Las Vegas | Las Vegas, USA

Posted by on April 25, 2001
From the sublime to the ridiculous. That’s what I thought as we drove out of Zion National Park and headed south to Las Vegas.No matter how you try to describe it, Las Vegas seems to defy definition. There are not enough superlatives in any language to do it justice. It is exciting, confusing, disorienting, unreal, beautiful, ugly, fascinating and compelling. Anyone with any taste should feel visually assaulted by the garish, opulent, over-the-top-ness of this latter day Mecca. And Mecca it is, I’ll wager Las Vegas is vying with that other desert city, Mecca, for the most pilgrims.And yet it is also just another hometown. It has suburbs that are as beautiful as Scottsdale, it has strip malls as ugly as anything on the South Road, and it has friendly local western folks anxious to help strangers.

And we all fell in love with Vegas; fell in love with the excitement, the zaniness, the pitiable regulars, the jillions of neon, the hilarious Disney-like quality of it all.

We had a special “deal” at the Bellagio, the newest of the grand hotel/casino establishments on the Strip. Ask your travel agent: there are always “deals” in Vegas. These hotels have one purpose: to make it easy to spend time in the casino. So you get to stay at a truly elegant hotel, with never a wait for an elevator, despite 3000 rooms. Of course, you have to go through the Casino to get to the elevators. There are no clocks in the casinos and no windows. Focus, focus, focus.

Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about gambling. Even the free Gaming Guide wasn’t much help to me. Then again, even little old ladies can pull down that one-armed bandit. In fact, these days, all you have to do is push a button, which is not nearly as much fun.

Although the Bellagio seems to be the hotel of the moment, there are several others which are also right at the top, including, The Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, The MGM Grand, the beat goes on. Every year there is a newer bigger better extravaganza resort opening. And they will all put you on sensory overload in a hurry. The New York Times recently called them “Temples of Blessed Excess.” For example, the Bellagio has six outdoor swimming pools, the kind from which you expect nymphs and or guys in togas to arise, and the entire front of the building is an Italian town surrounding a huge lake.

But for the most part, it is all good clean fun. At least what we saw was. Las Vegas has become a family destination, not unlike the Disney locations. We must not forget, however, that serious money can be lost at these gaming tables. They don’t give you free drinks all day (if you are gambling) for nothing. And they don’t subsidize excellent buffet meals for nothing. Or pamper you with a spacious up market room, (but without a mini-bar.)

Beyond the hotel/casinos the non-stop entertainment continues.

We arrived near dusk, and drove up the Strip just as the pirate ship was sinking at Treasure Island. Luckily, we were at a stoplight. Not long afterward, we were treated to the visually stunning “Dancing Waters” outside the Bellagio. In due course, we saw the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and other French sites across the street at the Paris Hotel and Casino. Later, we walked along the canal in Venice, as full size gondolas plied its waters, (through a shopping center!) We happened to catch a wedding being performed during a gondola ride, with a gaggle of tourists, including me, following along. We missed the Pyramids further down the road, and the New York Skyline.

There are some real things available in Las Vegas, including fine art, (though some question it), real desert landscape, and the real Hoover Dam just outside of town. It is most impressive, well worth a journey. For a day out of town, go there and to the Valley of Fire State Park.

For me, the totally unexpected was the most fascinating. Strangely enough, that included the Lotus of Siam, a marvelous Thai restaurant located in a strip mall, far from THE Strip, in a part of town that would have to be described as bordering on the seedy. I had read Jonathan Gold’s article about this restaurant in Gourmet magazine last August. He described it as the best Thai restaurant in America. I could not argue much with that superlative, in fact we went back the next night, so delicious were our dinners. (It’s located at 953 East Sahara Ave., suite A5)

Way to the west, on the other side of town, we visited some friends who have just taken residence in a lovely gated community that would make any Scottsdale resident proud. It seems that Las Vegas is becoming a good wintering spot, and its prices and taxes compare favorably with those of California and other neighboring states.

We dined well that evening at a charming place called Rosemary’s Restaurant, known to our friends. The food and wine were marvelous and served with sophisticated friendliness. We could easily have been in a chic suburban New York establishment. (It’s at 8125 West Sahara Ave., #110.)

How could I leave shopping to the last? Here’s another way in which Las Vegas is over the top. Each and every hotel/casino seems to have its own shopping center. And I mean something the size of the Galleria. One after another place has theme shopping areas. I defy you to name any retail shop of any caliber that is not represented at least once in Las Vegas. There is a Moroccan souk, a left bank Paris street market, the Roman Forum, and on and on. All of them seem to have artificial blue sky with puffy white clouds, which eventually gives one pause about virtual reality replacing the world as we usually experience it.

On that philosophical note, let me tell you that I’ve heard that the slot machines in the departure lounge at the Las Vegas airport have the best odds. Wouldn’t it make you want to go back?

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