Friday, July 4, 2008

Now for something TOTALLY random

The New York Times needed me to handle, from afar, this very strange to-do in the Houston area involving the corpse of an unidentified white murder victim and efforts by black activists to use her to desegregate a racially divided county's cemeteries.

Here's the piece I did, which appears in Saturday's newspaper.

Until this popped up, I had absolutely never thought about the question of segregation in cemeteries. Had you?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Poker Needs A Superstar

My diagnosis of what ails professional poker as the WSOP opens today, from the Las Vegas Weekly:

The World Needs A Poker Star
Competitive-game fans want someone to admire
BY STEVE FRIESS

A few weeks ago, I was one of millions of Americans who got sucked into watching something on TV that I ordinarily would never, ever care about.

It was a Monday, I was overdue on more than one assignment—including that week’s Strip Sense entry—and I don’t usually watch sports on TV anyway. But the human drama of a hobbled Tiger Woods somehow managing one amazing comeback after another in the U.S. Open was so compelling that it even made watching privileged people using a crooked metal stick to hit a small white ball across a water-guzzlingly lush and exclusive private park worth my attention.

That said, had it not been for Tiger, such a close match with such great heroics surely wouldn’t have drawn my interest.

And that is the probably insurmountable problem that ails the World Series of Poker as its most prestigious event begins this weekend: There are no transcendent stars. What’s more, thanks to the very same factors that earlier this decade turned the WSOP into one of the fastest-growing professional competitive events— how’s that for avoiding the word “sport”?—of our time, there also never will be.

“You can’t buy your way onto an NBA court; you can’t buy your way onto an NFL field,” said Jeffrey Pollack, WSOP executive director. “You can, however, enter the World Series of Poker and potentially walk away as a world champion. We offer a brand of hope that’s more accessible than any other global sports brand.”

Well, that’s great, but where does that leave poker? Without mystique, that’s where. With nobody who has ever attained the same household-name status of a Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan or Andre Agassi. Ask any group of 55-year-old women emerging from a third viewing of Sex and the City, and they’ll all know who each is.

Ask the same people who Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey or Johnny Chan are; very few will know. Try Joe Hachem, Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang, the most recent three multimillionaire winners of the WSOP’s $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em tournament—aka the Main Event—and expect the blankest of stares.

Being a victim of one’s own success is a clich√©, but there is no better way to explain why TV ratings have been in decline for the WSOP. The meteoric rise in the fascination with poker in general and its richest tournament in particular boiled down to the notion, borne of the boom in Internet poker that turned every Midwest frat boy and bored Silicon Valley code geek into a rounder, that everyone is equal at the table. TV poker shows became so popular even my teenage niece watched, a sure indicator of fad status.

The allure was simple: Anyone can win. Even me.

And yet here’s the problem: Anyone can win. Even whatsisname.

Read the rest HERE

Show is UP: The Wayans To Leno

Enjoy this extra-long show! My L.A. Times profiles of Leno and Wayans can be found here and here respectively. Click on the date to hear it or right-click to download the show and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here:

July 3: The Wayans To Leno

Jay Leno has always been comfortably inside the lines of mainstream American comedy while Damon Wayans has built a family business out of going out on a limb. So what do these two comics have in common? For one, both are performing in Las Vegas this month. For another, they’re both on the show this week. Leno reacts to questions as about why he’s not more respected by the entertainment media while Wayans tries to explain the method to his mad career.

In Banter: Steve Wynn's cocktail, Steve Friess' drinking binge, Harrah's environmentalism, Penn v Angel and a George Carlin tribute.

Links:

Get tickets to Damon Wayans' Orleans show here
Get tickets to Jay Leno's Mirage performances here
Learn how to make Steve Wynn's favorite cocktail here
Check out the Downtown Cocktail Lounge here
Read Penn Jillette's diss Criss Angel here
Learn more about Noir Bar at the Luxor here
The site for Miles' would-be obsession, Clean House, is here
Steve's scoops on the blue tape and the Criss Angel delay is here and here
Read how the AIDS Rides turned out to be a scam here
Read Harrah's press release on their WSOP carbon-credit buy here
That 7/1 WSJ piece on Vegas casino debt is here
See the George Carlin clip we played on the show here
Watch the whole Wayans three-titties routine excerpted on the show here


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Blue Tape, A Love Story

(UPDATE, 9:10 a.m. 7/3: Bob's removed his post. See his comment, No. 9, here.)

Some guy named Downtown Bob claims on his blog he paid some maintenance men at the Palazzo $100 to fetch him the blue tape. I'm dubious but amused nonetheless. Do you believe him? Read all about it here.

The Steve Wynn Cocktail

As we discussed on this week's podcast, which will be available through the feed on Thursday and is already available directly for download at TheStripPodcast.Com, I am working on a big piece on Vegas mixologists and interviewed Patricia Richards, the mixologist for Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. In the process, I asked her what Steve Wynn drinks and she revealed his penchant for the Asian Equation cocktail invented by legendary Vegas mixologist and Bartender Magazine Hall of Famer Francesco LaFranconi.

What's in it? Glad you asked. I emailed Patricia to get the exact recipe for those of you who hope drinking it will bring you that much closer to looking and feeling like a Vegas billionaire casino mogul:

Asian Equation

-1½ oz. TY KU Sake Liqueur
-1½ oz. Momokawa Coconut-Lemongrass Nigori Sake
-1 oz. Fresh Sweet & Sour

Method: Roll ingredients in a mixing glass and tin with ice, 3-4 times to chill. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

Garnish: A kefir lime leaf floating on top of cocktail.

The easier approach, it would seem given the obscurity of some of those ingredients, would be to go to the Wynn and order one. Richards said he dictated it to appear on every cocktail menu throughout the property. At the B Bar, for which I have a cocktail menu, it's $16 -- or $2 more than almost any other drink.

I found a review of this drink on the Passionate Foodie blog, whose Boston-based author tried it while at the UNLVino Expo in Vegas in February and wrote it up in April. Note, however, that the blogger says it had sweet-and-sour mix, which no self-respecting mixologist would sanction. Nonetheless, he wrote: "The cocktail itself was quite interesting, with a rich coconut flavor (which I love) and it was not overly sweet. It also had hints of other fruits as well, due to the Ty Ku. This would make a good summer drink."

Cheers!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dog Bites Man

This has nothing to do with Vegas at all but it is funny: Barbra Streisand's publicist just sent out a release indicating that she's endorsing -- wait for it -- Barack Obama. I am just, just shocked. Floored.

Here's the part I love: "
We've had a number of press requests as to whom Barbra Streisand is endorsing in the presidential election."

Really? Is zero a number? Who are these journalists waiting with baited breath to hear how Hollywood's most famous liberal might vote? Even her publicist seems to concede you're an idiot if you don't know. "
It was naturally and correctly assumed by inquiring media, following the determination of the Democratic nominee, she is enthusiastically backing Sen. Barack Obama," the rep writes. "And that is certainly the case."

If you really care, you can find out WHY here. And if you actually do click on that link, you are even gayer than the poor, humiliated mammal to your left. Or Miles. (Sorry, Miles. Just checking if you actually read my blog.)

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Strip is LIVE @ 7 p.m. PT w/ Leno + Wayans

Join us Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. PT in the chat room and listen to the webstream at LVRocks.Com for the live version of "The Strip." We've got a big show this week featuring comics Jay Leno and Damon Wayans. Plus, find out all about Steve Wynn's favorite specialty cocktail!

Come on down -- or wait till Thursday for the podcast. Your call. We love you either way.

Breaking: Criss Angel Show Delayed

The much-anticipated Cirque du Soleil-Criss Angel "Believe" production at Luxor won't open as scheduled for its previews on Sept. 1. Cirque spies say "technical difficulties" have delayed the $100 million show for which a wrap started going up on the side of the resort over the weekend. A reservationist put it more bluntly: "They say they've been having some problems."

The show was supposed to open Sept. 1 for 15 previews through Sept. 11 followed by a grand opening gala on Sept. 12. Now if you try to book that, here's what you see:



Instead, the gala opening has been pushed back to October and the show gets a "soft" opening on Sept. 12. Which means someone at CirqueduSoleil.Com needs to rewind this clock on their site:


But look on the bright side: This gives Criss another month to make up with Norm Clarke, huh?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

BREAKING!!! THE BLUE TAPE IS GONE!

As pathetic as it may sound, I am on my laptop using the somewhat unreliable free wi-fi at the Palazzo lobby to bring you this news flash: The blue tape is GONE! OK, I'm also trying to shed the impact of a delightful Pimm's Cup cocktail I just had to try at Cut for a Vegas Magazine story on Vegas mixologists before I drive home so I went to the atrium connecting the casino to the lobby to look for the infamous BLUE TAPE.

That such a high-end property would forget to remove such an obvious symbol of its construction has been mock-worthy for months. My first reference to it came in March thanks to astute reader Troy, who shot the photo in this posting.

It was there as recently as May 27 when I posted this, but now it is GONE! See!


It used to look like this:


I took a shot of the whole atrium just in case I was missing something. See?


Who knows how they realized they had to remove it, but the only place where I know of that it was discussed was on various Vegas blogs and various podcasts.

Now that that's resolved, we need to move on to more important matters: Why on EARTH does it sound like a church organist is having an orgasm in here? God, this music is hurting my head. Wait, is it that music? Is there such a thing as a pre-hangover?

Las Vegas - Is Boom Overextended?

Yes, that's the famous headline from this June 1955 Life Magazine issue. And the focus and topic, in these tough economic times, of my Las Vegas Weekly column. I actually wanted to provide a scan of the entire Life spread but the Weekly folks didn't do it and my printer/scanner broke for good the other day. So you'll all have to wait!


Boom Cycle
Can Las Vegas ever be overbuilt?
By STEVE FRIESS

Every now and again, if you’re around Vegas long enough, you hear about the June 20, 1955 issue of Life Magazine with a Moulin Rouge showgirl on its cover. The issue is, to many, the “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment for Vegas journalism for the question its headline asked:

“Las Vegas—Is Boom Overextended?”

It’s a punchline to many on the Strip. Six months ago, Sheldon Adelson himself referenced it in an interview in advance of the Palazzo opening in response to my question about whether the city could be overbuilt. The implication was that almost since the dawn of the destination, naysayers have wondered whether the city could continue to sustain its own urge to constantly grow.

The reason I bring this up is because, by some quirk of fate, I found a copy of that very issue for sale for a mere $25 at the Casino Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club convention at the Riviera last week. I’d bought a copy before, but it was sealed in plastic and never read; the fact that I now had a shot at another copy, unwrapped, on the exact 53rd anniversary of its publication was a minor thrill I couldn’t refuse.

It also took on more resonance this year because Vegas is in one of its worst slumps ever. Occupancy and room rates are down, gambling revenues are on track to fall for only the second time since 1970, the last time being in 2002 following 9/11.

At the very same time, the frantic building continues unabated. The various CityCenter structures, the Fontainebleau, Wynn’s Encore, Echelon and a new Caesars tower all are poised to add more than 19,000 high-end rooms to the already staggering inventory in the next couple of years. Now Adelson is looking at moving the Sands Expo Center elsewhere to make room for 7,000 more rooms, Wynn wants another 5,000 in place of his golf course, Station Casinos wants 10,000 more just west of the Strip in its Viva project and someone—maybe the Plaza folks, maybe not—is going to do something big on the former Frontier property.

Which brings us back to where Las Vegas was in 1955 when that seemingly foolish headline and article were written.

Read the rest HERE