Saturday, November 14, 2009

This is Wynn (Warehouse)

After taping this week's episode of The Strip, I hightailed over to Wynncore to check out something unusual I had picked up from some Twitterer: Wynn Warehouse. Basically, the resort has an overstock of various merchandise and they set it up in the LaFite Ballroom for the public to come and buy and dramatic discounts. It is open Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14 and 15, from 10 am-7 pm. I was told it was the first time they'd done it in at least four years, so it's a rare opportunity.

In fact, I'd never heard of a Strip resort doing any of this -- Tweeter said Station Casinos has done so -- and I thought it might be good for some early holiday shopping. Because I only had 20 minutes, though, I just ran around shooting photos and figured I'd go back tomorrow to buy some more items.

ALSO, they handed out fliers about a separate Wynn sale from Nov. 14-17, 9a-5p, at a real warehouse at 6650 Spencer St. where they offer "fabulous discounts on furniture and restaurant equipment." I may check that out tomorrow, too, because Miles and I remain in love with the comfy red seats at the restaurant now known as Stratta. (What'd it used to be? I'm blanking.)

The bulk of the offerings at Wynncore are clothes, presumably from the various shops on the property, although there are plenty of pieces with "Wynn" on them.

Wow! Wynn warehouse is huge! on Twitpic

There are wynn running suits for 9$. Were employee Xmas gifts... on Twitpic

The track suits above were a gift to employees last year, I was told. They only have XL, XXL and XXXL, but they're $9 for the set and I got one for Miles. And I thought these (below) were kinda handsome, the first I believe being part of some Wynn uniform and the second being a sweater:

See how it says $375? Well, according to this legend...

...that means it's going for $50. There are loads of those golf shirts that fell into the $20 range and LeReve and other T-shirts that were as little as $2. As you can see, the place functioned just like Old Navy:

The furnishings ranges from cool stuff like these, uh, $1 pen holders(?), china and, uh, well, what DO that call that curvy thing?

In fact, I'm not sure what many items are including these:

What is this? It's $7 on Twitpic

On Twitter, some folks suggested the green thing is some sort of Chinese restaurant table tray but all I'm able to make out a funny-face in the lower part and a paw print in the upper region. No clue on the orange helmutish things.

And these candle holders...

...are not worth even $5, are they?

There are ALL manner of clothes and accessories, even some kinky stuff:

...and this (below) is some sort of Jean Paul Gaultier handbag. Eek. My dog would eat it.

I was sad to see this reminder of failure:

Cards, pins, magnets...for a dime??? on Twitpic

They have notecards, pins and posters from Avenue Q for a dime! Also, they have these Spamalot dolls:

There are lots of knick-knacks, including Wynn pins and magnets -- even some from Macau -- as well as diaries, parasol Xmas ornaments and various Ferrari swag (including a golf putter?):

And, of course, even at Wynn Warehouse there's going to be...

...the seed of an idea for a guest for "The Petcast!" What Wynn store sells such a silly item, I may never know. But it can be yours for...uh...OK. I didn't care enough to look.

Petcast/Strip Are LIVE 4-6 pm PT

Sorry for the late notice, but we'll be live from 4-6 pm at LVRocks.Com doing an hour of The Petcast and then an hour of The Strip. Our guest on the Petcast is Beverly Washburn, the actress who played the little girl in "Old Yeller" way back when, talking about the iconic animal flick. On the Strip, we'll be playing my conversation with Bill Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming, in which he talks about the Mob, his regrets about Echelon and making a play for Station properties.

Join us in the chat and/or listen live at LVRocks.Com. You can listen through most smart phones even if you're not at your computer via the site! Or wait for the podcasts, which will be available soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A CityCenter Tour Pictorial

I debated what image to use atop this post. I could have shown this cool one below, from the foot of Veer Tower...

...but as a Chinese friend of mine used to say when I lived in Beijing and took his photo with his camera, "Too much sky."

I could have picked this fun one, evidence that Cirque du Soleil is in da hood:

Or certainly, there's this view of the awesome Nancy Rubins suspended-canoes sculpture that is destined to become iconically identified with the $8.5 billion, 67-acre project:

But, alas, I kept coming back -- as I predict most will -- to the heart of it all, and the heart of CityCenter is the same as the heart of everything else in Vegas: The hotel-casino. And a pretty, gleaming, shimmery thing that is, huh?

Yes, I toured CityCenter more than 10 days ago. And I apologize for not posting all of this sooner except that I had a gazillion deadlines, 21 hours of poker to observe and a gag order about internal details of Aria and Vdara that was unofficially lifted when MGM Mirage let Norm Clarke go Tweeting every last detail he saw during a tour last Friday. Kinda silly that I can't talk about the poker-card-sculpture walls for Aria's poker room when Norm gets to describe the "over-sized Elvis belt buckles cover[ing] the exterior"of Viva Elvis and the showroom's "very high proscenium" and decor that "reflects the Elvis era at Kirk Kerkorian's The International rather than contemporary."

What I don't feel comfortable doing as yet, gag order or not, is judging the place. I have some first impressions -- CityCenter does not feel as crowded when you're in it as when you view it from afar, the artwork is really pretty terrific, Aria's casino is surprisingly dark and low-ceiling'd considering how much natural light pours in all over the rest of the place, the Crystals is so massive it runs the risk of feeling empty even when thousands of people are inside and I, unlike Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com, find the poker-card sculpture thing cool -- but until the place is actually inhabited, it's hard to be fair. I did find it funny that Cirque waited so long to announce the name of Viva Elvis that the casino signage just says, "Elvis Theater."

Photography wasn't permitted on anyone's tours so far inside the buildings, but there was lots to look at from the outside, too. For instance, I'd seen the 23rd-floor (right?) sky lobby of the Mandarin Oriental from the Strip side, but there's a cut-out on the other side that I believe has some relevance to the electrical and a/c systems in the building.

The circuitous roads throughout the complex gave a bit of an airport terminal feel to the front of Aria:

...and I saw the train system that goes from Bellagio to Monte Carlo is getting tested:

Here's the side of the tram station, which is up there above, under the white canopy:

Some other random vistas are below, including a close-up of the side of Veer, a shot of where part of the swoopy roofing of the Crystals attaches, I think, to the northeastern part of Aria, the front of Aria from ground level and a view to the Strip from the same location:

That last one above looms over a "pocket park," a quiet sitting area where the Henry Moore reclining lady sculpture sits. I wasn't allowed to shoot that, but it was cute.

Clearly, there's still lots left to do before the Dec. 1-16 openings of the various components:

Check out the license plate on the scooter in the parking lot of the buildings along Frank Sinatra Drive where the CityCenter peeps are operating. Appropriate, given that half the place is owned by the UAE gang, right?

What I will say is that Steve Wynn routinely talks about his places having a series of moments that affect you emotionally. Even incomplete, CityCenter has that. And more than any other new project in Vegas probably since the Mirage, what they did here will be debated. And that debate should be fun to observe.

But before we go, just a little homage. See this?

See the orange thing peeking through? No matter how many times the MGM Mirage gang denies it, they succeed with CityCenter in part if they make Bellagio less relevant, less the center of gravity. And that's just a little sad, no?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bette Midler Fans Unite! Ack!

Eek! The Bette peeps are pipin' mad over this week's Las Vegas Weekly "Strip Sense" column assessing Bette Midler's disappointing level of community involvement and less-than-Cher-y level of sales. And AEG tells me Bette sold the most tickets for the Colosseum last year which is kind of cheating since she also had the most shows. Oh well. I stand by my point of view. -sf

Bette Midler leaving after seemingly unhappy residency


“Oh, yeah, I’m going to love being in Vegas. I’m really looking forward to being a part of the community here.”

Or not.

That was Bette Midler in late 2007, speaking for my podcast in advance of her arrival for The Showgirl Must Go On. She was the first female heir to the throne voluntarily abdicated by Celine Dion at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum.

As you might have heard, the Divine Miss M takes her leave from that gargantuan stage—she remarked semi-jokingly about its size during every performance—on January 31, checking out precisely when her contract is fulfilled and not a day or performance longer. In doing so, she is the first Colosseum resident to have failed to sell out all or most of her shows or to want to extend her stay.

The Caesars and AEG Live folks will stick to happy, upbeat comments, but they must regard Midler’s time at the Colosseum as a disappointment when measured against Dion or even the other two part-time denizens, Elton John and Cher. Ticket prices were lowered and special deals were easy to find just a few months after Midler’s 2008 debut and before the economy completely immolated. One ticket broker (aka “scalper”) told me that near the end he largely stopped stocking Midler seats except for weekend shows.

This all would have surprised me back in 2007 when Midler was en route. The reason I asked her about her likely community involvement was because it was one of the knocks against Celine Dion when she first announced she was coming. I co-wrote a Newsweek piece at the time headlined “She’s Just Not Vegas” that quoted fellow performers doubting Dion would want to be a part of the Vegas entertainment community or citizenry. And while Dion did keep at arm’s length with an insular offstage lifestyle at Lake Las Vegas, she did live and pay taxes here, she did do a litany of charitable things, and her husband in particular was routinely spotted about town. Neither John nor Cher ever did, but they didn’t say they would, either.

Midler, surprisingly given her active social life and philanthropic efforts in New York, made no such efforts. I recall her popping in at the gay nightclub Krave once to stump for Barack Obama in the fall of 2008, but otherwise I can’t think of anything she showed up for or anyone who spotted her doing more than going out to dinner in those two years.

In fact, she committed several flubs.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.

Maybe My Best Piece This Year

Earlier this year, I read a fascinating piece in the R-J by Keith Rogers about a North Las Vegas man whose father had perished in World War II. The man never knew his dad, having been born two weeks after his cargo plane crashed in the Himalayas somewhere. But Arizona adventurer Clayton Kuhles had found the plane -- and 14 others -- in an effort that picks up the serious slack in the US government's efforts to recover MIAs from World War II.

Keith's piece properly focused on the local family, but I wanted to know what the Arizona guy's deal was. Turns out, it is beyond fascinating. I had no idea, for instance, that there are 74,000+ MIAs from WWII, many times more than MIAs from more recent conflicts combined.

I'd been after the New York Times to let me do it but was repeatedly told the freelance budget was essentially empty. So, at long last, I did it for Sphere.Com, the AOL News outlet that I'm now writing for about a couple times a week. The money's good, the audience reach is potentially gargantuan and, best of all, I get to tell the stories I passionately want to.

So take a moment to go check this one out. It's a good way to acknowledge Veterans Day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Show is UP: Lily Tomlin

This was a particularly fun one because interviewing someone like Lily Tomlin is not what one would reasonably expect from a journalistic career in Las Vegas. (Others who fit this bill have included Harvey Fierstein, Maya Lin and Dominick Dunne.) I hope you agree I made the most of it. Click on the date below to make it play or right-click to save it and listen at your leisure. You can subscribe, too, (it's free!) in iTunes or in Zune.

Nov.9: Ungilding Lily

She’s conquered Hollywood and Broadway and won over the hearts everywhere in between so at 70, Lily Tomlin has finally decided it’s time to become a Vegas headliner. For nine nights, from Nov. 10-18, the comedienne brings her cast of famous characters – Ernestine the telephone operator and bratty 5-year-old Edith Ann among them – to the stage. Tomlin explains this hour her illustrious career never before included the Strip and chats with Steve about her roles in Desperate Housewives, West Wing, Damages and the X-Files. Plus, she explains why she walked off the Dick Cavett show in 1972 in a feminist huff and why she and her longtime partner Jane Wagner won’t be getting married.

In Banter: A CityCenter tour, Bette's departure, the WSOP final table, Miles' Oval Office adventures, the disgraceful debasing of The Harmon, a Top Chef viewing party and some we-toldja-so's.

Links to stuff discussed:

Get tickets for Lily Tomlin’s MGM Grand shows Nov 10-18
The Advocate's current piece on Lily Tomlin
Time's 1977 cover on Lily Tomlin
Steve’s blog about the Bartolotta viewing party
The VegasHappensHere.Com post about the marathon WSOP session on Saturday
Steve’s pieces on Phil Ivey, Darvin Moon and the outcome of the WSOP
Links to blog posts about Barry Manilow and Viva Elvis long before both were official
The VegasTripping.Com run-in with Wynncore over Wynncore.Com
VegasTripping.Com's perfect response to Wynncore
The charming letter from Steve Wynn to RateVegas.Com from 2003

Monday, November 9, 2009

My $67.48 WSOP-Rio Vegas Adventure

Yesterday morning, having watched the World Series of Poker for 17 hours and stayed up all night, I had a hallucination driving home. It was 6 a.m. and I had a seven-mile straight-shot to get there, but there was a man standing on a traffic island who stepped off it. That's all he did and I wasn't near him, but the nightmare scenario went through my mind that I was beyond exhausted and could have killed him if I had been in that lane.

It was very scary, so I just decided to do the right thing and book a room for tonight at the Rio. The final two -- lumberjack Darvin Moon and 21-y/o college dropout Joey Cada -- will play until one of them had all the chips. Could go quickly, could take all night. Who's to know?

So I did something I've not had to do for quite a long time, I just booked a Vegas hotel room. And the thing that stunned me about doing so was there was no competition or variation of price.

Here's the Rio, Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia.

Kayak was the same, as was Hotels.Com. I have $50 in credit at Hotwire from a crap hotel we had in Boston, but I couldn't pick the Rio specifically with them and having to drive anywhere defeats the point.

And all things being equal I, of course, went with Hotels.Com given that they sponsor TheStripPodcast.Com with the special links on this site. But I was kind of amazed that there was no variation whatsoever. $60 plus tax. Period.

How is that possible? Can someone explain that?

Gotta go check in now and nap before the action. Follow it all on Twitter