December 5th, 2020

DREAMING OF LAS VEGAS


By Lethbridge Herald on October 31, 2020.

LEAVE IT TO BEEBER
Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald
abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com
2020 was the year in which I was going to make my second trip to Las Vegas, the first in 2017 being one of the most memorable and fun vacations ever.
Instead 2020 has become the year of toilet paper and yeast shortages, social-distancing and hockey playoffs in September. It’s a year nobody saw coming and if we had, our basements would be filled wall-to-wall with cases of Purex and paper towels, hand sanitizer, flour and masks. Second fridges for booze wouldn’t be a luxury; they’d be a necessity. Blood pressure monitors would be in every bathroom and meditation apps on every phone. If it wasn’t already, I’m guessing Skip the Dishes is now bookmarked on many phone web browsers.
Yes, 2020 is a year to forget.
And Vegas has felt the pain, too. Sin City became more like Snooze City thanks to COVID and border closures. But slowly, the once bustling Strip has awoken again as resorts reopen.
I follow a few Las Vegas accounts on Twitter an Instagram and like everywhere else, that city felt the pandemic pain badly when the world shut down. But the casino giants eventually opened up shuttered hotels. One of the most recent to welcome customers was Planet Hollywood in late September.
One hotel, the Cromwell — a high-end boutique hotel south of The Flamingo at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road — has just reopened as an exclusive adult resort, welcoming guests only 21 years of age and older. It’s the first such hotel, from what I’ve read, on the Strip. The only exception to the age rule will be Giada restaurant, run by Giada De Laurentiis, who you’ve probably seen on Food Network cooking shows. The Cromwell will be known to veteran Vegas-goers as either the Barbary Coast or Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon.
The downtown core, known for Fremont Street, has a brand new hotel in Circa. With 35 floors, the 777-room (I doubt that’s a coincidence) Circa is the tallest hotel in Vegas north of the Strip. It’s being opened in two phases — this weekend and in December.
I didn’t make it to Fremont in 2017 but Circa is definitely going to change that with 11 dining options, a split-level casino to spend my $20-a day gambling budget and a feature which will be the hotel’s signature attraction — a tiered amphitheatre pool area on the roof called Stadium Swim that has a 125-ft high-definition screen.
In the COVID era, some might wonder why a huge venture like this is opening but maybe it’s opportunity — Vegas needs tourism and with the relocated Raiders NFL team and a successful NHL team in the Golden Knights, this city is going to be hopping again when borders open.
I know friends who love the Fremont area and they recommend it for seeing what they call the real Las Vegas. I have no clue what that means but I’ve studied a lot of Vegas websites and I’d be eager to take my camera and walking shoes and explore this historic part of the city known for such institutions as the Golden Nugget, The Golden Gate, The Four Queens, The El Cortez and The Plaza.
Before COVID changed everything, I had spent a lot of time looking at reviews of the renovated and renamed Strat and Sahara (which had been known in recent years as SLS) at the north end of the Strip.
The distance from major hotels like Ceasars Palace, New York New York and the MGM Grand certainly makes walking unreasonable but with Uber and 24-hour bus service plus the monorail — if it’s still operating — that isn’t a deterrent. If anything, it means the north end should be a little less crowded, something I’d welcome during the era of social distancing.
One place which has caught my attention is a smaller hotel just east of Bally’s off the Strip called Ellis Island Casino. It’s a favourite of locals known for great food and prices and a hotel with clean, well-kept rooms.
If the chance arises to hit Vegas again, the odds right now are in Ellis Island’s favour of getting my business. The reviews of this place are consistently good and it’s close enough to hit all the popular casinos on the Strip while being far enough off to get away from the crowds.
A few places I want to hit with the camera and my feet, of course, are the famous Las Vegas sign as well as the Luxor, which I think would be a blast to shoot at night.
And I need to get back to Gilley’s at Treasure Island for a plate of fried chicken and cheese grits — which alone is almost worth making the trip for.
If the live music scene in Vegas ever opens again, I also want to make a return visit to Raiding the Rock Vault, which is supposed to be operating at the Rio when the curtain rises again and as of now, this rock ’n roll revelation has still been silenced due to COVID.
And that is another tragic effect of the pandemic — it has literally stopped the music. Everywhere. It’s time for all our luck to change.
Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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