Monday, August 28, 2006

It's Like Pizza...

Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

The question was posed over on the Vegas Message Board as to what were your best and worst Vegas experiences. Anyone who has browsed through the trip report archive in the left-hand column will know that I've had several great experiences in this city, and luckily very few bad ones.

I love to talk about memorable events and things that make Vegas special, and share my thoughts with others. But now that I live here in Las Vegas, it's got more of a day-to-day flavor. And while still very tasty, it's not the special treat that it used to be--an every-few-months indulgence that was to be savored. Now it's the everyday meal that I use for sustinence.

Using the labels of 'best' and 'worst' is sometimes difficult--superlatives smack of absolutism. I have several favorite songs, but they change with the times. Same with food, restaurants, movies, etc. What is currently a favorite may not be tomorrow, and my tastes evolve or the passing of time can either dilute or enhance a memory of those experiences. But some things will always stand out, so I'll try to share them with you here.

Let's start with the not-so-good:

-The first time I stayed at Harrahs in 2002. God-awful, tiny orange room. Just a hideous place, and one of the worst rooms in all of Vegas, except for maybe the Stratosphere in 2000 or the Sahara back in 1994.

-Middle of the night breakfast at the Triple Seven brewpub down at the Main Street Station this past March. Horrible meal and service, which was hopefully an abberation. Normally it's a great place, but this time it was just plain bad. I would've sent the meal back and demanded a refund had I not been having so much fun with such good company at the time.

-Every frozen drink purchased down on Fremont Street in the past year. Maybe I've lost my taste for the Grain Train, but lately anything coming in a tall plastic glass from Mermaids or Le Bayou has tasted rotten. It's like both places really need to drain, clean, and sanitize their drink dispensing hardware. Just plain gross.

-The demise and rebirth of the Horseshoe. Man, what a great place that it used to be. But it's a microcosm of why royalty doesn't work. The offspring just can't live up to greatness of the original founder's vision. Benny Binion would be ashamed of what happened to his once-great casino in the past decade. I used to absolutely love that joint--it was my temple, my Mecca, my Happy Place. Sometimes I'd go there on a Friday and not emerge until Sunday, happily throwing the dice and playing cards until either I went broke or needed to get out and spend my new-found fortune. Now it seems almost soulless.

-The Upper Deck at the Vegas Club. Easily the worst restaurant in Las Vegas. Haven't been there in over two years, probably never will go back.

-The advent of the 6:5 payoff for single deck blackjack. It's my personal line-in-the-sand against the incrementalism of casino greed. Of course, I have to deal the very same game on a weekly basis, usually to a full table.

-TV's influence on live poker. Yep, I love that poker is so popular nowadays. But it's created a subculture of complete jerkoffs that make every trip to the poker room an exercise in restraint of killing someone who desperately needs to go in the most gruesome, painful, and humiliating manner available.

-Panhandlers. I'd like to go two weeks straight without somebody approaching me in some parking lot with a sob story about needing money.

-Nasty hookers. If you have missing teeth or visible scabs, you shouldn't be allowed to be a hooker. All hookers should be required to be at least as hot as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. And sticking your head inside my car window while I'm sitting at a stoplight, and insisting that I 'give you a ride' is probably not the proper approach, either.

-Video Slot Machines. Man, I have no idea how to play these things. A complete farking mystery as far as I'm concerned. And it shouldn't be allowed to be called a 'nickel' machine if it takes $3 per spin to win the top prize.

-Circus Circus, The 'New' Frontier, and the Riviera. Please... bring the wrecking ball. Soon.

-The 'Midwest Tax'. Some things here in Vegas are ridiculously expensive and would completely fail if they used the same pricing strategy anywhere else but Vegas. Concerts--Jimmy Buffett tickets are over $200. Same ticket in Nashville is $35. Cigars--it's so bad that even off the strip, I'm expected to pay $12 for a Partagas #10. Screw that, I will no longer purchase cigars here. Whenever I buy new sticks, it's always online--JR Cigars sells the #10's for only $4.60 per. Golf--exclusive North Scottsdale prices on municipal style courses. Shows-- Mama Mia for $120? Please. Celine Dion for $300? I like to see good shows just as much as anyone else, but I'm not going to spend a third of the ol' paycheck on a couple of tickets!

-Traffic. It's getting very bad. I love the opportunity that rapid growth brings, but we have our fair share of growing pains, too.

-Service at the Orleans coffee shop. It's never been good. I used to like the Orleans a lot, but Coast casinos have pretty bad rules on their table games, so bad service in an otherwise decent coffee shop won't bring me into the joint.

-Parking at the Venetian. Just plain bad all around. Uncle Sheldon could take a lesson from his next door neighbor, Mr. Wynn, on the proper way to design parking/valet services.

-Drink service at Mandalay Bay. If you're not playing at the tables, you seem to be persona non grata.

-Dining at Gallagher's steakhouse at NYNY. Loud, overpriced, no ambiance to speak of. There are much better alternatives out there.

I think that's probably enough for now. I wouldn't want people to get the wrong ideas. I'm sure we can always find something wrong, but these are the things that stand out the most for me.

Let's move on to the better stuff--some of my favorite Vegas experiences:

-Breakfast at the Peppermill, drinks in the Fireside Lounge. Yeah, it may have slipped a little bit over the course of the last year or so, but nothing says Quintessential Vegas Experience quite like a couple of hours at the Peppermill for a monster breakfast after a long night of casino hopping, or snuggling with that special someone in one of the nooks and crannys of the lounge while sipping martinis. It's a must-do for every Vegas visitor.

-The all-nighter that I pulled with Angy and Andrea back in January at the Bellagio. Just a fantastic night all around. We drank expensive martinis, played a little too much Spot the Hooker, and laughed all night long.

-Dinner at The Palm last March with about ten of my degenerate friends. Wonderful meal, wonderful company.

-The old WB Lounge at the Venetian. Back in 2000 during March Madness, my buddies and I killed an afternoon there sitting in the comfy leather chairs, smoking cigars, and drinking funky martinis for several hours, escaping the circus (and gambling losses) going on all around us.

-That trip in July of 2002 that I took with Eddie B. A lot of readers rave about the excesses of the 'Left Turn' trip, but I have to say that the July trip was actually better. Hooking up with a hottie little blonde gal and having her say yes-yes-YES! all night after the first hour of no-no-no was an excellent way to end the trip. And oh yeah, winning about $3500 at the dice tables helped, also.

-The original March Madness Limo Ride up and down the strip. It has often been duplicated, but never surpassed. Seeing Dougie in action after four quick shots of Patron was especially entertaining.

-Dinner at Fiore with my four best friends. Another great steakhouse in this fine city. Everything about it contributed to it being almost the perfect evening.

-Taking Angy and Cyndy to dinner at Blackstone with winnings from the craps table. If you have the means to roll into a nice restaurant with two attractive blondes on your arms, by all means, I recommend it. Just the looks from the other patrons was worth the big tab. Oh yeah, the food and service are excellent, too.

-The T2V poker tournament at the Plaza this past March. I can't recall having so much fun playing cards. It was the highlight of the weekend.

-Mon Ami Gabi. Never had a bad meal or bad experience there. I love that restaurant. The espresso martinis are especially good, but I've got to give a nod to their wine list, too.

-When driving to Vegas, catching that first glimpse of the city when crossing the summit just past the Hacienda casino, coming up from Boulder City.

-25 cent martinis at Commander's Palace. The best dollar you will probably ever spend.

-Walking up and down Fremont Street with Doc Al.

-Going to the Palomino Club with Doc Al.

-Upon leaving work one night at the Golden Gate, getting swept up as a 'guest of honor' with about 14 chicks having a bachelorette party. It was truly a memorable evening, one that I had no idea I'd be participating in when I got out of bed that morning.

-Seeing Derek, the Vegas Virgin, turn his last $20 into over $2000 at the Luxor blackjack tables. He was pretty much hooked after that.

-Prime Rib at the Cortez Room at the Gold Coast. It was surprisingly excellent.

-Speaking of the Gold Coast, seeing the two old geezers ditch their walkers and come after me and Rambill, ready to rumble in the lounge. It's still a hilarious memory of a golden WTF? moment.

-Crashing the Diamond Lounge at the Rio with Dawn. Sending me in there was like if Big Papi sat down in the middle of the Yankees clubhouse after a win and helped himself to the postgame buffet.

-Watching Terry make an entrance into the poker room--always a good time. And he invariably puts some stranger at his table on tilt as soon as he sits down.

I think that's about all for now.

But if absolutely have to cough up my absolutes, I will.

My all-time worst Vegas experience would've had to been the trip in October of 2002. We had too big and too big of a diverse group, so we couldn't plan anything that everyone wanted to do. I also got very sick while I was here--I ended up spending Saturday night in my hotel room, feeling miserable, with a six-pack of beer and my other broke-ass buddies watching the Angels/Giants Game 6. I was staying in a really shiatty comped room at the Horseshoe, and I did nothing but lose the entire time I was here. Additionally, I lost my ATM card on that trip. Just a crummy weekend all around.

If I have to pick my best Vegas experience, it was a trip that was never written about, long before I'd ever even heard of the concept of a 'trip report'. But I'd say that having my own Fremont Street Deflowering Experience back in the good old days, and having my first visit to the Golden Gate and Binion's Horseshoe happen on the same night was something truly special. All those that were present still speak about it in wistful tones. It cemented lifelong friendships with my own Vegas gang, and pretty much set me on the course which got me to this point in my life. It was one of those forks in the road that had a major impact on the future, but I had no idea at the time that it would be so.

As fun as it would be to sit here and ramble on and on about all of the great times that I've had here in Las Vegas, I have to wrap it up--I could probably go on for days. It's a great place and I'm fortunate to be able to experience a little bit of that magic regularly, and even better, share it with some of you guys, too.


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