Sunday, June 22, 2008

Las Vegas: In Search of a Tuna Sandwich

I spent the past week in Las Vegas - preparing for and then producing a "live" podcast series from a business seminar is one of the things that's kept the fhb blogging light over the past several weeks. All-in-all things went pretty well. The usual expected glitches. But we recorded over a dozen podcasts averaging 15 minutes each over the space of three days, and got most of them posted within a few hours after recording.

It's been a little under a decade since the last time I was in Vegas. I was on a business trip - working a trade show - that time too. In fact while I've been to Las Vegas a half-dozen times or so, I've been there only once on a pleasure trip, and that was 16 years ago with Peggy. We had a good time - stayed at the Mirage, saw the white tigers, did a show at the Aladdin, gambled a bit, ate at what at the time was one of the few seafood places in the town, the Tillerman off the main strip; and spent some good time away from the city too, traveling to both Hoover Dam and a Nevada ghost town, as well as ending up in the middle of a cattle drive... but that's another story.

Vegas, as nearly everyone there will tell you repeatedly, has changed. Vegas has always changed. I'd expect that if I went back tomorrow the town would have changed. I more or less missed the Rat Pack ring-a-ding-ding era of the Vegas most people my age still think of when imagining Vegas - the Sinatra/Mob/Gambling/Comping/Big Acts/Mid-America on vacation Las Vegas - only knowing it by hearsay when my father would bring back a story or autograph from one of his layovers there.

When Peg and I went in the early `90s, Vegas was on the downside of that era, still heavily into the cheap buffet, scantily-clad showgirls, and now promoting small but inexpensive rooms in gaudy hotels that all had some shtick to differentiate them from the others ... exploding volcanoes, pirate battles, knights in armor. And the casino was king. Most of the floorspace at the Mirage and other hotels was given over to gambling.

Things, as I said, have changed again, at least where I was staying, which was at the Palazzo, part of the Venetian casino-resort complex. Both Palazzo and Venetian place a heavier emphasis on resort rather than casino, and many people seemed to be in the small casino areas only because they had to pass through them to reach shops, restaurants, spa, or business conference. As one of my traveling companions remarked sardonically, the powers at Vegas are in a constant search for new ways of extracting money from visitors. Not into gambling? No problem. Most of the floor space is devoted to either upper-scale shops or upper-scale celebrity chef restaurants. The shows are Broadway-style - the Palazzo was featuring Jersey Boys and the comedian Wayne Brady.

And one thing in Vegas that hasn't changed over the years is the emphasis on excess: Supra omnibus in rebus is the Las Vegas motto. Are the Palazzo rooms - all suites - beautiful? Yes, so beautiful that I felt a little embarrassed staying there - I kept expecting to find a family of four camped out in my closet. And the high-def LCD panels in living room and bedroom are nice, but do I really need one in the bathroom too?

Is the breakfast room service great? Yep, if you're okay with $30+ for a bagel, fruit, and coffee. But you can't say that the Palazzo short-changes you on helpings. The plate of fruit I got was on a platter, and I was still noshing on it into lunch. I made the mistake one morning of ordering one of my travel favorites - lox - and got what appeared to be half a smoked salmon that could have easily fed that family of four camped in my suite's closet.

Lunch and dinner in the hotel were the same - You weren't going to get away for less than $30 bucks for lunch anywhere in the Palazzo, and there was no such thing as a simple sandwich. By Thursday I was desperate for a plain tuna sandwich - no capers, special vermont smoked cheese, black olives, tuna nicoise of a sandwich, but just a good ol' tuna sandwich - and had to go up the street to Caesars and the Carney Deli to find one... and it still cost me $10 bucks.

Diner was - in a phrase - over the top. I took a client out to the Venetian's Aquaknox, which I highly recommend, but I also highly recommend deep pockets if you go there, too. On the one hand, I haven't had so many people waiting on me since Mexico - I think we had something like six separate servers - and the meal was excellent. I had possibly the best ahi tuna I've ever eaten. But you pay for what you get, especially in Vegas, and the tab was well North of $200.

And after awhile it all seems frighteningly normal to spend money that way. By the end of the trip my spending $30 for a cigar and $24 for two drinks while enjoying the cigar seemed, I dunno, okay.

Hey, spending more on ceegars and booze than I would normally spend on a meal?

It's Vegas, baby.


1 comment: said...

I moved here in 1993 and it reminded me how much times have changed.

The price of cigars is obnoxious at Strip resorts. $28 for a Monticristo (white band) toro... a cigar that goes for $9-11 elsewhere. (Nevada also has a 30 tax on cigars which does not help).

The cigar bar in Paris Las Vegas actually has prices on many popular brands that don't sting so much. My advice? Buy a few cigars that come in the tubes before you come to town. Of if you have a car, stop by Ideal Wholesale Tabacco (they sell to the public at very competative prices):

Google Map of Ideal Tabacco

If you get tired of $30 room service, make your way to the food court in the back of O'Sheas. You'll find a Burger King, sandwich place, and similar. Great for a quick, cheap meal.

You can still grab a little bit of the Rat Pack. The (show) called Rat Pack Is Back plays the Plaza downtown. I haven't seen it yet, but everyone I know has been raving about it (and it won't set you back like the price of a Cirque ticket).

Enjoyed the post!

Ted Newkirk
Managing Editor