LAS VEGAS HAS the reputation of a nonstop, endorphin-mad whirlwind of a city, a status it has worked to earn around the clock for decades. But if you haven’t visited recently, you may be surprised to find that with gaming in decline, Vegas also has embraced a softer side, a sense of culture, elegance, and a less rushed experience that opens up the city’s romantic flavor.
Ease into the mood with a cocktail at one of the city’s more refined lounges, such as Bound by Salvatore at one of the Strip’s smaller properties, The Cromwell. This leather-, brass- and marble-lined warren features not only some of the rare spirits collected by legendary London bartender Salvatore “the Maestro” Calabrese, but also classic and creative cocktails served with exceptional style, such as the Cromwell fizz (Macallan 10 whisky, egg white, honey, Champagne) and the wow-factor Humidorita (sort of a tamarind-infused margarita served in a glass smoked in front of you). You can enjoy bar bites from Giada restaurant upstairs without having to wrangle a reservation.
Stimulate the senses by skipping down the Strip to the architecturally intriguing Crystals at CityCenter shopping mall and immersing yourselves in “Akhob,” the James Turrell art installation that plays with perception by way of a huge enveloping bath of color. Even its existence seems like a trick: it is located, unmarked, in a huge space above the Louis Vuitton boutique. The exhibit is free but viewable only by reservation (call 702.730.3150). After, you’ll want to either explore the other art installations around Crystals and CityCenter or sit down for another cocktail and conversation; if the latter, Maestro’s Ocean Club or the Alibi Ultra Lounge in Aria are two of the closest good choices.
You’ll likely want to see a show, and options now are as varied as ever, with no shortage of marquee value. Certainly, the first choice would be Celine Dion, who’s back at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, after a yearlong break with a revived show that’s been getting deserved praise. But if Cirque du Soleil is more your mood, O at Bellagio remains the standard-bearer, with the Cirque-style Le Rêve at Wynn an enticing alternative. Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers or Jersey Boys are smart picks for Broadway lovers. If you’re feeling friskier, the mix of vaudeville, burlesque, and bawdy humor that is Absinthe is the ticket. And Michael Monge, who appears in the Eastside Lounge at Encore, is that classic Vegas lounge singer you’ll love to stretch out and succumb to.
Want to take in the view? There are plenty of ways, but the newest noteworthy escape is the adjoining lounge Skyfall and restaurant Rivea (run by Alain Ducasse) atop the Delano Hotel at Mandalay Bay. A refreshed version of its predecessor mIX, Rivea/Skyfall puts even greater emphasis on its outdoor patios at 64 floors above the Strip, while offering a menu of modern French-Italian plates and chic cocktails.
Many new restaurants emphasize romance now — the dramatic Carbone and flashy Lago come to mind — but for a special adventure, take a detour to downtown where the festive Fremont Street Experience casinos meet the hip new bars of East Fremont and the Arts District. Amid the Fremont fever, Andiamo Italian Steakhouse at The D Hotel & Casino is a true enclave, a throwback graced with contemporary quality, where white-jacketed waiters offer premium Pat LaFrieda beef and handmade pasta in semi-enclosed circular booths that encourage cozying. Tableside service makes the meal feel all the more personal.
Getting outdoors has also become much more of a “thing” recently in Vegas, whether it’s by hiking, renting scooters or cycles, or even camping. Possibilities in town or less than an hour from the Strip include Red Rock Canyon (great climbing), Hemenway Park (bighorn sheep), Mount Charleston (snowboarding and toboggans in season, rustic pines year-round) and Valley of Fire (incredible rock formations).
After all the fun, you’ll be ready for rest, and even if it’s where you spend the least time, your hotel choice should come first. Bellagio, Wynn/Encore, and Venetian/ Palazzo remain the gold standard of elegance. Still, the more modern Sky Suites at Aria have been getting a lot of attention lately, as has the Laurel Collection at Caesars. For the boutique route, consider the urbane Cromwell or newly rechristened Delano.
With all these new prospects, a vacation in Sin City might rekindle both your romance and your spirit, too.