Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ever Happen To You?

I'm always fascinated by what y'all see when you arrive at McCarran. Remember the time I noticed the odd image of the cow in a showgirl's headdress to tout the agribusiness of Nevada for reasons I still know not why?

Well, here's a new one I had forgotten was sitting on my camera from my most recent return:

In case it's hard to see, here's what it says:

Vegas waiters aren't being rude,
they're just saving water.
Remember, this is a desert.
Water is served by request only
at participating restaurants.

The billboard is from the Water Conservation Coalition, which is a fancy way of saying the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Vegas region's governmental agency responsible for dealing with water use issues. After rooting around, I found this site, which explains that the Nevada Restaurant Association is working with the SNWA to create the Water Upon Request program.

Menu snipeThe site claims that more than 180 restaurants have signed up to participate and some menus even have stickers "that indicate the restaurant's support of conservation by serving water only upon request." They're supposed to look, I believe, like this to your right.

Now, I eat out. A lot. I've never seen such a thing. Have any of you? If so, where? 180 restaurants? Really?

I searched all over the Web and found such old newspaper references to this idea in the Las Vegas press that both writers are now deceased. One was a 2003 Las Vegas Sun column by the late Ruthe Deskin that claimed 120 local restaurants were doing this. Another was a piece in the Review-Journal in March 2004 by the late Rod Smith that didn't actually talk about this as a SNWA program but said that Boyd and Station casinos both has "water upon request" programs in most or all of their restaurants. I was at the TGIF's at Suncoast just tonight and they brought us water without our asking. That's owned by Boyd.

By the by, this order form allows restaurateurs to get menu stickers as well as coasters, pens and paycheck inserts (?!?). Has anyone out there who does NOT work for the Southern Nevada Water Authority ever seen any of these things?

My Golden Northern Nevada Trek

At long last, my big piece on Battle Mountain, Nev., (a.k.a. in my Facebook statuses while I traveled there in late November, "bumf%&#") is done and out in Friday's New York Times or found here at this link. I wanted to go to Battle Mountain, 215 miles east of Reno along I-80, because I was tired of writing about places where the economy is horrible. Battle Mountain is booming. Why?

Because of this:

That's an open-pit gold mine. The counties of Elko, Humboldt, Eureka and Lander (where Battle Mountain is) combine to be the fourth-biggest gold-producing region in the world. This pit is the Pipeline Mine owned by Barrick Mining (no relation to Barrick Gaming). Whereas I originally imagined that you see fun little gold nuggets being cracked out of the ground or from walls of tunnels at a gold mine, the fact is that all you really see is dirt. The gold is microscopic until they process it and enough of it gets together to be visible.

I know there are environmental problems with gold mining, but that was not the focus of my piece. My purpose was simply to speak to people in a corner of the world where the national economic misery is actually proving to be a good thing. When the economy is crap, the value of gold as a safe investment tends to rise. It's now at about $870 an ounce, which means the Pipeline Mine, producing 1 million ounces a year, is producing $870 million in gold. And that's just one pit.

To get the material to the processing plants, they have these $3 million trucks that can carry 400 tons, the largest haulers in the world.

They're incredibly large. Here's an illustration. Here's the tire without Steve:

...and here's the tire with Steve.

Try that again. Here it is without Steve:

...and with Steve!

Steve is 6 feet tall. Those tires are at least two Steves in diameter. The truck is at least 4.5 Steves. How many Steves tall is your house?

The Pipeline property is huge and the Barrick operation extensive. They have their own roads, obviously, for all their big trucks. I found these signs funny...

Apparently, the idea behind the half-mile limits is just to startle the drivers into paying attention to the signs. That's what the Barrick spokesman said, anyhow. Seems to me that after a while, they'd get used to it, but that's just me.

The Barrick guy made a big deal about how the reclaim the land and restore it to some sort of natural beauty -- hell, better than its original state -- after the mining is over. I left that out of the story because (a) it's not a story about the environmental impact of mining and (b) it sounded like a lot of happy talk. Still, as we were driving around, we first saw this...

...and got closer so we could take pictures like this...

I can't even remember what sort of creature that was. It wasn't a deer, but I'm stoopit and I can't recall what the Barrick guy said they are.

The town of Battle Mountain was kinda neat if you like that sorta thing. My piece is national-media vindication for the Battle Mountaineers to some extent because the last time they were noticed by the East Coast Media Elite Bastards, it was Washington Post Magazine writer Gene Weingarten with 7,000 words in 2001 about why this was, to his mind, the definitive Armpit of America. It's a funny piece and spawned three Armpit Festivals run by town boosters there (sponsored by Old Spice, natch) but is still a bit of a sore matter for many locals. Several asked if my photog, Brad Horn, and I were out to humiliate them again. I could honestly say that was not my aim.

Here's the postcard image of Battle Mountain, the Owl.

It's a casino, a diner and, oddly, a very aggressive pine nut vendor. There were signs everywhere advertising that you could buy bags of pine nuts for $20. I'm sorry, I forgot to shoot pix of it. Otherwise, Battle Mountain has a Super 8, a McDonald's and not a whole lot else. They're excited, though, as you can read in my piece, about a Family Dollar coming soon. Yay!

However, my photog Brad -- whose day job is with the Nevada Appeal in Carson City and whose site is here -- did a great job with a 12-photo slideshow of Battle Mountain you can find here.

I do have one more photo to share of my own from that trip. I stayed over in Reno on the second night of the trip and flew home the following day, but at Miles' recommendation I got a pretty inexpensive room at the Peppermill on that Sunday night. Check out these digs:

It cost $76 for that night. Look at the mirrors, the lights, the hot tub in the room. So what if the jets didn't work!

The Show is UP: Happy 2009!

Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy! Hear the show by clicking on the date or right-click to download it and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Jan. 1: ...And A Wynning New Year

We’ve walked through Encore with him and chatted him up about everything from that damaged Picasso to the exact curvature of his resort towers. So what’s left to talk about with Steve Wynn? Well, it’s Steve Wynn, so there’s always more. We finish playing our pre-Encore interview tonight with discussion of Wynn’s athletic prowess, his concerns about the economy and a little Gandhi chit-chat, too.

In Banter: Switch at Encore, the view from Capital Grille, Criss Angel on Larry King, Danny Gans’ Encore poster and free coffee at Silverton.


Find the site for Bagelmania here
Heidi Knapp Rinella’s Top 10 restaurants reviewed in 2008 is here
See the Danny Gans poster at Encore here
Read more about the Silverton’s Starbucks offering and other casino freebies here

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Week's LVW Col: The Lion King

Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly column, the first of at least two based on my NYC trip in December. Happy New Year's Eve everyone!

Can You Feel The Length Tonight?

The Lion King has a shot at success here - but its running time could kill it


My 9-year-old niece sat next to me at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City, utterly enthralled. Her widened eyes were glued to the visual feast before her, the mammoth puppets and the ebullient, multiethnic cast performing colorful, energetic song-and-dance numbers, the Elton John/Tim Rice score.

A few seats away from her, though, was a slightly different story. A middle-aged couple from Ohio watched at first attentively and then, as time went on, with some impatience. The woman, in fact, dug out her program and opened it to the page with the list of songs, trying to catch a little bit of light so she could figure out how many were left. I had made her acquaintance before the show started because she complimented my niece on her outfit, and so at intermission I wondered how she liked the show.

“Oh, it’s wonderful,” she said, “but maybe a little bit too long for me.”

The show, of course, was The Lion King, the production that aspires to be Las Vegas’ Next Big Thing when it arrives this spring at the Mandalay Bay. Along with the Cirque du Soleil Elvis-scored show coming to CityCenter, The Lion King is one of only two major entertainment premieres now on the 2009 calendar for the Strip. (Okay, there’s three if you’re willing to count that Scary Spice stripper show coming to the Planet Hollywood, but I’m not.)

Whenever a Broadway show is heading to Vegas, I like to get out and see it in its native habitat, New York. That way, I have a baseline to compare the quality of the performances and changes in the staging of the Vegas edition when it arrives.

And, of course, I get to begin to judge whether it’s going to succeed or fail in Las Vegas.

Read the rest HERE

Win Stuff At The Wynn Mall Kiosk

I don't usually expound too much on our weekly Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week for "The Strip" because it's content that rewards the listener who makes it all the way to the end of the show. This one, though, was worth both TSTTotW status and a blogger attention.

In an early December interview with Steve Wynn, I asked him about a rumor I'd heard that there were Wynn people at the Fashion Show Mall across the street giving away discounts on stuff. He said he knew nothing of it and I forgot all about it until last week when I went to do some Xmas shopping.

My first clue was this:

Butterflies! Wynn butterflies! On the floor, on railings, here and there in a particular section of the Fashion Show. Plus arrows leading somewhere no doubt wonderful! I took the bait, followed the arrows and eventually I found...

A full-fledged Wynn-Encore kiosk located, evidently permanently, directly outside the entrance to Needless Mark-Up!

So what, pray tell, does one find at a Wynn-Encore kiosk? That's the interesting part. The attendants I chatted with said they can book rooms, restaurant reservations and show tickets. In fact, by mid-January, I was told, Nevada residents can book "Le Reve" and Danny Gans seats at a 2-for-1 rate that they won't get at the Wynn box office or at any of the discount ticket sellers. The mall desk also boasts stacks of "VIP" passes to get in free pre-midnight at the ultralounge Blush and, if you've got a vagina, at Tryst. See?

But the most fascinating thing about the kiosk is the CHANCE TO WIN FABULOUS PRIZES! If you walk up and ask for a contest card, they give you one of these things:

You peel back one tab -- the missing one above says "Join" -- and stand the chance of winning $10K in slot play. You have to redeem it at the Red Card desk inside the Wynn or Encore casinos and, presumably, if you're not a Red Card member, you have to sign up. But, still, it's free.

I asked for, and received, two of these cards. It was unclear whether I could have taken both prize winners to the casino or what other "Terms & Conditions" apply, as it says, since there's nothing anywhere on the cards explaining the "Terms & Conditions."

Of course, I couldn't bear the suspense of not knowing what I didn't win on the second card, even though that is a clear no-no for this contest. (Invalid if more than one tab is pulled, it warns.) So I threw away the $10 at the ice cream shop Sugar & Ice that I initially won on the card below to see what else I might've received...

Not bad, really. $10 at the deli, free admission for the Ferrari place, $25 slot play... those are actually decent things to win, really.

While I'm on this subject, I think it's terrific that you can make dinner reservations at Wynn or Encore from the Fashion Show Mall, but how is it possible that you can't do so for any of the Encore restaurants on... EncoreLasVegas.Com?!?!? After Miles and I discussed our dinner at Switch at Encore on this week's forthcoming podcast, I wanted to provide a link to the restaurant on the Encore website. Shockingly, I discovered there's nothing on the Encore website about ANY of the restaurants there, which is strange because that is the aspect of Encore that is being most promoted to journalists at this point.

See for yourself:

There's no tab for restaurants. And there's no info about Encore restaurants -- Switch, Sinatra, Society, Botero and Wazzuzu -- on the WynnLasVegas.Com site, either. Isn't that strange? I mean, they've got Danny Gans up there and he doesn't open until February!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Strip is LIVE tonight @ 6:45 pm PT w/ more WYNN

What Barack Obama is to "60 Minutes," Steve Wynn is to The Strip Podcast.

Tonight, we finish out 2008 with the rest of our pre-Encore chat with Wynn in which we discuss his athletic prowess, his concerns about the economy and a little Gandhi. Plus, news from Vegas, the poll, a new trivia question, listener feedback and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Join us from 6:45-8 pm PT in the chat and to hear the live show at LVROCKS.Com or wait a day or so for the podcast version.

Monday, December 29, 2008

You know Xmas is over when...

...your blow-up Chubby Santa appears to have had too much egg nog.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Something new among the old

I just finished leafing through today's last-weekend-of-the-year 2008 news rehashes in the Review-Journal and Sun. Oddly, the most notable thing I spotted was this advertisement for the Silverton Hotel-Casino a little ways south on Las Vegas Boulevard:

I've never heard of Vegas casinos offering anything other than free cocktails to players. Starbucks coffee sounds like a smart move. I do recall popping in at the Fernley Nugget in Fernley, Nev., recently to check out the state's first casino to open as a non-smoking joint and noting they had a self-service soft-drink fountain. I wonder which is more effective in parting you from your money, free alcohol or free caffeine? Red Bull and vodka anyone?

On a related front, the papers were largely reiterations of old news and, given this annus horribilis, not terribly happy news at that. But in and among all that, the Las Vegas Sun's Charlotte Hsu provided a must-read, a in-depth, enlightening and wonderfully long piece on a local Iraq veteran's war experiences. Plus, of the year-end fodder, Howard Stutz gave a compact recounting of Sheldon Adelson's miserable year that reminded me that his failures were not exclusively about his company's woes. And I agree almost entirely (I still don't get the Cher thing) with Mike Weatherford's Top 10 shows of 2008, especially since he allows us to swap out "Love" or "Ka" if we're not enamored of "O," as I am not.

If I have a bone to pick this morning -- and there ought to be one, right? -- it's with R-J food critic Heidi Knapp Rinella listing the Capital Grille at the Fashion Show Mall as her sixth favorite of the eateries she reviewed in Vegas this year, exhorting us to "take in the unmatched view."

Unmatched view?!?!? Perhaps, if by "unmatched view" she meant of empty lots, stalled construction projects, a neon McD's sign and, off in the tantalizing horizon, the Naked City. (I'm feeling a future Stripper Poll coming on here, best restaurants with views. I wouldn't have even thought of putting CG on that list, though.) I like the Vegas Capital Grille, actually. But when I'm there, the view is the one thing that always seems unfortunate; if only they had gotten a perch facing south, the big windows and pretty architecture would be put to good use.

Finally, I'll be heading out shortly to pick up the Sunday New York Times. The NYT Sunday Magazine on the last weekend of each year is my favorite, a series of obituaries of highly influential individuals who died this year that always includes several non-famous names you never heard of but whose lives altered the culture in some way. One year, I discovered that the guy who invented the high-five was gay. Can't wait to find out what I didn't know this year.