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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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 In Review Part 3 – Trends: Hot, Cold, Wet and Sweaty


Vegas Unfiltered’s  2017 In Review continues with “The Year In Trends”…

Most Influential TrendRideshare Services

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Taxis gouge and the lines are super-long. Buses smell…and so do many of the passengers. Rental cars rack up parking fees and run the risk of accidents and DUI’s. Then there’s the monorail line, which services too few hotels and shuts down at 2 am. Thank goodness stalwart party people can choose LYFT and Uber, two modern ways of getting around that have impacted the way that we “Vegas”.

Now completing their second year of servicing McCarran International Airport along with the rest of the city, these two ride-share services will get you where you want to go at any hour. Best of all, they’re cheap!

Best Worst Vegas 2017

There is a downside with rideshares in that both the airport and the resorts seem to have conspired with the local Taxicab Authority to locate designated pick-up spots in remote areas. But expect that to change as the initial shock wears off and rideshare companies evolve from being an upstart service to the transportation method of choice.

On The Rise – Classic Cocktail and Liquor Bars

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

You may not have realized it, but bottle service has quickly become very “2014”. These days, the hip, young and young-at-heart are gathering at classic cocktail and liquor bars. Venetian/Palazzo opened up two this year (The Dorsey and Rosina) to enormous success.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Downtown’s Golden Nugget recently replaced Gold Diggers Nightclub with a Vegas version on NYC’s Troy Liquor Bar, bringing a much-needed element of class to the frequently-skeevy Fremont Street. I’ll be visiting that one soon and will report back.

Element of the Year – Water

Best Worst Vegas 2017

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Water was a major player in Sin City this year. WOW – World of Wonder joined O and Le Reve as the third water-based production (read my review here). More resorts added the option to decline housekeeping and laundry services in return for resort credit, saving money, labor…and lots of water. Chippendales brought in a Prince-ly “Purple Rain” shower sequence that has audiences breaking the sound barrier with screams.

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The level of Lake Mead continued to drop, worrying officials and providing a disturbing sight for those who fly into the Valley from the east. $817 million and six years were invested into drilling a new “intake straw” to ensure that the remaining water could continue to be siphoned in a “last ditch effort to save Las Vegas from drought doom” .

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Despite the water emergency, construction is set to begin on Wynn Paradise Park, a man-made lagoon and theme park that will replace the recently-closed Wynn golf course.

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Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), it also brings a whole new focus on the concerns for water mismanagement. Steve Wynn is probably hoping that the new fire-based INFERNO show at Paris will take some of the heat away from his continued wasting of Sin City’s most precious resource.

Fading Fast – Male revues

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Any regular reader know I love attending this type of show, despite the fact that some of them are sheer crap. While 2017 started with an all-time interest for male revues, the sizzle fizzled out pretty rapidly.

A marketing blitz for Magic Mike Live caused long-time standards Chippendales and Thunder from Down Under some concern. After the initial madness, MML became just another option in a landscape littered with hungry male strippers (what an image!).

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Black Magic Live quickly moved from the Strip’s Tommy Wind Theater to a banquet hall to an off-Strip ghetto nightclub. Aussie Heat has cooled down to two performances a week (with talk of closure in the coming weeks). Men of the Strip‘s dreams of a multi-media nightclub at Tropicana were reduced to a two-week gig at Hard Rock Cafe. Then they left Las Vegas altogether for a tour through North America.

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An insider told me that it’s much too difficult to launch a residency in expensive Vegas venues. He cites the ease of filling up large spaces in other cities where this type of entertainment is rare and there is little to no competition. The profit margin is much greater for tours as well.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

You can be sure that Chipps and Thunder won’t be going anywhere next year. Unfortunately, that’s probably true for the nauseating Magic Mike Live. But in Vegas, where Sin is touted as a lifestyle and wild girls (and gays) come here to get their male-stripper groove on, expect the choices to be more limited in 2018.

Photos: Sammasseur, Wynn Resorts (and other sources, too)

“Rosina” Is The Latest Jewel In Palazzo’s Crown


Swanky art deco cocktail lounge elevates the already-luxurious Strip resort….

This past August, I penned a piece extolling the virtues of (and my love for) the Palazzo. Dripping with elegance and style, Venetian‘s high-end sister property offers a contemporary twist on top-tier resorts…and won my award for favorite five-star accommodations.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Now Palazzo has upped the ante with Rosina Cocktail Bar. Adding a page to the latest chapter of Venetian/Palazzo‘s evolution, Rosina builds on the momentum established by The Dorsey this summer. That cocktail lounge, with creations by famed mixologist Sam Ross, has already set a new standard for Venetian‘s lounge offerings.

While The Dorsey is an interesting mixture of old-school vibe (the library and fireplace are especially cozy) with contemporary music and hip DJ’s, Rosina harkens back to an era of sexy glamour and utter sophistication. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the glossy blacks and shiny golds that make up the jewelry box-like exterior of this cocktail retreat.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Inside, lush chandeliers preside over four maroon-colored banquettes, small cocktail tables with pearl-colored leather chairs and high bar tables with stools in burgundy-covered cushions and backs.

Rosina Cocktail Lounge Palazzo

The 65-seat room is intimate, providing for impeccable service and attention to every detail. That includes an original beverage menu which celebrates the classic cocktails of bygone eras.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Upon arriving for a media preview, our party was led towards a glamorous lady posed upon the left side of the bar. This “cocktail fortune teller” asked each of us a few questions before suggesting a particular cocktail to start our evening.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Her recommendation for me was a Dark ‘N Stormy (from the “Shaken Cocktails” list – $18). Crafted from Bermuda rum, lime, fresh ginger and club soda inside a tall glass with a bar of hand-embossed ice, it reminded me of a high-powered Moscow Mule with a lot of sass. Additional shaken cocktails include the DaiquiriTom Collins, Presbyterian, Mai Tai and Gimlet.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Dark ‘N Stormy              

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Mai Tai                     

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo                    Daiquiri                    

The fortune teller steered my companion towards a Martini from the “Stirred Cocktails” menu (all $18). Made with gin, dry vermouth and either a lemon twist or olive, it was as smooth as it was lovely to look at. Other stirred cocktails include Mint Julep, Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Negroni.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Old Fashioned              

Later in the evening, I desired something fizzy. That meant a French ’75 (gin, champagne and lemon) from the “Bubbly” classics list, which also offered an Airmail (rum, honey, lime, champagne) and Jimmie Roosevelt (cognac, green chartreuse, bitters and champagne – all $22).

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

French ’75                   

Speaking of bubbly…if you’re out of champagne (four selections from France), there’s an innovative call button within reach. With it, you can have your flute topped off immediately. You won’t want to rush things, though, as the relaxing and elegant atmosphere will have you wondering where the time went.

A curated soundtrack of blues, jazz, soul and classic R & B plays overhead, ensuring that the mood is as classy as the cocktail in your glass. Be sure to ask your server about seasonal and daily specials while you’re there.

If you’re in the mood for wine, you can choose one of five whites from Germany, New Zealand, Italy, France and of course…California. Six red wines are brought in from Italy, California, Washington and this writer’s home of Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Baz Boot Camp

Perhaps it’s no accident that Rosina Cocktail Bar is right around the corner from Palazzo Theater. That’s where the stunning Gatsby-era BAZ – A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7 pm. The two compliment each other perfectly, much like Bourbon Room once invited Rock of Ages guests to party on after the show.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

You won’t need Gatsby’s tuxedo or Daisy’s sparkling gowns to enjoy a cocktail at Rosina, but it’s most definitely a dress-up atmosphere. So be sure to pack your favorite evening wear and immerse yourself in the shiny beauty of Rosina Cocktail Bar.

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Rosina Cocktail Bar is nestled along the east side of Palazzo’s gaming floor. Hours of operation are from 5 pm through 3 am daily. The venue is available to host special events by calling 702.607.1945

Rosina Cocktail Bar Palazzo

Photos: Sammasseur, Anthony Mair, Palazzo Hotel and Casino