Best Bets: An Insider's Guide to Vegas
Sin City has been on a roll lately. The gritty home of showgirls and one-armed bandits has developed an air of refinement, luring a bevy of businesses ranging from restaurants by celebrity chefs--Wolfgang Puck, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten among them--to tech companies. Last year, Inc. named Las Vegas the hottest large city for entrepreneurs, reflecting the city's job growth of more than 25 percent over the past five years. The city also continues to play host to countless conferences and trade shows like the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place this month.
With so many new choices around town, where should a high roller go? We asked the owners of four companies that do business in Vegas to guide us through Elvis's old stomping ground.
Thomas Tait, Nevada Rose
Almost two years ago, Thomas Tait, 56, and former Nevada Governor Bob Miller founded Nevada Rose. Their company imports Sence, a Bulgarian drink, made from roses, that is typically used as a mixer in cocktails. Before that, Tait, who has been a Vegas denizen for some 37 years, was the head of the state's tourism commission.
Nothing beats the Bellagio Fountains, particularly from the balcony of the hotel's Fontana Bar. It's a great club for older people, with more easy-listening dance music. It's spectacularly romantic.
Old Vegas Nostalgia Spot
I recommend three restaurants: the House of Lords Steak House in the Sahara Casino, Battista's Hole in the Wall, and Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House. Sure, you can go to Binion's or Fremont Street, but even though those places were part of the old, pre-Strip Vegas, they haven't made the effort to retain that old glamour.
Place To Drive Fast
At the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, they train you, suit you up, and get you into a NASCAR-type stockcar. Then you get to drive 150 miles an hour.
Place To Stargaze
Take the Desert Princess Cruise on Lake Mead, about 45 minutes away from the center of the Strip. The ship holds about 300 passengers and looks like something you'd find on the Mississippi. At night, the black sky over Lake Mead is really something to see. There are zillions of stars. And you get to see the Hoover Dam all lit up.
Valerie Bent, Big Feet Pajama
Valerie Bent, 38, moved to Las Vegas after a medical condition left her with frequent chills. She founded Big Feet Pajama in 2005 to make footed sleepwear for adults. Last year, the company had sales of $1 million.
Place To Stay On A Budget
The Luxor always has inexpensive rooms, sometimes as low as $60 and $70 a night. It's centrally located on the Strip, and the rooms are decent-size and quiet. Plus, there's an indoor walkway to Mandalay Bay, which is where all the shopping is.
Place To Stay When You're Not On A Budget
I'm a poker player, so the Bellagio is my fave. You can order food service right at your table, and you'll see Hollywood celebrities in the high-limit room. The rooms are the best on the Strip, especially those with a mountain view. I'm also partial to the Wynn, where every room has a flat-screen HDTV.
For blackjack, the Las Vegas Club Casino has the most liberal rules. You can split as many pairs as you like. The Casino Royale has 100 times odds at the craps tables. For poker, you've got to hit the Bellagio, where there are heavy action games on weekends. You'll always see the pros there.
At the Barbary Coast Casino, they have Big Elvis, a 500-pound Elvis impersonator. I took my mother to this show and to Elton John's, which was $250 a ticket. Elton was fabulous, but guess what? She liked Big Elvis better.
Tony Hsieh, Zappos.com
Tony Hsieh, 33, runs Zappos.com, an online shoe retailer with annual sales of close to $600 million. Hsieh moved the headquarters from San Francisco to Las Vegas three years ago for the low taxes and deep pool of customer service talent.
Place To Grab A Beer
Go to Hofbräuhaus, a giant German beer hall, full of people singing and dancing. You sit at long tables drinking out of humongous steins. It's rowdy, noisy, and fun.
Alizé, at the top of the Palms Hotel, has the perfect combination: a friendly staff, great food, and an intimate atmosphere that makes you feel welcome. It also has the best view. If you have a reservation, there's never a wait.
Deal In The City
The $7.77 Gambler's Special at Mr. Lucky's 24-7 restaurant in the Hard Rock Casino. It comes with steak, shrimp, salad, and potatoes, and it's not on the menu. You have to know to ask for it.
The Fast Lap--it's an indoor track. We had a vendor take us there and, well, you just drive around in go-carts, which is kind of an insane amount of fun for a grownup.
Drai's in the Barbary Coast Casino. If you get there at midnight, you're way too early. It gets busy at 2 or 3 a.m., and peaks at about 5 a.m. They play great music at high decibels.
Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, Chris Wink, Blue Man Group
The three founders of Blue Man Productions--Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink--still live in New York City, where they originally performed the long-running Off-Broadway show Blue Man Group. These days, managing their growing blue empire means regular visits to Las Vegas. Their Vegas show has given close to 4,000 performances since its opening in 2000, and is now the largest of the five Blue Man Group productions in North America.
Show That's Not Céline Dion
Besides Blue Man Group? We're big fans of Penn and Teller's show at the Rio Casino. They have a hilarious, creative show. It's a great experience you'll never forget.
Speed, the NASCAR ride at the Sahara Casino, but only if you do it three times in a row. You go in a loop at 70 miles per hour. Then you do it in reverse.
We like late-night "Cosmic" Bowling at the Gold Coast Casino. They play crazy music, and there's colorful lighting. It doesn't matter if you're not so great at bowling because there are plenty of distractions.
Place To Meet People
The Hard Rock Casino is a very social place. A lot of celebrities hang out there and, in general, the people who go there are fun and hip.
Places To Avoid
If you can help it, don't drive the Strip or I-15 on Friday nights. They're like parking lots. Also, try to avoid Mccarren Airport on Tuesday mornings. The security lines are extremely long.
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