Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Geeks Guide to Las Vegas

Okay, it's time to admit something deep and true about myself: I am a geek.
There, I said it. And I feel so much more free.

Then again, being a geek isn't exactly the social burden it once was. The internet has made it possible for fellow geeks to communicate their obsessions with each other on a mass scale. Geek-centric properties like The Avengers and Game of Thrones are basically the most popular things on the planet right now. Comic-Con is now a cultural even covered by almost every media outlet that actual wants hits. Even Doctor Who has gone from a weird British cult show that American nerds watch on bootleg VHS tapes in their parent's basements to a genuine cultural phenomenon with merchandise taking up endcap space at Barnes and Noble, lavish New York City premieres, and an endless variety of Pinterestable memes comparing Matt Smith and David Tennant's take on The Doctor.

As much as I want to make this post a laundry list that provides the definitive answer in the endless Tennent/ Smith battle, I guess I should probably make this article about Las Vegas on some level since that's what this blog is ostensibly (and definitely) about. Unless Emperor Moffat has the Tardis land in Sin City in a future adventure (and why not? He could team up with Dennis Quaid's Sheriff from Vegas, the upcoming period drama about the rough and tumble history of the town) then I can't really find a good motivation to write about the last Timelord and his bow-tied adventures. But what I can do is recommend the most geek friendly Las Vegas bars, restaurants, attractions, and resorts. And despite the fact the Star Trek Experience and Quark's Bar at the old Las Vegas Hilton (recently regenerated as The LVH) closed a few years back and the full scale USS Enterprise never opened on Fremont Street, Vegas is actually a pretty good place to be a geek, if you know the right places to look.

Insert Coins
512 Fremont St
Las Vegas, NV 89101

A few of these places I've already mentioned, but they're awesomely geeky and IT'S MY BLOG SO GET OFF MY BACK. Plus I know some people haven't read each and every post I've ever written (though if you haven't, get on it if you really want to prove your completist nerd credentials), which is why I'm totally fine with bringing up this amazing geek paradise again even though it was already the subject of one of my early posts. An awesome option for gamers looking to party Vegas-style, this Downtown hotspot is a cocktail that mixes the best elements of an arcade and a nightclub. And their (much cheaper than your average club) bottle service fee gets you a couch and an old school console rental. You can also dance to some better than average music if you're the kind of geek who isn't afraid to show off some killer moves without the aid of DDR. They've also got a well executed blog that understands their audience perfectly. Basically this place is the best.


The crown jewel in the massive CityCenter complex is another place I've blogged about in a previous reality, but it's worth mentioning again due to the fact that the rooms in this futuristic hotel are incredibly tech savvy. A remote controls everything, including the window curtains, air conditioning, light level, and even the television! You can also use the remote to set your room to green-friendly mode by closing the shades and setting the air to an environmentally friendly level in the first LEED Certified hotel in the city.


This lounge in the middle of Rio's bustling casino floor stands out because it was the first place on Planet Earth to install Microsoft Surface in an entertainment venue. The consoles are a prototype for Microsoft's highly anticipated aspirational iPad-killer tablets, and the bar features a group of the 360 degree view touchscreens that you and your friends can gather around to play a large selection of games. The machines are also social and can communicate with the other Surface consoles in the bar, so you can challenge strangers to a friendly game, send them photos, or even flirt with them. If you actually have the cojones to hit on someone using a touchscreen computer, go for it.

The National Atomic Testing Museu/ Area 51 Exhibit
755 East Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Another place I've mentioned before, in a very recent post about quirky museums in Las Vegas. This place will appeal to your inner science and history nerd, with recreations of underground test facilities and the dummy-filled homes that were used in the tests of these awe inspiring weapons that the government used to test in the desert outside of Las Vegas. In that post, I advised people to avoid the attached Area 51 museum, which costs an extra fee. I haven't been back to the Atomic Testing Museum since the new exhibit opened but I haven't heard great things... but then again,  as a geek, it's kind of our duty to waste $10 on a half-assed alien museum, isn't it? (Bonus! The museum is a quick drive to the Dennis Hof's planned Sci-Fi themed brothel. If you're into that kind of thing. Ick.)

Pinball Hall of Fame
1610 East Tropicana Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89119

 Another one from my recent list of oddball museums, but it would be a crime to write a post about geek-centric things to do in Las Vegas and fail to mention a place that gathered some of the best pinball machines from the golden age of the game under one roof. This place is old school geek nirvana.

MaximuM Comics
5130 South Fort Apache Road #285
Las Vegas, NV
 Probably the best comic book store in Las Vegas, it's a bit of a drive from The Strip but worth it for their excellent selection. If you're in Las Vegas on Wednesday, you'll be able to find every title from your pull list here, as well as a great selection of back issues and trades as well as super hero and general geek related merch. Just because you're an "adult" doesn't mean you have to stop buying Spider-Man T-shirts. (Note: this advice will always never get you laid.)

Sci Fi Center
900 E Karen Ave, Suite D202
Las Vegas, NV 89109
This place is a friggin' gem. The front of the Sci Fi Center is a little comic book shop with a decent selection, but the coolest part is their "underground screening room" where they show a wide variety of cult, genre, horror, sci-fi and generally geeky films and TV shows. They recently ran a classic Doctor Who marathon and they're known to show Rocky Horror at midnights as well. They also have a monthly live show featuring magic, vaudeville style performers, standup comedy, and more. If I could move into this hidden temple of pure cult nerdom, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Zombie Apocalypse Store
3420 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89102
  This place is both amazing and nutty. While the owners really follow through on their geek-baiting theme and sell zombie related merchandise, they also really do offer "everything you'd need to survive a zombie apocalypse." Their mission statement says that "zombies" are a metaphor for everything, from tornadoes to earthquakes to "The Government," which means the place is basically a superstore for survivalists and promise keepers. You can also rent and shoot real machine guns at the property, and buy knives, swords, gas masks, stun guns, and "exploding targets." Which means you might run into some wing-nuts who think Barack Obama is turning America into a fascist socialist Muslim dystopia... but that's all part of the fun. You're not gonna actually meet a zombie at the store, but you can snap a great Instagram pic of you posing with a real life paranoid revolutionary!

28Go: The Restaurant
4632 S Maryland Pkwy, Suite 12
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Named after a Japanese manga from the 50's that introduced the concept of giant robots duking it out, this place features excellent Ramen and Asian Fusion food served in a setting designed with geeks in mind. Pictures of robots and mechs line the walls, sci-fi movies play on the TVs, and the entire place has a sleek future Tokyo vibe. Their stuffed Waffles and their Ramen are delicious, while drinks served from their "Space Bar" include Sake Fizz Cocktails made with fresh fruit infusions.

Bodies: The Exhibition
The Luxor

There was a time where I resented the existence of Bodies: The Exhibition because I thought it was a ripoff of Bodyworlds, the original touring show that features real human bodies preserved in polymer. But Bodies has survived for a long time at this point that it's earned my respect, with the Vegas version going strong for nearly a decade. If you're a science nerd, getting up close and personal, 3-dimensional views of what we look like on the inside is worth seeing. A lot of the bodies are arranged in crazy poses, which makes seeing the show while taking advantage of the liberal open container laws in Las Vegas even more fun.

Bonus Gulity Pleasure Pick: Tournament of Kings

Yes, The Excalibur's dinner and show is basically a blatant ripoff of Medieval Times. But so what? You get to cheer on knights in an epic jousting tournament while you scarf down mediocre food and drink crappy beer out of mugs. Unless you hate fun, what's not to love?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 27: Rio Wine Cellar and Tasting Room

Despite the fact that if you drink enough of it, it will get you just as messed up any other beverage out there, wine has been romanticized as the classiest, most worldly, most gosh-darned civilized of all alcoholic substances.

Critically acclaimed and Oscar winning movies like Sideways (which is essentially about a sad and pathetic drunk) keep the perception that wine is for smart and informed drinkers going strong. Knowing a lot about wine makes you sophisticated, as opposed to a pretentious alcoholic.

This, by the way, is not a criticism of wine or the way it's perceived. I just find the perception interesting. But I love a good Red and I enjoy wine tasting at lovely vineyards in the beautiful Napa or Santa Barbara Valleys. I'll admit to swishing the wine glass around and smelling it before sipping even though I don't really know what I'm talking about. We're all "that guy" sometimes.

The best place to be "that guy" in Las Vegas is in Rio's Wine Cellar and Tasting Room, a hidden mecca for Oenophiles. I'd heard that the off-Strip resort historically had a great reputation with wine lovers as one of the first Las Vegas hotels to stockpile an impressive wine cellar in the 90's. But I'd also heard that reputation came from the days when the Marnell family (who now run the boutique M Resort south of The Strip) owned the place, before selling it off to Harrah's in 1999.

But I was tipped off by a recent piece in one of my favorite Sin City travel sites, VegasChatter, that the resort's semi-secret Wine Cellar was worth a visit. And as is often the case with the snarky but never mean blog, the recommendation was right on the money.

The place pulls off the look and feel of a real old timey cellar perfectly, with cave-like stone walls, wood paneling, and leather seats to sink into as you sip on offerings on hand. And offerings they have aplenty, as the Cellar and tasting room carries over 50,000 bottles valued at a total of $10 million. Some of these bottles are hundreds of years old and costs tens of thousands of dollars. They even feature a Madeira owned from 1800 owned by Thomas Jefferson (which leads me to question why T.J. never popped the cork and drank it, but I digress, as is my style), valued at... a lot more money than you can afford. So don't knock it over if you don't want to be sentenced to 40 years hard labor washing dishes in the back of The Rio.

While all of these fancy schmancy bottles sound intimidating, they also sell plenty of great varieties for $10 or less. The place offers reasonably priced tastings where you can sample some interesting vintages from all over the globe, which can be paired with cheese and cured meat platters if you're feeling fancy (and trying to impress a girl, which I may or may not have been during my visit). Their selection was deep, as I found a few bottles from Napa wineries I love like Duckhorn and Artesa . (I'm not name-dropping to show off my Wine knowledge. The fact that they had Wines I recognized is a testament to their depth of selection, not to my depth of knowledge. I don't know much about how to choose a wine beyond the "this tastes good in my mouth" test.)

The extremely friendly staff also pours over 100 wines by the glass, so you can enjoy a full serving of anything that really blows your mind. The girl who poured our drinks was knowledgeable without being pretentious and made us feel welcome, where I've felt intimidated in some tasting rooms in the past. I basically considered her to be my wing-lady and tipped her generously.

There are a whole lot of nooks and crannies in the place where you can get lost and have a deep conversation with a special someone before browsing the aisles of bottles you'll never be able to afford. But you can joke about coming back one day to buy a $30,000 Cabernet once you're married and have made your millions. Believe me, it's a good strategy. Call it wine porn.

If you're looking to find a hidden and romantic spot off the beaten Strip path, Rio's Wine Cellar and Tasting Room is a classy choice. Even if you get wasted there. Just try not to break Thomas Jefferson's 200 year old Wine when you do.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Little More on the "H Word"

I touched on what defining the word "hipster" a bit on my post a couple days ago, which was ostensibly about indie-centric shopping in Las Vegas but (as is my way) started with a bit of digressive a rant about the dreaded H word. Because it's still on my mind, I wanted to expand my ideas on the subject of hipsterdom a lil' bit. This post isn't strictly Vegas related, but it does related to anyone in Sin City who might be filed under H for hipster, a population that's growing every day as Downtown grows cooler, quirkier, indier, and uniquer.

So this will most likely be semi-incoherent, but I've had a desire to get my thoughts out on the subject for awhile, to at least start a discussion. Even though I've branded my blog as the Vegas site for hipsters, I've grown incredibly wary of the "H" word as of late. It's become incredibly over-determined and contradictory in meaning at this particular point in history, to a point that all of those hipster everyone loathes are really a straw-men that largely don't exist.

Just this week, a friend asked me which Beach Boys album is my all time favorite. When I enthusiastically endorsed Pet Sounds, he said that I had chosen the "hipster answer" because it's the "obvious one for people who don't really know the band's entire disocgraphy." His choice was Smile (which I'm completely obsessed with as well, having listened to bootleg versions over the years, the remake version Brian Wilson and a new band made a few years ago, and every track of the recording sessions included in recent definitive release that finally came out less than a year ago), which in itself seemed to be a hipster attitude in the opposite side of the spectrum. Choosing an album so experimental and ahead of its time that it was shelved for over 40 years is the kind of thing an obscurity obsessed hipster would cling on to in order to prove their cred points. Because as amazing and revolutionary as Smile is, few pop records can approach the beauty of Wilson's "teenage symphony to God" that is Pet Sounds. Sometimes the most obvious answer is obvious because it's the right one.

And again, I tumble down a pit of digression. What unites these two contradictory definition of hipsterdom is that they seem to both define a person who is obsessed with the image they are projecting first and foremost, making their music choices to show off their knowledge (whether it be real or faked) to reflect a personal brand. People who operate in this way do, in fact, suck. And yes, we've all met many of them. But I submit to you, dear reader, that I personally haeven't met that many hipsters who live their lives this way. Even the ones who I initially think are just into strange and obscure music just to be different have turned out to be genuine in their love and have even opened my eyes to cool new stuff I wouldn't have explored otherwise. And I really don't know that many people who fake their knowledge of music just to show off. Sure, we're all insecure and want to fit in. That's human. But most people love what they love for good reasons that they can easily defend.

My point is that, to me, hipster has become an unwieldy and almost undefinable term that people throw around at others derisively and in judgement. Yes, there are a few hipster signifiers like fashion and facial hair, but most of the people who rock these looks have a lot more to them than what first meet's the eye... which is, you know, the whole point of not being prejudiced against any group (please don't read this as me equating hipster with persecuted minorities, though I'm sure there is a funny web video that could be produced on that subject).

While the idea of a person living their lives in a perpetual phony cool pose is dispiriting, most people are just into what they're into. That doesn't mean that they have to be into what you're into, and judging their motivations for liking something different from what you like is exactly what made people hate "hipsters" in the first place. You see how quickly this thing becomes "the snake eating its tail" (or "totes meta," as the hipsters like to say)? Sometimes I think that the hipster label says more about the person doing the labeling than the person being labeled.

At this point I think a "hipster" can be defined as a young person (usually living in a city) with an interest in things that are cool, interesting, different, and outside of the mainstream (and I'm not talking about elitism above anything that is mainstream. Non-evil hipsters can un-ironically acknowledge the indisputable pure pop pleasure of Call Me Maybe while grooving on a limited edition boxset of obscure Krautrock tracks from the 70s at the same time), so why is it so often used as a pejorative? Enjoying good things over mediocre things is a bad thing now? Yes, there are hipsters who are assholes. But there are also assholes in every type of group that people can define themselves in.

Maybe I'm just not that deep in the "scene." I'm not cool enough to be photographed by The Cobra Snake, wearing too skinny jeans and doing blow in the bathroom every ten minutes at a local band's record release party while we all fret about our relevance and hope Julian Casablancas or Ariel Pink will show up. But I don't encounter people like that who live their lives that way all that often. They exist, but they're not actually a factor in my life.

It's time to retake the word from the jaws of negativity and don the label proudly. Stand up and be proud of your plaid shirts, thick glasses, asymmetrical haircuts, penchant for craft IPAS, and vinyl collection, if that's what you truly love. But do it because it's the world you truly and honestly identify with. I think the real hatred of hipsters comes from the fact that people feel they're posing as something they're not... which is equally ironic, because the stereotypical hipster hates anything that's not authentic. Don't be a cartoon easily parodied by Hipster Runoff, chasing some trendy image. Be your true self, and if your true self is a hipster, then own it and mean it with your heart.

Love things not because you're supposed to do so in deference to defining your "personal brand." Love what you love for the only reason that anything (or anyone) deserves to be loved: because it's great and worth loving.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hipster Shopping in Las Vegas

I'll be honest; I don't really know what the term hipster means anymore. The word has become an over-determined and silly catchall that's ceased to have any real meaning.
There is definitely a stereotypical hipster look, one that's basically become a uniform of the indie-inclined. Many people choose to "dress the part" in the undying human quest to fit in, adopting the vintage fashion and over sized glasses that have become ubiquitous from Los Feliz to Brooklyn. I can't say I'm really above it... I do have a closet full of plaid and American Apparel shirts with band logos screen-printed on them. Plus, I also rock a mighty beard and sport thick black glasses (though I've had them since I was in high school and before they were trendy, but I guess voicing that protest is about as hipstery as one can get).

If you really want to fully embody the hipster style, whether to infiltrate a suspicious cell of ironic terrorists who want to overthrow the government based on the philosophy of Vice Magazine or you just want to put together a killer Halloween costume, it's easy to find the perfect retail outlets for hipster essentials in any major city.

Including Las Vegas, of course. Below is a listing of the indiest and most hipsterific retail options in Sin City. Visit them ironically if you like, shop at them because you're insecure and desperately want to fit in to a social group, or spend your money at these spots because they're cool and sell unique things that you like.

4110 S. Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Buy, sell, and trade clothes at this hip vintage shop, which works as a locally sourced fashion exchange. Because the people who shop and trade in their old clothes at the store (a link in an extremely popular national chain) are generally extremely hip and in the know, you can usually find some really great clothes at hugely discounted rates from their original retail prices.

220 E. Charleston Blvd.

A curated store catering to women, this place carries a mix of hip fashion labels and smartly selected vintage clothing. If you're looking for classic concert T-Shirts that will make people think you went to see The Dead or Janis Joplin in the 70's (even though you were born in the mid 80's), this is the place for you (though be prepared to pay handsomely to partake in their excellent selection).

Planet Hollywood Resort and Caesars Palace
  The classic look of the curvy pinup star is all the rage with cute hipster girls these days, and they can find clothes designed to capture her timeless style at these two specialty retail outlets on The Strip.

The Cosmpolitan

Designer eye wear with a vintage slant that can give you the perfect cool nerd look. Shop here even if you technically don't actually need glasses; you can be like those NBA guys chatting in their post-game press conferences with sporting the "big frames and no lenses" look! Or don't do that, because it's kind of stupid.

Mandalay Place and Canal Shoppes at The Venetian

If you've never paid for a professional shave, it's totally awesome bros. Get your lumberjack beard or killer stache shaped by a style assasin. And enjoy the hot towels. After you experience the faux old timey barbershop situation at The Art of Shaving, you'll never want to live in a world without hot towels again.


4503 W. Sahara Avenue, Las Vegas NV 89102
Monday through Sunday 10 AM – MIDNIGHT

4225 S. Eastern Avenue, Las Vegas NV 89119
Monday through Sunday 10 AM – MIDNIGHT
 Neither Zia Exchange Shop location in Las Vegas is as big as the Amoeba megastores in LA, San Francisco, or Berkely, but then again, what record store is? Zia, which also has a few locations in Arizona, carries a deep selection of new and used CDs, Vinyl Records, Blu Rays, DVDs, and video games. Dig through their selection and you're sure to find some obscure vinyl to carry home in environmentally friendly messenger bag.

Bauman Rare Books
Shoppes at The Palazzo
Okay, you're probably not actually going to buy any books at this place unless you're rank is actually Captain and your last name is Moneybags, but this place is worth a visit. Basically a museum devoted to first editions of classic literature, lit geeks can look at and handle original copies of amazing classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that date back to a time when Mark Twain could have inspected the copies. An incredible place to find a great wedding gift for bookhead couples, try not to drool on these tomes, many of which are hundreds of years old.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Wonderfully Weird Museums of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is not really known as a town for art lovers. Sure, Steve Wynn brought fine art to Las Vegas when he opened The Gallery at Bellagio before he sold the lavish resort to MGM, a move that drew as much derision as it drew praise (I couldn't find a link to the SNL sketch where Ben Stiller plays Wynn and announces the opening of the fine arts gallery by boasting "we got a butt load of Picassos!" but it's very funny. Trust me. But real life is funnier than sketch comedy anyway, as I can share a link to that amazing story where Wynn poked a hole in a real Picasso due to his poor eyesight.)

While a few of the galleries in Las Vegas resorts actually offer an opportunity to view some great works of art (despite the seemingly contradictory fact that they're in casinos on The Strip), you go to Paris for great art (and not the fake version of Paris in Las Vegas). When in Rome, do as the Romans do (and not the fake version of Rome in Las Vegas). The most interesting museums in the city are the ones that are just a bit weird and reflect the town's rich and extremely colorful history. And while I'm completely excited by a lot of the cool underground, independent art created by locals and exhibited in the many diverse and progressive galleries opening all over Downtown, that's not what I'm going to talk about in this post. What I'm going to talk about is the most colorful, unique, entertaining and just plain Las Vegas-y museums in and around the city (a list that sadly excludes the dearly departed and flamboyantly crazy Liberace Museum).

Though its run by large international corporations today, Las Vegas was built by the mob. And while Occupy Wall Street-minded types might argue that large companies are worse than organized crime, the fact is that the mafia did a lot more tangibly awful things, like whacking people with Tommy Guns and saying things like "Keep the Change, you filthy animal" (because the fake movie that Kevin watches in Home Alone is based on reality, I'm pretty sure). That said, mob history is also a lot more interesting (in a lurid and dark way) than histories a corporations mergers and quarterly earnings reports. Which is why there are now two museums dedicated to the history of the mob in Las Vegas while there will probably never be a Museum of Multinational Corporations and Conglomerates (MMCC).

The Mob Museum, located in an old courthouse where many colorful criminals were actually prosecuted, does an admirable job of confronting Sin City's very seedy past, with an incredibly in depth history of the organized criminals who ran the town and how they were ultimately taken down. The museum tells both sides of the story, from the point of view of the mobsters and the point of view of the cops who doggedly pursued them, with tons of interactive elements, artifacts from the era, crime scene photos, and somewhat creepy pieces like real weapons used by mafioso foot soldiers and the actual barber chair in which Murder, Inc. boss Albert Anastasia was assassinated. The Tropicana also hosts their own Mob Exhibit on The Strip, with a more interactive element that fits in perfectly as a Casino attraction. Both of these exhibits are worth visiting, especially for fans of The Sopranos, Goodfellas, The Godfather, and Casino.
Las Vegas is all about bright lights, and no light is brighter than the flash of an atom bomb. Sin City used to be the site of atomic bomb tests (okay, obviously not the city itself... if that was true, there would be a giant crater there instead of The Strip) which patrons of Atomic Liquors would watch as sipped strong cocktails. The Atomic Testing Museum, chartered by Congress and presented by The Smithsonian Institute, presents the history and controversy surrounding the creation of The A-Bomb through timelines, vintage films, photographs, and gadgets from the era. The museum takes you back in time with recreations of underground test facilities and dioramas of those eerie "nuclear families" made of All-American looking mannequins that were used in the tests, as well as interesting artifacts that bring the era to vivid life. This place is a must-see for any history buffs/ geeks looking to take a break from The Strip. (The Museum features a new Area 51 exhibit for an additional fee. I haven't seen it yet, and even though I love the idea of an exhibit covering the history of UFO sightings in America, the Yelp reviews have been less than kind.)

Even more than Los Angeles, Las Vegas is a town that sheds its identity quickly and without sentiment. Classic resorts where The Rat Pack partied and performed are mercilessly imploded to make way for the the latest slick multi-billion dollar resort that will become outdated within a few years as the city relentlessly pursues the latest and greatest trends (dramatic, right?). Luckily, the creators of The Neon Museum thought to preserve the colorful, garish, and sometimes seedy history of the great Las Vegas resorts of old in the form of their iconic neon signage. The nonprofit group that runs the museum has collected tons of the signs, which they describe as "Las Vegas' iconic art form," and gathered them in a 2 acre park. While some of the more famous signs are displayed on The Fremont Street Experience, if you want to see more of the 150 restored and donated signs that date from the 1930's- 90's, you'll have to make an appointment ahead of time. Also, be sure to check out the Neon Museum's visitor's center located in the restored lobby of The Paul Revere Williams designed La Concha.

This one is for the true geeks, but it's awesome. The Pinball Hall of Fame is not a solemn space dedicated to the Pinball wizards of the past... instead of a historical hall dedicated to the players, it's an exhibition of the greatest Pinball Machines of all time. The collection features hundreds of machines made between the 1950's- 90's as well as a few classic novelty arcade games. The museum places an emphasis on machines built between the 60's- 80's, an era known to Pinheads as the golden age of the game. Best of all, each and every machine is fully restored and playable. At rates of 25- 50 cents per game, it takes a lot longer to lose money there at any Casino in town.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 26: Las Vegas Distillery

Ah, whiskey.

When beer just isn't strong enough to do the trick, I like to drink a nice glass of whiskey on the rocks. And then another. And then a few more.

While there are a few good breweries in Las Vegas, there were no distilleries in Nevada (well, legal ones, at least). Until now.

Charming raconteur George Racz  is the mastermind behind the newly opened Las Vegas Distillery, which was founded just two years ago to  become the state's first legal liquor distillery. Open to the public, George is happy to offer tours of his facilities and teach people about the process of crafting his delicious concoctions. He'll also tell you his completely fascinating life story, as the charismatic liquor craftsman is quickly becoming a local hero.

At this point, he can't legally pour drinks on his premises. But soon enough, his tasting room should be open for business. (I'm hoping against hope it's up and running by the time I visit Sin City next, but that might be wishful thinking.)

While you can't drink at the distillery, his bottles are available in a bunch of local stores. The self taught distiller has taught himself super-well. I haven't gotten to sample all of his offerings yet, but George's Devil's Darling Seven Grain Whiskey from his "Whiskeysmith Collection" is excellent straight or on the rocks, and his Shorty Harris Corn Bourbon is terrific too (while many Southerners claim the only real Bourbon comes from Kentucky, they'll just have to get over it because George's riff is incredible).

Their most unique concoction is their one of a kind series of "Rumskeys," which are exactly as their name implies... a series of Rum and Whiskey blends double distilled from fermented molasses/rum base and whiskey mash/ whiskey base. The distillery offers a few styles of their the mad scientist's concoction, including barell aged Baby and a White, which was awarded a Gold Medal at this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It sounds crazy, but the Frankenstein creation is actually super drinkable (and capable of getting you TOTALLY MESSED UP if you're not careful).

George also makes a few different Vodkas. I'm sure they're all just as good as everything else he crafts, but I don't really drink Vodka all that often because I'm not a 19 year old college girl.

The Distillery is also working on a Big Barrell aged Whiskey series and aged Rumskeys in Bourbon, Rye, and Single Malt varieties that won't be available until 2014, but leave my mouth watering in anticipation. I'm sure they will all kick serious kinds of ass.

While you can't sample the wares on the premises, it's still worth a visit to The Las Vegas Distillery to see how George Racz and his merry band of liquor craftspeople make their magic. And then immediately find a store that sells his product for a night of locally sourced partying.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Paradise City Comes to Sin City

Las Vegas has become Florida for rock icons: it's where they spend their golden years in relative comfort (except for the 110 degree plus heat) before their careers wither away and die.

In the past, resident Vegas performers could generally be grouped under the "adult contemporary" banner in hopes of bringing the biggest possible audience of old people from the midwest looking for inoffensive entertainment. But news broke today that Guns N Roses would become the next nostalgia act to headline a Sin City residency starting on Halloween night at The Joint in The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The announcement comes on the heels of Motley Crue's decently successful run at the same venue earlier this year, which means that hard rock bands playing Las Vegas residencies is officially a trend.

The news no doubt has caused existential panic amongst former Sunset Strip headbangers, reminding them of their advancing age and mortality even more than their wild party days being turned into the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages (a version of which is also opening soon in Las Vegas at The Venetian, despite the fact that the movie adaptation was a box office dud), as the formerly dangerous band who sexily welcomed so many to the jungle is now joining the ranks of Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, and Donny & Marie.

Some (including myself) may argue that the band playing in Las Vegas isn't the true Guns N Roses, as legendary frontman/ asshole Axl Rose is the only remaining original member of the original member lineup. GNR isn't truly GNR without Slash, a figure who is nearly as iconic as the band's singer. Plus Axl's seen better days, as snarky bloggers are quick to point out that the formerly lithe rockstar has put on weight, tied his hair into ugly cornrows, and lost much of the edge to his famous falsetto.

With all of that said, GNR's (or what's left of the band's) Appetite for Democracy month long stand at The Hard Rock is actually one of the smartest choices for a Vegas residency act I've heard in a long time (with Bette Midler's ill-fated run at Caesars Palace a few years back being the absolute dumbest). Slash or no, the band is still an internationally known brand name with huge appeal and a deep back-catalog of memorable hits (most of which came from their first album, but it's a helluva first album).

At the height of their fame (and I know that the height of their fame is about four presidential administrations ago, but still), they were able to release two separate albums on the same day, bill them as Part 1 and 2 (instead of packaging them as one double album, like a sane band), and debut simultaneously on the top two spots on the Billboard charts.

Chinese Democracy, their decade in the making, $13.5 million dollar mega-record didn't fare nearly as well when it finally came out in 2008. But the record's release was a seismic cultural event nonetheless, covered religiously by indie music blogs and big media outlets alike. How many bands still draw this much speculation and attention? Sure, the fact that the record took so long and cost so much just to produce are a major reason it was so closely observed... but Axl Rose still knows how to draw attention as a bigger than life rock star. And his weight, stupid hairdo, and less than peak era vocals are secondary to that fact at this point in his career.

Axl and his current version of Guns N Roses will pack the crowds in at The Joint because he's one of the few people left who actually has the swagger to pull off being a rock star. A legendary narcissist,  Rose's most recent outrageous act was to write an open letter declining an invitation to perform at GNR's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony because he didn't want to share the stage with his former band members. Rose has a history of unpredictable to straight up bad behavior, causing a riot in Montreal back in the early 90's when he refused to play after Metallica frontman James Hetfield was nearly killed by onstage pyrotechnics. That's right, Axl Rose is such a volatile dude he caused the only known incident of Canadians acting violently in any capacity.

All of which means that these upcoming GNR shows in Las Vegas will bring a welcome unpredictability to the proceedings. The best and worst Vegas residency shows are precisely planned events. Elton John's awesome Million Dollar Piano show (his followup to his mega successful Red Piano residency which ran for five years) features a locked setlist in order to feature the incredible stagecraft and video elements. The Motley Crue shows earlier this year featured elements of giant, precisely timed spectacle as well, including a flying apparatus for Vince Neil to ride over the crowd and Cirque Du Soleil-like aerialists. These elements ensure that the shows will deliver plenty of bang for the many bucks one has to pay for the cost of a ticket, but they also mean there is a bit less spontaneity in the performances.

I'm not saying that the Guns N Roses shows won't feature plenty of highly planned special effects elements... but adding Axl Rose to the equation automatically makes things a little more volatile, which is something the Las Vegas entertainment scene sorely needs.

Axl Rose is that rare breed at this point in musical history, a guy who (as James Murphy said in Shut Up and Play the Hits, in reference to Kanye West) is actually "doing the job of being a rock star." Axl is ego given human form, an outrageous and stupid and sometimes brilliant man convinced of his own brilliance even though the music industry has tried to move on from his brand of rock-stardom. And his personality can still lead to amazing concert experiences.

Axl might embarrass himself during some of the shows at The Joint. He might jerkishly decide to half ass it a few nights. He might go onstage, imagine ways that the audience has abused him, and spend the evening battling the crowd, swearing at them even though they've paid good money to be there. He might even decide not to come out and perform just because he doesn't feel like it. Or he might prove that he's still got a few unforgettable and mind blowing performances left in the tank yet.

It's a gamble, but so is everything in Las Vegas. Welcome to the Jungle.