An Introduction to the 18b Arts District

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Retro Vegas

Retro Vegas in the 18b Arts District, north of the Stratosphere.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who lives in Las Vegas said to me that “Vegas has no culture.” I think he was joking; it’s hard to tell sometimes. But I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. It may be hard to see the culture from inside a casino-resort on the Strip, but it’s there. Who creates the culture of a place? Its artists, of course. Find out where the artists spend their time, and you’ll find the culture.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been hearing a lot about “the 18b Arts District” in Las Vegas, mainly due to its popular monthly First Friday event, featuring artists displaying their works, food trucks, live music and a general block party vibe. Sadly, I am almost never in town on a Friday night, let alone the first Friday of the month, so I’d never made it to 18b to check it out.

Prior to my January Vegas trip, I received an email from a PR/marketing firm offering to show me around the Arts District so I could get a sense of what’s there. I thought it was high time I visited the neighborhood, so I took them up on that. If you, like me, don’t have access to a car when you’re in Las Vegas, you can get there via SDX or Deuce bus from the Strip or Fremont Street and get off at the 18b Arts District stop on Casino Center Drive. (If you have access to a car, you’ll also find parking along the street in this neighborhood.) Continue reading

Solo Dining at Giada

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Those windows command a superior view of the Strip.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Giada at the Cromwell, by chef Giada DeLaurentiis, is one of the most talked-about Vegas restaurant openings of the past year. I’m mostly immune to these sorts of things, but I admit, the hype got to me. For one thing, it’s nice to see another female celebrity chef opening a restaurant on the Strip. If I’m not mistaken, the last one to do so was Carla Pellegrini when she opened Bacio at the Tropicana–and that was a few years ago.

But, gender aside, what really matters is the food and dining experience. Early reviews on Giada were very positive. My brother (“Vegasbrolo”) and his wife ate here the week before I did and raved about it. But I don’t believe I ever read any reviews speaking from the solo diner point of view. It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it. Oh, who am I kidding? I couldn’t wait to try it. So I made a reservation for my January trip.

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The Legendary Big Elvis

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Big Elvis Poster

Big Elvis Poster

Those of you who are new to Las Vegas–or perhaps too young to remember the late Elvis Presley (1935-1977)–may have heard that the city has its fair share of Elvis impersonators. You might wonder why, after all these years. Not only did he star in the movie “Viva Las Vegas,” but Elvis had a hugely successful seven-year residency in Las Vegas (at the Las Vegas International Hotel, now the Westgate), so his life and music are as much a part of the fabric of this city as the Rat Pack.

It feels like a rite of passage to see an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, as much as seeing a magic show or Cirque du Soleil or even playing a slot machine just to say you did. I’ve seen two Elvis impersonators in the past: One guy who was just an okay singer but very funny; and Steve Connolly, who is fantastic and can be seen Downtown at the Four Queens in his “Spirit of the King” show.

But perhaps the most legendary Elvis tribute artist in Las Vegas is Peter “Big Elvis” Vallee, who has performed on the Strip for many years (formerly at the Barbary Coast/Bill’s and now at Harrahs Piano Bar). He is known as “Big Elvis” because he is a very big guy. For one reason or another, I have never made it to his show until my trip this January. It has taken me over a decade of visits to Las Vegas to see him perform. Shame on me. Continue reading

Sprinkles: Sweet Convenience

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Sprinkles at the Linq

My love for cupcakes is already well-documented in this blog. They’re “cakes for one,” essentially, and what single person doesn’t appreciate the ability to buy something in a single-sized package? So I always perk up a bit when I see a store devoted to cupcakes wherever I go.

There used to be a great little cupcake place on the Street of Dreams in the Monte Carlo (which I believe closed–sob). The Downtown Container Park has CupKates. And the Linq has Sprinkles. But Sprinkles has a bit of an edge, in my opinion, because here, you can get your cupcake fix 24/7 thanks to the most ingenious invention known to humankind: The cupcake ATM. Continue reading

The Year of the Goat. Or Sheep. Take Your Pick

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Goat Mountain

Goat Mountain in the Bellagio Conservatory

Chinese New Year (the Lunar New Year) falls on February 19 this year. According to the Bellagio Conservatory, this is The Year of the Goat. If you go online, however, you might also see it referenced as the Year of the Sheep. For some reason, these animals are being used interchangeably, which is very confusing to me, because I grew up in an agricultural state, and I can assure you, sheep and goats are very different animals with very different personalities. Apparently, I’m not the only one who is confused. But we’ll let that slide.

When I realized my January Vegas trip would fall during Chinese New Year, I was glad. I’ve never seen the Bellagio Conservatory’s Chinese New Year display before. Then I found out the Palazzo’s Atrium was also all dolled up for Chinese New Year, so I had to check that out. And another little birdy (“VegasBrolo,” my brother, who was in town the week before me) told me to look for the LED Dragon at Caesars Forum Shops, too. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to visit this time of year for any of those things, but since I was there already, it was cool to see something new. Continue reading