At the request of Margaret, our 94-year-old grandma, this past Mother’s Day three generations headed to Sin City, aka Vegas, baby, entertainment capital of the world. We were looking forward to seeing what the “new” Vegas offered; the last time Grandma was here Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were playing the Strip. Once we hit the Strip we immediately slipped our way around the roulette tables, in between rows of slot machines and past the discerning eye of the pit boss. Our first mission: to leave the clanging of quarters and cheers of victory and defeat behind and duck into Bellagio’s Yves Saint Laurent, so I could do a little window-shopping and Margaret could take advantage of any spring sales. After scouring the racks like barracudas in a sea of sardines and oohing and aahing over the collection of Muses and Downtowns (fashion-speak for really nice purses), we popped next door to Chanel to ogle the fine jewelry collection; the Vegas location is one of the few boutiques in the world to carry it. I sipped a gratis bottled water and tried on an aquamarine flower ring with a pavé sapphire leaf detail—one of the many items that seem so reasonable to purchase with what feels like Monopoly money in this fairy-tale land. But alas, I returned the sparkling ring to one of the kind security guards, and we headed back outside to the unrelenting desert heat.
Although casino owners hope you find respite from the weather in their perfectly air-conditioned refuges, Las Vegas isn’t just for gamblers. The Strip boasts four AAA five-diamond-rated restaurants this year, and throngs of tourists descend on the Forum Shops at Caesars each day, where the 636,000-square-foot collection of designer stores is said to be the most profitable mall in the country. And the new Shoppes at the Palazzo, with an 85,000-square-foot flagship Barneys New York, sit on what’s been dubbed the power corner: right across from the retail offerings of the Trump International and the Wynn Las Vegas.
What’s more, the city’s hotels are drawing visitors to on-site museums that hold some of the world’s most sought-after pieces of art, including works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley in the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art’s American Modernism exhibit. And don’t forget the shows—Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE production spent a whopping $130 million to retrofit the old Siegfried and Roy venue at the Mirage. The new theater features three speakers in each guest seat, one of the most complex theatrical audio systems in the world.
The magic of the “new” Vegas doesn’t start when you hit the Strip; it happens the moment you step off the plane—or onto the tarmac, if you’ve scored one of the private jets that account for nearly 10 percent of all traffic at McCarran International Airport. Regardless of how you arrive the Skylofts at MGM Grand
will even send a Maybach 62 to fetch you when you land. If a limo will do, most hotels have them on hand; ask the concierge before you arrive. Or shell out $6 and hop on one of the many shuttles just outside baggage claim that drop off passengers at Strip, off-Strip and downtown hotels.
Luxury cars aren’t the only hotel extras you can expect. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority predicts 39.8 million people will visit this year; to lure their share of guests, properties are reinventing themselves with unexpected luxuries and perks. The Four Seasons, on the top floors of the main hotel tower at Mandalay Bay, is one of the area’s nongaming hotels; guests here get private check-in as well as cucumbers for the eyes and spritzes of Evian at the pool, and the on-site Charlie Palmer Steakhouse sits far from the noise of drunken bachelor parties spilling onto the casino floor. Also in the Mandalay Bay, The Hotel, a stylish modern property, has one-bedroom suites as the standard guest room, and both bathroom and elevators have plasma TVs. Off the Strip, the new Platinum Hotel and Spa features 255 residential-style suites, the smallest being 900 square feet, with full kitchens and private terraces.
If you don’t mind a few baccarat tables, options include the Mansion, a luxury property modeled after a 200-year-old Italian building, where most of the 29 villas boast a baby grand piano, Jacuzzi and pool. A private gated motor court handles guest arrivals and a secure foyer connects the hotel to the MGM Grand. The property is home to the Joël Robuchon restaurant, where a 16-course tasting menu served under Swarovski crystal teardrop chandeliers will set you back $385 per person, not counting wine, tax or tip. For high-roller life at a fraction of the Mansion’s price tag, try one of the Palms fantasy suites, like the Hardwood, a 10,000-square foot two-story offering with its own indoor basketball court, professional locker rooms and a scoreboard. Or the Wynn, a 215-acre, $2.7 billion property (one of the most expensive casino-hotels ever built) tucked behind a 140-foot-tall man-made mountain with its own golf course and Ferrari-Maserati
dealership. Off the Strip, the Red Rock Resort and Casino has a 25,000-square-foot “adventure spa” complete with indoor climbing gym and daily guided rock-climbing, kayak and horseback trips plus after a day in the desert, the in-room martini bar never looked so good.
On top of such over-the-top options, each big resort on the Strip has at least one celebrity-chef restaurant under its roof. Marin local Michael Mina owns Stripsteak, Michael Mina at Bellagio, and Seablue and Nobhill at MGM Grand. Yountville chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon is at the Venetian. Chef Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys has opened another namesake restaurant in the Mandalay Bay. Bradley Ogden, of the Lark Creek Inn, has an eponymous restaurant at Caesars, and Charlie Palmer, whose Dry Creek Kitchen is a Healdsburg favorite, owns Aureole at the Mandalay Bay.
For our dinner out we took Grandma, who has a penchant for caviar, to dinner at Red Square. The Russian-inspired restaurant in the Mandalay Bay has a frozen bar top (to keep the martinis extra chilled) and a private below-freezing vodka vault where guests wrap up in Russian army coats or full-length furs. As Grandma doesn’t much care for the cold, we sipped our martinis in the comfort of a plush red velvet banquette and feasted on lobster bisque and chicken Kiev.
Just as the restaurant started filling up we were off to the 10:30 p.m. show of Cirque du Soleil’s aquatic-themed O, featuring world-class synchronized swimmers and divers galore. Had our vacation been longer we could have seen Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian, in a $40 million theater modeled on the Paris Opera House, or caught Bette Midler at Caesars Palace, where she’s the new headliner in the wake of Celine Dion. On non-Midler nights that role will be filled by Elton John’s show.
After O we made our way to the casino floor, where Grandma had earlier been enjoying a lucky run at the slots, and watched revelers with yardstick beers mingle with decked-out “whales” (high rollers) at the craps tables. Before Grandma could win any more money all the vodka, the lights and the noise began taking their toll, and it was time to head to the room, for a much-needed rest in our goose-down beds.
This city that never sleeps may not need a break, but we did.
Images: top left: The Wynn Las Vegas hotel opened in 2005. top right: The Four Seasons Hotel is a nongaming Las Vegas option for travelers. bottom left: Charlie Palmer’s Aureole restaurant features “wine angels” who fly through the wine tower to retrieve bottles of wine on demand. bottom right: Contortionists display their flexibility in the very popular Cirque du Soleil O show at the Bellagio Hotel.