Friday, December 31, 2010

Watch Me On KSNV Tonight For New Year's Eve!

I'm sort of co-anchoring one of KSNV's New Year's Eve locations tonight with reporter Marie Mortera, so tune into Channel 3 from about 10 p.m. PT until midnight or so for our various cut-ins. There are anchors and reporters for Channel 3 on the Strip, Fremont Street and at least one other location, too.

Not to give much away but Marie and I will be in a more sedated locale where we'll be having dinner -- and you'll probably recognize one of the others at the party as a frequent "The Strip" guest host, FYI -- and chatting about the year past and ahead in entertainment, the casino biz and more.

I don't know if the coverage will stream online, but we'll record it and figure out a way to get it online if their site doesn't archive it later. Should be fun. I even rented a monkey suit, see?

I'll also be Tweeting between shots, so pay attention at @TheStripPodcast. We also will have, with little doubt, the very best vantage point for viewing the fireworks, so you'll want to watch KSNV to see what I mean.

[Disclosure: Miles is the executive producer at KSNV and will be managing the coverage from the studio. It was, however, Marie's idea to pair up with me, not Miles'.]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

This Week's LVW Col: The Olds Do Cosmo

Hope everyone has been having a terrific holiday week. Enjoy. -sf

The Olds do the newest Strip property


As we made our way past the tri-level chandelier that is the signature of Vegas’ newest playground, two grouches provided decidedly different reactions. Terry, eyes agog, stepped back several paces to marvel. And Walt?

“All they need in this fucking thing is a fortune teller,” he harrumphed. “Now come on, Terry, I’m hungry.”

The ritual was off to a roaring start. Terry and Walt are The Olds, a couple for 35 years, locals for 30 years and, most important, doting adoptive gay grandparents to me since 1996. They’re generous, wise, nosy and maddening, devotees of the Gore Vidal era of cutting gay wit.

The Olds do this endearing thing: They eat at every new casino on the first Saturday it is open. Only this explains why I rode in a minivan with The Olds, their neighbor Frank and The Olds’ two poodles to the Cosmopolitan at 7:30 a.m. on the Jewish God’s blessed day of rest.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A B+ For Sinatra Dance With Me

I finally got out to see "Sinatra Dance With Me" at the Wynn last night, several weeks after chatting with choreography legend Twyla Tharp and hearing primarily good things from Mike Weatherford (Grade: A-) and David McKee (Liked it except not a fan, evidently, of shirtless men).

I'm a little torn. I am neither one of the millions of Americans nuts about televised dance competition shows nor of the generation that believed Sinatra was The Shit. But for 70ish minutes, I was frequently mesmerized by the beauty and elegance of the four couples and myriad ensemble performers and almost entirely enveloped by the stunningly perfect acoustics of the recorded Sinatra vocals over the live big band.

Trouble was, there were periods in which I found myself focusing on one or the other and finding that the two didn't fit together as well as I'd like. This became particularly evident in the "That's Life" portion in which the dancers got very frenetic and overly affected but I couldn't tie much of anything they were doing to either the lyrics or the story that was sort of being told. (Well, there was the part where the male dancer bobs the female dancer's head when Frank croons "I've been a puppet...".) It also was a bit strange that in segments when there would seem to have been dramatic tensions, when the male dancers are being cads to the women, the women seemed to just keep their very broad stage grins on so as to say... well, I'm not sure.

There were a couple of true standouts, in particular Charlie Neshyba-Hodges as the bartender who falls for the plain girl and freaks out about the familial implications in the first version of "Makin' Whoopie." Neshyba-Hodges, the program says, won the 2010 Astaire Award for Best Male Dancer for the same role in "Come Fly Away," the original Broadway show upon which "Sinatra Dance With Me" is based. The other dazzler was Marielys Molina, formerly of "Peepshow," who took on the role of sexpot Kate because the usual lead, Tony-nominated Karine Plantadit, was snowed out of Vegas along with one or two other regulars. Molina, who normally handles one of the other leads, had a vivacity and power that made it impossible to stop staring at her.

McKee complained in his CityLife review that about two-thirds in, there are a few discordant, very shirtless, sexed-up scenes. He asserted that it seemed base and crude for the classiness that is Sinatra. And yet, I found this to be the most satisfying portion of the program. The audience gets plenty of cleavage and leg from the female performers but the guys are not just buttoned up in period garb for the majority of the show but sweating so profusely through their clothes as to make them occasionally uncomfortable to look at. When they break out of those strictures, their dance also feels looser and more fun, the music felt less museum-piece and more present-tense.

I sat immediately behind, believe it, Twyla Tharp herself. She held a white notepad on her lap but never jotted anything on it, and she left about six songs from the end. I guess she's fairly contented with where the piece is now, which makes sense since she's been producing variations of some of these movements since the 1970s. It was fun, though, to watch her little white head bobbing and shoulders moving to the music as the show started.

What intrigued me, though, was the audience reaction. First, it was nearly full for a Monday but this is a holiday week, so take that for what it's worth. But it was a significantly older crowd -- I may have been the youngest person there -- and they held off their standing ovation until the live band was acknowledged. That was telling; dancing is everywhere these days, but you don't get to see that many live musicians do that sort of music that well very much, do you? I had the feeling some in the crowd would have been just as happy to see them without all the young-people shenanigans on stage.

I enjoyed "Sinatra Dance With Me" enough to give it a B+ and want to go back to see the lead cast at some point. This felt throughout like a Vegas show for grown-ups.

Cosmo v Aria, A Fortnight Later

We in the media have wondered how we might know if The Cosmopolitan is doing well. It's a private company and they're not obligated to tell us, and I'm quite confident John Unwin's never going to bemoan conditions to wretches like me or Howard Stutz.

Happily, I recently discovered my favorite gaming industry analyst, Robert LaFleur of Hudson Securities, is back in action tracking room rates and providing reports to journalists. Rates are pretty much the only external data available, but it's painstaking to keep up with it because of the fluctuations. He does it so we don't have to, and his latest weekly report, out today, paints a fascinating early picture of Cosmo and what it's done to Aria and even Bellagio in its Shiny New Thing phase.

That graphic above (click on it to enlarge) shows that Cosmo has been raising its room rates dramatically for every single normal date LaFleur has checked. He looks every Monday for rates on Wednesdays and Saturdays over the coming two months or so. According to LaFleur, weekday asking prices are up 41 percent from when he started tracking them in November.

Meanwhile, next doors...

Cosmo's rack rates are 88 percent higher than Aria and 118 percent higher than Vdara on on weekends in January. And, in other parts of the report, we learn that Aria has dropped rates for six of the dates checked through the end of February. Most notably, they lowered their Saturday night rate for MLK Weekend by $30 to $209, which is interesting because the another LaFleur chart shows that Bellagio is up $50 on the same night to $279.

Cosmo's rates need to be taken cautiously because it is a new place and there's buzz. That second graph, in fact, shows that the rate differences between Cosmo and Bellagio/Aria/Vdara coming back into orbit by February.

But I'm intrigued by this: Aria continues to be lowering room rates on the same holiday weekends that its big sister, Bellagio, is raising them, is not good news for the MGM Resorts bunch.

If only they hadn't opened CityCenter in phases...

P.S. It's worth noting that the weekend the Vdara folks tried to extort $50 out of my CityCenter-loving sister-in-law, the rates had been reduced twice in two weeks leading up to that date. So demand was empirically soft, but she couldn't even have a 1 p.m. checkout?!?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Aces, The Podcast

I corralled Emily out of her Michigander sabbatical to join me for a special phone edition of The Petcast last night to talk about and document the wondrous -- and all too rare -- joy of getting to know a new pet like our Christmas addition, Aces.

You can hear it by clicking here or right-click here to download it and hear it later. You can also subscribe for free to The Petcast in iTunes or Zune, by the way. I don't usually blog about individual episodes of The Petcast when they're up, but this one has lots of good advice (from Emily) on how to deal with adopting a rescued or abandoned animal and integrating it in a household with other pets. Also, it gives me the chance to post this photo, as if I needed one.

Another Reason She's Called Aces

That, above, is one of the final drafts of the back page of the Dec. 20 issue of Newsweek parsing out seven recent/ongoing projects in Vegas and where they stand. I wrote it, of course, and it was timed for The Cosmopolitan's opening.

While we were on our New York trip, I reviewed probably a dozen drafts. By the time we got to the final draft, I decided to let Miles look it over because I knew I was too familiar, that I would miss something.

What important change from the version above (click on it to enlarge) did Miles figure out, thereby averting a torrent of ridicule from the Vegas blogosphere?

Here's a hint disguised as a gratuitous reason to post another new puppy photo:

Thanks guys! Here's 1 more of Aces, at the laptop! @jayf... on Twitpic

A Good No-Sign For Aria?

Perhaps as a Christmas gift to good taste, prestigious architects, their own alleged high-class vision and this blog, look at what the MGM Resorts brain trust did over the weekend:

In case you haven't been following, this is what the same image looked like as of Dec. 19:

See that puzzling little star, the seeming beginnings of a hideous building wrap? It's gone!

I'd like to celebrate. I'd like to believe that someone over there suddenly scrounged up some respect for the artistic giants who designed that magnificent building. I'd like to think that maybe that little star was a multimillion-dollar version of when you or I slap a patch of paint on the wall to see how it looks.

Alas, I am not so trusting. In fact, I keep hearing MGM is about to wrap one of its resorts with an ad for a new TV show. Hopefully -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- it's the Luxor. That would be regrettable, too, because the Luxor is the only other building they own that is distinctive and architecturally interesting. But they've already done it a few times there, so it's hard to get worked up about it.

[h/t to PanorAmy for the pix.]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Introducing Aces Smith-Friess!

Notice anyone new above?

Here, let me help you. This... Aces. Here's what happened:

The doorbell rings at 8 a.m. on Dec. 23 and it's our next-door neighbor:

She explains that the day before, she was in the grocery store parking lot when some lady came up to her in the rain and said she needed to move out of town and couldn't take her dog so here, see ya later, buh-bye. Or something like that. Also, the dumper handed over another horrifying outfit -- which we will get to shortly -- as well as food, a bed and a toy. I can only imagine what was going on there that someone would need to do such a thing. Very disturbing and sad.

So my neighbor took this dog, handed to her at random, home. But her husband wasn't into having a dog and, in particular, a small one. And, I am imagining, they said to one another, "What about those gay guys next door who already have two Chihuahuas? Surely they or some of their gay and/or small-dog-loving friends would take her!"

I told the neighbor we'd consider what to do. That meant that by lunchtime I was pondering whether and how to surprise Miles for Christmas. I called the vet to ask if he could check her out, which they were happy to do that evening for free as a "new pet" visit. Here I am with the dog waiting at Desert Inn Animal Hospital:

The thing is, we already have two dogs, 7-year-old brothers named Black and Jack. Incredibly cute, but 100% mine. They are intensely territorial and possessive of me to the point that they still, nearly six years since we rescued them from the shelter, bark at Miles when he comes home. They sit like tumors on my sides when we watch TV and accept Miles as their Lord and Savior only when I am busy for long periods, out or away. It's not a fulfilling pet experience for him, but I *do* walk them, feed them and spend more than half of every waking day with them.

Yet the bias is also because of their personalities. They don't care for pretty much anyone other than me. While I fully understand that, it's sad for Miles.

The vet told me that this dog was an intact, in-heat female of about 1 year of age, about 8 pounds when not clad in ridiculous and demeaning clothing. (Jack is 11 pounds and Black is 14 pounds.) She was very healthy, although she'll need to be spayed and that could cost $250ish.

I decided we ought to give this dog a try. I would spring her on Miles on Christmas somehow and, if she didn't fit in our household for some reason, someone via this blog or Facebook or Twitter would surely welcome her. We've done it before, remember?

For an hour that night, I socialized her with Black and Jack. Then I got our neighbor to take her for a night. On Christmas Eve I took a break from making homemade butternut squash gnocchi and port-dijon filet mignons (there is a photo, but it was as delicious as it was un-photogenic) to run Aces, as I suddenly started calling her, to the home of my Little Brother's mom, Stacey.

Yes, Aces. We have Black and Jack, so the Vegas cards theme felt right, but calling her Queenie seemed just a wee bit too gay, even for us. Anyhow, here's me with Black and Jack on our final morning before life as we knew it changed:

Stacey kept Aces until Christmas afternoon when we went over for the holiday meal. I had bought a pink collar and a pop-up crate at Target, and I was going to actually wrap it and have Miles open it. We're always joking as we open gifts, "Is it a puppy?" But I accidentally brought Aces out in her crate when I thought Miles was outside. He wasn't. Surprise!

They bonded very quickly! They sat together the rest of the evening...

...and then when we got home, too.

Later, we started crate-training her since she seems to have an inkling about being housebroken but we're not sure. Here she is in her crate:

Aces has a very comfortable personality. She's like a sack of sugar, happy to be held by whomever wants her. She's conflict-averse, so when Black and Jack dominate me, she's inclined to go to the other human. That bodes well for Miles.

How are Black and Jack adjusting, you ask? As well as can be expected. They're a little confused and irritated but also intrigued. But Aces holds her own, growling when they get too near. So I think there's some assimilation going on. Here are their very first group photos:

Those and the first photo in this post tell the story, which is Aces trying to be herself while Jack is curious and concerned and Black doesn't really care at all.

For the most part, I've backed off. When Miles is out, I certainly cuddle with her and have walked her, but we're working on keeping her as "his" dog to the extent that's possible. The good news is that when he came home, she went right to him and I was suddenly uninteresting. I can't imagine that, but I'm glad for it.

Perhaps, though, Aces is mad at me because I insisted she model the other hideous outfit that her abandoner gave to my neighbor:

Check it out:

I'll never put that on her ever again, but I do understand if she's forever bitter. In fact, maybe that was part of my plan!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Sun Valley Mag Profile of Parry Thomas

You might recall I was up in Sun Valley this past June for an interview with Parry Thomas, the legendary Vegas banker, Steve Wynn mentor and father of Wynn design guru Roger Thomas. At long last, the piece is out in Sun Valley Magazine.

The magazine's website offers it two ways, as a two-part web readout and in the actual magazine configuration. If you'd like to see it in its native format, pictures and all, click on the Digital Edition link along the right side of the home page. (This won't work when the Winter 2011 edition is no longer current, future readers.) It's pages 82-85 and then page 106. My bio is on page 20.

This is also the trip that gave rise to my Las Vegas Weekly columns about why Vegas leaders heart Sun Valley and Thomas' remedies for Vegas . I also posted a blog pictorial in June showing his home and stable, some Sun Valley vistas and Steve Wynn's $250,000 parking space.

Food Critics and Anonymity, Redux

So after the heated debate that my Las Vegas Weekly column spurred last month over the recent book "Eating Las Vegas" and the disturbingly clubby relationships between the three critic authors and prominent Vegas restaurateurs, the topic just erupted in a massive way in Los Angeles, too.

The L.A. Times' food critic, S. Irene Virbila and some companions went to a new restaurant called Red Medicine in Beverly Hills the other night. For 16 years, she has worked as under-the-radar as possible. But someone on the staff at Red Medicine believed he spotted Virbila, who had made reservations under an assumed name. The managers spent a little time confirming it and made the party wait 40 minutes before bursting out, shooting her photo and informing her they would not be serving her at the restaurant.

The restaurant then put out a photo of Virbila on their website, too, and Gawker and Eater.Com also posted it. Her anonymity, such as it was, is gone. She spent 16 years avoiding photos of herself being published.

There is much to say, obviously. Managing partner Noah Ellis thinks he's a hero, telling the L.A. Times that Irene's reviews in the past have been "unnecessarily cruel and irrational." She is said to have immense power over the fate of new restaurants, and she tends to eat at least three times at a place before making a decision.

This situation is a Rorschach test for those who line up on various sides of the debate. I, of course, believe that food critics ought to try their best to visit restaurants unannounced and incognito in order to have as accurate a representation of the food and experience as possible. Those have been the phrases I've been using for weeks on this matter, so imagine how gratifying it was to read Virbila in the L.A. Times story on her outing saying that it is preferable to not make a spectacle of yourself because if you do, "it's not an accurate representation of the restaurant."

If I'm deluded into believing that it's not that hard to be a quiet, effective food critic, then the other side -- including L.A. Weekly critic Jonathan Gold, who thinks there's "absolutely no difference in being recognized in restaurants" -- is at least as equally, but more insidiously, delusional. It's shocking and laughable when Vegas Seven critic Max Jacobson said on KNPR that he doesn't evaluate service because service doesn't matter, showing how insufferably removed from the reality of ordinary restaurant patrons he is. (Jacobson also announced on that show that anyone who needs to try a restaurant more than once to evaluate it is a poseur, someone lacking in "instincts." Good grief.)

Those who believe that anonymity is a total myth, however, point to the fact that Virbila was noticed at Red Medicine and that chefs say they know who the important critics are and coddle them whether they know it or not. The entire charade is worthless and silly, they squawk.

Except there are 72-oz-porterhouse-wide holes in that logic in this situation:

* After 16 years in Los Angeles, it took Red Medicine a great deal of deliberation before they could determine if, in fact, this was the person. Thus, they don't ALL have her photo up in their kitchens or her face memorized. These were veteran restaurant people and they weren't entirely sure.

* The purpose of this outing was to forewarn other restaurant owners and make Virbila's work harder. That implies that she had managed to be successful at her undercover work at least some -- a lot? -- of the time.

* The logical conclusion of this idea that critics ought to give up being anonymous and allow restaurants to shower them with extra goodies and attention is that criticism by the very people who have real culinary expertise -- such as Mancini, Curtas and Jacobson -- becomes disregarded by the public. The reader knows these guys are coddled and that they won't be, so the reader is more likely to discount rave reviews as the result of some nefarious, unfair meddling. That leaves, essentially, the Yelp! universe. I don't mind that -- I look to Yelp! often -- but the odds are the Yelpers don't have the history or expertise that long-term professional critics have. The outcome is the triumph, essentially, of less informed opinions.

Of course, there's a space between the true-anonymity and the critic-as-rock-star poles. In there, food critics simply try to keep a low profile, to not draw attention to themselves, do their best and at least maintain the implicit contract with the reader that they're working on their behalf. They don't make chums with chefs and owners any more than I'm chums with top casino executives I cover or Jon Ralston is chums with politicians or Mike Weatherford is chums with actors and directors. You can be friendly and civil without it becoming a friendship, you can maintain a detachment that allows you to assess situations and information through a prism that enriches the public that you serve.

There is a reason why this topic -- and now the Red Medicine event -- is so fascinating. There is also no other discipline where an artist or purveyor of creative goods is permitted to select their critic. No author or film studio can stop a critic from consuming the material and rendering a response. Only in food criticism is it even possible to alter the product for a person's specific tastes or actually exclude them altogether from being able to evaluate it.

That's why the Virbila situation is so weird. No matter where you stand, it ought to be instinctively offensive that Ellis would actively work to out this woman and refuse to serve her. That reflects, to me, two things:

* The restaurant must truly suck.
* The owner is incredibly bitter.

LVW Col: The Next Little Things

Here's a Las Vegas Weekly column that's three scoops in one! Yippee! Of course, if you listened to The Strip, you heard about all of this two weeks ago. Just saying. Enjoy! -sf

With Cosmo open,
welcome to the Era of the Next Little Thing

“You know what would be phenomenal?” Oscar Goodman bellows as we stride from City Hall down Las Vegas Boulevard to a menorah lighting on Fremont Street.

This is the guy who got the performing arts center and Cleveland Clinic to sprout from a toxic train yard, moved the notion of a mob museum from appalling to brilliant and, most recently, poached Zappos from Henderson to occupy a city hall that didn’t need replacing but will be replaced nonetheless.

Yes, sir. Tell me. What would be phenomenal?

“See, what I’d like to do when I’m not the mayor anymore and can invest out here, I’d love to buy this property over here and put in that ‘giant eye’ Ferris Wheel that they have in London over there,” he gushes, pointing at an empty lot on the east side of the road.

“You want a Ferris wheel Downtown?” I answer, disappointment disguised as deadpan.

“It’d be phenomenal.”

To which I resist the urge to retort: “What is the obsession Vegas has with building a fucking Ferris wheel?” Caesars Entertainment chief Gary Loveman hankers for one, too, near Flamingo Road, but Wall Street won’t give him the money. Several have been considered for parcels around the Strip through the years, but you know what attraction no Vegas tourist has ever told me he misses here? A fucking Ferris wheel.

Welcome to the Era of the Next Little Thing.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

R-J Publisher On KNPR, Two Weeks Late

Just as Miles and I were tearing out of Vegas for our NYC sojourn earlier this month, newly installed R-J publisher Bob Brown appeared on KNPR's State of Nevada. I caught up on that today while baking my special brownies for Miles' KSNV potluck tomorrow.

I continue to be accosted by various quarters as "rumor-mongering" for my coverage of the wholesale replacement of the entire upper management of the Review-Journal as having been a result of the disastrous jeremiad against Sen. Harry Reid by ex-publisher Sherm Frederick and editor Thomas Mitchell.

But a few crucial moments on that show can be seen as evidence I was correct:

* Brown said his selection as R-J publisher was very sudden and unexpected, that he took a couple of minutes to deliberate, if that. So the idea that an orderly succession was planned for a long time is hereby debunked. This actually surprises me; I was willing to believe that Frederick stepped aside willingly and had planned on it for at least a little while. Evidently not.

* Brown said the first person to call to congratulate him was . . . Sen. Harry Reid. Now you would think it would be -- assuming this all was friendly -- Sherm Frederick, his allegedly voluntarily departing predecessor. Or maybe some of the many gaming execs he knows from his years as the ad director. But, no, somehow word got to Reid first and Reid was on the phone with Brown asap. Hmm.

* Brown repeatedly rebuffed the notion that the R-J or Stephens Media were in any sort of financial trouble. It's no crime to acknowledge that these are challenging days for the newspaper industry, but Brown seems to be describing the local newspaper as actually being in very good health. That means that the change of chiefs was not related to revenues or circulation.

* Brown agreed with the SON host that the paper found itself in an awkward and untenable position during the Reid-Angle race and spoke about the importance of earning a better reputation and credibility with the local public.

Brown didn't so much throw Frederick under the bus as lay him gently on the median of a busy thoroughfare and wave buh-bye. His unwillingness to heartily defend the prior leadership was refreshing.

Also refreshing was Brown's stated insistence on letting the news side do its work. While I had worried that his history as an ad guy with no journalistic background could portend a publisher willing to compromise with advertisers at the expense of his reporters, I had forgotten that he's certainly been on the receiving end of countless angry calls about coverage from local companies who buy space in the papers. He has had practice dealing with these matters, so we ought to give him a chance.

The only trouble spot I heard in the KNPR chat was Brown's comment that the R-J's website is great. It's not. It's a train wreck. Hopefully he was just being polite and knows how badly it needs to be overhauled.

All in all, I'm encouraged by this interview. Also, I'm validated by it. That's always fun.

Cosmo Conclusions, A Week Late

By now, everybody has said pretty much everything that's important to say about The Cosmopolitan and, in a very rare occurrence, I find myself in agreement with the consensus. As I discussed or concurred with on KNPR and on The Vegas Gang, The Cosmo:

* Is elegant and pretty in an accessible way that doesn't leave middle America feeling out of place.
* Took advantage of its peculiar, narrow footprint to enhance its urbanistic concept.
* Is what CityCenter claimed it would be -- a metropolitan-esque Vegas resort -- but is not.
* Has all sorts of nifty artistic and design details that make it worthy of exploration.
* Is going to have a murderous problem with ingress and egress because of its narrow porte cochere and garage ramps
* Will be bought by either a large casino conglomerate or someone aching to be on The Strip in a year or so.
* Has some major service problems that are likely to be worked out over time but people might want to wait a few months before booking.

You can peruse my Flickr set on the Cosmo opening here, by the way. It includes about 90 pictures and five short videos taken by my gala companion, Trevor.

Of all the assessments I've read, I find those by David McKee of Stiffs & Georges and Mike E on VegasTripping.Com to be the most insightful. McKee has a round-up post in which he points to several reviews and commentaries and chides me for not having issued my verdict in the milliseconds after Opening Night. Sorry, I was tired after talking about it on those shows and then, as of this weekend, was felled by a heckuva cold. (Good news! In a moment of unusual restraint and decency, I opted not to Tweet the image of a bunny made of phlegm in a tissue yesterday. Growth!)

On Saturday, I took The Olds to Cosmo for an upcoming Las Vegas Weekly column, so I'll hold my fire on that experience so as to not scoop the people who actually pay me to write such things.

However, this should give you some idea what The Olds thought:

I've got some fun, quirky images to share in another forthcoming post. I also will be posting to the podcast feed the audio tour provided by David Rockwell of Cosmo, along with photos from my visit to his studio in New York. So stay tuned, now that I'm back to some vague semblance of health.

Video: Reid Giving Choi His Ring Back

Harry Reid Returns Dan Choi's West Point Ring

Well, that's a nice way to end a tumultuous year, huh? In Las Vegas last summer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised Army Lt. Dan Choi he would hold Choi's West Point ring in safekeeping until Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed. Today, President Obama signed the repeal bill that passed first and foremost because Reid indefatigably navigated it through the treacherous waters of the U.S. Senate against some mighty tough odds. What was left for dead two weeks ago is now the law, and American national security will no longer be unpatriotically compromised by irrational bigotry. Reid Tweeted that image, above.

This outcome forces me to eat my words, and I'm delighted to do so. I've faulted gay activists in Las Vegas for not pressuring Reid more, especially during the election. But the work of many both in front and behind the scenes has paid off indeed, not just with Reid's commitment to taking care of this matter but also in somehow persuading Republican Sen. John Ensign to vote to repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military. I've never been happier to have been wrong. It is Reid, far more than Obama, who gets the credit here.

Choi, who was committed involuntarily to a mental ward of a VA hospital earlier this month because the stress of the effort to repeal DADT overwhelmed him, had an amusing Tweet:

Here's the emotional scene in Vegas last summer that led to this triumphant one above:

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Petcast + Strip Are LIVE on Sat!

For the first time ever, Miles will be co-hosting The Petcast with me. No, really! With Emily away until May, we've been using guest hosts whenever we do the show and last time out Miles asked why I never ask him. So, finally, after slaving in obscurity on The Strip, he's getting his crack at the big time. What a thrill.

We'll do one episode of The Petcast at 12:30 p.m. PT with an interview with author Hal Herzog ("Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat") and then go right into The Strip featuring my recent interview with dance legend Twyla Tharp, whose "Sinatra Dance With Me" got an A- today from R-J critic Mike Weatherford and raves yesterday from David McKee of Stiffs & Georges. This was the interview that gave rise to this Las Vegas Weekly column and this piece for Miles and I will recount our Vegas-tinged NYC trip and talk a bit about that little gambling shack that just opened up.

Listen live and chat with fellow listeners from 12:30-2 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com for all of it. It is quite likely this is our last live show this year given the holidays fall on Saturdays, so bring some spiked egg nog and make it festive! Although if Miles cusses on The Petcast, I may be driven to drink, too.

If you can't make it, get the podcasts when they're up! Subscribe to The Strip (it's free!) in iTunes or Zune or to The Petcast in iTunes or Zune.

Wynn, Caesars Tchotckes Sales This Weekend!

This weekend if you're in Vegas, you've got a chance at scoring some awesome swag at ridiculous prices:

* The Wynn is doing its Wynn Warehouse Fri-Sat 9 am - 6 pm and Sun 11 am - 5 pm in the LaTour Ballroom. You might recall I covered this last year. It's a massive expanse of Wynn-branded stuff of all sorts.

* Paris is hosting the Caesars Entertainment Holiday Retail Blowout Sale, which I also covered last time. This one (see graphic) is in the Concorde Ballroom on Friday and Saturday 8 am - 7 pm and Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Again, it's a fantastic opportunity to get Bette Midler ornaments, Harrah's Joliet shotglasses and other odds and ends.

Great opportunity, and how nice of them to do them the same weekend conveniently before Christmas. Somebody in our house is getting a Caesars Atlantic City track suit!

[h/t @BlogMike for the second item.]

Media: Of Righthaven, Cosmo, the Sun & Me

Some stuff to take note of as I huddle behind the laptop on a rainy Friday afternoon at The Beat:

* Righthaven. Remember when a certain "media critic" suggested that the Review-Journal and Stephens Media might rein in their copyright infringement lawsuit frenzy because they dropped a few of their weakest cases around the time of their regime change? And remember when I said it wasn't so? Well, it looks like they're not only not stopping but they continue to take their direction from... me! Back on Oct. 3, I started them a list of the major media outlets ripping off their graphic for the Vdara Death Ray story. And now they've sued 10 sites over just that, although in true ham-handed Righthaven fashion they're the lightweights (without legal departments?) like Flick & Tea rather than wealthy players like Gawker.Com, or even AtlanticWire.Com, whose parent just announced a $1.8 million profit largely from its web operations. Righthaven is going after a biggie -- Drudge Report -- on behalf of the Denver Post, by the way, as the business model expands or metastasizes, depending on your point of view. This is not, of course, the first time Righthaven has pursued a mark thanks to me. Remember this lady?

* ¡Hola!, Periodista. Meanwhile, have you ever heard of...

LasVegasSol.Com? Me either until a few minutes ago when I was grabbing the above links. Turns out, it's the LasVegasSun.Com, only in March 2009 they also started using LasVegasSol.Com. It appears that any URL from the Sun can be swapped with its Spanish URL counterpart. I just can't figure out why. It's not as though they have a Spanish-language mirror site that I can find. Baffling. Also, you know what they don't own, but which would actually make a lot of Vegas sense?

* Cosmo Crapola: I've dialed back my critique of specific reporters lately because I know I come off as shrill and arrogant. It's not easy to strike that balance, particularly in a thin-skinned city where even epically insecure powerhouses who dish out incessant attacks on people take criticism very personally. But today I need to take aim directly at recently installed R-J gaming reporter Chris Sieroty over this travesty:

It's a second-day reaction story after Cosmopolitan's Wednesday opening. Yesterday, I lamented the rah-rah headline declaring the opening "smooth" when there were many, many reports of significant problems. That was bad, but this is simply unforgivable because by the second day, there's no excuse to not be aware of -- and challenge Cosmo brass -- about widespread reports of snafus.

Sieroty opens his piece: "Analysts, casino executives and politicians emerged from opening night ... with generally positive impressions... ." Notice anyone missing from his laundry list? Like, uh, people who stayed at the fucking place? Customers? It was not difficult to find blog and Twitter traffic about delayed rooms, technology outages, slow restaurant service, people locked in stairwells and much more.

This is my greatest complaint about gaming-industry journalism, that my colleagues seem uninterested in what real tourists and customers have to say. And it's never in history been easier to get that perspective, to interact with those people. Sieroty could have put out a Tweet saying, "Hey everyone, what'd you think of Cosmo? Anybody hear of problems?"

Which brings me to the other issue with this piece. His gauge for assessments of Cosmo are Oscar Goodman, Steve Wynn, Bill Lerner and David Schwartz. Dr. Dave is a serious academic and writer with no conflicts and Lerner is an analyst with some peculiar past views but both are wonks and that's fine. But Oscar Goodman would never, ever, EVER diss a new Vegas casino for any reason, no matter how hideous he believed it to be or how drunk he is. And Wynn? It's nice that Wynn was complimentary, but could Sieroty possibly be unaware that three days ago I quoted him as calling Cosmopolitan "an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans"? Where is the journalist to chime in and note that Wynn's kudos seemed tactful and polite but the other day he said this other thing?

Please understand that I actually am quite fond of the Cosmo, and none of the problems can't be resolved over time. But it is just inaccurate to suggest this place opened flawlessly or to universal praise. And I'm hopeful that as Sieroty settles into his beat, he'll work harder to go beyond the wonks and the execs and try to give the reader a better-rounded perspective on what's happening out there from the customers, too.

* The Friesster Omnipresent. I know I'm late in writing up my views on Cosmo, but I've been a little busy. If you want to know what I think so far, I did an hour with Hunter, Dr. Dave, Jeff Simpson and Chuck Monster yesterday all about Cosmo for The Vegas Gang show yesterday (not posted yet, will update this when it is) and an hour today with Doug Elfman and Richard Abowitz on KNPR's State of Nevada hosted by Ian Mylchreest reflecting on the year in Vegas entertainment and tourism news this morning. You can download that already by right-clicking here. This afternoon I'll be on The Dave Scott Show, too, live on LVRocks.Com at about 4:20 p.m. today talking about Vegas-related holiday gifts and, of course, tomorrow Miles and I will do The Strip. Ther'll be another post about that shortly. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cosmo Opening: MSM v Blogosphere

Once again, we come to understand why the blogosphere is so important, especially in gaming and travel journalism. Here is the headline of the Review-Journal today following the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' debut:

And here's what VegasTripping.Com's Chuck Monster said:

You see, as much fun as the first night of operations and all the partying was for journalists, insiders and others who visited with free access to food and entertainment, it was something of an operational disaster for people who actually stayed here. Check-ins were delayed, food servers were slow, various bits of cool technology like the touch-screen slot machine finders didn't work. Read Chuck's account. I've heard several tales of woe just like it. It doesn't take much to find on Twitter if you search.

This was NOT a "smooth landing," Review-Journal. At least not to those who were actually spending their money here. I just heard from someone who was locked in a stairwell last night. Seriously.

As Laura Martin, often a Twitter nemesis of mine, rightly noted last night: "I don't trust Vegas reviews from journos. Intoxicated by access."

There's lots and lots to like about the shiny new thing on the Strip and I'll get to that. In fact, I'm now late to recording Vegas Gang with Dave Schwartz, Hunter Hillegas and Jeff Simpson, and we'll mull all of that. They've done a nice job physically.

But none of that matters when someone like Chuck is telling his considerable audience not to stay here because there are so many functional troubles. That's harsh, especially since Chuck was incredibly patient with Aria when he had repeated service issues there.

Did you find any of that in the Review-Journal? The Sun? On the TV news? On KNPR? On Nightline?

Of course not. Thank goodness for the blogs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Podcast: The Cosmo Matrix & Unwin's Theories

Above you can see the very basis of the theory behind Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The talking points for the $3.9 billion resort opening Wednesday is that it will fill a niche of an alleged 59 million Americans who are part of the "curious class." The media has chowed down on that "narrative" for this opening, and we shall see in coming months whether it's correct.

But what is it? Well, Unwin drew me a picture earlier this month during my interview with him. You may want to reference that picture when you listen to the conversation, which is in the podcast feed now and can be downloaded by right-clicking here. (It'll also appear on your iPod if you listen that way. Not sure about other devices.)

What you see above is Unwin's case for different forms of high-end Vegas resort concepts. The poles run from themed to design-driven and from spirited/vibrant to refined/proper. The B in the lower left is Bellagio, the W is Wynn, E is Encore, P is Palazzo, A is Aria, CP is Caesars Palace and up there in the upper right corner is a C for Cosmopolitan.

Now, I could draw any number of arbitrary grids and create a construct that leaves me alone in a gigantic class. But, as I pressed Unwin in this interview, he's really going after exactly the same folks that Jim Murren said he was after a year ago, the moneyed, urban, educated set. Wynn and Encore go after them, too, but with the belief that when those people go on vacation, they want lush luxury, not concrete and glass.

We shall see where this goes, won't we? It strikes me as a lot of hype masquerading as demographic analysis.

Happily, the interview is not dominated by that kind of chatter. You also get to hear Unwin react to Steve Wynn telling me two weeks ago that the Cosmo is "an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans" that won't get as much out of pedestrian traffic as Unwin believes.

Download it by right-clicking here or subscribe for free in iTunes or Zune.

Wynn: Cosmo is "an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans”

Steve Wynn's still not sure how well Cosmopolitan will work out. He's not knocking the current operators, but he has some reservations. Some are the same as the concerns he had earlier this year when he described the ingress/egress issues he envisioned for it.

Friess: So you have actually been throughout Cosmo? Do you like the design of it?

Wynn: They have a nice room, Steve. You know, a nice commodious room, much better than Fontainebleau. The public area is layered on four levels or five. The entrance and exit of the place is [with a French accent] impossible. The access to the building is a nightmare.

Friess: Although for pedestrians its a lot easier than Aria, for example.

Wynn: Yeah, for pedestrians. If you are going to live off the people walking from Planet Hollywood, you will make four cents -- FOUR CENTS! -- from the people on the street in front of Planet Hollywood. Choke to death! This market can't exist on that type of stuff anymore. This market needs occupancy, big mid-week occupancy with conventions and stuff like that.

On the topic of whether it should ever have been built -- which he is quick to remind everyone is not the fault of the people running it now -- he doesn't hold back much, either.

Wynn: It's on such a difficult site. The access is so murderously challenging for the management. You know, the way we check in and check out 3,000 rooms on a Sunday. Right?

Friess: Right.

Wynn: How do you do that in that building?

Friess: You mentioned that. You mentioned that about the driveway was the first thing you noticed when went there was that the configuration of and I didn't quite get it until I went there myself but the configuration when you drive in is very weird.

Wynn: My point is that the Cosmopolitan is an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans. If that young man they brought in, that nice man from Harrah's, if he makes a go of this, he gets the Nobel Prize.

That "nice young man," Cosmo CEO John Unwin, responded to all of this in my interview, which I just posted into The Strip Podcast's feed. Download it by right-clicking here or subscribe for free in iTunes or Zune.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks, McCarran! and other airport musings

We arrived at our NYC hotel, the lovely Marriott East Side, late Wednesday and went to check in only to discover my driver's license was not in my wallet. They didn't actually need it, but I was lucky to have looked for it sooner than later. I had it going through security at McCarran and thought I'd returned it to my billfold, but it was neither there nor in my laptop messenger bag which, nonetheless, got a much-needed cleaning out.

I called a friend who was watching the dogs and the house and had him FedEx me my passport so I could get on tonight's flight home from JFK. And what is waiting for us in the mound of mail? That envelope with this return address:

My license! Mailed to me by the airport folks... at their expense!

Wow. I am quite impressed. I guess I dropped it and someone turned it in, which is so kind. I've been rescued from hours at the DMV! Hooray! I wonder if other airports do this. Whew.

Not a bad way to get this blog back up and going now after a layoff, huh? Miles, even, was baffled I wasn't blogging while we were traveling. Feh. Y'all can entertain yourselves for a few minutes, no?

Meanwhile, we arrived via Delta at the D Gate today and look at what we found:

It's like a bank of slot machines in "The Walking Dead." What happened? Are they replacing them? Eerie.

I'm eternally fascinated by what Caesars puts on their primo space because there's always some quirks. When I saw this...

...all I could think of was, "How come Al Mancini, John Curtas and Max Jacobson weren't invited into this portrait?"

But Miles had a better point: It took them less than a split second to replace the billboard with this portrait seeing how Rao's chef Carla Pellegrino -- one of the few female executive chefs in Vegas -- quit the restaurant just a few minutes ago. That's some mighty quick work there forgetting she was ever there. How terrific that they're back to an all-boys club. Think they actually reshot the photo or just used some PhotoShop?

And finally...

...there's something sort of desperate about the Mandalay Bay having to throw a free New Year's Eve party "free of cover charges or reservations." I mean, what does that even mean? Do I really want to be at a NYE party that even I can get into for nothing?

Turns out, it's also very, very misleading. Evidently, they've redefined "cover charge." If you go to the website for this event advertised on this billboard, you see this:

You see, you pay $50 in advance -- or $75 day-of -- for a "block party pass." With that, from what I can glean, you get to hang out at the Mandalay Bay Beach -- hence it is, in fact, a cover charge -- and you get five "signature cocktails" at any of their 12 event bars. It's hard to tell what else you get, but online "tickets" actually end up costing $57 when Ticketmaster's fee is factored in.

Oh, one more thing. Anyone wanna tell me what's wrong with the text here? Click on it to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Amid the revisionist history propagated by its brass and the disrespect the company is showing for its own architecture, MGM Resorts is having a rough day around these parts. But bad things come in threes, as they say, and another blunder today shows that, one year on, CityCenter's customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

Y'all might remember my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I wrote a Las Vegas Weekly column about how much they loved CityCenter for all the reasons CEO Jim Murren said some people would. They were back this weekend and, of course, they returned to Vdara. They were there for four nights.

Their flight leaves today at 4 p.m., so sis-in-law hoped to stay in the room until 2 p.m. You know, a late checkout. She called down. She learned no can do, if she wanted to stay past noon, she would have to pay another $50. Not even a "Well, we can give you until 1." You know, like pretty much every hotel I've ever stayed at would do. Also, as Bellagio would usually do.

Did I mention that Vdara was so empty all weekend it could have easily been mistaken for Neonopolis? This weekend, with the marathon and the National Finals Rodeo and whatever else was happening, we never saw a single other soul in the hall or on the elevator. So the demand is soft. It's no skin off their teeth to give it another hour.

But a return customer who had stayed for four days can't get another hour or two in her room? The company is so hard up, they want to extort her?

Tacky tacky.