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Las Vegas

To pick up where we left off, from Blue Diamond it was back to the hotel to cash in my few winning sportsbook bets, take a nap, then  head out to one of the best things to do in Vegas—cocktails at the top of The Stratosphere Hotel.  This towering structure at almost 1200 feet is not only one of my favorite places to stay in Vegas, great for the budget traveler, good clean rooms, $5 table games, good restaurants, but the tower itself has many attractions.  One of the best is also the cheapest. WE refer to this hotel as the Motel 6 of Las Vegas. Cheap, functional, clean, no frills. A good stay. While you can buy tickets to go to the 109th floor (scarily high) for the thrill rides (no thanks) you can ride up to the 107th floor lounge for free. While cocktails are approx $12-$13 apiece, at least there you are paying for the atmosphere.  The lounge looks down onto the restaurant a floor below. The restaurant rotates, the lounge does not-so it’s great for people watching.  The best time is to get there about 30-45 min before dusk.  Have a drink, chat with friends and watch the sun set over the mountains to the west, and watch the incredible lights of Las Vegas appear.  We tried a couple of appetizers and were very impressed. There are usually some happy hour specials.

From there we drove downtown to the Golden Nugget.  Dinner was at our favorite steak restaurant, Vic and Anthony’s.  This was our top-dollar meal for this trip and worth every penny.  Have been there a number of times and never disappointed. The wait staff is very attentive and the best, most tender steak I have ever had.  The sides are extra, but the marinated mushrooms were spectacular, even for non-fans.  Dinner there is truly a special experience and is highly recommended.

After dinner, we hit the slots and waited for the Fremont Street Experience, the dazzling overhead light/sound show that takes up several blocks downtown and shows several times a nite. Each show focuses on different bands, from Kiss, to The Doors, to the Rat Pack.  The people watching is primo.  They usually have several live bands, street musicians and performers, vendors, and everything in between. Cheap drinks and good cigars can be had in a number of directions.   Although we didn’t get to it this trip, a very cool biker bar, Hogs and Heifer’s is just a block away. Here the girls dance, uh, sometimes, fall off the bar.  Very entertaining.

The next day, we hit another new favoirite for a late breakfast/early lunch:  Hash House a Go-Go.  I ahd seen them on the Travel Channel and we stopped last year and loved it, so this year we had to take the spouses to enjoy, “Twisted Farm Food” is their sound bite,—and twisted it is.  My favorite—Chicken and Waffles.  Two large pieces of tender golden fried chickennestling on two huge buttermilk waffles with applewood bacon cooked into the waffles.  I can eat, but I couldn’t even get halfway through.  The prices are not cheap, but the portions are unbelievably large.  There can be a wait at either location, west of the strip on Sahara, or on the Strip at the Imperial Palace, but the wait will be worth it.  If you are into  delicious large breakfast/brunch, this place cannot be beat.  I wish I had a franchise. A new location has now opened in the M Resort, on the far south side of Las Vegas.

After we waddled to the car we drove up to Mt Charleston, approx 45 min away.  This refuge from the desert terrain is seen by very few Vegas tourists and they are missing a treat.  The road steadily climbs from the valley to well over 9,000 feet to a mountain lodge where native Americans sell handcrafted jewelry and pottery.  Cactus and desert scrub gives way to bushes and then pine trees.  On this visit we were granted a special sight.  The stands of Aspen trees in the draws and creek beds had changed to their brilliant golden hue.  We took a hike up a stream bed and took many pictures of the beautiful scenery.  There was even a picture of some strange squirrel-type creature hanging from a tree.  The temperatures at that altitude were 20-30 degrees cooler than the valley.  Looking at a number of incredible mountain homes in the area, we stopped by several that were for sale and checked the prices.  Might be a little high for a second home, but gorgeous just the same.  From there we coasted downhill 14 miles, in neutral, back to Hwy 95 and headed back to Vegas.

On the way back from Mt Charleston we stopped at the famous Pawn Shop from TV’s “Pawn Stars”.  It is on the Strip almost to downtown.  There was a line waiting to get in—to a pawn shop—are you kidding me?  They had security at the door, security directing traffic.  After about a 15 min wait we walked in. Although they had a few interesting items (Antique Slot machine anybody?  A $20,000 portrait of Jim Morrison?). They seemed more interested in selling “Pawn Stars” t-shirts and coffee mugs.  They did have some of the items that were seen on episodes of the show, which we love. The civil-war style mortar (that they actually shot a bowling ball out of during one classic episode) and the Top-Secret WW II map of the invasion beaches at Iwo Jima were two of the best that were on display.   We were glad we went, but don’t necessarily have to go back.

The rest of that day was spent playing some blackjack and roulette and getting my tail handed to me at the slot machines.  Still full from our huge breakfast at Hash House, for our last night’s dinner in Vegas we elected to hit Del Taco, a fast-food chain based out of California for a late dinner. Good taco’s , with fresh Cilantro, and cheap prices were just the ticket.

All in all, another great Vegas Vacation with great friends, great food, great fun.  Vegas appears to have rebounded nicely from the previous year or so.  The crowds were up, prices were up,  hotels were booked, restaurants were busy, traffic was awful. We tried the new (hotel Vdara and Aria Casino), the traditional (Vic and Anthony’s, In-n-out Burger, Pasta Mia) mixed in with new favorites, (Stratosphere Lounge, Hash House a Go-Go, Blue Diamond).  I am looking forward to my next trip back to my favorite American Playland–  Viva Las Vegas!

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Low Budget Review Guy on Las Vegas, Part 1

On October 12, 2010, in Travel, by admin

This was the 4th trip for  me to Vegas in the last 12 months.  I am still not tired of this fascinating city.  This was our annual fall trip we take with great friends Jay and Karen and marked the 7th ( 8th ?)year in a row.   We always stay in different hotels making each year a different experience.

This year we stayed a VDARA, one of the new hotels at City Center, a vast collection of hotels, shops, restaurants packed between Bellagio and Monte Carlo on the strip.  This is a completely non-smoking hotel, which was very much appreciated.  This hotel has only one restaurant, one main bar, (not counting the pool area) and no casino.  It is blissfully peaceful, serene, quiet.  The staff is attentive and responsive.  This is not a hotel for the budget traveler. There is an electric tram that connects it to several resorts.  The rooms are all suites, with a small, but efficient kitchen area, a living room area with couch, several chairs and large flat screen TV.  That area is separated from the bedroom and  bath, by the entertainment center holding the TV.  The king size bed was very comfortable.  The large bathroom had a tub and separate shower area.  The room had numerous electronic gadgets that were mostly wasted on us.   We never did figure how to get the nightstand lights to work.   The view from the huge windows was simply amazing.  We had an unusual north view from our 30th floor room.  We could see the mountains to the west, the Strip to the east and could see the pool area of Bellagio and had a 75% view of the Fountains at Bellagio.  Numerous times we just opened the shades to see the spectacular fountain show.  One night, Jay and Karen brought a bottle of wine and appetizers for happy hour and we set our chairs to look out our windows at the view.  That is the first time in all my 20+ years of Vegas I have ever done that.

The pool area is small, but very pleasant, and graceful.  The hotel is very much a modern-design lover’s place.  The sculptures, the layout, the fixtures, the carpet and flooring, the lighting, are all modern and impressive. The only negative grade VDARA gets is the bar.  Prices in Vegas are high, food and beverages, unnecessarily so.  Cocktails in Vegas start at $10, and go up from there.  Sometimes you can find a happy-hour with half-price or two for one, but at what they charge, the mark-up and profit-margin are huge.  VDARA charged $14 a drink.  For specialty cocktails to the house Chardonnay. Really?  $14 for a house Chardonnay?  Needless to say, one visit was more than enough.

As we arrived late in the morning, after checking in at the hotel, we went to lunch at Diablo’s, one of our new favorite hangouts in Vegas. It is perched right on the street, connected to the Monte Carlo.  This is a two-story open-air establishment with great views for people watching as they stroll up and down the Strip.  While their menu prices are high, you get a lot of food and they have outstanding Mango Margarita’s.  They also had a $5 margarita special going, so what can you do?  Ya gotta take advantage of it….After relaxing that afternoon, Saturday night brought us to our favorite Italian restaurant in Vegas—Pasta Mia.  Located in a strip center a few miles west of the strip past the Palms, this restaurant looks unimpressive from the outside, but a delight inside.  The cozy dining room with its white linen tablecloths, the pictures on the walls, the music on the sound system (Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc) always makes us feel welcome.  The wait staff is impressive, knowledgeable and attentive.  But the food, well that is what we are there for.  Outstanding.  I had the best Chicken Marsala I have ever tasted.  Jay and Karen love the Gnocchi.  This is worth the trip off the strip. (See other recent posts about this restaurant)

Sunday morning, we walked over to the Bellagio to enjoy their fall decorations.  We then walked over to Paris and their French Bakery for some hot tea and a morning pastry, a pear muffin with walnuts. Delicious.  After playing some slots and getting my football bets down at the sportsbook, we met Jay and Karen for the day’s adventure.  After an early lunch stop at In-and-Out Burger, one of our Vegas traditions, we drove 45 min west to the small town of Pahrump to visit a winery we had seen advertised.  The beautiful buildings and grounds were well maintained.  The winery offered several free tastings as well as a more substantial tasting flight for $5.  We enthusiastically participated.  The wines were very nice and several bottles were purchased.  On the way back, we stopped in the little town of Blue Diamond, a quirky little place with a population of about 350, a library, two nice city parks, one general store, where we always stop and get snacks.  There was a house for sale, that we had seen on an earlier trip and was having an open house, so we stopped and checked it out.  Nice place, built in the 1940’s.  Large, shady, back yard with a pool.  Unfortunately, still had a California/Las Vegas price tag. (Editors Note:  We acknowledge that that prices in CA and LV have fallen dramatically, but this house just did not get it, it is an estate sale and the kids are trying to ring our the estate for every penny they can get….house has been for sale since April.) On the way out we saw 6-7 wild burros that like to hang out in Blue Diamond.  There is a spring in the town, so the animals like the availability of fresh water and greenery.  The burros are generally not shy around tourists and numerous pictures were taken up close and personal.

The rest of the trip will be recounted in Part 2, to be submitted later.

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Great Eats Off Strip in Las Vegas

On October 6, 2010, in Travel, by admin

I have mentioned before in prior posts, I travel frequently to Las Vegas. When I travel to Las Vegas, I spend a lot of time off strip in dining and doing other things that are readily available to the Las Vegas traveler. Today,we review one of our favorite off strip restaurants in Las Vegas.  We believe that this restaurant truly embodies Las Vegas Best Restaurants: in quality, value, and service. Pasta Mia is located on Flamingo Road, west of the the strip and the I-15, Just past the Palms.  Go through the lights at Arville Road and the first shopping center on the left contains Pasta Mia. I go through these directions, because is in a obscure location.

When you go to the restaurant, you will likely be greeted by Warren.  He seems to act as host, waiter, and head sales person. However, you view him, his service is stellar. The menu is full of the normal Italian fare offerings.  However, it is the specials on the chalk board that Warren will guide you to.  These are told to be nightly specials, but in reality, the board has not changed in the 6 years I have frequented this place. Pricing is moderate across the board, especially for Las Vegas standards. Most of you pasta dishes range in the $14-16 range. Each meal includes a fine salad, served family style, along with endless garlic bread that is robustly buttered, a strong dose of garlic, topped with a subtle dab of parsely. Truly fabulous.  But forget calorie counting.  It is that good. The pastas are all done nicely. Our favorite we gravitate to is the gnocchi with sausage. For those of you who do not know what gnocchi is, it is a small potato dumpling, made fresh on site at Pasta Mia. A strong, slightly acidic sauce adorns the dish.  The sauce has a pleasant smokey flavor.  It is standard Italian with a slight unique flavor.  If there is a pasta you like but wish to change the way it is prepared, just ask.  Warren, he will accommodate. I had them switch the Tortellini to a Tortellini Pesto.  Though I did not see a pesto dish on the menu, they made a great pesto…..

The chalk board specials are good. These are priced a bit higher, with the topper being the Ozzo Buco, A lamb recipe.  At $37, you think your in a high end steak house.  But it is worth it if you are in for a special evening.  Otherwise, all of the veal plates are truly wonderful, topped by the marsala family of plates for chicken and veal. Tender meat, and a marsala sauce that has a unique flavor, a bit sweet, with a hint of maple in it. Truly extraordinary. These run about $22-25.  The serving are very generous. Also highly recommended is the Veal Saltumbuca. More than you can kick back in one evening, but tasty and rich, again, with tender veal throughout.

If there are dishes to stay away from here, I have not found it.  I do not highly recommend the spaghetti, as it is just average. The sauce is a bit thin…although I will tell you my Italian friends we have dine with at this restaurant did like the spaghetti, and they have since returned.

At the end of the day, this is a great value and dining experience. One of the many reasons I return to Las Vegas 4 times a year.  I always seek Las Vegas best restaurants, and this, my friend, is high on the list.

Check out the Pasta Mia website by clicking the name here.

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Best Las Vegas Travel Planning Websites

On September 6, 2010, in Travel, by admin

Continuing with our obsession for Las Vegas travel, we turn now to Vegas travel planning.  For those not familiar with Las Vegas, planning a trip to maximize your time there becomes important.  Las Vegas is much more than gambling. So where do you go?  You Google ‘Las Vegas Travel” and you get over 53M results. Google “Vegas Travel Planning” and you get 478K results. All of the usual hitters come up as well. Fodors, Govegas, Travelocity….the many choices.

There are a few websites that I like to focus when planning Vegas travel planning. Lasvegas.com and vegas.com are good sites.  As you may tell by the names they are related, owned by the same company. So the format and content is largely the same for both. Lasvegas.com focuses a bit more on things to do outside of Las Vegas, but otherwise they are the same.  You can book your room here.  Plan your dinners, nightclubs, etc. I like the feature  to search restaurants based upon price and location.  They should have extended the search feature to include food type.  In order to find a good steak house, you have to search through all the listings. The nightclub listings are very informative, and you will need this, as the top clubs in Vegas can be challenging and intimidating to get into for those not familiar.

If you are looking more into what to do, my preferred website is Lasvegasadvisor.com. This is a very comprehensive listing of things to do in Vegas.  A slick website that is easily navigated to target your subject area. It also includes reviews from users on hotels, restaurants, clubs, etc. While reviews from users can be all over the map, these seem to be as informative as they are opinionated. Their listing includes many off strip locations as well.  Although along that line, they did not list a couple of great off strip resturaunts that really should be included in any website on Vegas. (Pasta Mia, Thai Spice, and Rosemary’s). This shows that no website can cover it all. This site also offers good hotel information, and most importantly, it keeps its data up to current status.  Changes in the entertainment or dining scene are quickly updated on this site. This often can be an issue when using the web to gather good information.

One site you may be tempted to click because it ranks high in the Google search engines is VisitLasVegas.com.  This site is owned by the convention and travel bureau of Las Vegas.  Because of this, they do not put specific hotel property or other true travel information that you require when planning Las Vegas travel.  They do go the extra mile to give general information on what to do in Las Vegas, but even this is not as useful as  the other sites listed above.

Of course, you can visit a number of sites when planning your Las Vegas travel.  There is pleasure in this as well.  So go out and visit sites for yourself. Currently the Google ads on this site have links to Las Vegas as well.  Some of these are informative sites as well so you can check them out.

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Las Vegas Update With a Twist

On August 31, 2010, in Travel, by admin

Just returned, as you know from an earlier post, from Las Vegas. The trip was part of a family friend kid’s 21st birthday trip. The trip was not filled with the antics of “The Hangover”, so do not too excited.  We are a tame bunch. But keep reading.  You may pick up a few helpful information tidbits to consider when planning your next trip.

Frist, this was to be a cheap trip.  Airline miles covered airfare, the selected hotel was to be very cheap based upon an offer extended to my wife’s frequent card.

Imperial Palace Las VegasImperial Palace was selected as it was to offer a rate of $94, for four nights, all taxes included. Well, it did not turn out that way.  Since it was my wife’s card, they would not honor my stay against it despite my trying aggressively.  Total cost for what is basically a dumpy hotel:  $320. Bad form Harrahs. Enough of the bad. We will devote this write up not on the typical Las Vegas, but some of the different things to do or see that is not gambling, excessive drinking, or others…..

Red Rocks. When it is 115 in central Las Vegas, head out west about 15 miles to Red Rocks park..  The elevation here is somewhere around 3-4K, and the temps are always about 15 degrees cooler.  There is a long loop that leads through the foothills, with several parking areas that are trail heads  with a variety of hiking trial difficulty. Bring a picnic lunch, feed the chipmunks, and enjoy a really relaxing time.  Entry fee $5

Bonnie Springs. Kids may like this as it is a old western town replica with a petting zoo.  Not much interest for me, but then I know some have kiddies, and this would be decent place to take them. It is just beyond Red Rocks park.  They have some kind of stage reenactment as well on schedule during weekends.  Cheesy.  Again, not for me, but someone may like it.  It is not loosing your money in a slot machine

Blue Diamond. This little post mining town is yet further west on the same road as Red Rocks.  Population about 350, it is a little green oasis in the middle of dry.  Wild Burros are this towns claim to fame, and they are usually feasting on the well manicured baseball diamond.  They love to come up and stick their nose in your open window looking for a hand out.  We always stop at the general store there. A Diet Mt Dew, and a few stories by the owner, and you are off. Each Saturday they gather around the store parking lot for a impromptu blues jam.  I think its more on the weedy wacky side, if you know what I mean.

Lake Mead. In the other direction (that would be east for you geo challenged monkeys) is Lake Mead.  A huge but disappearing body of water that is surrounded by what looks like the surface of the moon. Little vegitation.  Go all the way down under Boulder City to a beach area, right around the corner from the Hoover Dam. There you can back your car up to the water’s edge and dnjoy the relatively clean, but really warm water.  Usually a few strange sights here as well, like the time some chick in a bikini got her golf clubs out and analyzed her swing on the beach in the bikini…sorry, no pics, forgot my camera.

Hoover Dam. All I will say here is expect an 45 minute queue on Sat and Sun. During the week, go, you can get there without too much wait.  great marvel. But now, it is joined by another marvel we found nearly as interesting…a bypass highway is being completed to relieve the weekend traffic jam. The bridge is high above Hoover damn, and a frigin engineering marvel…This is worth seeing if you have not been to Hoover in a while.

Bypass Bridge At Hoover Dam

Mount Charleston. This is northwest. This is basically a village of vacation homes about 8000 feet high above the valley. Here the temps are 25 degrees less than the valley.  There is hiking and picnic areas.  There is also a restaurant on the way to the ski area (yes, I said ski area) that has a beautiful balcony to lunch and drink at. OK. I knew you were missing the drinking thing. Food is good here, service, not so much.  But it is a great place to call your Mt Charleston destination among which the village is basically a mecca of stunning log vacation home scattered in the hillsides. Stop for lunch, or hike then hang out and watch the humming birds do battle over the feeder…but, they are pretty tame up there, so they will buzz you.

Enjoy and check out Travelocity booking site on the right column to check prices on your travel plans

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The Business of Vegas

On August 25, 2010, in Travel, by admin

A recent trip to Las Vegas merits a review, but this one with a bit of a business twist. With the economical times teetering on the brink of a lapse into double dip recession, I was interested to return to Las Vegas for some time off. I am a regular visitor to sin city, but not in the typical sense.  I am not that into gambling. I into the restaurant, drinking, people watching, and most of all over the last two years:  the business end of Las Vegas. With the economical meltdown came the same meltdown of the Las Vegas economy…it fell and landed with a resounding thump.  But I have noticed the trend over the last few trips that the numbers seem to be returning. This trip was no different. In fact, the numbers really seemed to be close to what it was pre-meltdown. A trip to one of my clients on this trip confirmed.  My client from my practice as a consultant is very well connected in Las Vegas, as they have done a lot of work in the city. They quickly indicated, over a cup of coffee in the 115 degree heat, that business had picked up. In fact, they indicated the pricing for Saturday night rooms has “gotten ridiculous”.  I found out. The Las Vegas economy is returning, despite our current economic climate where there are a lot of nay sayers thinking we are headed for double dip recession. I secured a room using the wife’s frequent player card for Harrah’s. I selected the Imperial Palace (IP) as it was the cheapest of the cheapest on this offer.  However, when my wife was unable to make this trip, I tried to check in.  She needed to be there. So what started as a $94 rate for 4 nights (yes, I said 4 nights) turned into a $320 rate for 4 nights. Yes, as my client indicated, the driver was Saturday night rate, at $130. Even my beloved Motel 6 (the Stratosphere…I really like this place for a cheap stay normally) was $150 a night….$150! I have never seen the Strat at that price.  This was going to be my fall back. OK. I guess this is less of a Las Vegas review than a quick post on the Las Vegas economy….it really seems to be coming back.

The restaurants we visited were the usuals High End Steakhouses, a martini at Binions Ranch, our must visit to In n Out Burger (yes, coming soon to Garland Texas), and a wonderful evening at Pasta Mia (this one you need to go to in Vegas….it is outstanding….decent pricing and kick ass food…do not let the location fool you). We also did Diablos in front of Monte Carlo….great balcony above the street.  While there was a battle of the bands night that evening, the food was very disappointing, unlike prior visits.  The prices had increased, and the food was just a lot less appealing. Skip it this time.

Despite the alarmist in the Las Vegas economy and our economical times currently, get out and spend some in Las Vegas….just do not go into debt doing it.


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Steel Panther Again

On May 19, 2010, in Uncategorized, by admin

I just noticed here in the Dallas area that Steel Panther is booked once again at the House Of Blues. After just returning from Las Vegas, I noticed they had multiple bookings there on alternating weeks. In fact, it seems by their schedule they are alternating between Dallas and Las Vegas over the next month. Very interesting. Could this be a clue of a new kind of act that gains popularity? With all of the Hair Bands touring still, it seems that a humourous knock off of the hair band era is taking hold. I have also recently run across completing bands to Steel Panther. I do not know anything about them, but I find it interesting that seemingly out of nowhere comes this new kind of act that is gaining traction. Go see them. I am tempted to go see Steel Panther again on the 20th even though I just recently saw them at HOB Dallas. And if you go, prepared for a good time. Check out the Steel Panther review elsewhere on this web site. The guys a roughhouse good time, and the chicks seem to dig it as well.  Check out the video on You Tube at the link below.  Very entertaining.

YouTube – Steel Panther – Death To All But Metal

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Got back earlier in the week from my most recent trip to Vegas.  While we stayed at the Stratosphere again this year, that was one of the few things that was a repeat of previous trips.  Got in Thurs afternoon,  grabbed a late lunch at the hotel at Roxy’s Diner, a 50’s drive-in themed restaurant with wait staff in 50’s clothes but alas not 50’s prices.   As I have mentioned in previous postings, the days of cheap food and cheap buffets is long gone from Vegas—there are still some deals to be found, if you know where to look, or am willing to go off-strip.  The “Strat” is on the strip but way down, about between downtown and the main part of the strip.  The Strat has a food court with a MacD’s and a few others, so budget options are available. Later that nite grabbed a slice of pizza in the same area.  I like the Strat, while the rooms are not fancy or large, they are clean, in good condition, and the beds comfortable.  My view from the 9th floor was of the scenic parking garage.  Didn’t care—Most of the time in Vegas I just need a quiet clean room, where I can sleep, take a shower, change clothes.  Except for an afternoon nap, I am not in the room much anyway.  The staff at the Strat is friendly, including the dealers at the table games and that is much appreciated.  The hotel, while large, is not huge compared to Vegas strip hotels, where you need a Sherpa guide to get you from one side to the other.  When I stepped out of the elevator from my room, I was 10 steps to a bar on one side, 10 steps to a Starbucks on the other, and about 10 steps further was the Sportsbook (ahhhhh—yeah!).  Friday morning, friend Jay and I headed out to some newer properties I had not visited before. These are built  several miles south.  One place “M” was higher-end, with impressive modern décor, a very nice pool area, tall ceilings in the casino, and very nice restrooms.  The second place we hit was “SouthPoint”, a more middle-end place. It appeared bigger than “M” , was much busier, had a slightly western flavor, but not excessively so.  I liked it.  Both resorts were stand-alone places.  There is no shopping or retail within several miles of either one.  From there it was time to hit an old favorite—In-N-Out Burger…ahhhhhhh…for those of you who have never had the experience, well, they are great for fast-food burgers. Menu is limited, either hamburgers or cheeseburgers. Fries, Drinks. That’s it.  But quality, fast service, clean, well-done.  The place is ALWAYS packed, from 10:30 in morning till close at , what, 1 or 2 am….

From there it was a drive to a another new (for me) resort, Green Valley Ranch.  This is a higher-end resort as well. Beautiful décor, high ceilings, very nice pool area.  The bathroom floors were marble.  This resort has several nice restaurants and shopping across the street. Not close to the strip, but an impressive property.  Landscaping was incredible, lots of roses, and other flowers.

That night, we ate at the Italian restaurant in the Strat, Fellini’s.  Good food, reasonable prices (for Vegas), quiet, very good service.  The food was very good.  From there we cruised to The Hard Rock Hotel, off the strip. Place was packed, noisy.  Lots of rock memorabilia, guitars, etc on the walls. Interesting place.  There was a large private party going on, and we just parked ourselves at a bank of slots by the entrance to the party, and watched the invitees enter.  I don’t think anyone was older than 45, most in late 20’s early 30’s.  The guys were in jeans and mostly t-shirts and the women, well,  it was either micro-mini skirts or leather dresses (or both) with stiletto high heels. For about 45 minutes the parade went on. Truly jaw-dropping.

Sat am we got a little late start, but decides to head up to Mt. Charleston. That is about 35+ minutes north of Vegas. On the way out of town, we stopped at a restaurant I had seen on the Travel Channel and the Food Network but had never tried: “Hash House a Go-Go”.  Located in an old house, the place was packed, but being a smaller party was able to grab a table outside, under the covered porch.  This was the best place we ate all weekend.  The prices were high, but HUGE portions. Lots of interesting menu items and combinations. Great place for brunch.  I got the Chicken and Waffles (How could I pass that up?). Two large pieces of fried chicken, tender, moist,  on top of four incredibly large waffles. The waffles had a little fruit on them, but inside the waffle itself was a large slice of applewood smoked bacon.   My order could have feed 3-4 people. I maybe got halfway through-maybe. Service was great, knowledgeable, but not fast.  They make everything from scratch, have no microwaves or toaster ovens in the place. Hand-squeezed lemonades topped off the meal.  Very impressive.  May be time to look at a possible franchise for the Austin-Waco, area….hmmmm…back on the road to Mt Charleston and the national wildlife preserve in that area.  The Mt itself rises to over 11,000 ft.  The temperatures as you climb from the valley remarkably drops.  Not having been up there in over 10 years I was amazed at all the beautiful “log-home” style houses there were in the area, including some humongous places.  We stopped at the Lodge, where a number of folks were sitting to eat an early lunch, and looked at several tables of truly unique native-American jewelry and craft items.  We drove through a camping and picnic area on the mountain, passing shady areas still covered with snow, stopping on occasion to enjoy the views of the mountains and the valley far below.  Truly a different experience from a usual Vegas trip.   Early Sat evening was spent at the party-pit at the Strat.  Most casinos have some variation of this area, a few tables set aside with female blackjack dealers in  costumes of scanty attire,  varying depending on the theme of that hotel.  At the strat, the dealers wore VERY short “Daisy Duke’s” shorts and either a bikini top, or a lingerie top.  They were, in a word, attractive.  The surprising thing was, the tables were all $5 blackjack tables. Usually, the “party-pit” tables are $10 or more.   Once I was up a little bit, I stopped playing and just stood behind Jay and made fun of him while he was losing.  Once done, we headed downtown for the evening.  For those of you who have not seen the Fremont Street Experience, it is amazing.  It is a long dome of millions of lights, about 3 stories tall, that cover several blocks of the main part of downtown. Starting at 8 pm, and every hour on the hour till midnite, they turn off all the outside casino lights and  have a light/sound show that is mind-boggling. Every show has a different theme.   Jay wanted to go down there cause the 9 pm theme was his favorite group, “The Doors”.  They played 3 Doors songs. The show lasts about 7-10 minutes. The downtown area is a large pedestrian mall with sidewalk venders, some cheap drinks (hard to find) and great people watching.  They usually have 2 bands playing live music, one band at each end. This nite they only had one, an Alice Cooper tribute band (I am completely serious). The lead singer looked the part, but couldn’t sing.  After a while wandering around, we decided on a late dinner at the Chart House, a new restaurant at the Golden Nugget, my favorite hotel downtown.  Nothing like eating Prime Rib at 10 pm at nite in Vegas.

Sunday we drove out towards Red Rock Canyon, about 15 miles west of Vegas. I have been to the area many times in the past several years. The rock formations and bright red striations are well worth the trip.  However, upon reaching the entrance, we decided there was too much traffic so just decided to proceed west on the two-lane Nevada hwy.  We went past a Nevada State Park, that was owned by Howard Hughes for a while, stopped at several small towns along the way.  One town in particular caught our eye, Blue Diamond. Town of about 300 people, on the slopes of a mountain, former mining town. All the yards were neat, the houses trim and in good condition, very nice. We stopped in the town store, little more than the size of a convenience store, and chatted with the owner for awhile.  Very interesting guy.   It was a highlight of the trip.  Finally back into Vegas and a stop at a fast-food chain based out of California—Del Taco.  Very good tacos, cheap.  Had unusual (for a Tex-Mex guy like me) flavorings—lots of cilantro and a little lime. Different.  From there it was back to the Strat, went to hang out at the adult-only pool for a few hours, then up to the top of the Strat tower for cocktails before dinner. The Strat has an observation deck 108 floors above the strip. The cocktail lounge is on floor 107. There is a nice restaurant on top that rotates so you get a complete view of the area. The idea is to watch the sun go down and watch the lights of Vegas come up. Very cool.  A new experience at the Strat is a controlled free fall from the 108th floor to the 2nd floor.  People (who actually pay money to do this) put on a rig that is attached to cords that go all the way to the bottom. You then step out onto a platform and jump off the tower. Similar to bungee-jumping except you are feet first, mostly.  It is amusing to watch the people in the restaurant freak out when they see someone “falling” in a harness past their window down to the bottom.  There is no way I would do that, even if it was free.  Much too perilous.

From there we drove to the new City Center area on the strip, to visit the new resort “Aria”. Very modern design, very unusual architecture. I am not a big fan of modern design, but this hotel had several features that were quite beautiful.  Well worth the visit. We ate dinner at one of Wolfgang Puck’s many restaurants in Aria, called Puck’s Brasserie.  Interesting menu—Italian.  From there was back to the Strat for a last shot at the slot machines and to bed. Had a 4 am wake-up call to catch my flight home.

Overall impressions of the trip:

Lots of new places, some worth repeating. Always like to try new places along with some of the old stand-by’s. Crowds, pretty busy at the Strat, not busy at all downtown, which was surprising on a sat nite, the strip more crowded than it was the previous year, but still not packed. Everyone I talked to said tourist volume was starting to pick up after a really lean 18 months. I made a little money this trip, thanks to the Sportsbook and a nice recovery on my last slot machine. Food was always good, if usually overpriced. Cocktails were plentiful, well-made, and very overpriced.

Would I stay at the Stratosphere again? Absolutely.  I really like the place. Good value for the money, even if inconvenient location.  If you stay there, it is best to get a rental car. Taxi’s in Vegas are vastly overpriced.  Looking forward to my next trip to Vegas, probably in mid-August for a special birthday party.  I am already packed….Viva Las Vegas!

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Fear and Grunting in Las Vegas

On May 12, 2010, in Travel, Uncategorized, by admin

Many of you know I like to travel to Las Vegas on vacation. This is not for the gambling, but for the many other things that Las Vegas has become. One of them is the great restaurants and eating in general. Gone are the Surf n Turf buffets for $3.99. They have been replaced by a host of mid to high end resturaunts that offer something for every taste. Of course, this leads to an overwhelming amount of food consumption. Well, what goes in must come out. And here is where we begin this review. You see, with a load of In n Out Burger and other great eats, it was time for the exit of all this consumed ‘energy’.  As we previewed several casinos around Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to rate restrooms for many of these. So, like it or not, here is my review of each.

M Resorts. This is a high end property in the middle of nowhere. Nice place. The restrooms where well decorated in marble like material. The doors nearly reached the floor for a nice dose of privacy. The crapper flushed, like many crappers in Las Vegas, with a a strong rush to help move materials, down the hole leaving few stains. The paper was at least two ply, reflective of a higher end Las Vegas property. You had better trial run these rest rooms in a hurry as I know you will, based upon the crowds at this resort, or lack there of, not sure how long these rest rooms will be in existence.  Based upon the above, I give M resorts crappers, a B+

South Point Resort and Casino. This is a medium end property also located far from the strip. When given the opportunity to use their crapper after a compelling tour of the pool area, I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE. In line with the property, this was a standard room with doors that barely stayed closed. It is tough to do your business with one hand while holding the door closed with another. It was close to noon. The room was over taken with too many crapper uses (or it could have been from the adjacent rodeo arena). TP was a stunning one ply. Wash your hands good after use. Rating C.

Green Valley Ranch. Another property off the strip, this is a higher medium resort with a great pool area. The decor is quite nice throughout, and the crapper was no different. Decent privacy with doors that at least stayed latched shut. Single ply TP. I expected more. It also was decorated rather bland considering that much of the materials inside the casino are stone. A lot of old people in this casino as well.  That never spells ‘good news’ for the crappers, and I think you know why. Same Las Vegas flush. Overall rating. C+

Aria. For those of you Las Vegas Nubes, this is one of the properties in the new $15B City Center project by MGM Grand and some Dubai partnership. Again, when faced with the opportunity to grace their crapper, I was elated. My expectations were supported. Man. Nice white marble surroundings. Floor length doors for total privacy and the occasional couple who wishes to have sex in a crapper. Hell, they were even somewhat sound proof to allow a little groaning without embarrassment. Beautiful two ply that had to be one of the better brands. Left my ass baby soft. Same Las Vegas flush. Nice washing area. (We mention this only because it stood out. Clearly this review is not about washing hands and other hygienically correct matters) Boring. This was the king of crapper attempts. Rating A-. OK the minus is harsh. I would only give a plus if there is a personal attendant to wipe my ass for me.

Stratosphere. Ah yes, the Motel 6 of the strip. The minimalist property where you can always find a room for around $50. We stay at this resort when we wish to save a few greenbacks. Accordingly, sparse but clean crappers. They are kept clean like the rest of the property, but have very little to offer (like I had to explain to you what the ‘Motel 6″ thing as all about.  Sorry for insulting your intelligence).  Now given this is this property, I am surprised they stayed clean.  Must have decent crapper cleaning service as the normal client of Motel 6 are larger Harley looking thugs, families(ugh), hippies, and generally any other alternative lifestyle you can figure.  Generally, this group is not good on crappers as 1) their waste reeks because of all the shit they eat, and 2) they generally smell like all hippies do (except me, of course).  So hats off to Motel 6 for keeping them clean.  No small feat. One ply, but then you would expect no less at Motel 6. Las Vegas flush. Overall rating? B….not because they were so good, rather, they left the light on.


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And Now For Something Completely Different…Vegas

On December 23, 2009, in Travel, by admin

So a quick note after returning from Las Vegas for a three day weekend to watch my beloved Baylor Lady Bears play in a tournament in Las Vegas.  OK, maybe this was just an excuse to get away for three days, but I always enjoy watching my Baylor Lady Bears play in any venue, but this one excels. This is at a venue we have never heard of, so we start out to to find the venue . It is a casino resort far south of the strip, South Point Resort and Casino.  A quick Google on the iPhone and we are good. The venue had a make shift basketball floor laid into what was an arena that was used for a regular rodeo. Yes, there was a slight manure smell. The discovery increased significantly when we realized that with a bar hovering over the court, well supplied with Belevidere, and the ability to take the drinks courtside, we had an opportunity that will never be afforded at a basketball game at Baylor University. God Bless Las Vegas. Two games later and two wins for the Baylor Lady Bears, and it is off to Las Vegas proper.

The usual haunts include a stop at Vic and Anthony’s Steakhouse in the Golden Nugget downtown.  The Nugget is where we were staying.  Vic and Anthony’s is a superb experience on every visit, this one no exception.  It is greatness, especially when considering this is a Landry’s Resturaunt brand (Landry’s owns the Golden Nugget) with another location in Houston. The food train also visited In n Out Burger, a West Coast phenomina, a stop to Del Taco, another West Coast fast food chain that was very good, and of course, our favorite local and inexpensive pair of resturaunts in the same shopping center, Thai Spice and Pasta Mia.  If you ever get to Las Vegas, these two are a must. Very inexpensive and some of the best food you will find anywhere.  Every visit, it seems that the owner of Thai Spice jokes about me opening a locatin in Dallas, and I would be very tempted in another life. Both of these are on Flamingo Road, right beyond the Palms in a rather seedy shopping center.  But you will not be disappointed in trying them.

We also visited a few new casino resorts as well.  After the Baylor Lady Bears’ close win against ASU, we went to the M Resort and Casino. Signifinatly south of the strip on Las Vegas Blvd., this beautiful property stands alone with little around it.  And that is its main issue, you must drive everywhere for your entertainment not offered in the resort.  Good looking resturaunts, and a beautiful, beautiful pool area coupled with cool new wave designs made this property enticing. We look to stay there some time.  The other we visited was Aria, in the much discussed and high cost City Center.  This is a high end property.  Dark but hip design, technology crawling about, this place is interesting, but not certain it will be worth the price. I look it up on the plane home (yes, my AA flight had internet, and there was much rejoicing, yeah) and it looks to average around $260/night. They aim to please for this amount. The rooms are all electronic with memory. You program your climate, you program the curtains to open and close, you program your programs on TV, all state of the art electronics. And, when you leave, the reservation system remembers all of these settings and automatically sets the room for your next visit. Interesting. Great bars at the Aria, although, things were a bit rough since it was their fourth day open.  We had to go through three specialty drink orders before they found one on their own menu they could serve.  Swing and a miss. Some decent looking resturaunts, not sure if they were open yet.

This week in Vegas is the weekend for those who do not like people.  Very light in visitors. But that represents opportunity for lower costs and deals.

Back to the Baylor Lady Bears….they did not play very well. They barely squeeked by an ASU team that I am convinced will be in the sweet sixteen. We congratulated the coach in the hall for bringing it….and this was good for reasons I shall not go into. The refs sucked bad.  I violated my goal this year of being mellow. A little Polish Clear did not hurt either.  So I had to let them know they really needed to referee Middle School.  I kept it clean in spite of my anger….and I am glad.  So are Rick May and Lori Fogelmann, the Baylor Lady Bears broadcast team who were broadcasting just 15 feet away, and I did not realize it until after the game. Sorry Rick and Lori, my bad….but the refs really did suck.

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