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

 

 

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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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Factory Kitchen Will Drive Your Taste Buds Into Overtime


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

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 as 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 Factory Kitchen, an Italian 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.

Factory Kitchen 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 Factory Kitchen 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 Factory Kitchen’s open, er…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 Factory Kitchen’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 Factory Kitchen’s great selection of entrees. Dishes such as Gamberoni ($26 – sautéed white shrimp, sun choke 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 desert 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 Factory Kitchen’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.

Just last month, 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 fillet 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 the new Factory Kitchen. Just tell them that Sam from Vegas Unfiltered sent you.

Factory Kitchen is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. 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.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

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.

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)