Friday, April 13, 2012

Escape from Douchery, Part 17: Aria Hotel and Casino

I talk about Downtown Las Vegas too much.

I know it, you know it, we all know it. It's where the coolest, most interesting stuff is happening in town, and I truly believe that within the next five years, Downtown will have transformed into a neighborhood similar to Silver Lake, filled with hipsters, art galleries, interesting local businesses, coffee shops, and funky bars.

That said, The Strip is, always has been, and will always remain the center of what Las Vegas is all about, and Sin City's reason for existing in the first place. Las Vegas boulevard is littered with billion dollar properties built to resemble the world's most famous monuments, all of which are mostly populated by the very D-Bags I have spent considerable digital-ink disparaging. But if you pay extra-close attention to this blog, you will note that I have a soft spot in my heart for The Strip. How could I not, as a blogger who writes about loving Las Vegas? Downtown is awesome but still pretty limited in scope, and while the most interesting new things in Vegas are located there and while I always make time for Fremont Street, the truth is that I spend most of my Vegas trips on The Strip, especially when I'm traveling with people who don't share my proclivities for funky weirdness (and I had not ever stayed the night in Downtown until my last trip).

All that is to say that I have to sleep somewhere on The Strip when I'm in town. I usually choose my hotel based on which place has the best rate (via my broke-ass existence) and the best location (generally meaning as close to the geographic center of The Strip as humanly possible). But I also do my best to try a different hotel every time I visit Vegas, and have made questionable monetary and geographic decisions in order to lay my head in a hotel I haven't yet experienced. Which is why I finally stayed at The Aria, CityCenter's sparkling center-piece, even though I could have gotten a better deal on a room at The Monte Carlo. The Aria billed itself as a futuristic, green-friendly resort that's been praised as one of the best geek hotels on the planet, and as a fan of robot fiction, I wanted to experience the future, Las Vegas style.

While I was disappointed that I was not issued a key to a flying car upon check-in, The Aria is pretty damned cool.

Upon entering the room, a robot voice greets you by name (and you better believe I made the woman at the checkin desk enter my name into the computer as "Turd Ferguson"). Our large corner provided perfect views of The Strip through the floor to ceiling windows, from which my friends and I could take turns dramatically gazing at the city, sipping on our pre-game cocktails and imagining that we were nihilistic power-mad Wall Street broker villains from 80's cop movies.

Everything in the room is automated, and I mean everything. Staying at The Aria is like checking into a hotel designed by Stanley Kubrick, except less cold and unfeeling than that description implies. The remote, which I grabbed first and never let go of the entire time we hung out in the room, controls absolutely everything. Press a few buttons to adjust the temperature in your room, open or close the curtains, dim the lights, play music, program your alarm clock, and even TURN ON THE TELEVISION (will the miraculous future revelations never cease?).

The room was as future-cool awesome as advertised, but the point of a Las Vegas hotel room is to give you space to freshen up after a four hour drive and drink a few pre-game cocktails, not to return until 5 or later after failing with women. Which means I need more than a cool bed (since I'll only be using it for sleeping anyway... oh poor me. I'm so lonely!).

The resort keeps the futuristic thing going throughout, dropping the silly themeing that plagued Las Vegas Casino design until through the early 00's. There is something a bit generic and airporty about some the place (and the CityCenter mega-complex as a whole), but the vibe is given some life by the interesting sculptures created by top artists integrated across the property. The casino floor is airy and bright unlike other casinos in town, because the progressive designers flooded it with natural light (which doesn't seem like a big deal but is actually a revolutionary choice in a casino design, where the old philosophy used to be to keep gamblers confused as to the time of day so they wouldn't be able to keep track of how long they'd been losing their money to the house).

Aria (along with CityCenter sister hotel VDara) was also the first LEED certified Hotel in Las Vegas. While I have misgivings about environmentalism being integrated just because it's trendy, the designers worked hard to make sure the hotel is highly efficient and green-friendly, leaving as small a carbon footprint as a 4,000 room hotel could possibly leave. One of the settings you can choose with the elder-remote in your hotel room is a green-friendly setting, where the lights are dimmed, the air conditioning is turned down, and the curtains slide shut to keep the sun out so you won't want to turn the air back up. While one can't honestly expect a Vegas casino to leave no footprint, the designers of Aria did a remarkable job of making the place as green-friendly as possible.

As for things to do in the resort, The Gold Room lounge is cleverly designed to resemble Elvis Presley's legendary Graceland mansion (which was originally built as a tie-in to the soon to close Viva Elvis Cirque Du Soleil show), and while the design is fun and filled with Elvis references, they're harder to enjoy when the lights are dimmed and the soundtrack consists deafening auto-tuned Top 40 hits. At least I didn't hear a dubstep Elvis remix at the lounge. Aria also proudly boasts, Haze, one of the hottest nightclubs on The Strip, which automatically meant that I proudly avoided the place like the plague. A better bet was Bar Moderno, which had space for my friends and I to sit and enjoy their perfectly mixed cocktails. It's a little too purple (that's not a metaphor for anything, they literally decorated the place in tons of bright purple), but they make a good Old Fashioned. The resort also features the delicious Lemongrass, one of the only Thai restaurants on The Strip. I love Thai food (shocking a hipster dude who loves Thai food), so this was an awesome amenity. 

Aria's prime location is another big plus, and it means you're pretty much in walking distance to everything else on The Strip (useful because, surprise fact, even in Las Vegas, drinking and driving is still illegal), and the resort is located in the middle of CityCenter, next to The Cosmpolitan, and just a couple doors down from New York New York (if you want to experience the city's absolute stupidest-cheesy fun casino).

The best part of the place is that when I got back to my room after a night of "hardcore Vegasing" (read: trying to dance with girls until they politely smile at you then walk away to "get a drink"), I arrived back at my awesome future-room and pressed a button on the space-remote (which I hid so none of my friends staying with me could find it... but perhaps I've said too much) that turned all the lights off and put up the Do Not Disturb sign. Those are not difficult activities so this feature might not seem like a big deal, but when you've had 14 whiskey drinks and all you want in the world is to fall onto your bed without taking your shoes off, it feels like a really huge deal.

In summary, you won't be able to avoid the rush of D-Bags wherever it is you stay on The Strip, but The Aria has rooms similar to what old movies predicted hotels would be like in the future, with the added bonus of the LEED certification to make your environmentalism loving heart feel less guilty about driving 350 miles to indulge in hedonism in the middle of a dessert where they should never have built a city. Recommended!


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