Viva Las Vegas, My Weekend at the Bellagio

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My photo essay of my weekend in Las Vegas is here.

Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money thats ready to burn,
So get those stakes up higher

Las Vegas is a strange place. Marketed as the place to go to find a threesome, or to do things that you’d never consider doing in your real life, it is a place in the world where people go to let it all go. This woman sitting behind me in the airport right now is yammering on on her cell phone about her weekend of debauchery to her friend. “It felt like he was tongue raping my mouth,” she says about a guy she met at a club who said he really felt they made a connection and wanted to know if he could call her the next day. “He wasn’t even looking at my face,” she said, “he was just staring at my chest.”

“You have the most beautiful eyes,” he said.

“So I closed my eyes and asked him what color are my eyes.” “Brown,” he said.

“Wrong.”

She then goes on about how when her and her girlfriends went to a strip club that they had to walk through the men’s strip club first before getting to the women’s strip club. “Oh my God,” I could never be a stripper. “I can’t ever even imagine giving my boyfriend a lap dance like that.” It’s a titillating conversation that involves her resisting the male lap dancer at first but then ending up asking “can you buy me breakfast in the morning,” in the end.

And once again Vegas lives up to it’s sordid reputation.

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But enough with the hook in the intro, what follows is a bit of a departure for Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection. What follows is my review of a weekend in Las Vegas — much tamer than Ms. “I could never be a stripper” — but certainly a weekend of excess marking the oh my God how did we ever make it 10 years mark anniversary with my wife. This was not your normal weekend away with the kids to Circus Circus, No this was to be an all out no expense spared, over the top weekend.

The Bellagio: Overall the Bellagio is a great hotel to stay at. It has amazing art, amazing food, and all the glitz, glamour and silicone you’d ever want to see. It caters to more of an older upscale crowd but the experience for the most part is first class all the way.

The highlight of the Bellagio is a glass ceiling sculpture by Dale Chihuly — a giant almost life like dance of curves, color and light.

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Dale Chihuly’s giant sculpture in the Bellagio lobby.

The Bellagio also had a pretty great show of Ansel Adams’ photography. My favorite piece in the exhibit was also Adam’s most popular piece “Moonrise, Hernandez.” But there were many other great photographs in the exhibit as well. One which was particularly moving is a photograph Adams took while shooting with Dorothea Lange of some poor children in Richmond. Certainly a departure from more well known landscapes and one of the few pieces of his of this type. Much of the exhibit also centered on Adams as a conservationist and political activist with regards to environmental issues. There was no photography allowed in the Adams exhibit which was a bummer, but certainly understandable. The exhibit was truly spectacular.

The food at the Bellagio on the other hand was mixed.

The first night we ate at Sensi which I’d highly recommend. The menu is an Asian Italian fusion type of thing and the tuna appetizer (served three different ways with an especially delicious tartare) is not to be missed. Even more spectacular than the food though, the service at Sensi was outstanding. Our waiter was friendly, extremely responsive, knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor and his tip at the end of the night reflected this. Dinner at Sensi was one of the highlights of our trip. Very close to a perfect meal and the best meal we had over the course of our weekend. Also the cheapest.

Our second night we ate at Le Cirque. Le Cirque was the most expensive restaurant we ate at and of course had the reputation of, well, Le Cirque, to live up to. We did the chef’s tasting at Le Cirque and it was quite good — which of course was expected. Overall the experience was good, but when you are paying $500 for dinner it better be better than pretty good, it must be amazing.

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A few flaws with Le Cirque. First off, when I arrived I ordered a martini, over. The waiter’s response was would you like any particular type of vodka with that martini? When one orders a martini it should be understood that a martini is made with gin, not vodka. (As the rat pack rolls over in their graves). Every waiter should know this, and most certainly a waiter at Le Cirque. Had I ordered a vodka martini that question would have been perhaps a logical question to follow. Although one might assume that in the absence of a requested brand of gin or vodka that that question is unnecessary. After telling him that I wanted a gin not a vodka martini he then asked if by “over” I meant that I wanted it “on the rocks.” Again, any decent waiter or bartender should know that when you order a drink “over” that this is to be served on ice.

The other flaw had to do with the sommelier. Now again, these are petty, but when paying $500 for dinner you expect a certain level of service. Because the dinner was a very special dinner (celebrating our 10 year anniversary) I brought a very special bottle of wine, a bottle of 1994 Dalla Valle. Dalla Valle is a one of about six California Cult cabernets and very rare and very expensive. 1994 was an es
pecially good year
for cabernet in California. So when the waiter saw that I had brought my bottle of cabernet in he proceeded to tell me about the corkage policy of the restaurant — that a $35 charge would be assessed and that the wine could not be consumed unless it was not on their wine list. Fair enough. But then the sommelier proceeded to take the bottle back with him to investigate whether or not the wine was on their list. Having had a chance to peruse their list (I also ordered a glass of white Burgundy and Sauternes over dinner) I knew that no Dalla Valle was on their list. What’s more the only California cult wine that I saw on there was some more recent vintage bottles of Screaming Eagle (at about $3,000 a pop). They had no outstanding older California cabs.

So the sommelier was not familiar with their wine list, nor was he familiar with Dalla Valle cabernet or the fact that they didn’t really stock many cabernets from 1994 on their list. Fine if you are just a waiter, even forgivable if you are a sommelier at a regular old restaurant (I suppose), but certainly sub par for the sommelier at Le Cirque.

Our third night we ate at Shintaro. Shintaro has the second highest rating for Japanese food in Las Vegas according to Zagat (sometimes of course Zagat gets it terribly wrong of course). Because Shintaro was in our hotel and because Nobu (the safe choice for high end sushi) was over at the Hard Rock, we decided to give it a try. Bad move.

There’s nothing I hate more from a fine restaurant than when a waiter lies to you. When we arrived at Shintaro my wife immediately decided that the deck at the restaurant overlooking the Bellagio lake fountain water show was the perfect place for our dinner. There was one other couple eating out there but other than them there were about six empty tables. The waiter informed my wife that we could not sit out there because all of the tables were “reserved.”

She asked him a few more times and he insisted that they were already taken with other reservations. So we were both annoyed as we sat and ate our dinner over the course of the next hour and a half to see that after the one couple left the deck that not a single other customer was sat out there. When we left the restaurant in fact the deck was still completely empty. We certainly could have sat out there. There were no other reservations out there but the waiter just lied. Instead of saying well I don’t want to serve you outside, or we want to make our empty restaurant look fuller, he made up an excuse about them being reserved. Not the service you’d hope for from one of the most expensive Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas.

What’s more, the very expensive Sake was pretty terrible and the sushi was just mediocre at best. Other than a pretty good dragon roll the food was just ho hum, and the atmosphere in the restaurant terribly drab (except at the sushi bar where they have these really cool jellyfish tanks, but which is in another room entirely).

So you might think that the only thing we did in Vegas was eat. Not true of course. The other highlights of our weekend were the entertainment (and the photography for me of course).

The show we saw for the weekend was Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity playing at New York, New York. Although I was a little bummed going in that Cirque de Soleil never responded to my media request to take photos of the performance to accompany this review (and it was impossible to sneak shots as the ushers watch you like hawks), I will say that the show was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It has a certain “adult” flavor with acrobatics, humor, terrific stage, lighting and sound effects, very funny interaction with the audience, and especially one of the sexiest performances inside of a giant glass bowl of water by a beautiful and talented dancer that I’ve ever seen. Very, very hot. If you don’t mind a little mild nudity (some of the performers wore body suits but some were topless as well) and you don’t mind the adult tone to the performance it is definitely one well worth catching.

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View of the Strip from Startosphere.

The other thing that we did for entertainment was to head up to the Stratosphere. The Startosphere is pretty amazing as well. 108 stories up, the Stratosphere is the highest observation deck west of the Mississippi. And of course there were rides. I’m usually not one to feel the fear of thrill rides. Roller coasters are just ho hum for me — fun, but lacking any true level of fear. Extreme, on the other hand, which dangles you out in open air over the edge of the 108 story high tower and then spins and shakes you around in the night air is something else entirely. They wouldn’t let me take my camera with me (and for good reason I suppose, as dropping a 5D 108 stories could be a deadly) but if you are a bit of a thrill seeker, I’d definitely recommend a trip up to the top of Stratosphere.

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Spinning 108 stories up on the Stratosphere’s Extreme.

There are also plenty of free shows that go on at Vegas as well. An animated Greek type thing with laser show at Caesars (just ok I thought), a pirate show at Treasure Island (that I missed), Bellagio’s own water fountain (amazing to see), and a water and light show at the Wynn (fantastic for photos but a tad short).

So let’s see, what other final things to note. Oh, the air conditioning at the Bellagio sucks. We had it set to 60 and it was at least 85 in our room (uncomfortable for sure). They moved rooms for us the next day and the new room was slightly better but still it was at least 75 in the room at night when the thermostat was set to 60.

The pool at the Bellagio is first rate. Built around a sprawling garden it was one of the best pool set ups I’ve ever seen and included misters to mist you away as you laid out all day worshiping the sun (well not me really as I sunburn like hell and kept most of my time at the pool carefully positioned in the shade along with SPF 45 on as my friend — but if you are into the sun and all that laying out you’ll like the pool).

What else? Oh, the buffet at Paris is pretty good. It’s only about $14 or so and the food is really good. The Bellagio Cafe (which was not a buffet) was more money and not near as good as Paris’ buffet across the street. The Patisserie at Bellagio has the world’s largest chocolate fountain. Pretty impressive if you are the chocolate type.

And the shopping, my God, everywhere you go the shopping. Our cab driver said that retail has now passed gaming as Las Vegas’ top revenue source. More malls and more stores than I’ve ever seen in my life. A couple of times I was struck by how excessive it all seemed. Me, there in Las Vegas, consuming away like the best of them, when so many other people are still so bad off.

This visit to Vegas was such a stark contrast to my visit to New Orleans earlier this year where I spent time documenting some of the hardest hit Hurricane Katrina areas including the 9th Ward. New Orleans and Las Vegas are miles apart both physically and emotionally. “Can you handle this much shopping?” read the sign at the mall at the Aladdin. That I guess kind of represents the worst of what Vegas was even underneath all the glitz, glamour and, oh yeah, silicone.

As for my winnings or losings for the weekend?

I unfortunately came out a loser. My lone 25 cent bet (at the request of Microsoft’s Dan Plastina, we tried Dan) turned out to be a loser. I’m fortunately not much of a gambler though (I actually got an A in Statistics in college) so I didn’t mind this at all.

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8 Comments

  1. Tom Owen says:

    Congrats on your 10 year anniversary! (Janet and I celebrate #11 this month 😉

  2. Dave2 says:

    I had reservations about eating at Le Cirque because they serve both foie gras and veal… but I wasn’t paying, so I happily tagged along. Fortunately, I had a suit jacket for the trip so they would let me in.

    My experience there was not that good. Since the dining room is fairly small, we were rushed through our dinner so they could open our table. By the end of our meal I was surprised that the wait staff wasn’t shoving the food down our throats and kicking us out the door, because that’s what it felt like. For the $1000+ that was dropped there that night, you’d think they’d let you enjoy a meal properly without being rushed.

    The staff was generally knowledgeable and helpful, but that didn’t keep the waiter from rolling his eyes when I asked for vegetarian suggestions. I ended up ordering some kind of vegetable quiche appetizer as my entree, but they didn’t SERVE it as my entree, so my dinner was over when everybody else’s was just being served.

    The rest of my table had nothing but praise for the food, and thought it well worth the price, so perhaps it’s a better experience if you’re not vegetarian. Still, being rushed through your dinner is not what I expect from a five-star restaurant.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Dave, I know what you mean about being rushed at Le Cirque. When we first arrived we asked if we could have a drink at the bar. We were initially sat at the bar but within a few seconds the waiter told us that if we wanted the table by the window that we were going to have to sit down now.

    Overall it did feel a tad rushed, although I didn’t really mind as we had other things to do that night.

  4. Morven says:

    I second the recommendation of the Paris buffet. One of the best in Vegas, nicely French-themed, and a wide variety of food. And yes, quite inexpensive considering it’s quality food.

  5. Dave Zatz says:

    Wow, that’s so coincidental – we were in Vegas this past weekend as well. Caught Mystere on Saturday, Zumanity on Sunday, and Mamma Mia on Monday. I could have been in the Zumanity theater with you!(Section 202, Row K, 13 & 14) We spent some time hanging out at the Bellagio sports book, but I didn’t see you there. 😉

  6. DCVoyager says:

    Great write-up, Thomas. I think you got the flavor of the place perfectly. (Loved the “hook” at the start.)

    Sorry you were disappointed with Le Cirque, although I am not surprised. We haven’t been to Vegas in several years, but our impression then was that there was way too much self-conscious hype to the restaurant scene there. We did like Aureole, at first because of its spectacular wine “tower” but in the end because of their outstanding sommelier. (The name Michael comes to mind, but it’s been awhile.) On being seated, we were presented with a wine list the size of the Manhattan phone directory. We had no prayer of making much sense of it all in the at hand, so we presented Michael with a list of our dishes (a very tricky mix of flavors and characteristics) and our price point. We mentioned that we were quite adventurous as far as wine was concerned. Michael suggested two half bottles, the first a Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling Auslese, was a surprise (and a success). The second, a perfectly-matched Pinot Noir from Burgundy. I regret that I have no notes from the visit, but I wouldn’t hesitate to return. The next time I think I’ll go in early, work out the wines with the sommelier and then match the menu to the wines.

  7. footnoteblog says:

    Dude, there is no good food in Las Vegas. Except for maybe the Bellagio buffet.

    You don’t go to the Caribbean to go snowboarding, you know what I’m saying?

    🙂

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