Rant: I Don’t Need Your Approval To Have An Opinion


There’s always a price to pay for being honest…

For the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to write for a couple of different publications. One is an online ticketing site that publishes show articles and helpful visitor information (currently it’s in limbo). The other is a well-regarded print magazine found in the majority of Las Vegas hotel rooms, pre-COVID. It’s only available online for now.

When the pandemic upheaval is over and tourists return en masse (with luck), I hope to regain those freelance positions. They gave me the opportunity to learn, reach larger audiences, research unfamiliar artists and discover subjects that might otherwise have dodged my radar. They were also gainful employment, since this blog is a passion project, not a revenue generator.

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Please read all precautions before proceeding…

Before accepting those jobs, I made it clear that I would continue maintaining Vegas Unfiltered Blog, which doesn’t always present things through rose-colored glasses. It felt necessary to make one thing clear: as a hired writer, I’d be wearing a different hat for them, separate from my personal site. When I’m paid to write for you, I work for you.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast. The arrangement was working well for all involved (at least to my knowledge) until Cirque du Soleil decided to follow Criss Angel – Mindfreak Live with an even worse abomination called R.U.N. It premiered in Luxor‘s showroom in the fall of 2019 to horrendous reviews from critics and audiences alike.

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As the fates would have it, I  was assigned articles on R.U.N. for each of my paid gigs. Having seen this travesty, I decided to delay my own review until the others were submitted. The paid pieces didn’t require my opinion…just descriptions, what the production involved, types of acts, specifics on the plot, where it was located, etc.

The funny thing about this is the subsequent negative feedback I received. For instance, some dim bulb going by the name of @butterpunker tweeted “I’ll be honest. After reading the online reviews and then reading your review, I’m less inclined to trust anything you write about shows anymore.”

Guess what, genius…they weren’t reviews!

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Then I published an actual opinion piece, which you can see here. And yes, it was so scathing that I called R.U.N. “an epic disaster. An ugly, inconsistent, poorly-planned and sloppily-executed mess that lies there like a dead body in a ditch.”

So, my question to you is this…are people so stupid that they can’t tell the difference between a review and a so-called “puff piece”? A tourism magazine/website is there to present you with vacation options, then YOU decide what to spend your money on. A blog is a whole different ball of wax. But in this day of internet courage, emboldened armchair critics can hop onto Yelp and eviscerate a business from the safety of their laptop. Or call a critic out for doing the very thing he/she is meant to do.

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After that stupid scene went down, a marvelous and professional editor at one of the freelance outlets expressed concern. He/she asked a few sensible questions and we discussed shows/celebrities/subjects to avoid in order to prevent future backlash. Very considerate and supportive, they were. And it felt wonderful.

There have been many times when I’ve been confronted, either online or in person, after publishing an unflattering review. I’ve been accused of causing harm to livelihoods, putting people out of work, and threatening the security of entire productions. Somehow the blame for a bad show often gets put on little old me.

Show business is one of high risk. The chances of being a part of something successful are very slim. For every thirty or so television programs that debut each fall, only a handful get a second season. Movie studios can spend upwards of $300 million on a film that ends up playing to empty theater auditoriums. Nothing is a guaranteed hit. That’s just the way show business works.

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In Las Vegas, it’s not unusual for twenty or more shows to give their final bows in any given year (2020 was a bloodbath, but that was different). When a production shuts down, it’s not the fault of the actors, set designers, lighting technicians or costumers. But small-scale blogger Sam Novak often gets the blame.

Yesterday, a colleague in the entertainment industry attacked me for my opinions on the terrible Star Trek: Discovery television series. He accused me of causing harm to the industry, the actors, the directors and the entire CBS All-Access platform. Wow, who knew I was this powerful? Yeah, right…

His next words were what got to me the most: “You better hope that you don’t rely on Paramount, Warner Bros, or CBS for anything, because they won’t like what you wrote”. To which I responded “Don’t put out shit, and you won’t get shit from me. Especially on a fledgling, failing pay site that’s already in its death throes and about to be re-branded.”

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Apparently, I upset the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery…

I won’t compromise my integrity to please people in the entertainment industry. There are plenty of critics in Las Vegas who already do that. Most of them are high-profile names that attend nearly every function, often get onto the microphone themselves, and walk the line between journalist and celebrity. And they RARELY give an unflattering review.

I personally don’t care if people like my published critiques. They’re honest and brutal, whether favorable or not. I like what I like, hate things that suck to me, and I speak out to praise or warn. It’s my responsibility as an entertainment writer to share the emotions, reactions, and thought processes experienced from a meal/hotel stay/performer/activity.

In 2017, I was offered a position at an established tourism site. I accepted on the condition of full autonomy, so that I could be truthful about subjects that personally mattered and would hopefully have value to my readers. The webmaster agreed to that condition, yet of my first three articles, two were considered “too controversial” and she refused to publish them.

“We supposed to be encouraging people to come here and spend money” this Pollyana told me. My response was something along the lines of “You also have a responsibility to paint an authentic picture…and to honor your arrangement with your writers.” She scoffed, I walked, and within two hours, VegasUnfilteredBlog was born.

When I relocated from Oregon to Las Vegas, I promised to continue this column from the perspective of a visitor. Your discretionary income is too hard to come by, and you deserve to spend it wisely. I have no problem saying that The Vegas Room is an awesome supper club, The Garage is the best value for your cocktail budget, and Magic Mike Live is the worst pile of feces since….R.U.N. 

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“Hey, over here! We’re the worst show on the Strip” – MAGIC MIKE LIVE

The late media personality Robin Leach was guilty of publishing lots of flattery and fluff in his final years. Public relations firms knew to give Robin an “exclusive” when they needed a boost for their client. I’m not Robin, although I certainly appreciated his flair when it came to arm candy. The guy never went anywhere without a babe on each arm. A cool and iconic man, but not an objective critic. May he rest in peace.

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Robin referred to me as “The gay guy from Oregon”. Funny man…

No amount of money is going to make me switch to autopilot. If you want your reviews and opinions to be thoroughly researched, deeply detailed and backed up by facts, Vegas Unfiltered Blog is the place to be. Thanks for being a loyal reader. Best wishes in 2021.

Must-Visit Vegas: Q & A with Golden Tiki’s Branden Powers


It’s Disneyland for grownups at Chinatown’s throwback lounge…

Tucked away in charming Las Vegas Chinatown is a magical little place. Fairly hidden between a jewelry store and a Korean BBQ restaurant, the quaint little storefront is deceptively unobtrusive. But one step inside the heavy wooden doors leads you to a world of wonders. Welcome, explorers, to The Golden Tiki.

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Under a fiber-optic sky replete with shooting stars, a three-sided long bar serves visitors a vast array of specialty cocktails from a delightfully-endearing line-up. Bamboo, palm fronds and trickling water enhance the Caribbean-inspired stylings. Behind a team of costumed bartenders, video loops from vintage films will make you feel like you’ve embarked on a three-hour tour of the islands.

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Explore a little further into the dimly-lit corners, behind the giant seashell and beyond the cave-like private booths. There you’ll discover a stunning collection of curiosities, memorabilia…and a cabinet filled with the shrunken heads of numerous Vegas celebrities.

There’s never a cover charge at The Golden Tiki. Nightly live bands fill the air with frivolity like a Don Ho Tribute Happy Hour. Humorous themed events like Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving Dinner have fans returning time after time.

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   Powers (right) presenting the late Robin Leach with his own “shrunken head”…

How Branden Powers‘ salute to kitschy Vegas came to be is a story unto itself. He was more than willing to share the journey in a recent interview:

When did you first come up with the concept for Golden Tiki and how long did it take from inspiration until opening day?

One day in 1992 I stumbled upon a wonderful tiki paradise inside Islands Restaurant and Lounge at the old Hanalei Hotel in Mission Valley San Diego (now home to the yearly Tiki Oasis gathering). I immediately fell in love and began to promote two weekly events under the name “Taboo” and my production company Cocktail Nation. I had thousands of people each week, all dressed to the nines with aloha shirts, Fez hats, smoking jackets and cocktail dresses.

The events, some of the first in America, were instant hits. One day I’m called in for a meeting. I enter to the remnants of what was once paradise to find that all of the priceless artifacts were removed, the walls painted white and the fish that had been there for forty years gone! My heart sank.

Three years ago I was approached by Jeff Fine, Joe Cain and Seth Schorr. They owned a bar that needed help. I wasn’t even thinking tiki. That part of my life died in the 90’s. I was wanting to call it Madame Wongs and make it a punk rock bar. Jeff said “How about tiki?” I thought it was a brilliant idea but only if I could build it the right way.

It needed to have multiple layers and a strong back story. I wanted an “adult Disneyland”, so I hired a team of hardworking Tiki tradesmen and we went to work nonstop. Sixty days later we opened our doors to a packed house and a broken air conditioner.

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It was a success but not without the blood, sweat and tears of many GM’s, bartenders and servers who helped mold The Golden Tiki into what was recently awarded The Best Bar in all of Las Vegas. I owe all of them and my patient wonderful partners a debt of gratitude.

We’re celebrating our 3-year anniversary August 26th but we really opened in June 2015. Once we opened we’ve never closed. There are no locks on our doors.

Have you always been a collector of the curiosities that you proudly display there?

I have been. My love is collecting street art, outsider art. A few years ago I gave away over 100 pieces of art on the streets of Las Vegas in what was a city side scavenger hunt. I’m also a huge record collector, but I mostly collect interesting people. I have the most awesome group of friends.

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Did you deliberately model the atmosphere and service to replicate “old Vegas”?

Yes. I have been coming to Vegas since I was a kid in the 70’s. I loved that era. My star-filled ceiling at The Golden Tiki was inspired by my love for Benihana and their ceiling at the former Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate).

I moved here in 1999 and was saddened that so many icons were shutting down only to be replaced by soulless glass boxes that looked like airports. Our company’s goal is to open many themed environments that bring back the early Vegas visionary magic of Jay Sarno and Steve Wynn.

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I am the creator and managing partner of The Golden Tiki. I have three partners in this venture (Jeff Fine, Seth Schorr and Joe Cain) and our main parent company is High Horse, which we’re changing to Food Fight Inc. 

Tell us about the specialty cocktails that make up your drink menu?

We’re very proud to announce that we just brought on an award-winning USBG mixologist Adam Rains who will be taking our cocktail program to the next level. We want to compete on the world stage. Adam is assembling a team to do just that.

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Do you have a personal other favorite Tiki lounge, past or present

My heart will always be with the Islands Restaurant and Lounge. My giant clam waterfalls are an homage to that tiki bar. I honestly appreciate all tiki bars. I’m a lover of escapism. People try and pit Frankie’s Tiki Room against us but honestly I love them.

We’re two different experiences. They call us Disneyland and that’s okay by me. I think they’re small and dive-y but that’s equally as awesome. Their drinks are great and people should definitely explore them. Why limit yourself or the good times and adventures you can have?

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Who would be your dream celebrity to present with their own shrunken head?

If I could present anyone alive or dead. It would have been….

Click here to continue reading via BestOfVegas.com…

The Golden Tiki is located at 3939 Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown. It never closes. For more information call 702-222-3196.

All photos courtesy of The Golden Tiki

 

 

 

 

Hot Guys of Vegas: Heartbreakers and Dream Makers


Get a little closer with guys who sweep you off your feet, sometimes literally…

Last time in this series I took you to the world of bodybuilders…those superhuman, rock-hard specimens of manliness that gym-bunnies aspire to emulate. This month it’s time to get comfy with the kind of men who make your dreams and fantasies come true. From Prince Charming types to men behind the desk and behind the scenes, these are the Hot Guys of Vegas: Heartbreakers and Dream Makers.

Alexander Stabler – dancer/aerialist/stylist

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                                                   Alexander Stabler

Where you’ve seen himLe Reve The Dream at Wynn

Alexander Stabler (banner photo above) is one of those guys who looks like they stepped out of the cover of a romance novel. Strapping frame, carefully-mussed hair, billowing open shirt and a stature that says “hero”, Alexander will sweep you off your feet as the hearththrob of Le Reve – The Dream.

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Once part of the troupe of ballroom dancers that glided into and out of the water spectacular, Alexander is now front and center at the core of Wynn‘s signature production. As his role has increased, so has Alexander’s visibility throughout the city. From charity fundraisers to a boat on Lake Mead to hiking the rocky cliffs with his dog Samson, you never know where you’ll find this real-life Prince Charming.

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Not content to just lie in the sun, this Newport Beach native has dabbled in many varied projects throughout the city. His Axle Entertainment provided hot visuals for Liaison Nightclub and his studies through Paul Mitchell make him a well-respected stylist.  Alex was a principal dancer at Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles and is a former cast member of Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil. No wonder he’s a hot commodity on the stage.

Years of living in Macau and Hong Kong gave Alexander a unique humanitarian view that belies his young age. Although this avid traveler has been around the world, Alexander Stabler is now proud to call Las Vegas his home.

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Noteworthy traits – “ballet boo-tay”, heroic man-rack

Eric Roy – attorney

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                                                    Attorney Eric Roy       

Where you’ve seen him – billboards, television, community events                                       

Sometimes a guy is so absurdly handsome that he can stop traffic. When you see advertisements featuring Attorney Eric Roy, you’ll know precisely what I mean. If Eric wasn’t such an all-around good guy, I’d be tempted to accuse this personal-injury attorney of deliberately causing traffic accidents. Have you seen his stunning billboards? But personal injuries aren’t the only cases he handles, so I guess the Twin Falls, Idaho native has a solid alibi.

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Some people dislike attorneys in the same way that used-car salesmen get no respect. Eric Roy Esq. has been able to avoid that stigma by becoming a beloved member of the Las Vegas community (not to mention the recipient of numerous awards for achievement in his field). He’s a favorite at speaking engagements and on television segments, offering helpful legal advice to people across the Las Vegas Valley.

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Attorney Roy is tireless in his devotion to charities and advocacy for organizations that promote social positivity. From volunteering for Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, which provides shoes and socks for underprivileged youngsters…to sponsoring a girl’s soccer team…to delivering food for income-strapped locals via Hopelink of Southern Nevada, Eric never passes on an opportunity to help out those in need.

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Of course, all work and no play would make Eric a very dull boy. So in his free time, this white-collar hunk is an avid traveler who likes to ditch the suit and tie for rugged hiking and mountain biking. Doggies Big Boy and Lil Girl and lady-love Elizabeth keep him grounded…as does some obviously well-spent time in the gym.

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Noteworthy traits – matinee-idol looks, action-hero physique

Michael Caprio –  publicist/marketing/management/media design

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          Michael Caprio                                

Where you’ve seen him – premieres, fundraisers, celebrity functions

The term “mover and shaker” was probably coined after Michael Caprio. Very little happens in Sin City entertainment without his involvement in one form or another. This master of Public Relations is a favorite of high-profile celebrities across the country.

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Las Vegas has Michael to thank for the triumphant residency of Olivia Newton-John at Flamingo. It was he who brought Richard Marx to the same hotel for a landmark series of performances this summer. And Michael is the Big Daddy behind the world-famous Chippendales. There’s also Leeza Gibbons, Jon SecadaJohn Tesh and Melody Sweets of Absinthe in his portfolio, if you don’t mind a little name-dropping.

Recently, the founder of Caprio Media Design has been traveling across the country for promotional appearances with Aussie group Human Nature (be sure to attend their annual holiday show at Venetian). And he’s also been behind the successful launch of the new WOW – World of Wonder at the Rio (see my review here).

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Fans of the Sharknado movie franchise have benefited from Michael’s expertise. He represents star Ian Ziering and was responsible for the huge premiere party at Stratosphere last summer for entry #4 in the wildly-successful series. No doubt their collaboration on those films yielded two successful guest-hosting stints of Ziering at Chippendales as well.

Each year, Caprio flies to Australia to join Olivia Newton-John for her annual ONJ Wellness Walk and Research Run.  The event is dear to his heart and he crusades to raise funds for the ONJ Cancer Wellness and Research Center. Olivia’s recent second bout with the disease made the trip even more poignant this year.

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Michael is constantly flying from Vegas to Los Angeles to New York City, so it’s rare that he gets to settle down with hubby Randy Slovacek and their adorable dogs for a quiet evening at home. But when they do, Michael’s culinary expertise yields some gloriously beautiful gourmet dishes.

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                                           Michael and hubby Randy

Notable traits – infectious grin, mile-long eye lashes, grace under pressure

Adam Barabáš – dancer/acrobat

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                                                      Adam Barabáš

Where you’ve seen him – Divas, Jubilee!, WOW – World of Wonder

The next dancer on our list is Adam Barabáš. If Adam’s profile photo looks a little (actually a lot) like Aquaman, the resemblance has served him well. This native of Slovakia is currently dancing on water in Rio‘s aquatic spectacular WOW – World of Wonder.

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                           Adam takes flight in WOW – World of Wonder…

Despite being only 27 years old, Adam may have already made some Las Vegas history. He’s the only performer to my knowledge to have ever been in two major re-enactments of the sinking of Titanic.

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First he played double-duty in Jubilee!, donning a tuxedo for the ballroom sequence before quick-changing into a shirtless laborer for the engine room scene. Now he gets to do it again, five nights a week, in WOW‘s high-tech variation on the dreaded event. How’s that for a little trivia?

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This graduate of The Private Conservatory of Arts in Nitra, Slovakia also appears regularly in Frank Marino’s DIVAS at Linq Hotel. Part of their sexy troupe of dancer boys, Adam provides back-up for the likenesses of Cher, Pink, Madonna and Celine Dion.

Being a cast member in two major productions doesn’t leave much time for leisure, especially when Barabáš has that chiseled body to maintain. He’ll hit one of the various Las Vegas Athletic Clubs around the valley for his workouts. If time is very tight he’ll even go through his fitness routines at the theaters between shows…or use his own home gym.

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                       Spending the day with Chipp at Red Rock Canyon…

When the great outdoors calls, Adam takes his four-footed pal Chipp for a round of fetch. Sometimes it’s hiking at Red Rock Canyon or Mt. Charleston. Growing up in the small village of Dubnica nad Váhom (population 26,000) gave Adam few opportunities for luxuries. Now that he calls Las Vegas his home, he enjoys the comforts of a great meal…and a day at the spa to soothe those amazing, hard-working muscles.

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Noteworthy traits – abs of steel, European mystique

Mike Hammer – magician/comedian/emcee

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Mike Hammer                   

Where you’ve seen him – self-titled comedy/magic show at Four Queens

Somewhere in Chicago, a retired school teacher is wondering “What ever happened to that class clown Michael Hammer?”. Well, I’d bet he or she would be surprised to know that little Mikey grew up…and became the biggest and best entertainer in Downtown Las Vegas.

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                           “A boy’s best friend is his mother” – Norman Bates

Mike Hammer can be seen onstage five nights a week at Mike Hammer Comedy Magic, a fast-paced gas that will have you returning time and again. His hyperkinetic energy, lightning-fast improvisations and dazzling illusions make Mike a standout on the entertainment scene.

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                Offering fashion advice to Robin Leach at a charity event… 

Naturally, this quick-witted guy is known for charitable functions (are we seeing a pattern here?). Hammer has hosted numerous events for other organizations when not preparing for his own. Just a few weeks ago, Mike and his famous friends came together for the 3rd Annual Mike Hammer Celebrity Go Kart Race to benefit Wounded Warrior Project. This year, proceeds were shared with Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.

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             Sharing fitness tips with Chippendales performer Ryan Worley…

The success of Mike’s own show gave him the clout to produce a second one at Four Queens. Spirit of the King, starring Elvis tribute artist Steve Connolly, draws in a line of fans that stretches across the casino floor each evening. Then there are the TV appearances, emceeing MMA matches, corporate events, and his own weekly radio program The Vegas Take with Brian Shapiro.

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Keeping such a busy schedule was starting to wear the Hammer down – he was literally forgetting to eat. After getting way too thin, the over-40 sports enthusiast decided to consult a nutritionist for a personalized program, then combined it with intense late-night workouts. He quickly began to fill out his slender frame. “I don’t actually look different in my suit”, he said “but I have more muscle. Getting there!”.

Notable traits – sarcasm, hair of epic proportions, chiseled cheekbones

Photos: Ashley Kacvinsky, Ashley Kemp, Michael Caprio via Facebook, Eric Roy via Facebook, John Ganun, Patrick Rivera, Luis Raphael, Adam Barabáš via Facebook, Mike Hammer via Facebook. Banner photo courtesy of Armando Farfan Jr.