Culinary Superstars – Dora Pane: Careers, Fine Dining and “La Famiglia”


In the concluding segment of my series, Fresco Italiano’s General Manager brings the invaluable warmth of family gatherings to her restaurant guests…

Last month I introduced you to a pair of genuine Italians who have brought true authenticity to dining at Westgate Las Vegas. And while I focused on dynamic Chef Paola Bugli in that previous piece, it was with the promise that next time we’d get to know Fresco Italiano‘s general manager Dora Festa Pane.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

It seems fitting that “Festa” is part of this lovely lady’s name. After all, the Italian derivation of “festival” is the sensation you’ll have when dining at this authentic eatery. Each meal is meant to be an experience, something that Ms. Dora (as I like to call her) promises to every guest.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

In order to deliver on that commitment, the native of Naples dined at Fresco Italiano to see what it was like…and determine if she could put her own personal imprint onto the already-successful restaurant.

I came at the end of last year to eat, check things out and see what it was like. I didn’t introduce myself to the server or tell anyone that I was considering a position here. It’s better to just observe, analyze and think about what could be improved.

Honestly, I wasn’t completely happy. When this is your career, you find yourself analyzing so many things. Fresco Italiano is a beautiful place and there were many things to love. But their way of serving the guests could have been carried out much better.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

It’s easy to be a restaurant critic in today’s world of online user reviews, but Ms. Dora was honing her craft (and what makes a restaurant successful) long before Yelp! came along. Years of experience in high-profile establishments throughout the Vegas valley established her as an expert at her profession. So when that evening at Fresco Italiano didn’t quite meet her exacting standards, she accepted an invitation to make it her own.

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It may surprise you that a manager would be so candid about their own place of employment, but Ms. Dora is no-nonsense and outspoken. Fluent in several languages, she’s a colorful conversationalist who speaks from the heart. Her exposure to a myriad of cultures and atmospheres warrants your trust in her abilities.

As soon as I came in, I needed to learn about my crew…as a group and as individuals. It’s tough to do that when a place is already established. You need to be sweet AND sour. There were things to fix, but I didn’t come here to change people. Only to make them better.

When operating a restaurant, Ms. Dora does so with a mixture of passion and skill from the perspective of an actual owner. You might say that operating restaurants is in Dora’s blood. Her father had his own passion for great dining service and was a longtime maître d’ in her hometown of Naples before becoming a food critic. Although he passed away at a relatively young age, Dora credits him with much of her professionalism and knowledge. 

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

After high school, she earned degrees in both Education and Psychology from Italy’s Cristo Re Magistral Institute. That unique combination might not be the norm for a career in restaurant management, but she feels it’s given her distinct advantages in this field.

I’m a teacher here at the restaurant…and psychology helps me with my work, too. It’s much easier to teach children because adults tend to resist. Everyone has something that holds them back. It could be their pride, birth sign, background life…whatever. My job is to overcome that.

When I came here in secret, my server clearly had something holding him back. Now that we’ve worked together, he’s the best server in the entire restaurant.

As we spoke in the darkened lounge a little before opening time, Ms. Dora happened to notice a few people standing at the entrance. Excusing herself, she greeted the group and invited them to have some wine at the bar until actual service began.

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“My bartender will probably get angry with me for doing his job” she winked as we resumed our conversation. That small moment of courtesy spoke mountains about Ms. Dora’s character. A lesser host would have simply asked them to return at the proper time. But this professional knows that a good impression lasts a lifetime.

It’s no wonder that Dora Pane has been involved with many wonderful Las Vegas restaurants in the valley. She’s been in the Vegas area for twenty-one years and dove headfirst into the big leagues by starting at MGM Grand.

Ms. Dora eyes lit up as she excitedly shared her history throughout Sin City. While moonlighting at dance clubs, she quickly rose from working as a food server to managing family-owned food shops. That was followed by a position as assistant manager at Terrazza at Caesars Palace. Overlooking the glorious Garden of the Gods, Terrazza was a fine-casual Italian restaurant located in the spot now occupied by Rao’s Las Vegas.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Remaining within the Caesars family, Ms. Dora opened Voga, a modern Italian venue at nearby Flamingo Casino Resort. Seen above with her epicurean team, she proudly described ten years with Caesars corporation, which also included a stint at Steakhouse 46 (inside Flamingo). Sadly, it all came to a close when the company began doing huge cuts.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

What followed was a vast array of life experiences – running Robert De Niro’s Tuscan-themed AGO at Hard Rock Hotel (“that place was too classy for Hard Rock”), collaborating with Todd Moreau at both Hard Rock and Sunset Station (“we tend to follow each other”) and achieving new career standards at ALLEGRO of Wynn/Encore.

Things didn’t go as well as I would have liked at ALLEGRO. The hours were very bad. I had a young child at the time and no extended family here. Money isn’t everything when your children need you. So I left ALLEGRO after exactly one year.

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Yearning more of an atmosphere and schedule suited for a working mother, Ms. Dora settled in wonderfully at Venetian‘s Trattoria Reggiano (locals flock to the Downtown Summerlin’s flagship location). Spearheaded by Fifth Avenue Restaurant Group, Trattoria Reggiano brought her into a powerhouse that operates over forty establishments….and full circle with their involvement at Flamingo, Venetian and MGM Grand.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

After high school, eldest daughter Daniela graduated from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and moved to Naples. Son Gio has followed in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather by joining the staff at legendary Vegas Italian eatery Battista’s Hole in the Wall.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

And with youngest daughter Alessandra now grown into a lovely young lady, mother Dora has seized another opportunity to make an impact on the ever-changing Sin City dining scene.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Perhaps the importance of family is why Ms. Pane agreed to spearhead the staff at Fresco Italiano. As I’ve said many times in this column, Westgate exemplifies the principles of dedication, service and commitment to guests that Las Vegas was founded on.

It’s a philosophy that hearkens back to the days of Mob-run Vegas, when the guests were all that mattered (well, maybe a few other things, too…). With the recent downturn in stock values and profits for Caesars and MGM Resorts properties, the current business model for Las Vegas has been put under intense scrutiny. Westgate was already ahead of the curve on a customer-based ideology that’s sorely in need of a city-wide renaissance.

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

                     Sharing the Fresco Italiano family experience with my own…

It’s true that attractions, restaurants and even entire resorts come and go in this city. But the priceless importance of its people will remain. What makes any organization work, at its core, is the dedication and camaraderie of its team.

Ms. Dora Pane understands this. With her in the driver’s seat and Chef Paola Bugli in charge of the kitchen, a journey through the Tuscan landscape via Fresco Italiano is one you’ll want to repeat over and over again. Finisci di mangiare!

Dora Pane Fresco Italiano Westgate

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Dora Festa Pane, Westgate Las Vegas, Cyber-reef.com

 

 

 

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Westgate’s Culinary Superstars – Chef Paola Bugli


Profiling a Chef who brings true Italian authenticity to Westgate’s “Fresco Italiano”…

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Outside the entrance to Fresco Italiano, two adorable Vespa scooters are amusingly parked. Almost symbolically, it seems as though they’ve been waiting for the right pair of riders to hop aboard and take control.

Inside, that very thing has taken place for two Italian immigrants who recently arrived to helm Fresco’s kitchen and operations. Despite the restaurant already being an established hit, this pair has elevated the Tuscan eatery to new heights.

Regular readers might recognize Fresco Italiano as my very first column when I launched this site last summer. Since then, I’ve dined here repeatedly, savoring every wonderful morsel. Not only is the food to die for, but the atmosphere and service scream “Italian authenticity”.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                            General Manager Dora Pana and Chef Bugli…

As you enjoy the dining experience, your party might be greeted by a lovely blonde with a distinctive Naples accent. General Manager Dora Pane loves to chat with her guests, lending a family-like ambiance to every visit. She’ll remind you of that favorite aunt who invites you to sit down at her kitchen table and “mangiare“. (I’ll be spending time with Ms. Pane for a profile article very soon.)

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

But of course, the big draw for this type of meal is the magic that happens inside the kitchen. That’s where Chef Paola Brugli comes in. This elegant native of Florence is the Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano and an absolute treat to meet. As busy as she is in the kitchen, Ms. Bugli also finds time to engage her guests and share a mutual enthusiasm for great dishes.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Kitchen time was ingrained in Chef Paola’s family traditions. She learned from her mother and grandmother how to make pasta, polenta and sauces. They worked together as a team, each doing something different to prepare a complete meal. Lessons from those collaborative efforts would be invaluable once Bugli decided to pursue a career in the culinary arts.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                                           Florence, Italy…

Chef Paola enrolled in the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Aurelio Saffi of Firenze Italy in 1977. There she achieved degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, then spent the next several decades honing techniques in fabulous restaurants and destinations throughout Italy.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

The shores of the Unites States eventually welcomed Chef Bugli to a new chapter and more career adventures. First came Atlanta, where she spent a decade in the kitchens of several noteworthy restaurants, holding positions as Sous Chef, Pastry Chef, Chef de Cuisine and Executive Chef.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                          Lumiere Place Casino Hotel…

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                      House of Savoy Italian Eatery…

Eight years ago Bugli settled into the St. Louis area after capturing the attention of a recruiter for Pinnacle Entertainment. There she spent a year and a half as Executive Chef for the now-shuttered House of Savoy, an authentic riverfront Italian eatery in the gorgeous Lumière Place Casino Hotel. This turned out to be her first position in a gaming resort, but fortunately would not be her last.

As luck would have it, Chef Paola worked under the mentorship of Jeffrey DeVito, current Vice President of Food and Beverage at Westgate Las Vegas. As she told me “It was my first job in a casino and I was a little concerned about that, but Mr. DiVito was always extremely supportive”.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

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During her time in St. Louis, Chef Paolo proudly achieved United States citizenship in a wonderful ceremony held at the new National Archives, which was inaugurated for the occasion. The variety of cultures, climates and opportunities of this nation were now hers to explore without limit.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

                                                     Sea Island Resort…

Next up was the lush Sea Island Resort, south of Savannah on the sunny coast of Georgia. There Bugli served as Chef de Cuisine for Tavola, a formal yet rustic Italian dining experience. Tavola‘s philosophy is “the soul of Italy isn’t just found on the menu. It’s around the table” which might explain why the Florence native was drawn there.

After dabbling in some consulting work in Savannah, it was off to Biloxi, Mississippi for a new position with Beau Rivage Casino Resort. As Room Chef for Stalla Italian Restaurant, Chef Bugli was once again able to bring her authentic style to another part of the United States. ”

Her philosophy of simple, fresh ingredients (“super-simple is the key” she likes to say) made her very popular with the resort’s guests. So much so that she remained there for over four years, creating an indelible mark on the MGM Resorts property.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

     Chef Bugli was featured in “Women in Business” at Beau Rivage Resort…

Alas, a change in corporate management began to crush this independent artist’s creativity, so it was once again time to move on. When asked if it was difficult to make so many changes in her life, her response was candid. “Maybe I’m a masochist but I like the challenges. Sometimes you have to find the right way to part. I don’t believe in creating failures…I like to give opportunities”.

As has been the case of so many gifted culinary artists I’ve profiled, Chef Bugli found new creative horizons via the food and beverage team at Westgate Las Vegas. In January she took over as Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. And she was once again on a team overseen by Jeffrey DiVito.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Coming aboard an established and successful venture would indeed offer Chef Paola some trials and tribulations but she was up to the task.

Everything in a restaurant is a connected process. A kitchen is like a pirate crew…we’re weird. There needs to be creative cohesiveness from front to back.

Working with General Manager Dora Pane, the two have taken the operation and streamlined it to reflect their own styles.

Food is so much about energies…your whole self. Shake people up a bit and you get good results. So we’re improving things like the service steps and our wine offerings. I’m also adjusting the flavor profile and retraining the staff with my cooking methods.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

When asked what procedures she referred to, Chef Bugli explained:

It’s not enough just to follow a recipe’s ingredients. It’s the steps that matter. You see, a sauce isn’t just throwing everything into a pot and letting it boil. Certain ingredients have to be sauteed together first to let their flavors develop. Then others like tomatoes are added afterwards. You can taste the difference by doing things in the proper order.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Attention to detail is also reflected on the ingredients she purchases for her dishes.

The culture at our restaurant is respectful of the environment. In Italy it’s a concept called Zero-Kilometer Cooking. We can’t get all locally-produced foods being in the desert, but we can come pretty close. It’s also necessary to change our offerings depending on the season. A winter tomato won’t taste the same as one in July. People will know the difference!

Making a difference is what Chef Paola’s cooking is all about:

Guests are more educated now. Everyone is a connoisseur, so we approach Fresco Italiano with a friends-and-family atmosphere. This may be casual fine dining, but we want people to leave feeling like they’ve had an experience.

When asked about her new life in Las Vegas, Chef Paola gave a bit of a shrug. “I haven’t had time to get to know Vegas yet, really, except through the people I’ve met at Westgate. When I settle in, maybe I’ll start up a local women’s chef group”.

As for Sin City sights, the Florence native had plenty to say about the Strip. “Las Vegas replicates so many famous landmarks and they’ve done it beautifully. You’ve got Paris, Venice, Rome, Egypt. It’s amazing”.

She did have a word of warning for any future resort planners, though. “Vegas can do anything else they want, but they’d better leave Florence alone. We’re already perfect!” she chuckled wildly.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Paola Bugli, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Beau Rivage Casino Resort, Seas Island Resort, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOUNDTRACK Brings Alive The Songs Of Your Life


Legends Clint Holmes and Earl Turner are the heart and soul of a superlative collaboration…

Earl Turner and Clint Holmes, the stars of Westgate’s new SOUNDTRACK production, amusingly carry with them a condition I call “Danny Gans Syndrome“. That is, they’re very well-loved by Vegas audiences but virtually unknown elsewhere. That’s unfortunate, as talent is…and should always be…universally recognized.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

             Clint Holmes (left) and Earl Turner light up the Westgate stage…

Yet Turner and Holmes continue to prosper and thrive on Vegas stages. The two friends have performed separately for many years and are mutual fans of one another. As Clint tells the story “When arriving in Vegas back in 2000, I did what every performer does…I asked “Whose show should I see?”. Everyone told me about Earl Turner…and they were right. He’s terrific”.

These days you’re just as likely to see Earl in the audience for Clint’s solo performances as vice versa. But when these two collaborate for an ongoing series of concerts at Westgate’s International Theater, it’s the fans who will be rejoicing.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

SOUNDTRACK offers a familiar premise – cover versions of songs you know and love…and what they mean for memorable events in your lives and theirs. The target demographic is mainly folks forty and over, yet the gentleman do justice to current hits as well. It’s a well-rounded collection of favorites sure to please every generation.

Much of the fun of this anthology comes from not knowing what’s next, so I’ll try not to spoil things by pounding out a track list. Just know that artists as diverse as Bobby Darin, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Ed Sheeran and The Beatles get the SOUNDTRACK treatment, all done in the inimitable styles of the two leads.

Much like Human Nature JUKEBOX at Venetian, SOUNDTRACK bounces through the decades somewhat randomly, adding to the sense of spontaneity that makes productions like this such a joy. Between the songs are humorous anecdotes that convey a warmth these two have clearly shared through the years…both onstage and off.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

                                                             Serena Henry…

Holmes and Turner fittingly open SOUNDTRACK with “The Boys Are Back In Town”. But this is far from an all-guys night at the theater. Talented back-up singer Serena Henry comes front and center….and owns the stage with a set of classic songs made famous by other female vocalists. It’s almost disappointing when Serena steps back out of the spotlight. Expect to hear lots more from Ms. Henry in the future.

Both stars also have their own moments alone onstage. Clint demonstrates the way he learned to be funky from his African-American father (his mom was a “proper British white woman”, he tells us). Earl shares his evolution from country tunes to a spot-on James Brown impersonation that will have you on your feet and holding your sides with laughter. They come back together for a scatting session that will leave you breathless.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

                                                            Earl Turner…

The eight-piece band led by musical director Christian Tamburr is as attractive as it is talented. Standout saxophonist Rocco Barbato brings a huge slice of “sexy” to several solo moments including a vocal/instrumental jam session with Holmes.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

                                                           Rocco Barbato…

The large International Showroom stage, once home to the likes of Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand and the returning Barry Manilow, is nicely utilized with simple but effective sets. Lighting, sound and visuals are all what you’d expect from such a well-known venue. Costuming is pretty basic with the band in black suits and the gentleman in shiny pants and sparkly blazers. Ms. Henry dazzles in a series of flattering ensembles.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

One thing that I’m personally pleased to see is a minimum of sing-alongs and “I can’t hear you!” moments. Those live-performance cliches are so overused…and quite frankly need to be retired. If I wanted karaoke I’d go to Ellis Island Brewery, so thank you SOUNDTRACK for sparing us many of the cornball audience-participation segments.

With Holmes and Turner both having busy solo schedules, the dates for SOUNDTRACK are somewhat limited. A next round of performances will begin July 5th and a full schedule of upcoming shows is available here.

Be sure to stake out a future date and mark this show down on your list of Vegas “musts”. SOUNDTRACK is one memorable playlist that should not be missed.

Clint Holmes Earl Turner Soundtrack

SOUNDTRACK performs on select dates at 7 pm inside Westgate International Showroom. Tickets start at $48 (plus taxes/fees) and are available here. Travelzoo is running a special for seats starting at $24 by following this link.

Photos: Sammasseur, Clint Holmes, Serena Henry, Rocco Barbato, Westgate Las Vegas

Video clip courtesy of Curtis Haines, Next Level Media and Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sky Villas Part 3: The Verona


Photographer Greg C concludes his photo essay on Westgate’s Sky Villas…

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In the world of casino hosts, the most coveted type of client is the “whale“. These super-high-rollers are enticed into visiting and remaining loyal by being showered with lavish treatment and perks. Usage of limousines and private jets, shopping excursions, star-studded parties…and of course, lodging in the hotel’s most palatial Sky Villas. All are intended to keep that high-roller on the property long enough to bet (and ideally to lose) large sums of money, and hopefully, to return in the future for more high-stakes wagering.

Sky Villas are rarely seen by the general public, and even more rarely are photographers allowed access to the degree that Greg C has been at Westgate Las Vegas. Today’s tour of the Verona Suite concludes his trilogy of photo sessions (take a look at the previous two here and here).

With any luck, we’ll be able to turn this collection into an ongoing series, one that gives our readers unparalleled access to those dreamy suites that adorn the clouds over Sin City. But for now, enjoy the Verona Sky Villa, courtesy of the staff and management at Westgate.

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“My first impression was like stepping into a palace of Old World splendor…a blend of Italian Renaissance and Roman Glory. They say that you come to Vegas to party and see the sights — the room is just to sleep and shower (and, you know). Well, not so here. The Suite itself is an adventure. You could make a vacation out of it”. – Greg C.

Suite2

The city of Verona in northern Italy is known for its art, architecture and spirit of romance. After all, William Shakespeare placed his titular characters in Verona for Romeo and Juliet. Once a colony of Rome, Verona is rich with statues, arches, domed ceilings, pillars and artistic motifs. True to its namesake, the Verona Suite at Westgate is ornate and overflowing with gorgeous detail and accents.

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The Verona was the first of the three to be built (completed December 1994) and is the largest at 15,400 square feet. If you were a fan of the Robin Leach series “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, you might recognize the three-bedroom Verona, which was once featured on that popular show.

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Filmmakers used the Verona Suite as a stand-in for Liberace’s residence in the 2013 biopic Behind The Candelabra.

“The piano is a nice touch. If you’re a piano player, you have another reason to “stay home” in your suite. Talk about a nice ambiance to practice”.

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“Those statues! The one staring back at you with imperious Roman hauteur….the demure young beauty protecting her modesty in the garden”.

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“Yep…another awesome bedroom “suite within a suite”. And, of course, TV in bed…just what a vacationing Roman senator would require in the 21st century”.

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Suite15

“Relax by the fireplace AND soak in the tub at the same time”.

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New hotels in Las Vegas have become somewhat clinical, almost office-like complexes. Their suites are tech-heavy and massive, yet could easily be found in any other city. It’s nice to know that glossy, lavish places like the Verona Suite still exist in Vegas and are treated with reverence today. They’re living reminders of a time that represented the true spirit of Sin City.

View w scope

You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them.

There’s always room at the top. Don’t let them tell you that there is not. – Singer Adam Ant

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

Sky Villas Part 2: The Versailles


“Themes may be a bygone era in Vegas as a whole, but they live on atop Westgate” – Greg C.

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Wordless sighs…that’s a typical reaction to the trio of Sky Villas that sit atop the Westgate Las Vegas tower. Resting like a crown atop the existing 29 floors, they are brimming with opulence and European style. Ornate, sprawling, and bordering on gaudy, the TuscanyVersailles and Verona Sky Suites are the epitome of Las Vegas excess.

Photographer Greg C. returned for the second day of shooting at Westgate (part one is here) in 2016Having been up there myself, I can assure you that very few things can prepare you for the extravagance…but a fancy-schmancy elevator embellished with artwork, mirrors, and a padded throne…er, bench, certainly helps.

“This suite was called the “Conrad” until recently……IMO the switch to “Versailles” was a good one– the old name was at odds with the classy “Verona” and “Tuscany”…. Conrad sounded a bit too “Joe 6-pack” to my ears…. wonder how they ever picked it.” – Greg C.

entrance

Stepping through the rotunda and into the Versailles Suite, one might expect a choir of angels to be singing overhead. This three-bedroom accommodation spreads out over 12,600 square feet.

Security

High-rollers with concern for personal safety (and privacy) can bring their own “goons” to man the elevator rotunda’s security station. Bodyguards aren’t included in the villa’s rental rates, which start at $6,000.00 per night…and a three-night minimum.

Suite2

Ceiling2

Impressive columns, hand-carved furniture, domed ceilings and plenty of genuine gold accents over a peaches-and-cream palette make it easy for you to pretend that you’re in a French castle.

Suite3

“Versailles does have plenty of decadent appeals. I could easily picture Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette living here if they got yanked into the 21st century. I almost expected to see servants in powdered wigs and pantaloons walking around in the suite…..those wall-sized paintings (and ceilings) really emphasize the theme.” – Greg C.

Suite4

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After a workout in the private exercise facility, guests can relax at an intimate dipping pool situated within the grand courtyard.

Suite7 - pool

The two-story Versailles Suite has three bedrooms that can be accessed by a spiral staircase that rises 30 feet….or a dedicated elevator that is hidden behind an inconspicuous door.

Suite8 - elevator

Luxury abounds in the multiple bedrooms, with mural-covered walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Suite5

This particular bedroom not only has the modern touch of a flat screen television at the foot of the bed, but also a terrace that opens onto this magnificent view.

Turnberry Place

“That open balcony – talk about the ultimate place to watch a sunset. You have a panoramic view of the Strip and mountains up there…a better view than many places, as Westgate is set back away from the Strip and allows you to really catch in the sights.” – Greg C.

View atop Westgate

“The upper-level balcony is well-concealed. You have to move back the drapes at one end of the windows to reveal the catches where the window swings out to allow access to the open deck. You can look down on the private pool area.” –  Greg C.

Deck area

Pool looking down from deck

What happens in Vegas might stay here, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be witnessed by somebody with a well-positioned telescope.

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Guests won’t have to go far to relax in a marble whirlpool bath, which also comes with a view.

Suite14

It may seem strange to use the word “small” in reference to the Versailles Suite, but it is the smallest sky villa at Westgate. The massive three-bedroom Verona Suite tops out at 15,400 square feet and will be featured in the final segment of this series.

If you happen to be a high roller in WOW Rewards Program and have scored access to any of the Westgate Villas or Specialty Suites, send me your photos and you might see them here. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting at the penny slots…playing small and dreaming of living large.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

 

Sky Villas That Will Blow You Away


Photographer Greg C. unveils Westgate’s legendary 30th floor sky suites…

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As the sun went down on the final days of Riviera, it’s unofficial title of “the Last Grand Old Dame of Vegas” quietly drifted eastward across Paradise Road. There, another vintage edifice continues to evolve and change while embracing its historic past. The more we explore its various facets and offerings, the more photographer Greg C. and I continue to be enamored by Westgate Las Vegas.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort began life as the International Hotel Casino back in 1969 and it rightfully took its place as one of the premiere destinations in the city. Elvis Presley was associated with the property much like Riviera and Sahara shared the Rat Pack. These days, while SLS Las Vegas has scraped away any significant remnants of the SaharaWestgate salutes its history with a bigger-than-life statue of Elvis right in the heart of the lobby.

As Greg puts it, “I have to admit I really like how the place looks and feels. It has the nostalgia of the 20th century blended with the hustle of the 21st. Kind of like Caesars on the Strip, they have managed to keep the place going without getting stale and musty”.

While roaming the property on my own, I noticed the care in the details with which the resort had changed over the logos from “Hilton” and “LVH” (Westgate’s other former names) to the current one. It was evident in the ones laid into the marble flooring, etched into door glass and positioned on directional signs…as if they had been there all along. Brass accents, gold-toned trim, and glass chandeliers had been lovingly restored and polished, too, giving a vibe of “old Vegas” that still looked somehow contemporary.

My three-night stay a while back included a sleepover in the massive and ornate Hollywood Suite, which was stunning. So much so that I requested that our resident photographer Greg C have the opportunity to visit and shoot more of the upper levels. Well, it took awhile for things to come together, but now I have plenty of Greg’s photos to share with you.

One of Westgate’s representatives was kind enough to take Greg on a tour in 2016. Their first stop was the four-bedroom Tuscany Suite.

Rotunda

As Greg describes it: “The Tuscany is one of three Sky Villas built on the top level (30th floor), this one atop the east wing. Its decor dates back to the Hilton era. When you go up by elevator, you step out into a rotunda with three doors, one for (each of) the three high roller suites”.

“The Tuscany is the second largest of the villas at 14,500 square feet. It was opened in 1995, and some of the space that it occupies had once been a penthouse that Elvis stayed in back in the 1970’s. It was vastly enlarged in the 90’s”.

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The pool view is an interior view as it is completely surrounded by the suite”. Greg C.

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You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them. They range from a serene Napa Valley decor to the pristine bliss of the Bahamas…and of course, that glitzy Hollywood Suite (below).

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Next up will be the Versailles Sky Suite

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur (Hollywood Suite)

Bring Your Summer Sexiness to THE PLAYGROUND


New adults-only day club advances the Westgate evolution and invites you to be a kid again…

Earlier this year I introduced you to Eddie Perales, the famed master mixologist who bubbles with as much excitement as his creations. Known to the world as a Guinness record-holder and creator of outlandish displays of liquid madness, Perales promised me that he would have more in store for the summer season at Westgate. After my most recent visit, I can say that he was true to his word…and then some.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

While other Vegas resort pools are just getting started, Westgate has been in the game since March. The sleek, sunny deck was opened two months ago with a heated pool, bright luxurious loungers, dazzling cabanas, attractive model-servers and a fresh, inviting color scheme.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Over on the south end of the sprawling deck, The Playground day club has been launched. This area’s designed for revelers twenty-one and over. Says Eddie “Our pool deck is a hidden gem. Families can share in the fun and excitement every day, but for the grown-ups, it’s The Playground“.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

The Playground invites partiers to toss their inhibitions out the window and act like a kid again. The 21-and-over space has daily DJ’s starting at 1pm. There are games like cornhole, chess and jenga and plenty of space to stretch out in VIP Cabanas. Drink specials, discounts for WOW Reward Card members and themed days should have fun-lovers coming back all summer.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

“Our ultimate goal here was to create something for everybody. The pool was like a blank canvas to me. It’s an great space and part of an iconic resort. I mean…just look at that view! We’re doing things in a different way here at Westgate” he added “and how we’re doing it is the key”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Eddie’s unique background in the world of beverage service gives him a distinctive edge that few in the city can boast about. “I’ve worked on the supplier side as well as being a mixologist, so I understand all aspects of this business. I’ve been able to identify liquor partners that other resorts blindly miss. We highlight them to make unique drinks that you won’t be able to find elsewhere”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

For instance, Eddie is big on Santoyo Grand Leyenda Organic Tequila. The premium tequila is derived from agave grown on Mexican lands that must be virgin for at least four years. Tequila Tuesdays feature the product and WOW Reward Card members get happy hour prices all day. “You may remember that I was once a Tequila Ambassador. I know my tequilas, and this one is terrific”.

Another hot-ticket new partnership is with the legendary Dole Whip. That frozen pineapple soft-serve from Oahu’s Dole Plantation was once an exclusive to guests of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Now, along with The Golden Tiki and Cowabunga Bay Water Park, Westgate is one of the few places in the continental U.S. to offer the refreshing treat.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

As you’ve probably guessed, Perales created a special cocktail using Dole Whip and Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum. Topped with a slice of fresh pineapple and an orchid, the Dole Whip Cocktail ($13) comes with both a spoon and a sipping straw.

The Playground‘s Signature Cocktail Menu has thirteen varieties, each running thirteen dollars. Eddie points out that any of them can be ordered as a pitcher for $27, which equals four servings for roughly the price of two. “Our prices are way cheaper than what you’ll find on the Strip”.

Perales has a signature style of combining fresh fruits, bright colors and unusual combinations for the brightest, funnest cocktails imaginable. One look above will show you what I mean…a bright array of tempting and luscious indulgences that will have you feeling happier with each sun-drenched sip.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Perales and I met early one morning at The Playground before the crowd started kicking up. After sampling all thirteen concoctions with names like Strawberry Blonde (Ketel One, lemonade, Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade), Bigger in Texas (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime, Baritt’s Ginger Beer), Passion Fruit Smash and Bananarama, I had to choose one to relax and chat over.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

               Eddie whipped me up a special size of Fireball Mojito…in a bucket!

Eddie watched closely as I stood up…and reached for the Fireball Mojito (Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, lime, mint and club soda). “Really?” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite, too. People said that you can’t do something like that. So of course I had to try it”. And yes, it was a fabulous contrast of flavors that had me back for an industrial-sized serving the next day.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Along with The Playground‘s new specialties, there are also familiar frozen drinks, beer, wine, and what Eddie calls “The least expensive bottle service in Las Vegas. It starts off at $65 for Hug L’originale Sparkling Wine (a European import that’s being called the hottest brand for summer 2018). Nobody else offers bottle service at that kind of price”.

Next to The Playground, Cabana Pool Bar and Grill offers a wide variety of snacks and meals. Choose from pizzas, beef and turkey burgers, sandwiches, wraps and healthier fare like California Rolls and Chef Bruno Morabito‘s famous Mojito Fruit Bowl from Sid’s Cafe. Of course, all of these items and more can be brought directly to your chair or cabana by the poolside servers. Check out the online menu here.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Also ready for roll-out are cabana-side cocktail carts. “I was inspired by the table-side guacamole carts at Mexican restaurants. Why not do that for cocktails? We can fill them with colorful fresh fruits and make drinks right at your own space”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Sounds like a great idea to me…why bother to leave your lounger when you can be pampered like a celebrity? And the sight will surely attract new friends to your space. Eddie’s presentation certainly was a hit with these Vegas newbies who came over to hang out with me.

And speaking of pampering, adjacent Serenity Spa has joined The Playground to formulate a collection of Summer Spa Cocktail Body Treatments. Based on your favorite Playground Signature Cocktail, these pedicures and body scrubs include a serving of the actual cocktail, too.

Fox-5 KVVU-TV recently ran this segment on the Playground/Serenity Spa mash-up:

http://www.fox5vegas.com/clip/14352395/kicking-it-poolside-at-westgate-spa-pool

And here’s a terrific video of Eddie and the team in full “party mode” –

With the summer pool season just gearing up, now’s the perfect time to discover The Playground. You can party like a rock star without breaking the bank. And you might make a few sexy new friends before pool season is over. I know I will…wink wink.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

The Playground launches daily at 1 pm during the summer season at Westgate Las Vegas Casino Resort, 3000 Paradise Road.

Photos: Sammasseur