Las Vegas. Sin City. Lost Wages. The Entertainment Capital of the World. Disneyland for Adults. Fabulous Las Vegas. No matter what you call it, LV is unique. It’s in the desert. It’s dry. It’s hot. It’s expensive. You can lose everything there, or, improbably, make a fortune. It’s exciting, vibrant, bizarre, surreal, . . . And the list goes on. I love it! One thing I can say about the city’s effect on me–ever since I returned to Laos, I have found everything to be b-o-r-i-n-g. With a capital B. Boring. Everyone should visit Vegas once in their lifetimes–gambling not necessary.
I didn’t take that many photos of my trip there. Thousands and thousands of photos have been taken of all the Vegas highlights–The Strip, Downtown, the casinos and hotels, and all the other things that make LV famous, so I’m not going to bore everyone with the same old photos. Do a Google search for any others. I did take a few photos of something that surprised me–it’s a very artistic city. I stayed downtown near the Fremont Street Experience area, and I found a number of paintings and artistic graffiti adorning the walls of various buildings and strange sculptures filling empty spaces. I’ll show a few of those at the end of the post. Other photos are from the Internet, mostly with a Google Creative Commons license or from free photo stock websites. Any other photos have been attributed to me or credit given to others where credit is due.
Rather than give a daily account of what I did, I’m going to write about what impressed me and what I didn’t do that I want to do the next time I visit the city. I stayed at the El Cortez Hotel and yes, I gambled and drank a few beers at a few bars I wanted to visit out of sheer interest, which I’ll detail further on, and I walked around a lot, despite the 114 degree heat during the day while I was there. (I spent a lot of time staying cool indoors, of course.)
Not everyone who visits Vegas gambles or goes there for that purpose. I didn’t go there to gamble; I went to have fun, which I did. However, I did set a gambling budget, I’ll call it GB$. Once I hit that dollar amount, I wouldn’t gamble anymore. As it turns out, I only spent about half of the GB$. I wouldn’t call that a win, of course, but I didn’t feel too bad about the money I lost. Some days I did OK, others were kind of pffft. But I had fun losing the money. I guess that sums up the gambling experience in LV for many people–have fun losing your shirt. HA! (Luckily, I didn’t lose my shirt.)
So, with gambling out of the way, here are some other observations.
Most Interesting Bars That I Visited
Atomic Liquors–This bar is a few blocks down from the El Cortez, away from the Fremont Street Experience. What makes it fascinating is that while atomic bomb test explosions were being held above ground in the Nevada desert in the 1950s, bar patrons would sit on the rooftop to watch the bombs going off. Wow! I wonder how many people died early due to doses of radiation they might have gotten. Also, the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Dean Martin, et. al.) used to hang out here on occasion. It’s a nice place with a mostly local crowd, friendly bar tenders and a decent selection of craft beer. Cool and comfortable inside, it’s still going strong, but sans A-bombs.
The Griffin is almost right across the street from the El Cortez, and there’s a green neon-lit griffin (duh) that’s easy to spot at night above its mostly unnoticeable entrance. I went during a bright, sunny afternoon and walking inside was like entering a dark medieval castle, something right out of the Game of Thrones. It’s dimness and stone walls are part of its attraction, as is an open fire pit in the middle of the floor, used during Vegas’s sometimes chilly winter evenings. The place wasn’t very crowded, so I sat at the bar and drank a craft beer, a local hefeweiss, I believe.
Another patron of the bar, with shoulder-length hair and sporting some tattoos, came up to order some drinks and started yelling, not in a bad way, how people shouldn’t be rude. I think he was jabbering at his three friends, but he turned to me and said in a loud voice, but not in a bad way, “Right, man? People shouldn’t be rude!” I whole-heartedly agreed with Sir Rude, and he asked me my name, where I was from, etc. and then he proceeded to talk with the bar tender (“Don’t be rude. It ain’t right!”). One of his friends came over a few minutes later, and Sir Rude introduced me. I started chatting with the friend and found out these guys had driven over from Los Angeles to spend a few nights, and they were going to meet their friend, the drummer in the band Cheap Trick, who were playing on Fremont Street the night after. They said, not in a bad way, that I’d better go there to watch the band, and I said “Of course I will. I’ll see you there.” I took my leave, since my beer was finished, and escaped into the hot afternoon sunlight. They were interesting guys, and after talking with them a while, I figured they were just getting started for the evening, but not in a bad way. Unfortunately, I never made it to the concert, where I would have been just another face among thousands watching, so I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen my new friends. Too bad.
Anyway, the Griffin’s OK. It’s unusual, interesting, and exciting, depending on the patrons. Stop in when you’re in Vegas. You never know who you’ll meet.
Don’t Tell Mama is a cozy, friendly, and relaxing piano bar located in Neonopolis, very close to the Fremont Street Experience. I stopped in a little later at night, since it doesn’t open until 8 p.m. There weren’t a whole lot of people there, and the piano player was crooning some show tunes and other light favorites. It’s a nice place to take a breather, but I was told it gets quite crowded later in the evening. I’m not much of a night owl anymore, so I missed out on all the late night action around town, which is probably a good thing. ( aside: I was always up at 5:30 a.m., my usual wake up time, though I was occasionally up past my normal 10 p.m. bed time , when most of the parties are just getting started in LV, I suppose. My bad.)
Also worth mentioning were a couple of hotel/casino bars in Main Street Station, the Triple Seven Restaurant and Brewery, and the Boar’s Head Bar. Triple 7 brews their own craft beer on premises, and large plate glass windows give patrons a view of the big vats the beer is brewed in. I spent Saturday afternoon here watching the Yankees-Dodgers game, surrounded by Dodger fans from LA. Unfortunately, the Yanks lost this game, so I took a lot of good-natured ribbing from the Dodger section. (I was wearing my Yankee cap.) There’s an awesome restaurant here, too, so you can chow down on snacks or meals. I hear the burgers are delicious.
The Boar’s Head, playing video poker at the bar, watching the NY-LA game, again having to put up with Dodger fans, except the Yanks won this time, so it was my turn to return the jeers. (Not in a bad way, of course.) Sitting next to me was a high school teacher from LA, a pleasant fellow, and we had a good chat about teaching in general. The Boar’s Head bar is covered with video poker machines, but you don’t have to play them. If you do, you’ll get your beer or mixed drinks for free. Also, if you play the machines and get either four-of-a-kind or a straight flush, the casino will give you a scratch ticket that could be worth up to $5,000, if I’m not mistaken. I hit a straight flush (worth $100, which I eventually cashed in for) and got a ticket. Scratched it off with some excitement and found out that I had won . . . wait for it . . . $2. Woo-hoo! Anyway, these two bars are worth a visit, inside Main Street Station hotel and casino, as is the Garden Court Buffet.
Garden Court Buffet
This was the only buffet I ate at, a couple of times for breakfast, and once for the champagne brunch on Sunday. It’s a great place to get your fill; there’s a large selection of breakfast items, and brunch features carved turkey, roast beef, fried chicken, and other goodies, along with breakfast fare. The food’s great, there’s plenty of it and the price is right. I think I paid, if I recall, around $12, though I think the champagne (actually, sparkling wine) was a few bucks more. Great place to eat. I usually filled up here, and didn’t have to eat a full meal the rest of the day.
Oh, also at Main Street Station, in one of the men’s restrooms, you can relieve yourself in urinals that are attached to a section of the old Berlin Wall. (Main Street Station is an awesome hotel/casino–might stay there next time I go to LV.)
First, the junk food I didn’t care for was White Castle burgers (sliders). I’d heard about White Castle for a long time and many people give it rave reviews, but I’d never tried it. So, I was looking forward to getting a takeout at this iconic restaurant. Unfortunately, White Castle on Fremont Street just didn’t do it for me. I found the sliders pretty tasteless and they looked very unappetizing as the raw meat waited to be cooked. (A sickly-looking pink color.) Maybe other locations are better, but this one didn’t make it for me.
On the other hand, I found a perfect late-night, up-all-night-drinking (though I didn’t do that) junk lover’s gourmet delight. It’s American Coney Island Hot Dogs located inside the D Hotel (and casino, of course) overlooking Fremont Street. I popped in there the next afternoon on my quest for a perfect junk food snack after my disappointing stop at White Castle the evening before. There’s a pretty basic menu, and I tried a dog with chili, onions and mustard. That’s it. It was, in my opinion, perfect. If you like hot dogs, this is the place to go. Give it a try.
The only other restaurant at which I ate with some frequency was Siegel’s 1941 inside the El Cortez. They’ve got a great prime rib special ($12.99) which isn’t on the menu, so you have to ask for it. It’s quite good, with a choice of potato and a veggie. The spaghetti’s not bad, either. A nice, cozy, somewhat upscale restaurant.
Also located in ElCo was Naked City Pizza, (they’ve shut down in ElCo because of family time concerns), a Vegas institution (four locations around the city, I believe). Very good pizza, great for a late night snack. I ordered a couple of small ones, pepperoni, during my stay and I ended up with leftovers for a pre-buffet snack. (Did I mention that I probably ate too much in Vegas?) I’m not much of a cold pizza lover, and, since there are no microwaves in most hotels in Vegas, I set the room hair dryer on high and waved it over the pizza for a few minutes. That did the trick, pretty well. Give it a try next time you have leftovers in your hotel room.
Best Free Entertainment
Just walk down the Fremont Street Experience during the later hours of the evening. Street artists, performance artists, acrobats, buskers, free stage shows, women (and men) wearing outfits that leave little to the imagination, fat middle-aged men wearing speedos, women in dominatrix outfits, costumed performers (Spiderman, Batman, et. al.) and on and on. Bizarre, surreal, weird, risque, entertaining and definitely not an area for young children. You’ve been warned! There is a large police presence there, so it’s quite safe (beware of pick pockets, though) and there is no overt sexuality (you know, like nakedness). It’s all in good fun. Also, there is the famous Viva Vision Light Show on the overhead canopy that runs down Fremont Street for about five blocks. It takes place every hour, on the hour, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., so you have to time it correctly, as it’s only 6 minutes long.
Places I Didn’t Visit
The Mob Museum, the Neon Museum, the Arts District, the Slotzilla Zip Line that runs high above Fremont St. and others. I’ve got to save something for next time, right? I also didn’t get out to the Strip, but next time I’ll probably go there just to see the Bellagio Fountains and take a ride on the High Roller Wheel. I spent a lot of time wandering through various casinos without gambling, just taking in the decor, but there are many more I didn’t visit.
There is a lot more that I could write about my trip to LV, but I feel this post has gotten too long as it is. I hope you’ve read this far. It probably comes through that, yeah, I really love Las Vegas and plan to go back again sometime. Viva Las Vegas!
The trip back was uneventful. Vegas to LA to Taiwan to Bangkok to Udon Thani to Nongkhai, where I spent a few days with Nai visiting our friend Toom, who has a restaurant/bar there.
One thing about being back in the ‘States: It was good to be back in a country where things function, for the most part, as they’re supposed to function, unlike here in Laos.
P.S. In case you’re wondering what my gambling bankroll was, the GB$, well . . . What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!
Here are a few miscellaneous photos and photos of things that I found to be artsy, odd, or both, all taken by me.