Resort. Blah blah blah”. And you’d be fair to say so. It’s true that I continue to crow about Palazzo‘s virtues (like Best Luxury Resort and Best Overall ShowBAZ Musical Mash-up). But since we’re in a time when so many Vegas properties continually find new ways to stick it to their customers, Venetian’s sister hotel does the opposite by giving back.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Earlier this week, BAZ star Ruby Lewis posted a cute and clever video wherein she surprised Rosina Lounge bartender Sarah by taking over her shift. She then shocked two of Sarah’s guests with a complete Vegas vacation package.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

The unexpected award included round-trip airfare via Allegiant Air, a suite at Palazzo, tickets to BAZ Musical Mash-up and cocktails at Rosina Lounge. While the beginning of the clip seems somewhat scripted, the facial expressions of the recipients are anything but…

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

The purpose of this clip…and the “holiday” that inspired it…is to bring attention to an growing trend among Americans. And that is the wasting of paid vacation time…an estimated 659 million days each year. An alarming 54 percent of us don’t collect on the R & R we’re entitled to, and that’s harmful in more ways than you’d think.

In today’s uncertain economy, many workers are hesitant to take time off, perhaps fearful that the well-entitled indulgence will cost them more than it’s worth. Sadly, that decision backfires in many ways. Not only does work fatigue damage both productivity and morale, but the economy loses approximately $236 billion each year in vacation spending.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

That’s why the organization Project: Time Off was created. They’re spearheading a movement to address this silent epidemic of self-neglect, as so eloquently stated on their “About Us” page:

We aim to shift culture so that taking time off is understood as essential to personal well-being, professional success, business performance, and economic expansion.​

To that end, January 30th has been declared National Plan For Vacation Day. It has been shown that workers who actively and deliberately schedule upcoming vacations in advance are less likely to make excuses for skipping them. 2017’s NPFV Day was the very first, yet more than 600 organizations in all 50 states participated.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

This year’s NPFV Day was even larger with major players in the tourist industry hopping on board. Naturally, everyone wants a piece of the pie, but what better place to let off some steam than Las Vegas?

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Palazzo and Venetian have a long history of community service efforts and often show support for worthy causes. You’ll frequently see the colors of their signage and marquees changed to support awareness (World Heart Day, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness) or darkened altogether for the annual World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour.

Venetian/Palazzo team members also do their part to help the world’s communities. To date they have assembled and shipped out about a half-million hygiene kits to support Clean the World. That organization’s mission is to promote good health and well-being around the globe through improved access to soap and other hygiene products.

Baz Boot Camp

Myself with BAZ star Ron Remke and “Morning Blend” host Jennifer Jean Snyder…

That cast of BAZ: A Musical Mash-up reaches out to the community through the magic of song and dance. In addition to giving performance lessons to members of the media and clumsy bloggers like myself (BAZ Boot Camp), they’ve welcomed local children to participate in a day with the cast. The event is part of the Positively Arts Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to using the arts to empower, inspire and heal.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

  BAZ stars Savannah Cross and Patrick Ortiz put children through the paces…

Ruby Lewis, the show’s resident “Daisy”, released a holiday single to raise funds for Alzheimers research. In October, she and her fellow cast mates formed “Team BAZ” for the Las Vegas Walk to End Alzheimers. It’s the largest such event dedicated to fighting the dreaded disease. Each performer dedicated their efforts to someone…for Ruby, it was her grandmother.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

In December, my best friend and I were lucky enough to be in attendance at BAZ when they were collecting donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Our donation nabbed us a couple of autographed posters and photos with some of the cast. Overall donations exceeded $11,000.00 in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

As you can tell, I’m extremely enamored of the people in front of and behind the scenes…those who tirelessly work, create, support and go beyond to make Palazzo a very special place.

As other hotel casinos on the Strip find new ways to gouge their guests and claw every last cent out of your wallet, the team at Venetian/Palazzo go down a very different path. This is one of the many reasons why I consider Palazzo to be the “Best Luxury Resort” in Las Vegas. You can read more about the how’s and why’s by clicking here.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

And don’t forget to schedule your vacation soon. If you don’t, Ruby Lewis just might show up at your workplace to remind you…and maybe even give you the night off…

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Tickets are available here.

Photos: Sammasseur, Venetian/Palazzo, Ryan Lyons

2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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Palazzo2

The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

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As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur