Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wine, Women, and Song

Sorry for the late start today, but this whole work thing has got me wrapped around the axle. It really interferes with all of the other things I'd rather be doing.


I had a pretty good Vegas-style weekend, all things considered. It began on Friday night--I chilled out here at the house for most of the evening, but the plan was to meet 'Dr. K' and his entourage of nurses over at the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay at 10:00 o'clock that night. I got an early start, planning on having a drink at one of the bars beforehand. Of course, I'd forgotten what a clusterf*ck the valet at Mandalay Bay is. After sitting in line for about 20 minutes just trying to move the last 100 yards or so, I was told that unless I could produce a room key, I wasn't parking.

But I'm going to the Foundation Room.

-Do you have a membership?

No, I'm a guest tonight.

-Beat it.

That kinda sucked.

Luckily, the guys over at the west valet at TheHotel were much more accommodating. So instead of walking in through the front door, I snuck in by the sports book and made my way across the casino to the lobby bar.

I ordered a Captain and diet from the bartender, who went all you-want-fries-with-that? and offered me a double for just $2 more. Ok, whatever...

$14 plus tip later, I was enjoying an eight-ounce glass of mostly ice and some very valuable booze, simultaneously watching the eye candy and trying to text Eric, telling him that I was there. He showed up about 30 seconds later with four chicks, the introductions were made, and we shuffled over to the elevators.

Of course, we had to pound our drinks before they'd let us on the private elevator that led to the club--no outside booze allowed up inside the Holiest of Holies. No problem there--we all had drinks in our hands at the time, but less than a minute later the table next to the host stand was full of empty glasses.

When we got up to the club, it was only about half-full. And the Foundation Room is a whole helluva lot bigger than I imagined it was, having never been there before. But the first thing we did was make our way out to the balcony and deflower all of the Vegas virgins with the view. Simply awesome!

The waitress came by, drinks all around, and the conversation flowed. The gals were all very nice, and lots of fun to talk to. I really enjoyed myself. As we got to know each other a bit better, it was picture time. Everyone had cameras, so I'll share what made it onto mine:

Eric and the ladies.

Behold, the power of rum!

What's better than hanging out with four attractive gals in little black dresses and the Strip in the background? Nothing comes to mind right away. Vegas, baby. Vegas!

After a few Long Island iced teas, I was told that I should rest my head. Who am I to argue?

You know what's better than $20 lappies down at the Rhino? FREE ones on the balcony at the Foundation Room!

I don't remember exactly what was going on right here--just one of those special moments captured on film.

Vegas Virgins no longer! I'm glad that I was there to see it.

Of course, as the evening went on, the conversation flowed, as did the cocktails. And I have to admit, I was quite surprised with the 'reasonableness' of the prices at the bar. It wasn't nearly as painful as I thought it would be to purchase a round of drinks. The Foundation Room might be a little exclusive, but they certainly don't gouge you at the bar.

We did a little drinking, a lot of socializing, and a bit of dancing, too. Oh, and being in a hip and happenin' place, we ran into a minor celebrity or two, also:

I've been thinking about it, Mikey--I want my suit back!

Yep, we ran into 'Kenny Bania' while we were up there. He was a pretty nice guy, probably had something to do with the fact that we were the only people that recognized him. I kept cracking up when, after a few minutes of conversation, he finally said "You can just call me Steve" and without missing a beat, Kristen said "Ok, Bania". He was trying pretty hard to get with one of the girls, but when he realized that wasn't gonna happen, he moved on...

We had a great time up there for several hours, and I really enjoyed spending time with Eric and the gals. Eventually, the booze caught up to one of the members of our entourage, so we called it a night before any derailment was caught on film. I said my goodbyes to all the ladies and made my way back downstairs to the poker room.

I put my name on the list for the 3-6 and 4-8 games, grabbed a bottle of water, and sat down to wait for a seat to open up. It never did, and eventually I gave up, fetched the truck, and came home, collapsing in the bed with a grin on my face. It was a great night!

The next morning, Saturday, I awoke much too early. But I had stuff to do. I puttered around the house, keeping one eye on College GameDay, but doing things like cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry. Around noon I packed a bag, showered, shaved, and put on some decent clothes, and headed down to the Hilton.

My day was to be spent at Lee's Wine Experience, an adventure so fun the previous year that I decided that there was no way I would ever miss it for the rest of my days in Vegas. Basically, it's billed as an upscale wine tasting event, but it's pretty much The World's Largest Cocktail Party, at least on this side of Jacksonville. For $40, it's a full day of free booze and wine, hors d'oeurves, and eye candy.

I got down to the Hilton about twenty minutes later, and was able to check in right away. I'd booked a room online earlier in the week for $119, a little more than I wanted to pay, but it sure beat the alternative of trying to find a ride home after debauching myself, or even worse, risking a DUI. But the room was pretty nice--right off the elevator on the 27th floor of the north tower, overlooking the Strip.

I dropped by bag in the corner, turned on the TV to watch some football, kicked off my shoes, emptied my pockets, and crawled up on the comfy bed and dozed for an hour and a half. Of course, I totally spaced going down to the sportsbook and getting a bet in on Zenyatta to win the Breeder's Cup, and even though she was a favorite, I feel like I missed an opportunity.

Around 2:15 or so, I got up out of bed, put myself back together, and made dinner reservations at Benihana for after the wine tasting. No longer a rookie, I was gonna do it right this time.

As I made my way through the casino and over towards the convention center, I noticed big red signs everywhere offering a room rate of only $59 that night for patrons of the Lee's Wine Experience. Hey, that's a much better deal than I was getting, so I stopped at a house phone and called the front desk. They kind of gave me the runaround, and I ended up talking to reservations, but it seemed that nobody could help me out--all I wanted was to be credited the difference--but it seemed to take an act of God to do it. I booked in advance for $119, but if I would've just showed up at the last minute, I could've had the room for sixty bucks less. Anyhow, it didn't seem like it was happening for me, and after about ten minutes of getting shuffled back and forth between people who couldn't, or wouldn't, help, I gave up and headed for the ballroom, telling myself that I'd take care of it at the front desk the next morning when I checked out.

I got there about 15 minutes before they opened the door, and there was already a line forming. They checked everyone's IDs, even those of us old enough to be 21 twice already. But after that, I didn't have to wait long--I was one of the first 30 or 40 people through the door.

Now, last year, Lars and I made the mistake of hitting all the hard stuff right away, and then a couple of hours later when we needed it, there was no food left to be had. So the first thing I did was hit one of the small buffet stations and grab a plate with some finger foods--mini quiches, stuffed pastry, cheese, crackers, etc. I was able to lay down a good base while I went over the tasting book, mapping out my strategy for the evening.

The first thing I did, of course, was go to the back of the ballroom and see what they had as far as cordials, liqueurs, and other goodies. I was sorely disappointed as I discovered that the 'booze' part of the event was only about half as big as it was the previous year. I don't know if it was the bad economy or what, but the selection was pretty lame. Nevertheless, I had a few sips of premium bourbon while I flirted with the cute redhead at the margarita mix booth.

I wandered back and forth for a bit, sampling this and that, but nothing really jumped out and screamed BUY ME! like last year with the Castries and the coffee flavored tequila. So instead of getting stupid right out of the gate on hard liquor, I decided to be a little more genteel and I grabbed my wine glass, heading back into the main part of the show.

I decided to expand my red wine horizons, so I tasted several varieties of Malbec--all good, I found, and lots and lots of my favorite red, Pinot Noir. As you may have guessed, in the course of my travels, I met a few gals here and there who wanted me to try other odd things--I ended up drinking a few sparkling whites that were pretty good, along with some of the worst Sangria I've ever had (it went straight into the rinse bucket after one sip).

I also had some sort of Argentinian shiat that was so tannic that it tasted like fermented bandaids. It also went directly into the discard bucket and I immediately ran over to get a cracker to get the taste out of my mouth.

But there were a few surprise finds. I really really liked the Sebastiani Russian River Unoaked Chardonnay. It was more sweet than dry, and seemed like the perfect fruit-and-cheese wine. And the Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot was also excellent. I also tried something called O'Brien Seduction, which was a blend of Cabernet and something else (maybe Zinfandel?--not sure, and my notes are incomplete). Anyhow, it got circled and I gave it a few stars in my tasting book, so I'll be on the lookout for that the next time I hit the liquor store.

There was one more standout wine, as far as I can remember, it was MacMurray Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir--surprisingly good and it didn't have the 'burn' that Pinot can sometimes have. I really liked it a lot, and remember thinking that it could also be had at a surprisingly reasonable price point.

Those were the wines that really stood out for me, although I tried lots and lots of different ones. After awhile, all that red wine started to taste the same, so I grabbed a sample can of citrus-flavored Pellegrino, found a table, and sat down to go over my notes and enjoy my wine buzz. I'd only been there about two hours at that point--I still had three more to go, so I had to pace myself.

Other people had the same idea, so it was nice to sit and chat with strangers and go over our finds and hear about some of the things that they liked. After about an hour or so, I felt like I was ready for round two, so I got back in the game.

I went back to the booze section again, just because, and tried some Jeremiah Wood Country Peach Sweet Tea. It was damn good. Vodka-based, with a nice hint of iced tea and peaches. Reminded me of a summer day in Georgia, minus the humidity and the gnats. I tried a few different varieties that they had on hand, and I think my favorite came from making an impromptu Arnold Palmer, mixing the peach iced tea and the lemonade flavors.

The also had some of that Crystal Head vodka on hand, which I've never heard of before I moved to Vegas, and Dan Akroyd does local commercials for it. Somehow, the only picture I took during the whole event was of one of their hotties pouring fruit juice though the ice-skull:

It's good, but nothing I'm gonna run out and make a point of buying. I also tried some god-awful tequilas that I'd never heard of, but one thing that was a big hit was called a 'Merry Feckin Christmas'. There was a booth offering up that spiced 'Feckin' whiskey, and they mixed it with white chocolate liqueur. That was pretty damn good, on the rocks. I met a pack of gals about that time, and we spent a good twenty minutes or more at that booth enjoying the samples. Of course, I was all about the hot redhead named Lisa who was handing out the samples, and somehow I neglected to get a picture of her. That kinda sucks, because she was quite the hottie.

After that, I spent the balance of the evening revisiting my favorites in the wine section and getting seconds and thirds of the ones I liked. And I made my way over to the J. Lohr table and had a glass or two of their Merlot, one of my favorites (having bought a bottle of it last week).

It was pretty mellow this year--I tasted a whole lot more wine and a whole lot less booze, and even though my wingman Lars wasn't with me to provide comedic relief, I still had a great time. Around 7:15 or so, I was done. I grabbed a bottle of water and sat at a table up near the front of the ballroom, content to enjoy my mellow buzz and do some people-watching for the last 45 minutes before they pulled the plug.

Once it ended, I joined the herd heading back to the casino. But I had dinner reservations, so I stopped at the Benihana village, told the hostess I was there, and sat in the lounge watching the tail end of the USC/ASU game until I got paged.

I didn't have to wait long, unlike everyone else who didn't have reservations (two hours for a table, they were telling them). I went to the table with six strangers, and as much as I wanted some sake, I decided that ice water would be best.

I had some really good sushi for an appetizer, and enjoyed the conversation with my table mates. The gal next to me had that same Rita Wilson/Marcie-the-psycho look that I find so damn attractive, so it kinda put me off my game. Being pretty well hammered, I didn't want to say anything inappropriate, so I was pretty quiet and mellow during dinner.

The shrimp and soup was good, and for dinner I ordered the Land & Sea combination--filet mignon and sea scallops. Oh hell yeah! And while we were watching the chef put on his show, I was reminded of the last time I was there--over ten years earlier when Eddie B, my old roommate Tammie, and I took our first trip to Vegas together. Man, what a great time that was, and it was hard to believe it'd been so long since I'd been there. I remembered an inside joke Eddie tossed out at dinner that night-- Looks like Ma Brooker is feelin' horny tonight, Mikey! --which damn near made me shoot saki out of my nose at the time.

But I enjoyed my meal, realizing afterwards that it was about as Japanese as Pizza Hut, and probably not worth the $75 tab. Still, a good way to end my evening.

After I paid my tab, I shuffled off to my room, kicked off the shoes and crawled back into that comfy king size bed, the lights of the Strip just outside my window. I turned on SportsCenter, but ended up passing out pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow. I was out cold, but at 4:00 am, I was more than willing to pay the $16-per-gallon for the bottled water on the nightstand. Good racket they've got going on there...

I finally woke up for real around nine o'clock or so, took a shower, got dressed, packed my bag, and headed out. My stop at the front desk proved to be a fruitless endeavor, as both the clerk and the manager refused to even consider discounting my room, no matter what amount of logic I tossed in their direction. It was a complete stonewall, and all I got was "Sorry, we can't help you, you booked a non-refundable rate". I was pretty pissed, but after ten minutes of going around in circles I just gave up, vowing that next year when (if) I stay there, I'm taking all of the towels with me when I leave. Sorry Hilton, but I really feel like you dicked me for sixty bucks, and I'm pretty sure you lost me as a customer, permanently.

Once the valet brought my truck back, I briefly considered going over to the Peppermill for breakfast, but I decided that I'd rather just get back to the Batch Pad and call it a weekend.

And it was a pretty good one, now that I think about it.


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