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Las Vegas Rediscovered
Mar 22, 2011 by Scott Wallis
Since 2000, I’ve been making the trip to Las Vegas about twice a year both for vacations and work, each time doing my best to experience all that Sin City has to offer.
So now that I’m GayCities Washington, D.C., editor, and Swish Edition founder, I thought I’d share my finds to help out your own trip planning.
First off you can’t go wrong when setting up camp at the fabulous 5-star, 5-Diamond Wynn Las Vegas /Encore property. Located on the north end of the famed Las Vegas Strip, the looming metallic brown Wynn and Encore towers guarantee views from every decked-out suite. Committed to the LGBT traveler (and the first casino resort in Vegas to offer domestic partnership benefits to their 12,000 employees), the hotel offers a secure, welcoming atmosphere where same-sex couples will feel completely comfortable and pampered.
Featuring a score of dining options, two casinos, five pools, spa/gym facilities, high-end shopping, three shows, five hopping nightclubs and impeccable service, the Wynn & Encore is practically a ‘hood unto itself. You could never leave the premises for a week, and be perfectly content.
One stand-out is the Society Cafe adjacent to the Encore casino. On my most recent trip, we ate there two days in a row. The Lobster club sandwich is delicous.
And while Garth Brooks wasn’t in town when we were there, we did see Sinatra: Dance With Me, a music and dancing show choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, who lives onsite during the production. While a live orchestra backed up Frank Sinatra’s recorded vocals, dancers interpret the famous tunes. Once a full Broadway show, this incarnation is a slimed-down 85-minute tribute to one of America’s classics.
But it was the Wynn’s Le Rêve that blew us away. The entire Swish Edition crew was treated to what I can honestly now call my absolute favorite Las Vegas show. Combining a live band, 90-cast members, a 27-foot deep pool and death-deifying aerial stunts, this theater-in-the-round—specifically designed at a cost of $150 million by Cirque du Soleil creator Franco Dragone—is like nothing else I’d seen. As a special treat, my Swish Edition co-star Dale and I were invited to meet three of the gay cast members after an exclusive backstage tour.
Venturing mid-strip, we also enjoyed the naughty Peepshow at the Planet Hollywood casino. Starring former Playboy playmate and reality TV star Holly Madison as well as former Broadway star Josh Strickland, the musical entertains while titillating. You might not immediately consider checking out a classic “bared boobies” show, any more than I would, but the farce is a big hit with the gay and lesbian set. The quality of the singing and dancing is higher than one might expect. A silly but satisfyingly good time.
While playing at Planet Hollywood, Dale and I celebrated our birthdays at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. While I tend to shy away from chain restaurants, Chang’s consistently offers a warm atmosphere and extensive family-style Chinese offerings that energized us for more and more gambling.
And speaking of gaming, we zigzagged up and down the Strip all weekend, dropping bucks at the blackjack tables and slot machines at Planet Hollywood, the Flamingo Las Vegas (a Vegas classic where we stayed last October and recommend highly as a less expensive alternative), the opulent Paris casino, the mammoth Caesars Palace (one of my favs for their Pussycat Doll themed gaming pit) and tried-and-true Harrah’s.
A few Vegas tips:
• Never pass up a chance to stop and watch the musical fountains in front of Bellagio.
• If you are a Foursquare user, make sure to look for specials. At Flamingo, for example, you’ll score 2-for-1 drink tickets just by checking-in at the casino.
• Even if you are only going to play with a few $20s, always sign up for a casino’s players club card. Benefits kick-in immediately and soon you’ll be offered free rooms, buffets, discounted show tickets.
• Jump off the top of the Stratosphere hotel tower, if you dare. Frequent Swish guest Brian Muller and his brother-in-law Travis Arnold did the SkyJump last weekend and lived to recommend the thrill. This controlled, 855-foot plunge to the earth off the 108th story is one of Vegas’ newest. And scariest.
• Make sure you know that you don’t have to get on the highway to get to Strip hotels. Some cab drivers prey on newbies and will try this route that can easily add $10 to what should be a quick trip.
• Utilize your hotel’s concierge for restaurant reservations and last-minute show tickets. They have the insider details. Make sure you tip them, though. And if you are staying at the Wynn, make sure to call up the dedicated Pride Concierge, a Vegas first.
Thanks to the Wynn/Encore for putting us up and helping us see the best of Vegas