Monthly Archives: January 2014

Las Vegas Almost Had a Linq Hotel & Casino

We can now confirm the rumor that the former Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon will be named The Cromwell, but even more interesting is the name the under-renovation hotel nearly got: Linq Hotel & Casino.

In October 2013, Caesars Entertainment abruptly altered its plans to brand the hotel at Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard the Gansevoort Hotel, thanks to a casino regulation probe linking a Gansevoort investor to the Russian mob.

That left Caesars Entertainment scrambling for a new name for the former Bill’s (before that, called the Barbary Coast).

Many assumed Drai’s Hotel was the frontrunner as the new boutique hotel’s name, but from what we’ve heard, Linq Hotel & Casino was actually the name chosen.

The Cromwell Las Vegas

This was almost a thing.

The Linq, of course, is the partially-opened entertainment and shopping district between Flamingo and The Quad.

Steps were taken toward implementing the Linq Hotel name, but cooler heads prevailed, presumably including strong opposition by key decision-makers inside the company. There’s no way to officially confirm if the whole Linq Hotel rumor is true (the name was in the running for the name of what turned out to be The Quad, too), but it’s fun to ponder what might have been.

Caesars didn’t skip a beat during this whole drama, keeping The Cromwell’s renovation in motion despite the Gansevoort hiccup.

The Cromwell hotel

The Cromwell, with all its various mysterious protrusions.

The $185 million renovation of Bill’s will feature a new restaurant from Food Network star Giada de Laurentiis, as well as a rooftop nightclub by Victor Drai, and an after hours club in The Cromwell’s basement.

The Cromwell name presumably has a backstory, something about the discoverer of an “eastward-flowing subsurface current,” but ultimately, choosing a hotel name is based upon more practical concerns, like being able to snag all-important domain names without being price-gouged, and finding a name that doesn’t bump into the trademarks of existing companies.

The Cromwell is expected to open mid-2014.

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Today’s Almost Entirely Useless Slot Machine Hack

If you’re a slot machine player, you have undoubtedly had the experience of trying to feed a bill into a machine, only to have it spewed back out again.

Sometimes, bill acceptors (yes, that’s what they’re called, although “bill validator” is also acceptable) can be temperamental, but here’s a quick workaround. Because you know calling an attendant can take forever.

If you’ve tried inserting your bill several times, to no avail, put it into a nearby machine and cash out immediately. Assuming you’re in a ticket-in/ticket-out casino, you’ll get a ticket. Now, take that ticket and try feeding that into your original machine. Bill acceptors that have trouble with a given bill are likely to accept a ticket without hesitation, and you’ll be well on your way to your next slot jackpot.

Slot machine

Don’t let a touchy machine stand between you and a hand-pay win, baby.

Bill acceptors scan paper currency to determine if a bill is real or a counterfeit. These devices can scan for a bill’s conductivity,¬†fluorescent properties and optical properties. Some bill acceptors scan for size, the bill’s ink or the security strip.

Sometimes, your bill acceptor might just be having a bad day.

Now that you know the ticket trick, though, you can outsmart the bill acceptor and get on with your play, already. You’re welcome.

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SkyVue Removes Scaffolding to Make Way for World’s First Unicorn Sanctuary and Petting Zoo

SkyVue, the beleaguered company building an observation wheel at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, is hoping to silence critics with the announcement of an expansion to its ambitious project.

SkyVue officials have announced it has removed scaffolding at its observation wheel site to make way for a new attraction, the world’s first Unicorn Sanctuary and Petting Zoo.

SkyVue Ferris wheel

The SkyVue construction site on Jan. 10, 2014.

“We get that there’s been some skepticism around the SkyVue observation wheel, but we’re putting that to rest once and for all,” said the lead SkyVue developer. “The removal of our scaffolding isn’t a step backward, it’s a dramatic step toward creating what will become one of the world’s most remarkable attractions.”

The developer has confirmed financing for the new unicorn attraction is “very close to falling into place.” He estimates the final cost will be in the $450 million range, in addition to the $300 million cost of the previously-announced SkyVue Ferris wheel and entertainment complex, also “extremely close to finalizing its financing, definitely” according to the spokesman.

SkyVue Las Vegas

The SkyVue construction site on Jan. 18, 2014.

According to a news release, SkyVue’s expanded vision includes a professionally-curated unicorn habitat, an “immersive, interactive petting zoo for children of all ages,” unicorn-themed thrill rides, a nightclub, as well as a sizable retail component.

There are also plans for a Schadenfreude Pavilion, a space for live entertainment and community events.

“We’re also pleased to announce a new sports venue,” said the SkyVue developer. “Race enthusiasts are going to go wild over our Unicorn Derby Racetrack. There has simply never been a racetrack for unicorns. By comparison, the Kentucky Derby draws about 100,000 people each year, and those are just everyday horses. Nothing personal, Kentucky Derby, but yawn.”

SkyVue Las Vegas

This aerial view of the SkyVue site shows the tentative layout of the Unicorn Sanctuary and Petting Zoo.

Unicorns, of course, are a storied, horse-like animal with a spiral horn projecting from their forehead. They have long been a symbol of purity and grace.

SkyVue’s bold announcement stands defiantly in the wake of public and media scrutiny related to delays in the construction of the SkyVue wheel, not to be confused with the nearly-completed High Roller Ferris wheel, mid-Strip.

“We’ll admit we’ve made some mistakes,” said the SkyVue spokesman, in a rare moment of candor. “Our plans for a Leprechaun Park were too optimistic, we know that now. Because leprechauns don’t actually exist. That caused some logistical issues which impacted our timeline significantly. No project of this scale goes flawlessly. Now, however, we’re heading in the right direction again. That’s why we’ve removed our support leg scaffolding. And definitely not because the scaffolding rental fees were killing us, that wasn’t it at all. Furthermore, unicorns!”

SkyVue Ferris wheel

The SkyVue site on Jan. 24, 2014.

The representative said more details about the SkyVue Unicorn Sanctuary and Petting Zoo will be released in the weeks to come, possibly with the assistance of the company’s mascot, Tiny the Tumbleweed. The family-friendly mascot is believed by some to have been created to divert attention away from the fact construction activity at SkyVue has been on hold since October 2012. Learn more about Tiny the Tumbleweed.

SkyVue unicorn

New signage at SkyVue reflects the whimsical new direction of the long-awaited project.

To avoid “unflattering and ill-informed rumors,” SkyVue has announced a specific opening date and time for the attraction: August 6, 2015 at 4:15 p.m.

“We trust the specificity of our announced opening date will serve to quell any skepticism about whether this attraction, or the SkyVue observation wheel itself, will exist,” said the SkyVue rep. “It would be irresponsible to announce a date unless this project were really going to happen, in a way completely in touch with reality.”

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Panty-Dropper Cocktail: Red Light District at Oscar’s Steakhouse

Today’s social lubricant can be found at none other than Oscar’s Steakhouse at The Plaza, downtown.

The official name of Oscar’s Steakhouse is Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads, but this blog is nothing if not politically correct, so let’s just call it Oscar’s.

The alleged panty-dropper cocktail? The Red Light District ($10). In this tasty temptation you’ll find vodka, Aperol (an Italian aperitif, whatever that might be), apricot and lime.

Red Light District cocktail

Downtown Las Vegas was home to District 16, a red light district, until 1942, when the U.S. Army pressured local officials to throw a giant wet blanket on the festivities.

Oscar’s has a most excellent happy hour, although it’s not widely publicized. Between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., get cocktails, including the Red Light District, for half price.

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Downtown Grand’s Restaurant Rebirth Is Ready to Rock Your World

The Downtown Grand has recently gone on a bit of a shopping spree, snapping up culinary talent from high-profile restaurants on The Strip.

The result is a dramatic transformation of the new hotel’s restaurant offerings, one we think will shake things up in a big way and win over guests who may have been disappointed in the past. Yes, that includes us.

Spinach artichoke dip

Blah, blah. Let’s see some food! Stewart + Ogden’s spinach artichoke dip is a tasty place to start.

As we were the first to report, Downtown Grand recently acquired Chef Todd Harrington (pictured below), formerly of the excellent Central at Caesars Palace. Harrington brought another top-notch chef with him, Michael Virtue, also from Central. Yes, that’s his real name.

Chef Todd Harrington

When you see what he’s done to the menu at Stewart + Ogden, Chef Todd Harrington is going to be your favorite chef, ever.

Downtown Grand also recently brought onboard the former executive chef of Caesars Palace’s acclaimed Beijing Noodle No. 9, and Beijing native, Yu Li. Chef Vivian Chang, from Restaurant Guy Savoy, again at Caesars Palace, has been brought in to serve as Downtown Grand’s new pastry chef.

This is a serious migration of heavy-hitter chefs to downtown, and a serious statement about the future of downtown dining.

The best news so far is the complete turnaround at Stewart + Odgen restaurant, which is nothing short of miraculous.

French onion tart

Another great appetizer, the French Onion Tart has pita crust, a sweet onion and bacon topping, topped with parmesan cheese, creme fraiche and chive.

Harrington is serious about food, and has stormed the castle to deliver a menu that will wow even the most jaded foodies loyal to The Strip. The shake-up hasn’t been without casualties. A dozen members of Downtown Grand’s culinary team have departed, unable or unwilling to embrace the more demanding food preparation processes.

“Cosmetically, about 70 percent of the menu has been reconstructed, but 100 percent has been reworked, including how the dishes are prepared. Everything, from the sauces to the garnish to the plates,” says Harrington, whose enthusiasm is contagious.

The changes at Stewart + Ogden have even included our wished-for change in the chairs. Here’s the “before” photo of the chairs.

Stewart + Ogden

Why would you do this to our arses?

Upon opening, the restaurant went for style rather than customer comfort, but that’s been rectified with some sweet, soft new seating. And the blue is very calming as well.

Stewart + Ogden

It takes so little to make us happy. Thank you, Downtown Grand.

Todd Harrington brings a fresh new perspective to Downtown Grand. He’s such a downtown newbie, he only recently did his first visit to the Fremont Street Experience.

Harrington has also revamped the menu at the hotel’s lobby bar, Art Bar, and in two weeks the Red Mansion menu will also be getting a complete overhaul as well. He’ll also oversee the development and execution of the menu for Picnic, Downtown Grand’s upcoming foray into the dayclub realm.

Ahi tuna sliders

The Ahi tuna sliders are going to be your new favorites, promise. Soy-marinated tuna burgers, ginger slaw, shallot aioli, the whole nine yards.

Chef Harrington also mentioned something about retooling the Triple George menu, across the street. Triple George is part of the Fifth Street Gaming family, the company that runs Downtown Grand. As long as he doesn’t muck with the chicken parm, easily our favorite dish in Las Vegas, we should be cool.

Harrington’s new menu at Stewart + Odgen, overseen day-to-day by Michael Virtue, is already having a huge impact.

“When the restaurant opened, it was doing about 150 to 200 ‘covers’ (a table setting for one person) a day. Now, we’re pushing 500 covers, daily,” beams Chef Harrington.

Whatever’s happening, it’s working. The menu is refined, but approachable, and all within a value-oriented price range.

For a visual reference of how far Stewart + Ogden, one need look no further than the restaurant’s fish and chips. On a previous visit, the fish and chips were virtually inedible, with frozen fish sticks galore.

Fish and chips

Before. It was pretty bleak, and we vowed to never visit again.

Now, the fish is beer-battered Atlantic cod, and the fries are delicious, akin to the ones served at In-N-Out, and we mean that as a huge compliment.

Fish and chips

After. The fish is so light, it’ll dance on your tongue, like nobody’s watching.

As a testament to the day-and-night transformation, Chef Harrington says, “We’ve had customers order the fish and chips for lunch, then come back later in the day to order it again.”

A new offering at Stewart + Ogden, and a rarity at Las Vegas restaurants, are the fresh-squeezed juices.

Squeezed daily are orange, watermelon, pineapple, grapefruit, carrot and cucumber juices. Juicing is a labor-intensive process, but points to a commitment to providing diners with things they often can’t get at other establishments.

Juices

Let’s just say there are some kitchen staff at Stewart + Ogden with very tired arms.

Our only tip would to steer clear of the grapefruit until they’re in season again, or just add sugar.

Stewart + Ogden now boasts a true “scratch” kitchen, with dressings, fries and desserts made fresh, in-house, each day.

While the menu at Stewart + Ogden has been elevated, it doesn’t lose sight of the fact the fare is intended for price-conscious guests, and servers are being trained to “translate” the dishes into terms even this blog can understand. For example, we’d probably never order something called a “Croque Madame.” Too fancy. But call it a “ham and egg sandwich,” and we’re all over it. It was incredible, by the way, and sure to be a brunch and lunch favorite.

Croque Madame

Whether you call it a Croque Madame or ham-and-egg sandwich, it’s killer.

Many items on the Stewart + Ogden menu are intriguing takes on familiar favorites, both simple but surprising.

Says Chef Michael Virtue, below, “My grandmother taught me the importance of simplicity in cooking. Simple is often better than too many ingredients. Even meat and potatoes can be done very well.”

Chef Michael Virtue

The true measure of a kitchen isn’t when a new menu launches, it’s the consistency weeks and months down the road. Chef Virtue says he and his team are up to the challenge.

Beyond the delicious fish and chips, our favorites on the new Stewart + Ogden menu were the Stewart’s Famous Fried Chicken and Chef Harrington’s award-winning Braised Short Rib.

Fried chicken

Speaking of simplicity, this fried chicken is quite possibly the best we’ve had in Las Vegas to-date.

The shortrib? A stunner. This is why they invented the term “fall-off-the-bone tender.”

Shortrib

Served on a bed of Yukon puree, with some porcini mushrooms, carrots and red wine sauce for good measure.

Downtown Grand has upped its game in getting guests to try their restaurants again with a 50%-off deal for Las Vegas locals through the end of January.

The changes at Stewart + Ogden are truly some of the most remarkable we’ve seen (or tasted) at any Las Vegas restaurant. It’s likely the Downtown Grand’s restaurants will quickly destinations in their own right, and against all odds, we’re pleased to be able to add Stewart + Ogden to our list of favorite downtown eateries.

It’s a Las Vegas miracle! Let us know what you think.

Stewart + Ogden at Downtown Grand

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[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_juice1.jpg]1450
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[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_french_onion_tart.jpg]930
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[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_braised_shortrib.jpg]680
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[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_fish_chips.jpg]750
[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_fish_chips1.jpg]660
[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_juices.jpg]600
[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_sliders.jpg]620
[img src=https://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/stewart-ogden-at-downtown-grand/thumbs/thumbs_stewart_ogden_downtown_grand1.jpg]520

 

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Binion’s Cafe Gets Naked for Major Overhaul

One of our favorite burger spots, at one of Sin City’s most iconic hotels, Binion’s, is getting a major facelift. The casino’s cafe will be doubled in size.

We’d love to share some photos of the work-in-progress, but that would be a security breach, which we’re against. Definitely. As evidenced by the photos below.

Binion's construction

Yes, the drywall is blue. The new cafe will not be blue. It’s Binion’s. You can’t be baby blue and rootin’ tootin’ at the same time.

We didn’t actually expect the cafe to be stripped down to its bare bones, but that’s what’s happening.

Binion's Cafe

That was where the counter and grill used to be. Never fear, the world’s most seasoned grill will be back, along with a newer model, as well as a new pizza oven.

The new cafe is expected to have a western theme, with an exterior similar to that of the nearby Benny’s Bullpen, with its dark wood and bricks motif. The interior will feature western appointments like saddle leather-inspired furniture.

Binion's Cafe

The new cafe will be enclosed by walls. This will help keep the loudness and smoke out, among other things.

During the construction, the cafe has been moved downstairs, and at times the place is booming. The pent-up demand will be unleashed upon the new cafe in just a few weeks.

Binion's Cafe

We appear to have reached our security breach quota for the day.

Thanks to Binion’s for not detaining us, although we were disappointed we didn’t get to take advantage of the free body cavity search this time. More updates to come.

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