It’s been announced “Mamma Mia!” will close at Tropicana Las Vegas on August 3, 2014.
The show opened at the Tropicana on May 16, 2014, which means the show’s run lasted only slightly longer than it will take to read this blog post.
Define “smash hit.”
The closure of the show comes as a surprise even to those of us who would rather run naked through the Ethel M cactus garden than see a Broadway-style musical, mainly because a former iteration of “Mamma Mia!” ran for more than six years at Mandalay Bay.
That means either this version of the show sucked (the reviews were solid), or the marketing did.
In any event, the curtain’s coming down on “Mamma Mia!” If you insist upon seeing a Broadway-style musical, there’s really only one in Las Vegas worth seeing at the moment, or possibly ever, “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas.
Now that this blog works at Fremont Street Experience, we’re downtown more than ever, and we get to explore new places to whet our various whistles and indulge our cravings.
Our new favorite happy hour is in an unlikely place, the Four Queens. Specifically, at Chicago Brewing Company.
The restaurant-slash-bar is in the deep recesses of the downtown casino, but it’s more than worth the search, especially between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Don’t try to hide from us. We know a great happy hour when we taste one.
Downtown values are plentiful, but happy hour at Chicago Brewing Company is exceptional because appetizers are half-off already low prices.
For example, the delicious potato skins, are loaded with bacon, cheddar and green onions, are normally $5.50. Half off? Irresistible.
If potato skins were a religion, these would convert us. Or something.
Also outstanding are the Michigan Avenue Garlic Knots. The humongous, fluffy knots are slathered with Parmesan-garlic butter sauce, and there’s some fantastic marinara for dipping. There are about eight of these bad boys, and they’d be a steal even at the regular price of $4.95. In the $2.50 range, we’d put them among the best dining values in all of Las Vegas.
There goes our career as a ballerina. Oh, well.
Other appetizers include filet mignon sliders, chicken tenders, wings, calamari, mozzarella sticks and a blackened chicken quesadilla. We have no reason to believe those aren’t tasty, too.
There are, of course, drink specials, including $1 off house beers and $5 for something called India Pale Ale. We have no idea what that is, but we do know when we ordered our Captain and diet tall, it was truly tall. (Unlike those thimble-sized glasses you tend to get in casinos.)
The only downside is Chicago Brewing Company, aside from being a restaurant and bar, bills itself as a “Cigar Lounge,” so that’s not for everyone. In situations like this, it’s helpful to remember you’re in Las Vegas, and it sort of goes with the territory.
Otherwise, we love the place. There’s a comfy bar, with video poker machines, so when you’re playing the drinks are “free” and solo dining isn’t awkward.
Chicago Brewing Company at Four Queens is a hidden gem, and we expect to hit this happy hour frequently from here on out.
Giada’s at The Cromwell is one of the most buzzed-about restaurants to open on The Strip in some time, and, it turns out, for good reason.
Giada’s proves once and for all Giada is more than just a pretty face.
The restaurant’s titular Giada is, of course, Giada de Laurentiis, best known for being a Food Network star and a hottie.
Her new collaboration with Caesars Entertainment is a winning combination of attentive service, a creative menu and flawless execution, as well as a great view. It currently takes a couple of weeks to get a reservation for a Friday or Saturday night, so all indications are this restaurant is a certified hit.
Let’s nosh, already.
Giada’s sits on the corner of two iconic thoroughfares, Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. For many, the view will be an essential part of a visit to Giada’s. That being the case, make sure you get a table where you can enjoy the view best, along the window. There are 10 tables for two along the window, and demand for them is great, so don’t be shy about slipping a hostess or manager $20 to ensure you’ll get the table you’d like.
It’s Las Vegas, after all, and in Vegas, cash is the quickest way a conversation goes from “Sorry, we don’t have anything available,” to “Let’s see what we can do.”
Insider tip: Giada’s is located in the part of the hotel with the giant Giada’s on it.
Once the view is taken care of, it’s time to dive into the selection of signature cocktails. The servers are extremely knowledgeable about not just the menu, but also the cocktails, and are happy to make recommendations.
It’s called the Blue Velvet. First, because it’s blue. Second, because Giada’s grandfather was the producer of the movie, “Blue Velvet.”
As is common at celebrity-driven restaurants operated by Caesars Entertainment, cocktails are presented on iPads (see below), so you can get a visual before you order, as well as learning more about the ingredients of each cocktail.
Libations at your fingertips.
They’re distinctive and tasty, and run in the $15 range. If that seems an extravagant price for a cocktail, hold onto your hat, because the prices here are all a bit inflated. Call it the “Giada experience surcharge.”
We quite enjoyed the Hannibal. It’s called that because the garnish looks like a brain. Which is pretty awesome. This drink has generous portions, and lasted our entire meal.
That inside-out citrus peel is sort of brain-like.
At first, we couldn’t figure out what a cannibal movie had to do with the Giada theme, then remembered Martha de Laurentiis is the executive producer of “Hannibal” on NBC. A stretch, but one of many references to the de Laurentiis clan found on the menu and in the restaurant. Martha de Laurentiis was the second wife of Giada’s grandfather, bigtime movie producer Dino De Laurentiis.
As it turns out, most if not all of the signature cocktails were inspired by hallmarks of Giada’s grandfather’s career. We enjoyed the Flash Gordon (below), another film produced by Dino De Laurentiis. He was a busy guy.
The lightning bolt garish is a nice touch.
While looking over the menu, bread is delivered, and it gets your meal off to a fine start.
A little loaf of bread comes in a little bread pan thingy. Adorbs.
A whole half of the menu is devoted to “Antipasti & Pizzette.” We are not a food expert, so we’re not sure what those are, other than to say the ones at Giada’s are consistently wonderful.
The “Antipasti & Pizzette” portion of the menu is divided into vegetable, meat, seafood, cheese, crostini and pizzette sections. See the full menu on the official Giada’s site.
The Bacon-Wrapped Dates had a kick to them because of some Italian sausage. The waiter described them as “our most masculine dish.” It’s probably the bacon.
Your taste buds are just going to have to learn to multi-task.
Presumably, a “pizette” is a fancy way of saying pizza, which we had to try. The pizza at Giada’s is well worth a visit, even if that’s all you have. The crust is unlike any other crust we’ve had on a pizza, and we’ve had pizza in about 16 countries and at least 30 states. The crust is light and fluffy, and the sauce and cheese make this appetizer a must-try.
This pizza is going to inspire more crushes than Giada.
Most of the appetizer items are in the very reasonable $10-15 range, although the portions are fairly small. Think of them as Italian-themed small plates.
The other half of the menu is a mix of dishes which are somewhat familiar, but with some intriguing twists that pay off big.
Please feel free to insert your favorite “happy to see you” and/or “G-spot” joke here.
There are soups and salads, plus a selection of pastas. (The menu is even thoughtful enough to provide pronunciations of the past names, like “ree-gah-TOH-neh” and “spah-geh-tee.)
We went for the ravioli (rah-VEEOH-lee), which features lobster, asparagus tips and tarragon. We winced at the $34 price, but got over it pretty quickly when we tasted this perfectly-prepared dish. And we’re not even really a lobster person.
Worth every lira. Which we’re pretty sure Italy doesn’t have anymore, but you get our point.
Another highly-recommended pasta dish is the risotto (ree-ZOHT-oh), with scallops. It’s easily the best risotto we’ve ever had.
The scallops will dance on your tongue. So, ask it to take off its stilettos first.
One of the most pleasing aspects of a visit to Giada is how quickly all the dishes arrive. Specifically, lightning fast. We have no idea how it’s possible given how packed the place is, but it’s consistent throughout one’s meal.
You won’t have room for anything else at this point, but there are also main dishes galore, including a 28-ounce bone-in Tuscan rib-eye ($68), Veal Chop Saltimbocca ($43), rack of lamb ($45), salmon ($37), cacciatore-style chicken ($55) and porter house for two ($78).
Hey, you’re either up for a fancy night out on The Strip or you’re not. This ain’t In-N-Out.
The place whence the antipasti comes.
The dessert cart at Giada’s is a big attention-getter, and not just because it’s too wide to easily navigate between the restaurant’s tables.
We’re pretty sure these are called “Nipples of Venus,” but we’re too mature to milk that joke.
There’s one eye-pleasing delight after another, and the carbs just keep on coming.
Gold leaf doesn’t digest, so you’ll have some keepsakes from Giada’s. At least temporarily.
Desserts are served right off the cart, so that means no delayed gratification required.
What happens in Vegas often stays on your thighs.
Giada’s is an all-around great time, and an almost entirely pleasurable dining experience.
If there’s a downside at all, it’s the slightly pretentious vibe, but in a way, it contributes to the feeling you’re somewhere special.
With the success of Giada’s, The Cromwell appears to have its act together.
Caesars Entertainment has hit another home run with this celebrity-branded restaurant, quickly becoming a successful formula for the company. Similar partnerships have brought some exceptional dining to Las Vegas, such as with Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas, BurGR at Planet Hollywood (another Gordon Ramsay joint) and Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar at The Quad (soon to be The Linq Hotel).
Before you leave, don’t forget to visit this understated photo booth to create some (free) Giada’s memories.
Here are a few more photos from our visit to Giada’s, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Demolition is picking up speed at The D Las Vegas, downtown, in preparation for the new Downtown Las Vegas Events Center just across the street.
Las Vegas doesn’t implode things anymore. It sort of just dismantles them. Less dust that way.
The small building, near The D’s valet area, has been getting its insides gutted for several weeks, but now the demolition is moving to the exterior of the building.
This corner, at the southwest side of the hotel, will soon be built out as a portal to the new events center. A complementary entrance will be built on the event center side. Each will feature video displays and other decorative flourishes giving the two entryways a cohesive flow.
The crane is a Volvo, so you know the construction site is super safe.
Here’s what the building looked like before the work started.
Through the years, this building has been a market, a shoe store, a men’s store, a drugstore and a jewelry store.
Kitty-corner from the demolition, site of the former courthouse, the new Downtown Las Vegas Events Center (the preferred initialism is DLV, for future reference) is looking more and more like a concert venue every day.
We understand we enjoy our photography more than anybody else, and we’re OK with that.
The stage area recently got several trusses, with the stage roof expected to arrive soon. Trust us, this won’t be the last time they’ll be raising the roof at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. Several events have already been booked, although none have been officially announced. We’d tell you who’s been booked so far, but we really, really love The D and would like to be asked back sometime.
Let’s just say this new venue is going to be yet another reason to visit downtown Las Vegas. As if we needed another reason.
That little church will soon be in a great position to hear a joyful noise coming from the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.
More updates soon. This new event venue is definitely one to watch.
Speaking of updates, we’ve got a photo from the demolition site from July 22, 2014. Workers are making quick work of the building at The D.
A beloved downtown restaurant, the Flame Steakhouse at El Cortez, will close Aug. 31, 2014. Because there wasn’t quite enough WTF happening in Las Vegas already.
New of the Flame closing is sure to spark a firestorm of burning questions. As well as lots of puns related to fire and flames.
A new 24-hour restaurant is planned for the Flame space, Siegel 1941.
The name is a reference to mobster Bugsy Siegel who was one of the co-owners of the hotel (although Siegel and his pals didn’t get involved in the hotel until 1945).
A news release from El Cortez, distributed the day following our initial report about the Flame’s closing, says, “Encompassing the spirit of classic Vegas, Siegel’s 1941 will seamlessly blend the authentic vintage feel of the El Cortez with a modern interpretation of your traditional Las Vegas 24-hour dining establishment. The space will boast a historic look utilizing original design elements and an impressive display of archival artwork throughout the restaurant.”
The release adds, “New chef-driven menu items will be highlighted while favorites from The Flame, such as the classic roasted prime rib and seasonal stone crab, will be available for guests to enjoy.”
The new restaurant will open by the end of the year.
The Flame Steakhouse is being snuffed out. Told you about the pun thing.
Given it would make little sense to have two 24-hour offerings, we’ve heard the Cortez Cafe may be used for the addition of a new nightlife offering. Yes, a nightclub at El Cortez.
A first glance, the idea of opening a nightclub at El Cortez is akin to opening a nightclub at your grandma’s assisted living community. Then again, El Cortez has a prime location in the booming Fremont East District, and it’s possible a night spot could bring in a more youthful, affluent crowd. El Cortez has certainly managed to endure a lot of social and economic trends since it opened in 1941. We’ll hold off judging until we can learn more. (First time for everything.)
While we’re scratching our head about that potential turn of events, we’re going to take a moment to think about the delicious bread balls at The Flame.
Opening a nightclub at El Cortez will also take some balls, actually.
Before it was called The Flame, the steakhouse was called Roberta’s, after the wife of recently-deceased former El Cortez owner, Jackie Gaughan (pronounced “gawn”).
Gaughan passed away March 12, 2014, and while he sold the El Cortez in 2009, he continued to reside there until his death. It’s been suggested the timing of the closure of The Flame could be related to Gaughan’s passing, but it’s just conjecture at this point.
The bottom line is restaurants in Las Vegas don’t tend to close if they’re wildly successful, so while beloved, it was probably time for a change.
But, damn, those steaks.
Nothing too fancy, but one of this blog’s favorite steakhouses in downtown Las Vegas.
The Flame has a loyal following. The live piano music lends the restaurant a refreshingly mellow vibe, in stark contrast to so many Strip restaurants that feel the need to blast music to convince diners they’re having a good time.
At The Flame, the focus is flavorful food, conversation and old-school service. In fact, several of the servers at The Flame have been at the restaurant for decades. Hearing the restaurant is closing, with relatively little notice, seems to have sent them into shock. The good news is they’ll be able to work in the Cortez Cafe until it closes, then they’ll move over to the new restaurant when it opens.
On a happier note, let’s not forget one of the best chocolate cakes in Las Vegas. A must-thigh. Must-try, sorry.
So, if you love you some Flame Steakhouse, make a reservation before August 2, 2014. You won’t want to skip tasting this slice of vintage Sin City.
Once The Flame is gone, the already-short list of good steakhouses downtown will be even shorter. Your best bets are Andiamo at The D Las Vegas (as good as people say), Oscar’s at The Plaza (reliable), Hugo’s Cellar at Four Queens (haven’t been, but good buzz), Vic & Anthony’s at Golden Nugget (again, good buzz), Triple George (in transition) and Top of Binion’s Steakhouse (overrated).
We were so upset during our most recent visit to The Flame, we may have dry-humped a chair. Is that wrong?
Find out more about the Flame Steakhouse at the official El Cortez site, strangely devoid of information about the impending closure. Quite possibly because they don’t want people humping their chairs. Just a hunch.
It’s the Las Vegas version of the Mile High Club. Rocking the Casbah on the world’s tallest observation wheel is one of the most thrilling ways to create one-of-a-kind Sin City memories.
As you might suspect, there’s some strategy required when it comes to making this fantasy a reality, so we’ve got 11 sure-fire tips to ensure your High Roller escapade goes off without a hitch.
Hitting it on the High Roller is going to take some big brass ones.
1. Bring a Blanket
A small blanket or throw will be a lifesaver as you’re frolicking on the High Roller. First, it’s courteous to keep things sanitary for the riders who follow.
Second, a blanket will play a key role in avoiding being caught, or even detained, by The Man. One of the biggest risks in this sort of endeavor is other patrons who see your activities, get offended and complain. A blanket (or even a sweater or jacket) will help keep your activities on the down-low, pretty much guaranteeing a satisfying ride.
2. Ride When Business is Slow
Until recently, that wasn’t hard to do, as slow business has plagued the High Roller since a few weeks after it opened.
Now, prices have been adjusted downward ($19.95 daytime, $34.95 nighttime), so business is picking up. That means it’ll take a little more effort to figure out times when pods have few or no riders. Daytime during the week is when the ride is least busy, but for cavorting purposes, you’ll need the cover of darkness (see Tip #3). The bottom line: Plan on staying late.
Choose your moment.
3. Use the Cover of Darkness
Yes, the view from the High Roller is much better at night, but the bigger benefit of a nighttime rendezvous is less chance of detection by security or your fellow passengers in nearby pods. Choose a ride time as late as possible, just before the High Roller closes for the evening.
There’s another benefit to a late night ride: While it’s great to have a wild time in Vegas, the last thing you want is to have people photographing or videotaping your thigh-thumping, sending those images off to Facebook or YouTube for the world to see. (What happens in Vegas rarely stays in Vegas, despite what you may have heard.) At night, the lights are dimmed inside the passenger cabins so guests can see the Strip without glare. That makes for great cover. During the day, you’re pretty much scrod.
4. Tip a Ride Attendant
This is a critical element of your quest to successfully copulate on the High Roller. The folks that load passengers onto the pods make a modest wage, so a $20 should be enough to win them over to your carnal cause. As you get to the loading platform, stand back and watch the flow of riders. If you see a lull, approach an attendant and shake their hand, passing along the $20, saying, “We’d love to ride alone.”
Odds are you’ll get a response like, “We’ll see what we can do.” Which is a ride attendant’s way of saying, “If you’re willing to hang out here for a few minutes, I can make that happen.”
The $20 trick worked for your room upgrade, and it can work here, too.
5. Choose Your Spot
Congrats on getting your own private cabin. Let the games begin!
While the cabin will be pretty dark, you’ll still want to choose a spot that provides the maximum amount of privacy. There are two support beams that run along the sides of each cabin (they connect the pod to the High Roller wheel), with a crescent-shaped seat at the bottom of each. If you sit directly in the middle of the seat, the view from other passenger pods is almost entirely obscured. You’re welcome.
The idea is to be directly in one of the two blind spots (the part with the ridges), either fore or aft.
6. Watch the Time
So, a ride on the High Roller takes about 30 minutes. That sounds like a lot of time, but it goes by quickly. Sort of like sex, come to think of it.
Do yourself a favor and get warmed up even before you get in line for your High Roller ticket.
Once aboard, you’ll want to wait until you’re away from the launch platform before you start the festivities, and make sure to leave time at the end of the ride to get yourself together before you disembark.
Typically, in the area of amour, quick isn’t considered better, but in the case of a High Roller romp, brevity is optimal. If you want to play it safe as possible, don’t commence your tryst until your cabin nears the top of the wheel. That way, there’s less chance of being seen by anyone in a higher cabin.
The ultimate goal would be to climax at the apex, but we’ll save that for the Advanced High Roller Copulation course. Which doesn’t exist yet, but should.
Make it a quickie. The High Roller never stops revolving, even as people are getting on. And getting off.
7. Stay Seated
The best position for a High Roller dalliance is the lap dance position. The man sits (in the spot specified in Tip #5). The woman sits on his lap, facing away from him. With the blanket over you, this position should appear as though the woman is simply sitting on her man’s lap, albeit vigorously if you’re doing it right.
This isn’t the time to get totally crazy, or you may run afoul of High Roller security. The wilder you get, the more likely it is you’ll get caught. Don’t turn your adventure into an episode of “Cops” or the Vegas version, “Vegas Strip.”
8. Keep Focused, Guys
Don’t spoil your 550-feet-up coupling with an unintended fail. You know who you are.
There’s a lot to distract high above the Las Vegas Strip, including the jaw-dropping view and a running commentary by some dude on the pod’s video screens. Keep your eyes on the prize and your partner will thank you for it.
9. Use Moist Towelettes
Once the deed is done, you’ll want to clean up a bit. The High Roller’s cabins don’t have restrooms or running water, so break out your supply of moist towelettes. (You did bring some, right? We’re not barbarians, people.)
If you used birth control, don’t litter. Wrap your latex in the baby wipes and take your trash with you. It’s like camping. But without the bears.
Basking in the High Roller afterglow.
10. Be Prepared for Some Awkward
The end of your ride is the most perilous part. It’s possible your hijinks were observed by staff at the High Roller, and when you depart your pod, there’s a chance you’ll be approached by security, or worse, some stiff from Homeland Security.
Chances are the worst that will happen is you’ll get a stern look, or possibly a warning. If you used your blanket, you weren’t exposing a lot of skin, so you didn’t violate any public nudity laws. Hey, you were inside a pod, is that even public?
We are a blog and not a lawyer, so honestly, we have no ideas if you’re breaking any indecency laws. It will probably depend upon your level of enthusiasm.
People have been joining the Mile High Club on planes for decades. If you’re approached by staff or security at the High Roller, the best way to go is to apologize profusely and pretend to be really, really stupid. Say you got carried away by the heat of the moment and it won’t happen again.
A benefit of having sex on the High Roller, as opposed to a plane, is if you’re caught, you don’t have to sit there being judged for the rest of the flight. You get to leave.
The bottom part of the wheel is where you get off.
11. Be Fearless
Look, life is short. Pushing the limits isn’t for everyone, but it’s good to be bad sometimes. Knocking boots on the High Roller should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Boldness is required, because as we’ve said, your activity is likely to be observed (and possibly recorded) by High Roller staff. Hey, if there were no risk, it wouldn’t be as exciting.
Just be courteous, careful and it also wouldn’t hurt to keep the number of a bail bondsman on speed dial.
Update (3/21/16): Ignoring these tips may result in arrest, international notoriety and in rare cases, death. Read more.