Saturday, December 19, 2009

Opening Aria II: Food & Art

In sorting through how to present the many images from the opening of Aria last week, I found a strong emphasis in my photography on food and art/artistic visuals. The above, for instance, was the display that greeted Aria opening night VIP party guests. Here's the label...

...and here's another image of same.

There was a lot of food that I do not eat, namely foie gras and any meat or fishy thing that's uncooked. That's why I was so excited to find at the Union Bar off from the casino they were doing sliders. Very delicious sliders. Sliders that I simply assumed were some special cut of beef. Until I stepped into the light and realized that these sliders were...

...veal. Which I do not eat. Not because I don't like the taste -- which is why I have the heebie jeebies about uncooked meat and fish -- but for the same reason that I don't eat foie gras. That is, both are foods that cannot be made without being incredibly cruel to animals for their entire short lives. It is true that I eat beef, pork, chicken and other meat that comes, frequently, from factory farms where the animals live painful and tormented lives. This is an ongoing problem for my conscience and I'm still working on how to address it, having found that I couldn't afford free-range meat on a regular basis when I tried a year ago. But there is no way to produce foie gras without force feeding a duck and no way to produce veal without permanently deprieving a calf of mobility.

So that was unfortunate. There was still plenty of yum abounding:

OK, that -- Jean Phillippe Patisserie The Sequel -- wasn't open. But it still looked delicious.

The one thing that I baffled over was actually not at the party at all but in the media center that occupied a ballroom at Vdara. I'd never had one of these...

I have never had one of these. Any tips how to eat it? #cityc... on Twitpic

...and had to ask people on Twitter how to eat it. (Answer: Cut in half, spoon out.)

OK, so the art. I don't think I fully understood even when I broke the story of the $40 million art program in the New York Times in early 2008 just how significant it would be. You've seen pictures everywhere of "Silver River" by Maya Lin (see my Sphere.Com profile of her from last week, too) and I've posted shots of the Nancy Rubins boat sculpture, the giant typewriter eraser, the Frank Stella at Vdara registration, the wonderful Vdara elevator area installations of stacked paper by Peter Wegner and the Henry Moore in Jim Murren's notorious pocket park.

Well, a few more now. These mammoth installations on the lobbies of Veer by Richard Long are really cool... is this one hanging in Aria that is, sadly and weirdly, not listed in the CityCenter Fine Art Collection brochure that is intended as a self-guide:

It was also exciting, on a tour on Tuesday with curator Michele Quinn, to find out that they ended up picking up this...

...Tim Bavington for the high-limit slot area. That's cool because Bavington is actually a local, a British artist who came to UNLV to study with Dave Hickey and has seen his career flourish in the cradle of Vegas. His work has some relationship to radio frequencies and can be found in many prominent places in Vegas including in the dining room of Spago at Caesars Palace.

The piece below, which hangs over the cactus garden outside the entrances to Sirio, American Fish and Jean Georges Steakhouse, is by far my least favorite piece:

It's not in the brochure, of course, so I don't know who did it but it is part of the collection. To me, it is more design than art. Sorta tacky, really.

They don't view this as art, but the Lumia, the fountain out front of Aria, certainly ought to qualify. Not only does the interplay of color and water rivet...

...but how about what it looks like reflected under the nearby glass and steel overhangs:

WET, the folks behind the Lake of Dreams and the Bellagio Fountains, have five features, three at Aria and two at Crystals. This massive and lengthy one... the Aria valet drive is just very pretty and really frames the mugshot of the hotel itself beautifully.

This one, though, was a dud.

That's Glacia at the Crystals. It's basically just columns of ice that form and melt. Zzzz. When we were first told about this, the PR folks made it sound like they would freeze and melt in midair or right before you. But, no, it takes all day. Nothing actually HAPPENS. And since they're encouraging people to touch it, I can't wait until it's 115 degrees outside and some drunk guy tries to climb one of the pillars or eat it or something.

Two more things. I know Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com is sticking to his opinion that these card-sculpture walls in the Aria poker room are ugly...

...but I still think they're pretty and fun and whimsical.

And when I took my CityCenter tours in November for my stories, the PR folks didn't really know if all this exposed piping at this shop in Aria was intentional or whether it was just mid-construction.

Now that it's done, I have to say that this is a one of the coolest looking stores I've ever seen anywhere. I don't even know what they sell. I just love looking at it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Petcast & Strip LIVE on Sat!

We're doing an hour of Petcasts from 4-5 p.m. followed by an hour of The Strip from 5-6 p.m. PT. Join us at LVRocks.Com to listen live and chill in the chat room with fellow fans. The scoop:

* On The Petcast, Emily and I are scheduled to conduct interviews about a California college program that uses pets for finals-week stress reduction and about the happy, short and brutish life of pet hamsters.

* On The Strip, I'm fairly certain we'll be playing my Wolfgang Puck interview. Amy guest-hosts because Miles is still away. She attended the Aria opening with me, so we'll rap quite a bit about that, obviously.

See ya there?

Opening Aria I: The Overview

That, above, is a collectible summary of the CityCenter/Aria opening activity on Dec. 16. There's so much that went on, so much to show. But to kick off this series of posts, here's the special 5-minute edition of "The Strip" that provides an overview with video of Jim Murren ringing the NYSE closing bell, the fireworks over Aria, an interview with a woman who waited four hours to get in and much more. Watch this YouTube version or download it by right-clicking here.

So. I've also got dozens of images in my unannotated Flickr set and strongly recommend browsing the copious amount of photos posted on Flickr here by RateVegas.Com's Hunter Hillegas.

Wednesday began with a bunch of pomp and circumstance. The ceremony in front of Aria was the only of the ribbon-cuttings I attended over the past month and then there was no ribbon-cutting. Still, it really felt like a momentous occasion, what with Priscilla Presley in the front row...

...and the Aria star-chef lineup...

...seated a row behind the architectural dream team. (That's Aria designer Cesar Pelli in the pink tie.)

Of course, MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren was all smiles. He thanked God for the sunny day and then pretty much took credit for everything else.

I raced back to Vdara after that to file the first version of my AFP report on the opening, which would be updated three more times in the subsequent 12 hours. On my way, though, I caught this angle showing the dwarfed Bellagio.

That makes my heart sink. So did hearing Andrea Bocelli's "Time To Say Goodbye" as the Bellagio Fountains danced as I drove by en route to the Aria opening party at about 7:30 p.m.

Earlier, Murren rang the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange via satellite from out front of Mandarin Oriental with Aria in the background.

That was pretty cool, even if it was weird how they all grinned and waved and Murren banged away at the bell for about a minute so they would be seen doing the deed whenever CNBC cut to them for a few seconds. He looked like he was pounding on one of these:

Of course, what he was smacking was more prestigious than that, see?

That's the bell they use for the big Vegas boxing matches. Well, the hammer came from the local hardware store earlier that day, an MGM spokesdude divulged. But still. Nifty.

On the pedestrian bridge nearby that connects Mandarin to Crystals, smokefree casino activists (yes, they exist) were permitted to wave their signs questioning why the US Green Building Council would grant LEED certification to Aria given the existence of smoking:

I write "permitted" because I have this instinct that the next big free-speech battle coming our way from the folks who brought us Constitutionally protected union picketing outside the Venetian and smut-peddling up and down the Boulevard (the ACLU, that is) will be whether that bridge is a public or private space. People are able to walk past CityCenter at ground level, but I can see a shade of gray over this...

...and expect a legal battle to ensue sooner or later unless Murren was serious about CityCenter being a genuine place for the public to gather in the sense of the way such places are in New York City. Nahhhh.

Anyhow, in the media room, these renderings were on display to show what CityCenter, nee 55 West, was conceived as in its earliest concepts back in 2004:

The live music started in the afternoon. There was lots of strings, drums and guitar...

...but no opera. Given the name of the place, youda thought they'd bring in the world's greatest opera diva, right? Of course, I have no idea who that would be. But something tells me Murren does.

Before the nighttime affair, I had to rush over to the Panorama Tower unit that my dad and I have as a rental. We're between tenants and I was having the place repainted. So I went out on the pied-a-terre and shot this:

For some reason it still came out grainy with my proper digicam. I may see if a professional photog I know wants to come over and get some stock images before we rent out the place and can't get in anymore. But I did think this shot from the breakfast nook tells the tale of what a neat apartment this would be.

And yes, Miles and I would move right in if we weren't so far underwater on our current abode especially now that there's auto access over the highway directly into CityCenter. Sigh.

So there was a party. It was really light on celebrities. I didn't even see Holly Madison or Oscar Goodman and what do those two ever miss these days? I asked several people who they'd seen and the best several could conjure up was Monte Rock III. The Twitter feeds of Norm Clarke and Robin Leach both fell oddly silent all evening; Norm later Tweeted that he had trouble with cell service inside Aria which made me feel modestly better because I thought Aria was simply an I-HATE-IPHONE zone. Turns out, other carriers were troublesome, too. I just find it so strange and incomprehensible that every new Vegas resort has this problem, but Wynn, Encore and Palazzo were similarly challenged.

I did huddle with Norm in person to compare notes because AFP wanted some BOLD FACED NAMES and the list we had was kind of pathetic: David Brenner and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. John Katsilometes had the scoop that some obscure ex-baseball player was around, too, and Wynn Resorts president Andrew Pascal informed me his aunt, Elaine Wynn, was present as well. Oh, and this... Estefania Serrano, daughter of Picasso chef Julian Serrano. I shot her because I thought the dress -- a Betsey Johnson -- was cute and unusually colorful for the event, then learned she was "somebody." The invite urged "city chic" attire, which seemed to translate into a lot of black. (Oh, and I did ask her what Julian Serrano's guilty food pleasure is. Answer: McDonald's french fries. Predictable, but at least it wasn't In N Out, the typical star-chef response.)

There were fireworks but I was shooting that video so this, above, was the best I got of that. But then there was a 40-minute period during which all the slot machines, which had looked like this...

...then looked like this, signalling the moment was neigh:

Out of order stickers being removed from slots. Last half hou... on Twitpic

Also, crews raced to remove the party-related decor... crowds gathered. There were certainly lots of people, but early estimates of 20,000 were simply ridiculous. I spoke to people right at the barricades at 11:15 p.m. who had been there for about 10 minutes.

Then it was time and the folks -- as seen in the YouTube video -- were allowed to stream forth.

Lines formed immediately at this predictable location...

...but some very refined folks were much more anxious to check out all that artwork. Folks like this: