Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas in Las Vegas

I'm a Jewish dude, but Christmas in Vegas is a catchier headline than Holidays in Vegas. I also don't want to be accused of waging a war on Christmas by Bill O'Reilly (because that wily bastard is on to us... the truth is that the Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, Secular Humanists, and Jehova's Witnesses have all indeed come together to wage an all out secret war on Christmas. We meet in dark basement in bad parts of town in the twilight hours, and it turns out those Fox News Anchors most people find so silly are the only journalists crusading for the truth).

Also, the title will get picked up easier by Google and help in my quest to collect more followers whose loyal readership I can eventually convert into extremely lucrative monetary gain.

Las Vegas does not come to mind when one thinks of holiday destinations. When conjuring images of a nice holiday, one usually imagines huddling by a fire as snow piles outside in a idyllic Vermont cabin while the family opens presents under a glowing tree as Bing Crosby gently sings on the radio. I've never had this experience (I have lived in California my entire life and, as I previously stated, am very much Jew) but somehow this is the image that comes to mind when I imagine the holidays. 

Images not usually associated with dreams of Christmas morn' include blindingly bright desert sun reflected off a crazy jungle of glass edifices mimicking famous international landmarks packed together along one long street, where people sit in casinos gambling away their savings, day drinking and contemplating hitting bottom with one of the hookers trolling the gaming floors.

So, yes, Las Vegas doesn't exactly scream "Christmas spirit" in a stereotypical way, but it's actually a fun place to spend the holidays if you're not married to the Normal Rockwell version... and here's why:

-The Food: Even if you think your mother (bless her heart) is your favorite cook, be honest: she's got nothing on the kitchen skills of Thomas Keller, Hubert Keller, Julian Serrano, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire, Mario Batali, Charlie Palmer, Tom Colicchio, or the countless other master chefs who own signature restaurants in Las Vegas. Enjoy an epic meal at one of the many foodie-centric fine dining restaurants on The Strip that will be so amazing your family will be too busy stuffing their faces to fight about your deadbeat brother's future or why your closeted uncle isn't married yet.

-The Whole City Lights Up Like a Christmas Tree (Even More than Usual): New York's famous Rockefeller Center Tree has got nothing on the Las Vegas skyline, which is lit up like a Christmas Tree 365 days a year. But particularly for Christmas, Vegas does it up. Check out the decked out for the season Botanical Gardens and The Fountain Show set to Christmas tunes at The Bellagio, the Christmas themeing on The Fremont Street Experience, the Scuba Diving Santa at The Silverton Casino Aquarium, the eco-friendly Winter Lights Festival (a beautiful display of green friendly LED lights powered by solar energy) at Springs Preserve, the ice rink at The Grand Canals in The Venetian, the 20 foot tall snow covered trees at The Palazzo, the massive LED lit tree at Caesars, and Christmas music piped in everywhere you turn. Maybe that last part is not appealing to you, but that's pretty much par for the course starting after Thanksgiving in any public space. Don't be a Grinch. Get in the spirit. (Bonus note... I got a Groupon offer for Horse-Drawn Chrismas Caroling in Vegas. Does this mean you participate in the Caroling or do you watch people do it? And do they take the horse drawn carriage onto The Strip? Because that just seems so awesomely stupid that I almost made it its own bullet point.)

-Everything's Open: Almost every business, except for bars, movie theaters and Chinese restaurants (which are all you really need in the end, I know) close on Christmas day in most cities, even major metropoli (proper plural form of metropolis? Probably not, but I like it) like Los Angeles. But not in Vegas... the casinos never close their doors for anything short of a controlled demolition, and Christmas day is no exception. Sure everyone enjoys spending the morning opening presents with their family, but aren't you ready to go out and do something by noon? We non-XMas celebrating heathens tend to get bored when there is nothing to do in the outside world, and Vegas negates that problem by keeping their 24 hour party rocking 365 days a year, even on Jesus's birthday.

 -Hotels are Cheap: The smoking wreckage known as the American economy has hit Vegas particularly hard, but that's something you can take advantage of financially (just like the greedy Wall Streeters who caused the initial recession, you know what I mean, man? #Occupy!) by booking a hotel room at a low rate for the Christmas weekend. Take your pick of some of the nicest hotels on The Strip for low nightly rates... and call the hotels directly to see if you can haggle them down to get a good deal on what will be an otherwise un-occopied (#Occupy!) room for less (yes, that advice comes directly from the stereotypical Jewish side of me).

-It'll Make for a Good Story: Why live your life by cliches when you can have a unique experience? Las Vegas is not the typical place to spend Christmas, but you're an individual damnit! Don't be another preditable statistic who becomes part of the faceless zombie masses... go have a Christmas adventure filled with sexy girls in skimpy Santa outfits, gambling, binge-drinking, sad eyed hookers working on a holiday, over-priced buffets, and more in the City of Sin.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vegas Movies: Casino

Martin Scorsese's Casino is, without a doubt, the gold standard for Las Vegas movies.

Scorsese reassembled much of his Goodfellas team, including writer Nicholas Pileggi and actors Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, to tell a sprawling tale of the days when the mob ran Las Vegas.

I can review Casino from a film fanatic's perspective, talking about Scorsese's bravura camera-work, the excellent performances, the brilliant use of multiple narrators, the electrifying and high paced storytelling, the eclectic soundtrack, the shocking use of violence, or so many more things. But this, again, is a Vegas-related blog and I'm going to look at the film as a piece of work about the city. And as a Vegas movie, Casino completely nails it in every way imaginable.

Casino, like many Scorsese movies set in New York, turns the city its set in into a main character. That said, the movie takes place in a Las Vegas that doesn't exist anymore, a wild-west city run by the mafia. Today, Sin City is owned by massive corporations and all of the "bad behavior" one indulges in on a weekend getaway there is much safe, controlled and planned.

But Scorsese's Las Vegas is truly a dangerous place, a city run by gangsters who commit murder in order to protect their money. Scorsese dazzlingly shows us how the mob skimmed money off of the top of the casino's profits while violently ensuring that the customers weren't cheating them out of money on the gaming floor. Scorsese's endlessly moving, gliding, dipping, and dodging camera explores every corner of the bustling casino, fluidly moving from the gamblers on the floor to the backrooms where the money is counted, to the security rooms where experts keep their eyes on potential cheaters to the board room where the casino bosses operate in extraordinary sequences that capture the humming energy of Las Vegas better than any movie I can think of.

Casino also does a bangup job of showing life behind the scenes in Sin City, as DeNiro's Sam "Ace" Rothstein falls in love with a troubled yet beautiful hustler played by Sharon Stone, who proceeds to make his life miserable with her fast-living use of drugs and hard-alcohol. The film also depicts Vegas as a weird place for second-rate entertainers who never made it and has-been icons who are well past their prime, as DeNiro's Rothstein ends up hosting a hilariously cheesy talk show.

But the most fascinating part of the film is the way it depicts how Vegas evolved from a truly corrupt, dangerous, and seedy gangster's paradise into a slick corporate city, a Disneyland for adults (where you may believe you're engaging in truly unruly behavior but you're just as much on a safe and planned out track as guests riding Pirates of the Caribbean). Maybe it's a better place to take the kids for a weekend (whereas Scorsese's Las Vegas was no place to imagine taking your family), but some unique character has been a lost as the city has evolved from a scuzzy gambling town in the middle of the desert to a slick city made up of corporate palaces built to resemble landmarks from all over the world. Marty Scorsese is too smart a filmmaker to glorify the mob; he's seen too many lives ruined by organized crime to actually romanticize it without showing the awful side of a life of crime. But there is a bit of sadness in the final sequence as DeNiro narrates what's become of Sin City today in a brilliantly edited montage that was put together in 1995 but feels more relevant today than ever.

Scorsese is one of the most celebrated New York directors of all time, and he uses all of his formidable skills in depicting the beating heart of a city to tell the epic Las Vegas tale to end them all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Viva Elvis is Dead! Long Live The King!

Cirque Du Soleil's Viva Elvis, which has been hobbling along at The Aria since the futuristic resort opened, will close next year. It's a very rare misstep for the The Cirque Industrial Complex, which basically has a monopoly on the Vegas entertainment landscape.

Though The King has long been associated with Las Vegas after spending the twilight of his career performing at The Hilton, and despite the fact that the town has no shortage of Elvis impersonators, the Americana-centric imagery associated with Elvis was always a strange fit with the artsy French circus. While the beautiful melodies and psychedelic tunes of The Beatles meshed perfectly with Cirque's visuals in LOVE, trying to repeat the hugely successful formula with Elvis was one of the only missteps that Cirque has ever made in Vegas (at least financially... say what you will about Criss Angel Believe, but that show has been running for more than three years).

Cirque will have to come up with a new show to replace Viva Elvis at Aria, and I've taken the liberty of compiling a list of totally unrealistic possible replacements for their first Vegas flop:

Morissey's There is a Light That Never Goes Out Over Las Vegas by Cirque Du Soleil: The British indie rock icon is a much more natural fit for Cirque than Elvis, with his affinity for the dramatic and the morbid. Imagine a chorus of acrobats in skeleton costumes choreographed to the sounds of "Cemetery Gates" or the synchronized British school scene that could accompany "The Headmaster Ritual." Sure, you might argue that a cult pop star who never had a number one hit in the United States probably doesn't have a better shot at supporting a Cirque show than one of the most well known American icons of all time, but Morrissey is one of my favorite humans so I choose to ignore that arugement.

Animal Collective's Did You See the Words by Cirque Soleil: Cirque could take their journey into psychedelia even further if they based a show around the art rock collective's strange, beautiful, and just this side of accessible tunes. Sure, your grandmother (or mother or father or even your non-hipster siblings) have never heard of Animal Collective, but just tell them that there's a Panda Bear in the band.

Queen's Princes of the Universe by Cirque du Soleil: Sure, there's already a jukebox musical about Queen's music magically freeing a soul-deadened populace in a dystopian future, but Cirque could create a show based around the music the band did for the Highlander soundtrack. Cirque has already had success with an epic sword and sorcery tale in Ka, so this could be a natural for them. In fact, the idea is so awesome that I'm regretting posting it to the internet instead of pitching it directly to Cirque and collecting millions of dollars.

Kanye West's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Presented by Cirque du Soleil- The genre shifting hip hop superstar already puts on epically over the top concerts and mounts visually spectacular videos, so framing his ambitious music with Cirque visuals would be a natural fit. Plus there's no town better suited to containing Kanye's massive ego than Las Vegas. 

Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell by Cirque du Soleil: You all know this is a good idea. I don't even need to explain why.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegas Movies: Lucky You

Lucky You could have been one of the great Las Vegas movies, but for reasons that remain unclear, it's craps out.

Director Curtis Hanson is one of those rare filmmakers who really makes the city his films are set in a main character. In his best work, like 8 Mile, Wonder Boys, and the neo-noir masterpiece LA Confidential, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and 1950s Los Angeles come to vivid life. A Curtis Hanson film set in Las Vegas had endless potential, but Lucky You, the story of an irresponsible gambler who makes his living at the poker table dealing with daddy issues, fizzled both critically and commercially.

Since this is a Vegas-themed blog (and not a source for incisive film criticism), I won't bore you with a long review. The movie was a box office disaster, mostly because the studio released it with little to no fanfare. They must have known they had a stinker on their hands, as the chemistry between Eric Bana (who is for some reason always cast as a humorless brooder even though he was a comedian in Australia and he practically explodes off the screen with manic and angry charisma in Chopper, the movie that  brought him to Hollywood's attention) and naive cocktail waitress Drew Barrymore is non-existent, the story has been told 10,000 times before, and screen legend Robert Duval (playing Bana's gruff poker-legend father) seems to be completely checked out. More than anything, the movie just feels completely lifeless, as Hanson fails to capture the crazy kinetic flashy energy of modern day Sin City.

That failure, to me, is the greatest disappointment of the film. It would be hard for me to get excited about a poker movie under most circumstances, but Curtis Hanson telling the story of an up and down on his luck Vegas-based poker player sounded rich with potential. While Hanson is semi-successful at depicting life away from The Strip for Bana, who lives in a small unfurnished home he rarely visits, he does very little to make Las Vegas come alive in ways comparable to how he treated other great cities he's depicted in his films. Hanson clearly wanted to capture Vegas in an lived-in and accurate manner, shooting on location for every scene (save for the scenes in The Bellagio Poker Room, which are shot in a meticulously detailed recreation on a sound-stage designed to reflect what it look like before its mid-Aughts redesign, because for some reason the movie is a period piece that takes place in the ancient times of 2003, even though the film was released in 2007 after spending a year on the shelf).

In one memorable scene, Bana tries to borrow money from Robert Downey Jr. (bringing a welcome jolt of energy in a pre-Iron Man cameo that reminds you that he used to be an interesting character actor not so long ago) as a smooth-talking 1-900 number operator working multiple phone lines and conning callers out of their money by the minute as he plays the part of lawyer, board-certified psychologist, and contract-specialist, all from an empty casino bar. The brief scene is a glimpse at the unique Vegas movie that might have been, as is the sequence when Bana's Huck (I know, I know, that name, but in co-screenwriters Hanson and Eric Roth's defense, they named him after a real famous poker player) starts with a tiny bit of cash and spends the evening slowly "chipping up" until he's got thousands of dollars in winnings from unsuspecting gamblers in his pocket before losing it all in a risky bet (which illustrates his character flaw of playing poker too recklessly and living his life with his cards too close to his chest, or something out of screenwriting 101) is another glimmer of what could have been.

But too much of the movie feels one step removed from the heartbeat of the city, as Bana romances Barrymore on top of a parking lot or in empty casinos during times that they would be bustling with activity, even during the post recession downturn of the city. I don't know if it's a function of the fact that shooting in a city that's open and crowded 24/7 is nearly impossible, but Hanson's Vegas is devoid of people, color and energy, which is just wrong for a city that glows and flashes in blinding neon (with one light so bright it can be seen from friggin' space). Hanson also fails to explore some of the stranger and lesser known corners of Vegas, while the main characters are charmless, boring, and completely standard, as the Oscar nominated director misses a great opportunity to capture one of the most photographed cities in the world in new and exciting ways or to reveal the intricate quirks of the people who actually live there.

Perhaps it's a function of Hanson exploring a sadder, seedier, and less flashy side of the town than the vision that those "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" ads attempt to depict, but there's a dismal lack of energy to Lucky You that drains the city of life and color. It's a strange letdown for a filmmaker who captured the shimmering and seductive glow of 1950's Hollywood so perfectly in LA Confidential. Curtis Hanson is one of the most undervalued filmmakers working in Hollywood, and setting is usually as important to his films as anything else. The authentic sense of place he's captured in most of his films is comparable to the work of a master of the metropolitan such as Woody Allen, but for some curious reason, Curtis Hanson just wasn't able to capture the unique and bizarre buzz of Sin City.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Morrissey Ruined Thanksgiving

This is going to be a sad tale. A tale sad enough to inspire a classically brooding yet witty Morrissey song.

The former frontman of The Smiths is basically my favorite human being, (or at least in the top three, along with Woody Allen, and, I dunno, Abraham Lincoln). He's one of those polarizing pop music figures who a lot of people hate or at least consider irrelevant since his legendary band split up, an opinion that renders the people who harbor it irrelevant in my mind.

One of the most witty lyricists to ever live, a larger than life icon who never got as famous with the mainstream as the size of his persona, a man critics like to paint into a corner for his depressive lyrics, an artist under-appreciated for his wit and originality, a celebrity who is cagey about his sexuality mostly because coming out of the closet would make him more normal and less of mysterious weirdo (who used to claim to be celibate and writes of romantic misery better than anyone), an interview subject second to none, a periodically controversial fire-starter, a celebrity legendarily unwilling to give up on decades old grudges, a musician passionately loyal to his current band, an advocate of animal rights, an over-sharer who is bluntly honest while never actually revealing himself, and pretty much a completely perfect human being, Morrissey is one of those people you either get or don't get, and if you don't get him, he doesn't really care.

And now Morrissey is performing in both LA and Las Vegas just as I'm leaving for The Bay Area for ther Thanksgiving holiday, then he heads up to Oakland right after I come back to LA. Is he punishing me for the obscene amounts of turkey meat I plan on gorging myself on over the traditional holiday meal? Is he once again waving off traditional American iconography with his strangely scheduled performances (America is not the world, afterall)? Or perhaps I'm just taking the entire thing too seriously and melodramatically?

As I'm faced with the choice between family and Morrissey, it's not as easy a decision as it should be if I were a slightly better person (in a way that would break my poor mother's heart). Yet I will, I must, make the right choice and drive up North to the Bay Area tomorrow, doing my best to stay ahead of the holiday traffic and try not to look back over my shoulder as I realize I'm missing Moz at his intimate Hollywood show.. for looking back will only turn me into a pillar of salt. Or cause a car accident on a two lane road where people often drive 100 MPH ("and if a double-decker bus/ crashes into us...").

To try and wrap this rambling post into something thematically coherent, I'm going to implore any readers who are in the Las Vegas metropolitan area this weekend to check out Morrissey's show at The Cosmpolitan (a resort with an aspirationaly artsy vibe that's it the perfect venue for the hyper literate, Oscar Wilde loving singer). If his setlists from recent European and early American tour shows are any indication, the singer is pulling out a whole lot of old Smiths classics he hasn't played in years (I Want the One I Can't Have! Still Ill! I Know it's Over!) and solo-years deep cuts (Speedway!!! Speedway!!! Speedway!!!) that will make for a perfect night out in Vegas, for casual and obsessive fans alike.

Just think of the seasoned crooner as a (probably) gay and (most definitely) British Sinatra and get yourself down to The Cosmo for what is sure to be Sin City's hipster event of the season.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Escape From Douchery, Part 9: Peppermill's Fireside Lounge

The Peppermill is an old-school Vegas restaurant that's still a local's favorite, serving up affordable yet tasty steaks, burgers, and other basics. But the real reason to visit the classic restaurant is to enjoy the cozy charms of Peppermill's Fireside Lounge, a great retro hang that mixes the kitschy with the romantic so perfectly that it's been described as one of America's ten best makeout bars by Nerve Magazine.

This off-Strip lounge has been open since the 70's, and features plush booths and mirrors all over the walls, and pink and purple lighting throughout. Try your best to score a seat around the sunken firepit to maximize the experience, and try not to oggle the waitresses in their tight black skirts slit to the thigh. Order your date one of the lounge's famously sweet and strong drinks and enjoy the mood.

On the venue's ancient (in web 2.0 terms) website, the owners describe the place as the first Vegas "ultra-lounge," and though it doesn't really resemble the slick corporate spots for imbibing overpriced beverages set to trendy beats that fill up every casino on The Strip, the place was a bit of trailblazer that's survived through four decades and has been featured in films both classy (Marty Scorsese's "Casino") and cheesy ("Showgirls).

I'll admit to spend a little time sipping on frou frou drinks and necking with my ex back in the day at the Fireside Lounge. The place is kinda cheesy, but in a way that's fun, and despite the kitsch-factor, or maybe because of it, it is kind of an intimate and sexy place. So if you really want to take part in a public makeout session in Vegas, skip the ultra lounges in the mega-resorts and head to the off Strip Peppermill's Fireside Lounge.  Something about the place is just perfect, especially if you dig on that old school Vegas vibe I love so much.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Will the Spirit of The Sahara Fade as it Transforms into a Hip Boutique?

The Sahara is dead; long live The SLS Las Vegas.

The Rat Pack era resort shuttered its doors for the last time earlier this year, selling off a ton of memorabilia in packed to the gills auctions, and now Vegas Chatter, one of my favorite Vegas-centric blogs, has been reporting on property owner Sam Nazarian's plans to renovate the property. The nightlife impresario (doesn't that seem like a made up job in a movie where he learns to love by the third act?), who runs twelve clubs in Los Angeles (including Hyde, Colony, and Industry... and yes, venue names like that do make my skin crawl) through his SBE hospitality group, has grand plans for the old-school Sahara property.

The outdated Sahara will become The SLS Las Vegas, a sister-property to the ultra chic boutique SLS Beverly Hills. The redesign of the resort will be spearheaded by "highly influential guy who designs stuff," Phillipe Starck (I know, I'm thinking the same thing about some of the names in this post, and no I didn't make them up... but this Starck-bro knows what he's doing. Check out his Wikipedia page), while two SBE meagclubs will open in the property. The NASCAR roller coaster in front of the property will be knocked down in favor of a sleek beer garden (okay, that's an idea I can get behind).

The economy makes it impossible it cost prohibitive for Nazarian to knock down the entire property, so it seems that The SLS Las Vegas will be built out of a renovated Sahara. The Beverly Hills property is about as modern as you can get, but if Nazarian and Starck are smart about integrating the classic Rat Pack vibe of the old resort into and sexy property, I actually have high hopes for the new resort.

Clearly, Nazarian is gunning for the affluent tastemaking party-goers who were the main demographic for the owners of The Cosmopolitan, but if the designers can smartly blend the old school into their modern and sleek design, they might create something truly unique and special... which they're going to need to do in order to get people to party on the North end of The Strip, which has become a dead zone once you get past The Wynn and Encore in recent years (as construction on new resorts has halted while Circus Circus... can't stop being Circus Circus).

I'm still sad that we lost another classic resort when Nazarian closed The Sahara a few months ago, but he has a chance to keep the spirit of the old-school yet admittedly run down resort alive if he's smart enough to meld together the classic and sexy new sensibilities into something that stands out from The Cosmpolitan, things could get very interesting on the North Strip when The SLS Las Vegas opens in 2014.

Monday, August 29, 2011

David Chang, Culinary Artistry, and the Problem of Chefs Selling Out in Las Vegas

Momfuku Ssam Bar in New York's East Village is a singularly unique and hip restaurant that has turned head chef David Chang into a culinary star. The pork-centric Korean/Japanese/French/Italian/whatever Chang and his crack staff can imagine menu is a constantly evolving wonder of deliciously indulgent and inventive tastes, all of it presented at prices far below that of similarly hot, celebrity chef driven restaurants. And instead of tasteful design and servers wearing suits, the restaurant is alive with energy, led by the enthusiasm of the tattooed and pierced, T-Shirt wearing staff that cooks and serves your food.

Also, there is a gloriously cheesy painting of John McEnroe in full 80s glory inexplicably hanging on the wall.

When I visited the red-hot restaurant on my New York adventure, I ate Chang's famous steamed buns filled with pork belly (which live up to the hype), jowl terrine (indulgent, wrong, and delicious), roasted lamb loin and belly topped with dripping egg yolk (soft and salty heaven), and the most gloriously delicious and utterly, totally different slices of carrot cake I've ever put in my mouth. It was one of the best meals of my life, with food that defies classification from one of the hottest and most exciting young minds to burst onto the culinary scene in years.

As if the amazing and outside the box food wasn't enough, Chang also has a hilariously unhinged public persona, as his media appearances are often peppered with F-Bombs, self deprecating rants, and tirades against overrated Food Network chefs and the entire celebrity chef culture in general (even though he is indeed a part of said culture).

With his restaurant's daringly inventive food and punk-rock cool mixed with his own high profile persona and "who gives a crap" bravado, a David Chang restaurant would fit in perfectly in Las Vegas. Though the chef has admitted that the idea of Las Vegas is intriguing to him, no official plans have gone forward for a Sin City link in the slowly yet surely expanding Momofuku line of restaurants (Momofuku restaurants are planned in Toronto and Sydney, so it's not as if the chef is averse to expanding his empire beyond his beloved New York City).

A Chang restaurant in Vegas would be a real win for the city, but it might be a matter of bad timing with the economy in the toilet. Investors might be nervous taking a chance on a chef who takes such outlandish risks with his food and has such a volatile personality, and it's probably a safer investment in the minds of many to open another Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse restaurant on The Strip instead. Just because you can score with discerning foodies in Manhattan's coolest neighborhood doesn't mean that success will translate with the tourists who frequent Vegas restaurants.

And it's also might be a question of personal integrity... can such an outspoken, punk rock-style chef open in Vegas without losing some of the street cred he's earned through his F-Bomb laced rants and provocative Tweets? Basically, I'm wondering if you can enter into the artifice of the Vegas restaurant scene and still remain an artist, or if you're automatically watering down your brand when you open amongst the glittering facades of The Strip?

Vegas is a hard town to remain true to one's vision, but since Vegas features restaurants from Hubert Keller, Michael Mina, Guy Savoy, and Chang hero Thomas Keller where the chefs have been able to control their visions and innovate even as they compete in a crowded marketplace, it is doable.

A Momofuku restaurant could fit in with the side of Vegas that the young and artsy have started to occupy, the people who attend First Friday events and drink at The Double Down. A hipster and foodie approved David Chang eatery could be a God-send to a place like The Cosmopolitan, so eager to prove that they're cutting edge and cool to the "curious class" demographic that they're desperately courting (a plan that's not working as the resort reported a big loss at the end of the last quarter). Whatever he decides, Chang has the kind of clout and media buzz at this point that he could open a restaurant in Vegas on his own terms. Hopefully one day soon Chang will unleash his wild culinary imagination on The Strip.

One can only imagine what his rants will be like after he spends some real quality time in Sin City.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can The Book of Mormon Succeed in Las Vegas?

I just returned from New York, shocked to discover that the Manhattan skyline doesn't really feature a winding roller-coaster track, but still as enamored with the city that never sleeps as any young and artistically inclined Los Angelino usually feels after visiting a city that for some reason causes a major sense of inferiority in Southern Californians. And while I missed the medium-sized Earthquake that created a Twitter frenzy on the East Coast, New York was electrifying, a city that is unbelievably exciting, fast paced and easy to traverse without a car, with cool things to do on every corner at almost any time of the day. It also feels more like the traditional idea of a city-city than the strange urban sprawl that is LA.

Also, Billy Joel is from there... but maybe that's just important to me.

I'd go on about the awesomeness of my NY trip, from the incredible exhibits I saw at MOMA to the mouthwatering meal I had at David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar to the super-chill hike I took along the brand new High Line Park, built on a decommissioned elevated train track. But this is a Las Vegas-centric blog, so I'll focus on something Vegas relevant... The Book of Mormon.

I'm not much of a musical theater guy. I don't hate the genre, but it's not my particular bag. South Park and Team America creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, however, are musical guys. Their first feature was the little seen Troma-piece Cannibal! The Musical, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut featured a brilliant collection of profane Broadway (and Disney) style musical numbers, and even their action movie satire starring marionettes, Team America featured villain Kim Jong-Il singing about how he's only evil because deep down in his heart he's so "Ronery." So it came as no surprise when it was announced a few years ago that Parker and Stone were teaming up with the writer of Avenue Q to create their own original Broadway musical.

What did come as a surprise were the rapturous reviews, the astounding number of Tony nominations and wins, and the fact that the show is sold out approximately until the end times. Being a very well connected internet personality (or just because I have a friend whose dad knows a guy), I was lucky enough to score tickets to the show during the week I was in New York (I would have been lucky to score tickets to the show during a week I wasn't in New York, though said tickets would have been less useful and purchased more for bragging rights than anything else).

I don't really need to go into an in depth review of the show... I'll just say that it's as profane, funny, wickedly satirical, surprisingly sweet, tuneful, and joyful as the reviews have indicated. Parts of the show left me gasping for air (because it was so funny, but also because scary looking ski-masked ushers walked through the theater and water-boarded audience members at random), and I've been listening to the soundtrack nonstop on Spotify (that's not strictly true... at the moment I'm listening to Steely Dan on Spotify, but still, I've listened to the soundtrack a lot).  The New York Times did a fine job explaining why The Book of Mormon is an absolute must-see in their hyperbolic (yet not so hyperbolic because the show deserved the heaps of praise it received) review. The question I want to explore in this blog post, dear readers, is if The Book of Mormon can thrive in its inevitable Las Vegas run where so many other shows of similar hype and hilarity have failed.

Comedic musicals Avenue Q, Spamalot, and The Producers all took similar paths to critical and box-office success as Book of Mormon in their initial Broadway runs, winning Tonys, receiving gushing reviews, and playing to sell-out crowds every night.  Yet the shows never found real solid footing when they landed in Las Vegas. Spamalot and The Producers (with David Hasselhoff and Tony Danza in key roles) lasted barely a year. The heavily promoted Avenue Q played for only nine months at The Wynn, unable to generate word of mouth due to tourist turnaround in Las Vegas.

So can The Book of Mormon succeed where these other comedic musicals have failed? Broadway style productions can breakthrough in Las Vegas, as evidenced by the three year and counting run of Jersey Boys at The Palazzo and the Vegas-ized Phantom at The Venetian, which has been holding steady for half a decade. The Lion King has done decent business in Mandalay Bay for two years, though it's scheduled to close at the end of the year. Will Book of Mormon be able to replicate the success of these Broadway hits or will it go the way of We Will Rock You (the Queen jukebox musical that took place in an oppressive corporate future where bland pop music is the only thing allowed on the radio and a hero rises by singing the songs of Freddy Mercury which came to him in a dream and was as awesomely ridiculous as it sounds)?

Book of Mormon, I think, has a good chance to actually survive the harsh Vegas climate of desert heat and less than hip tourist-filled audiences. While most young people don't go to Vegas to attend shows and are more commonly there to party, the musical created by the South Park bros may be tempting enough for them to get tickets. And even the least savvy midwestern tourists have heard of Book of Mormon, which is Broadway's biggest hit in years (and has gotten more media coverage than any show on Broadway in years outside of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, a flaming train wreck of a show complete with a ludicrously pretentious plot, actors falling from rafters, and singing super heroes, making it the focus of much less positive press), so a Vegas production will have a decent shot of succeeding. It's also a much less costly production to mount than most Broadway spectacles, so a Sin City version is probably a very good investment.

One of the big questions is how will the Mormon community react to the show? The musical is a profane story about two young Mormons on a mission to Uganda, and while it makes gleeful fun of some of the religion's stranger rituals and foundational stories, it ultimately is sweet-natured and makes an argument for belief (even in the craziest ideas) helping people in tough situations. The content is profane, but the show is ultimately something that Mormons could walk away from feeling good about. Las Vegas was originally founded by Mormons (a little known fact since it was eventually taken over by mobsters and turned into a gambling town nicknamed Sin City), and still has a significant Mormon population. The town is also close to the Utah border and about a half-day's drive from Salt Lake City, the center of the Mormon universe (and the focus of one of the funniest songs in the musical). Despite all of that, it's hard to imagine the Mormon population embracing the show, with content that is probably too edgy for most Mormons to get around and enjoy the generally positive message.

The proximity to so many Mormons could attract a few curious church-members who want to know what all the fuss is about, but the very, very blue show will probably be a bit much for them, just for the vulgarity of the content even if the message ultimately shouldn't offend them. Opening the show in Vegas could lead to protests (which only generates publicity and could help the show more than hurt it), though the opening of the original Broadway production was met with a statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that read "the production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but The Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ,” a reaction that implies the church has no interest in turning the show into a lighting rod of controversy. The church most likely won't advise their members to attend the show, but it doesn't seem like they'll encourage protests.

For the rest of us, Book of Mormon is a vulgar and hilarious night of theater, entertaining for those of us that don't really like musicals and apparently a miraculous throwback to the joys of the medium for those who do. It could easily succeed where other comedic shows have failed in Vegas as one of Broadway's hottest tickets in years, and the rude, crude, tuneful and good-natured show migh just fit right in and play in Sin City for years.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Escape From Douchery, Part 8: Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

Craft brews have become another major trend for the young, hip and with it, and I'm going to use that fact as yet another litmus test to figure out how Las Vegas is developing into a truly hipster friendly city (you are doubtlessly noticing a trend in these blog posts at this point).

Vegas is a city that is fueled by alcohol. When beer and liquor are flowing, the philosophy goes, people are loosened up and keep gambling. While Sin City has not quite caught up with every hipster trend (I haven't seen many artisanal, organic, fair trade cheese stores in Vegas... yet), the increasing popularity of good and interesting beers is right in the Vegas wheelhouse. Craft breweries that offer adventurous pours are out there, if you know where to look.

While cocktail waitresses slinging comped drinks on casino floors are unlikely to pour you anything more exciting than a Fat Tire (no knock on Fat Tire, they're still one of my favorite nationally distributed beers), there are definitely a few places where you can find tasty brews made and distributed in the city. Sin City Brewing Company makes beers with "cleverly themed" (read "appropriately douchey") names like "Weisse is Nice," "Never Pass Up a Blonde," "Say Hello to Amber," and "The Dark Side of Sin," with locations in The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and a location at The Flamingo with a large outdoor patio for sipping on your suds. In  Downtown Vegas, check out The Chicago Brewing Company in The Four Queens for a good selection of craft brews along with brewery favorite foods like pizza and burgers, or The Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery at Main Street Station, which has become such a draw that the resort now markets itself as a "Casino, Brewery, and Hotel."

But if you really want an authentic Vegas experience to go with your microbrews, Ellis Island Casino and Brewery is a favorite of local beer enthusiasts, with a great selection of microbrews, sold at a shockingly reasonable price of less than $2 a glass. While gambling at the smokey and old-school off-Strip casino, cocktail waitresses will comp you with free beers if you ask nicely. Their restaurant is extremely cheap (like $5 for Steak and Eggs in the morning cheap), and the food is surprisingly better than merely edible.

The Casino and Brewery is located slightly off the beaten path, about a block east of The Strip. It's not nearly as slick as a place like Aria or The Cosmopolitan, but that's probably why locals dig it so much. It's unpretentious, the betting minimums at the gaming tables are low, and it has a scuzzy sleaziness that feels authentic and lived in, an increasingly rare atmosphere in Las Vegas these days.

Ellis Island's beers include a nice Amber, a summery Hefeweissen, a pleasingly hefty Dark Lager, and a Light lager (which I didn't even bother with; if you're drinking beer, just admit that it's not gonna be good for you no matter what and skip the light crap). They also brew a delicious Root Beer, which took me back to childhood memories of sharing a root-beer float my first girlfriend in the local Soda Shop (memories that might be from an old movie, and not my own childhood, now that I think of it).

To be clear, Ellis Island's Beers didn't approach the mind-blowing flavor of a cold Pliny the Elder from The Cap 'N' Cork in Los Feliz, but they got the job done... and get it done for absurdly cheap. Ellis Island is certainly worth a detour from The Strip for cheap eats and even cheaper craft brews.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The State of Comedy in Las Vegas

On a recent episode of Louie (which is probably the best show on television right now) the slightly fictionalized version of Louis CK (who is basically just Louis a few year back in his career) accepts a job performing stand-up in a very sad lounge in an Atlantic City casino owned by Donald Trump. His first show is a disaster, with a crowd that evolves from indifferent to hostile. Louie ends up arguing with the audience, and he decides to quit the soul-crushing casino gig. The episode ends with an amazing scene where he visits Joan Rivers (who is headlining at the casino's large theater) in her hotel room, where she gives him some old-school, pragmatic showbiz advice about never quitting and being thankful that he gets to tell jokes for a living, calling comedy their "calling"  and convincing Louie to apologize and ask the casino manager for his job back.

It's a great episode featuring a true comedy icon (who has reemerged recently because of the terrific documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.) But the part that interested me and is relevant to this blog (other than the fact that it gives me the opportunity to make it clear that if you're not watching Louie, you're out of your mind) is the scene where our hero quits the casino gig. Standing in the back of a busy kitchen where workers are prepping giant platters of shrimp to be served at buffet frequented by the same type of dull-minded consumers that Louie offended and battled with at his sad performance, the comedian talks with the casino manager about the gig. The manager tries to get him to promise to not act hostile to the crowd or to criticize the casino, and asks him why he can't just keep his mouth shut. Louie shrugs, tells him "I don't know," but obviously feels like he can't back down, that he's standing for some principals he can't actually define. But the key part for me was when Louie asks the manager why he can't play in the big theater; he can draw thousands of fans to similar-sized theaters in cities like Boston or Chicago, so why not Atlantic City. The manager tells him it's because he's a "comic's comic type" and that type of comedian doesn't play with Atlantic City audiences; he was hired to give people something to do between stops at the gaming tables.

The manager was right, of course, and it reminded me of the comedy scene in Las Vegas. While Vegas is certainly not Atlantic City (from what I can gather, A.C. is a sad place frequented by desperate people gamble all their money away on the faint hopes of winning some of it back, while Vegas has the shiny themed buildings and nightclubs filled with young people and good restaurants that mask the fact that at its core its a sad place where desperate people gamble all their money away on the faint hopes of winning some of it back; so basically A.C. is a more honest version of Vegas in a lot of ways, but also a lot sadder on the surface and less fun in general), Sin City has similar issues with its comedy scene.

Las Vegas has growing food, music, and art scenes, but they've got a ways to go when it comes to comedy, especially in comparison to L.A., New York, Chicago, Austin, or basically any other urban sprawl in America. It's a town where old fashioned insult comedians like Bobby Slayton (the "Pit-Bull of comedy") or mom-approved favorites like Rita Rudner are signed for long-term residencies (no insult to either of these veterans who do what they do exceedingly well), and there is little to no room for edgy up-coming comedy.

Vegas is filled with tourists from all over the country looking for something to do for a couple hours while they take a break from gambling, and they want to spend their cash on something that's guaranteed to entertain them. This is not a town where people will spend money on something experimental or new, or one that could support the inventive comedy happening on the stages of the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theaters in LA and New York every night of the week (Second City had a show going in Vegas that closed down after only a couple years) Sure, Marc Maron (host of the truly great WTF Podcast) performed in Vegas recently, but it was at The Playboy Comedy Club in The Palms, not exactly the natural habitat of an alt-comedy pioneer like Maron. The Playboy Comedy Club is essentially everything you'd expect it to be, a place where a big part of the draw is that the current playmate of the month takes the stage between comics. We all know how funny Playboy models are and how much they belong in a comedian showcase, right? The Sin City Comedy Show in The V Theater at Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile Shops is similar, mixing stand-up comedy acts with sexy burlesque dancers. Most towns don't use sexy girls or other gimmicks to tempt people into seeing a comedy show, but that's the state of the scene in Vegas.

Vegas is a good town to see super-pro iconic veteran comedians perform. Because the resorts can afford to pay for A-List headliners, Jerry Seinfeld shows off his chops every few months, while Chris Rock and Eddie Izzard have killed at Caesars Palace in recent years. But if you want to see an emerging voice working out new and potentially controversial material, than Sin City is not the place to look. It's another example of how the danger and edge Vegas claims in their marketing is just that; market-tested and advertised, but not truly dangerous or edgy.

There's a reason that a cook is fussing with a giant plate of shrimp behind Louie while he talks about what kind of comedy he wants to do vs. what kind of comedy works in a casino-lounge setting; people come to Vegas and Atlantic City looking for mass-produced shrimp in their comedy, not an expertly crafted meal of guffaws. That's why only extremely popular, proven talents draw crowds while other comedy showcases rely on gimmicks like showgirls or burlesque dancers to get an audience who will probably not know the headliner even if they're fairly well known in the comedy community.

But there's hope; Vegas was once known only for buffets and cheap steaks, yet it's evolved into a foodie haven with restaurants from some of the most famous chefs in the world. The same thing can happen to the comedy scene as the city continues to grow its identity from merely a cheesy tourist spot to a city with a thriving young arts community.

But in the meantime, Joan Rivers is pretty damned hilarious.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Food Trucks Invade the Strip

Food trucks selling cheap eats have posted up at construction sites and outside bars and concerts in cities since the beginning of time. But hip haute-cuisine sold off of trucks is a more recent phenomenon, made popular by the success of The Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck, which offered innovative fusion style food and was savvy about self-promotion on Twitter. Pretty quickly, there were food trucks all over Los Angeles offering an endless variety of international cuisines, from Indian to Peuvian to Argentian. Some trucks resorted to gimmicks, like hiring hot chicks to sell burgers or creating fancy versions of grilled cheese meant to appeal equally to our inner child and our inner hipster food snob. The trend got so popular so quickly, The Food Network launched a hit reality show/cooking competition all about food trucks.

If the presence of diverse food trucks is a test whether a city has a thriving hipster scene (a premise I'm positing with no real evidence to back it up), then Las Vegas gets a passing grade. Sin City has seen a full on food truck invasion, and on any given Friday night you can find all kinds of tasty treats sold off the back of trucks all over town. First Fridays provide a great opportunity to sample the city's offerings, as many of the best trucks gather in Downtown Vegas for the artsy monthly event.

Proof that Vegas isn't quite there in terms of hipster culture is the fact that most of the food trucks offer less than groundbreaking cuisines. There are a lot of burger trucks, many of them very good. SlidinThru Slidertruck, LBS Patty Wagon, TastyBunz, and the Green Chili-centric Sloppi Jos all offer tasty takes on the American classic, but the irreverently named Fukuburger is the best (and most popular). The truck was recently written up in a pretty good New York Times Travel article about Las Vegas, in which the writer described Fuku's Karai burger, adorned with cucumbers, avocado cream, spicy mayo and a habanero soy sauce "the best burger" he’d had in years, an assessment I basically agree with. Los Angeles is going through a true Burger renaissance, with selections like the unbeatable Office Burger at Father's Office and the MSG-infused delights of the quickly expanding Umami Burger chain, but Fuku's Karai Burger is truly something special.

Non-burger offerings include the  BBQ Boy truck, offering Filipino BBQ on a stick, Haulin' Balls (with a creative selection of meatball sandwiches that un-appetizingly call Ballwiches), and Snow Ono (selling authentic treats for people who know the difference between Hawaiin Shave Ice and the more common-on-the-mainland Snocones).

The selection of Vegas trucks continues to grow, but you can't find too much for those with a truly adventurous palette quite yet. No trucks in Sin City can compete with LA's diverse offerings, which include Nom Nom (which serves Banh Mi sandwiches and other Vietnamese foods),  Ludo Truck (offering gourmet fare from French Chef and "Top Chef Masters" breakout Ludovic Lefebvre), CoolHaus (a gourmet ice cream sandwich truck that features unique flavors served in edible wrapping paper), or Kogi (the grandaddy of them all, as it were). Vegas has become a foodie-tourist destination, but only for sit down gourmet restaurants. Until a chef is innovative (or crazy) enough to gamble on a unique international fusion cuisine served off a truck, LA will still have the edge in terms of mobile fine dining.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Foodie Diaries: Bouchon at The Venetian

It will surprise none of you, dear readers, to discover that I consider myself a bit of a foodie. Whenever I make one of my frequent pilgrimages to Las Vegas, I always make sure to have at least one meal at a spectacular restaurant from a world-class chef (while, at the same time, never neglecting to pay visits to junky buffets and fast-food joints like Smashburger).

So I've decided to start documenting my amazing trips to the culinary Valhalla of Sin City with this blog, and I'm opening my foodie diaries series with a doozy: a visit to Thomas Keller's Bouchon in The Venetian.

There is maybe no American chef more revered by foodies than Thomas Keller, whose French Laundry in the Napa Valley has been described by many as the greatest restaurant in the world and whose Per Se in New York has been described as even better than The French Laundry.

Like a good (and snobbish) fan of great food, I'm a little suspicious of the whole "celebrity chef" phenomenon, which has become an over-marketed and media hype driven phenomenon that's more about the cult of personality than good cooking. The mere fact that Guy Fieri is a household name is enough of a crime against humanity to convince a jury to give the trend a lethal injection, but then again, there are some chefs that deserve to the fame that comes with truly artful cooking... and Thomas Keller is one of those chefs.

Keller is famous for bringing an obsessive attention to detail to everything he cooks. While he's acknowledged that the idea of creating "perfect" food is truly an impossible goal, it's never deterred him from striving madly for pure perfection. He's like an elegant and witty mad scientist of deliciousness, and I can't overstate how much of a artist and rock-star the guy is in the food community. The guy even designed all the food and restaurants in Brad Bird's elegant Pixarserpiece Ratatouille, a fact that just adds an extra spice to Keller's epic menu of life awesomeness.

Las Vegas has become such a foodie town that even a serious artist like Keller has brought his brand to the glitzy glare of Sin City, where he opened his second branch of Bouchon Bistro. I've been obsessed with tasting Keller's cooking for years; though I've made stumbling and clumsy attempts at recreating some of his recipes from his best selling cookbooks, dining on food made by Keller and his trusted staff had become my culinary white whale for a few years, a dietary obsession I spent nights awake dreaming about; but The French Laundry is far (far, far, faaaaaar) out of my price range and I don't have the patience to suffer through the restaurant's legendarily long waiting list. But as a consolation prize to tide me over until I'm rich and important enough to eat at The French Laundry (translation: I'll probably never knock that one off my personal bucket list), I booked a table at The Venetian's version of Bouchon in preparation for my most recent trip to Vegas.

The other foodie who traveled with my group of friends to Sin City (or nerd to the rest of the group) and I sat down in the charmingly themed French bistro and started with a Pate appetizer. Pretentious, sure, but we were at a Thomas Keller restaurant, and we had to go big or go home. Keller is famous for his Steak Frites, and while "steak and fries" may seem a bit pedestrian for a gourmet restaurant with a menu curated by a celebrity chef, I can assure you there was nothing pedestrian about this mind-blowing dish. The pan-seared flat-iron Steak is served with caramelized shallots, but I think the real secret to the flavor explosion in the tender bites of prime meat is simple; an excessive use of deliciously sinful maître d'hôtel butter (make note that this is not a criticism by any means). The accompanying fries were another story entirely; with a taste akin to a gourmet take on McDonald's style fries (once again, this is anything but a criticism), I was shocked with each bite at how amazing they were; it's bold but I'm pretty comfortable declaring them the best fries I've ever eaten (and I really like french fries, you guys).

Obviously, you can't do a true foodie dinner without good wine, but ordering a good bottle can be hard to swing for an inconsistently employed freelancer like myself... so the fact that Bouchon offered great wines in carafes was a money saving miracle. We ordered an excellent Tempranillo that paired perfectly with the meat and fried potatoes to put us in a food coma.

But not enough of a food coma to discourage us from ordering dessert (because are you crazy? We may have been full but we fought through it, obviously. We were eating at a Thomas Keller restaurant, after all, so dessert was a forgone conclusion/ bad decision from the beginning). We enjoyed/ regretted the delectable cream puffs in equal measure, marveling at and feeling sick while contemplating the vanilla ice cream stuffed into them and warm chocolate sauce drizzled on top. Paired with an espresso, the dessert may have revealed the meaning of life to me; and the meaning of life is that we're all struggling day to day so we can earn the right to eat food cooked by Tom Keller.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Escape From Douchery, Part 7: Insert Coins

Insert Coins is a brand new Vegas concept, catering to a different kind of gamer than the town is historically known for attracting. While Las Vegas hosts the Pinball Hall of Fame and features a Gameworks arcade, the ultimate gamblers paradise is not particularly known as a video game haven, but all that may change now that Insert Coins has opened in Downtown Las Vegas in The Fremont Street district.

Insert Coins is a gamer's dream come true, featuring an impressive collection of classic, coin-operated standup arcade cabinets and nearly every console ever produced which you can play on big screen TVs while you lounge on on ultra comfy couches. The ultra-lounge/ arcade offers the same kind of bottle service you'd find at the trendiest Vegas clubs, at prices far below what you'd pay at those same trendy clubs... plus you get to play an Atari 2600 or a Dreamcast while you're treated like a VIP, instead of trying to look cool in a place that's packed to the gills because they club has advertised that Rhianna is supposed to show up for a guest appearance that never actually happens.

I'm normally against bottle service because it just seems like the only reason to spend the ridiculous amount of money that bottle service costs is to show off that you have enough money to afford bottle service, but when I found out it could be done for $100 in a "videolounge and gamebar," my buddies and I decided we had to give it a shot. We ordered a bottle of their finest whiskey (that we could afford at our price point), rented an Atari 2600, and got started trash-talking at each other as we played old-timey favorites like Missile Command, Dig Dug, and Joust (a game for which I have unmatchable skills in my group of friends), feeling confident that our alpha male command of 80's console classics would surely attract the ladies to our couch. No such luck, as the unattached women mostly stayed on the dance floor (and those that did watch us play for a few moments walked away because we all became too paralyzed with fear to turn around and say hello), where a DJ spun a more eclectic mix of music (read: heavy on Daft Punk, light on Ke$ha), reflecting the more eclectic (for Vegas) crowd that frequents the place. While my friend thought the reason none of the hotties joined our couch was because of Insert Coin's "appalling" omission of the historically terrible ET game, whose mythological badness he believed would be a sure conversation starter, I convinced my bros to get over their wallflower ways and to hit the dance floor... because I explained to them that while, yes the girls at the place were geeky-cool enough to frequent a place that calls itself a gamebar, we still had the responsibility to meet them at least halfway.

After downing a few more shots of liquid courage and berating each other through a few more rounds of Joust, I rallied my boys and got them dancin'. One of my normally-much-more awkward buddies met a very cute-glasses-wearing girl from Brooklyn and made out with her to the pulse of actually good dance music while they were lit by a very cool light show, and I swear I wasn't all that jealous even though she had that sexy librarian thing going for her that I love so dearly.

It was around 2 AM when I decided that Insert Coins was kind of my new favorite place in the world, or at least in Las Vegas, a hipster's dream come true that draws geeky cool folks (whom I started referring to as "my people" in a drunk and sentimental haze late into the night) with a perfectly mixed cocktail of good dance music, affordable drinks and a whole lot of classic video games. It's just another example of how Fremont Street is quickly becoming the Las Vegas equivalent of Los Feliz or Brooklyn, a neighborhood that draws the geeky, the artsy, the curious, the cultured and the strange... or in other words: my people.