Vegas glitz without the gambling
CityCenter is a new residential, hotel and shopping complex on the Strip. (Peter Ptschelinzew/LPI)
In Las Vegas, it is easy to enjoy the high-roller lifestyle without stepping up to the blackjack or baccarat tables. Delayed gratification is simply not in the vocabulary of the people running the show here— hoteliers, restaurateurs, chefs, everyone, in fact, is dedicated to making sure that parting you from your wallet is as simple as doubling down on aces and as fun as hitting your colour on the roulette wheel. These days, poker sharks and slot machine addicts are not the only ones getting their thrills in Vegas.
It has been more than a decade since Las Vegas went from the land of all-you-can-eat buffets to a gourmand's dream. And the roster of celebrity chefs opening in Vegas continues to grow. This year, the massive new CityCenter development of hotels, condo towers and stores drew the top toques. French master Pierre Gagnaire, winner of three Michelin stars, finally arrived in the US with Twist in the new Mandarin Oriental, his only American location, and at Aria Resort & Casino, Jean-Georges Vongerichten brought forth a Jean Georges Steakhouse and Masa Takayama arrived from New York with BarMasa. Aria is also home to Sage from Chicago's Sean McClain.
When the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opens on 15 December, the culinary scene will heat up again with some of New York and Washington, DC's best restaurants entering the scene. A Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill will touch down, Scott Conant will open his fourth Scarpetta, and Jose Andres has two offerings: a new version of DC tapas restaurant Jaleo, and China Poblano, a new concept that fuses Mexican and Chinese cuisines. Andres spent last summer at the Mexican ambassador's residence in Beijing researching the new menu.
Bigger is better is often the motto in Las Vegas and the spas are no different. The 80,000-sq. foot spa at Aria has 62 treatment rooms and three spa suites, along with the first heated Ganbanyoku-style stone beds in the US, used for detoxifying and increasing circulation. The two-level Spa at the Mandarin Oriental has a separate Chinese Foot Spa where guests get a 45-minute foot bath and massage with tea. The spa also has a co-ed hammam that accommodates up to 12.
Vdara Health & Beauty at the Vdara Hotel & Spa has the advantage of an in-spa Champagne Bar, plus six poolside cabanas only for spa goers. And at the Hard Rock Hotel, the new Reliquary has a large indoor bathhouse. Hotel guests who do not book a treatment pay $30 a day for access, while non-guests can only enter if they book treatments. For those who do get a massage, the spa charges a $20 upgrade for scented oil.
Be sure to check before you go. Some spas are only open to non-guests Monday through Thursday, like at Vdara, or have higher prices on the weekend like the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental.
Las Vegas has been hit hard by the bursting of the housing bubble and real estate development has eased off. After the super nova years of tower after tower going up, major resort developments like the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, the Charlie Palmer and the Echelon (where the Stardust once was) have stalled. That may be why some hoteliers are turning to boutique and low-rise hotels. Rumor, a new two-story hotel with 150 suites, opened in August with a relatively chilled out scene (for Vegas) and a large green lawn around the pool in the courtyard.
Sister property Artisan recently re-opened after a six-month renovation as a non-gaming boutique hotel with 62 rooms. The décor is glaringly over the top, but the pool has oversized daybeds and bordello-red cabanas. Both hotels have a midweek starting rate of $79 a night.
Just a cure
If all the pool parties in the world are not enough to quell the effects of the desert heat, slip into one of Las Vegas' new ice bars at either Mandalay Bay or Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. As counterintuitive as air conditioning on a Dubai beach, the bars are both called Minus5 and they mean it, Celsius-wise. Everything is made from ice, down to the cocktail glasses and the statue of Elvis, so guests are provided with parkas, mittens and boots. Signature drinks are the vodka-based Iceman and Snowflake.