Mirage Las Vegas Tests Comped Drink Voucher System and Everything is Ruined

Seriously, Mirage, are you trying to make this blog’s head explode?

On a recent episode of the Five Hundy by Midnight podcast, the hosts discussed a new system for issuing comped drinks at Mirage Las Vegas. The system sounded so horrific (for Vegas, anyway), it couldn’t possibly be true.

Off we went to investigate. As usual, this Las Vegas blog’s “investigations” involve drinking and gambling, the only kind of investigating worth doing, if you ask us.

We sidled up to the Mirage’s Lobby Bar (yes, we’ve been known to sidle) and slipped $20 into a video poker machine. A very friendly bartender immediately took our order and comped our Captain and diet.

Mirage Lobby Bar

It’s actually called Lobby Bar. Because naming things is hard.

Here’s where things went exponentially south.

See, the Mirage is testing a new system for monitoring and dispensing comped drinks. Free drinks, of course, are one of the most hallowed of all Las Vegas casino traditions, despite recent trends where casinos swap out liquor brands without informing customers, but that’s a rant for a different time.

As with most casino bars, you’re comped your first drink at Mirage’s Lobby Bar, as long as you put at least $20 in the machine. After that, however, you have to earn your drinks, and the decision as to whether you’ve played enough to earn a comp is no longer in the hands of your bartender.

That’s right, your video poker machine decides when you deserve another drink. Not a person. Mirage now employs cocktail-deciding robots from Hell.

How often you earn a comp depends upon several factors. The denomination you’re playing is a key factor. We played quarters, but a higher denomination game spits out drink vouchers more frequently, allegedly.

Mirage Vegas comp drink voucher

“We gave our lives for this abomination?” ~Trees

Also, your length of play is part of the comped drink calculation. Take any kind of break while you’re playing (to Tweet or converse with a friend) and your comp is delayed further.

Brace yourself.

After our first free drink, we played more than an hour (one hour and five minutes, to be exact, with a couple of five minute breaks in play) before we got a voucher for another comped drink. In other words, an eternity in drinking years.

Yes, this happened in Las Vegas. The one in America.

It’s worth noting your drink voucher is valid for 24 hours from the time it’s issued. Big, meet whoop.

Not surprisingly, this new system is universally loathed, not just by customers, but also by bartenders.

Imagine being a Vegas bartender faced with customers who are gambling (holding up their end of the player-casino bargain), and you can’t serve a drink because a machine hasn’t deemed your customer worthy of one. Let the disgruntlement begin, assuming that’s an actual word.

Now, granted, most casinos have standing policies about how much you need to play to get comped drinks.

Bartenders know how much you’re playing, and they have some discretion as to when your next comped drink is allowed. Not at the Lobby Bar at Mirage. And it’s just a matter of time before this virus infects other casino bars, mark our words.

The drink voucher system at Mirage, if allowed to expand to other Mirage casino bars, or other resorts in the MGM Resorts family, is the beginning of the end of comped cocktails in Las Vegas as we know them.

Now, the good news! The video poker machines at the Mirage Lobby Bar are flipping loose. While waiting the hour for our second cocktail, we nailed two four-of-a-kinds and won more than $200. Suck it, The Man.

Video poker four aces

Mojo is the best revenge.

This comped drink voucher system has flown under the radar in Las Vegas, and we can only hope it goes the way of other short-lived, ill-considered penny-pinching strategies.

Does Mirage care about the black eye this could give the resort? Not really, it’s being sold. But it should care. And in this case, caring needs to take the form of killing.

As with any misguided Las Vegas experiments, the best way to make sure it dies is to vote with your dollars. Ask your bartender if they’re on the voucher system, and if so, take your business somewhere else. You deserve better for your gambling spend.

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Sneak Preview: Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes Comes to Downtown’s Fremont East

The long-awaited arrival of Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes on Fremont East in downtown Las Vegas has arrived.

The new burger joint opens Aug. 29, 2015.

Flippin' Good Burgers

Downtown Las Vegas: You sort of get used to the WTF.

Because the new restaurant hasn’t officially opened yet, it’s not really fair to review it just yet. Then again, the food was good, so what the hell.

Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes is nothing too fancy, but it’s a solid addition to the new offerings downtown and should do a booming business given its price points and location.

Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes sits in the space formerly occupied by two downtown fixtures, Uncle Joe’s Pizza and Kabob Korner. The space is leased from the Downtown Project, but Downtown Project isn’t an investor as it is with several other downtown bars and restaurants.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Here’s a look at the Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes menu. Streamlined but satisfying.

Flippin' Good Burgers menu

You’re adorable when you squint.

Here’s the menu in a size humans can read without their retinas imploding.

The menu keeps it simple, with burgers, sandwiches, along with sides like hand-cut French fries, cheese fries and onion rings. Shakes and frozen custards round out the menu.

Flippin Good Burgers onion rings

Onion rings, mortal enemy of the mozzarella stick.

During the soft opening, we tried multiple items and liked them all. As the burgers are in the name of the restaurant, they will probably get the most scrutiny.

The basic burger, The Old Fashioned, is $4.25 ($8.05 as part of a combo). The price is right, the ingredients are fresh and it’s a burger comparable in quality to In-N-Out, but thicker and more filling. If you know anything about In-N-Out, you know we mean that comparison as a compliment, and In-N-Out does really, really well.

Flippin' Good Burgers Vegas

Consider your gullet sated.

While we’re comparing, the burgers at Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes wallop the over-hyped burgers at Shake Shack, hands down.

Also good are the turkey sliders and burger, as well as the crispy chicken sandwich.

It's no Chick-fil-A, but nothing is, really.

It’s no Chick-fil-A, but nothing is, really.

Here’s a little insider tip: Make sure to check out the list of items labeled “Sandwich Toppings Always Free” on the menu. Here, you’ll find some extras that allow you to customize your burger or sandwich. Easily overlooked, but swapping out BBQ sauce or hot sauce for mayo could make your meal even better, depending upon your culinary bent.

Before we move on, here’s another insider tip you won’t find elsewhere: If you’re a die-hard vegetarian, there’s slim pickings. (Again, the word “Burger” is in the name of the place.) However, there’s a secret menu and if you ask nicely, you can get a grilled cheese sandwich. Don’t say we never did anything for you. We’ll be ferreting out the rest of the secret menu in the weeks to come.

Onward and fullerward.

The shakes are pretty good, but Vegas is home to a lot of spectacular shakes. We’ll be back to try other flavors. They’re offered in huckleberry, strawberry, pineapple, chocolate, vanilla, banana and peanut butter.

Flippin' Good shake

If you ask nicely, you can get it with whipped cream. Something not uncommon in Vegas, if you get our drift.

The frozen custard and concretes (think Blizzards at Dairy Queen) are outstanding.

In the case of the concretes, which we’re fairly sure we’ll never get comfortable calling them, you can stick with the house specialties or create your own. Signature concretes include Mom’s Apple Pie, Macadamia Crunch, Banana Monkey and Brownie Delight. They run a reasonable $3.45 for eight ounces and $6.45 for 16 ounces.

Flippin' Good Burgers

The Brownie Delight can be summed up in four words: Ghirardelli. Look, we’re a Las Vegas blog, not an abacus.

As we are on Fremont East, there’s some liquor, but not a huge selection.

See below for the beer on tap, and there are also wine coolers. Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes doesn’t pretend to be a bar. There are already a few of those downtown.

Flippin' Good beer

Banger Brewing is about a block away, at Neonopolis. Ask about the free tour.

The interior of Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes is simple and clean. There are a mix of uncomfortable chairs (required by city ordinance in new downtown restaurants) and cushy booths.

While you can sit, this isn’t a sit-down restaurant, per se. No servers. You order at the counter, which ends up being a money-saver, as you can skip the tip.

Flippin' Good Burgers & Shakes

A fine place downtown to chillax, or whatever the kids are doing now.

Ultimately, Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes gets the job done and is sure to be a regular haunt for folks who work downtown (like this blog), and value-conscious bar-hoppers. Those party animals and hipsters with cocktail-driven cravings often hit up Radio City Pizzeria’s walk-up window for a slice because it’s right across the street. That restaurant closes Aug. 29, 2015. Flippin good timing!

Once it opens, we expect Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes will join our regular rotation of downtown restaurants. Las Vegas blogs do not live by Pizza Rock alone.

Flippin’ Good Burgers will be open 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10:30 to 3:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Give it a try, mention we sent you, and let us know what you think.

Flippin' Good Burgers & Shakes

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Little Darlings Strip Club Makes Dramatic Play for Asian Tourists

The love affair between Las Vegas casinos and Asian gamblers has been well-documented.

For example, Chinese travelers stay longer in Las Vegas than other international gamblers and when they’re here, they spend more (about $3,200 per person, per trip). Recently, the Bellagio even went so far as to mount a multi-million dollar theatrical production to woo Asian tourists.

Now, a Las Vegas strip club has made an ingenious move to attract Asian customers. Little Darlings, an all-nude strip club just off The Strip, has altered its name (or at least its signage) to appeal to Chinese tourists.

Little Darlings strip club

In Chinese, the name Ling can mean “spirit” or “chime,” either of which would make a solid stripper name, come to think of it.

Las Vegas seems to have an insatiable appetite for big spenders from Asia, so this move by Little Darlings comes as no surprise to seasoned Sin City observers.

The jury’s still out about whether Little Darlings plans to permanently change its name to “Little Lings,” and some question whether such blatant marketing gimmicks will have their intended effect.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment if you’d like to wèi in.

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Downtown’s VegeNation Restaurant Is So Good You Might Consider Switching Teams

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. This blog is not a vegetarian and we know next to nothing about vegetarianism or its derivations.

We also know nothing about Veganism, Fruitarianism, Pescetarianism, Flexitarianism or Pollotarianism. About the only “ism” we’re familiar with is Captain Morganism, and we don’t actually remember too much about it, for whatever reason.

VegeNation

You always remember your first time. In a vegan restaurant. Without it being some kind of fraternity hazing.

That said, we support the humane treatment of animals and aspire to consuming less meat, so the recent opening of VegeNation (pronounced VEDG-uh-nation) restaurant in downtown Las Vegas perked up our ears.

We finally took the leap and tried this new dining offering downtown, mainly because we heard there are menu items resembling food real people eat. We’re pleased to report VegeNation has all that and more.

VegeNation Las Vegas

VegeNation has its fair share of stylish, painfully uncomfortable chairs. It’s the law in new Vegas restaurants. There are cushy booths, too, so there’s something for every kind of badonkadonk. If that’s still a thing.

VegeNation is a vegan restaurant, describing itself as “a community-based restaurant serving fresh, global street food.” But don’t hold that mumbo-jumbo against it.

Here’s the part that’s both daunting to carnivores and exciting for those on the other team: Everything at VegeNation is 100% plant-based. Don’t freak out. Like we did. Just go with it.

The word-of-mouth is strong with VegeNation, and we heard raves about the spaghetti and meatballs. It’s the dish that got us in the place and it didn’t disappoint.

The Mama Mia entree was delicious and is pretty much going to be our go-to dish downtown when we’re in the mood for making the world a better place for animals.

VegeNation

We were told it’s the wheat gluten in the soy that gives the meatballs their meat-like texture. When it comes to vegan food, the less you know the better.

We’d recommend trying VegeNation based upon the Mama Mia alone, but there are many other tempting dishes, too. We have no idea if they’re any good, because we weren’t adventurous enough to try very many, but people with more of a vegan bent said flattering things about them, so we’ll go with that.

The Bao Wow had Asian BBQ tofu, spinach and mushroom on a bao bun. These were flying out of the kitchen at VegeNation.

VegeNation restaurant Vegas

We have not personally had spinach or mushrooms since the early ’90s, so we defer to our fellow diners.

Next up was the Casa Blanca. In the menu, it’s described with these words: “Moroccan Tagine Harissa Spiced Veggies.”

Seriously, the only part of that we recognize is “Moroccan.” We’re pretty sure the “tagine” is either what the dish is called, or the pot in which it’s served, or both. There should probably be a comma somewhere. Anyway, we tried it, and again, the dish was bursting with interesting, unfamiliar flavors.

You’ll have to tell us if you like it.

VegeNation Las Vegas

Harissa often contains cumin, coriander, caraway and mint. Which we’re pretty sure was the name of a popular folk band during the Nixon administration.

While light, the meal was filling. Almost too filling to consider dessert. After all, dessert in a vegan restaurant sounds about as appealing as taking a charisma class from Criss Angel.

Thankfully, we ordered the Brownie Sundae, and it’s pretty much as life-altering as a bean-based dessert can be. Seriously, the brownie is made from black beans.

And it’s absolutely scrumptious.

VegeNation brownie sundae

VegeNation’s Brownie Sundae is officially our thing of choice to be stranded with on a deserted island that’s not Stratosphere headliner Claire Sinclair.

You can check out the full VegeNation menu online.

Since we often have difficulty telling pomegranate molasses from a hole in the ground, you may want to check out a review from our mohawk-sporting foodie friend Al Mancini.

We are confident in conveying that the service at VegeNation was flawless. Shout-out to Levi, who made it known the restaurant does not limit its hires to vegetarians. There’s a lot of not judging going on at VegeNation it seems.

VegeNation

Not judging doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand.

Our only complaints at VegeNation were of the liquid variety. First, the restaurant doesn’t serve beverages in the Coke or Pepsi families. At one point, we were forced to say the words, “Everything is locally-sourced, right? Please locally source a can of diet Coke!”

Also, VegeNation doesn’t have a full bar. This isn’t a crime unless you’re a restaurant in downtown Las Vegas. There is some liquor available, but only the kind made by the boutique Las Vegas Distillery. So, no Captain Morgan. We’ll survive.

Vegenation is located in a booming “restaurant row” downtown, sitting adjacent to Glutton and Zydeco Po-Boys, all backed by the Downtown Project and Zappos’ Tony Hsieh. See more.

VegeNation

The streetside patio will be lovely when it’s not 140-degrees in Las Vegas. At night.

VegeNation is a worthy addition to the downtown dining explosion, even for those who would never set foot in a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. While we’re not ready to “change teams” just yet, it’s great discovering there are far more tasty, animal-free dining options than we ever knew existed.

You’re sure to find something to love at VegeNation, and you’ll feel better about yourself and your place in the food chain when you do.

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Bellagio Resort Delivers on Promise of Spectacle With High-Tech Kabuki Show

Bellagio’s making some bigtime moves on Japan at the moment, and recently pitched some woo as only Las Vegas can, with a world-class spectacle.

The hotel built a 165-foot stage on its lake, home of the famous Bellagio dancing fountains, and hosted five performances of “Koi-Tsukami,” or “Fight With a Carp,” a classic kabuki piece starring Japanese actor Ichikawa Somegoro.

Kabuki at Bellagio

The plot: Samurai meets maiden. Samurai realizes maiden is a carp spirit who’s taken human form to avenge the death of her carp lover. All hell breaks loose.

Each of the 30-minute shows, staged Aug. 14-16, 2015, were attended by about 10,000 people, according to hotel reps.

Bellagio kabuki spectacular

Kabuki began in the 17th century when Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate, enforced by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Which we knew without looking at Wikipedia, probably.

The true star of the kabuki show at Bellagio was the technology.

A series of 15 Panasonic projectors, synchronized by computers, were used in the performances. Walls of water were backlit, turning the Bellagio’s fountains into a giant movie screen.

Bellagio kabuki show

The 20,000-lumen projectors had a 10,000:1 contrast ratio and WUXGA resolution, whatever those might actually be.

It was an impressive, and expensive, effort. The cost of the production was estimated to be in the millions.

Here’s a look at part of the show with the widest damn lens we could muster.

While people showed up in droves to watch the free show, the logistics of the production made it fairly difficult for most people in the audience to see what was happening on the stage. The best vantage point was in temporary risers, reserved for a few VIPs and members of the media, directly in front of the stage.

The difficult sight lines and overwhelming crowds led some to express disappointment in the shows. But here’s the thing. The shows, ultimately, weren’t for the crowds in attendance.

The kabuki shows at Bellagio were intended for Japanese audiences, in Japan.

MGM Resorts, owner of Bellagio, has for some time expressed interest in opening a casino resort in Japan. These shows on Lake Bellagio were the latest in a series of overtures to the people and government of Japan to legalize casinos in that country and let the good times roll, already.

Bellagio kabuki

Western audiences sometimes don’t appreciate the nuances of kabuki, saying, “The music is not unlike several wet cats being tossed into a crate full of random musical instruments.” Get a clue, Western audiences!

Other Las Vegas casino companies would love to build resorts in Japan (like Caesars, Wynn and Las Vegas Sands) but none have a “Kabuki Spectacular” under their belts.

And spectacular it was.

Bellagio and MGM Resorts have put their money where their collective mouth is and staked their claim to the Japanese market in a grand, highly-visible way.

Bellagio kabuki

“Fight With a Carp” ends unhappily, but let’s pretend the Samurai and carp spirit maiden live happily ever after. It’s America!

Whatever the motivation behind the kabuki shows at Bellagio, it was a great reminder Las Vegas always has something new in the works and possesses an endless capacity for pulling out all the stops in order to surprise and amaze.

While some of the Vegas “wow” factor has given way to commerce (translation: pharmacies) recently, there’s still nowhere else in the world like Sin City when it comes to pizzazz and hooplah. Hell, even our pharmacies have their own hooplah. (Pizzazz, not so much.)

Enjoy more photos from the kabuki production at Bellagio Las Vegas, several of which are nearly in focus.

Kabuki Spectacle at Bellagio

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Free “Kà” Open House at MGM Grand Will Fill Your Brain With Awe

If you’re looking for something new, fun and free to do in Las Vegas, check out the new open house at MGM Grand’s “Kà.”

“Kà” is easily one of the best shows in Las Vegas, Cirque or otherwise, and at the new open house, you’ll gain an even deeper appreciation for the sheer technical miraculousness involved in making the popular show spring to life.

Ka MGM Grand

The “ka” is an invisible spiritual double that accompanies us into the afterlife. Probably. We are a blog, not an Egyptologist.

“Kà” began its new open house on Aug. 18, 2015, and we stopped in on opening day to check it out. The tour will continue into the foreseeable future, according to show reps.

The open house happens each Tuesday, at 11:00 a.m. and again at 11:30 a.m. Guests of all ages are welcome. Each tour lasts 20-30 minutes.

Ka open house

Photos are encouraged? You’ve won our heart already, “Kà” open house.

The behind-the-scenes tour starts in the “Kà” theater lobby at MGM Grand.

The lobby features a huge, colorful dragon in the lobby, originally a prop in “Zaia,” a Cirque du Soleil show once staged in Macau, China.

Ka Cirque du Soleil

We’re adding this to our list of “Best Photo Ops in Las Vegas Which Do Not Involve Selfies With Claire Sinclair.”

Also in the lobby is one of the world’s largest stringed instruments, the Earth Harp, created by William Close. Yes, we actually took notes for once in our life.

The Earth Harp is played by two musicians before every performance of “Kà,” so turn up 15 minutes early to catch the stroking. Or strumming. Don’t make it awkward.

Earth Harp

The Earth Harp, in effect, turns the theater lobby into an instrument. MGM Grand had to pull a lot of strings to get it.

Next, the tour moves into the massive “Kà” theater. This is sort of where the awe kicks in.

We’ve attended “Kà” a couple of times, but have never seen the theater in its dormant state, between shows, and our jaw may actually have dropped. Not especially attractive, but it happened.

Ka theater Las Vegas

As you enter the “Kà” theater, you feel like you’re shrinking. It’ll pass.

“Kà” is a $165 million production, and it shows.

Once inside, a presenter named Jane shows off her encyclopedic knowledge of the show. Although, we’re not entirely sure there are still encyclopedias. You get our drift.

The tour includes an incredible amount of information about the technology involved in the production of “Kà.” The presentation pulls aside the curtain and gives guests a rare chance to appreciate what goes on backstage. “Backstages,” technically, since “Kà” has seven moving stages.

Ka tour MGM

Tours can accommodate up to 1,950 people. Seriously. We asked.

Tony Ricotta, Company Manager of “Ka,” makes the point that guests really shouldn’t notice all the technology of the show during the show.

Tony Ricotta says, “I think that’s part of the atmosphere Cirque tries to create. They want to immerse you in an environment. We don’t want to beat you over the head with all of the little tricks that are being used to make you feel like you’re being transported to a new place, a new world. I don’t want you thinking about the speakers during the show. I want you to enjoy what’s coming through the speakers. But this is the time to appreciate the complexity of the engineering and the feats that went into making the ‘Kà’ theater as special a place as it is.”

One of the more impressive feats of engineering is the “Sand Cliff Deck,” a 50-ton stage that seems to float on thin air. Here’s a look.

There’s a cavalcade of interesting facts and figures shared during the free “Kà” open house. Here are some items that found their way into our notes.

googie “Kà” is the first Cirque du Soleil show to have a cohesive storyline.

googie The Sand Cliff Deck (shown in the video above) is reactive to touch, like a giant iPad.

googie “Kà” boasts the largest stunt airbag ever built.

googie The highest choreographed fall in the show is 70 feet.

googie The “Kà” theater is nine floors above stage level and four below, or about 150 feet from top to bottom.

Ka theater

We’re going to need a bigger camera.

googie The theater has 3,300 lighting instruments.

googie The “Kà” theater was the first live performance space to integrate speakers into its 1,950 seats.

googie The “Kà” props department is responsible for more than 600 individual props used in the show (props to the props department). That department also handles the show’s eight larger-than-life puppets.

googie The show has more than 10,000 costume pieces, including shoes. Most of the shoes, by the way, are based upon wrestling shoes.

googie “Kà” employs 185 technicians in eight different departments.

googie It takes 115 technicians to make each performance happen.

googie There are 74 artists in “Kà,” including eight musicians.

googie The performers represent more than 25 nationalities from all over the world.

googie There’s one cast of “Kà.” They perform two shows nightly, 10 shows weekly and 470 shows a year.

googie The “Kà” theater has more than 5,000 speakers surrounding the audience. (There was an impressive demonstration of the speakers during the open house, and it was worth the price of admission. Despite admission being free. We may have technically made some money on the deal.)

Ka Cirque show Vegas

See if you can count the 5,000 speakers. We’ll wait.

You’ll have to take the tour for the rest.

Unlike some other backstage tours in town, the freeness makes this one irresistible, and it’s compact, so you can get back to your Vegas adventure.

“The show is only 90 minutes in and of itself, so we can’t give you an hour’s worth of time because you give away too much of the show and people won’t be inspired to purchase tickets,” says Tony Ricotta. “The ultimate goal is to market the show and to sell tickets, of course. We figure 20 minutes or a half hour is a perfect amount of time. We can go through enough of the content, we can demonstrate enough of the technology. And you really don’t want to take away too much from someone’s day.”

By the time the open house ends, brains are full and imaginations are sparked. The scale of the production is truly mind-boggling.

Ka Las Vegas

Thanks for the presentation, Jane. We would tip but, you know, we’re a Las Vegas blog.

The free “Kà” open house is an enlightening way to gain a greater appreciation of just what goes into a Las Vegas show. It’s a chance to sing the praises of the sometimes unsung team of technicians and costumers and others without whom “Kà” wouldn’t be possible.

Company Manager Tony Ricotta adds, “So many people have a generic view, thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil,’ but so many of our shows are completely different from each other. This was an opportunity for us to really showcase the technology we use, that there is no other theater like this in the world and how different it is from other shows in town. The open house is a great way to share that with guests.”

We’re adding the “Kà” open house to our list of free, must-do things in Las Vegas. Here are more free things to do in Vegas if you insist upon being into the doing of things.

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