Honeymoon in Vegas
"I love Vegas," he said, emphasis on the verb, his voice a mixture of awe, enthusiasm - and relief at finding himself (again) in the world's most spectacular adult playground.
We were high above the city, on the 64th floor of THEHotel at miX Lounge where the kaleidoscopic view of the Strip appears as an amalgam of Peter Pan's Neverland and Pinocchio's Pleasure Island as designed by Busby Berkeley on acid. The Luxor's pyramid beams blue into the night sky while the Sphinx smiles cryptically; in the near distance, there's the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State and the MGM lion.
Las Vegas is nothing less than a set designer's fantasy unleashed without budgetary restrictions or logical constraints. Who wouldn't succumb to the illusion that everything is within reach if only you want it?
"I can make that happen," the charming hotel rep assured a client. In Vegas, anything is possible and the city's m.o. is most definitely "I can make that happen." If you want it in Vegas, you got it.
One of the most refreshing qualities of an already extraordinary city is the enthusiasm of Generation X and Y for the city's future. It's a city filled with youthful professionals, an army of civic boosters who work to have fun and have fun while they work. If you haven't been to Vegas recently (and that means since last year, given that the city's transformation happens at warp speed), then you'll be spellbound by the spectacle of gorgeous youth parading up and down the Strip, confident of their starring role in their own reality show, as they partake of Sin City's latest temptations.
Nearly $4 billion of new development is scheduled for this year alone, including the Linq, the new $550 million district designed by Caesars Entertainment. Located in the heart of the Strip, the Linq will feature a 550-foot giant observation wheel, the world’s tallest, called Las Vegas High Roller. The Linq’s diverse mix of retail, dining, entertainment, and hospitality is designed to appeal to Gen X and Y, ages 21 through 46, whose market share of Vegas spending will increase to 52% by 2015.
But then, Las Vegas has always been a city of youth. Abandoned by the Mormons in 1857 (bless them for that), Las Vegas legalized gambling in 1931- two years before the end of Prohibition, a harbinger of the city’s uncanny ability to read the zeitgeist.
After WWII, Vegas became the "Entertainment Capital of the World," attracting the world’s top entertainers, including Eartha Kitt, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Sophie Tucker, and, in the late Fifties, "the Rat Pack." Elvis was 21 when he first played Vegas, billed as "the Atomic Powered Singer," which was a reference to the Manhattan Project, which filled the Nevada desert air with atomic bomb tests.
Las Vegas today is focused on the 4.2-mile section of Las Vegas Boulevard known as "the Strip," which is, technically, beyond the city limits. The Strip also happens to be one of only 31 "All-American Roads," designated by the US Department of Transportation for its exceptional features. Fifteen of the world’s largest 25 hotels are on the Strip, which is one reason why there’s always a parade of some of the world’s most style-obsessed consumers.
Our Vegas-bound plane included more gay boys than families, verifying that Vegas has rebounded from its romance with children and returned to its roots as Sin City. "What Happens Here, Stays Here" has been the city’s slogan since 2003, ultimately morphing into "What happens in Vegas.." - and the ubiquitous phrase has become a knowing wink about embracing Vegas’s grown-up pleasures. Of the Seven Deadly Sins widely celebrated in Sin City, gluttony is right up there, alongside lust and sloth - and rarely have you seen so many happily sinful celebrants.
A recent gay weekend celebration called "Fabulous," now in its third year, brought an all-star gay cast to the desert, including performers and deejays such as Cazwell, Chris Cox, Sherry Vine, "Gay Pimp" Jonny McGovern, Vito Fun, and British singer Neon Hitch. Vegas’s Gay Pride celebration happens in September and New Year’s Eve in Vegas has become "America’s Party." The continuous re-invention of the city has resulted in a projected 40 million visitors for 2012.
While the city has been called the "Marriage Capital of the World," that designation does not yet pertain to same-sex marriage - one of the few oversights in a city that celebrates individuality and difference. Nonetheless, same-sex couples that marry in one of the nation’s more forward-thinking states might consider a honeymoon in Vegas, one of the world’s premier luxury destinations. Fine dining has become synonymous with Vegas, thanks to the influx of celebrity chefs in the past decade and Vegas spas are among the world’s best. Why not celebrate your same-sex nuptials in a place that reminds you that the world is your oyster and life is a banquet?
Christened by 19th-century Spanish explorers, Las Vegas (meaning "the meadows") was named for the lush green meadows that were once supported by the area’s artesian wells. Today, the water most associated with Vegas comes from the fountains in front of the Bellagio or the multi-thousand-gallon tanks employed in the service of Cirque de Soleil shows. As for the green, Vegas is all about the money - and even if you’re not particularly flush, merely walking through a town of such conspicuous consumption can make you feel like Midas.
In short, Vegas is the perfect adult playground, existing solely for grown-up fun - and for that, we should be grateful. Far from the restrictions of our Calvinist forebears, a sybaritic paradise sprang up in the desert and broke all the rules. Reap the bounty and have a ball; Vegas exists for our pleasure.
(Feature continues on next pages: Where to Eat, Where to Stay, Where to Drink and Be Seen, Where to Play, etc.)
Where to Eat:
Jaleo by José Andrés @ The Cosmopolitan: The best tapas in the world? That’s a claim that gets bandied about by the culinary cognoscenti of Vegas - and after a recent meal at Jaleo that was marked by a surfeit of playful creativity and ingenious flavor combinations, we’ll happily second that honorific.
Chef José Andrés opened the first Jaleo in D.C. in 1993 - and the subsequent two metropolitan Washington iterations made Jaleo a beloved local institution. Andrés’ fourth Jaleo outpost opened at the Cosmopolitan in 2011 and was quickly awarded "Best New Restaurant" in Vegas.
It’s a natural fit, given that Jaleo means "revelry" in Spanish. This, after all, is a restaurant where the open kitchen with its olive-wood fire pit sends flames leaping into the air as patrons happily drape themselves around wooden tables and brightly-colored banquettes to eat Andrés’ inspired food.
Start with the sangria - or a signature G&T. What sounds simple, maybe even pedestrian, becomes elevated in the hands and mind of Chef Andrés.
The G&T, for example, is made with Hendricks gin and a local tonic, but it’s the story behind the drink - and the flowers and berries floating in the glass - that will keep you remembering this cocktail.
According to a server, one with a romantic streak, Chef Andrés spent a summer day with his daughters in a meadow - and whenever he wasn’t looking, his two young daughters would drop wildflowers into his drink, thinking he was unaware. Jaleo’s G&T is Andrés’ way of remembering that perfect day in Spain.
Molecular gastronomy makes an appearance in Jaleo’s liquid olives, dedicated to "Ferran Adria" of El Bulli: spherical blobs like tiny black egg yolks - and loaded with concentrated flavor. You want to keep spooning them into your mouth like caviar. Tiny baby potatoes, like doll fingers, are served with two sauces from the Canary Islands. You could easily snack on an entire bag of these while watching an Almodovar trilogy.
As the plates keep arriving, each one complementing the one before and the one after, the question keeps arising, "What’s your favorite? Which one do you like best?" Traditional chicken fritters served in a tennis shoe. Or a shooter of chilled gazpacho. Endive leaves arrive laden with goat cheese, oranges, and almonds.
And the "pan con tomate" is the epitome of summer simplicity: toasted slices of rustic bread slathered with garlic and fresh tomatoes. A warm Brussels sprout salad is flecked with apricots, apples and bits of Serrano ham - while a fennel salad is a tasty tangle of Manchego cheese, walnuts, and apples, dressed in sherry.
And then there’s the paella: smoky and delicious, reminding you of your first trip to Spain and the culinary revelations that ensued. You were young, a guest at someone’s home, and there was family and sangria, lots of sangria, and it was summer and everyone was laughing. The best summer of your life.
That’s what a meal at Jaleo does for you: it reminds you of what you love best about life. No wonder it’s so beloved.
LINK: Jaleo by José Andrés @ The Cosmopolitan
Mizumi @ The Wynn: Everything about the Wynn is stunning; after all, you’re dealing with a gay man’s aesthetic: Roger Thomas has worked with Steve Wynn for more than thirty years - and his extraordinary taste is in evidence at nearly every turn.
Mizumi, the brand-new Japanese restaurant, in the Wynn is no exception. A vision of red, black, and gold, the restaurant is also an example of understated and restrained design that focuses on space and perspective. The restaurant overlooks the Wynn’s private gardens with waterfalls and koi ponds; a pagoda table at the water’s edge is available for al fresco dining.
In such a refined setting, exceptional cuisine is almost mandatory. Chef Devin Hashimoto intuitively - and creatively - grasps the full expanse of Japanese cuisine, offering not only sushi and sashimi, but also robatayaki and teppanyaki. Signature sushi specialties include a Mizumi roll of Maine lobster, tamago, soy paper, with yuzu mustard aioli and a dragon roll of barbequed eel and snow crab.
For those interested in personal health and the health of the planet, all Wynn Resorts in Vegas offer vegan cuisine. Steve Wynn and his wife became vegan recently and now Wynn and Encore work with vegan wunderkind Chef Tal Ronnen to create animal-free meals that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are healthy.
Opened in May 2012, Mizumi is the latest star in Vegas’s constellation of fine dining.
Gordon Ramsay Steak @ Paris Las Vegas: To get to London from Paris, you have to pass through the Chunnel - even in Vegas. You leave behind the streets of Montmartre and the (painted) Parisian sky and enter a room festooned with a massive Union Jack.
The two-level space with private dining rooms overlooking the main floor of the Paris casino opened in May of 2012 - and already the restaurant is buzzing with a cacophony of global accents as omnivores from around the world chomp into Ramsay’s reinterpretation of American steakhouse fare.
Beef Wellington is a crowd-pleaser as is the toxically delicious toffee pudding. Cocktails (and wines) are ordered from an iPad and are as much fun to drink as they are to photograph.
The service at Gordon Ramsay Steak is impeccable and polished, not unlike a British gentleman - and the entire evening evokes the glories and good times of Merry Old England.
LINK: Gordon Ramsay Steak
miX in Las Vegas @ THEHotel at Mandalay Bay: You might come here for the view, which is arguably the best perspective of the Strip in all of Vegas, but you’ll be happy you’re eating Alain Ducasse’s classic French/American cuisine at this 64th-floor restaurant in the sky.
Named "Best Restaurant" (2006) by Travel + Leisure magazine, Mix is a mid-century Modern vision of white and silver with a sweeping staircase that recalls Morris Lapidus’s "Staircase to Nowhere" at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Murano glass bubbles float through the air - and even the bathrooms provide panoramic views.
Dining in this stunning room is the equivalent to floating in a cloud - and it’s no wonder that one recent evening a newly-married couple, the bride still in her wedding gown, chose Mix to celebrate their nuptials.
The menu is sprinkled with Ducasse’s signature dishes including lobster and shellfish artisanal pasta and baba a l’Armagnac, both from Louis XV in Monte Carlo, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood @ THEHotel at Mandalay Bay: When you feel like slurping oysters in the middle of the afternoon, this is where you want to be. Chef Rick Moonen has been a long-time advocate for ocean conservation, working to insure that his restaurants support sustainable fishing. All fish are caught or farmed without harm to the environment.
An oyster sampler of six oysters - three from the Pacific, three from the Atlantic - arrives with descriptions as evocative as wine. Best of all, each oyster is as delicious as the descriptive prose - so much so that a second sampler is mandatory.
RM Seafood utilizes produce from local purveyors, including the Andracki farm, which supplies Vegas restaurants with its basil, squash flowers, turnips, and radishes. A salad of organic greens from the Andracki family is sprinkled with yellow and orange marigold flowers - and tastes as fresh as if you were eating it in your mother’s garden.
Chef Moonen graduated first in his class at CIA in Hyde Park and his background has included New York stints at La Cote Basque, Le Cirque, Chelsea Central, and Oceana. Vegas has him now and seafood in the desert has never tasted better.
LINK: RM Seafood
(Feature continues on next pages: Where to Stay, Where to Drink, Where to Play, etc.)
Where to Stay:
THEHotel @ Mandalay Bay: A sanctuary on the south end of the Strip, the 43-story, golden tower glistens on the Vegas skyline like Midas’s palace, beckoning to those visitors who want a bit of privacy and discretion with their luxury accommodations.
Housed in the same complex as The Four Seasons, THEHotel is an all-suite property, with every suite at least 725 square feet. Each suite features at least 1 1/2 baths, with a separate living area with seating for five, as well as a bedroom - and a massive master bath that could handle the cast of "RuPaul’s Drag Race." Floor-to-ceiling windows feature views onto the Strip or Mandalay Beach or mountain views where you can watch the airplanes land and take off.
Furnished with mid-century modern reproductions in shades of brown, mauve, and gray, THEHotel suites are soothing and comfortable - and exactly the kind of home you want to return to after a long day at the spa and the malls. A wet bar makes it easy to serve martinis at sunset - or at dawn, your choice. Huge plasma televisions in the sitting room and bedroom are complemented by a third television in the master bath, which means that you can watch "Downton Abbey" while immersed in the deep soaking tub.
The staff at THEHotel is attentive and professional - and discreet. They honor Vegas’s m.o., insuring that what happens in your suite is your business - and no one else’s. The robes are particularly comfortable - lightweight and soft - and the bed is one you’ll yearn for when you return home.
The truth is, a few nights at THEHotel spoil you for reality - and at check-out, you’ll be plotting your return to THEHotel.
Where to Drink and Be Seen:
The Chandelier @ The Cosmopolitan: Surely you’ve seen the photos. Perhaps the most photographed bar in all of Vegas, The Chandelier is a multi-story architectural wonder of 2 million beaded crystals forming curtains of light - but it’s even better inside.
The three-level bar houses a trio of unique experiences, each one fueled by mixologist Meriena Mercer’s inspired elixirs. Prepared in their own cocktail kitchen, the concoctions utilize molecular mixology, liquid nitrogen, a sous-vide vacuum, and flame torches to create some of the Strip’s most innovative and festive - and potent - libations.
Sink back into a velvet banquette and watch the world swirl around you; you’re in the center of it all when you’re drinking in The Chandelier.
LINK: The Chandelier
MiX Lounge @ THEHotel at Mandalay Bay: It’s all about the view: high above the Strip on the 64th floor, miX Lounge offers one of the best perspectives on Vegas. Drink in the view with delicious cocktails; you’re the King of the World!
LINK: miX Lounge
Where to Play:
Revo Sundays @ Revolution Lounge @ The Mirage: The gays get Sunday nights - and straight clubs come out of the closet on Sundays. Revo Sundays at Revolution Lounge in the Mirage Resort and Casino is the weekly gay party at one of the Strip’s most beautiful lounge-clubs.
Run by the Light Group, one of the leading hospitality companies in the States, Revo Sundays gets it right with celebrity guests and world-class deejays and a vibe that insures that everyone is having crazy glamorous fun.
LINK: Revo Sundays
Temptation Sundays @ the Luxor: Every Sunday all summer long (through 9 September 2012), Las Vegas’s gayest pool party happens at Luxor’s North Pool from 1 - 7 pm. Hosted by J.Son of Naked Boy News and Sin City Times, this weekly pool party features themed events, celebrity guests, and cocktail specials.
This summer’s edition of Temptation Sundays includes a search for "The Tempter," the most mouthwatering man of the year. Each week, two guests are chosen and invited back for the final contest on August 19.
Succumb to temptation - and sin on Sunday.
LINK: Temptation Sundays
Piranha: Voted the best gay nightclub in Vegas by local magazine "Seven," Piranha is located three blocks from the Tropicana Hotel on the Strip on Paradise Road (where else?).
Piranha is connected to 8 1/2 Ultra Lounge, so it’s two small clubs in one, with an outdoor beer garden. Weekly events include Frat Haus Wednesdays, Fetish Fridays, and El Deseo Sundays (with lots of Latinos). Go-go boys and shot boys shake their moneymakers and parade around every night. Give in to it and have fun; you’re in Vegas, baby!
Piranha will be a primary sponsor of GayDays Las Vegas, happening 4-10 September 2012.
(Feature continues on next pages: Where to Pamper and Unwind, Where to Shop, What to See)
Where to Pamper and Unwind:
Qua Baths @ Caesars Palace: In a city of destination spas, a town with more than 45 luxury spas, there’s only one that harks back to the magnificent grandeur of the ancient Baths of Caracalla.
The magnificent Roman public baths were the inspiration for the demolished Penn Station in New York City - and Qua Baths at Caesars Palace are the ne plus ultra of luxurious retreat in Vegas.
More than fifty treatment rooms are complemented by seven facial rooms, an arctic ice room complete with falling snow, an herbal steam room, a cedar wood sauna, a laconium room for ultra-heat therapy, a barber spa, and a tea room staffed with a sommelier. (What? No dry cleaners?) In short, you could check into Qua Baths and easily spend an entire day indulging your body.
The 75-minute Lomi-Lomi massage is based on Hawaiian concepts of healing and energy - and at the conclusion of the treatment, you’re all but guaranteed nirvana.
Against a backdrop of dark wood and relaxing waterfalls, Qua Baths replicates the restorative regimens so loved by the Roman emperors. All hail Caesar - and Qua Baths!
LINK: Qua Baths @ Caesars Palace
Bathhouse @ THEHotel: This is the spa you head to when you want to get away from your posse and be alone. Discreet and private, Bathhouse at THEHotel features 12 treatment rooms, as well as sauna and steam, in a sleek and modern setting marked by black slate and glass.
Treatments include a Champagne facial, brown sugar manicure, and crème brûlée body wrap, all of which might make Bathhouse seem a little girly.
Not so if you opt for the Muscle & Joint massage with Jade Gua Sha, which is the treatment utilized by numerous Cirque de Soleil performers who swear that they recover faster and work more easily after this deep tissue massage.
Based on traditional East Asian medicine and formulas utilized by royal families, martial artists, and warriors, Gua Sha relaxes muscles and alleviates pain, swelling, and inflammation while strengthening joints.
Jade is a natural emitter of infrared rays that gently heat your body and the result is an increase in natural filtration, the flow of chi, and the removal of damaged tissue and cells.
Mind you, this treatment takes fortitude - but if you’re the sort who always yearns for something deeper and harder, Muscle & Joint with Jade Gua Sha has your name on it.
LINK: Bathhouse @ THEHotel
Where to Shop:
Fashion Show Mall: So you’re walking through the mall, bags in hand - when suddenly, a catwalk rises from the floor. And then a stage! And the mannequins onstage start to move and walk the runway. They’re real; they’re human - and you’re in the middle of the Fashion Show Mall and there’s a fashion show going on, with cameras flashing and music pumping. This isn’t your little old hometown mall. Where else but Vegas?
Fashion Show Mall is the largest shopping venue on the Strip, anchored by Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s Home, Macy’s, Dillard’s - and over 250 stores. Every weekend, from Friday through Sunday, fashion shows happen with local models - and during the holiday season, Santa arrives in a red convertible with his elves, all of them working the runway. Snow falls inside during winter, while outside, "The Cloud," a 128-foot multimedia platform over the entrance, projects films.
Everything’s a show in Vegas - and at Fashion Show Mall, everyone’s a star. Work it!
LINK: Fashion Show Mall
What to See:
Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil @ New York, New York: Opened in 2003, this is the R-rated Cirque du Soleil. Sexy and salacious, Zumanity is equal parts cabaret and burlesque - and loads of fun. For years, New York legend Joey Arias played the Mistress of Sensuality, which is now played by New York stage star and showgirl Edie, who employs sass and sarcasm - and lots of heart - in her teasing seduction of the audience. The perfect show to get your hormones raging.
Le Reve The Dream @ Wynn Las Vegas: If you’re visiting Vegas with your mother, she’s going to love this show. With a cast of 93 and a one million-gallon pool, Le Reve is performed at the purpose-built Aqua Theater where every seat is within 40 feet of the stage.
Every cast member of Le Reve is scuba-certified, which gives you an idea of the show’s primary thrust. Think water ballet and Cypress Gardens and Esther Williams. Forget about narrative - although there is one - and focus instead on the phenomenal physicality of the performers as they defy gravity and soar through the air and water.
Named for the 1932 oil painting by Picasso, which is owned by Steve Wynn, Le Reve is a spectacular dream that embodies some of the splendid excesses of its hometown.
LINK: Le Reve @ Wynn Las Vegas
Shark Reef @ Mandalay Bay: In a town notable for its fantastic spectacles, there’s something satisfying about rediscovering the wonders of the natural world.
Over 2,000 animals in nearly 2 million gallons of water populate Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, including piranha, jellyfish, lionfish, monitors, rays, Burmese pythons, and sawfish - and, of course, sharks.
Completed in 2000 at a cost of $60 million, Shark Reef is dedicated to conservation and preservation, while adhering to high standards of animal care. Even the more ferocious specimens - did we mention Komodo dragons? - seem at home in their Vegas habitat. The Touch Pool enables guests to pet rays and horseshoe crabs.
Walk into the 1.3-gallon shipwreck where sharks swim around you - and realize how happy you are that you can return to the pool.
LINK: Shark Reef