Friday, April 9, 2010
People ask what I think of Vegas Seven, the new weekly intended to compete with the Las Vegas Weekly and CityLife funded as a joint venture between WENDOH Media and Observer Media Group.
I guess here's one answer: I like it enough that I'm finding stories in it to poach for my own work. And the first one of those actually comes from Vegas Seven's first issue, a piece by Brian Sodoma on Stephen Siegel, the 39-year-old entrepreneur behind the Siegel Suites apartment complexes that have popped up all over town. I did this lengthy profile for Portfolio.Com which posted yesterday.
Until I saw Sodoma's piece, I assumed it was a national chain that had found its way to Vegas; then I realized he's built this little empire here and that he may be one of the few people doing well in Las Vegas real estate lately.
Siegel is worth watching for two reasons. One, his formula of giving out free meal tickets to tenants who pay their rent is a fascinating means of herding them into his casinos, the refurb'd Gold Spike and a place near Nellis AFB now called Siegel Slots & Suites.
Yet in addition to renovating decrepit apartment buildings, he also bought the funky Artisan just west of the Strip and the shuttered St. Tropez immediately south of the Hard Rock. The latter is undergoing a $3 million remodeling job and is due to open this spring as Rumor, a 150-unit Palm Springs-style non-gaming boutique hotel. Here's a sketch of those rooms:
Siegel claims he can get $130 a night right out of the box over there, which drew skepticism from Las Vegas Advisor publisher Anthony Curtis in my piece. Curtis thinks it needs a little casino to be viable; Siegel is only putting in a few bar-top video blackjack machines as "an amenity." There'll also be a restaurant and nightclub.
Siegel's also now the co-owner of the Mount Charleston Lodge. When I told him that place has always had the absolute worst German restaurant and tourist trap, he insisted they'd fixed that. I may have to get up there and see. I always loved it up there.
Finally, Siegel's interesting because he doesn't sit still. Here's the concept boards for his next project:
Senor Jugos is his plan to open Jamba Juice-like places in Hispanic neighborhoods. It's so random. I asked him why and he says that in his long history working with Latino people -- he owned a few auto body shops in L.A., obviously has thousands of tenants -- led him to an epiphany: "Hispanics love juice."
Interesting guy, possibly a future player in the tourist corridor. Hopefully, a good read, too.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
On our Feb. 22 episode of The Strip, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week was a list of Vegas resorts that offer free shuttles from the airport. I came up with the list while working on the hotel content of the VegasMate iPhone -- and now iPad -- app.
It was right at the time the Ritz Carlton and the Casino MonteLago announced their closures out at Lake Las Vegas. We wondered why the LLV peeps hadn't realized that it's an expensive haul from McCarran to get out there and they really ought to make it free.
Now they've come close. The Loews Las Vegas and what's left of the ghost town of a shopping arcade and the rentable condos known as MonteLago Village Resort will provide a free shuttle to the Strip three times a day furnished, evidently, by the tourism board in Henderson, Nev. It's a good idea, although you have to leave the Strip at 10:45 p.m. and that's no fun. These days, it's cheaper to just get a room on the Strip if things are going well than it would be to pay the cab fare to get all the way out to the Loews if you miss the bus.
Sorry, LLV. This only solves half of the problem. Get yourself a bus from the airport, too, and maybe you'll save yourselves from elimination. Also, the press release says to send people here, but I don't see anything obvious about the free Strip-route buses there.
By the way, to see the other hotels that do provide free airport shuttle service, visit the Tourist Tips Section of TheStripPodcast.Com. One surprise: The only downtown casino that does so is the El Cortez. Why are the rest ceding this competitive advantage?
The Wynn folks just called off their effort to get a license and build in Philadelphia. I've been accused via text and email from friends of being a bit of an instigator given that the publication of the above image -- I'm using it now that (a) it's over and (b) everyone else has -- was the first big public problem between Steve Wynn and the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission.
So I just asked Jennifer Dunne, the corporate spokeswoman. "No, this has absolutely nothing to do with that." Then she referred me back to the corporate statement from Steve Wynn:
Wow. Philadelphia had a chance to put Atlantic City out of business once and for all with perhaps the most respected gaming operator and casino-resort designer in history and fouled it up. I'm sure the drama about my posting that image didn't help and maybe that was at least the start of Team Wynn realizing that the PA gang are a bit unstable and whiny. Given that the New Jersey board is doing everything it can to destroy its gaming business, that's a hard act to show up. This is like the Republicans screwing themselves six ways to Friday and allowing the Democrats to somehow revive their brand in time for November.
The Philadelphia press and Stiffs & Georges blogger David McKee are likely to write post-mortems that involve Wynn's ignorance of the development history of the neighborhood where the casino was to stand. But that's a red herring here; the conflict between the state gaming board, which chose a site, and the city, which feels trampled upon, is not the fault of any potential casino operator there. It's an internecine political drama. If it became Wynn's problem, shame on the two governmental bodies who scotched the deal.
Maybe this is why, as McGee picked up on recently, Wynn was sighted in Atlantic City kicking some tires recently? Seriously, would not a Wynn Atlantic City make you want to give that loserville another shot?
[See RateVegas.Com's blog on the topic, too. And David McKee proves me wrong just for the fun of it.]
It's not every day, dear readers, that an editor lets me get away with the phrase "anally douche." Which is surprising, actually, given that I usually cover Vegas. Yet the other day I received a product sample and press kit I couldn't ignore. It came from the respected marketing firm Witeck Combs in DC, known for its ability to do outreach to gay and lesbian consumers.
The product is pictured above, a new Fleet enema for, essentially, recreational use. To which I first went, "Wow. Ew." And then I went, "Huh. Story." And so, here it is, my post for Portfolio.Com on the ins and outs of the decision by Fleet to pursue this new market of people who, as their phrase goes, "electively rectally clease." Get used to that. And brace yourself for some of the data in here about gay/bi men if you're bold enough to read it. Maybe wait until after lunch?
Here are the three ads Fleet starts using next month at a gay or general-interest health-related website near you. Portfolio only posted one or two of them, so here are all of them.
I'm debating putting my interview with brand manager Emily Klopp into the podcast feed. It's, uh, unique. She's a perfect professional and I am, indeed, every bit the 10-year-old you might expect. I'm also debating whether Fleet Naturals belongs on my desk alongside all the other goofy story-related tchotchkes that make up my haphazard career. Obviously, yes, but what will my cleaning lady think?
The last time I felt this way was the night we adopted Black and Jack. It was time for bed, so Miles put them in their crate and off we went. You can play with them tomorrow, he promised. But even knowing that, even knowing that there would be thousands of tomorrows, I laid awake all night wanting to sneak away and take out my new puppies.
So it is tonight as well. Time for bed, Miles declared. Put your iPad on the charger. It'll be there tomorrow. Hey, someone has to be the grown-up around here.
And someone has to be the impetuous child. I waited till he was asleep, leaped out of bed, grabbed the iPad off the charger and raced up to my office where I shot the family photo of sorts found atop this post. (Missing: Our Mac Powerbook which is in the bedroom where I don't dare return to get it.)
Yes, that desktop Dell (where SteveFriess.Com resides) and that hard-wired phone (with a special amplifier to compensate for my hearing loss) still have important places in my gizmo universe. It's the once-mighty iPod Touch that's been all but replaced by my iPhone, which holds all the podcasts I could listen to in a month, and the G4 Mac which won't even charge up anymore. And, I swear, I only realized that Palm Pilot -- my first and only -- was even there after the image was shot, so untouched and ignored as it's been for years except to be dusted.
There in the middle is iPaddington Bear, the newest gossling in the bunch. OK, it's silly, but Harry iPodder I, II, III and IV were my iPods and I couldn't think of anything else. You're welcome to suggest.
Now, now. Relax. This is not going to be yet another sycophantic lovefest for the latest thing Apple's Steve Jobs pulled out of his butt. I don't do lovefests well. But I do have a new, incredibly compelling toy and it's the new toy that everyone's been talking about, so I obviously have to write about it.
First off, though, where'd it come from? My Twitter followers probably think I've been hating on the iPad for the past week or so but, actually, I've been hating on iPad Mania. There's a difference and I'll get back to that. But yes, I've been curious to have and to hold one, to see how it works, to compare and contrast with my other beloved Apple devices. I just wasn't going to stand in line for hours to get one knowing that they're kinda pricey and the upgraded versions with many obviously missing features would be along soon enough.
And then yesterday afternoon, this box arrived on my doorstep. I assumed it would be some of the publicity swag that routinely shows up, but it wasn't. Inside, I found a letter and a box wrapped in this:
Somehow I knew. Someone had sent me a new puppy. In fact, that someone was the man officially crowned the biggest tech geek and first iPad owner in Santa Barbara, Calif., in Sunday's newspaper:
So, what do I think so far? A lot of things. The tactile experience is wonderful. It's light and bright with all the soft curves and easy-to-navigate smooth glass we've expected since the iPhone and iPod Touch. I've tried a number of the applications that Hunter suggested and I think USA Today's is outstanding and well-organized...
...but the New York Times' Editor's Choice app has no way to Tweet and, if a story takes three screens, leaves you with an unseemly mass of white:
And if you thought online pop-ups are annoying, I had a Chase ad actually take over my screen uninvited. I couldn't get it to do it again, but I'm sure it won't be long.
I agree with most of what Vegas techie Paul Scott has to say in his overview, so go read his commentary. I don't really want to go through my views on the minutae when Paul covers it admirably. And the best, most amusing assessment came from the Las Vegas Weekly's Joe Brown. Tell me that this Justin Bowen image doesn't make you want to read his take:
Along with chuckles, Brown offered the most observant comment I've seen so far:
That's exactly how I'm feeling. Hunter noted that he wrote the letter he enclosed on his iPad using Pages, the Apple word processing software, and I considered trying to write my story today on it. But for as much typing as I do, I got tired of tapping on a sheet of ice. The flat keyboards we all use are ergonomically bad enough; not having actual buttons is hard on the digits after a while to say nothing of the long-tortured wrist.
More to the point, though, I so badly wanted to write this blog post on my iPad and found I couldn't. Why not? Well, for one thing...
...no matter what I did, I could not get a cursor inside this box to do the writing. I was able to do so in the HTML window, but I'm just not proficient enough (at all, actually) to be able to write my own HTML while I'm writing. What's more, there was absolutely no way to upload images:
What you see there is that it doesn't let me "choose file."
This brings me back to the beginning. The Apple iPad is a very interesting device and it is smart for people like me and Hunter to spend time with it and imagine its evident and vast potential. But the list of things that it does NOT do are really significant: No camera, no Flash, no USB ports, no multi-tasking. (See NetworkWorld.Com's "10 Things I'd Like On iPad 2.0.")
These are not little things to be dismissed; in many cases they are deliberate omissions intended by Apple specifically to take advantage of its most loyal customers, those first-adapters who lined up last weekend to pay top dollar. They know how to put a stinking camera in the thing; they left it out so they could make it part of an upgrade and get the same people to buy another one. That's just cruel.
This is why I was snarking all last week, because the media was just embarrassing itself in the service of Steve Jobs even as he manipulated his own biggest fans. And I have two particularly offensive examples of where respected media outlets simply lost their frigging minds:
1. Charlie Rose on PBS. The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and The New York Times' David Carr were on gushing a gullywasher. They seemed jarringly out of touch as when Mossberg said, "I know lots of people who live their lives 80 percent in wi-fi now, you know. At their work, their home, Starbucks, wherever they happen to hang out." I actually reacted out loud to the TV, "That's because you're a New York City egghead professional tech geek whose friends are probably the same."
But it was Rose's monologue to end the show went completely off the rails:
The thing you should do is investigate for yourself and see. If it adds to your life, it’s something that you might not have known you needed, but makes your own life more interesting, more satisfying, and gives you an exploration of the world that you could never imagine before."
Never mind, by the way, this great irony:
Get it? You cannot watch Rose's shows on Rose's website on the iPad because it requires...Flash! Ouch. And that's a world I've already imagined before, Charlie!
2. Time. They sent a confessed suck-up Steve Fry, to their one-hour sit-down with Steve Jobs and he emerged with three lousy paragraphs for a five-page story? No Q-and-A on the Web? No -- dare I say it? -- podcast? Or padcast? Anything multimedia?
Think I'm too harsh? This leads up to those three lame paragraphs:
"I have met five British Prime Ministers, two American Presidents, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jackson and the Queen. My hour with Steve Jobs certainly made me more nervous than any of those encounters. I know what you are thinking, but it's the truth. I do believe Jobs to be a truly great figure, one of the small group of innovators who have changed the world. He exists somewhere between showman, perfectionist overseer, visionary, enthusiast and opportunist, and his insistence upon design, detail, finish, quality, ease of use and reliability are a huge part of Apple's success. Where Ive is quiet, modest and self-effacing, Jobs is confident, assured and open. For some, his personal magnetism is almost of a dangerous, Elmer Gantry kind. They call the charisma emanating from his keynote addresses 'Steve's reality-distortion field.'
When I get to see Jobs, he is wearing the famous black turtleneck sweater and blue Levi's 501 jeans without which I would have cried, 'Impostor!' Recent weight loss from his liver transplant has imparted a delicacy that reminds me, I can't think why, of the actor William Hurt. We meet in a conference room. On every spare shelf and ledge, at least a dozen iMacs are placed, each one playing a family slide show. Jobs leans back on his chair, feet up on the table, a welcoming grin on his face. My first question is a nervous babble that lasts five minutes. He listens with patient amusement and answers, 'Yes.' Or possibly, 'No.' I cannot remember what the question was. I had forgotten to turn on the recorder. I do so now, abashed."
Oh, I know what Fry babbled on. It went something like, "Oh, Mr. Jobs, I've been masturbating to your photo since my very first wet dream and I just think you're the greatest human EVER, even better than Jesus and Ghandi and Lincoln and please, please, please can I commit suicide right here and now and have my ashes placed near your parking space so I can be near the gum on the bottom of your shoe always, sir, please?" I totally get why Jobs didn't know whether to say yes or no.
As I said, the device has great potential. Apple has the cultural and technological cache to create the critical mass that's been needed to turn people on to tablets. Whereas I initially expected the iPad to feel like a giant iPod Touch, the opposite seems to be the case; after using the iPad, the iPhone feels midgety.
Finally, the Las Vegas Sun has been doing a lot of bragging about its iPad-capable website. Here's what it looks like:
Here's the thing. Below is what the R-J's website looks like on the same device:
Yeah, the R-J's site's still its usual mess, but that's not my point. My point is, would you know if I didn't tell you which one was deliberately prepped for the new device?
OK, time to get back into bed now. I'll regret this in the morning and Miles will dutifully tell me he told me so. But first, lest anyone believe I'm not enthusiastic even as I remain sober about iPaddington Bear, I leave you with this:
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
...or maybe not
By STEVE FRIESS
"I’m fascinated with some of the architecture, fascinated with it,” the legend on the line insisted. “I mean, that little one with the castle that looks like a cartoon?”
“Yeah, the Excalibur,” I answered knowingly, expecting a punch line.
“That knocks my socks off,” the legend said in all seriousness. “You never see anything like that on that scale outside of Disneyland, you know? But Disneyland doesn’t ever build it that big. So it’s fascinating to see—it’s enlightening too. It’s interesting. That’s one of my favorite buildings there.”
In my head, I’m saying, Are you shitting me? But you don’t ask a man like Frank Gehry that question. At least not that way. Instead, I said it this way: “The Excalibur castle is your favorite building on the Strip?”
He laughed. “It’s one of my favorites.”
Shhh. Don’t tell Cesar Pelli, who gave us Aria, or Helmut Jahn, who designed the Veer. Or certainly not Lord Norman Foster, who has had the ignominy of envisioning a hotel-condo tower for CityCenter, only to have it shorn nearly in half because of construction defects, and then used as a billboard for an Elvis show. CityCenter’s fine, but $8.5 billion later, the man known—debatably, but still known—as the Greatest Living Architect has a soft spot for ... the Ex?
“One of the critiques of CityCenter is that the architecture is evocative of architecture of a lot of other cities,” Gehry said. “I know Vegas is trying to become a real city, so that’s the discussion and they kind of achieved it. But when you see it finished you say, ‘God, I wish it were more Vegas.’”
It’s such a strange remark, especially considering that the fact that we now have a Gehry building is also part of the discussion of Vegas becoming “a real city.” But that was the strange tension that ran throughout my half-hour interview with the 81-year-old visionary, a vacillation from what would seem like indictments to high praise for our city.
Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I wasn't going to even say anything after I saw a piece in this week's Las Vegas CityLife by Jason Whited in which he conducted a Q-and-A with Mark Ciavola who has formed a conservative gay group called Right Pride. Whited uses the term "gay lifestyle" not once but twice even though the stylebooks of the Associated Press, New York Times and Washington Post all expressly say not to do so. (It's inaccurate, see, because there is no one "Gay" Lifestyle same as there's no one "straight" or "Jewish" lifestyle.) I planned to give Whited a pass on his clunky terminology because he's more pro-marriage equality than Ciavola so it seemed nit-picky to bitch.
But then, after glancing at Steve Sebelius' attempt to write a piece on The District similar but much less entertaining than the Las Vegas Weekly cover that Rick Lax did in September on Town Center, I arrived at Amy Kingsley's piece about Vegas country-western bars.
The piece seemed to have been written to serve a catchy (although actually cliche) headline, "Beers, steers and queers." And here's the strange queers part:
Anything as macho and all-American as cowboy culture runs the risk of becoming kitsch. And that's exactly the approach of Charlie's Las Vegas, a western-themed gay bar in an industrial district near The Orleans. Unlike its pearl snap buttoned-down counterparts on the outskirts, Charlie's plays its country influences for laughs, with frequent appearances by a drag queen Dolly Parton.
Charlie's has the same cheap drinks, dance floor and line dancing as other country bars, plus better looking bartenders. And the people here are very friendly. You get a little flash with your country bar experience, including a boot-shaped disco ball, but it's nowhere near as over-the-top as Revolver. And there's very little chance you'll ever run into Roger Hedgecock or the Tea Party Express. Unless, of course, they make new members out of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig or former pastor Ted Haggard.
Gosh, it almost sounds like Kingsley went there for her assignment, doesn't it? And again, the writer is clearly in our court philosophically. Just one problem: The drag Dolly Parton hasn't appeared in "well over a year," according to Boan, manager at Charlie's.
Moreover, the reason why this passage struck me is that the Charlie's I remember -- it was called Backstreet back when I was single and living a different Gay Lifestyle, see -- wasn't some cheap facsimile of a CW bar. It was the genuine article, only for gays. "We're absolutely a real country bar," Boan said.
Kingsley, like Whited, seemed to think there was one sort of gay, the kitschy, fey sort; hence The Gay Lifestyle. Gay CW bars -- and there are many all over the U.S. and even a national line-dancing tournament -- usually dispell this notion. The clientele are typically rougher, hairier and sometimes paunchier. They may enjoy a little drag with their beer or bingo, but this crowd is unlikely to be the show-tunes-obsessed, diva-idolizing sort who show up in costume for Cher concerts.
Folks who hang out at Charlie's don't do so because they're paying homage to country-western bars, they do it because they love the scene but are afraid they'll be beaten to a pulp if they tried to dance with their partners at a mainstream one. And they're probably correct.
Meanwhile, just to show I'm an equal-opportunity whiner, I can't say I'm too impressed at the moment with my own Las Vegas Weekly colleague, Abigail Goldman, who landed an interview with America's now-retired first legal male whore. Patrick L. "Markus" Norton has left Shady Lady after having a handful of clients, heading back to the porn world he eschewed in interviews when he got this gig.
Y'see, the whole reason the brothel industry was scared of legal male prostitution was because of the potential for LEGAL FOR-HIRE GAY SEX to occur. That's the issue. If that wasn't a prospect, the other brothel people wouldn't care because they know that male prostitution for female clients is a non-starter as a business model in the middle of nowhere.
Norton shut down his earning potential, it would seem, by telling Details Magazine that his "sphincter is not for sale." Surely, then, Goldman would ask him about that, about whether he was offered money to go gay-for-pay, whether any guys came by asking for a line-up. Here's someone who is in a unique position to say what the market demand might be for legal gay brothels.
But, no. It appears she didn't ask. Too bad.
One of the edicts Erich Bergen and I gave the Clark County Public Education Foundation when we handed over roughly $100,000 raised last summer at the "Las Vegas Celebrates The Music of Michael Jackson" benefit was that we'd have some tangible, observable results.
Tomorrow night, I get to see the biggest observable result, a fund-raising concert at Sierra Vista High by the Canadian modern-classical group Barrage. The CCPEF spent $5,000 of our dollars on bringing them to perform and then six schools have sold tickets at $10 a piece to the show to support their school orchestras. That way, the money may have potentially doubled and we provide an artistic experience for the students and community.
Here's a couple of Barrage videos from their YouTube channel:
Lovely and fun, right? If you want to go, it's at 7 p.m. and I hear there may be a few tickets left. Here's who you can call:
- Sofia Velazquez, Lawrence JHS: 799-2540, ext. 4063
- Christina Hekkert, Fertitta MS: 799-1900, ext. 4063
- Barbara James, Rogich MS: 799-6040, ext. 4063
- Shelly Burger, Sierra Vista HS: 799-6820, ext. 4051
- Ryan Watson, Coronado HS: 799-6800, ext. 4051
- Chuck Cushinary, Clark HS: 799-5800, ext. 4051
Sunday, April 4, 2010
April 4: Wynnterview, The Podcast
It’s become a cliché on this program to say that when our Steve sits down to chat with Steve Wynn, you never quite know what’s going to happen. But it’s a cliché because it’s true, so fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a wild ride as the Steves pick over the Wynn divorce, recent art acquisitions and a spirited political discussion over the economy and health care.
In Banter: Miles – yes, Miles – goes on a Strip bender, the R-J thinks Pink’s is literally BEST, Frank Gehry thinks Excalibur is literally the BEST, Illinois and NJ think Macau is the WORST and much more.
Links to stuff discussed:
Ben Spillman’s work at the R-J and his site, NevadaOutdoorNews.Com
Food scribe Max Jacobson on the Jazz Brunch at the Wynn
The Asian Equation recipe on VegasHappensHere.Com
RateVegas.Com’s Hunter Hillegas is a famous iPad geek now
The VegasHappensHere.Com drama re: Wynn, Philly and a photo
Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Best of Las Vegas results
News of the Social House move from TI to the Crystals from the Sun
David McKee of Stiffs & Georges on the Macau-Vegas drama and the food critics’ big new book
The R-J breaks the story of the prostitude’s retirement to porn
Photos from the visit to Steve Wynn for this week’s interview
Steve’s Las Vegas Weekly column on the Wynn divorce
Link to a story about another billionaire divorce that seemed good and went south