Where else can you breakfast on foie gras while playing roulette at 5 a.m. in an attempt to pay for the designer duds you’d partied in at MGM Grand’s Hakkasan after dining on a 5-course meal at Nobu prior to downing $20 cocktails at the chic Cosmopolitan in celebration of your spontaneous vow renewal witnessed by a gaggle of strangers through the windows of the hotel’s street-facing pop-up wedding chapel?
The pop-up wedding chapel at The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino
Ah, yes, Vegas… the world’s largest hedonistic playground. Affectionately known as Sin City, the tagline of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority’s wildly successful 2003 advertising campaign, “What happens here, stays here”, continues to stick as a slew of openings breathe new air to the Las Vegas Strip.
Part of the relatively new City Center complex
More of the City Center complex
The Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan
Another side to The Chandelier Bar
The Bellagio’s 1,200 dancing fountains and its 9-acre lake were once the focal point of the Strip. Now, multistory bars swathed in strands of crystals lure you in with their delectable artisan elixirs; Cirque du Soleil shows perform around the clock; ubiquitous frozen daiquiri counters arm wanderers with giant plastic vessels of sugary concoctions; and pseudo-shopping malls offer branded stores galore – Gucci, Valentino, Prada, Chanel — alongside sculptures of fine art. From Wolfgang Puck to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and a Starbucks on every corner, it’s all jammed side-by-side on the Strips’ stretch.
Along with its sleek facade and moderate use of neon, the 67-acre, City Center complex introduced sustainability in design when it debuted in 2009 – its 4004-room Aria Resort is LEED certified, the casino’s slot machines function as air conditioners, and energy efficient initiatives save the property 50 million gallons of water per year. More newsworthiness: chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened his first-ever eponymous hotel this year in Caesars Palace with feng shui-inspired guest rooms and sake-stocked mini bars; MGM Grand’s Stay Well rooms are equipped with Vitamic C infused shower water, a Deepak Chopra Wellness channel, and dawn simulator alarm clocks. Meanwhile, Vdara Hotel & Spa does away with gambling altogether, instead focusing on holistic health-inspired services, spa treatments, and poolside relaxation.
Hotels making up the CityCenter complex
Inside Caesars Palace
Canals at the Venetian
Las Vegas is the only city that I know to house dozens of restaurants by numerous top chefs across a handful of properties. Try choosing between Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa, Tom Colicchio, Joel Rubuchon, Hubert Keller, Guy Savoy, Francois Payard, Michael Mina, Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Scott Conant, Todd English, José Andrés, and/or Bobby Flay when you’re in town for just a few days. It’s tough.
The Strip at dusk
Dining with a Royal Corgi at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Caesars Palace
The growing electronic music scene has led to DJ residencies like Tiesto at MGM Grand’s Hakkasan
And there’s more to come. To keep up with the times, construction of older properties means an abundance of scaffolding and sidewalk detours — New York New York and Monte Carlo are undergoing $100 million worth of facelifts and new additions; the Delano Las Vegas is set to open in Q3 2014; and SLS Las Vegas is scheduled to debut in Fall 2014 near the Stratosphere and Circus Circus — a part of the strip that feels a little starved of attention. Utilising the bones of the old Sahara resort, the consolidated casino-hotel will feature a Fred Segal outpost, dining spots Katsuya by Starck and The Bazaar by José Andrés, and a reinvention of SBE’s original nightlife concept, Shelter.
Oh, and Britney Spears joins the ranks of resident acts like Celine Dion and Elton John– her two-year, $30-million-plus-paying Planet Hollywood-based Piece of Me residency starts on December 27th. With the electronic music scene having found its niche in Vegas, global DJs including Tiesto and Deadmau5 have settled into nightclub residencies of their own, earning nightly fees of up to $300,000 as the club’s drink sales total some $1.5 million per show.
The view of SLS Las Vegas’ construction
The Eiffel Tower, at the Paris Hotel & Casino
Arc de Triomphe with Gordon Ramsay restaurant advertising
The Strip as seen from Caesars Palace
Now, if the Strip’s activity gets too much; if it starts to feel weird to see the Eiffel Tower and Colosseum across the road from one another; if listening to a gondolier serenade a couple on a Venetian canal begs the question, “Am I in Italy?” — then run to the nearest car rental and drive 20 miles east towards Red Rock Canyon where you will inhale the fresh air, connect with the Mojave Desert, and take a hike… literally.
Red Rock Canyon