Las Vegas Be a Lady
Sin City is revealing a new side, one that reclaims the 18-karat shine of the city’s past decades.
The Rat Pack is back.
Las Vegas’ latest additions revive the city’s ’50s–era glamour, Mob excesses, and the opulence of the high roller. Whether it’s upscale dining at a retro steak house, a thrilling glide through neon lights, or a water performance by sultry mermaids, Sin City’s newest attractions could keep pace with Frank Sinatra at the Sands. Just make sure you don’t get whacked along the way.
As acts such as Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and Peggy Lee crooned on stage, the Strip boomed with a slew of Mob-connected properties, ranging from the Flamingo to the Riviera to the Tropicana. Rather than shy away from Las Vegas’ Mafia years, today’s city leaders have embraced visitors’ fascination with the town’s shadowy past.
Last February, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka the Mob Museum, opened its doors in a 1930s neoclassical structure that, appropriately enough, used to house a federal courthouse. Through chilling interactive multimedia displays, designed by the team that created the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., you’ll learn how the Mob ran Las Vegas, from the city’s development to the 1950s and early 1960s, when film stars frequented Mob-owned casinos. 300 Stewart Ave., (702) 229-2734, themobmuseum.org.
While in the neighborhood, it’s worth the two-block walk over to Fremont Street, the city’s original Strip, for a shot of whiskey and a ride on the zip line. Consider hopping on at night, when you can glide through an illuminated canopy of lit casino signs. Many have been refurbished by the Neon Museum, which houses retired signs inside its Neon Boneyard, which you can tour during the day. 425 Fremont St., (702) 410-7999, flightlinezfremont.com; 810 Las Vegas Blvd. N., (702) 387-6366, neonmuseum.org.
Back on the Strip, the Tropicana hotel offers a more intimate glimpse into the lives of Las Vegas gangsters through its Mob Attraction. The recently renovated museum takes the information-entertainment approach by combining displays of personal letters and photos from the families of some of the Strip’s notorious criminals with an interactive journey. Complete with actors, your trip ends when you get whacked or “made.” 3801 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 739-2222, troplv.com/entertainment/mob-attraction-las-vegas.
If you still can’t get enough criminal history, take the Vegas Mob Tour. A guide sporting a fedora and pin-striped suit leads you to the sites of mysterious disappearances and relays legendary stories. Recently, Frank Cullotta, a former mobster and boss of Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, consulted with the tour guides, so you know you’re getting the straight dope. (702) 339-8744, vegasmobtour.com.
Let the Shows Begin
The newest theater to hit Las Vegas exudes retro charm and offers a refreshing change of pace from the shows on Vegas’ main drag. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, located a 15-minute drive from the Strip (cabbies know the way), is a glorious art deco–style theater that opened earlier this year. Here, you’ll find professional dance troupes and full-scale musicals, as well as an on-site jazz cabaret club. October features a production of the musical Wicked, jazz singers Laura Taylor and Christine Ebersole, and George Balanchine’s Jewels performed by Nevada Ballet Theatre. 361 Symphony Park Ave., (702) 749-2000, thesmithcenter.com.
The girlie show, a classic Las Vegas genre, lives on at Jubilee! at Bally’s. Feather headdresses and sparkles galore dazzle, but the feminine form is the main feature. (If you’re looking for a show with a G rating, one performance a week is a bikini tops–on affair.) Don’t miss the famous “Red Feather Fan” number, which combines a medley of Cole Porter tunes and intricate costumes for an unforgettable finale. 3645 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (702) 967-4567, ballyslasvegas.com.
Zumanity, Cirque du Soleil’s adult show at the New York, New York hotel, is a wonderful celebration of the human body. It opens with a luminous act of two topless “mermaids” in a clear tub of water. 3790 S. Las Vegas Blvd., (866) 606-7111, zumanity.com.
Another stunning water display also unfolds during Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas. In this tweaked aquatic ballet, performers engage in synchronized routines and end the dream-like show with a beautiful finale. 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (888) 320-7110, wynnlasvegas.com.
Finally, fans of famous crooners should check out The Rat Pack Is Back at the Rio, a musical medley that does Sammy Davis Jr. proud. 3700 W. Flamingo Rd., (702) 777-7777, ratpackisback.com.
Even Las Vegas’s newest restaurants seem to harken back to old-time class. Consider Central Michel Richard, where you can dine with flair round the clock like the Ocean’s 11 crew did back in the day. Try the restaurant’s reconstructed Caesar salad, a roulade with goat cheese and tomatoes, or the celebration cake, complete with sparkler. At Caesar’s Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 650-5921, centrallv.com.
Another example is the Barrymore, a private retreat worthy of its namesake legendary cinematic family. Tucked away from the main fray, the restaurant’s unassuming exterior hides a gem of a dining room, with 1960s movie reels adorning the ceiling. The menu is classic, from a hearts of palm salad and a chicken club at lunch, to pan-roasted Muscovy duck breast and diver scallops at dinner. At Royal Resort, 99 Convention Center Dr., (702) 407-5303, barrymorelv.com.
Whether you were a gangster, a movie star, or simply a high roller during the flashy ’50s, you had to show you had the dough by shelling out at the best tables, both in the casinos and in the restaurants. If the boys were still alive today, they’d love the Mandarin Oriental, where well-dressed guests are invited up to the 23rd floor to the “real” lobby. The restaurants here exude glamour, whether you opt for the pan-Asian Mozen Bistro or super high flying Twist, where Executive Chef Pierre Gagnaire impresses guys and dolls alike, with modern takes on classic French cuisine. 3752 Las Vegas Blvd., (888) 881-9367, mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas.
Sinatra may have favored Jack Daniel’s on the rocks, but at Public House, beer is treated with the same reverence as the hard stuff. The 11-month-old restaurant boasts Nevada’s only certified beer cicerone (think sommelier, but for beer). At the Venetian Hotel, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 407-5310, publichouselv.com.
Another tradition that’s received a modern update: the buffet, which has been reborn for the foodie set at the Wicked Spoon. The restaurant dishes out deliciously fresh global fare, served in adorable individual portions, with table service for beverages. The Pack would approve. At Cosmopolitan Hotel, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 698-7000, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.
• If you fly into Las Vegas, you can either rent a car (almost all the casinos on the Strip offer free parking in lots behind the hotels) or take a taxi or shuttle to your hotel. AWG Ambassador has reasonable rates. (888) 519-5466, shuttlelasvegas.com.
• Transportation in Las Vegas takes time, any way you slice it. A combination of walking and cabbing/driving is probably the best approach.
• If you’re planning to walk between hotels, wear comfortable shoes and leave ample time. (Walking from the New York, New York to the Palazzo, for example, takes over an hour.) If it’s evening, try to stop in front of the Bellagio to catch one of its famous fountain shows.
• It costs about $20 each way to go downtown by cab, which you can catch from any of the hotels by approaching the bell desk out front. You may want to grab your cabbie’s card, however, to call for return trips from more remote locations.
Steak is Never Out of Style
It was true in the Rat Pack’s glory days, and warnings about cholesterol have done little to change things: Las Vegas loves its steak dinners. If you’re looking for a place that keeps it traditional, try Old Homestead Steakhouse, a classic establishment from Manhattan’s meatpacking district that has been imported to Sin City. At Old Homestead, the richness of USDA prime beef from butcher Pat LaFrieda is matched by decadent sides such as tater tots with “fat boy” sauce—sour cream mixed with cheddar, bacon, and chives. At Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (877) 346-4642, theoldhomesteadsteakhouse.com.
Newer steak houses offer welcome modern additions to the classic staple. Inside 35 Steaks + Martinis, a laid-back, off-Strip restaurant, 35-day dry-aged prime Midwestern Black Angus steaks are served alongside inspired sides such as whole-roasted artichoke, and the beef tartare is served in parmesan crisps. The venue also offers live music and, as the name suggests, a full menu of martinis. At Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 4455 Paradise Rd., (702) 693-5500, hardrockhotel.com.
Nothing feels quite as swanky as rubbing elbows with celebrities, and no chef captures more TV airtime than Gordon Ramsay, who recently opened Gordon Ramsay Steak inside Paris Las Vegas. Decked out in flashy reds and twinkling lights, the steak house features an iPad wine list, 28-day dry-aged steaks, and luxe additions such as demi-roasted bone marrow and pan-seared foie gras. Ramsay frequently pops in to oversee his newest venture, where another TV celeb, Hell’s Kitchen winner Christina Wilson, helms the food program. 3655 S. Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 946-4663, parislasvegas.com.
The best example of the steak house made modern would have to be Jean Georges Steakhouse. Here, steaks off a wood-burning grill are elevated by a menu of worldly delights from Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Try the tuna tartare with avocado and soy-ginger dressing, or the spiced chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt. At Aria Hotel, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., (877) 230-2742, arialasvegas.com.
In the movies, Judy Garland and Lauren Bacall look so fresh and young. What were these leading ladies doing right? Chances are the occasional pampering session was involved. Las Vegas’ latest spa offerings take the cosseting up a notch, ensuring you come out looking and feeling like a movie star. At the divinely smoke-free Vdara Hotel & Spa, you’ll slip into satiny sheets in a treatment room filled with candlelight for a supremely relaxing deep-tissue massage. Spa & Salon Vdara, 2600 W. Harmon Ave., (702) 590-2474, vdara.com.
Pedicures are taken to a whole new level at the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental: You lie back with your feet elevated for most of the treatment, and every detail is designed to transport and soothe your mind. 3752 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 590-8886, mandarinoriental.com.
At Qua Baths and Spa, Caesars’ bath paradise, there’s ample room for soaking and steaming. Offerings such as the Mystic Journey, a combination facial and body treatment, will leave you drifting down the river bliss. 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (866) 782-0655, www.harrahs.com/qua-caesars-palace.
For an extra-special touch, consider a couple’s or group booking at Sahra Spa & Hammam at the Cosmopolitan. This party hotel for the jet-setting crowd offers a spa designed to echo the natural desert landscape that surrounds Las Vegas. Here, you can book a private spa suite with its own hot tub, steam room, wet bar, and treatment space to enjoy with your partner or friends. 3708 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 698-7171, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.
Getting Your Beauty Sleep
Old-time luxe is in all around town at newer additions to the Strip and hotels with renovated rooms. The Mandarin Oriental, for instance, is truly a cut above. The strictly nonsmoking, nongaming property features subdued dark corridors with bursts of red Oriental decor and a full tea lounge and spa. Service here is old-school: You can place your shoes on a tray and pass them through a wall slot for a complimentary shine, or lounge poolside in a fully staffed cabana. 3752 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 590-8888, mandarinoriental.com.
It’s too bad Marilyn Monroe isn’t around anymore to appreciate the huge bathrooms at Octavius Tower, the latest addition to Caesars Palace. From half of the new tower’s rooms, you also have a bird’s-eye view of the Garden of the Gods pool area. And Central Michel Richard (the fabulous 24-hour restaurant) is right on-site. 3570 Las Vegas Blvd., (866) 782-0655, caesarspalace.com.
If members of the Rat Pack were alive today, you’d surely find them partying at the MGM Grand. Luckily, for guests in the newly remodeled Tower Spa Suite rooms (scheduled to be completed by late October), quiet prevails. You’d never guess what might be happening outside your door. 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (877) 880-0880, thegrandrenovation.com.