Month: April 2011 Page 1 of 3

The Strip Diary, Day Twenty Five: Hey China, President Trump Will See You Next Tuesday

Day Twenty Five: New York, New York ($179)

The Huffington Post has a very strict, and admirable, policy against ad hominem attacks. I know this because a couple of weeks ago I submitted the first draft of a post calling for a boycott of Donald Trump’s Las Vegas hotel and, an hour or so later, I got a phone call politely but firmly explaining that policy.

On that occasion, it was an easy fix — a couple of tweaks so that I was hating the game and not the player. This time around, having sat in a ballroom at the Treasure Island last night, listening to Trump address a group of Nevada-based “Republican Women’s Groups,” my task is way harder.

In fact, after less than an hour in the same room as Donald Trump, I defy any right-thinking human being not to want to call him some pretty unpleasant names. After all, if Trump gets his way, America will immediately be plunged into a pit of political and economic isolationism that would make the Bush Jr years seem positively warm and fuzzy. As a foreigner who loves America, it took all of my reserves of self control not to heckle from my press seat.…


The Strip Diary, Day Twenty Four: Going Undercover With Culinary 226

Day Twenty Four: The Mirage ($99)

“What do you think about an effigy?”

The union worker’s colleague looks puzzled. “I’m not sure what that is.”

Up until now I’ve been standing quietly, listening to their conversation. But now I can’t help myself: “It’s like a paper-mache model of a person. Generally speaking, they’re burnt. You haven’t really arrived until you’ve been burnt in effigy.”

“Oh, ok. Uh. Let’s talk about that later.”

Yeah, probably best table that discussion until there isn’t a journalist being given a tour of the union hall.

I love unions, and I don’t. A child of the 80s, I grew up in the UK at a time when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (“the Iron Lady”) was doing all that she could to de-unionize the UK, including triggering the 1984 (coal) miners’ strike which devastated entire communities and cost the UK economy something in the order of 1.5bn pounds ($2bn+). Later, I began what I still wryly refer to as my journalistic career writing for the Guardian newspaper, which, on union matters, is only slightly to the right of the Socialist Worker.

And yet, as if proving Churchill’s maxim that “if you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain,” the older I’ve become, the more conservative I’ve turned on the subject.…


The Strip Diary, Day Twenty Three: Please Help Me! I’m Going On Television by Mistake

Day Twenty Three: THEhotel at Mandalay Bay ($83.99)

Dearest Readers,

I need your help.

I may be 5,000 miles from London, but even here in Las Vegas, I can’t utter a word in my British accent without somebody mentioning the upcoming Royal Wedding.

“You must be very excited,” said a total stranger in the coffee shop at the Cosmopolitan last Sunday. The poor woman babbled on for a good minute-and-a-half about dresses and abbeys and the Archbishop of Canterbury before I had the first idea what she was talking about. “I expect you’ll be watching it on television?” said someone else who I got chatting with at the gelato place in Vdara. Not wanting to disappoint the enthusiastic colonials, I gave the most British answer I could: “oh yes, jolly excited — and of course I’ll be watching on television. Crikey, toodle pip, cor blimey Mary Poppins… “ all that nonsense. They lapped it up and went away happy.

But then a few days ago I received an email from a producer at KSNV Channel 3, asking me to come on their breakfast show on Friday and — I shit you not — help commentate their royal wedding coverage. Idiotically — publicity whore that I am — I agreed.…


The Strip Diary, Day Twenty Two: Las Vegas House Prices Are Now Your Friend

Day Twenty Two: The Mandalay Bay Hotel ($95)

Yesterday, I wrote about Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s plans to regenerate downtown Las Vegas by moving his company’s 1,100 employees to a new campus in Fremont East. One of the side effects of the move, I mentioned, is that many of those employees are now looking to buy houses closer to downtown. And for those buyers, Internet tycoon-turned-Las Vegas housing expert Tom Anderson has some good news: there has never been a better time to buy a home in Vegas.

“In August 2006 [Las Vegas] house prices were 134% higher than they were in January 2000,” he explains, “but as of January 2011, prices are back to around those 2000 levels. When you adjust that for inflation and current wages, homes here have never been more affordable.” And it’s this affordability which makes Las Vegas such a haven for property speculators. “You’ve got a lot of investors — and some regular homeowners — making all-cash purchases in Vegas right now. In fact over 50% of monthly home sales in Vegas are all cash-purchases, and have been for a few years.”

By “all-cash”, of course, Anderson means houses bought without mortgages, either by people with lots of money to spend, or — more frequently — by those who are buying real estate as an investment.…


The Strip Diary, Day Twenty One: From Sin City to Sim City — Tony Hsieh’s Plan to Rebuild Downtown Vegas

Day Twenty One: Encore at Wynn ($259)

“So, how are you going to write sarcastically about all of this?”

Tony Hsieh makes a good rhetorical point. We’re standing in the Downtown Cocktail Room, the epitome of a hipster San Francisco bar: hot young locals lounging on sofas, sipping cocktails with names like ‘Sniff Happens’ and ‘Persephone’s Pomme’; moody lighting; bathroom stalls with two-way mirrors so you can look out as you pee; half of the people in here work for an Internet company. You know the drill.

The only difference is, we’re not in San Francisco. We’re in Las Vegas. And all of these Internet people work for Zappos, the Internet shoe retailer that relocated here from San Francisco in 2004. I’ve been invited to join company CEO Hsieh (pronounced “shay”) and his team for one of their regular Friday night social events so that he can tell me about his big new project.

And what does the CEO of a company that was acquired by Amazon for almost a billion dollars do next?

He rebuilds downtown Las Vegas, obviously.

Since the start of my trip to Las Vegas, I’ve received dozens of emails and tweets encouraging me to get off the strip and explore “downtown”, the area around Fremont Street which formed the town’s original gambling center, before the advent of the Strip.…


The Strip Diary, Weekend Round-up: Even More Vegas Hotel Reviews, in Haiku Form

You know that old phrase? Time flies when you’re staying a single night in every single hotel on the Vegas Strip? Well it’s true!

You know that other phrase? That you’ll bust your ass all week writing about Elvis wedding chapels, blogging escorts, terrible parents and dangerous circus acts — but all anyone will compliment you on are the damn haiku? Turns out that’s true too!

And so here we are, at the end of week three, and time for another round up my past week’s hotel stays — from Paris to the Wynn — in handy haiku form. (Previous weeks’ installments here and here)

Friday: Paris ($150)

Une salle très plaisante
But weird that les hotel signs
Use clunky Franglais

Saturday: Harrah’s ($120)

The blandest hotel
Amazed how little stood out
Oh! Toilet was black!

Sunday: Planet Hollywood ($70)

Stayed here with a girl
She adored the huge bathroom
You know how girls are

Monday: Flamingo ($40)

Comfort and service
And the room was forty bucks
Surely some mistake

Tuesday: Treasure Island ($59.95)

Who knew that pirates
Make great room service salads?
They kept that quiet

Wednesday: MGM Grand ($69.99)

Huge bed, spacious room
But why don’t hotel desk chairs
Ever fit the desk?


The Strip Diary, Day Eighteen: The Economics of Long-Term Hotel Living (and Why Vegas Messes Them Up)

Day Eighteeen: MGM Grand ($69.99)

Today has been a busy day. I’ve visited Zappos and Vegas.com; I’ve had coffee with two bankruptcy lawyers who explained why Vegas real estate is screwed; and I’ve explored some of downtown and Fremont street, my impressions of which I’m hoping to share this weekend.

The result of all this running around is that, having just checked in to my next hotel (video below), I only have half an hour before dinner and I haven’t even started to think about today’s diary entry.

It’s time, then, for another installment of my regular feature: “Paul meets his deadline by writing in generic terms about hotels”. Today’s episode… how I manage to live in hotels permanently without bankrupting myself.

A few days ago, I talked about how I can’t understand why the whole world doesn’t live in hotels. Unsurprisingly, given how disingenuous that statement was, I got lots of mail in response.

More than one correspondent pointed out that many people have husbands or wives — and kids — which prevent them from gallivanting around the world. Others — mostly girls — argued that they couldn’t bear to be without all of their clothes, furniture and other stuff.…


The Strip Diary, Day Seventeen: I’m Not Elvis, I Just Play One at a Wedding

Day Seventeen: Treasure Island ($59.95)

“So be sweet and kind to mother,

Now and then have a chat.

Buy her candy or some flowers or a brand new hat.

But maybe you had better let it go at that”

– Tom Lehrer, Oedipus Rex

“One guy called to ask how distant two relatives have to be to get married.”

Brian Mills — dressed as Elvis — is sharing one of the stranger questions he’s been asked as general manager of the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel.

“I feel like if you have to ask the question, you’re probably not distant enough,” I reply.

“Yeah, he wanted to marry his mother.”


“Right. I asked him — ‘why would you want to marry your mother?’ And he said ‘I figured I should if we’re going to carry on having sex’.”

Brian is brilliant. A former star of Les Folies Bergere at the Tropicana, Brian’s acting career took a knock when his next gig was canceled after September 11th. “A lot of people stopped coming to Vegas; shows closed; things were pretty bad. But then Ron DeCar — the owner of this place, who also used to be in Les Folies Bergere — asked me to cover for him as Elvis while he was away in London.…


The Strip Diary, Day Sixteen: An Open Letter to Parents Who Bring Their Children to Las Vegas

Day Sixteen: Flamingo ($40)

Dear Parents Who Bring Their Children To Las Vegas,

Sorry to interrupt your “vacation of a lifetime”, but I need you to do me a quick favor. Put down your frozen margaritas for a second, look up from the poker table and take a long hard look at yourselves in the mirrored ceiling.

How do you look?


Thoroughly and visibly mortified at the sight of your own criminally-negligent faces?

No? Well, you should. Because you are terrible parents.

“Now hold on a monument” you’re saying, probably pausing mid-word to take a swig from your lurid green drink, “you’ve got it all wrong. We love our kids. They’re safely tucked away in our hotel room, with a babysitter. They’re having a ball; watching in-room movies, ordering room service and playing with the toys they won at Circus Circus.”

Well good for them, and I’ll give you half a point for not tucking them under the poker table while you gamble away their college fund. But none of that changes the fact that you’re terrible parents. You became so six months ago when you had this conversation…

Mom: “Honey, we have two choices for our vacation this year.…


The Strip Diary, Day Fifteen: A Las Vegas Courtesan Talks Sex, Crying Wives and Windshield Wipers

Day Fifteen: Planet Hollywood ($70)

Only since the advent of the Internet has it been possible to achieve huge fame, while also retaining total anonymity.

The most ready examples of that phenomenon are found in the ranks of the sex bloggers: the (usually) young (usually) women who write about their private lives for the titillation and education of the masses. A few — Belle de Jour; Girl With A One Track Mind — have received lucrative book deals and subsequently been “outed“ — but the majority of others continue to plug away in glittering obscurity.

One blogger in the latter category is The Las Vegas Courtesan (NSFW, obviously), who is precisely as her nom de plume suggests: a call girl living and working in Las Vegas.

I’m slightly ashamed to say that, before landing in Vegas, I’d never heard of The Courtesan’s blog — or her Twitter account — which is a shame because they both make fascinating reading, going way beyond voyeuristic insight into the life of a sex worker. Of particular note is The Courtesan’s mission to tour and photograph every brothel in the state of Nevada. “I sometimes feel bad taking a tour and then telling the girls I’m not interested in anything more,” she told me when we met.…


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