Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Real Las Vegas: Still Cheap

In the most recent edition of the New Yorker is an article that, if I hadn't known better, I would have assumed was written 3 years ago. Called "The Truffle Kid" it follows the exploits of an exotic foods purveyor as he peddles saffron, caviar, truffles, foie gras, jamon and other pricey delicacies in Las Vegas. What follows are tales of meals costing $5000 (plus an additional wine tab) and offhand notes that rhubarb as thin as "three pencil leads" is being flown into Sin City daily from Ohio. In short, its a chronicle of such excess and high times, one would assume it came from pre-foreclosure crisis, pre-recessionary Las Vegas.
The facade of New York, New York (photo by Bert K)

I guess that's at the basis of the fantasy of Las Vegas. Alongside hundreds of restaurants that are couponing for dear life, are 5 of the top 10 highest grossing restaurants in the US, and another 50 or so that are competing to join those ranks.

So, yes, for some Las Vegas remains the glam money pit it used to be.

For the rest of us, though, the city is a bargain hunter's paradise. Head to (or better yet, to the Tix4Tonight booths on the Strip), and you'll find that most of the pricey Cirque du Soleil shows are being discounted, as are the towns headliners (including Donny and Marie, Penn & Teller, Barry Manilow and Carrot Top) and Broadway shows (Jersey Boys, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera).

Couples looking to tie the knot, can find chapels on  that will marry them for $75 total (including music and a red rose). Those who simply head to one of the drive-through chapels pay even less....and have a better story at their divorce trial.

For hotels....well, the discounts are pretty near endless. Here are just a few that I've stumbled upon recently, with my own capsule review of each, based on my visits:

El Cortez: $14/night
Upside: The hotel formerly known as "El Cheapo" is newly renovated, meaning that guestrooms are quite pleasant, clean and feature high quality bedding, flat screen TVs and soothing color schemes.
Downside: On-site restaurants are not recommended, the casino is smoky with claustrophobically low ceilings in spots and the neighborhood is a bit hairy, two long blocks from the bright lights of the Fremont Street Experience.
Best rates: From, and
Overall: Very good value on the room itself, but only for those who don't mind staying downtown and going outside the hotel for entertainment and meals

The Sahara: $21/night
Upside: Despite the fetishization of NASCAR in one section, the casino here has been buffed up, but not reworked, so it still has the delightful swagger and over-the-top decor of the Rat Pack-era. Other perks: table minimums here are among the lowest on the Strip and the in-lounge entertainers are a cut above the norm. As for the rooms, they've been redone in the past 5 years and are tidy and quite comfortable if a bit faceless in their decor.
Downside: Yes, you're on the Strip, but the less exciting end of it, so you'll likely need a car (or patience to wait for the bus or in taxi lines) to see the areas of the Strip most tourists want to visit. The restaurants on site can't be recommended.
Best rates: From
Overall: I've enjoyed my recent stays at the Sahara and hope the management keeps its decor intact, as it really is a delightful throwback (The same can't be said of the parking garage, which is a wreck). I'd have no qualms sending a friend here to stay.

Riviera Hotel: $34/night plus 2 free comedy show tickets
Upside: Like the other hotels mentioned in this piece, money was poured into the property just before the recession hit, meaning room decor is up-to-date and quite comfortable, with most rooms done in a palette of classy beige's and whites, and featuring thick duvets on the beds and flat screen TVs. The shows on-site are often quite good (including the comedy shows) and the on site restaurants are slightly better than at the Sahara or the Cortez.
Downside: Again, this is the dowdy end of the Strip, though you're in better walking distance for interesting casinos here than you are at the Sahara.
Best Rates: From
Overall: I've slept well at the Riviera, and despite its maze like layout, generally enjoy my time here.

New York, New York: $54/night plus a free city tour, two complimentary welcome cocktails, 1 free breakfast, 1 complimentary entry to the gym/spa, 1 complimentary roller coaster ride
Upside: Location, location, location! It just doesn't get any better than this center Strip property. And if you're a fan of nightlife and you like it rowdy, you'll enjoy the bar scene here. The property also boasts a wide assortment of restaurants and fast-food style eateries, in all price ranges (I'm a fan of Jody Maroni sausages).
Downsides: While rooms have a dignified, Art Deco look, they tend to be on the smaller side, especially at the lower-end of the price range. I also find the casino here to be one of the most frenetic on the Strip.
Best rates: From
Overall: All of the freebies here make this an excellent deal. Without them, I might look at other similar properties as I tend to find the atmosphere a bit grating (but I'm a native New Yorker, so that may be due to my dislike of their portrayal of the city, inside the casino; the facade is terrific).

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