Taking a bet on Las Vegas’ liquid essence
I was about halfway through an Eiffel Tower’s worth of piña colada when the nausea began to take hold.
My sister, who had been helping me finish the massive frozen beverage, had given up long ago and was pleading for me to do the same. But I had a responsibility. I had to do this. For work.
When we developed the concept for this column many, many months ago, I never knew it would lead me to willingly get involved in situations like attempting to finish a foot and a half of slush, fighting through a combination of nausea and shame. But you can’t just call in sick for work every time you’re feeling ill.
It wasn’t quite Hunter S Thompson’s noble quest for the American Dream, but I was on a hunt for the liquid essence of Las Vegas, and sadly, a hollowed-out, piña colada-filled, half-yard plastic replica of the Eiffel Tower was it – the guilty pleasure of America’s guilty pleasure town.
Sin City attacks visitors with the promise of riches, sex and vice immediately after stepping off the plane. And it’s all available without ever leaving the Strip, the nickname given to Las Vegas Boulevard, where four miles of glowing mega hotels host endless gambling, boozing, gluttony and all other manner of sins.
Along the Strip, men pass out fliers offering up a woman, or three, faster than a pizza delivery: direct to your room in 20 minutes or less. Stands sell beaded necklaces of different lengths, some with plastic shot glasses attached. Everywhere, rows of drink machines perpetually spin a rainbow of frozen cocktails with names like Call Girlz and Vegas Crush, served in an array of absurdly sized and shaped containers that entice the hordes of sweaty tourists. And why not grab a yard of frozen daiquiri, or “Coco Loco”, considering it will cost about the same as an 8oz cup at any of the outrageously priced hotel pools?
We were staying at the Paris Hotel, a shining example of Vegas’ opulent kitsch. The interior of the hotel is decked out in faux cobblestone, artificial house facades and storefronts and a ceiling that is painted like the midday sky. Outside, a scaled-down Arc De Triomphe stands next to a 541ft replica of the Eiffel Tower overlooking the Strip. As a Parisian acquaintance put it, “Fake Paris is spooky for me… as if you were walking around with a robot that looks like your friend but is not a friend,” which I think is a fair analogy for Vegas as a whole.
Adhering to a strict diet of booze can be very helpful when trying to ignore the feeling of gloom that seems to hang over Las Vegas if you stay too long, but drinking a small fish tank’s worth of liquid does a lot more damage than good. Like Vegas’ infamous all-you-can-eat buffets, the drink’s $19 price tag may seem like good value at the time. But with enough sugar to make candy seem like a vegetable, the yard of icy goodness will get your stomach turning before you actually get a buzz going.
Unlike most of Vegas’ tropical drinks — which come premixed from a machine and are so popular that the pool bar at the Paris keeps rum flowing from the soda gun — the hotel’s supersized piña colada was made fresh, which is to say the bartender threw ice into a blender with roughly a quart of pina colada mix and five or six generous squeezes from a half gallon of rum. This is about as fresh as you can expect to get in Vegas. Real juice? Forget about it. Nothing in Vegas is real.
After pouring an entire blender of white slush into my Eiffel Tower, the bartender warned me to hold it towards the bottom or the cap would pop off. This presented a problem, as the base was large and awkwardly shaped, and the drink weighed enough that lifting it towards my lips felt like a workout, especially considering the scarcity of time I spent away from the pool.
But the obstacles didn’t end there.
Even in early June, the temperature in Vegas can be unbearable for a sane person, which works to the advantage of the perfectly temperate, artificially cooled casinos that would prefer its guests never leave. Still, at some point everyone wants to get away from the bells and whistles of the slot machines (probably to go to another casino, as everything in Vegas – restaurants, entertainment, shopping malls – seems to be inside a casino), which leaves them searching for an exit. But when they do manage to break out of the labyrinth, the traffic along the Strip makes it virtually impossible to cross the street. So there you’ll likely find yourself, stuck sweating at yet another crosswalk.
You might think a pitcher’s worth of icy refreshment would seem like the perfect antidote to the crippling heat, but my feelings of rejuvenation only lasted for something like five minutes before the drink began to melt. At this point, I was faced with a choice: begin gulping fast enough to beat the melt and suffer brain freeze, or let the drink turn into a room-temperature alcoholic soup.
It’s absurd, of course, to try to consume such a beverage and come out ahead, but seeing so many other people take the challenge made me think I had a chance. After wincing my way through the drink for the better part of two hours, I arrived at dinner, carrying my still unfinished beverage. And in a town of spectacles (that’s precisely what I felt like), I finally listened to the pleas of my family to put the drink down and cover my losses. I didn’t feel great, but it could’ve been worse, because as any gambler knows – if you gamble for long enough the house always wins.