Gay Times in Vegas
In spite of its reputation as a town to let go of inhibitions, Las Vegas has not had, until recently, a mainstream gay nightlife. Oh, there’s an area off the Strip affectionately called the "Fruit Loop" that houses a number of smaller gay bars, but as for anything equivalent to the big clubs in New York or Los Angeles, there really was nothing.
It’s not that Vegas is homophobic, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that mainstream gay events were more visible in the resort corridor. It took one LGBT promoter to bring a gay event to the Strip and then, suddenly, the LGBT scene flourished, bringing a revitalized nightlife to LGBT people.
While there are summer pool parties and gay clubs to be found on the boulevard, events like Gay Pride are still in their infancy - which is one reason why Vegas is working to increase their LGBT visibility by attracting the gay community to a destination that would seem to be a perfect match.
And that’s what makes Vegas so interesting right now.
For those who live in larger cities, Vegas can be a nice escape from the 24-hour onslaught of gay clubs, parties, and events. So while Vegas promoters are attempting to give the LGBT community more options for gay events, let’s face it, life doesn’t always have to be a gay party.
Vegas isn’t only a place to drink, gamble, and dance; the city is abundant with first-rate shows (hello, Cher and Celine), non-gaming hotels, and opulent spas that offer the best in pampering and self-indulgence. If that’s not enough, there are also amazing restaurants around every corner with menus designed by world-renowned chefs.
The Vdara Hotel
If you haven’t been to the Las Vegas Strip in a while, the first thing you’ll notice is how much it’s changed. After a recession that hurt the Strip, recent additions have inspired resurgence, most notably in the area known as CityCenter.
Started by MGM Resorts International and later joined by Dubai World as a joint partner, the largest privately-funded construction project in the history of the U.S. connects many MGM properties together including the Monte Carlo, Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Vdara, Veer Towers, the Bellagio, and the Crystals - a retail and entertainment area located in the center of it all.
Nestled between the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Aria rises a building that stands apart from the others, notably for its unusual concave shape. That concave shape has caused the hotel a bit of a headache, but I’ll get back to that little nugget in a sec.
The Vdara itself is a classy affair. Not only is it a green building (as is most of City Center), but it’s also smoke-free, casino-free, and nightclub-free. This immediately gives it a sense of being a cut above the rest and also allows for an air (no pun intended) of relaxation. There are the standard features like a café, bar, and restaurant, as well as a pool, gym, juice bar, and salon.
Most interestingly, the Vdara is the proud owner of something called Solar Convergence. Because of the concave design and the building’s reflective surface, the reflective light of the sun causes a slightly dangerous "death ray" to travel across the pool on a daily basis. This ray has been known to singe hair and melt plastic. While this phenomenon remains a problem, it’s an interesting facet of hotel design. And the truth is, I didn’t experience the death ray, nor did I hear anyone complaining about it.
There are 1,495 suites that include both single and deluxe studios and one and two bedroom penthouses, some of which can be purchased and then rented out to guests by the owners themselves.
Walking into the spacious 582-square-foot Deluxe Studio Suite you immediately step into the tiled kitchen. To the right, there is a cute table for two, a mini-kitchenette with a small burner, under-the-counter fridge, sink and plenty of cupboard space. Once you pass through, you enter the living room complete with couch, chair, wooden desk, and a view to die for. Not only that, but if you need to get a little shut-eye during the daylight hours, a simple touch of a button and black-out curtains descend - automatically sealing off most of the light from the outside.
To the left, you enter the bedroom which is separated from the living room by a wall that houses a 42" TV on either side (one for the bedroom, the other for the living room.) The bed is amazingly comfortable with mattresses designed exclusively by Sealy, and the pillows are soft, but amazingly supportive. The décor is made of cherry wood giving the room a classic and sophisticated feeling.
Through a frosted sliding glass door is the ample bathroom that has a stand-alone glass shower, large vanity, and a deep soaking tub (which I used repeatedly during my stay). It’s simple, beautiful, and elegant - and includes more towels than you could possibly need.
The only drawback I really found was the registration desk which - upon checkout time - had a line that wrapped around a roped partition like a ride in Disneyland. Despite that, the hotel representatives were all very kind and knowledgeable and handled every issue or problem with grace. The Vdara is a hotel that makes you feel like a million bucks, and in Vegas, what more could you want?
Located in the Aria Hotel and Casino is a charmingly decorated restaurant featuring clever interpretations of Spanish fare. Featuring an array of tapas and paellas, as well as main course dishes such as Colorado lamb chops and a lobster tail dish called mariscada, Julian Serrano has a little bit of something for everybody.
My lunch started off with a simple goat cheese salad of mixed greens, romesco, mint, grilled green onions, and roasted cherry tomatoes. The flavors were light and tasty and didn’t fill me up before I got to my tapas selections.
For a sort of "main-course" tapas, I had the pintxo de moruno which is marinated pork loin on a skewer with each bite of meat separated by pancetta. The perfectly sized portion is placed on a small bed of tasty toasted couscous punctuated with raisins.
Dessert consisted of a dense Santiago almond cake with a side of turron ice cream and candied almonds that was surprisingly not heavy. But the best item I ordered - and the one thing I could literally eat every day for the rest of my life - were the stuffed dates. A plate of four, each date was stuffed with a Marcona almond wrapped in applewood bacon and then deep-fried causing the date to be juicy and tender and the sweetness to enliven your mouth. With a side of spicy piquillo sauce for those that want a bit of spicy with their sweet and savory, the stuffed date is truly to die for.
Owned by fellow-gay Susan Feniger, Border Grill is upscale Mexican food for a discerning crowd. While there is an extensive lunch and dinner menu, it is the Border Brunch that can be a filling treat for one or more. With seventeen items to choose from, it’s easy to fill up with just three or four, but your instinct will be to keep on ordering.
The best of the lot were the plantain empanadas that are filled with roasted plantains, black beans, poblano, and cotija cheese, then deep-fried for a sweet and savory treat. The machaca chilaquiles were also of ample size and included slow-cooked beef brisket, crispy corn tortilla chips, Mexican cheeses, roasted chiles, and eggs all mixed together like a breakfast nacho pile.
The fresh fruit plate nicely cleansed the palate with its tasty papaya, pineapple, and melon slices. Lastly, the steak and egg with crispy poblano potatoes is almost a meal in itself, so be sure to share. If you’re hungry, this is certainly the place to be. Generous portions and a sizeable menu - not to mention a collection of specialty beverages - make Border Grill a must stop for brunch.
Nestled on the third floor of the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas is a charmingly rustic wine bar/restaurant by Chef Scott Conant and named after a category of Italian wine called Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita - or - the highest level of Italian wine origin.
Featuring an extensive menu of Italian wines (you can only order by the bottle) and an appropriately Italian menu, D.O.C.G. would be a comfortable fit in Soho or Greenwich Village. Consisting of meat, poultry, and fish dishes, it also has nice selections of pizzas like the D.O.C.G.. Pizza which is layered with fonduta, egg, and truffles. Pastas are equally potent and recall both classic flavors and updated high-end tastes.
Main dishes include a veal chop, scallops, and the dish I had: wood-roasted chicken over spring vegetables. Basically an entire small bird, it was cooked perfectly with a crispy skin and tender, juicy meat on the inside. The dish could have used a few more vegetables as they seemed more garnish than anything else, but all in all it was just the right size as to not be too filling.
There is an extensive after-dinner drink list to go with the myriad of desserts include pineapple cake with coconut sorbet, a chocolate mousse bar with malt shake, and the most popular dessert, the caramel budino which is like a liquid pudding with a salted caramel sauce on top. Really sweet, but seriously tasty!
My favorite of the restaurants visited (which is even difficult to say as I enjoyed them all), Japonais - located in the Mirage Resort and Casino - has beautiful décor and a menu that is colossally hard to choose from. While it has a sushi bar and, therefore, a nice selection of sushi, it is the entrees that you will be hard pressed to choose from.
I recommend the kaiso - a marinated sweet vinegar seaweed salad with fresh cucumbers and toasted sesame. As someone who doesn’t eat seafood, my dinner date was surprised at my choice, but I found the seaweed to be a fun, crunchy texture and the marinade sweet and yummy.
By far, the menu item I most remember from my trip to Vegas and probably one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in years was the braised short ribs glazed with a hoison sauce and topped with balls of roasted tomatoes and poached pears. In the center of more sauce was a creamy pile of Japanese sweet potato puree that only added to the deliciousness of the main course. And those short ribs... From the first moment my fork entered, the flaky meat just fell away into moist goodness that almost had me on the floor. With a slight crunch on the edges to the amazingly tender meat on the inside, I don’t think I could have asked for something more mouth-watering or "culinar-ily" arousing. Seriously. And I realize I just made up a word, but there aren’t any other words to describe it. It’s a must when you’re in Vegas.
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