Adrian Gillan hits the sights, spas, shows ‘n scene in shimmering Las Vegas.
You don’t so much visit “Vegas” as smash right into it, rearing up out of the Nevada desert like some giant flashing, flexing one-armed bandit – its supersized follies, casinos, hotels, shows, restaurants, bars and malls all vying for queer attentions.
Indeed, your plane well-nigh lands on The Strip: that miracle mile or three of stylish yet quintessentially teeth-‘n-tits facade, like an old-style all-American frontier town’s main saloon-lined street – on acid. Not-so-mini versions of the Eiffel Tower, Lady Liberty and Sphinx go head-to-head with real-life lions, exploding volcanoes and eternally sinking pirate ships – plus a plethora of quick-hitch wedding chapels.
Of course, you don’t have to go seriously astray in “Sin City”. Beyond the gaudy gambling glitz, Vegas is awash with world-class shows, boutique labels and fine dining; plus chic hotels ‘n spas.
TOP 10 REASONS TO HIT VEGAS
- THE STRIP – Day or night, take in folly-upon-folly-fronted hotel mega-complexes that have sprung up, largely since the early 1990s. Starting south: Luxor (Pyramid, Sphinx); Excalibur (fantasy castle); New York, New York (Statue of Liberty, Empire State, Chrysler, Brooklyn Bridge, rollercoaster); MGM Grand (lions – giant gold statue, plus real live lions hanging out with their keepers, and cubs you can pose with); Planet Hollywood; Paris (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe); Bellagio (art gallery, dancing fountains); Mirage (volcano – regular eruptions); Venetian (St. Mark’s Square, Bridge of Sighs, gondolas); and Stratosphere (horrendous rooftop rides).
- DOWTOWN – Until the 1990s resurgence of The Strip, Downtown was the main event, and still heaves with famous neon signs and casino frontages, fighting back. The main drag has now been covered over by what claims to be the world’s largest screen, creating the Fremont Street Experience – hourly from 7pm to midnight.
- SHOPS – perhaps most notably the Fashion Show Mall (crammed with designer labels); and the Venetian (arrive by gondola to start your spree).
- SPAS – Two of the best are surely the minimalist Spa at Aria; and the Qua Spa at Caesar’s Palace, itself a fantastic hotel made famous by the likes of Sinatra and as the setting for numerous films such as Rain Man and The Hangover.
- SHOWS – There are dozens on at any given time, many long-running. Check out tuneful Jersey Boys (Palazzo), impersonator-brimming Legends in Concert (Harrah’s) or aquatic-acrobatic Le Reve (Encore); or even a couple of the several Cirque du Soleil shows, such as raucous, oft-topless Zoomanity (New York, New York) or the excellent new celebratory Viva Elvis (CityCenter).
- EATERIES – Vegas now features so much more than mere all-you-can-eat buffet specials, including the lower-budget BLT Burger (Mirage); Spanish tapas joint, Julian Serrano (CityCenter); Italian, Sirio (CityCenter); brunchy supersize-portioned Serendipity 3 (Caesar’s Palace); exotic Jasmine (Bellagio), complete with dancing fountain views; Rat Pack-favoured 1950s Golden Steer (308 West Sahara Avenue; T: +1 (702) 384-4470); youthful, trendy Rare 120 (Hard Rock Hotel); top-notch French joint, Joel Robuchon, and its adjoining L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (both MGM Grand); and modern creative funky Sinatra (Encore). Also check-out cocktails at Laguna Champagne Lounge (Palazzo); or at Gold Lounge (CityCenter).
- QUIRKY MUSEUMS – including the Auto Collections; Liberace Museum; Atomic Testing Museum; and Neon Museum. Don’t miss the Dolphin Habitat (Mirage).
- “WELCOME TO VEGAS” SIGN – The iconic “Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign, on the southern tip of The Strip, could surely have only been scrawled by a gay man or gay-minded female. Strike a pose!
- WEDDING CHAPELS – There are on average around 230 marriage licenses issued per day in Las Vegas, couples lured largely by the city’s relaxed “quick-hitch” laws; plus also by camp ceremonies laid on by many venues. Some offer gay commitment services – The Little Church of the West, though highly cute, does not.
- OUT-OF-TOWN – You can make exciting daytrips, by car or helicopter, to nearby Grand Canyon; or to the mighty Hoover Dam, and its very own manmade Lake Mead for fishing, boating or swimming.
As if the shows, spas ‘n shops weren’t enough to make Vegas a top gay US destination! Then there’s the sizable scene – with mini-clusters on Naples Drive near the airport, plus Downtown – including:
- Spotlight (957 East Sahara Avenue;) – Popular Downtown bar!
- Krave (3663 South Las Vegas Boulevard;) – Only gay club on The Strip! Large; loved by tourists.
- 8½ Ultra Lounge & Piranha Club (4633 Paradise Road;) – Near airport, favoured by locals.
VIVA ELVIS: THE KING IN THE CITY!
Vegas wouldn’t be half so gay without the King! Never forgotten. 365/24/7 impersonation, celebration.
- 1956: Elvis’ first Vegas concert – An already-chart-topping 21-year old Elvis makes his first appearance in Las Vegas, at the New Frontier Hotel, winning a chill reception from an older crowd.
- 1963: Viva Las Vegas – Elvis hits town to shoot what would be his by-then 15th film, Viva Las Vegas, giving the city undoubtedly its most famous theme tune.
- 1967: Marriage – 32-year old Elvis marries Priscilla Anne Beaulieu in a private ceremony at the Aladdin Hotel.
- 1969-1976: The King returns – Thirteen years after his first appearance, Elvis returns to Vegas, starting an annual string of sell-out month-long runs at the then-newly-built International Hotel, renamed the Las Vegas Hilton in 1971.
STAY & PLAY
- Monte Carlo (3770 Las Vegas Boulevard South;) – Comfortable, central hotel and casino complex right on The Strip that shouldn’t break the bank.
- Aria (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South;) – Luxury hotel and casino, part of the spanking new CityCenter complex.
- Three nights in Las Vegas with Virgin Holidays (ABTA/ATOL) – including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Las Vegas, accommodation at the 4* Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on a room only basis, with car hire included – starts from £670 per person, including all taxes. Start your hols before you’ve even taken off, in the V ROOM at Gatwick Airport – adults £17, kids £10. 0844 557 3859 or visit one of over 40 shops located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores.