The new destination for fashionistas & foodies
The guide to new Las Vegas' best: Living the luxe life in Strip hotels,restaurants & nighttime shopping
For many people, the words “Las Vegas” still conjure up images of depressing casinos, shotgun weddings and The Hangover. In recent years, however, Las Vegas has been transformed into a chic playground for the rich and famous.
Themes are so passé: The new Las Vegas resort is all about modern luxury. While one can still find cheap buffet dinners and shady accommodations at older properties, newer resorts cater to an entirely different clientele, and do so by featuring Michelin-star-rated restaurants, flagship designer boutiques, art galleries and theatrical spectacles.
In fact, the breadth of shopping, dining and entertainment options in Vegas comes close to the offerings in New York and Los Angeles. Not into gambling? The options in Vegas are limitless. But sometimes, this limitlessness can become stressful, which is why I have chosen to break down my favorite hotels, restaurants, stores and things to do in Sin City.
Where to Stay
Each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Steve Wynn is considered to be one of the most innovative hoteliers in the world, and is credited for ushering in a new era of Vegas luxury with his construction of The Bellagio in 1998. At Wynn, and its sister property, Encore, expect to find gorgeous décor, an exceptionally-friendly staff, and fantastic amenities. However, the property’s disadvantage is its location at the north end of the strip, which some travelers find inconvenient.
Next door to the Wynn is The Palazzo. Opened in 2007, the hotel is far less kitschy than its counterpart, The Venetian. Like Wynn and Encore, the resort is essentially themeless, and features gorgeous architectural elements and posh amenities. While perhaps not as awe-inspiring as Wynn and Encore, the Palazzo is a gorgeous property and has many advantages.
Among them is its navigability. When I’m in Vegas, I get frustrated with hotels that force me to pass by every shop, restaurant and casino to get anywhere. The Palazzo was designed to include massive corridors that prevent congestion, and the separation of the casino and shopping area on two different floors makes for a painless experience.
The Palazzo also features some of the largest basic accommodations on the strip: The standard room is 700-square feet and features a bed, pull-out sectional couch, desk, dining table, massive bathroom and three TVs. While it’s also located on the north end of the strip, the action is noticeably more accessible than at the Wynn or Encore.
For the hipster set, there’s the new Aria Resort & Casino, the flagship property of MGM Mirage’s CityCenter development (not to be confused with Houston’s own CityCentre). The stunning resort was designed by Cesar Pelli — yes, THE Cesar Pelli — and is an architectural masterpiece that any architecture and design aficionado would definitely approve of. Aria’s center strip location is especially convenient, and the CityCenter development offers some of the best shopping and dining on the strip.
Room rates at the Wynn/Encore, Palazzo and Aria generally hover around $200 per night, but can vary extensively depending on the time of year, day of the week and any special events or conventions that may be going on.
For those who are only interested in the city’s non-sinful attractions, there are several non-gambling properties on the strip to choose from. A brand new Mandarin Oriental just opened in CityCenter, and offers a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the strip. The Four Seasons operates an isolated boutique hotel in the top four floors of the Mandalay Bay. It has its own lobby, restaurants and pool. But the distant location of the Mandalay Bay can pose problems for many travelers.
Rooms at both the Four Seasons and Mandalay Bay can be had at $400 per night, but also vary extensively.
Where To Eat
Las Vegas is a true culinary destination: The most critically acclaimed chefs from around the world operate restaurants there. No, Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Shawn McClain do not cook in their Las Vegas restaurants on a regular basis. However, the executive chefs that they appoint have studied under them for years, and are on par in terms of culinary prowess.
In 1989, the legendary French restaurant guide Gault Millau crowned Joel Robuchon with the title “chef of the century.” He operates restaurants in the United States, Europe and Asia, and has more Michelin stars to his name than any other chef in the world. But his flagship restaurant is not in Paris or London or New York. It’s in Las Vegas, in the MGM Grand’s ultra-exclusive “The Mansion.”
Foodies flock to Las Vegas to dine at what is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world, and the chef’s perfectly innovative dishes do not disappoint. Diners can choose from an a la carte or 16-course degustation menu. Don’t expect to walk in and grab a table unless you’re the President — Joel Robuchon only has 12 tables, and a very limited number of seatings throughout the evening.
Robuchon is not the only critically acclaimed French chef to have his name on a Las Vegas restaurant. The only place to experience Guy Savoy’s cuisine outside of Paris is at his eponymous restaurant at Caesar’s Palace. Managed by Guy’s son, Frank, the restaurant holds the distinction of standing alongside Joel Robuchon as one of only three Michelin star restaurants in Las Vegas.
On my most recent Vegas trip, I had the privilege of sampling dishes like foie gras custard brulee, iberico pork loin and brioche bread pudding at Chicago restaurateur Shawn McClain’s latest outpost, Sage. Located in the Aria Resort & Casino, the restaurant features gourmet dishes inspired by farm-fresh ingredients. The décor lends a nod to the glamour of the 1950s, while adding a contemporary twist: Diners sit in rich velvet banquettes while viewing floor to ceiling black and white murals of famous Renoir paintings.
On nicer evenings, the outdoor courtyard of Bartolotta at the Wynn is the perfect place to enjoy a gourmet meal. Instead of luring in celebrity chefs, Steve Wynn has brought in a collection of rising star chefs who actually cook in their restaurants each and every night. At Bartolotta, the focus is on ultra-fresh Italian seafood. The fish is flown in from the Mediterranean on a daily basis, and the pasta is all made in house. While it has yet to earn the attention of the Michelin Guide, Bartlotta is, without a doubt, one of the best restaurants in Vegas.
Thomas Keller, known for his exceptional Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry, has a Parisian-inspired bistro in the Venetian’s Venezia Tower. Unlike some of the other aforementioned establishments, Bouchon serves three meals per day. Like all of Keller’s restaurants, Bouchon sources the freshest ingredients from purveyors throughout the country. Brunch in the vibrant bistro is the perfect way to start your day in Vegas.
What To Do
Gambling and nightlife are the two most obvious ways to spend time in Sin City, so I won’t spend much time talking about either of those. However, TAO at the Venetian, LAVO at the Palazzo and Surrender at the Encore are considered to be three of the hottest nightlife spots on the strip. Both LAVO and TAO are known to be favorites of the Hollywood glamorati. Surrender spins some of the best tunes on the strip, which is no surprise, considering that celebrity DJ Steve Aoki is the music director.
If you’re looking for other ways to spend your evenings, Cirque du Soleil currently has seven permanent productions on the strip. For Broadway fans, there’s Jersey Boys at the Palazzo, Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian and The Lion King at Mandalay Bay.
Vegas is also one of the only cities in the world where shopping can be considered a nighttime activity. Most retail stores stay open until 11 p.m weekdays, midnight on Friday and Saturday.
For the only non-Manhattan boutique of famed shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, be sure to visit The Wynn Esplanade. Rolex, Dior, Louis Vuittion, Alexander McQueen, Oscar de La Renta and Brioni can also be found. If you’re in the market for a new car, the Wynn even includes a full-service Ferrari dealership.
The Forum Shops at Caesar’s counts H&M, John Varvatos, James Perse and Carolina Herrera among its tenants, while Fashion Show Mall is the place to go for J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Diesel and many other “mall stores.”
When the weather is nice, the pool decks at many Vegas hotels are hard to beat, and rival those found at tropical resorts. Many even include “beach clubs,” that offer VIP service to a select few.
Las Vegas is generally not considered a hub for the arts, but several properties have incorporated art galleries into their amenities. I had the pleasure of visiting an exhibition entitled “Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form” at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Works by Renoir and Picasso were displayed alongside photographs by Herb Ritts and visual installations by Tony Oursler. World-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and famed sculptor Richard MacDonald both have galleries at CityCenter.
Whether you’re a fashionista, a foodie or an arts savant, consider Las Vegas for your next travel destination. Abandon any preconceived stereotypes you may have about Sin City, and enjoy your time in one of the world’s greatest fantasy lands.
You won’t be disappointed.