Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Stupid List: The Absolute Dumbest Things in Las Vegas

I've spent the last two years building this blog into an impassioned defense of Las Vegas against the hipper and though masses who roll their eyes and dismiss it for its bloated, plastic, and overly commercialized stupidity. But here's the thing... Las Vegas is stupid. Stupidity is built into its DNA, and it's part of the city's very appeal. A city that makes Mike Judge's vision of America in Idiocracy feel terrifyingly true, it's a place where you're encouraged and invited (by the city's Convention and Visitors Authority, no less) to act at least a little bit stupidly.

So with that (and the fact that lists do well in terms of drawing web traffic) in mind, here's my list of the absolute stupidest things in Las Vegas. These very different listicle items might be untied in the fact that they're all dumb as bricks, but Las Vegas wouldn't the town it is without them (plus you might find that you'll have some guilty fun participating in some of these activities if you've got the proper buzz on... don't worry, I won't tell anyone if you don't).

K.I.S.S. is probably already the stupidest band in the history of all music ever. So the idea of a K.I.S.S. themed blacklit indoor mini golf course featuring massive recreations of the heads of the band members while their terrible yet undeniably catchy songs blare out of speakers really ups the ante on the idiot scale. You'll not be surprised to note that one of the holes affords you the rare opportunity to a golf ball up Gene Simmons' legendary tongue. On top of all that, the place features a store where you can buy crappy merchandise and a wedding chapel for people who want to be married by an ordained minister in full K.I.S.S. makeup. This place is so gloriously idiotic it's some sort of triumph.

Local anesthesiologist Jason Burke's brainchild aims to cure those who partied a little too hard the night before with his roving Hangover Cure buses. Basically, you pay between $90- $200 to get on the plush bus and hooked up to an IV that will try and soothe the pain incurred by having too much fun the night before. Something about this whole thing feels evil, wrong, and very "post-empire," like a rolling symbol of how far our values in America have fallen. But it's also a super smart idea and I'm sure Dr. Burke will make oodles of cash off his creepy idea. If oxygen bars can still somehow thrive in Las Vegas, I don't see how this could fail.

An outdoor nightclub that usually has no cover charge, this a sub-mental place that attracts the kind of crowd that would go to a an outdoor nightclub with no cover charge. The last time I was there, the DJ played LMFAO and Lil Jon's horrifyingly annoying Shots song every five minutes while the flair bartenders poured some kind of colorful and sugary alcohol concoction into the open maws of the women and men gathered around the bar. It was really gross, like witnessing Roman-style decadence firsthand. But if you want to find a place where you can dance without waiting in line and paying a cover charge, this is your best bet. And if you don't hate that Shots song, then you'll be in heaven. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Just like the title bar in the completely forgettable, Jerry Bruckheimer produced movie from 2000 about a girl following her songwriting dreams by dressing in tight shirts and dancing on bars, this place is the cherry on top of New York New York's Dumb Sundae. Enter if you dare to oggle flair bar-tendresses in skimpy tank tops, performing lazily choreographed routines on bar tops. Or skip the line and cover charge and order a decently priced Kamikaze Shot from the bar right outside the main venue so you can forget some of your dignity and enjoy the idiocy surrounding you.

I rep Downtown Vegas constantly, evangelizing about its mix of hip new bars and old school casinos. But Fremont Street and the surrounding area are not without their empty-headed features as well. The Heart Attack Grill, located in the multi-tiered Neonopolis Mall in the middle of the Fremont Street Experience, proudly celebrates America's tradition of moronic gluttony. A hospital themed restaurant where waitresses dress up in skimpy nurse outfits and serve artery clogging foods like (the 8,000 calorie!!!) Quadruple Bypass Burgers, Fries deep fried in pure Lard, Butterfat Shakes, and Jello Shots served in syringes, this is the kind of place that offers free food to patrons who weigh in at over 350 pounds. The Heart Attack Grill has notoriously lived up to its name as a man suffered an actual heart attack while chowing on on one of their (merely 6,000 calorie) Triple Bypass Burger back in February, while a female patron collapsed while wolfing down on their Fat-laden food just a few months later. While these horror tales might make most people stay away, you might also be one of those types who feels like The Heart Attack Grill is an extreme food challenge worth taking to prove your man (orwoman)hood... in which case I wish you luck and pray that you've got decent health coverage.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Escape From Douchebaggery, Part 24: Aces & Ales

The Craft Brew Revolution has officially grown into an unstoppable force, as deliciously hoppy beers made with love and skill are replacing the watery mass produced mediocrities we used to accept as "beer" at good bars all over this great nation (which is why I find every "satirical" video or article targeting hipsters by lazily mentioning that they all ironically drink PBR to be tediously out of date).

Las Vegas, with its tourist driven economy, traditional embrace of plastic style over substance (your Manhattan skyline fools no one, New York New York), and embarrassing entertainment headliners (Celine Dion sold out nearly every show in her original five year residence at Caesars, prompting her to return for another) seemed like an impenetrable market for small batch artisinal beer producing Brewmasters to breach with their boozey revolution. Las Vegas isn't Portland, after all... yet penetrate the market they have with places like Public House opening on The Strip. And now Aces & Ales brings a positively Brooklonian and sensibility to the trend.

The casual, local's friendly Gastropub was inspired by the London Restaurant/ Bars that originally launched the G-word trend, but the place isn't one of those fakey British Pubs that are ubiquitous in ever suburb across the US of  A at this point. The staff is both beer geek knowledgeable yet super unpretentious as they can recommend you a great beer you may have never heard of but will never forget. 22 rotating Craft Brews are always on tap, and you can check their website to find out what they're currently pouring. As I write this, they've got Beers on tap from excellent Breweries like Stone, Mikkelner, Green Flash, Lost Abbey, and Ballast Point (whose Sculpin IPA is one of the best Beers I've ever tasted and whose San Diego based Brewery pours such fascinating beers as a Thai Curry Brew and Habanero Sculpin.)

Bottled Beers on hand come from excellent breweries like Dogfish Head, Goose Island, Brewdog, and North Coast Brewing. You can also get Beer to go in Growlers... a trend that I wish was more prominent in Los Angeles. (Aces & Ales Growler fills are a bit pricey compared to other places I've been to, to be honest.)

The thick and heavy Bar menu, praised as the best in the city by Vegas Seven, is rich with information on the flavor of the many many available Brews. If you're looking for something a little stronger, Aces & Ales has a beautifully curated selection of Scotches and Whiskeys, as well as a nice spread Tequilas, Wines, and signature Cocktails. The food is pretty good too, with standard Gastropub selections like Chicken Wings, Burgers, Pizzas, and Mac & Cheese made with higher quality ingredients than most Bar Food (so you won't hate yourself afterwards).

I also love Aces & Ales special programs, like their Tuesday night tastings where you sample six delicious Crafts for $20, their special visits from Breweries (if you're in town this weekend, Ballast Point's Brewmaster will be on hand to present a bunch of his inventive Beers on Saturday night), or their Annual Strong Brew Festival (which features some of the rarest Beers in the world), all of which give their customers the opportunity to learn a thing or two as they throw back amazing suds. You can also gamble Slot and Keno machines (this is Las Vegas, after all) or play some Pool and Shuffleboard.
Open 24 hours a day (so that you can get great Beer no matter what time it is) on the east side of town, Aces & Ales bills itself as Las Vegas' premiere Beer destination. With the abundance of Craft Brews available on tap and in bottles and their special Brewery events, the Gastropub backs up their boast and supports the Craft Beer Revolution exploding across the country. Viva la Revolucion!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quaid takes on "Vegas"

Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis star in Vegas, premiering on CBS this fall. Watch the preview below:

I was genuinely excited when this show was first announced. "Dennis Quaid in a show about old Vegas" is a pitch I'd buy any day of the week. The trailer isn't perfect, but I think the show has huge potential. When it finally airs in the Fall, I'll start recapping episodes on this blog (mostly to justify adding another television show to my already very filled rotation), but below you'll find my initial observations based on the extended preview...


The Look and Feel
The period Las Vegas stuff looks absolutely Aces. And now that the show has been picked up to go to series, it sounds like they're getting ambitious with the sets and building incredibly detailed recreations of old Fremont Street and the original Strip. It looks like they've really nailed the period look and feel, which is one of the main pleasures of watching a show like this. For Las Vegas geeks such as myself, this is gonna be an addictive show to tune into week after week.

The Cast
Quaid is one of the most solidly reliable and underrated actors working in Hollywood, and a big budget network series where he plays a tough rancher turned sheriff (based on real life Vegas badass Ralph Lamb) is the perfect place for him to finally get some recognition when Emmy time rolls around. It doesn't hurt that The Shield's Chiklis plays a mob boss running a Casino Vegas back in the city's early, Wild West days. The top notch casting sets up the series as a showdown between two heavyweight character actors that should be a pleasure to watch on a weekly basis. The solid supporting cast includes Carrie Anne Moss from The Matrix and Memento, as well mustached veteran Michael O'Neil, who has been solid in basically every movie and TV show you've ever seen.

The Creative Team
The pilot was cowritten by Nicholas Pilleggi, who wrote and adapted the true-crime books that inspired Martin Scorsese's twin 90s gangster epics, Goodfellas and Casino (the latter of which is the mother of all Las Vegas movies). Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, and the upcoming The Wolverine) brings solid feature credentials to the pilot as well.

The Endless Story Possibilities
Las Vegas has such a rich and lurid history, this show has the potential to dig deep into great story lines for years to come. Sheriff Ralph Lamb served  the city for many of its bumpy formative years, trying to keep order in a city run by mobsters who felt they were above the law. There's no end to the amazing stories that the show runners could tell in this setting, with the potential a parade of amazing character actors dropping in to play colorful figures from the city's sordid past. Las Vegas is such a rich sandbox for the writers to play in that this could be a truly special show.


Will Network TV Make it Too Tame?
A lot of crazy, messed up, ultra-violent stuff happened in Las Vegas while the mob ran the town. See the above mentioned Casino for many, many examples of how rough and dangerous Sin City could be back in the day. Will a show airing on CBS be able to depict the violence, murder, sex, drugs, alcohol, corruption, and general depravity that defined Sin City for so many years without pulling its punches? Vegas might be more appropriate for a cable outlet like HBO or Showtime, where it could depict the vivid, graphic, upsetting violence that a similarly themed show like Boardwalk Empire is able to unflinchingly get away with. Plus network TV means no swearing or naked ladies. And early Las Vegas (as well as current Las Vegas) never lacked for swearing or naked ladies.

American TV Season Length
Again, this fear comes from the fact that it's on network TV, but the length of the seasons might hurt the ability to tell a tight story. Network TV seasons typically last between 22- 24 episodes, which means that there can sometimes be a lot of filler to keep a season going. And when a showrunner doesn't have say on how many seasons a show will go on, that can mean even more episodes meant to kill time and not advance the story. Will that mean Vegas will just become another procedural from week to week? I sure hope not, because the creators have a real chance to tell a compelling story based on real and very juicy Vegas history. Again, if the show was on cable, the seasons could be shorter and it would make it easier to conceive of each episode as a chapter in a novel. This is an issue with even the strongest network shows.

It's on CBS
Pileggi is a guy who knows the mob, so I'm sure he'll try and do right by the history of Sin City. But I'm worried that, as good as Quaid is at playing the stoic and moralistic cowboy type, we'll get too much from his side of the story and not indulge in the fun and sinful side of early Vegas. This again is probably a function of the fact that the show is on network TV. But it's not just any network, it's on CBS, where the demographic is basically old people in Middle America who are almost dead and become offended when things get too loud, let alone scary or violent. That means a show that should be juicy and filled with immoral behavior might end playing it safe as we follow a brooding rancher joylessly judging the people actually enjoying the Sin of Sin City. Sure, the mobsters are bad guys who did awful things, but the best mob stories draw you in and let you see the appeal of the lifestyle... before slowly revealing the way it rots your soul. I hope the show finds a nice balance between the two characters, and isn't just a dull tale of a crusading cowboy against one note bad guys. If Chiklis's mob boss is truly a second protagonist, we could be in for something really special.   

Again, this argument basically boils down to: I wish this was on cable. But if the ratings don't hit a certain number, an expensive show like Vegas will get canceled before it has a chance to find its footing. This is not the case with premium cable channels as much (HBO renewed Aaron Sorkin's sanctimonious, critically savaged, and not particularly highly rated The Newsroom for a second season, after all). I hope this show gets a chance to live up to its potential... and that I don't get hooked on it just to see if get canced after three episodes (fans of the critically acclaimed yet low rated Lonestar a few seasons back will attest to this particular brand of pain).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Fix Nightclubs: Unsolicited Advice from a Hater of the Scene

Since there is no logical way for me to write a post discussing Batman on a blog about Las Vegas, I suppose I'll have to ignore what has become a single-minded focus on the fact that I'm seeing The Dark Knight Rises in a mere 8 or so hours and actually discuss something that my readers might find vaguely relevant. (Though everyone on the planet is excited for the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, so my readers would probably enjoy a meta discussion of politics and philosophy in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, right? Right? Is this thing on?)

Okay, so actual Las Vegas content... right! I've made myself clear time and time again that I really, really, (REALLY!!!) don't like the whole nightclub scene in Las Vegas. It should come as no surprise that a dude who prefers dive bars with Craft Beers, deep jukeboxes, and interesting crowds would be against places that make you wait lines for just long enough to feel humiliated before you have to pay an exorbitantly high cover charge in order to enter a club packed with overly aggressive bros all wearing basically the same button up shirt uniforms as they compete for the attention of the few short-skirted women who are there without their boyfriends by paying for ridiculously overpriced and not particularly strong cocktails while awful Top 40 hits you're already sick of blast out of the speakers. Plus some of these places have sad looking girls dancing in cages or columns of fire blasting from the ceilings that make them feel like Sodom and Gomorrah come to vivid life. There's a reason I never party on Hollywood Blvd. or The Sunset Strip while I'm home in Los Angeles, and I try to avoid these exact scenes which repeat in almost every Las Vegas nightclub.

That said, I have absolutely nothing against dancing. I used to refuse to dance, back when I was younger and more self-conscious. I've finally learned to not care what people think of me (and realized that mostly people are not really thinking of me at all anyway) and learned to enjoy myself on the dance floor, or as much as an uncoordinated straight Jewish dude can enjoy themselves on a dance floor (which is quite a lot when enough alcohol is involved!)

All that is to say I would not mind finding a fun place to dance in Las Vegas, but it's hard to work myself up to waiting in those lines and trying to convince the pretentious bouncers that I'm cool enough to get in to a place that I won't really like once I've finally lowered my dignity enough to actually get in. So that's why I've created this list of unsolicited advice on how one could create the perfect, non-douchey nightclub that would attract a alternate crowd to the usual bros and bro-ettes that queue up to get into The Marquee and XS every night. (Because clearly the owners of these clubs, with their mile-long lines of partygoers waiting for hours to gain entry as they make money hand over fist, really need my advice.) My perfect nightclub would feature:

No Velvet Rope
While Luxor's Savile Row has done an admirable job creating an alternative space designed to attract a more creative and interesting crowd than most Vegas clubs, they've done so by doubling down on the exclusivity thing, featuring a bouncer so demanding he's become a local celebrity. They keep out the usual boring Club-hoppers, but it also means they keep out pretty much everyone. My dream club would feature no Velvet Rope or bouncer, and people would only be shut out if the place was filled past fire codes. I'd want to include everyone, which would mean that yes, many of those DBags I often make fun of on this site would be allowed in, in the spirit of bro-hood and democracy. Besides, the truly boring people would probably stay away as the place would feature...

Better (and Less Popular) Music
While I am not a electronic music superfan, the fact that many of the hot clubs are booking top-tier DJs playing original tunes as opposed to the same Top 40 that every other place plays all the time is encouraging. But my club would mix it up with DJs spinning some truly eclectic tunes that would not fall into the Dubsteppin' category. I'd want DJs that had James Murphy's encyclopedic knowledge of cool music, from the very latest underground indie to amazing deep cuts from decades past. My place would feature DJs playing set lists from bands that would resemble the hipster name-checking exercise Murphy became famous for with Losing My Edge. Who knows, maybe Murphy would be willing to become a resident DJ at my place. He has a little more time on his hands since he retired LCD Soundsystem... and he can't say no since this club will never exist in the real world anyway!

Couches for All!
I'm no socialist. I know that much of the money clubs pull in is made from bottle service. So sure, I'll still have a VIP section where people who are dumb enough to pay $300 for a $25 bottle of booze plus the privilege of  having a table saved for them. I WILL TAKE YOUR MONEY IF YOU WANT TO GIVE IT TO ME, ONE PERCENTERS! But my club would also feature couches and seating for everyone to take a load off after hitting the dance floor. If you're dancing in a crowded and hot club, you should be able to sit. America's working class should have seats in nightclubs too! If Barack Obama made this part of his stump speech, he'd win in a landslide come November.

Affordable Drinks
Again, I know the clubs make much of their profit on alcohol sales. But the markup is ridiculous enough at even the most affordable dive bar... and somehow in a nightclub, alcohol ends up costing about three times what it costs at (the already not so cheap) Casino bars. My club would pour decent cocktails and great Beer, and wouldn't charge you an arm and a leg (when just an arm will suffice for us to turn a decent profit).
A Unique Vibe
Almost every megaclub opening in Las Vegas is hyped up beyond belief, with budgets ballooning as Casinos engage in a nuclear arms race (set to a throbbing Dubstep beat) to open the most excessive nightlife spot on The Strip. But why are these places spending millions of dollars to basically repeat the exact same boring designs over and over? With almost every club featuring the same Miami in the 80's-vomit color scheme, strobe lights, and smoke machines, why can't one of these clubs have a creative design and atmosphere? Most clubs are competing for the most opulent, luxurious, Life-styles of the Rich and Famous, Kanye West video vibe possible, but I'd go for something else. Maybe a grungy CBGB type throwback design (shades of The Double Down Saloon) for the rock kids, or a well thought out theme that transports you to a different place, as befitting of a nightclub in the Disneyworld for adults that is Las Vegas. Possible crazy fun themes (instead of pretentious and snooty) include a futuristic Akira-like backdrop with lasers and dancing robots, a meticulously detailed high school gym (to give you the chance to redeem yourself from the days when you'd stand in the corner at a school dance and wallflower it up while The Wallflowers played) or even... (you all knew Batman was coming back into this post eventually) The Batcave. (Fun fact, there was indeed once a Batman themed nightclub called Wayne Manor in the San Fracisco suburbs back in the 60s. Thanks, internet!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Missing Linq

Obsessive Vegas-watchers are aware that construction is already underway for Caesars Entertainment's Linq Project in the middle of The Strip. For those not in the know, Caesars hopes that The Linq will be a bit of a game-changer, an outdoor entertainment and shopping mecca with a massive Ferris Wheel serving as the centerpiece. Modeled after London's giant "Observation Wheel" (which has been featured prominently in episodes of Doctor Who and Sherlock, for all my BBC-Nerds out there), Linq's version will feature massive gondolas and take about an hour to rotate from top to bottom. The Linq will also feature (as yet unnamed) shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment options. As part of the half-billion dollar project, the sorta-crummy Imperial Palace will get a facelift and full re-brand (while O'Shea's has already closed and will be demolished to make way for the new project).

Las Vegas is going through a strange time, as the post-recession economic blues continue to drag down new spending in Sin City (and pretty much everywhere else in the country). Construction on numerous resorts has been shut down mid-project, and the last major opening in Vegas was The Cosmopolitan in early 2011. MGM's hyper ambitious CityCenter project was scaled back after major delays before it finally opened in late 2009 (while one of its towers, The Harmon Hotel, will eventually be never open and will eventually be demolished). Multi-billion dollar projects like The Fontainebleau and Echelon Place sit unfinished, serving as useful metaphors for the continued woes of Las Vegas (and little else).

Caesars believes that The Linq Project can bring a breath of fresh air to The Strip, even as they spend a fraction of  the cost of a new mega-resort. The Linq plan makes a certain amount of sense, and will probably be successful enough. Even I'm looking forward to taking a spin on the wheel and enjoying the view of the glittering Strip at night, despite my usually cynical disposition.
That said, the fact that a big Ferris Wheel and outdoor mall is the most innovative and ambitious new construction happening on The Strip is a bit depressing and grim. In 2008, I read a great Vegas business book called Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kekorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas (not to be confused with Abba's criminally catchy The Winner Takes it All), by Wall Street Journal writer Christina Brinkley (not to be confused with Christie Brinkley, muse of Billy Joel's criminally catchy Uptown Girl) which argued that the arm's race to build bigger and more luxurious resorts in Las Vegas would never end. But the bubble did indeed burst as our entire financial system collapsed, bringing the ridiculous growth in the City of Sin to a screeching halt. Now most of the truly innovative development in Las Vegas is happening in Downtown, but most of those new openings are cool little Bars and Coffee shops... some of which are opening in decidedly non-upscale shipping containers.

As much as I've raved about how Downtown is rapidly evolving into a truly cool and livable neighborhood, recent years have seen a decline in the sort of razzle dazzle that defines The Strip. I'm all for Vegas becoming a more livable city with interesting and unique small businesses, but I really do love the gargantuan stupidness of the city's famous boulevard.

The downscaling of ambition can be seen everywhere on The Strip. Take a look at the dining scene... while name chefs opened Five Star restaurants seemingly once a week way way back in 2007, these days new restaurant openings tend to be more middleclass Gastropubs serving decent Burgers and Beer (I'm not complaining, mind you... I love burgers and beers). Meanwhile, most high roller gamblers are taking their Black Jack money and making bets in Macau, where Vegas developers like Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn are opening the kind of lavish resorts they used to build in the Nevada desert.

I prefer an intimate little dive bar with a good juke box and an eclectic crowd on most nights, but when I go to Vegas I expect to experience the crazy, over the top synthetic spectacle of it all. Perhaps it's just recession fatigue setting in after nearly four years of terrible economic news, but I'm disheartened by the lack of new stupidity and wastefully excessive resorts themed after El Dorado or The Tower of Babel going up on The Strip. My preference is leans towards the more artsy and indie-friendly environs of Downtown, but I want The Strip to come back to vividly stupid life as well. The idea of a Las Vegas that features a neighborhood filled with Vegan bakeries, Craft Breweries, venues that feature the best indie rock and alt comedians just down the street from a massively stupid Strip of glittery fakeness makes it one of the most surreal cities on the planet, and the perfect place to get good and drunk for an entire lost weekend of madness.

The bottom line is that The Linq sounds like a fun and unique addition to The Strip, but it lacks the huge ambition of the most impressive resorts that seemed to open every few months during the first half of the 2000's. Las Vegas represents the dumber side of the American psyche, but when the best the city can do is build a big flashing Ferris Wheel, it's proof that our depressed psyche is in desperate need of some dumbness. We need the stupidity back. We need the rampant over-building of ludicrous Casino Resorts back. We need The Strip to get its groove back.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Escape From Douchebaggery, Part 23: The Huntridge Tavern

There are many types of Las Vegas bars, but few of them are cheap. The vast majority of the watering holes in Las Vegas are located in the Casinos (both on and off The Strip) and have little to no character and pretty high drink prices. A few of the downscale casino bars, like the ones in Bill's Gambling Hall, are cheap but not really places designed for hanging out (they want to get you gambling, obviously). Then there's the new wave of high-class cocktail lounges, Wine Bars, and Craft Brew spots... but once again, they're best enjoyed with some cash in your pocket. There are the awesome hipster bars popping up Downtown, where you can find interesting artsy types that resemble cool spots in Silver Lake, San Francisco, or Brooklyn... and where you'll paying the same prices on booze as you'd pay in in Silver Lake, San Francisco, or Brooklyn (you gotta keep things authentic, after all). The town is also filled with faux-dive bars that are actually themed to resemble down-home divey joints but sell their booze at decidedly not divey price points.

The Huntridge Tavern, my friends, is another story entirely. It's the ultimate Las Vegas dive bar, a 50 year old, 24/7 Downtown adjacent dive that's the perfect watering hole for the broke and thirsty. The Griffin, with its eclectic jukebox, Craft Brews on tap, and castle-like design is the bar we want. But in these post-recession times, The Huntridge is the bar we need.

A smoky, sticky hole in the wall with some of the cheapest booze prices you'll find... well, anywhere (beers starting at $1.50, premium beers for $3!), The Huntrdige is the best place in Las Vegas to get plastered for next to nothing. The crowd is eclectic, with Vegas locals, bikers, old timer alcoholics, hipsters, and Rock-a-Billy enthusiasts enjoying blindingly strong cocktails on the cheap as one.

The Huntridge is one of the best places to wind down after a night of epic party times. I love grabbing a booth with some friends, blasting crowd pleasing tunes from their decent Jukebox, chatting with colorful locals, people watching, and enjoying the brisk (yet not rude) interactions with the busy servers who never leave you with an empty drink for long. The place has a bit of an edge and an attitude, as you'd expect from a more local's friendly drinking establishment. As such, it's not the kind of spot where you'll run in to a lot of tourists, which is one of the great things about the place.

Speaking of the hipsters who make up some of the clientele at the bar, I have to address something that bothered me while I was researching this post. I don't do footnotes or sidebars, and this paragraph would certainly qualify for one if I did, but bare with me. While looking up what other people had to say about The Huntridge, I came across a specific Yelp Review that ticked me off. Obviously, getting annoyed at Yelpers is a fool's errand that could lead you down a never-ending black hold of frustration, but this review irked me as it blasted the "hipsters" drinking at the bar. The Yelper complained that the place had been taken over by "bicycle-riding, big black-plastic-framed-glasses-wearing Portlond Ore wannabes" with "skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts" who were "swilling hipster ambrosia, a/k/a Pabst Blue Ribbon." She then goes on casually drop a Smiths quote and says that she was "grumbling all of this into a totally UN-pretentious Campari and soda. But goddamnit-- I'M supposed to be the only ironic one in these places!" So we have a classic case of a hipster calling out other hipsters for their horribly stereotypically hipster behavior. Or something. First of all, hipsters don't really drink PBR anymore... Crafts are where it's at these days. And what's the point of pulling out the most obvious hipster cliches and complaining that you're not welcome at a Dive Bar whose very existence is based on a diverse group of people drinking their for cheap? And many hipsters are poor (while yes many are trust fund babies who went to art school). I just don't get being an indie counter-culture type and attacking other so-called "hipsters." I named myself one in my blog, but I regret it. The term has become tiresome and meaningless. And this girl quoted The Smiths! She's mad that she's not the only hipster there? She's basically being a huge hipster by saying the influx of hipsters at the bar no matter makes it authentic. It's what I call the "hipster Catch 22." Really, the thing that people get annoyed about with hipsters is their exclusivity and insecure insistence on being the most unique snowflake who discovered and "made" whatever place they go to. And then they get mad when other people there are like them? It's pure nonsense. Just enjoy your cheap drinks with the fun and diverse crowd who drinks there every night! Okay, rant over. I didn't mean to call you out, Yelp User Sarah Jane W. Next time I'm in Vegas we should talk about The Smiths and make out.

Getting back on point,  The Huntridge is not the type of place that will place on lists for the coolest or most chic bars in Las Vegas. You'll never catch a surprise set from a hot DJ or run into cool celebrities dropping for a drink. You won't take photos of the decor or be floored by Cocktails made with seasonal fruits by bartenders who prefer to call themselves mixologists. But you will get drunk for cheap with interesting people in a smoky and dingy hole in the wall with Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stone tunes blasting from the jukebox.  Do you need anything more than that in these continually rough economic times?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Even the Stupidest Parts of Las Vegas

Today, I ran across a Thrillist article about The Neapolitan of Las Vegas, an adult's only Ice Cream Parlor located near the pool at The Cosmopolitan. I balked when I read about the place, which offers alcohol and liquid nitrogen infused Ice Cream, Milk Shakes, Sorbets, Smoothies, Frozen Fruit Drinks, Popsicles, and Push-Pops served by women wearing the questionable fashion choice of lab coats over bikinis. The Cosmo describes it as "avant-garde," somehow. It is consistent with their brand of high-class hedonism they've pushed since their first TV spot dropped, but also revels in all of the things that people who hate Vegas hate about Vegas.

Last week, VegasChatter reported on a similar dining concept opening on The Strip called Twin Peaks, and let's just say that the name of the restaurant is not a classy reference to David Lynch's bizarro-awesome cult-classic TV series from the early 90's. Like a Hooters with mountain theme, the national chain is growing quickly and will open their biggest restaurant yet in Vegas at the end of the year, offering what will no doubt be mediocre food, beer, and waitresses dressed in mid-riff baring lumberjack style shirts who will hopefully be tipped well enough to make up for all the ogling they have to put up with.

I'm not gonna lie, you guys. These new dining concepts are stupid. Extremely stupid and borderline (okay way  past borderline) sexist, and they only appeal to the basest of base human instincts. And you know what? That's sort of the point of Las Vegas.

I've spent an endless amount of digital ink arguing that Las Vegas is becoming a cooler city where hipsters need not fear to tread. Downtown is evolving into something legitimately cool, with unique bars, creative restaurants, and even a genuine cultural center. All of that is great and makes Las Vegas a valid place to spend your vacation without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. But at the same time, if you just wanted to find a cool bar where you could drink some Craft Brews and listen to Dirty Projectors songs on the jukebox, you can find that in any number of cities. Make the pilgrimage to Portland, Austin, LA, or Brooklyn if you want a hipstered out vacation. But if you're going to visit Las Vegas, you might as well indulge in the things that make Sin City Sin City (for better and for worse).

I'll never stop advising people to avoid summer "Daylife Pool Parties" like the plague (quite literally... these places seem to be cess-pools for STD outbreaks for which chlorine seems like an awfully weak first line of defense), and nigthclubs that blast a mix of Dubstep and Top 40 (though even I won't deny the catchy delights of the inescapable bubble-gum jam of the summer, Call Me Maybe), and I've "bashed" on the typical Vegas D-bags who populate said places plenty. But how can I truly endorse this city, how can I write an entire blog talking about how much I love it, without accepting and embracing some of its stupider elements?

The cliche "when in Rome, do as the Romans do," should apply to Vegas as much as any other city (especially a city that features a fake version of Rome), or else why are you there in the first place? Las Vegas is a ridiculous place where people are offered an opportunity to escape their normal lives and indulge in behavior they wouldn't indulge in back home. Certainly that idea is marketing as much as anything and all of it is actually very controlled and safe... but why not blow off a steam, drop the too cool for school act, and enjoy Vegas on its own terms?

Below are some of my favorite picks for Vegas-centric activities that invite you to "do as the douchebags do" but won't make you feel too ashamed. (Just remember not to snap any Instagram pics if you don't want your cool friends back in the real world to know that you were actually having fun.)

Yes, gambling is stupid and pointless, obviously. You're laying down real money that will probably be gone so fast it will make your head spin, and you'll probably get nothing in return. Except you do get something out of it if you think of gambling as an entertainment option like any other. You're willing to lay down a certain amount of money on concerts or movies, so when gambling you should do the same... decide an amount of money you're willing to lose on gambling and stick with it. You're paying for an entertainment experience and you should consider the money spent and gone and be fine with it when you lose it. If you're not fine with losing it, you won't have a good time. What you will get is a fun, buzzy thrill you'll feel as you wait to see if you won or lost, and if you're lucky, you might even win a bit of it back. The key is to not spend any money over whatever budget you set for yourself. Because once you start spending more than you promised yourself, that's when you stop having fun and  might have a Marge-like problem (from an episode in the era when The Simpsons was great). 

Drink Like a Sorority Girl
Between advocating gambling and this, I'll admit that this is not the most responsible post I've ever written, but we're talking about how to enjoy Vegas properly here. 9 out of 10 doctors recommend alcohol as the best way to deal with anxiety, relieve stress, and remove that cooler than though stick lodged firmly up your butt (note: no real doctors have endorsed this as a solid life plan). Do some shots! shots! shots! (like Lil Jon and LMFAO rant about in one of the worst. songs. ever.), enjoy comped drinks as you gamble (and order the good stuff, cause it's free!), and bring some booze for pre-gaming in your room. Vegas is best enjoyed on a continuous light buzz... it will make all of the stupidity seem more fun and enjoyable. Just don't overdo it because you don't want a Vegas hangover (and I'm not talking about the kind where Mike Tyson's tiger ends up in your room, am I right?).

Binge Out at a Buffet
Another one that's easy to roll your eyes at, I know. Buffets are gross and represent American gluttony at its very worst. They're about quantity over quality, and the grotesque spectacle of overweight families piling their plates high with fried food is a common sight in almost every one of them. While these things undoubtedly true, buffets are also awesome. You're on vacation in Las Vegas so loosen up (and loosen your belt) while you enjoy your very own piled high plate featuring Nachos, Fried Chicken, Sushi, and Pasta all mingling together. You can get back to your organic, portion controlled, gluten-free farm to fork meals and your daily jog when you get back to the real world. But when you're in Vegas, indulge in one of the better all you can eat options in town... The Wynn Buffet actually tips the balance towards quality (though it's a bit expensive because of that), while The Rio and Paris Buffets are almost as good (and cost a little less than the Buffet at a resort where the underlying theme is money).

Cool Off by the Pool
I already mentioned this in my previous, ultra-patriotic 4th of July post, but one of the greatest things to do in Las Vegas (and the rest of the world) is to lounge by a pool with a drink and turn your mind off. I'll reiterate for the millionth (or third, but who's counting?) time that you must do everything humanly possible to avoid the awful daylife pool party grossness where you have to pay a cover to deal with gross dudes competing for dumb chicks. So try and make sure you book a room at a hotel with more chilled out but fun pool. I already recommended Mandalay Bay, The Golden Nugget, or The Red Rock (for some swimup blackjack), but might I also mention checking in to The Hooters Hotel and Casino. I know, I know Hooters is disgusting and just as exploitative as the above-mentioned Twin Peaks or Neapolitan... but the rooms are cheap and you can eat Chicken Wings by the pool. Do you really want anything more out of life than Chicken Wings by the pool?

Dance Like an Idiot
Yes, yes, I agree with what you're thinking and I've said it before myself: most clubs and "ultra-lounges" play truly terrible music. But you should find a place without a cover (or with a low one at least), suck it up a bit and deal with the fact that you'll have to hear that awful Katy Perry song or that (not so bad) Rhianna jam for the ten bazillionth time, loosen up, and cut a rug. Because if you are one of those people who stands with their arms crossed while other people are having fun, you're not proving that you are cooler than everyone else, you're just being a a dick. Believe me, I know this from experience. You'll have fun, members of the opposite sex will see that you're fun, and that can lead to even more (naked) fun. Just make sure none of your friends film you with their camera phones because nobody wants to see what they look like dancing (unless they're John Travolta). 

Revel in the Glory of the Synthetic Cheese
You don't have to go to Twin Peaks, but you should probably enjoy some of the (totally free!!!) over-done fakery that defines The Strip. Take a stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard and encounter such anachronistic sites such as a too-colorful version of The New York Skyline, a half sized Eiffel Tower Replica, a heavily chlorinated version of the canals of Venice, and a Egyptian Pyramid that looks exactly like authentic Egyptian Pyramids except for the fact that it's made of black glass and has a light shooting up from it that's so bright it can be seen from space. Also, you can enjoy one of The Strip's classiest (or at least closest to classy attractions) with The Beallagio's beautifully choreographed water and light show set to classical music and Frank Sinatra tunes. Get drunk enough and you'll probably be moved instead of feeling guilty that this massive waste of H20 takes place in the middle of the dessert.

After you enjoy the stupidity of it all, you can go home, roll your eyes dismissively, and tell your cool friends that Las Vegas is fake, crass, stupid, and representative of the worst and most excessive tendencies of late capitalism.

But secretly, deep down, you'll know. You'll just know.