Living the LUXE Life at Westgate


Latest guestroom category offers a chic, contemporary vibe…

With all of the well-deserved hoopla surrounding Westgate Las Vegas and their recent 50th anniversary celebration, it was somewhat easy to overlook that they’d also entered year 51 with something new and quite hip…. the LUXE guest room category.

Luxe_Room_Westgarte4

Adding to a profile that includes the comfortable entry-level Premium Room and sophisticated Signature class, LUXE rooms bring cool, elevated hipness to the classic resort. Striking in their simplicity and bathed in a soothing blue/green/beige palette, LUXE rooms offer contemporary luxury that satisfies without pretension. A 360-degree peek is available by clicking HERE.

Luxe_Room_Westgate5

At 400 square feet, LUXE follows the oversized floor plan that Westgate guests have long appreciated. Wise placement of furniture and bright walls provide a sense of something much larger. The illusion is accentuated by dual wall-mounted bedside shelves that eliminate floor-hogging nightstands. Both are equipped with multiple power outlets and USB ports within the lamps.

Luxe_Room_Westgate7.jpg

King-sized beds (2 queens are available) have headboards accentuated with a back-lighting feature that’s controlled by easily-reached switches. A single digital clock radio is included, something that many room updates are now forgoing.

Luxe_Room_Westgate9

Luxe_Room_Westgate8

Mattresses are thick, pleasantly firm and not too low to the floor. Sheets are somewhat on the coarse side, which seems to be the case in all Westgate rooms that I’ve tried. But you’ll forget about that issue when you rest your head on one of four over-sized pillows which are simply marvelous and my favorite in the city (sorry, Delano).

Luxe_Room_Westgate6

While they might not being standard in all LUXE rooms, mine (number 22-138 in the north tower) included an attractive blue sofa. It faced a 58-inch wall-mounted TV above an entertainment unit that doubles as a dresser. Three drawers with frosted-glass front panels are flanked by cabinets for a digital-lock safe and a mini-fridge, both provided at no extra cost.

Luxe_Room_Westgate10

A sleek, simple desk is situated at the main window, providing spectacular views of the Strip or scenic golf club…and of course, plenty of natural light. Night owls and business travelers will appreciate the ornate desk lamp with additional charging ports and power outlets.

Luxe_Room_Westgate2

The bathroom area is bright, clean and shiny with plenty of polished surfaces. The sink cabinet appears to be a holdover from the previous incarnation. Lower shelves stock plenty of towels (Westgate is never stingy with their towels and washcloths) and a hair dryer.

Luxe_Room_Westgate11

Toiletries are somewhat superior to the awful, watery cheapies that MGM and Caesars properties supply. A walk-in shower with sliding glass doors has a ceiling-mount rain shower head as well as a chrome hand-held style. Water pressure is excellent and hot temps arrived quickly. There were no drainage issues, another extremely common (and inexplicable) issue with Vegas showers.

Other in-room amenities include fast, solid wi-fi (included in resort fee), board and iron, manual black-out curtains and pay-per-view movies. A/C was great and relatively quiet. Alas, in-room coffeemakers are not provided, but 24-hour Fortuna is situated just off the central elevator banks and serves Starbucks products for your java fix.

Luxe_Room_Westgate_Banner

LUXE rooms will run you essentially double of their entry-level counterpart and roughly 45 percent more than the Signature class. Even at that price point, they provide an excellent value and an attractive alternative to ever-rising Strip prices. LUXE joins an extensive guestroom line-up with a wide variety of suites. Those include the split-level pool deck Lanai Suite (which I may visit for an upcoming piece), the amazing 29th-floor Specialty Suites and a trio of rooftop Sky Villas.

Luxe_Room_Westgate16

Whatever your mood or budget, Westgate Las Vegas has something to please. It’s my favorite overall resort in Sin City with even more great things on the way. Happy 50th Anniversary, Westgate!

Photos: Sam Novak

 

Advertisements

Westgate Las Vegas Celebrates 50th Anniversary In Style


Iconic hotel casino is Sin City’s first mega-resort…

67402116_2464471026982094_1663571392156663808_n

Many historians consider Mirage to be the first super-sized hotel concept in Las Vegas. The truth is that the resort now known as Westgate Las Vegas began the era more than 20 years earlier. Opened in the summer of 1969 as International Hotel, this massive structure became the largest hospitality destination in the world.

Full of superlatives and packed with luxurious amenities, the International was created with a goal of supplying top-quality accommodations and stellar entertainment with the best staff ever assembled.  A dream project of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, the 30-story structure was fast-tracked from ground-breaking to grand opening in under 17 months, an amazing feat even by today’s standards.61642082_2344871152275416_260241152320471040_n

Many of today’s visitors still refer to Westgate as “the former Las Vegas Hilton“, the name it carried from ’71 through 2012. During that time it would become associated with Elvis Presley’s landmark residency and later, Star Trek: The Experience. It was also home to dozens of legendary performers like Barbra Streisand, Liberace, Suzanne Somers, Charo, Wayne Newton, The Commodores, Sheena Easton and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express.

64753871_2383885225040675_3710508386878488576_n

Five years ago the property was acquired by Westgate Resorts and CEO David Siegel pumped millions of dollars into a massive restoration project, keeping the entire resort operating as renovations took place. The new owner refused to allow his staff to lose their jobs during the transition, protecting thousands of workers from financial hardship.

20190803_160013 (1)

Siegel’s dedication and longtime love for the property was in full display during an epic 50th anniversary celebration on August 3rd. Invited guests strolled down an ornate corridor festooned with images of historic moments, pausing for photographs on the carpet before a pre-party cocktail reception.

Glass cases of memorabilia lined the perimeter of the room, recognizing noteworthy events and moments of the last five decades. Mr. Siegel joined Mayor Carolyn Goodman and President/GM Cami Christensen onstage to toast the legacy of the hotel. They also recognized the thousands of people who have contributed to its ongoing success.

Dignitaries from the worlds of entertainment and media then joined high-rollers and honored staff for a spectacular meal in the main dining hall. Guests enjoyed an appetizer of lobster tail and prawns, a main course of beef wellington and champagne as performers like Frankie Scinta and Zowie Bowie provided music and laughter.

Christensen then honored longtime employees including theater usher Angel Lopez Rosas. Mr. Rosas has been part of the service team since the hotel opened, working an estimated 12,000 shows. The party then moved to famed International Theater for a stunning performance by Elvis tribute artist Ted Torres Martin and “Sweet Inspirations”, which included a performer who had shared the very same stage with Presley during his sold-out residency.

Looking forward, Westgate continues to… (Click HERE to continue reading)

Photos: Sam Novak, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

The SAHARA Is Back – But Is It Too Late?


The iconic hotel gets yet another chance after the SLS debacle…

Sahara-dome-e1476808808340 (1)

The Sahara Hotel was one of the first casino resorts I stayed at when the Vegas love affair began. This was back in 2005, just when the landmark property was about to plummet to its lowest depths. Once a legendary destination, Sahara had become a place of despair. That being said, it still had its purpose as a value destination for those on a budget.

sahara-dome-underside-e1476808828102

WP_20140823_024-960x540.jpg

In 2007, Sam Nazarian and Stockbridge Real Estate Group purchased the Sahara…and quickly ran it into the ground. My final stay in the summer of 2009 was so awful that I vowed it would be my last. Exposed electrical wiring, broken lamps, cigarette burns in the carpeting and furniture, golf ball-sized hole in the shower stall, broken bed frame, filthy casino restrooms….well, you get the idea.

11401402_10206956752262990_4301092565757691797_n

11149477_10206956749502921_6622901963101550225_n

Nazarian locked the Sahara’s doors on May 16th, 2011, taping up a handwritten sign as his final farewell. To those of us who knew what he’d done to the place, this served more as a threat than a beacon of hope:

sls-opening-labor-day.jpg

When the property’s liquidation sale was announced, I flew in from Oregon to attend. We bargain-hunters and nostalgia-seekers were escorted onto the property in controlled groups, required to listen to a presentation before being unleashed to go exploring. Our guide told us that the hotel would eventually be re-opening under the name “SLS”. The fellow next to me said “S.O.S.? What kind of name is that for a hotel?”. If he only knew how prescient his question was…

10426119_10206956705381818_1615003121391331799_n

11407126_10206956712942007_3478017511122431291_n

SLS Las Vegas opened three years and three months later. I was one of the first guests to check in on opening day….and just about everything went awry. No elevators in the parking garage, malfunctioning elevators in the hotel towers, being assigned a room that was already occupied, problems with the TV and more. Of course, all of these things were growing pains and could be easily forgiven for a newly-opened establishment.

11428025_10206956704101786_734732490859429940_n.jpg

WP_20140823_013.jpg

What couldn’t be overlooked was that the concept of turning a rundown north-Strip relic into an expensive knockoff of a Los Angeles hit was a fool’s errand. Nazarian and team had entertained the idea that LA residents would come to Vegas to experience what they already had at home. They packed the SLS with not one but SEVEN Hollywood-based Fred Segal shops, taking up every retail outlet within the resort. Within a year, they were all gone.

WP_20140824_048.jpg

Some things vanished even quicker that the Segal stores. An excellent new second-floor buffet was shuttered after only three months. LA-based Griddle Cafe lasted an entire five months before pulling out. Foxtail Nightclub was quickly shut down and LIFE Nightclub was gutted/converted into The Foundation Room (allowing for Foxtail’s pool club to reopen at night).

WP_20140822_081

WP_20140822_060

The musical chairs within the building were shuffled as frequently as the execs in the boardroom. SLS Las Vegas was, without a doubt, a resounding flop from every perspective. All because it tried to be something it wasn’t and deliver something the city never needed.

264210_2109975274667_6128191_n.jpg

WP_20140823_079

What Sahara really needed was another chance to be the Sahara again. Refreshed, revitalized, reborn as “The New Sahara”, perhaps….but NOT re-branded into an expensive luxury destination built on a rickety old foundation. The little nods to Sahara’s past had been peppered into the SLS decor, but this was essentially lip service to people like me…those who continue to embrace Sin City’s past.

Sahara-casino-e1476808871135.jpg

WP_20140824_056

But the Sahara’s soul had been ripped out along with the theme, camels and that unforgettable neon porte cochere. It was replaced by bare concrete and a nearly-colorless, white/grey/black palette with bare ceilings, exposed duct work and a bar that looked like a boardroom full of monkeys. An artistic representation of reality, perhaps?

monkeybar-slide1

monkey-bar-sls

Last week’s announcement that current owners Meruelo Group would be restoring the Sahara name was met with great fanfare (Scott Roeben’s VitalVegas.com readers knew quite awhile ago that this was in the works). It’s the hottest topic on Vegas message boards, Facebook pages and blogs like mine right now, so there’s interest in the old property after all.

Mostly everyone seems to like what’s been happening at the old/new Sahara. Meruelo has re-acquired a tower that had been taken over by W Hotels. They’ve restored full in-house operations and are putting a reported $100 million or more into additional renovations, much of them to address the despised flaws in the SLS room redesigns. Even the Casbar Lounge is back in a modern incarnation!

Photo4_1561604829423-HR.jpg

             Sahara owner Alex Meruelo and wife Liset and name-reveal gala…

The company’s founder Alex Meruelo had this to say last week about the property’s future:

The SAHARA played an important role in the evolution of the destination. And, we are now responsible for shaping a new narrative. We are writing the next chapter in the city’s evolution, for the love of Vegas.
We are committed to delivering an intimate, unexpected and memorable visit for our guests. We want people who stay with us to say, ‘My God what an experience!’ because experience leads to memories. And, that’s what we want to create, memories and experiences you won’t forget.
9386a45f7adf2c9e514751ed9eb15e69.jpg
                                               Casbar Lounge then…
61200718_2170300586339911_3783382196501348352_n
                           …and now…(photo by Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas)
You can watch a video of the announcement by clicking here. The press release went on to say:
Alex Meruelo’s debut comes at a time when there are few sole proprietors left along the Las Vegas Strip. As a life-long entrepreneur with a track record of business success, Meruelo expressed his commitment to continual improvement and investment in SAHARA Las Vegas ensuring the resort remains both timeless yet modern so that guests will want to return time and time again.

5d15ad8f74472.image.jpg

So yes, there’s plenty to be excited about The Sahara’s return. All signs point towards things being done correctly this time. But is it too late to matter? That depends on the final product and where it fits into the 2019 market.

WP_20140823_110

    World Tower room at SLS. Super-boring, oddly arranged, claustrophobic…

57964049_2126770594026244_7657782485241036800_n

                               New color scheme on current Story Tower room…

I have no problem in admitting that, just because of the name, I’m much more inclined to book or recommend a hotel called “Sahara” than “SLS”. After all, there is a major road and several current businesses in the area that are named after it. Sahara IS Vegas…it evokes the desert, a rich history and promises of an experience that “SLS” (that nonsensical clump of letters) never could.

WP_20140822_074

Many of us have complained about the removal of themes from Strip resorts. Then we lost our cool when office-bland City Center bleached out any hope of their restoration in the future. So if Sahara dares to restore its past Moroccan motif, even just a little, we owe it to Meruelo Group to support their audacity and daring.

65800853_2231650823538220_1461398373771771904_n.jpg

It’s reassuring to know that the new owners have already done a great job of returning Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort to relevancy. They’ve wisely appealed to a variety of guests from the frugal to the elite, managing to modernize that hotel/casino while acknowledging its rich 41-year history. That’s exactly what The Sahara needed to do all along.

65921836_2231652676871368_4239153530268549120_n.jpg

There are plenty of reasons to give the new Sahara a try. Resorts World and The Strat are drawing much-needed attention to those few blocks of the Strip. Sahara has its own monorail station, tying with Westgate for the most accessible of any stop on the line. Vital Vegas broke the news that foodie-favorite Bazaar Meats will remain and get expanded. He also reported they’re gaining an established resident production (the nauseating-yet-inexplicably-popular Magic Mike Live) that is sure to draw traffic back into the resort.

65769902_2231655890204380_9119601478045007872_n

So let’s hope that Meruelo Group continues their current audacious path for The Sahara. They’ve been running reduced booking rates, “No Resort Fee” and “Half-off Resort Fee” specials since taking over, have maintained free parking, attracted a variety of hip comedians and made the casino layout more appealing.

65390367_2231653530204616_8943371114394943488_n.jpg

With the right mixture of value, service and dining/entertainment/gaming offerings, The Sahara could become a standout destination that the current Las Vegas is sorely lacking…a fun affordable Sin City resort worth returning to over and over.

Photo By Denise Truscello

Sahara fans are invited to witness its rebirth and transformation via a newly-launched website. Follow the excitement and sign up for updates by clicking here

Photos: Sam Novak, Greg C., SLS/Sahara, Vital Vegas, KVVU-TV, Pinterest, The Publicity Lab, Denise Truscello

 

 

ELVIS IS BACK IN VEGAS WITH ‘HEARTBREAK HOTEL IN CONCERT’


Concert-style Elvis retrospective is satisfying, solid entertainment…

Just when you thought there couldn’t be any new ways to celebrate the life and music of Elvis Presley, along comes Heartbreak Hotel In Concert. The new production at Harrah’s Las Vegas is an extravaganza of swiveling hips, legendary blues and rock-a-billy guitar hits that will have you rising from your seats with cheers.

Unlike other Elvis tribute shows, Heartbreak Hotel In Concert isn’t a typical impersonation act. Instead, its talented cast of singers and a live band present a chronological journey of The King’s career in word, song and style. A carefully-crafted set list visits his earliest church gospel days to recordings in Memphis through his army stint and Hollywood breakout, culminating in that historic record-setting residency at the International Hotel (now Westgate Las Vegas).

20190508_212555.jpg

Bursting onstage with “All Shook Up”, front man Eddie Clendening is an accomplished rock-a-billy powerhouse. His personal love for Presley’s music shines through with every chord of “That’s Alright”, “Baby Let’s Play House” and the title tune. Having previously portrayed the late superstar on Broadway in Million Dollar Quartet as well as touring around the world with his Blue Ribbon Boys band, Eddie knows instinctively how to channel Presley’s persona and style. Rather than mimicking Elvis, the Denver Colorado native allows the music to flow through him, infusing his vocals and body language with Presley’s signature heart and soul.

Musical director Colte Julian tickles the ivories and has a great time as Jerry Lee Lewis in a sequence saluting the Million Dollar Quartet jam sessions. Julian’s spot on, having played the wild piano man in several productions of the long-running hit based on that gathering. He’s also hysterical in a “White Pop” medley that dramatically emphasizes how daring Presley’s “black” music was perceived by listeners of the day.

20190508_212715.jpg

Once a two-act musical drama, Heartbreak Hotel has been re-imagined for Vegas audiences by Ivan Menchell and staged by Jeff Calhoun as a concert experience. Each performer gets their moment to recount a historic milestone and share personal reflections of The King’s songbook. Lovely singers Jackie Wiatrowski, Tymara Walker and Fana Hughes take center stage (and the keyboards) for “Handyman”, “Love Me Tender” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”. Broadway vet Geno Henderson (guitarist for B.B King and Ike Turner) captivates the audience with a soul-filled rendition of “Are You Lonesome Tonight”.

20190508_212438.jpg

In addition to lush costumes, precise staging and slick choreography, Heartbreak Hotel has invaluable and unprecedented access to thousands of rare photographs and video footage through Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Click HERE to continue reading…

Hot Guys of Vegas: Tough Men and Bad Boys


The latest in my series on Sin City hunks visits the men who make looking naughty so damned nice…

Boys will be boys, bad boy, bad boy
Always gettin’ so restless, nothin’ but trouble
Boys will be boys, bad boy, bad boy
Get me feelin’ breathless, nothin’ but trouble

                                                   Gloria Estefan

Long before Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine were singing the praises of bad boys, James Dean and Elvis Presley were making rebels look both hot and cool. Today’s crop of Vegas hunks continues that legacy. Bad-ass, suave and still sophisticated, they know how to turn on the charm while driving your temperatures skyward.

 

Mike Thompson – Professional Bartender/biker dude

 

12321579_1728457950722793_4666439091949138252_n

                                                       Mike Thompson

Where you’ve seen him – EDGE Steakhouse at Westgate Las Vegas

Mike Thompson is like one of those mysterious characters you see in a spy movie. He’s all sophistication and a master of conversation when suited up for shifts at Edge Steakhouse. A master of social graces, Mike will remember your favorite cocktail and have you forgetting your troubles by the second sip.

1017008_1460608464174411_5151882409077179522_n

But when the tie comes off, so does the Bond-like persona that Thompson’s patrons know and love. On go the mirrored shades as he slips into his tough-guy gear…and the wild side of Mike is ready to tear down the desert highway on his favorite motorcycle.

18424977_1934694463432473_4936062391002569628_n

Mike’s background is as mysterious as where he goes when he takes off into the sunset. His personal life is closely guarded….much like that man who goes by the name “Bond. James Bond”. Is Mike a spy? Perhaps a vigilante hero? Nobody knows for sure.

Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 12.08.33 PM.png

What I do know is that Mike’s got a globe-hopping past, having worked in New York City, Dubai and London. A little research uncovered the fact that he received top honors in the Sofitel International Bartending Competition in Venice, Italy, too.

44023356_2228097394092177_4562144275042664448_n

So perhaps this wild-child gentleman really IS some kind of undercover hero. If so, I don’t want to reveal his alter ego. What’s certain is that with several years of bartending experience right here in Las Vegas, Mike Thompson knows how to make one Hell of a cocktail. Visit him at the lounge inside EDGE Steakhouse soon. Tell him that Sam at Vegas Unfiltered sent you. And be sure to bring your friends.

41738520_10217342831228473_5438716859291533312_n.jpg

               Hotshot realtor Jeff Desruissseaux and myself with Mike (center)

Noteworthy traits – suave social skills, sophisticated shock of grey

 

Kris Davis – dancer/entrepreneur/VIP club host

 

54520119_2681182465231607_5276951593307078656_n

                                                              Kris Davis

Where you’ve seen him – Chippendales, Troy Liquor Bar, Fremont Street

Chances are that when Santa Claus comes across Kris Davis on his annual naughty-or-nice list, he takes a deep breath and reaches for a bottle of bourbon. That’s because Kris is trouble….and he knows it. Yet the former Chippendale dancer is so damned pleasant and lovable that you can’t help liking him. Even if you want to slap his head from time to time.

12985606_1282358028447398_4201542044581529035_n.jpg

Davis is one of those guys who just doesn’t care about conventional behavior. He’s going to do whatever he wants to do…so you’d better get out of the way. But while he’s a man on a mission, he’ll willing to bring you along for the ride. Kris is such a popular social media figure that he had to create a second Facebook page and identity….by reversing his first and last names.

53113422_2657856444230876_8703932309755133952_n

So what does this guy do in Sin City? Pretty much everything. From repping supplement outlets to dancing in male revues and posing for photos as a sexy fireman, Kris is all around town both day and night. Want to get into awesome clubs like Downtown’s new Troy Liquor Bar? Kris is your man. Looking to liven up a bachelorette party? That’s probably Kris, too.  Whatever enterprise he takes on, you know that Kris will be living the Sin City wild life…and having a great time doing it.

Noteworthy traits – outstanding traps, flair for the outrageous

 

Mikey Perez – dancer/bouncer/fighter/ businessman

 

Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 11.27.25 AM.png

                                                                  Mikey Perez

Where you’ve seen him – massive billboards, full-size bus ads, tattoo parlors

Every bad boy has a partner in crime. Mikey Perez has two. Not only does Mikey cause hearts to throb wherever he goes. but this wild-child stud has partnered up with pals Kris Davis (above) and Kevin Cornell Dockter (below) for their new enterprise Men of Chip in Dipp. This irreverently-titled party-hosting service relies on their past stripping/dancing experience to enhance your group’s night on the town.

15338839_1245327472188439_319846806402167114_n.jpg

Providing a limo and getting your tickets is just part of Mikey’s big package. He and the crew will entertain you on the way, then party with you and your guests well into the night. You will feel safe and secure with Mikey’s strong arms there to protect you, as this macho dude has a background in fighting at TuffNuff championships. Yes, Mikey is known as “Pretty Boy” in his MMA bio.

523639_489008291153698_412846781_n.jpg

Whether you find bulging arms and a canvas of tattoos to be “pretty”, you can’t help falling for Mikey’s amazing white smile and warm glint in his eyes. He might come across as the toughest of the tough, but Mikey’s just as likely to give you a bear hug as to knock you onto the canvas. He’s the kind of friend you want to have.

41289760_2371001052954403_6735849991169900544_n.jpg

Notable traits – electric smile, body of art

 

Kevin Cornell Dockter – bartender/performer/entrepreneur

 

Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 8.43.30 AM.png

                                             Kevin Cornell Dockter

Where you’ve seen him – Chippendales, Johnny Fontane’s, Virtual 10’s

Our final wild child for this edition of Hot Guys of Vegas hails from St. Louis, but he’s a Sin City boy at heart. Once known for his Tarzan-like mane of hair, Kevin Cornell amassed a legion of fans around the world for his long-running stint with Chippendales.

Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 11.48.05 AM.png

Another motorcycle fan (there’s definitely a pattern here), Kevin has been spending lots of time with buddies Kris and Mike for their new business. These days he’s sheared his locks, but Kevin is just as much a badass as his partners in crime and fun.

37643995_251191108942242_1893719168922943488_n

Like Mike Thompson, Kevin keeps his personal life close to his vest. Fortunately that vest is usually hanging open to display a torso that’s years in the making. He may not share his buddy’s affection for tattoos, but Kevin has what it takes to look both tough and tender.

Notable traits – epic man-rack, Samson-like hair

 

 

 

 

2018 Events, Trends & Moments…Cosmic and Controversial


A lot has happened in the past 12 months. Today I look back on large-scale events…

GREATEST SIGHT IN THE SKY – Angels of the 2017 Massacre

1001181820

                      I witnessed it on Sahara Avenue near Palace Station…

This one is emotional and unforgettable. If you were there to witness it, you couldn’t have helped being shaken to the core. As friends and loved ones gathered to commemorate the victims of 2017’s mass shooting one year later, the sunset brought a phenomenon that was seen throughout the entire valley.

49013949_10212781553123290_4735228583738343424_n

                       Courtesy of Michal Furmanczyk, Absinthe acrobat…

While some were quick to explain it scientifically, many of us felt it was a sign from a greater power…or perhaps a message from another plane of existence. Whatever your take on the matter, there’s no denying that the sunset on 10/1/18 was one we’ll never forget.

49091419_10218280462789633_6030891659980439552_n

                                  Courtesy of performer Kim Lange…

ROLLING BACK THE PARKING FEES

So many people want to sling buckets of rotting fruit at the money-grubbers of MGM Resorts for instituting parking fees on the Strip. As usual, copycat CAESARS Entertainment followed, the same way they did with resort fees. But unlike those dreaded mandatory surcharges, many of their competitors have held off…or even rolled back…charging their guests to park.

To my recollection, Wynn/Encore was the first to rethink this strategy by offering validation to shoppers, show attendees and hotel guests. Cosmopolitan began including parking as part of their mandatory daily fees just this month. Of course, they had to spoil a bit of the satisfaction by RAISING the resort fee another four dollars per day.

9269

       Caesars couldn’t resist sticking it to their guests one final time in 2018…

Tropicana, Treasure Island, SLS, Stratosphere, Venetian, Palazzo and a few others still offer parking to everyone without cost. Then there’s the Caesars properties, who dropped a stinkbomb during New Year’s Eve weekend by introducing a flat-rate “surge price” of $20 per day. Keep on gouging, guys. You’ve learned nothing.

LADY GAGA IS THE NEW QUEEN OF THE STRIP

49178087_1989602127793152_1663238918738280448_n

It seemed really odd when MGM Resorts decided to spend $170 million to rip out their new-ish and gorgeous Aria Theater in favor of “more lucrative” convention space…and then spend millions more to expand/rebrand the adjacent Monte Carlo theater for…get this…more live entertainment. Mmmm kay….

The gamble seems to have paid off, though, as Park Theater just celebrated two years of hosting such high-profile acts as Cher, Ricky Martin, Queen/Adam Lambert and Stevie Wonder. Reports have surfaced that the unwelcome return of faux entertainer Britney Spears has suffered underwhelming ticket sales. But Lady Gaga’s ENIGMA residency came to the rescue by swooping in during the last few days of the year.

48891145_1990067351079963_6361731521912504320_n

Initial reviews have been stellar. Entertainment Weekly wrote “Enigma the show is a damn good time, and it’s admirable in its attempts to elevate a greatest-hits gathering into something striving for more, something that perhaps even galvanized an artist in the peak of her career to take a Vegas residency in the first place.”

A local media publisher, who shall remain unnamed, confided a different take with me: “Gaga was great. Everything else about the show was a disaster.”

There’s no question that Lady Gaga’s profile has risen substantially since she signed her Park Theater contract. She’s sure to get an Oscar nomination for A Star Is Born…and might actually win. Her credibility as a performer, humanitarian and cultural icon are unquestioned. So having her as a fixture on the Strip (for a planned two years) is a major coup for Park MGM. Britney who?

UPDATE: Mere minutes after I published this piece, it was announced that Britney had cancelled her Las Vegas residency, citing “family health concerns”. That’s PR-speak for “My sales suck and they want me out”. What a wonderful bit of news for lovers of genuine talent. Buh-bye, Brit Brit. Don’t let the door hit-hit.

https://www.ktnv.com/news/britney-spears-cancels-las-vegas-residency

TOUGH YEAR FOR VEGAS RESORT EXECS

The past twelve months have seen a surprising upheaval in upper management at major hotel casinos. It all started with an ominous event as embattled former Caesars Entertanment CEO Gary Loveman was shown the door in January…from his replacement job with Aetna. Loveman had never previously worked for healthcare companies.

youre-fired-and-5b3911

His successor Mark Frissora, who assumed the position from Loveman in summer 2015, will be departing his role in the next month or so. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Frissora was accused in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by his former company, Hertz Global Holdings, of “inappropriate accounting decisions and the failure to disclose information to an effective review” three weeks after he took over at Caesars. Ouch!

Gary Loveman wasn’t the only former resort exec to have a bad year. Longtime MGM Resorts‘ Felix Rappaport was found dead in his home this summer. Current MGM CEO Jim Murren issued the following statement: “We are saddened by the news of the passing of our former colleague and friend, Felix Rappaport. Felix was a member of the MGM Resorts family for more than two decades and is remembered fondly by many. Our condolences and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”

Also at MGM, it was announced in October that Bobby Baldwin, Chief Customer Development Officer of their resorts and President/CEO of CityCenter on the Strip, will depart both positions soon…without explanation. The press announcement was extremely brief and offered no details, which stirred up plenty of rumors. Hmmm…

During that same month, they welcomed George Kliavkoff as the new President of Entertainment and Sports. He took over for legendary bushy-maned Richard Sturm who had held that position since 1993. Sturm shocked many when he announced his departure from MGM five weeks earlier. He was leaving to form his own entertainment consulting firm that would work exclusively with…MGM Resorts (insert facepalm here).

VitalVegas.com reported on a number of departures and managerial changes this summer at Westgate Hotel Casino. The most noteworthy that I personally can report on was the promotion of Cami Christensen into the position of President and General Manager. I happened to be there on the evening of the announcement and was honored to offer congratulations.

Christensen has been with the property for over seventeen years and assumed the responsibilities of former GM Geno Iafrate, who reportedly departed to help launch a new franchising concept for Westgate’s Superbook. Oddly, Iafrate’s LinkedIn account currently shows him as having left the property and looking for work.

21231962_10210517551763336_8445761316438759580_n

             Gordon Prouty and Cami Christensen raise the bar at Westgate…

I was also excited to meet Gordon Prouty while covering the annual Mr. Olympia Weekend this summer. Gordon had just accepted a position as Westgate’s Director of Public and Community Relations. This dapper gentleman has an extensive background in media and community relations throughout the country.

Here in Vegas, Gordon’s been involved in several organizations and Greenspun Media Group. And as the best-dressed man in all of Las Vegas, he served as inspiration for my article on STITCHED Men’s Haberdashery. Only good things can happen at Westgate with Gordon Prouty behind the PR wheel.

There’s nothing like a sex scandal to ruin a man’s legacy. Just ask Kevin Spacey….or in this case, Steve Wynn. The super-successful businessman, whom many credit with the mega-resorts of today, had one really tough year. Allegations of sexual misconduct forced the magnate to sell off his shares in Wynn Resorts this past March. Just before that he’d stepped down as CEO of his own company while denying the claims being made against him: “The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.”

The founder of one of Las Vegas’ most luxurious resorts was also forced to depart the on-property villa he called home, as well as to forfeit his healthcare and severance pay. To add insult to injury, Wynn’s final pet project, the Paradise Park Lagoon, was scuttled. It would appear that Wynn West, an expansion on the opposite side of Las Vegas Boulevard, has also been put on ice.

c1e83730-a29a-43ff-992f-e7d38b8bcd88-large16x9_resortsworldsuedksnv.png

                                                     Photo via KSNV-TV

This is the third project to fall apart on the former New Frontier Hotel space. Perhaps it’s just as well. Somebody is apparently building Wynn West just a little farther down the street anyway. Unfortunately they’ve named it Resorts World, which doesn’t quite have the same ring. But it certainly looks familiar…

Tomorrow I’ll conclude my year-end wrap-up with the things that made Las Vegas 2018 a deeply personal affair.

Banner photo by Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters

 

Vegas 2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst in Large-scale Production Shows

 


Wrapping up another event-filled year with fond memories and a little sass…

Can it really be that Santa is returning to his home base to put the elves back to work? Perhaps, but that Christmas hangover still lingers, ensuring that you didn’t dream your way through another holiday season in Vegas.

As you bring out the noisemakers and put champagne on ice for New Year’s Eve (check out my piece for tips on last-minute NYE planning), let’s look back at some of the noteworthy…and notorious…moments and madness from Las Vegas 2018. First up: the shows…

BEST NEW SHOW – Manilow: The Hits Come Home

Manilow1

I’ll admit to being a bit worried when 75-year-old Barry Manilow missed his own big night at Westgate Las Vegas. The legendary singer was hospitalized on the morning of his kick-off weekend, which scuttled a massive media party and prompted singers Clint Holmes and Earl Turner to entertain the sold-out auditorium with their SOUNDTRACK show in his absence.

It turns out that my fears were unnecessary, as Manilow snapped back quickly, proving that he truly is the World’s Greatest Showman. Brimming with energy and love for his audience, Barry is everything you want in a Las Vegas event production. Check out my full review here and be sure to see Manilow: The Hits Come Home through June of 2019.

Runner-up: Soundtrack with Clint Holmes and Earl Turner, also at Westgate (now closed), OPIUM at Cosmopolitan (tie)

WORST NEW SHOW – Inferno: The Fire Spectacular 

Inferno5

                                        “We need more GAS-O-LEEN!!!!!” 

There are certain entertainment venues in Sin City that seem to have a hex on them. Bad things happen, shows close way faster than they should and nothing seems to go right. Tropicana Showroom, Encore Theater at Wynn and Palazzo Theater have all gone through this period at one time or another (in Tropicana’s case, it’s as bad as ever). Now the curse seems to have landed at Paris Hotel Casino.

This was a bad year for Paris. Its troubled (and aging) Paris Theater chewed up and spit out Circus 1903 and Marilyn: The New Musical in just the first half of this year. Next came the cringe-worthy Inferno: The Fire Spectacular. Built around the supposed talents of peculiar and obscure magician Joe Labero, this upstart element-based production squandered every bit of potential in its premise and left you laughing for all the wrong reasons (“We need more gasoline. Lots and lots of GAS-O-LEEN!”). Read my full review here.

While Inferno could have been salvaged by jettisoning its star and focusing on the fire aspect (and The Fuel Girls), the show was abruptly yanked from the Paris schedule just six months in. Its cast was rudely told to hit the road during a break without the benefit of a farewell performance. Show business can be cruel.

It’s interesting to note that I Love The 90’s, the next production to enter this venue, went on an abrupt hiatus for most of December, just two months into its residency. UD Factory‘s CEO Seth Yudof assures me that there is no reason to be concerned. He swears that I Love The 90’s will return stronger than ever in January. Let’s hope his production is the one to break the Paris showroom curse. Entertainers in Sin City already have it tough enough.

Look for my review of I Love The 90’s when it returns in 2019.

MOST UNWELCOME RETURN – Mariah Carey/Britney Spears/Criss Angel (tie)

Screenshot 2018-12-23 at 8.17.24 PM.png

                   A stripper, a robot and a douche bag walk into a bar…

The worst thing about Christmas is taking down the tree, packing up the lights and tossing away all that torn wrapping paper. I get that same sinking feeling every time I spot a billboard hyping the residencies of these three clowns.

Like a dried-up fruit cake that won’t go down the garbage disposer, the miserable triad of Carey, Spears and Angel continue to regurgitate up our collective pipes and spread noxious odors throughout the Vegas valley.

There’s an amazing amount of common ground among the self-proclaimed diva, robotic lip-syncer and goth faux-magician. Arrogance, fakery and distraction are the hallmarks of their supposed talents. Onstage gaffes, cancellations, accidents and savage reviews have plagued each of their productions. Yet minimally-talented blowhards continues to sell tickets and broker new residencies shortly after the last ones have been kicked into the desert.

The PR teams for each were touting their “returns” before the stench had even cleared from their previous rounds. Mariah’s somehow on her second stint at Caesars…three if you count last year’s Christmas gig. MGM Resorts wooed Britney from Planet Hollywood over to Park MGM Theater starting in February (why, exactly?). They’re probably regretting it now that advance ticket sales have been lukewarm at best.

Criss Angel’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil is finally over (they’re probably breathing a collective sigh of relief for surviving ten tumultuous and embarrassing years). He’s left Luxor biggest theater for a mezzanine-level auditorium at PHo, the same troubled theater that swallowed Frankie Moreno and Paul Zerdin just last year. Let’s hope it manages to choke down Mindfreak Live…and digest it once and for all.

Santa didn’t hand out coal this year…he gave away tickets to Mariah, Britney and Criss.

SADDEST CLOSURE – BAZ/David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM (tie)

It’s frustrating to see unique and talent-packed shows being overlooked for the likes of the notorious three mentioned above. And while they’re vastly different, both BAZ and IMAGINARIUM suffered similar fates.

Palazzo Hotel Casino deserves a lot of credit for backing BAZ, the daring musical mash-up built around a trio of familiar and tragic love stories. Defying simple descriptions and difficult to promote in any form of media, BAZ relied on word of mouth to put butts in seats. Those who saw it praised the innovative production and its amazing cast. In other words, it was doomed from day one.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM had the unfortunate challenges of 1) coming in behind notorious child-porn illusionist Jan Rouven in the cursed Tropicana Showroom 2) sharing the same corner with high-profile magicians Criss Angel and David Copperfield, and 3) being better than Vegas audiences wanted…or deserved. The hard-working Goldrake made IMAGINARIUM far superior to anything either of his competitors currently offer. And he did it with sincerity, dignity, humility and a great deal of sexiness.

Runner-up: Soundtrack at Westgate Hotel Casino

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION – Le Reve The Dream

Le Reve

It’s nice to have my all-time show back on this list. Le Reve – The Dream had to take a backseat to BAZ for a few years. But now that the musical has closed down, nothing shines more brightly than Wynn’s signature spectacular.

Le Reve

Not only is Le Reve back to the top of my list, but it’s fresher than ever. New costumes and make-up design, a fabulous re-imagined score and songs by original composer Benoit Jutras…and a revised story line all come together for an unforgettable experience. When it comes to sheer spectacle, nothing on the Strip beats Le Reve – The Dream. Read my full review here.

Be sure to check back for my next entry in 2018’s wrap-up. And best wishes for the New Year.