Month: May 2011

The Strip Diary, Epilogue: We’ll Meet at the End of the Tour

Day Thirty Three: Mandarin Oriental (Comped)

8 am, London time and I’m sitting in the ‘bite.’ coffee shop in the arrivals hall of Heathrow airport, eating an egg and cress sandwich.

It’s a little more than 17 hours, including the New York layover, since I left Las Vegas. I’m tired, disorientated by the time change, and the portion sizes here are weird; like going back to your childhood classroom and finding all the chairs have shrunk.

My final few days on the Strip were a curious whirl of press — TV, radio, magazines, newspapers of various stripes — all of whom asked the same question in a different way: how has 33 days in Las Vegas changed my opinion of the city?

An amusing thought occurred to me as I stood outside Caesars Palace, talking to Fox5’s Elizabeth Watts: there’s probably no other city on earth in which a man wanting to stay an entire month would constitute headline news. But Vegas, of course, is unlike any city on earth: it’s a place where, so the popular narrative goes, out-of-towners like me fly in in our millions, drink our body-weight in alcohol, accidentally fuck a hooker and go home with enough “crazy” stories to get us through the rest of the year.

33 days of that would be a combination of madness and laziness, not least because after just a week in town, you start to see the cogs moving. Every Friday they arrive; the groups of guys, swaggering down the Strip, spaced just slightly too far apart — WE’RE GOING TO OWN THIS TOWN — the first guys ever to buy a guitar full of booze, the first to be thrown out of a casino for being too drunk, the first to every dare each other to order an escort; the first to be amazed when she actually shows up: “JUST WAIT TILL WE TELL THE GUYS BACK HOME. THAT WAS EPIC.” Also, the first to hook up with their female equivalent — the “bartender story girls”, as one local described them to me.

“All of their fucking stories start the same way” he said, putting on an alarmingly convincing Valley Girl voice: “OHMIGOD we went to Pure and the bartender made this drink — it had Vodka and Gin and Rum and… the next night OHMIGOD we went to Marquee and the bartender made this drink — it had Tequila and Absinthe and Whisky… and OHMIGOD then we went to…” and on and on, ad nausium ad infinitum.

So, yeah, embarking on this trip, I expected — and received — a lot of cynicism from Las Vegas locals. And I get it: for people who call Vegas home, the idea of yet another journalist coming to their town and living out theta Hunter S Thompson fantasy on the strip might be cause for rolled eyes and cynical sighs.

But raised eyes and cynical sighs were not the end of it. While many of the locals I encountered — Tony Hsieh, Jennifer and Michael Cornthwaite, Tom Anderson, Erika Wright, Shawn Miller et al — were generous with both their time and enthusiasm — an equal, perhaps much larger number, made it clear that I wasn’t welcome in Las Vegas and should stop trying to understand ‘their’ town.

Even as my trip entered its third and fourth weeks, even after I’d written about local museums and the regeneration of downtown and the collapse of the local housing market, nary a meeting went by without someone admitting some variation of “everybody here is saying you’re a dick, but I think you’re ok”. People tweeted stuff like this

“Regardless of popular belief, that @paulgoestovegas is one cool dude.”

“Regardless of popular belief”!

Hell, even people who were professionally obliged to be nice to me weren’t. Most hotel PRs on the Strip flatly declined to meet with me. On the few occasions when I wrote negative reviews, the reaction was swift and, well, mental — Criss Angel’s publicist spent half an hour on the phone railing against the “inaccuracies” in my review of his show (“You say that Criss is a ‘douche’ — he isn’t” / “Actually, I say he dresses like a douche. And he does. he’s 43-years-old and looks like this, for God’s sake”) while somewhat-sinisterly insisting that she’d hate for one negative review to ruin my relationship with the Cirque du Soleil “family”.

I’ve dealt with a lot of big city PRs in my life and I’ve never, ever seen the kind of defensiveness I experienced in Las Vegas. Maybe they’re just not used to being asked actual questions, I thought: after all, the city’s most high profile entertainment ‘journalist’ is the guy who used to host Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: a man who, had he been present for the killing of Osama bin Laden, would have felt compelled to praise the man’s history of charity work.

For the longest time I was baffled. The locals distrusted me — until they met me at least — the PRs hated me and the media couldn’t understand what the hell I was doing spending so long in their town. What could I do to please these people? And why on earth would Las Vegas of all places — a city that prides itself in crazy behavior and not giving a fuck — act so defensively and insecurely when faced with an unpaid blogger from — gasp — The Huffington Post?

Again, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out the answer. For a start, let’s once and for all dismiss this myth that Las Vegas is a crazy place where “anything goes”. It isn’t. It’s a place where almost nothing goes, especially if it’s likely to offend Jesus. Gay people can’t get married; and most chapels flat-out refuse to even perform civil ceremonies for (as one wedding chapel worker put it) “those people”. Strippers can’t get fully naked where alcohol is served. Escorts can’t ply their trade or get health benefits. The mannequins in the lobby of the Mirage wear pasties for fuck’s sake. Pasties! But — ooh! — at least you can smoke in casinos.

Rampant capitalism — and a bedrock of religion — do that to a place: filing the edges off the fun and distilling everything down to its most efficient money-making core. There’s no profit in anarchy; you can’t spend money when you’re unconscious. And why on earth would you want to frighten away the bible belt Republicans? They’re the ones with all the cash.

Let’s also dismiss that even more prevalent misconception — particularly amongst we outsiders — that Las Vegas is a big city that doesn’t give a fuck. It most certainly is not. Las Vegas isn’t a big city, but rather a small town which — thanks to a confluence of legislative, geographical and historical events — happens to attract billions of dollars of tourism revenue each year, centered around a single street that mostly lies just outside city limits. Oh, and it very much does give a fuck.

To be clear, when I say Vegas is a small town, I don’t mean it’s a big city with small town attitudes; I’m mean it’s actually a small town. A place where, away from the strip, you can’t walk into a bar or a coffee shop without bumping in to someone you know by name. A place where the arts scene is confined to two or three blocks, but where a passionate group of local business people and culture-lovers bust their asses every day trying to help it grow. A place where the mayor gets elected time and time again with 85+% of the vote, despite his fondness for organized crime, and no-one being sure what he actually does. A place where the next mayor will be the old mayor’s wife. A place where foreclosures hit hard, unemployment is amongst the highest in America and where the education budget is being slashed. Again.

Once you realize all of that, suddenly everything else starts to make sense. The distrust of outsiders — particularly reporters; even bloggers — isn’t because the people of Las Vegas are mean; in fact everyone I met was as warm-hearted as the people I’ve met in any town in America. It’s because every month another journalist or filmmaker comes into their small town and writes the same story, or makes the same movie (The Hangover is the cinematic equivalent of a bartender story girl).

Those writers mention the wedding chapels (ho ho ho), but not the museums; they meet the comedy mayor but not the people actually making a difference downtown. And then they fuck off and leave the good people of Las Vegas to continue worrying about their mortgages, or their kids’ schooling or their jobs. And that includes the PR people who — as one admitted under promise of anonymity — don’t want to get fired for “allowing” a rogue journalist to write something bad. “We’re used to controlling the story,” said my source, “we give them a comp and they write what we tell them, and everyone’s safe.”

Me not wanting a comp (I paid for all but three of my rooms) wasn’t a positive sign, it was a red flag: I was up to something. And no-one ever got fired for saying no. Furthermore, in a small town, no good can come from negative reviews: when tourism is the lifeblood of a place, every show has to be AMAZING, otherwise — oh God, oh God — people might stop coming.

But of course, the cynics were right weren’t they? Here I am at the end of my trip, writing the hit-job they feared. Silly old small town Vegas, with its silly terrified people — and clever old me coming in and cleverly understanding what makes the city tick.

Except that’s the precise opposite of what this is.

What this is — honestly — is a mea culpa. I came in to Las Vegas with all the swagger of a Strip-striding weekend tourist, ready to confront the place based on my misconception of its size and self-confidence. I wasted a huge amount of time being confused by the defensive attitudes I encountered and being surprised by the culture, the arts scene and how friendly everyone was when I finally got to speak to them.

It was only when I finally got past all of that, and started to hang out downtown, shoot the shit with new friends and generally act like a new arrival trying to find his way around rather than someone in search of some grand truth… it was only then that I started to understand the place. But only started.

It would be ludicrous for me to suggest I understand a damn thing about Vegas after just a month there. Socrates once said, “I am only wise insofar as what I don’t know, I don’t think I know”. And I feel like that: all my 33 days in Las Vegas has only taught me how much I don’t know about Las Vegas.

Last night, during an interview with some newspaper or other — they all bleed into one after a while — the reporter asked me whether I would ever come back to Vegas, or whether a month is enough.

I didn’t hesitate: a month is nowhere near enough. And of course I’ll come back to Vegas. Not just because I want to, but also because I have to. It’s got under my skin now: I have friendships I want to continue building, neighborhoods I want to continue exploring and promises I need to keep. I’m sad I didn’t get to experience First Friday, or to spend more time in the arts district, or to see any local theatre. I wish I’d seen Mac King, and could stick around to see how the growing popularity of Absinthe inevitably commercializes it. I have to come back for all of those reasons.

But also for one more reason: I really miss the place.

Still know too little
To write a Vegas haiku
To be continued

And so there you go. The Strip Diary, days one to thirty three. Thanks to everyone who dropped in and out along the way, and the few thousand people who interacted with me on Twitter over the past month. I appreciate all the tips, questions, clarifications and corrections. Thanks also to Arianna Huffington, Kate Auletta, David Flumenbaum, Sebastian Howard, Mario Ruiz et al at The Huffington Post for allowing me to shout from the top of their platform.

Illustration by Molly Crabapple

The Strip Diary, Day Thirty Two: The Last of the Vegas Hotel Reviews, in Haiku Form

32 nights in 32 hotels; the finish line is so close I can almost bite it. Just one night still to go, at the Mandarin Oriental, and my month-and-a-bit in Las Vegas will be over.

Of course, technically speaking I’ve failed in my stated goal: to stay a single night in every hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. For reasons I’ve already written about — and talked about — at length, I skipped out of the Palazzo, replacing my night there with one at the M Resort. I mean, I could argue a technicality: the Venetian (where I did stay) and the Palazzo share a check in and booking process, and an entrance, so technically I could argue that they’re the same hotel. But I won’t. I don’t care. What I care about is that I made it through 33 nights, staying a single night at a different hotel. And I lived to tell the tale.

Not only that, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it. Even during my horrible check-in experience at the Riviera; even during the darkest, unfunniest moment of Criss Angel’s show; even during the resulting half-hour phone call from his show’s publicist during which she insisted I’d been grossly unfair to Angel — even during all of that, I haven’t once been bored.

On the contrary; venturing downtown, visiting museums, meeting the mayor, playing video games and eating hotdogs with Tony Hseih, seeing Absinthe for the four hundredth time; every day has brought something interesting to write about and (hopefully) relatively un-dull to read about.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my final thoughts on the town, its people and what — if anything — any of it can tell us about the state of the world. Before that, though, there’s some important business to attend to before I close. And that is of course the last batch of hotel review haiku.

Here, in 5-7-5 syllables, then, are the last of them… (I’ll tweet one for Mandarin Oriental tomorrow)

Saturday: Luxor ($120)

It’s essentially
A pointy Holiday Inn
But without wifi

Sunday: Monte Carlo ($76)

Underrated gem
With wifi like greased lightning
Made up for Luxor

Monday: Bellagio ($140)

Well appointed room
Fountains never get boring
Unlike the big crowds

Tuesday: Vdara ($109)

Room had a kitchen
But still ordered room service
Which is quite stupid

Wednesday: Aria ($99)

A beautiful room
Best minibar on the strip
Made a video

The Strip Diary, Day Thirty One: Enough Has Been Written On the Awfulness of Criss Angel, So Here’s a Video

Day Thirty One: Vdara ($109)

The last thing the world needs is another person writing about how terrible Criss Angel’s Believe show at the Luxor is. Instead, then, I’ve decided to do today’s diary entry as a video. In which I talk about how terrible Criss Angel’s Believe show at the Luxor is.

If you’re looking for a snappy rant, this isn’t for you. Instead it’s twelve and a half minutes of me venting my frustration at everything that’s wrong with bad Las Vegas magicians, and everything that’s right — by contrast — with Penn & Teller’s show at the Rio.

The too long, didn’t watch summary: Criss Angel’s show is a disgrace, his use of stooges is beneath contempt, I feel sorry for Cirque Du Soleil (who co-produced the show) like one feels sorry for the long-suffering wife of a complete dickhead — and you should see Penn & Teller instead.

Video below…

Untitled from Paul Carr on Vimeo.

Quick note: in the video I say I can’t believe that Angel’s show cost $100 million to put on. I checked. It did.

The Strip Diary, Day Thirty: The Las Vegas Natural History Museum Has Outlived Liberace

Day Thirty: The Bellagio ($144)

“I can’t even make payroll from admissions fees”.

Marilyn Gillespie isn’t complaining; simply acknowledging a fact. Gillespie is the Executive Director of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum and, in the world of Las Vegas museums, her’s constitutes a success story. “We had a Guggenheim, but that’s gone,” she says, “even the Liberace Museum had to close.”

Seriously — Vegas couldn’t even support a Liberace museum?

“It’s a generational thing. An Elvis museum might have universal appeal, but Liberace isn’t so interesting to people any more.”

I don’t know why the loss of a Liberace museum would make me sad, but it does. “Are the museum closures because people don’t want to venture off the Strip?” I ask. “It’s partly that,” says Gillespie, “but the Guggenheim was in the Venetian. The real problem is that Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world; not the culture capital. People don’t come here for the museums.”

Indeed they don’t. During my tour of the Natural History Museum, I’ve seen maybe half a dozen visitors: in an average year, roughly 87,000 people will pass through its doors, bulked by students from the 350 schools that fall within the museum’s catchment area (The Clark County School District is the nation’s 6th largest).

Here again, though, Gillespie has a problem: with budgets cut to the bone, many schools can’t afford such fripperies as museum field trips. “Every year I write checks to the schools to ensure their students can still visit.”

The bulk of the Natural History Museum’s operating expenses are met through donations of money and exhibits — the Luxor handed over its entire King Tut exhibition to the museum — and through corporate sponsorships. As Gillespie explains, some of this corporate generosity stems from companies wanting to raise their standing in the local community, but much of it is due to government legislation like the Community Reinvestment Act which mandates that financial institutions in particular must support local cultural projects. Additional assistance comes from the city, which charges the museum just a dollar a year in rent for its building.

Despite the constant financial high-wire act, though, Gillespie clearly maintains huge enthusiasm for her job; a job she’s held since the museum opened in 1991. And I can understand the appeal of the gig, even if I can’t quite bring myself to envy her for it. As a kid growing up in South East England, my two favorite museums were the Science Museum in London and the Natural History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire. My love for the former came from its interactivity: at the push of a button, science came to life — spinning wheels spun, periscopes extended, traffic lights lit up. Tring, on the other hand, had no interaction at all, just row-after-row of glass cases containing stuffed animals I hadn’t even seen in zoos: polar bears, sharks, even — if I remember correctly – a dodo.

The Las Vegas Natural History Museum lacks both the scale of the Science Museum in London and the comprehensiveness of Tring, and yet my 10-year-old self would still have loved its stuffed polar bear, its tanks of live sharks and snakes and its interactive dinosaur exhibit and rain-forest. As a grown-up, I still had way too much fun pressing buttons and making it rain. Those things never get old.

The centerpiece of the tour, though, and the one that instantly turns Gillespie from helpful tour guide to excited historian is the King Tutankhamen exhibition. I slept through Egyptology at school, so seeing the near-faithful recreation of Tut’s tomb, and hearing Gillespie explain the story behind how it was discovered, brought a series of revelations. Did I know Tut was buried with his two (stillborn) children; the result of his incestuous marriage? No I did not, Marilyn. Did I know that the tomb had been broken into twice before Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered it in 1922? To my history teacher’s residual disappointment, again no. It’s a cliche, but in this case it’s a true one: I could have stayed there all day.

As Gillespie walks me out, back on to North Las Vegas Boulevard, six miles from the Strip and a mile from the nearest cab, she says she’d be grateful for any plug I can give to the museum.

“I’ll do what I can,” I say. And what I can do is this.

Frankly, I’d gone into the tour expecting to have to feign enthusiasm for a tired, underfunded but ultimately well-meaning local museum — but, hey, I said I was going to explore culture off the strip, and it’s not like I had many museums to choose from. But after an hour remembering my childhood love of museums, coupled with Marilyn’s stories about keeping afloat in an almost impossible market for museums, I left wishing there was something I could do to persuade every visitor to Vegas to shun the slots for an hour and swing by Tut’s tomb.

If only wishing could make it so.

The Strip Diary, Day Twenty Nine: The Oscar Goodman Show Must Go On

Day Twenty Nine: Monte Carlo ($76)

Oscar Goodman doesn’t approve of my new shoes. “You always wear sneakers?” he asks, peering across his over-ornamented desk at my bright orange Chucks. “I only own one pair of shoes,” I explain. And I do: the price of living permanently out of hand luggage. But Goodman isn’t satisfied: “You can’t dress up for the mayor?”

“I can’t dress up for funerals.”

I could have picked a better comeback, and a less well-connected person to be snarky to. This is, after all, the man who once suggested that an unsympathetic news producer should have her legs broken, and who sat by as a columnist critical of one of his friends was chased from a Four Seasons by the mob.

The fact that the mayor was drinking with the mob in the first place is a less remarkable aspect of the story: before becoming mayor, Goodman was a high-profile defense lawyer, representing old school characters like Meyer Lansky, Anthony “Tony The Ant” Spilotro and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. If you’ve seen the Scorsese movie Casino, you’ve seen Goodman: He played himself, defending a mobster played by Joe Pesci Robert De Niro.

“So what made you turn your back on that life and become mayor of Las Vegas?” I ask.

“I ran out of clients,” he explains, with a shrug — “they all died or went to jail.”

Still, sitting in his wonderfully over-the-top Las Vegas office, Goodman looks like a man who was born to be mayor of Las Vegas. His desk, the floor, and any other available surface are packed with memorabilia of the town, from life-sized showgirls, to mayoral poker chips to a curious little shine celebrating Zappos’ Tony Hsieh. It’s a mayoral office, as designed by TGI Fridays.

“Oh please, says the mayor, “it’s better than TGI Fridays… “

“Bennigans?” I suggest — I’m flying slightly blind when it comes to the hierarchy of American restaurants.

“How about PJ Clarke’s?” he suggests.

Deal. Although feigning offense over dress codes and the classiness of his office is a bit much coming from Goodman: This is, after all, the man who accepted $100,000 from Bombay Sapphire Gin to be its spokesman (he donated the money to charity) and then told a group of schoolchildren that his hobbies include “drinking Bombay Sapphire gin” and that the item he would take to a desert island would be “a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.”

Whether schtick or genuine irreverence, Goodman’s personality does the trick for Vegas voters: He’s nearing the end of his third and final term — a term he won with 84% of the vote — and is only calling it a day due to Las Vegas’ term limits. The lead candidate to replace him? His wife. “We’re a team, and there’s a lot I still want to achieve — her becoming mayor will allow us to finish what we started.”

“So you think she’ll win?” I ask.

“Yes,” he laughs, predicting she’ll get 65% of the vote. The polls seem to bear out his confidence.

Less verifiable than his — and his wife’s — popularity are Goodman’s actual achievements over the 12 years he’s been in office. On the face of it, his seems to have been a mayorship as written by Aaron Sorkin: getting nothing done in a highly entertaining way, leaving behind a proud legacy of soundbites. In 2003, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him “Least Effective Public Official” (that same year he was re-elected with 86% of the vote) while Chris Giunchigliani — who is rivaling Carolyn Goodman in the mayoral elections — “defined Oscar Goodman’s legacy as two blocks of new nightclubs on Fremont Street and the beginnings of a club scene in the downtown Arts District.”

In response, Goodman points proudly to the regeneration of downtown Vegas and the city’s emerging arts scene, both of which began during his time in office. And yet he is quick to credit the likes of Michael and Jennifer Cornthwaite — and other members of Vegas’ “creative class” — for much for the work, which echoes what Jennifer Cornthwaite told me last week: that those regenerating downtown don’t want too much involvement for the city, lest everything get bogged down in red tape. Goodman takes credit only for providing “a little leadership,” including waiving liquor fees for some venues in the Freemont East and Arts districts.

So, if that’s the finished business, what does Goodman consider unfinished?

“I’d like Las Vegas to have a major league sports team,” he says. Goodman has tried a couple of times to attract a big team to the city — including making a formal offer to San Diego Chargers to relocate — but so far he’s been rebuffed. “I have three weeks,” he says “and it still might happen — I have a couple of meetings lined up.”

Another as-yet-unrealized Goodman proposal is for the creation of a red-light district in Las Vegas, to provide a safe place for the prostitution, which everybody knows exists in the town.

“What?” says the mayor in mock horror — “prostitution in my town?”

“Let me guess, you’re… “

“…I’m shocked, shocked… “

Goodman is hard not to like. “Ok,” I say, “but you are at least proposing a red-light district.”

“I’m saying it’s something we should discuss.”

Goodman’s unwillingness to admit to the town’s reputation for paid-for sex is curious, but unsurprising. One of the things that puzzles — or perhaps amuses — me the most about Las Vegas is its tangled web of moral contradictions. This is a town in which anyone can get married in an hour, but in which the law demands that even the tackiest chapel must have a formal religious affiliation. It’s also a town in which you can drink 24-hours-a-day, or watch girls get naked for money, but not at the same time.

“Aren’t all the contradictions a bit weird?” I ask.

“Yes they are. Las Vegas is a tale of two cities. Along with the fun side, as mayor, I’m the advocate of two million squares.”

I laugh. “And yet they still vote for you, these squares. These people you call squares.”

“Being a square isn’t a bad thing,” the mayor insists, “it’s a compliment to be called a square.”

“It’s hip to be square?” I ask.


So the chances of getting a red-light district built in the city are roughly zero, then? “It won’t happen in my lifetime — even though it’s safer [than the current blanket ban on prostitution, and denial that it exists], it will bring in revenue… “

It might even get rid of the card-flickers from the Vegas strip, I suggest. “They’re not my problem,” Goodman points out. “I’m the mayor of Las Vegas [most of the strip is not actually in Las Vegas, but rather neighboring Clark County] — in fact I didn’t even know what was on those cards until Piers Morgan told me.”

He is keen to draw the same “not-my-problem” distinction when I ask him about the city’s financial woes: “You can’t argue with the fact that hotels aren’t getting built, that people are broke and unemployed… “ I suggest when Goodman waxes bullish on the city’s recovery. “Actually, I can argue with that,” he says, “the hotels not being built are on the strip, and the houses… have you been out to Tivoli [a shopping, office and dining development that opened last month]?”

I haven’t. And of course I’ve made the classic mistake of the rookie public prosecutor coming face-to-face with the veteran defense attorney; arriving at the argument woefully unprepared. I knew that unemployment and foreclosure rates in Las Vegas were high — but I didn’t have the hard numbers to hand. Goodman, on the other hand, was able to list half a dozen examples of how Las Vegas is pulling out of recession.

No further questions.

And so then it was the mayor’s turn to cross-examine me. Did I go to school in the UK or the U.S.? Which school? What did I study? Law! His face lights up.

The English legal system seems to be a minor obsession for mayor Goodman, mainly for the showmanship of it all.

“I went to the Old Bailey in London,” he says, “I wanted to put on a wig. I think I’d have looked good in a wig in Casino.” I promise to try to get him a barrister’s wig when I’m next in London.

For all he enjoys being mayor, Goodman clearly spends a lot of time reliving his past courtroom glories. “Do you miss the mob?” I ask him. He doesn’t hesitate.

“I do. I miss the old ways, when a man’s word was his bond and you could go to sleep at night over a handshake.

“And today?”

“The corporations had taken over by the late 1980s — now you can have a file of contracts this big,” — he raises his hand chest-high — “and they still mean nothing.”

It’s safe to say that the mob also appealed more to Goodman’s sense of theatrics than any corporation ever could. On my way out, I spot a big brown lump, lying on his couch. “Holy shit, is that a horse’s head?”

“Yes it is,” — he’s beaming now — “it was a gift. Originally it was covered in fake blood — I had to use my wife’s nail polish remover to clean it up.”

The Strip Diary, Weekend Roundup: Yet More Vegas Hotel Reviews, in Haiku Form

Day Twenty Seven: The M Resort (Comp)

If I were prone to Trumpian flights of conspiracy fantasy, my paranoia would have been off the charts on Thursday night. Not twelve hours after I quoted a representative of Culinary 226 describing Venetian boss Sheldon Adelson as “a horrible human being”, I checked in at Mr Adelson’s flagship hotel and — well — it seems revenge is a dish best served offline.

For a start, the Venetian screwed up my booking: I had planned to stay a single night each in the Venetian and the Palazzo; Thursday and Friday. In fact, when I arrived at 9 p.m. on Thursday I found I had actually been booked into both hotels on the same night. To make matters even worse the person at the front desk was unable to fix the error, leading to the irritating possibility that my credit card would be charged as a no-show for the second room. Cool!

By the time I gave up trying to remedy the booking snafu, it was already heading close to 10 p.m., and I had to be up at 4:30 a.m. the next day to be on television. That barely gave me time to bash out a couple of already overdue columns and grab a couple of hours sleep before my wake up call. Time to fire up the Venetian’s wifi and…


Forty five minutes later and I was still sitting on hold with the hotel’s IT department. As it turned out, the entire building was without internet access due to some unspecified problem with the server. Quite why the IT department hadn’t communicated this fact to the front desk and avoided the need for me — and presumably countless others — from wasting almost an hour on hold, I’m not certain. Still, by a little after 11 p.m. everything was back up and running.

For five minutes.

And then it was down again. Net result: two missed deadlines, almost no sleep and a very, very frustrated me. Nicely played, Mr. Adelson.

On the upside, the series of unfortunate events lead to the admirably opportunist PR folks at The M Resort offering me alternative accommodation the following night, and even promising to personally check the wifi was working before I arrived.

Despite the fact that the M Resort is about ten miles south of the Luxor (albeit still on Las Vegas Boulevard) I decided to stretch my ‘only staying on the strip’ rule to breaking point for one night, for the following three reasons…

1) Since arriving in Las Vegas, everyone — including staff at rival hotels — has been telling me to check out the M and its famous buffet. The M is basically the Absinthe of hotels.

2) Staying at the M instead of the Palazzo seemed like a neat way to say “fuck you” to the Venetian while actually staying somewhere that had verifiably operational wifi.

3) Did I mention they were offering to comp me a Flat Suite?

Now, of course, anything I can possibly say about the M is rendered meaningless due to the entirely PR-driven nature of my stay. Not only did the hotel comp me a huge suite — which was absolutely perfect in every detail, even down to the gallons of Diet Coke someone had left waiting for me on the bar — but from the moment I set foot in the place, every staff-member I encountered greeted me by name. The guy who checked me in asked me about Absinthe. Clearly someone was really keen to prove that they were better than the Venetian. And they succeeded.

But, while the room was clearly rigged to be a guaranteed win, it’s hard to PR-rig a buffet — and the one at the M was worth the ten mile taxi ride many times over. It’s just lucky that I didn’t visit during my drinking days — with free booze included in the price of admission, there’s every chance that I’d still be there now.

Anyway, back to reality — and this week’s round up of the previous week in hotel stays, told through the medium of haiku.

Friday: Tropicana ($159)

Upgraded to suite
The world’s only bath-less suite
First rate service though

Saturday: Encore ($299)

Looked in minibar
Sad to find no Jelly Beans
Thus the Wynn still wins

Sunday: Mandalay Bay ($56)

Decent mid-range place
But crawling with screaming kids
Like bees in The Swarm

Monday: THEhotel at Mandalay Bay ($64)

Pleasant surprises
Turn down service brought fresh ice
Small things score big points

Tuesday: Mirage ($99)

Totally fine room
And has dolphins and tigers
and Beatles, oh my

Wednesday: New York-New York ($155)

I was downgraded
Bitched at bad room on Twitter
I was upgraded

Thursday: Venetian ($179)

Waste of time, money
See above for full details
Will never go back

Friday: The M Resort (Comp)

Gave me a free suite
To show up the Venetian
Fuck you accomplished

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