Here's yet another report where I sample some amazing food, nightlife, and the new Palms Place. Enjoy!
I had made some plans for a relatively short-notice trip at the end of July to coincide with my [now a trip report hall of famer] buddy Matt, his girlfriend, a cousin of mine, and one of his best friends' trips. My parents and grandmother also had friends in town so I offered to drive them up and let them have my complimentary room at MGM in return for use of my mom's BMW X5 while there. We'd be mostly staying off-strip this time around and having a car had its obvious benefits.
After a smooth drive up, I proceed to MGM's invited guest check-in with $20 sandwiched between credit card and ID. I wasn't requesting anything extravagant--just a room near the elevator as my grandmother has mobility problems. I'm given a room on the 28th floor just below the Skylofts and only a few feet from the elevator.
Once my parents are squared away, I call my cousin who's also staying at MGM since I would be crashing in his room for the night. He and his friend are down by the pool where I meet up with them.
MGM's pool area is almost too big but surprisingly fun. After several minutes of looking around, I finally find them near the entrance of Wet Republic. We grab some inner tubes and hit the lazy river with drinks in hand. It's all very relaxing until we meet the drunk "gate keeper" at the end who insists on flipping every tube over. Fortunately, I have my drink nearly finished before taking a dive.
It's hard to describe, but MGM's kiddie pool is attached to a deeper section with a massive waterfall. The pressure of the water from the fall is almost unbearable. After a lap around the lazy river, we decide to place the inner tubes near the front of the fall, get a running head start in the kiddie pool, and jump onto the tubes gliding us right into the pounding water. Yeah, the drinks were already affecting us and the parents didn't like the example we were setting for the kids. Whatever. It's their fault for bringing them to Vegas.
Before leaving the pool, my cousin and his friend decide to cut off any desire I might have for the opposite sex throughout the entire trip by grabbing my arms and legs and running my nuts under the waterfall. Thanks douchebags.
Now, way back in April 2006, these same guys were the first ones to stay at Skylofts with me and to this day, they can't stop talking about the "welcome beverage" they offer you when you first check in. My cousin tells me he has an intense craving for some and with his chlorine-induced red eyes and itchy facial scruff, he looks like he needs it as bad as Flava' Flav needs crack. Nothing in Vegas is impossible without a smile and a tip so in to the VIP check-in I walk to request a pitcher. I explain to the receptionist how we're not Skyloft guests but would pay a premium for a pitcher of the welcome beverage. She suggests we go to Zuri and ask a bartender to call down a request. Sure enough, a bartender pulls through and within minutes, a Skylofts butler comes down with a pitcher free of charge. Of course, the butler and bartender are well taken care of.
We take the juice up into the room, the three of us holding on to the pitcher together throughout the hallway and elevator as though it's some kind of sacred idol. Up in the room, we pour ourselves a glass and have a taste in its unaltered form before proceeding to mix it with Grey Goose. A nice buzz later and we're on our way heading north on the strip looking for dinner.
I exit MGM through the West Wing mainly to show my cousin and his friend the iron gates of The Mansion as we move towards the strip. To my surprise, the gates are opening to let in a Porsche Cayman which is by far the nicest car in a porte cochere lined with a Honda Accord, two lower-end Lexuses, and something equally modest that I can't recall--nothing low end by any means, but it just goes to show that regular people can appreciate a $5000 per night hotel.
I suggest BLT Burger so we wind up at The Mirage. I won't get into too much detail with dining, but needless to say, it was a good burger, with great atmosphere, wonderful service, and at relatively reasonable prices for the strip. The three of us get out $75 lighter for the grand total and head to the casino. BLT is nothing spectacular, but it's a solid joint and I particularly love that it's open until 4am. There's really no point in having the more expensive, lower quality burgers at Carnegie Deli down the hall anymore. Oh, and the waitress got a kick out of my order: "I'll have the white tiger burger."
While at The Mirage, my cousin's friend decides to play a little roulette while I pace outside the baccarat salon waiting for the right moment. "The right moment" is actually a crowded baccarat table without a female Asian dealer. It's nothing against females or Asians, but not only have I not once won with such a dealer, but my bankroll pretty much gets raped.
When the time is right, I head to the bathroom because I had also read an old Chinese superstition that having to pee is bad luck. Along the way, I see my cousin and give the nod that it's time and he meets me back in the baccarat salon to watch me play. Everyone places their bets on banker after what looks like a choppy shoe and I follow suit. Quickly and painlessly, I hit for a nine-banker streak, order up some Johnnie Walker Blue Label, and cash out. In my time, I've won a lot more than the $500 I did in those few short minutes, but the ease and lack of effort this time around made it an especially memorable win.
My wussy friends decide to call it an "early" night (around 1:30am) and we head to the front entrance to grab a cab but not before seeing a young kid get man-handled by security for trying to reenter Jet after getting tossed.
The next day, we check out of MGM and head to the Studio Café for some breakfast. The food is pretty good and service pretty much sucked, but I wasn't expecting anything more. Afterward, we make a brief stop at the Outlets south of Mandalay because the cousin and friend want to check out the Off 5th store there. Normally, I wouldn't even mention such a tiny detail but I want to rant...
Who the eff is Ed Hardy and why is Christian Audigier even famous?! I had heard these names in passing, but I had no idea how large this fad was outside of California. Everyone under 30 in Vegas had one of these douchebag tees on and Off 5th had some for "only" $125. They reek of sweatshop craftsmanship and pop-your-collar douchebaggery. Plus, they don't even fit anyone right and I've pissed better designs in snow. Rant over.
Anyway, they return from the outlet mall empty-handed and my precious Vegas time is lost, but I try to keep my spirits high since now we've checked out of MGM and are heading over to the new Palms Place. For those of you that don't know, Palms Place is to Palms resort what The Signature is to MGM Grand--privately owned residences that act as a hotel within a hotel. Décor wise, Palms Place is much closer to THEhotel than anything else in Vegas, though.
We self-park and look for the entrance only to wind up in Palms' casino and are forced to take the "Skytube" (their fancy name for a moving walkway) over to Palms Place. This is easily an eight-minute walk at a healthy pace with not much to see other than murals of Palms' offerings along the walls. I'm starting to think we would have been better off at MGM until we reach the lobby where I'm taken aback by its modern, small, and yet lively atmosphere.
With four agents working the front of a hotel with only 599 rooms and two concierges on the adjacent side, I knew the service would be nothing short of excellent. I'm checked in immediately to room 19321, a 1200 square foot suite with everything one would come to expect but also featuring among its more unusual amenities a sofa bed, kitchen with everything you can imagine, fireplace, washer and dryer, two balconies, and a tub smack in the middle of the bedroom. Oh, and the shower could fit five easily.
Here's a video tour
Now, you're all asking how much. I got a steal for $180 per night (normally $600 on weekends). This also included spa access for two, $40 in food credits, nightclub line passes, and a free cabana for an entire day based on availability.
After settling down, we head out for the pool, but they are closing early that day to prepare for the "Quack Finale." Every Tuesday night over the summer, Palms Place hosts a free pool party from 8pm-12am with a happy hour at Simon Restaurant and Lounge from 6-8pm to warm things up. They scatter 25,000 rubber duckies in the pool and hidden among them are prizes like free hotel nights. This sounds too good to resist so we make note to come back after dinner tonight.
I have no idea how the time flew by so quickly, but now we're running late for our 8pm dinner reservations at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I call MGM and asked if they can move the reservations back a half an hour to which they reply they can't. Desperate, I call American Express Platinum Concierge to make the request for me instead. I guess having someone who introduces herself to the restaurant she's calling as "my concierge" gives a little weight, and sure enough, she's able to move the reservation to 8:30pm. I get off the phone with all smiles telling my cousin and his friend about how Amex pulled through for us. The idea of a 24/7 concierge at my disposal had them intrigued which as you'll see, will make for an interesting scenario later on...
We drive out to MGM, valet park, and head over to L'Atelier. We're fortunate enough to be seated in one of the few tables in the restaurant though in retrospect, I would have been happier at the bar top watching the chefs and their craft. The three of us opt for the $75, six-course summer tasting menu though with amuse bouche and a special cheese platter, it's actually eight courses. I'll save you guys the in-depth review of the food and wine because frankly, I think I suck at these kinds of reviews and when I do try to write a good piece, it often takes hours anyway. Needless to say, the experience was phenomenal. There's a casual elegance to the restaurant that I really enjoy, the service is stellar, and the food absolutely fantastic. As my main course, I opt for the rib eye. Now, L'Atelier certainly isn't a steakhouse, but this piece of meat is better than any among the vast repertoire of steakhouses I've been to both in Vegas and elsewhere. Interesting note: the percentage of Vegas tourists from Europe has increased significantly and it seemed like I was pretty much the only patron in L'Atelier that couldn't speak French (my cousin and his friend are fluent). To my surprise, the entire staff seemed fluent as well and it felt like the only English being spoken at the restaurant was at our table--a neat experience. The final total for us comes out to $350. Normally, any tasting menus at this restaurant would be significantly more so take advantage of these summer menus while they're available.
We head back out to get the car and the valet is taking forever. In the mean time, I spot Carrot Top grabbing his car out of the valet, too. He seems to get faster service than me for some reason... Once the car rolls up some 25-minutes later, I drive like a mad man back to Palms Place to at least catch the ending of the "Quack Finale" pool party. I valet at Palms Place because time is of the essence and I don't want to be searching around the parking garage like when we first arrived. Among a handful of Ferraris in the valet, the BMW is looking pretty ghetto, but I tip the guy $10 and tell him to "keep it close" so he writes "VIP" on my stub and his own. We rush our way to the pool which seems to be mostly a local's affair or at least until word gets out about it and it gains a little steam. They have a volleyball net pitched up and everything, but to my dismay, most people are in club attire and very few are actually swimming.
After the pool party, it's back upstairs for some shots and then back down to check out the nightlife at the Palms. We head over to the line for Moon and Playboy Club. It moves quickly and the $20 cover takes care of entrance to Moon, Playboy, and Ghostbar.
Our first stop is the Playboy Club. I thought it was elegant with a great crowd of both young and old. I'd actually feel comfortable taking my parents here. I'm not too sure about the hours, but the room itself is nice enough to double as a high limit room during the day and if they turn the obnoxious music down, I think they could really have something that'll rival Encore's future penthouse gaming option.
Our next stop is a short escalator up to Moon. The go-go dancers here have to be the hottest anywhere and the views, it should go without saying, are spectacular. During what seems like the busiest point of the night, the ceiling begins to open revealing the clear night sky and the crowd goes wild. I've had the Palms wrong after all these years. I still think it's a local's joint posing to be hip, but with the addition of Palms Place, it's looking like a place I'll frequent more often. During my drunken stupor and looking out of that view, for a moment I realized that yes, $40k for that Hugh Hefner Sky Villa might actually be worth it. That thought, however, banished out of my mind the very next day as you'll soon read. Before taking the elevator down from Moon, a cute girl offers us some chocolate brownies off a fresh baked tray and tells us to hurry and grab some before security catches up with her. Okay... like that's not suspicious. I make sure that the brownies aren't laced with anything and I see everyone in the elevator ride down seems to have gotten one as well so I say, "Well she didn't ask for our numbers and I think we'd be a pretty tough crowd to date rape so lets dig in." It gets a good laugh.
Morning comes and I head out to the pool. I'm one of the first out there and take my pick of a free cabana. I decide on one that's completely shaded knowing come afternoon sun, it'll be the best cabana at the pool. I try to swim a few laps only to be totally annoyed by a young family of three children who insist on demonstrating their best cannonballs to one another. Seriously, if you must bring your kids, there isn't a more adult place in all of Vegas than the Palms' complex. I wasn't the only one annoyed by this family, and fortunately, three gorgeous young ladies come up with the most perfect solution--go topless. Keep in mind, Palms Place's pool is not a topless pool, but it's small enough and "adult" enough that nobody would dare say anything to these ladies. The offended family immediately packs their belongings and leaves.
After a short, relaxing swim, I head to the valet to pick up the car. "VIP" valet my ass! It takes 15 minutes to get my car. Now, that's not long by most resort standards, but this hotel is even smaller than Wynn Tower Suites and was at the time maybe only at half capacity. Tower Suites has always had the car out in three minutes tops. Oh well. They really do bend over backwards for you at Palms Place though, and while they don't advertise it, I'm sure I could have called down for my car from my room.
I drive down to MGM, grab some line passes from the Player's Club, and meet my parents and grandmother outside the buffet. It's nice to wind down with them and share one another's shenanigans. I needed the break.
Just as we are finishing, I get a call from Matt telling me he and his girlfriend Heidi are at Fat Tuesday's inside MGM so off I go. I hadn't seen Matt since March and Heidi since July of '07 so needless to say, I'm excited. We meet up and catch up before I suggest they join us at Palms Place for a day by the pool. The cabana meant for little convincing on my part.
At the pool, we order a few drinks, a pitcher of sangria, and life is good. Several hours go by as we literally do nothing except lounge around and enjoy the eye-candy. Matt and Heidi head back to get ready for our Craftsteak reservations for the night while my cousin, his friend, and I head to the Drift Spa.
Drift is awesome. It's facilities are refreshing and world class. Among the standard saunas and steam rooms is a lounge area with privacy curtains, an outdoor rock garden and fireplace lounge to tan or relax in, and the "Hammam"--a co-ed Turkish bath (essentially a weaker steam room) with sporadic, indirect lighting, mosaic tiles, and rain shower. The best thing to do is lay a towel flat on the center island in the Hammam and stare up at the lights as their beams pierce through the steam. You'll be asleep in a matter of minutes and wake up totally refreshed. My face was noticeably glowing after an hour in there. Now, if only all the hotties that frequent Palms knew about this co-ed Hammam...
After the spa, I take a little more time than my cousin and friend getting dressed because I have other plans. All hotel room floors at Palms Place require key access for the elevator to work--a feature that is both annoying and yet gives a sense of security. When my cousin and friend head up to the room, I go to the front desk and ask--expecting all too well to get shut down--if I could get a tour of one of the penthouses. Within minutes, a security guard is down to take me on a tour of a two-bedroom unit.
These units are every bit as nice as Wynn's Fairway Villas or MGM's Skylofts, but they have something more spectacular than those two: cantilevered hot tubs. Yes, hot tubs surrounded in glass that hang off the edge of the balcony 550 feet in the air overlooking the strip. This is pretty much the exact same view as the Sky Villas in Palms' Fantasy Tower for a fraction of the cost and if you can find a private owner (which I already have), you can get them even cheaper. Hot tub party, anyone?
I just had to step out along the edge of the tub and linger over the strip to take it all in. Words can't describe the feeling although the security guard I was with had one word to describe me: "Crazy." He said few people actually have the courage to go that far along the edge of the tub.
I head back down to my ghetto-by-comparison suite and get ready for Craftsteak and the rest of the evening. I leave the top button of my two-button coat undone and my cousin's friend insists on lecturing me on fashion telling me that's a total faux pas. I took this a little personally. Need I remind you, kind sir, that you're the one wearing a vest? Yes, the very same attire I sported nearly a year ago. Oh, and I see you packed a fedora. Of course, when I sported the fedora nine months ago, everyone thought of it as a ridiculous fashion statement. You sir, follow trends. I set them. P.S. men: the pocket square worn casually will be the next big thing come a year from now. I wish I could call roulette numbers the way I call fashion trends.
Anyway, we meet up with Matt and Heidi at Craftsteak and are seated deep inside the huge restaurant. I had read a statistic somewhere that Craftsteak is MGM's most successful restaurant and it was easy to see why--on a Wednesday night, there was hardly an open table. The waiter comes around and highly recommends the family style summer menu that I had been eyeing. For $60, you get roasted red peppers, Persian cucumber and watercress salad, and grilled quail to start. Main entrées include grilled Kobe sirloin, roasted chicken, and sea scallops with side dishes of sweet corn, potato puree, and shiitake mushrooms. Desserts included a chef's selection of ice creams, tarts, and cheesecake. For an extra $30, they can also pair three selections of wine. It's an excellent value and we all opt for it.
Again, I won't go into details, but Craftsteak was a phenomenal experience. Among the standouts were the roasted red peppers, grilled quail, and chocolate ice cream. These were all superb. The other selections were also very, very good. I'd say my only disappointments were the Persian cucumber salad (almost sour and way too flavorful) and the Kobe sirloin. It's not to say the Kobe beef was bad as it's almost impossible to eat "bad" Kobe, but the name of the restaurant is Craftsteak and coupled with the hype behind Kobe, I'm expecting to be blown away. In comparison to other steaks I've had--especially last night's at L'Atelier--it left much to be desired.
Matt orders a vodka and Red Bull. Who the hell orders that at a fine dining establishment? Heidi and I actually laugh while he orders which gets the waiter chuckling as well. He apologizes to Matt when he brings the drink out because, of course, he wouldn't want to offend anyone at his table. If anything, I was planning on tipping him more for laughing at Matt. Now, earlier in the trip and for some reason, the riff from Heart's "Barracuda" (links to a YouTube page in case you're not familiar with it) got stuck in our heads. At the time, we had no idea who it was by, but my cousin's friend kept insisting that it's by KISS. Sorry, but no way is KISS that good. The table puts a small wager on it: if it's not KISS, he owes the four of us $10 each, but if it is, we each owe him $10. It's on.
First, we sing the riff to our waiter and of course, it's familiar to him, but he has no idea who it's by. After dinner, we all bust out cell phones calling various people, but again, they know the riff, but not who it's by. Now we're getting desperate. We decide to ask the concierge at MGM, but it was closed so we head for Palms Place and ask the front desk. The entire front desk asks one another while humming it out loud, but can't figure it out so they refer me to the security guard around the corner because "he's a classic rock fan and would know." The security guard is embarrassed to say he doesn't, but he's certain the bartender at Rojo (the lobby bar at Palms Place) would. She doesn't either. Despite not knowing, they all agree that it sure as hell isn't KISS.
At this point, it's getting ridiculous. It's not about winning or losing $10 at all. It's about proving my cousin's friend wrong. I come up with the solution. If American Express Platinum Concierge can pull through like they did at L'Atelier the night before, they can sure as hell figure this one out. By now we're back in our suite and have had a few shots so I'm making the call rather plastered. I put the concierge on speakerphone:
Concierge: How can I help you Mr. E?
Me: Okay Jenny, I've got a pretty ridiculous request. Are you a fan of classic rock?
Me: Okay, we've got this bet over which band is famous for that guitar riff that goes, "Dun dee-da-dun dee-da-dun dee-da-dun dee-da-dun dee-da-dun dee-da-dun de-da-DUN DUN!"
Concierge: (laughing hysterically) I don't know the answer but I can find out for you. Do you mind if I place you on a brief hold?"
We're all surrounding my cell phone as the "please hold" muzak is playing when suddenly the concierge comes back on: "Mr. E., that is the theme from 'Barracuda' by Heart!" and all but my cousin's friend literally jump up screaming and bragging away. I hadn't hung up on the concierge when I yell to my cousin's friend, "You owe me my annual fee, bitch!" Now, he actually only owed me $10 and my annual fee is $450, but this is enough to get the concierge laughing so hysterically that I hear her drop the phone. Man I love American Express.
Heidi's feet are killing her and she opts to stay in while us guys hit the town. We're feeling especially confident because Matt ("Mr. Never Wait in Line and Never Pay Cover") is with us. We cab it to Mandalay where the first stop is Foundation Room, but they're already closed for the evening so we head to MIX.
MIX has changed a bit. I'm happy to say it has picked up significantly and some of the outdoor furnishings have changed. They've set off the best tables as bottle service only, but there are still great places to take in the view and several areas scattered around to sit. Plus, they let us have a table that wasn't getting any use anyway right on the patio. A guy walked by us wearing blue jeans, a plain white shirt, and a black vest--exactly what my cousin's friend was wearing. We make it a point to take a picture of anyone we run into wearing the same thing that night. It comes out to three shots with completely random strangers in total.
After polishing off a few drinks, we head to LAX at Luxor. A brief walk through is all the place is worth. Nice as it is, it's way too crowded and is designed horribly causing you to get stuck in bottleneck after bottleneck.
Once out of there, I insist we go to CatHouse since I had heard some good reviews. Man oh man were those reviews right on. The place has a Moulin Rouge cabaret kind of vibe to it with deep reds and intimate seating. One wall is glass that affords a peek inside the lady's dressing room while nude pictures adorn the walls. It all feels like 19th-century France where I'd be sharing absinthe and opiates with Berlioz and Mallarme. Our timing couldn't have been better as we march straight to the back, find some open seats (again, no bottle service required), and discover we have front row to some kind of bikini contest. Good times.
After CatHouse and random stupidity (see picture below), we wind up in some side street behind Luxor when a limo screeches right by us and does an illegal U-turn. The driver asks us if we'd like a free ride and admission to a strip club. We'd been casually talking about Sapphire throughout the night so we ask if that's possible and he tells us to hop in. The guy drove like a mad man, but never in my life had I had that much fun in a limo.
My game is good
We make it to Sapphire shortly, tip the driver, and step inside. A host asks us where we'd like to sit while the strippers line up the entrance of the main area like predators waiting for their prey. Once we're seated, I'm immediately accosted by a gorgeous Asian duo. It takes about two seconds for me to agree to let them go to work. Mid lappie, I look over at my friends only to see that they're still telling their life stories to their respective strippers. What dorks! Finally, they agree on lappies as well.
I think it becomes known pretty quickly that I don't mess around with bullshit conversation and want my lappies quick so pretty much all the strippers start offering their services to me. Unfortunately, most of them are "butter" faces (you know, everything but her face...). Unfortunately, when the dynamic Asian duo makes their round back to me, I have to deny them as well. Sorry to be a party pooper, but with my gambling winnings, I'd like to for once enjoy what I have left in my wallet when I get home. In any case, Sapphire may just become a routine stop.
We head back to Palms Place and call it a night as the sun is about to come up. The next morning we check out and my cousin and his friend head to Fashion Show Mall while I take in Simon Restaurant and Lounge. As a solo diner, I opt to sit at the bar, but take a good look at the entire restaurant. It's a beautiful space with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pool and is totally flooded with natural light. It's like Tableau with a contemporary edge.
The bartender takes my order and I'm smitten. Her name is Veronica and she likes scotch, nightlife, architecture, and will be pursuing her doctoral studies in New Mexico in about six months. Why?! Why is it that I won't be returning to Vegas until December when she'll likely be gone?! Ugh. Anyway, I just order a burger and fries, some soda, and coffee. The burger is even better than BLT's and the final total is $40 because when you're in love, you tend to tip 50%.
My cousin and his friend get back and we say our good-byes. The car rolls out of the valet--this time in "only" ten minutes--and I'm on my way back to MGM to pick up my parents and head back. This had been an especially fun trip and the wait until December will be agonizing.
Thanks for reading!