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Top 10 new experiences I tried in Las Vegas

23 July 2018

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS – The primary reason for our eight-day jaunt to Las Vegas earlier this month was the World Series of Poker. And, trust me, we spent our fair share amount of time inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino taking in the action, watching John Cynn outlast the second-biggest field in Main Event history, culminating with a record-breaking — and painfully long — heads-up duel with Tony Miles.

But, let's face it, a man can only watch and write about so much poker in one week. With the bright lights of Las Vegas beckoning outside the Rio, we did our best to mix in some pleasure with our business (as we often do when in Las Vegas) and managed to get out and try a wide array of new experiences along the way.

Here's 10 of those new items we were able to check off our list, and we’ve already started a list of more places to hit on our next visit.

Is there any wonder why we love this city so much?

10. New guest rooms at Harrah's

Anytime you can stay in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, it's a bonus. There's nothing like being smack dab in the middle of the action, and that's one of the benefits of staying at Harrah's Las Vegas Casino & Hotel – especially since Caesars Entertainment poured a $140 million into this signature brand property earlier this year, including a remodel of 1,622 guest rooms and suites in the Valley Tower.

The new Valley Tower Rooms were going for a "bold yet sophisticated décor," according to the press release, and the folks at Marnell Architecture nailed it. The rooms feature one king or two queen beds with luxury bedding, a huge wall mirror, which helps the room feel much bigger, and an electronic device docking station. The bathrooms are also ultra-hip, with an oversized vanity with a backlit mirror and a killer rain shower.

Downstairs, there's a new lobby bar with 12 gaming stations, seating with charging stations, a new Starbucks and a completely remodeled, and always lively, casino floor.

During off times, you can score one of these rooms for less than $60 a night, so if you're a value hunter, now is the time to pounce on these new rooms, as Harrah's celebrates its 80th anniversary.

9. Three nights at Palace Station

Yes, staying on the Strip is a "must" for a first-time visitor to Las Vegas, but getting away from the hustle and bustle is always a nice change of pace.

That's why we hit up Palace Station Hotel and Casino, another Las Vegas property that's spent millions of dollars in recent months upgrading everything, including its guest rooms, the buffet, the swimming pool area and the bingo room. And there's much more in the works, including a new poker room, a new sportsbook and a nine-screen luxury movieplex.

If you've been to Las Vegas, you have no doubt seen Palace Station off in the distance, lurking about two miles north of the Rio, just off Route 15.

First off, I'm a sucker for Las Vegas history, and The Palace is dripping with it. It just recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, after being opened by Frank Fertitta, Jr. as “The Casino” in July 1976. Later renamed "Bingo Palace," this was the first property owned by what is now Station Casinos. The company, which now boasts 18 properties in its portfolio, has spent $192 million at The Palace. We were able to experience one of the renovated rooms and also got a sneak preview of the new Feast Buffet, which opened to the public last week. No surprise here: It got some rave reviews.

What we liked most about our stay is that The Palace has been able to completely update the entire property, while not eliminating its history or charm.

A bonus from my time spent there was being able to finally make it to one of its legendary offerings, one of the few sections of the casino not being touched by the renovation – and for good reason, and we'll touch on that further down in this column.

Bottom line: The Palace really is a fine choice for an off-Strip option. An Uber ride to the Strip is less than $10, it's a straight show down 15 to Downtown Las Vegas, and now with all of the new offerings, you can definitely spent a good portion of your stay within the confines of this property.

8. El Cortez Cabana Suites


If you're a regular reader of this space, it will come as no surprise that a visit to Downtown Las Vegas was on the trip itinerary.

A few years back, we stayed at El Cortez as the property celebrated its 75th anniversary, and upon our return this year we stayed across the street in the El Cortez Cabana Suites.

While El Cortez Hotel & Casino boasts that it is the longest continuously running hotel and casino in Las Vegas, the Cabana Suites didn’t come along until 2009. That's when owner Kenny Epstein bought former Ogden House motel (the site where Sharon Stone's character dies in the movie Casino) and put his daughter, Alexandra, in charge of transforming it into a 64-room boutique-style property.

Not all of the rooms are suites, but the ones that are not — which is where we stayed — are like "mini-suites," with ample room for a refrigerator and coffee machine (an amenity that's becoming increasingly rare in Las Vegas guest rooms), couch, iHome iPod docking station, 42-inch flat-screen TV and office desk. The design is chic, with retro colors and unique furniture. There's also a new fitness center on the first floor and a bowl of fruit always welcoming you as you walk through the main entrance.

Like Harrah's and Palace Station, these rooms are a bargain when you can find the dates when they run for less than $50. And you're steps away from the main El Cortez property, which is full of even more value-laden offerings such as 3-to-2 single-deck blackjack, $5 margaritas in the Parlour Bar and a Double Happy Hour at Ike's Bar, named after Kenny Epstein's father, a bookmaker from Chicago who helped open the Stardust back in the 1950s.

7. Mob Museum Speakeasy

We stay in Downtown Las Vegas for the next few items, beginning with The Speakeasy, found appropriately in the basement of the Mob Museum, just a few blocks away from El Cortez.

While we highly recommend taking the time to tour the entire museum, especially if you are a mob/Las Vegas history buff, if you’re pressed for time, a visit to The Speakeasy is a great alternative. Not only are you surrounded by artifacts from the 1920s, but there is a working distillery and a menu with dozens of Prohibition Era cocktails such as Lost City (bourbon, smoked maple, lemon, sparkling water), Moonshine Mayhem (moonshine, pineapple, tea, cardamom), Giggle Water (seasonal fruit-infused vodka, lillet, bitters, sparkling water) and Last Night in Vegas (bourbon, Fernet Menta, cold brew coffee).

6. Citrus Grand Pool Deck

Since there is no pool at El Cortez and it was over 100 degrees most every day of my stay, I beat the heat by walking three blocks down the street from my Cabana Suite to the Downtown Grand Las Vegas. On the rooftop of the resort sits the Citrus Grand Pool Deck, which is open to non-guests of the hotel, free of charge.

With scenic views of DTLV, this 35,000 square foot area is much more than just a swimming pool area. There is a restaurant and full bar, semi-private cabanas, a fire pit, backyard games including cornhole, foosball, table tennis and a grass-turf seating area with umbrellas and day beds.

The menu at the restaurant is the creation of the resort's Chef Scott Commings, a Season 12 winner of Hell’s Kitchen, and has some interesting choices such as Brick Fired Lavash Flatbreads, Jicama & Feta Salad, Hummus & Grilled Pita and Pineapple Soft Serve Ice Cream.

Whether you're using it for a quick dip and a few cocktails like we did, or making it an all-day affair, Citrus is a great option.

5. Kentucky Mule at Corduroy
I had heard rumblings about the Kentucky and Moscow Mules at this locale that's one of the newer additions to Fremont Street's lengthy list of quality bars, but was blown away by the quality, ingredients and presentation of this bodacious cocktail.

First off, a key ingredient to any variation of a "mule" drink is the ginger beer. Corduroy makes theirs in-house (I did a shot of ginger juice for good measure), and it comes on tap from a five-gallon keg of deliciousness. Then, it's served in a frosty copper mug with a bushel of mint and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. No exaggeration here: One of the very best cocktails I've ever had.

Adding to the Corduroy allure are the high-energy bartenders and the classic '70s and '80s decor and music of choice. I'm already trying to clear my schedule for next visit so I can experience Finding Emo Tuesdays or Boozy Bingo Thursday.

4. The Wall Esports Gaming Lounge

OK, back to the Strip, where we spent a large portion of our trip at the Rio for the WSOP. However, we did make sure to get over a new addition to the property, The Wall Esports Gaming Lounge, the first permanent esports venue for Caesars Entertainment.

Full disclosure: I'm not a "gamer" and I'm not even going to try and pretend to be one (last time I did, it didn't work out well). But this 24,000 square-foot space (former home of McFadden's Irish Pub) has a very cool vibe.

Currently, there are 30 "high-performance" Alienware gaming PCs, as well as a number of console gaming stations, with cash tournaments and daily challenges. The décor is littered with graffiti artwork inspired by all the hottest games available, and there is also ample space to sit down on a comfy couch, grab a drink from the self-serve beverage wall (choices are espresso, coffee, sports drinks, energy drinks, hibiscus tea and kombucha) and chill.

The Wall is being completed in phases and will eventually have more food and beverage offerings, with a long menu of craft beers, as well as virtual reality and bar games.

3. Encore Sportsbook
You didn’t think we'd go an entire Las Vegas column without mentioning a sportsbook, did you?

While the summer is typically slow time for Las Vegas sportsbooks, that wasn't the case in late June/early July, thanks to the FIFA World Cup, which draws huge action. We caught some of the semifinals at a book we had not yet visited at Encore Las Vegas.

While sister property Wynn Las Vegas has one of the very best books on the Strip, Encore Resort just introduced its "boutique" version last year. It's not nearly as vast or spacious as the Wynn or the Westgate SuperBook, but that's not the point. The goal of this book was to give Encore guests who don’t want to walk over the Wynn a place to bet and hang out and watch games and it does the trick.

The convenient and comfortable venue is located on the main casino floor and has 50 cozy leather chairs, 20 small screen TVs and one giant big screen. There is also a counter-top bar that goes along the outside of the area with 20 high-top seats.

Definitely a nice addition to a resort that was already a personal favorite.

2. The Rock-N-Roll Piano Show at Paris

One of the greatest things about a trip to Las Vegas is that at some point you are bound to stumble into something different and unique that you've never experienced before. That's what happened to our small group early last week when we were strolling through Paris Las Vegas, looking for a spot to grab a quick post-dinner cocktail. We walked into Napoleon's Lounge, just off the promenade, just as Billy Kraus was beginning his The Rock-N-Roll Piano Show. Kudos to Kraus, because our quick-drink turned into three or four drinks, thanks to his wildly entertaining show.

Kraus' act is completely built on requests. He claims to know almost any hit from the last 50 years, and audience members can test him simply by writing down on a slip of paper what they want to hear and then dropping it off on his piano. We heard everything from Kool & The Gang to Barry Manilow to Bon Jovi to Queen. Kraus have every song his own unique flair and kept everyone begging for more.

The Rock-N-Roll Piano Show is at Napoleon's Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights beginning at 9 a.m. and at New York-New York Hotel & Casino on Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

If you love live, classic music, it’s a must-see.

1. Oyster Bar at Palace Station

Ever been told by so many people that a certain place is so good, it could never possibly live up to the grand expectations? That is certainly not the case with The Oyster Bar at Palace Station, which I now can say with confidence is "worth the wait."

Worth the wait, because even though it's open 24/7, very rarely will you walk by and not see a line to sit down at the 18-seat bar. I returned from a late-night session of covering poker at 1:30 a.m. on an early Thursday morning and waited just over an hour to sit down. Don’t regret it for a second.

I started with a half-dozen Oysters on the Half Shell, and they nailed the "melt in your mouth" taste test. But the real treat was the Shrimp, Crab and Lobster Combo Pan Roast. Downright epic with its creamy tomato base, hint of brandy and steamed rice. All the dishes are made to order right in front of your eyes in giant steel pots that are heated by high-pressure steam systems. All you need to do is provide your server with your preferred spice level (1 to 10).

While some may bristle at waiting in line for hours to eat, that's part of the charm at The Oyster Bar. While I was waiting in line, everybody was talkative, asking each other of they'd ever eaten here and, if so, what they recommend. People would tag their friends or spouses in and out line, going off to gamble or grab cocktails, and when the good folks in front of me saw that I was flying solo, they were nice enough to fetch me some drinks.

As mentioned above, The Palace is the latter stages of a massive renovation, but The Oyster Bar will not be touched, and for good reason. Sometimes less is more, and that's the case here.
Top 10 new experiences I tried in Las Vegas is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
 

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Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT