Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Mike's back with a trip down The Strip including a lunch at First Food @ Palazzo.

Some updates and photos of City Center, Bellagio, Monte Carlo and more.

The complete photo gallery is here:

Treasure Island

Khotan is opening real soon now, if it hasn't already. Signage reflects it (they still managed to keep the old Treasure Island signage design, hooray.) Having not poked my head into Social House very much over the years, I'm not sure how different it is for the room materials, but the jade collection hanging around is certainly striking. You can see some pieces here, here, and here.

The Venetian

Ugly Alert! The banners on the side of the cathedral or whatever the front of the casino is supposed to look like are gone, and as a result there was nasty white metal frames hanging on the side of the building in full view. It's possible they're just changing banners or possibly going to take these down for good. I may have simply just caught them on the one day their pants were down, metaphorically speaking, but I couldn't walk by without noticing that.


There is now a small classic car display in the old Lambo showroom. The dealership is gone, but the marquee advertisement remains. Why? Because the gift shop is still around, and apparently cast-toy cars and logo tees is all you need to throw a "Lamborghini Las Vegas" sign up on the jumbotron.

I ate at First Food & Bar. Talk about that is at the end.

The Mirage

Mike was awoken in the middle of the night by a call. It was The Mirage.

"I've got the blues, and you can't eat!" Mike had no clue what Mirage was talking about. He wasn't hungry, anyway.
"Huh? But, it's... It's 2AM."
"Exactly! And all of my restaurants are closed now! You'll have to go to, I don't know, is that McDonald's by Harrah's open? I don't have a 24 hour coffee shop anymore!"

Mike was kind of sad to hear this news. Mirage's Caribe Cafe was where ate four times on his first trip to Vegas, and though future visits in the MGM amalgamation era weren't as memorable it was comforting to know it was still there. He could only wonder why it was shut down. Low patronage?

"B.B King's Blues Club will be opening soon in the former cafe. It's going to be like, like, a whole... I don't know... A room. No, bigger. Like a, a, a..."

"A House?" Mike offered.

"Yes! A house! It'll be like a house of of blues music (gee, that sounds kinda catchy) and comfort food. Right off the floor of my tropical decor casino. Nobody in town has ever tried something like that before!"

Mike almost said something about a property further south, but not wanting to argue, he quietly agreed.


Jasmine hadn't closed yet at the time of visit, this was just to see the Conservatory.

Take the big wheel from previous summer's displays, put it in the middle divider between the rows from the lobby. In the middle, put in the butterfly house from the spring display. Decorate the edges with the giant flowers, lemonade stands, giant watering cans, and other effects combining both spring and summer displays. Stir.

Ladies and gentlemen, the present Conservatory. However, it is quite pretty. I particularly like this fountain of moss.

There's been talk online lately that the Paris "balloon" marquee is fading away in the sun. I've been complaining about the top third for years now, and the fade has spread to the rest of the sign, though it'd be only fair to mention that the Bellagio marquee has been slowly chipping away for the past year, too. The paint and everything else on the actual concrete structure itself is near pristine, but for some reason that frame either hasn't been as cared for or the rest of the sign hasn't been either and has just proven remarkably resilient.


I'm not sure why, but the lower floors of the Cosmo are putting on panels that look like stressed/rusted out metal. It's not very attractive, and it controls the southern view on the movators in/out of Bellagio. Being level with the Jockey Club means it makes that building look even more ugly, and for all I know that may actually be the idea.

The corner entrance, adjacent to Bellagio's driveway, is a steel monster that hasn't been clad in glass yet. The whole area with the big unfinished entrance, the covered alley way to Jockey Club, and the Bellagio conservatory holding pen all collide in a pretty messy way right now. I couldn't tell what was going on in this photo, while walking by it almost appeared as though Bellagio were trying to cover up the Cosmo entrance with trees, though good luck covering up that huge thing.

By the way, the Cosmo people really need to re-think how they funnel people walking by. They've redone the temporary walkway around their property, and now instead of being open to the sky and trenched with cycling fencing and concrete road barriers, they've covered it up like the CityCenter pass-by. Problem is, the Cosmo one has a ton of blind corners and people come power-walking around the corners and slam into you in either direction. Combine this with how no party walks behind each other in a line in Vegas, choosing to walk side by side and take up the whole corridor, and you have walls of people slamming into each other regularly outside the Cosmo.


There's a fashion label logo on the Crystals now, which is nearly finished in some areas and still needing work in others.

You may have heard from other blogs that Mandarin Oriental has a wrap. They've also been putting marketing on the ground-level building as well. There's a kind of film strip reel appearance to this ad. It's a collage of a worldly group of fashionable-looking people the caption "He's a fan," "She's a fan," etc.

MO's garage (valet only, I'd assume) is basically complete as well, and the finishing touches to the entrance are being applied.

For the interested, MO and then Aria look to be the closest to completion out of the CityCenter bunch. Veer still has a ways to go, Harmon is of course not going to make the general opening, and Vdara has looked ready from the outside for close to a year now.

Monte Carlo

Some people thought that I overreacted by saying that "We Are Pleasing To Serve You Again" was a subtle racist stereotype about Asians and their grasp of English sentence phrasing. I think any other explanation can be written off at this point. What's next, "Me So Hungry"?

A big patch of ground outside the north entrance is dirt. Not sure if this is common, but I seem to remember something being here. Also, the sign is getting a paint job.

Cranes 'n' Things:

Miracle Mile renovations. Hard Rock Cafe.

StripMunch: First Food & Bar

As has been discussed previously, First is a restaurant, officially listed as a component of The Palazzo. And in fairness, it's space is officially outside pre-Palazzo Venetian. However, most would be forgiven for not noticing that. Anyone who comes here is either taking the TI-Venetian bridge and stepping over to a new entrance that splinters off the old path, or coming in from a path off the Grand Canal Shoppes, admittedly right at the end before it becomes Palazzo. Point is, this is not that accessible from the casino floor, and guests in either Palazzo or Venetian towers would have to know where to look for it (get off at the mall level, walk toward the other mall, turn down a nearly unmarked hall.)

It is, actually, the second floor of the St Regis, and one of the building's only two tenants along with the World's Most Glamorous Walgreens. So anyone in either hotel is, essentially, facing a hike to another tower (albeit one without any rooms) to eat here.

First sells itself on being open dang near all the time, with a few hours of closure in the wee hours for cleaning the kitchen, hours when you should be in either a club or your bed.

Sam DeMarco was last seen in Vegas almost a decade ago with Sam's American, a launch-era Bellagio restaurant that was closed about the same time as Mirage Resorts was sold to MGM Grand. Details about the departure are a little sketchy, some anonymous comments suggest he didn't like the town for one reason or another. He briefly had some kind of agreement with Wynn Resorts to head "Encore Steak & Seafood" at Encore, a restaurant that later became Switch. That fell through and by some order of events he chose switching landlords instead of switching dining room atmosphere.

So what's it like?

First's decor feels like a collision of a steakhouse and a barbecue joint. The decor around the room is dark, like a steakhouse, but with a lot of minimalist wood that doesn't look too polished giving it that downhome cookin' vibe. There's a lot of nice HDTVs hanging all over. On a Saturday morning they were showing YuGiOh but eventually flipped over to (of course) a ball game.

You are greeted with a bar at one far end of the dining room, and the majority of the space is a whole combination of seating including rounded steakhouse like booths, high tables and chairs like a coffeehouse between the bar and the kitchen, cafeteria style table seating, and finally windowside booths with loooong tables and loooong benches. We wanted to take in the view, and the place wasn't crowded, so we asked for a looong table.

What a view! Giant north-facing windows could unfortunately show the dead and dying end of the Strip's construction boom, but the view is primarily of Phil Ruffin's corner of the universe (this could be a good place to watch the effects of the Siren's show while having dinner, without being close enough to extinguish brain cells on the script or choreography), and extreme north gives you a nice view of the Palazzo itself and the Fashion Show Mall. The tumbleweeds and mothballs of Echelon can barely be seen.

The food is varied. I had a plain ol' cheeseburger and my dining buddy had something equally simple involving chicken, if I remember it right. The burger has some interesting pricing going on but you may be confused by it. So basically, for $1 more you can get cheese, for $1 more you can get one of a number of toppings, and for $1 more you can also get a side like fries. The problem is that the menu says I picked one of each of the extras, then realized what that I wasn't quite sure what I bought.

From the menu:
First base for a buck- add cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, goat, or blue
Second base for a deuce- add caramelized onions,
mushrooms, avocado, or bacon
Third base for three bucks- take first and second base, fries are on us.

So for all three are you spending a total of $3, or $6? The answer is $3 but it isn't completely clear for those of us who are too swept up by the views to pay a lot of attention, and may not be to you if you've been drinking a fair bit or stumbled in here late at night after a lot of gambling or clubbing (which in a lot of cases means you've ALSO been drinking a fair bit.)

My companion's dish didn't come with any fries, so he had to order them separately. They cost more than $1, however to the joint's credit they seem to have more than one type of fry. Here's a picture. My $1 burger special fries are in the foreground. They were thin and had a sort of a cheese topping to them. The more expensive side of fries in the background are typical steakhouse fries, though the basket is quite a bit bigger.

The burger was pretty good, my lunch buddy did not appreciate their meal quite so much. Actually, lunch buddy was kind of down on the place. It was immediately noted that specks of foreign material were all over the contrasting dinnerware. Or as lunch buddy put it, "everything that is supposed to be black has bits of white stuff on it. Everything that is supposed to be white has bits of black stuff on it." My glass had some, er, white stuff, on the outside (thank goodness) that was scraped off with a finger after some effort. A second glass didn't have that problem.

Another problem was service. We were forgotten about at some point (our booth's location directly behind a large column probably was to blame, prime window views but lowered visibility.) Staff did not always seem to be on the ball, either. Some mistakes spoke of either hurriedness (which was a bit odd given the rather low number of customers) or inexperience.

It wasn't as bad as my first visit to Planet Dailies where we were forgotten for ages and eventually brought the wrong food, but it was only a short breadth away. Later visits to Planet Dailies were much improved, and I expect to go to First again someday and maybe then it will be better. But after having tried it once I'd give them at least another month to get things together before making a decision again.

Summary: First Food & Bar is in The Palazzo, or maybe The Venetian, it's your call. $43.24 was dropped here on lunch for two, before tip.


Read archived comments (8 so far)
August 28, 2009 10:06 PM Posted by John

I've been to First on three separate occasions and every time I've dealt with what you described. It's like they don't have someone on staff to teach them the art of ass-kissing without seeming to kiss ass. Nothing about the service is subtle or without hazard. From the way they refill your water glass, to the way they ask you if you'd like dessert is awkward.

The Mandarin people gave me a ring last weekend to let me know that that wrap would be coming down before the hotel opens in December. Reservations will be taken from September 15th.

You should get out there for Restaurant Week. High-end stuff for Sinatra for $50.09 a person is pretty decent.

August 28, 2009 11:39 PM Posted by Arthur

Hahaha. Maybe the next Monte Carlo Dragon Noodle sign is, "Me No Not Full. Me Am Hungry! Me Want Food!". Hahahaha. I'm Asian but I don't think thats offensive, I think its kinda comical, and I am actually interested in what they have in there! It pokes fun at how Asians have diffculty in learning English, I guess. I remember I used to talk like that back in the day when I first started to learn this language. (Although, not all Asians are like me, they get offended by things like this, so Monte Carlo should calm down a bit on that...)

And...Im looking forward to reading the next "Adventures of Mike and The Mirage"! (Following the Candy Store Adventures and now funny!)

August 29, 2009 7:47 AM Posted by donnymac

Thanks for the review Mike, I guess I will pass on First this trip and either go back to BLT or Victorian Room for late night eats.

August 29, 2009 10:02 AM Posted by parchedearth

Great pictures. It definitely looks like the pedestrian bridges will be ready for opening. It would have been a nightmare if they weren't ready. I also have some concerns about the rusted framework at Cosmo. I don't know how they are going to coat/cover/paint it once the glass panels are attached.
Although it looks great, I am now considering First a failed venture. They have 4 different menus (for different times) and you cannot tell how much anything costs. Also, much of the day the bar is technically open, but they have no bartenders. Anyway, the location will force it to close soon.

August 29, 2009 12:02 PM Posted by Joe

From what I read and saw about Treasure Island, it looks like Ruffin is starting to bring back the places' pirate theme a little.

August 29, 2009 11:13 PM Posted by mike_ch


John: Sad to hear this is a consistent problem. Yes, I had a glass refill wind up spilling liquid all over the table. If it wasn't so looooooong that could have wrecked the meal but instead I was wondering if the server was new because the room was not crowded.

Arthur: Glad someone enjoyed it, but I think the fairytales of an inexplicable verbal hotel building are over. I wrote that chapter last week because I figured an absurdist story of having a conversation with a hotel itself would best get across the absurdity of Celebutard Lollipops. It continued this month just to point out the HOB parallels in BB King's, but I don't think I can create fun conversations about construction walls, and honestly nobody here is coming for my creative writing skills anyway. :)

Maybe someday it'll come back when/if StripMunch hits the Mirage.

donnymac: Glad I could help.

parchedearth: I think the concept is okay. As far as LVS dining goes, I'd pick First over Grand Lux, especially if it ever managed to start firing on all cylinders. They should probably axe breakfast completely due their location, as they're not near anybody's room elevators and nobody wants to walk any further than the coffee shop downstairs for pancakes and eggs.

Joe: The marketing people aren't shying away from the pirate stuff, but it's still just as thin inside. We'll see.

August 30, 2009 3:24 PM Posted by Ken

Gee, do you think the poster designer use this for an inspiration?

September 1, 2009 7:59 AM Posted by detroit1051

Mike_ch, thanks for the report and great photos.
I wonder how long it's been since Bellagio bought new props for the Conservatory. I recognize all of them. Regardless, it is a very attractive exhibit, sort of soothing compared to the rest of hyper-Vegas.
First Food doesn't look attractive in your photo. It looks like a coffee shop, and the room with its high ceiling is sort of barn-like.
Are the cloth placemats washed and replaced after every use? I may be paranoid, but I don't like restaurants that use them, and then the bus person just wipes them down with the same rag used for wiping down the seats. Ugh.