Saturday, December 4, 2010

Slidin' Thru Goes Un-Mobile

Apparently a hazard of inviting a very competitive fellow journalist into the studio as a guest of my show for a debate about his book is that said fellow journalist would go ahead and scoop me in the blogosphere on a breaking news item that occurred on the show. Then again, the show was heard live by many via the Web as we recorded it, I did Tweet about this and I could have blogged it sooner if I hadn't been on a deadline for The Daily Beast. But why quibble when "Eating Las Vegas" co-author Al Mancini turned out to be such a good sport about being routed in our scrum over his book?

Anyhow, the scoop. Well, I invited Ric Guerrero from the gourmet food truck Slidin' Thru to join us by phone for an interview edition of our Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week because (a) we were wall-to-wall food this episode and (b) guest co-host Amy is a Slidin' Thru fan who got me into it. Basically, it's a truck -- now they have two, Guerrero revealed -- that pops up all over town in parking lots serving up really tasty, fairly cheap little burgers, as you see here from Amy and my visit.

Now, however, Slidin' Thru is adding a brick-and-mortar location. Al and I each asked variations (mine clean, his with the requisite "fuck") of the question as to why they'd do that and doesn't that take the cool, discovery, adventurous factor out of the whole enterprise? Ric, sensing opportunities and predicting perhaps several of these proper stores, was undeterred, as you'll hear when I get a chance to post the show.

Anyhow, the first Slidin' Thru restaurant is not quite up and running, but their chefs are in the kitchen at 955 Grier Road just south of McCarran Airport and are serving the burgers now in a bar called Poker Paradise embedded in a commercial plaza. And to confirm it, Amy and I scootched out there after the show to see for ourselves.

The menu and prices -- 2 for $5, 3 for $7, I think 5 for $9 -- is the same, see:

The bartender said they're serving the burgers from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, FYI. Here's our food:

We each had a Captain's Order (roma tomato, arugula, bacon, feta, sautéed onion, balsamic reduction), I ordered a Barby (melted cheddar, caramelized jalapeño, fried onion strip, bacon, BBQ sauce) and a Mystery Burger and Amy ordered a Yaya (lettuce, tomato, red onion, feta, tzatziki, red wine vinaigrette). Sadly, Amy ate my Mystery Burger by accident so we're not real sure what it was. Oops.

We ate at the dingy bar...

...which we're quite sure violated the utterly unenforced Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits food service in places where people smoke and vice versa. Slidin' Thru plans to have a proper restaurant open immediately next door by New Year's. This is what it looks like today, pre-renovation:

So that was fun. And while we were there, the other truck "came in," providing this unique image:

The whole show should be up tomorrow. I've got a couple other deadlines AND the in-laws in town. I'll do my best. God forbid Mancini heard the first segment when I spilled beans on scoops I got from Phil Ruffin, Oscar Goodman and Steve Wynn...

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's Happening To Bradley Ogden at Caesars?

In my interview with the new director of restaurants for Caesars Palace this morning, I asked Franck Savoy about what’s happening to Bradley Ogden. This was the first significant food name at Caesars Palace proper -- distinct from Forum Shops, which Harrah’s does not own but where Wolfgang Puck began the food revolution in the early 1990s – and Ogden is extremely important for its proximity to the entrance the Colosseum. It’s a special, coveted location the likes of which really don’t exist anywhere else on the Vegas fancy-food scene.

Afterward, I Tweeted that Savoy said Ogden wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. This prompted a note from a fellow reporter who told me that this was not so, that Ogden himself has been open about his desire to depart.

So I figured I’d do something unusual and post this snippet of a transcript of that part of the interview. Think of it as a teaser, and tune in and join the chat at LVRocks.Com on Saturday from noon-2 p.m. to hear the entire Savoy conversation – yes, I ask his fast food preferences and whether Caesars will go vegan like Wynncore -- as well as a live debate between me and Eating Las Vegas co-author Al Mancini. And, to top it off, we’ll have a food-related, live interview edition of the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week that will delight guest host Amy to no end, I believe.

Anyhow, here's the Ogden stuff:

Savoy: I know there are a lot of rumors of Bradley Ogden closing next month or two months or even six months. This, I have to tell you, no. This is not true. Why this rumor occurred is that Bradley Ogden’s contract is over in two years and a half. Caesars Palace is of course obviously looking around right now for what we can do with Bradley Ogden. It might be again Bradley Ogden, it might be somebody else, but on today, this is December 3, I’m telling you that Bradley Ogden will continue until the end of his contract. It will be the same restaurant. It will be the same James Beard Award-winning restaurant. We’ve added a couple of steaks on the menu to make it more American-style cuisine and it’s doing very well, the restaurant.

I then asked about John Curtas' shredding critique of Bradley Ogden in late 2009.

Savoy: I have no idea why he said that. We just did a couple of changes in the food and beverage department (at Caesars Palace). First of all, we have a new VP. Obviously, we have a new director of restaurants, which is me. You have the current chef de cuisine of Bradley who became the assistant executive chef for Caesars Palace, Todd Williams. And we have a new chef at Bradley and we also have a new GM at Bradley and that was before the GM at Tableau at Wynn and before that GM at Alex at the Wynn. See, this is another reason I am telling you Bradley is not closing tomorrow because we put some very key staff in there.

So that's the official line, anyway. Maybe all of these changes were prompted by Ogden’s dissatisfaction? Time will tell. That's why we get these thing on the record.

FYI, the podcast version will post probably Sunday if you can’t make it to the live show. You can subscribe for free via iTunes or Zune. Also, you can listen live via your smart phones at LVRocks.Com, too, and don't have to join the chat to listen. It's more fun that way, though.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Friess v Mancini. 1 p.m. Sat. Be There.

Well, this should be FUN.

Al Mancini, one of three co-authors of the new dining guide Eating Las Vegas, will be in the studio at LVRocks.Com on Saturday with me to have a public debate on the issues that stirred up so much drama related to the book and my Las Vegas Weekly column. It will be a friendly, entertaining, robust and respectful discussion of questions pertaining to food journalism and ethics. And we will be live, not recorded as almost all of our shows are. You can listen and attend the live chat at LVRocks.Com. Everyone is welcome, even those with whom disagreements clearly got out of hand. It's the season of peace and joy, after all.

Prior to Al's part of this week's episode of The Strip, guest host Amy and I will begin at noon with chatter about a TON of news, including some breaking stuff that Steve Wynn told me today and Oscar Goodman told me last night. (Miles will be picking up his family at McCarran, but hey - we haven't had a guest host since the summer, if you can believe that!)

Oh, we'll also be playing, time permitting, my interview with Franck Savoy, the son of Guy Savoy and now director of all restaurants for Caesars Palace. If there's not time, it'll just be included in the podcast.

As I said, I plan to start us up at noon. The Duel will happen about 1 p.m. PT. Be there. It'll be awesome. Of course, if you can't make it, I'll get the podcast up and available later in the weekend. But I just have a feeling that this chat will be live and lively, as Miles loves to put it.

LVW Col: Cosmo Caps A Vegas Era

Here's this week's LVW column, sure to be significantly less controversial than last week's. Sorry! Enjoy. -sf

Cosmopolitan: a fitting bookend


So this is how it ends, huh?

Here we go, heading once again into yet another December casino-resort opening on the Strip. This time it’s the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, scheduled to start taking bets a year after the $8.5 billion CityCenter complex did so, two years on from the revelation of Encore Las Vegas and three years since Palazzo Las Vegas debuted.

It may seem like old hat, a tradition of sorts. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed these annual opportunities to gather up with my friends from Vegas-obsessed cyberspace and take our newest toys for a few spins, to pore over every detail and choice, to comment on food, décor, service, marketing plan and overall sensibility. I’ve loved taking the temperature of Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn, Jim Murren and now John Unwin when these men are at both their most anxious and most boastful, documenting for posterity their lofty expectations and then comparing that to the reality that comes to pass thereafter.

And yet, of course, this one is different. This is the last of it, ...

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Night Of Betting With The Mayor Of Vegas

As my Twitter followers knew, I spent a few hours shadowing Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman for a forthcoming profile. He officiated at the lighting of menorahs at the Fremont Street Experience and Opportunity Village's gigantic maze of holiday displays about 5 miles west of downtown Vegas, the charity's big fundraiser.

I'll dish some more about that on this weekend's show, but I just loved this too much:

Friess: Do you still gamble?

Goodman: Every night of my life.

Friess: Where?

Goodman: I have somebody who makes my bets for me.

Friess: On sports.

Goodman: Sports.

Friess: What sports?

Goodman: Well, it’s basketball season now. You want to know who my bets are so you can follow them?

Friess: Please.

Goodman takes a piece of lined notebook paper out of his breast pocket, unfolds it and reads the following, written very small in cursive on the paper:

Drexel -8.5

Temple -8

Mich State +11

Pittsburgh -11.5

San Antonio -7.5

Friess: How much do you bet on each?

Goodman: On basketball, $20 or $50. There are just so many games.

Friess: You do this every day?

Goodman: Every day of my life, I’ll have a bet on something.

Friess: What's the most you've ever lost?
Goodman: A LOT.
Friess: On what?
Goodman: Oh, Tony Spilotro gave me a sure thing once. Minnesota v San Francisco. It was not a sure thing.

So three things about this:

(a) Can someone tell me how the mayor did? All those -/+ confuse the crap out of me.
(b) How do I get an interview with the guy who lays bets for the mayor?
(c) I hope nobody lost their fingers or worse on the Minnesota v. SF deal.

The Show Is UP: Andy Williams Ate Dog Food

We've had some odd moments over the years on this program. Chubby Checker's rant, Tony Curtis' spunk, Steve Wynn's frequent eating noises. But this must come in the Top 10 -- Andy Williams going on, in all seriousness, about how delicious Alpo is. The show, thus, is up. It was in the feed for iTunes or Zune subscribers as early as Monday. That's free, y'know, as is the iTunes software. You can click on the date below to get it to play or right-click on it to download it to listen at your leisure.

Nov. 29: An Andy Williams Holiday Special
– With Dog Food

You think of Andy Williams, you think Christmas specials, Moon River and Branson, Missouri. You do NOT think of LSD, eating dog food or strident political commentary. Williams, the legendary crooner who’s now 83, appears in December at the Las Vegas Hilton, so Steve chatted with him about some of the revelations in the book, including the time he saw Frank Sinatra flash his brutal side and what it was like to be on the funeral train with Bobby Kennedy’s coffin.

In Banter: A Cosmo preview, a debate over food critic anonymity, gambling as a cure for "homosexual problems," an El Cortez room design contest and a Thanksgiving Day fire.

Links to stuff discussed:

Andy Williams’ site
Get tickets to see Andy Williams at the Las Vegas Hilton on Dec 23-24
We’re nominated for Trippies for blog, Twitterer and podcast
The weird rules of the Nov. 20 Northwestern v Illinois game at Wrigley Field
The Cosmopolitan’s innovative Identity Club, from the Las Vegas Sun
The blog and LVW column regarding the Eating Las Vegas book and controversy
Las Vegas Sun’s interactive package about El Cortez’s room-design contest
The R-J’s piece on the prison jail's casino and “homosexual problems”
Harrah’s becomes Caesars Entertainment
Heidi Fleiss’ fire in Pahrump and the birds

What Might Have Been

I was just poking around, curious about something, and I found this relic of a bygone era, how The Harmon was -- and still is -- identified, imagined and described by the the website for Foster + Partners, its architects.

The ultimate luxury getaway, the Harmon Hotel is a non-gaming hotel that forms a striking gateway to the MGM Project in Las Vegas. Fronting the Strip at the corner of Harmon Avenue, it will be one of the tallest buildings on this famed Las Vegas boulevard.

Of course, not so much, eh? So sad. The Harmon, incidentally, is no longer mentioned at all on Lord Norman Foster's Wikipedia page.

Ranking Vegas' 8 Naughtiest Shows

As podcast listeners knew, I spent the summer checking out topless shows on the Strip with Jamie, my Little Brother from Big Brothers Big Sisters. (He's 20 now and it's legal, so chill out.) The conceit of the piece was that he's straight and had never been to any topless shows before I took him to our first of eight, Fantasy. And I'm gay, so I had a different point of view that might be of use to women considering attending these shows on their own or with their straight male counterparts.

The piece is up as of yesterday on the Los Angeles Times' website. (In the end, the editors decided the subject matter was a little too risque for the print edition.) We did not include the new topless shows at Sahara and the Westin mainly because I don't believe the Westin one will be open for long and the Sahara one bowed after I had filed the story and Jamie didn't have time to go.

There's detail and discussion of each in the piece, but here's how Jamie ranked the shows:

1. Zumanity
2. Peepshow
3. Jubilee!
4. X Burlesque
5. Bite
6. Crazy Girls
7. Crazy Horse Paris
8. Fantasy

I did not attempt to sway Jamie, I swear. I wanted his ranking so that it would be useful to his peers, not mine. If I had to rank, my order might have been a little bit different. For my money, Jubilee! is just the coolest thing and Crazy Horse Paris the worst.

I also did a quick sidebar on the male stripper revues to go alongside this. You can find that here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The First Words On The New R-J Editor

Could a pay wall be in the offing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal's website?

I have no idea if there are any such plans, but that is the most notable Web-related innovation that incoming R-J Editor Michael Hengel has to his credit as editor and publisher of the Pine Bluff, Ark., Commercial. That ought to make a lot of Vegas cheapskates a little antsy.

I held off on writing about the new editor, announced in yet another news dump by Stephens brass on the day before Thanksgiving, because I wanted a chance to actually, you know, learn something about him. And so I did some checking. He starts on Dec. 6.

As it happens, there's good news and bad news.

The bad news is aforementioned. According to Pine Bluff Commercial managing editor Scott Loftis, Hengel "has some deep convictions about what the future of newspapers is and where the business is going." The Commercial recently put its content behind a pay wall -- it's free for print subscribers, $11 a month for non-subscribers -- so that gives us a fairly good idea of where Hengel thinks it's all going. And he may be right, seeing how other publications are going this route, but that's generally hit this sort of discouraging news -- or encouraging if you're part of the Internet-Must-Be-Free sector.

It's unclear whether a paywall for the R-J would even work with the Las Vegas Sun sitting out there happy to poach the eyeballs that turn away. The Pine Bluff paper has no competition, so far as I can gather, not even from TV stations since it is in the Little Rock regional market. Also, the R-J's site itself would need some dramatic improvements to make it even worth paying for, and the Pine Bluff paper's website is even more primitive so it's unclear Hengel has that in his DNA.

So what's the good news?

For one thing, Mr. Hengel is exceptionally well-liked. Loftis said: "I've been in the journalism business for 22 or 23 years. This is the best boss I’ve ever had. He’s very fair, he’s very respectful. He can make a tough decision when he has to. This guy’s awesome."

OK, so this comes from a guy who still works for him and maybe is being political, although he really seemed earnest and sincere. Sadly, the Pine Bluff paper is fairly small in every way -- 12,000 circulation, four full-time reporters -- so it's not like the sieve that is the R-J, where there's always a few folks willing to gossip off-record.

But what the public in Vegas really wants to know is whether Hengel will arrive with a political or philosophical axe to grind. Former editor Thomas Mitchell, of course, joined obsessive ex-publisher Sherm Frederick in an open jeremiad against Harry Reid, inserting himself into the dynamic of the U.S. Senate race in a way that made his reporters' coverage appear tainted whether it was or not.

What about Hengel? Check out this exchange:

Friess: What do you know about Mike's political views?

Loftis: Nothing, which I think is as it should be.

Friess: Really?

Loftis: I really don’t. Mike has not indicated to me even that he leans one way or the other politically. I haven’t seen any decisions made that would reflect that, either. And I think that’s the way it ought to be.

Well, dang, so do I. An editor who isn't interested in personally being part of the political conversation? What a novel idea!

Another positive bit of news: Hengel understands issues of race. He has to, given that Pine Bluff is majority African-American. There are black city and features editors as well as a black staff writer. Could it be that he's a man who believes his staff ought to reflect the demographics his publication serves? One can hope. I suspect he'll be utterly blinded by how white his new newsroom is, especially given the rapidly changing demographics of Las Vegas.

So far, there are reasons to be optimistic. Hengel kindly wrote back to me via email to postpone an interview with me until he gets his "feet on the ground in Las Vegas." I look forward to it.

"It’s a home run for them," Loftis said. "I know he’s coming from a smaller paper, but this guy is the best I’ve ever been around."

Great. That's a start.

Monday, November 29, 2010

4 Gay Vegas Related News Bites

There's a whole load o' gay-ish stuff a-swirling, so let's get it all out of the way at once:

* Wedding Belles.
Belated and hearty congrats are due to Jon Summers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's communications director, who followed up a very long and brutal but ultimately victorious campaign season by marrying his partner, Kyle, at a church in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is fully legal. The happy couple announced their Nov. 20 nuptials in the New York Times. Now, let's see if Summers' boss can get somewhere on Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the lame-duck session. Jon also was once a reporter for CBS affiliate KLAS in Vegas.

* A Bette's A Bette. I took all that guff, and I was right after all: Bette Midler did come to hate her tenure at the Colosseum. In Nov. 2009, I put together the clues and concluded for the Las Vegas Weekly that the Divine Miss M was ending an unhappy residency at Caesars Palace. Her explanation to the Daily Telegraph in London, after agreeing being in Vegas was like being on the Titanic, was that the economy caved in and it just stopped being much fun. Bette is quoted thus: "I was living in the hotel and I remember one day I ordered room service, and the girl came and she looked so exhausted. I asked what was wrong and she said she was having to look after all the guests - they’d let everyone else go. And that’s when you start to question yourself - what am I doing here? Am I contributing to this?" Well, sure, by getting the hell outta here asap and letting all those musicians and dancers go, yeah.

* Gambling Cures The Gay! Well, that's a theory, anyhow. Ed Vogel wrote a totally fascinating piece in Saturday's Review-Journal about the fully functioning casino that operated in the Nevada State Prison for decades until the 1960s. There actually wasn't any specific reason why Vogel wrote about it now that I could find, but it was just a great yarn nonetheless. Our favorite part? Vogel found a quote from a Republican assemblyman form Reno at the time saying that the casino helped to mitigate "homosexual problems." Who knew?

* ACLU On Fire. The incoming executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is a Facebook friend of mine as well as a fellow National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association member, Dane S. Claussen. He holds an MBA in corporate fianance and labor relations from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in mass communications. Dane's also got a long history in the mainstream and alternative press and is coming from a teaching position a Point Park University in Pittsburgh. That he's openly gay is not going to be a problem for him in this position, but I am a little concerned about how his being a fairly vocal atheist and political liberal could impact his work in Nevada. On his Facebook site, for instance, he says his favorite joke is one likening Rush Limbaugh to a Nazi. He is filling the gigantic shoes of Gary Peck, whose only real political activism that I can recall was in the service of the First Amendment. It will be interesting to see how this strangely conservative town takes to him, although I suspect most people expect the ACLU guy to be a hard-core lefty. We shall see.