Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to Have a Super Sunday in Las Vegas

I don't know exactly when it first started happening, but I've noticed that in the last few years most media outlets and businesses have come up with creative ways to describe a certain big game coming up this weekend instead of putting the word Super next to the name of the type of dish out of which you eat cereal, Ice Cream, or salad (if you're a hippie). I'm aware that the League of National Footballers is a quite litigious organization, but it seems sort of silly to me that most headlines or signs are forced to use terms like "Big Game" instead of the trademarked moniker for said sporting event, because doesn't that sort the name just serve to reinforce the brand?

Then again, The Sunday of The Superb-Owl (the title of a comic strip I could start drawing, but probably won't because I'm lazy... and also terrible at drawing) is basically a national holiday celebrated in greater numbers and with more fervor and religiosity than Christmas (even though Chicken Wings and Pizza places are all open instead of just Chinese restaurants), so I guess the league doesn't need any more publicity than they already receive and can just collect checks for people who use their trademarked game title and still feel confident that everyone in the country will be watching.

My question is, what happens when someone trademarks the term "Big Game?" Wait, I might do that right now. It was my idea, don't steal it! It makes me wonder who owns the BigGame.Com or TheBigGame.Com URLs on GoDaddy? Anyway, as per usual, I digress. The actual point of this post is all about how do Las Vegas on Super Salad Dish Sunday, so I suppose I'll focus on that.

The last time I was in Las Vegas for the big game was two years ago, when Aaron Rodgers and The Pack beat Pittsburgh in a pretty good game. The city pretty much shuts down during the much hyped match every year. While that sounds like an exaggeration, during the four quarters of the contest, it's easy to find a spot at usually packed gaming tables, lines for popular buffets are shorter, and attendance for shows dips. Which means those Cirque performers and Blue Men are both missing the game while performing in front of nearly empty houses, which is just sad when you think about it.
You really have two options on Big Game Sunday in Vegas... you can get to a cool sports bar or sports book hours and hours early and spec out a nice place to sit, spending tons of money over the course of the day on Beers and fried foods, basically paying rent on your highly desired real estate. Lagasse's Stadium at The Palazzo serves Emeril approved twists on sports bar classics in a space with tons of TVs, including a massive projection screen that you can view from actual stadium-style seats. And loyal readers know how much I love Public House at The Venetian, where you can enjoy an incredible selection of beers... but the hip and classy joint only features a couple TVs over the bar, so you will have to get there really early if you want a good seat for kickoff. If you've got the cash, many of the venues take reservations for the game where you can sign up for packages that include drinks and food along with seats near a TV, but it's expensive... the game watching equivalent of getting bottle service at a club, only with more nachos and less dubstep.

The other option, for those like me who are too lazy and unmotivated to post up at seats hours before the game and are too cheap to pay for the privilege of watching a game you can watch on hundreds (more like thousands) of TVs hanging all over town anyway is to not plan anything and just wander The Strip. Every single casino you walk into will be playing the game on every screen you look at. Honestly, it will be hard to not have the game in your line of vision no matter where you turn your head. Two years ago, my friends and I had a blast walking down The Strip, stopping at gaming tables and laying bets, collecting comped drinks, and watching a few plays before moving to the next place during commercial breaks. We watched the fourth quarter at The South Point Casino, chomping on Bacon 'n' Cheese Double Steakburgers and Thin Crispy Fries with Cheese Sauce at the furthest west location of the wonderfully terrible for your health Steak N' Shake, then hit the road ahead of traffic once the game clock hit zero. While this strategy might make serious football fans nervous, we timed it so that we didn't miss any key plays and moved to different locations during ad breaks and between quarters (because we really had no desire to watch the Black Eyed Peas during halftime anyway). And while the TV spots are just as big a part of the event, any truly outstanding ads will be available on Monday morning on Hulu and  YouTube anyway, so you're not going to miss anything.

I'd do the same thing this year, but this game is bigger for me than in years past. I'm from the Bay Area, so my Niners are in the big dance. That means I'll need true and deep focus, because we all know that fans watching the game at all times and wearing your lucky hat and eating the same food you ate the last time your team won the big game can have a big impact on what happens on the field (it's only weird if it doesn't work, as that ubiquitous Bud Light ad campaign pointed out). But if your favorite team isn't in the game? Walk The Strip as you watch the game and don't stress about finding a good spot. Because nothing will drown out your sorrow due to your team failing to make it to the big game better than the fresh sorrow you'll feel as you lose money at the various gaming tables along The Strip, at which point you'll make the same face Jim Harbaugh makes when even the most meaningless of calls doesn't go his way.

Friday, January 25, 2013

New Years Resolutions, Las Vegas Style

I know that it's basically a month into 2013, but the first few weeks of a new year are all about shaking off the epic hangover from NYE, working off the many calories you consumed during the holidays, and coming to terms with the passing of time and your inevitable mortality. So that's why I've waited until now to write my New Years Resolutions, or that's the excuse I'm using to frame this blog post.

All of these resolutions have to do with how I plan on enjoying Las Vegas for the rest of the year, so let's be clear: none of these have to do with drinking less, eating better, exercising more, spending less money, working on my career goals, or any sort of general self improvement. Las Vegas is not a city where you go to become a better you... it's where you go to escape the version of you that you hate!

Sunny intro aside, here are my big resolutions for my Vegas trips in 2013:

Support Downtown Even More
While I write about Downtown on this blog a lot (A LOT), my M. Night Shyamala twist ending deep dark secret is that I spend the lion's share of my Vegas time on The Strip. When I'm there with a group, it's hard to convince a bunch of disperate people to head to the still developing neighborhood when the reliably shiny and corporate approved Strip is right there. But Downtown seriously keeps getting better, and the only way for it to continue developing is for people to get out there and support it with their dollars. It's also generally cheaper to drink and gamble there than on The Strip, where low-stakes gaming houses are starting to become an endangered species. With that said...

Spend More Time In The Classic Casinos
The last few years have seen the end of The Stardust and The Sahara, while The Tropicana's renovations have been nice but also removed all traces of old-school charm from the property (except for that crazy lit up paneled ceiling that they thankfully retained). While Bill's Gamblin' Hall and O'Shea's weren't exactly Sinatra-era classics, they retained a certain old-time spirit/ seediness that's starting to disappear from The Strip. That's why I resolve to spend as much time as possible this year enjoying The Riviera and The Flamingo, two of the last classic era places still standing in relatively intact forms on The Strip, because, like a sick grandparent, nobody knows how long we'll have with them and every moment spent with them is precious.

Know When To Quit It
Of course, when giving gambling advice to Vegas newbies, I always tell them that the best move is to cash out if you win a decent amount, even though the temptation to double down will be strong. Similarly, the best thing you can do when you lose is to cut your losses and walk, or else your losses can begin to compound on themselves as you attempt to win the cash you lost back (it's a vicious circle we've all fallen into, and it's basically the type of logic that has kept the city in business for decades). While this advice is solid and logical and smart, it's also advice that I often ignore in my own gambling adventures... sure, I missed all my numbers at Roulette, but if I play one more hand, then I might win it all back and more! Just... one... more... hand. This year, I plan to walk away at smarter times, even if I haven't gotten a free drink from the cocktail waitress yet.

Party Smart
Las Vegas is one of those cities where all of the rules you've learned in your years of partying go out the window... you're so excited to be in Sin City that you just start doing Jager bombs and tequilla shots while downing beers and Jack & Cokes, you forget to drink water or even eat an actual meal, you stay up much later than you should even if you have an 11:00 AM checkout time (and have to shower first, because you're a human being, not a disgusting monster). This year, I  resolve to live by the code of "beer before liquor, never been sicker," to stay properly hydrated (Vegas is in the desert, for goodness sake), to eat a hearty meal capable of soaking up most of the damage I've done to myself over the course of the night, and to actually get some sleep at some point... if there's nothing more awesome to do at 4:00 AM, that is.

Try Something New On Every Trip
One of the tough things about doing weekends trips in Las Vegas is that with just two days and two nights to see and do things, it's tough to get everything in. And it's hard to not go and do the stuff you loved the last time, or the last few times.... that Caesars Buffet REALLY is great, so why risk new restaurant instead? Because it's a vacation and there is a lot more to see, that's why! I resolve to see some of the local's favorite dive bars, distinctly-Vegasy restaurants, oddball museums, off-Strip hotels, strange just out of town attractions, weird drive-through wedding chapels, hidden memorials, and more... it's all about getting out of my comfort zone and discovering even more reasons why Vegas is an awesomely strange American vacation city.

Just Have Fun Out There, Kid. Do What Comes Natural
As any good Little League Coach, knowing most of his players don't have a career in sports beyond the next couple years, tells his team... it's all about having a good time. Focus on winning (at the gambling tables), and you'll feel nothing but regret and remorse and ruin your vacation when  you don't walk away richer. I resolve to shake off my worries (not an easy task for a naturally neurotic human such as myself) and just have a good ol' time in Sin City this year.

(This last resolution started as a jokey wrap up to this nebulously themed post, then became surprisingly earnest. I guess that how most of the stuff I write evolves, in the end.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Strange Case Of The "Sports Bar For Women"

The latest mini-trend in Las Vegas seems to be restaurants and bars specifically targeted for the ladies. Eva Longoria's SHe by Morton's is a hip and intimate Steakhouse complete with DJs, dancers on elevated catwalks, and stilt-walkers that's already targeting groups of female friends heading out for a lady's night. The trend will continue with Heraea, a sports bar opening soon in The Palms (if the resort emerges from recent troubles unscathed) designed to appeal to the fairer sex from hip restaurant and bar gurus The One Group.

That's right, a sports bar for the ladies.

On first glance, the idea seems incredibly stupid. By no means am I arguing that women don't like sports or sports bars... in fact, that's what makes it ridiculous. Many, many women love sports, but I've never met one who went to watch a game and wished they had a more girl-friendly option at which to enjoy the Football game. I don't know any women who feel that Nachos and Beer are for boys, and wish they had better options Kale Salad and Cosmo options while they watch the game. The whole idea sounds like it could be potentially sexist even as its intended to be "for women." But then again, maybe The One Group people are onto something.

In an interview with The Las Vegas Sun, One Group CEO Jonathan Segal described his vision in two paragraphs that only sorta traffic sexist stereotypes:  “A couple are planning to go out in Vegas. The guy says, ‘Will you watch the game with me?’ The girl turns around and says, ‘OK, I want to go to Heraea at the Palms.’ And the guy says, ‘OK!’ He thinks he’s making the decision, but he’s not!”

Segal then added  "we have done the research, and 75 percent of all househould decisions are made by wives or girlfriends... and 100 percent of guys think they are in control, so women have learned exactly how to make the decisions while making us think we're making them. This hits exactly to the point of what we're aiming to do here."

Statistics like "100 percent of guys think they are in control," sound awfully unscientific, insultingly portray women as the ultimate manipulators and men and easily duped simpletons, and are basically as believable as stories of Manti Te'O's dead girlfriend (topical! and a sports reference!), but I can see his point. From what I can gather, Heraea will feature upscale food, chic design, and a bit of the restaurant as nightclub vibe that made The One Group's STK at The Cosmopolitan such a big hit. Despite a slogan that teases Heraea will be "where girls go to play," (a tag that might imply the place is the most expensive Lesbian Bar in a major Vegas resort, though if it becomes successful at that I'm sure The One Group will nto complain) the concept seems to be more of a sports bar that ladies who DON'T like sports will be okay with visiting with their husband/ boyfriends. and not an answer to the prayers of women who love sports but hate sports bars... because, again, I'm not really sure that's a demographic that exists. A Portlandia book store like place that is a "safe space for women" this will not be, I'm assuming.

But who knows? Perhaps The One Group is evolving the Sports Bar into something new, something that Sports Bars of the future will have to respond to. Personally, I think a place that pours cold Beer and serves giant plates of cheesy Nachos with your Football is a perfect thing, a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but The One Group's experiment in upscale and feminine friendly Pubbery works, then I'll be happy to say I'm wrong.

And it's also possible it will succeed simply because in bringing in more dudes who would go to a sports bar anyway but choose Hereae because they expect to find more ladies to chat up while they watch the game. In which case, well played, One Group. Well played.