United States of America
After Dark: Las Vegas
It isn’t dark yet, but Vegas is a 24-hour party town – the average stay here is three days – and there’s too much fun to be had to limit it to the evening. After a 20-hour flight, an adrenaline injection is required, so we head to Dig This to drive some excavators. Yes, drive some excavators. One 30-minute briefing session later, we climb into two 50-ton hydraulic excavators and glare competitively at each other across the football-field sized sandpit we’re about to play in. Having seen my wife reverse park I am quietly confident. For the next hour we dig huge holes, build a pyramid with tyres the size of a small car, race each other across the lot and play excavator basketball. I struggle to change a light bulb at home but after an hour at Dig This I feel like building a casino. And then I notice my wife’s pyramid is twice the size of mine.
3012 South Rancho Drive
I’ve never fired a gun. I’ve never really even wanted to. I’ve heard friends brag of firing rocket-launchers at cows in Cambodia and I’ve never seen any joy in that. After an hour shooting an actual Uzi at a 3-D Zombie, however, I’m feeling the buzz (though cows are still safe). Guns and Ammo is doing a roaring trade in Vegas, with a 12-lane range and weapons including shotguns, AK-47s and a Glock 9mm. Suddenly I’m Clint Eastwood lining up another dirtbag. I can feel the recoil in my kidneys as the adrenaline pumps through me.
Guns and Ammo Garage
5155 South Dean Martin Drive
‘Every City Has a Soul’ is the new slogan for Downtown Las Vegas. Only 10 minutes north of The Strip, Downtown Vegas is where it all began. Fremont Street is the epicentre, with an outdoor museum featuring the original Las Vegas neon signs. The bars and restaurants of Downtown have eschewed their garish Strip neighbours and the revitalised area now focuses on more intimate experiences. Mob Bar, a 1920s-style speakeasy with potent cocktails, is a great lunch spot, and if you end up staying until evening they set up deckchairs on the road and project movies onto the adjacent wall. Tonight The Hangover is playing. It’s a sign.
201 North 3rd Street
(on 3rd between Ogden & Stewart)
The seal is broken and the drinking has begun. Downtown’s bar scene is very cool in a retro kitsch way. The Parlour Bar in the El Cortez Hotel Casino is worth a visit just to walk through the old-style casino. Like the decor, the clientele seem as though they’re out of a 1960s Elvis movie. A cowboy in a 10-gallon hat and tasseled boots plays the pokies and sips a Bud. We walk past him and into the leather-couched Parlour Bar, where I half expect to see Sinatra sipping a vodka martini.
The Parlour Bar - El Cortez Casino
600 Fremont Street
Back on Fremont Street the neon lights burn bright even in daylight. Above, screaming thrill-seekers ride a flying fox running the length of the street. In a dark bar called Insert Coins, a wall of 1970s, 80s and 90s arcade games has me checking my pocket for coins. Grabbing a booth, we’re given a choice of almost every video game console ever invented, with a selection of games. I go with a Super Nintendo and a Sega Megadrive and a pint of Brooklyn Bitter. Suddenly I’m 14 again, until I’m dragged away sulking after my wife beats me at NBA Jam.
512 Fremont Street
Show time. Elton John is playing this weekend, Celine Dion is raking in millions from a residency at Caesar’s Palace, Guns N’ Roses are soon to play at the Hard Rock and there are at least six different Cirque du Soleil shows being promoted, but Downtown has put us in a retro mood so we hit the Flamingo, one of the original Strip hotels, and catch the Nathan Burton Comedy Magic show. This is the essence of America. The land of opportunity, where a street magician can get a break on a show like America’s Got Talent and the next year have his own residency in Vegas. I suggest to my wife that she should disappear so I can gamble. She suggests I let Nathan do the comedy.
The Main Showroom
Flamingo Hotel 3555
South Las Vegas Boulevard
It is Happy Hour on the Strip (it has been since 11am) but we decline the cheap beer and three-litre margaritas and instead head upscale to Sage Restaurant in Aria Resort and Casino, one of the newer slicker casinos in Las Vegas. The bartender recommends I take the global beer tour, which involves a Dopplebock from Germany and a Trappist Ale from Belgium with a few chocolatey stouts in between. The long, dark bar and restaurant decor somehow make drinking eight beers in an hour a cool experience.
3730 South Las Vegas Boulevard
The show goes on, this time in the shape of KA, one of the more recent Cirque du Soleil productions and an extraordinary display of death-defying talent, performed on a stage that rotates vertically and horizontally to the beat of a thumping soundtrack. There are other themed Cirque shows, with The Beatles, Elvis and even illusionist Criss Angel carrying the Cirque moniker. For something very different, check out Zumanity, a sort of pornographic Cirque led by a Frank N Furter type transvestite. Just don’t sit in the front row. Trust me.
KA by Cirque Du Soleil
3799 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil
New York-New York Hotel and Casino
3790 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Vegas has an eating option for everyone. We find ourselves at the Michelin-starred Michael Mina’s in the Bellagio, which instantly transports us far from this neon desert. After chilled shots of Grey Goose vodka to cleanse the palate, followed by a lobster pot pie, all of a sudden I am Bugsy Seigel, the founder of Vegas, ordering another bottle of red for my dame.
Michael Mina at Bellagio
3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Midnight means live music and one of the more unusual experiences in Vegas is the dueling pianos in the Bar at Times Square, tucked within the New York-New York Hotel and Casino (yes, it’s a hotel designed to look like the Manhattan skyline). Two amazing musicians face off on separate pianos and bang keys against each other, goading the crowd to pay a few dollars to hear their favorite songs. The pianists duel to the most popular (read highest paid) tunes and the crowd goes wild. It is unpretentious, fastpaced and very entertaining. A bucket of Bud helps keep the fun flowing. Get a table on your right as you enter – for a few dollars more it’s well worth getting table service.
Bar at Times Square New York-New York Hotel and Casino
3790 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Nightclub time. Mandalay Bay’s LAX is the place to be seen these days, with private booths circling the heaving dance floor. It’s loud and sweaty, and at 3am there’s no sign of it slowing. We luck out and are invited into Saville Row, a slick smaller bar annexed to the main club. The music is still loud but after a big day in Vegas it is the perfect spot to sip a nightcap and people watch. Vegas has clubs galore. Call early in the day to secure a spot.
LAX at Mandalay Bay
3950 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Pool parties are almost as famous as the nightclubs here with most hotels proclaiming theirs is the biggest and best. The Hard Rock Casino’s Sunday ‘Recovery Party’ is rock ‘n’ roll, with swim-up blackjack tables and margaritas on tap, all to the thumping rock of Aerosmith and the like. We go Royal though and head to MGM’s private Sunday pool extravaganza ‘Wet Republic’. My wife, hoping to sun away her hangover, packs a book. She has no idea what we are in for. There are two huge pools teeming with a bobbing mass of party people. There’s so much silicone on show I doubt any of the waitresses could drown. This is Vegas as the sun is rising, and it’s almost as raucous as when the sun sets. This was where Prince Harry’s day of debauchery began, but for us it was the end. By midday we are back in our room, sound asleep and too tired to dream.
Wet Republic Ultra Pool at MGM Grand
3799 South Las Vegas Boulevard