Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Mike's back with another Strip Walk and this time it's all MGM, all the time.

Here's the complete photo gallery:

Read on for more...

Mandalay Bay

We start here today, where around 9AM-ish the casino was dead and workers were out. Lupo had a new logo sign, instead of green handwriting script on a white sign it's thin white contemporary letters on a black background with a white ring around the edge. Truthfully, I've never been to Lupo and never paid it much attention, so I don't know if the whole restaurant was re-done or just the sign. I tried to get a picture of it anyway but because it was closed down and through a window the result wasn't too good (you can see a new sign reflecting in the glass.)

A whole chunk of what was formerly slot machines by the Raffles Cafe is being barricaded off with metal fencing. They are creating a fenced off tables section for whatever reason, around the outside of the grotto-like structure between the Cafe and the high-limit room. The grotto itself was being worked on, one of the columns had it's decorations removed (the little elaborate curly moldings around the legs) though the other one was intact. I have no idea if this is simple maintenance or the start of a de/re-theming.

Mandalay was pretty dead, so I moved along. Going past the sports book I noticed this wall. EveningCall appears to be a bar, what with the "stiff cocktails & frozen dreams" being promised. The wall extends from right next to the Cocktail Waitress hideaway across from the sports book in the hall to THEhotel, around the corner and ends over where Mandalay often sets up tables for additional ticketing during big events.

For those curious, the spot to be occupied by EveningCall was just a broadway-style "surrounded by lights" poster of The Lion King and some fake plants. A previously empty space is being turned into a cash register.

Heading into Mandalay Place, I noticed that the Reading Room is now gone. I went over to the other side of the escalator and saw one of the strangest scenes I've seen in Vegas for a while. RM Seafood was closed for another 90 minutes, but it didn't stop a man from walking up to the front door and pounding his fist against the large glass/wood door that locks the entrance. I just sat there, entranced in watching the vibrations of the large pieces of glass as this man pounded away at the door, and wondered what would happen next. Employees inside paid it no mind, as good employees working in a closed store do. After a good twenty rounds between his fist and the door glass, he went upstairs. I figure he had gotten bored and wandered away, so imagine my surprise when I get upstairs and find him pounding away at the more traditional door locked at RM's upstairs dining room. I'm not sure if that room is even open any more as RM has moved to a more seafood-friendly variant of First Food's menu in this recession.

The man went past me again, took the escalator downstairs, and began beating down the main door again. Another tourist came and tapped him on the shoulder, introduced him to their group, and they walked away. I can only guess his friend said "Meet me at RM Seafood" and the guy assumed it must literally be inside the restaurant. Why all the obvious signs that it's closed (the hours outside, the locked doors, the lack of customers the employees ignoring his existence) didn't register with him, I can not know.

I normally don't share Stupid Tourist Stories here, but this one was just too bizarre to pass.

Once this insanity was over, I noticed the old Chocolate Swan space has a very small sign that reads that Hussong's Cantina is coming soon. I've never heard of the place before, but Wikipedia says: "Hussong's Cantina is the oldest cantina in the Californias (California in the United States and Baja California in Mexico). It is located in Ensenada, Baja California, Baja California and it was established in 1892."

Their website lists their only location as that one in Baja, and no mention of Vegas whatsoever, so I'm not sure if this is the first time they've expanded or if this is one of those deals where the original restaurant licenses it's name to some chain who goes around setting up imitations everywhere else.


Nothing has changed. Luxor was a little busier than Mandalay Bay, but not by very much. I only mention this because...


Compared to Luxor, and especially compared to Mandalay, Excalibur was a madhouse. On a Monday around 10AM It wasn't the most crowded it'd ever been, but it was many times busier than the classier places on it's block. People who fantasize of the tacky castle biting the dust and being replaced with something sophisticated would cry into their wine if they saw the crowd on the upper level. The big buffet line (as Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay buffets all have day-pass dining now, getting a table at any time of the day can be difficult, but Excalibur is more difficult than the others) was already starting up. It is clear that what the market wants more than ever right now is low cost, and they're willing to put up with a place that Steve Wynn called "an under-designed resort" if the price is right.

Also on the upper level, a Lidz store opened in what was previously an unused storefront for months. And in a bit of a give/take, an Auntie Annie's pretzels has opened in the food court. The downside to this is that the store is where Krispy Kreme used to have their doughnut manufacturing line and the Hot Doughnuts Now sign. The Krispy Kreme counter is still there and was given a renovation but I don't believe the Excalibur location serves hot fresh doughnuts anymore. I'm not sure where you can get them now. I think the Fitzgerald's location downtown has a machine, but I'm not sure of it.

In any case, a place that was once one cash register is now two cash registers.

MGM Grand

In further food court news, the MGM Grand Food Court was renovated partially. It's mostly the entrance and tables, the storefronts themselves still have the phony wooden panels of the barnyard/garden motif that was there originally. It has a wall of wavey shaped illuminated with coloured lighting, lit up boxes hanging around that look more like frosted plastic than frosted glass, like this is A Nightclub By Way Of McDonald's. It has elements of that "vaguely art deco design illuminated with contemporary lights, flooded in chrome, and given modern glowly-letters signage" look that is shared with every interior MGM Mirage makes these days. As a result, I commented there that I thought this identifiable yet increasingly repetitive style be named "Modern Generic Moderne."


I wandered past CityCenter to Bellagio for lunch at the Buffet. The food is still very good, and the service is still great though don't be surprised if you find a "Soup Nazi" from time to time. The carving station man was very nice if you played by his rules; and knew what you wanted immediately, and didn't ask for more, and didn't change your mind. Any hesitation at all and he would practically feel insulted. The pastry chef still deserves props, the cheesecakes are lighter than air.

On the way out I wandered around a little. There's a new temporary wall up by the Conservatory, next to the restrooms, by the garage entrance, on the other side of the registration desk. At the moment, it says "MesmerEyes," which suggests the place will be selling glasses of some kind.

This location was formerly a phone booth. Literally, it was a collection of about five pay phones just inside the garage entrance next to the restrooms, and as far as I know it has been since the resort opened. Now it will be a cash register. Sensing a theme through this article? The latest trend at MGM properties appears to be finding nooks, crannies, and corners that provide a simple service or don't do anything and transforming them into tiny places of business.

In a 2006 interview, Steve Wynn discussed the closure of Mirage's white tiger display for BLT Burger. He was initially confused and thought the Secret Garden behind the hotel was closed. As this was in the heady days of record profits and high demand, there was speculation The Mirage might build a second hotel tower on the Secret Garden property. Asked what he thought about all of this, Wynn had no objections to closing the tiger tank ("It was Roy's idea" to sell the show, which wasn't running anymore) but came close to issuing a warning on closing the Secret Garden, saying "you don't want people to be faced with cash registers everywhere they look."

However, maximizing the profitability of square footage, at least on a very small scale like the quiet pay phone corners and areas that don't provide anything other than visual stimulation, does appear to be a new strategy, at least among resort leadership, if not directed from on high.

Monte Carlo

The mall is open, sort of. The only thing that you can actually do in there is visit The Pub and buy their t-shirt. How much has changed inside The Pub from it's earlier days as MC Brewery, I can't tell you. I was never in there or even glancing at it during the "old days". Decent pictures are hard to get with my point & shoot because of the darkness inside and the bright light pouring in windows from the pool. There are a lot of TVs hanging around and what appears to be a small stage in front of a projection screen. This bar near the entrance seems to new to me, but it might not be.

Otherwise, the mall is stores that have yet to open, like this jewelry store (care to peek inside?) There's a few closed storefronts on the way to the pub and many more past it.

Honestly, walking through the new shopping row I feel a bit confused. The old "Street of Dreams" had little window displays, phony building fronts like Disneyland's main streets, phony vines growing up the walls, and this (admittedly cheap in the Circus Circus mold) feel of a European side-street. Now it's mostly fairly typical storefronts with the same light fixtues used the whole way, with large spaces of nothing happening and lots of stark white walls (note to management: any kind of dirt, wear, lack of maintenance, or need of paint on these spaces will show up big time.) The bricks on the walls to the bathroom remind me that I'm not hallucinating that whole "cobblestone street mall" affair that used to be here (something I appreciate, don't tear it out.) Those Disneyesque "windows" above the storefronts are still around, but the two-tone paint job and seeming removal of detail (again, I'm sorry if I'm remembering things that weren't there, I never was here very much) kind of let it down.

This corner is as far as you're allowed to go for now. The Pub stretches around the pool, so going past these ropes you'd be pretty close to CityCenter construction. People dressed completely in day clothes, looking nothing like they were at work, were wandering past pretty frequently, but having attracted negative attention on my tour of the parking garage I decided not to tempt the fates and wind up in a backroom.

Moving out of the mall into the casino now...

Dragon Noodle Co is open again. The first time I went by I saw a woman in a rather stereotypical maid uniform talking to a man at a bar. And I thought, "oh, I get it. They're giving geeks walking by the impression that it's a maid cafe."

[we discussed this on the most recent Vegas Gang as well - ed]

A little clarification on this: In Japan, there seems to be a new obsession with maids, usually wearing the traditional fluffy victorian outfit. More anime and manga than I can count is are stories of some variation of a boy who, through inheriting a fortune or some other contrived plot device, winds up living alone in a tremendous mansion with 50+ girls in maid uniforms. They will usually call him something like "the young master" and fight over his attention and treat him like a little brother when they aren't treating him like a king.

You do not want to know the depths to which this fetish goes (I'm sure you can guess.) However, in Tokyo's Akihabara district, the cornerstone of culture for video games and anime and superheroes and other "shouldn't you have grown out of that by now?" pursuits, there are a lot of maid cafes, restaurants where the staff are women in those maid outfits I talked about, talking to customers like servants. In other words, it's like the Cinderella's Royal Table character feast in the Disney World castle, except it's for Japanese man-children.

Dragon Noodle does not appear to be making a serious go of it as a maid cafe (though that really would be weird!) but is instead hiring ladies in the same vein as the Hooters girls or the Hawaiian Tropic Zone bikini women, to wear uniforms straight out of anime tropes. Management claims it's like "cosplay," a trend at conventions where visitors dress up like characters for fun and sometimes compete in fashion shows of sorts often called Masquerades. Perhaps to not overly tread on copyright, though, they look less like the cited characters and more like typical stereotypes: the schoolgirl fuku (sailor outfit) uniform with the miniskirt, the maid, the more conservative school uniform used in higher ed, etc.

Either way, it's a weirdly niche idea for a location that must pay a lot of money for it's space (right next to Andre's and right inside the door.) Between this and the marketing phrases that resemble mangled English in early video games, the owner seems to be targeting America's japanophiles. From my experiences they are not as loose with cash or as socially open as the trust fund crowd The Strip has aimed to please ever since The Palms opened, but hey, whatever works for them.

From Dragon Noodle you could look through the bars to the refurb of Market City Caffe into d.Vino. Not a heck of a lot of differences were visible aside from most the furniture being gone. I notice the old tile is still on the wall, the signage is gone, and the tables are stacked up. It remains to be seen whether this change will be major or not. Dragon Noodle's don't appear to be that major, even though the restaurant was closed for months.

By the way, if you go today, you can't see into D.Vino anymore. They put up a curtain behind the wall on my second visit to doubly ensure they don't get spied on.

Finally, here's the Hotel32 elevator lobby. Sort of. You see, at the end of the elevator lobby for the highest floors, they painted the walls red, put up a sculpture, and hung a HOTEL32 sign. The elevator doors are red, too. This is evocative of SkyLofts at MGM Grand. However, at SkyLofts, the two elevators in the back of the lobby for the higher floors are semi-hidden behind a door. And the elevators there are express to the top floor and intended to be exclusively used for SkyLofts guests since they won't go anywhere else.

Or as an employee watching the lobbies at MGM Grand told me one day when I asked about the hidden lobby at the end of the lobby, "those are for the big dogs."

At Hotel32, the elevators are just for show. The two red elevators at the end of the hall are just as likely to open as any of the others and there's no way for Hotel32 guests to summon a private elevator, at least when going down. I often arrived downstairs from the suite (see below) to notice I walked out of a set of doors in the Hotel32 branded section, though I don't remember this happening when going up. However, the button and key card slot for Hotel32 are in all the elevators, not just the two at the end.

What does this mean? If you're staying at Hotel32, don't be surprised if you find yourself to be sharing the elevator with Hotels 19-31, too. You're also going to need to get to the button panel and insert your room key for authorization to go to that floor.

Suites 'n' Things

Family friends were visiting, and rather than have them crash out here in the 'burbs we looked for room deals, and found that MGM was offering pretty good rates to locals. And so a Spa Suite was reserved. The one in the promotional photo looks deceptively close to what we got but...

Spa suites are located just near the elevators, the middle column of the X-shaped tower. Walking in you have a bar top to your left and a closet to your right. The bedroom has a bed, of course, and in front of it is a couch (okay to sit on, but springy with little give so you wouldn't want to sleep on it) and coffee table (a panel of glass on four legs, not locked in place so it could be slid off by accident if you pushed it.) All of this was fine, though in a corner suite like this it's depressing to see an old television when rooms that go for less at Excalibur and Treasure Island have flat screens. The channel selection is basic, I have stayed at MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood (at the latter they give you both an HDTV and HD channels) and the channel selection at those was far larger, though I suppose you could say MGM's extra channels were mostly

That small stack of electronics next to the TV, by the way? A Phillips CD and radio set, connected to the Bose speakers in the corners of the ceiling over the bed. I didn't have a CD, but the radio didn't sound good and only sounded acceptable at low volume levels. There's a remote chance that it's a matter of reception in a thick building, but the bedside alarm clock seemed fine. I think the lousy wire antenna coming out the back and maybe the radio not being as quality as it looks (or maybe it was the speakers, who knows) would be more likely suspects.

The bathroom was shower only, ala Luxor pyramid, and had a steam function. The toilet is supposed to be in a closed-off area of it's own so other people can use the bathroom without privacy issues, but the room is about the same size as the cupboard under your sink. It shares this cramped space with the room safe (hand sanitizer, anyone?) and the ThronePhone (even hand sanitizer might not save you.) The most prominent visual catch is the creepy girl artwork above the toilet.

Of course, the reason you get this suite is the tub, and it is quite nice. It was clean and had taken the years pretty well, though I was completely at a loss as to how the jets are to be turned on. A downer was that the automatic curtain over the tub was kind of busted, in the up position, only the left side would rise up and the right side would rise a little before stopping, causing it to sag. In the down position, the right side started to rise up just as the left side hit the bottom. Our Strip view stretched from Mandarin Oriental (where they were working away on top of the parking garage) to NYNY.

Check-in was horribly slow, not due to the line but due to the "your room isn't ready yet now excuse me while I give the 20 people behind your their rooms immediately" effect. Rather than lose money in the casino, we left the strip for a few hours. Turndown service appeared around 5PM, and left Godiva chocolates.

Our 29th floor did partially go up in flames during the fire, the window is right above the strap above the highest floors and thus it was the floor where some flaming foam from the roof fell through a room's window and began igniting more rooms in addition to the strap below the window. Our side of the core did not suffer any damage but the hallway looked like a perfectly maintained example of mid-90s Circus Circus Enterprises interior design. The core connecting all hallways is HUUUUUGE but has no furniture at all, and looks like it's missing a reception desk or some couches with it's acres of spartan carpet and wallpaper. I guess most the damage here was exterior. Evidently only the top floor was totaled and remade.

Room service is excellent, with very acceptable prices and unlike a lot of hotels the menu is not the same as the Cafe downstairs.

I can't really judge this room, the price was an exclusive to Nevada residents and I didn't spend much time in it. It seems like it got some kind of recession refurb, as some parts of it looked like recent purchases (Phillips system, bed) and parts of it looked old and in need of work (TV, curtain.) I will say it was worthwhile for what was paid (something like $40 a night) but I wouldn't pay $250 for it, which is what I guess they might have been asking a few years ago.


Read archived comments (18 so far)
September 24, 2009 9:47 PM Posted by mike_ch

It happens every time: Everytime the StripWalk gets really big, I make an error.

I wrote, "the channel selection at those was far larger, though I suppose you could say MGM's extra channels were mostly", and forgot to finish my sentence.

I meant to say that the extra channels at MGM are largely foreign language.

September 25, 2009 5:23 AM Posted by detroit1051

Great report. I liked the focus on "cash registers." MGM (and everyone else) needs to look for $$$ wherever they can.
Sad to see the Reading Room replaced by Yogurt & Crepes. A final indignity for Glenn Schaeffer.
Maid cafes? Weird. Interesting but weird.
Thanks for the photos and report, Mike.

September 25, 2009 8:46 AM Posted by Mike P.

That MC Spa Suite looks just like the one we stayed in a couple years ago, right down to the inoperative (and mildewed) curtain over the tub. We paid a fortune for it too, but didn't have much choice since it was a hastily arranged business trip on a sold out weekend. I thought MC's rooms were being remodeled, or was it just the ones on fire damaged floors?

September 28, 2009 5:44 PM Posted by Kenny

Great Report.
I have been wondering what been going on at the Monte for awhile. The new shopping mall looks completely different from the dark European street village it use to be. Since the place opened, the whole "Street of Dreams" thing was really the only themed part of the 'Carlo, nothing else (except for of course the exterior and pool area). Its kind of like the Bellagio, they both were not built with a strong theme like NYNY or Paris.

Heres what the old mall looked like:

September 28, 2009 6:58 PM Posted by mike_ch

Thanks for the picture. I think I'm not alone in forgetting what the MC Mall looked like, except that it was like a tamer, cheaper Paris.I never noticed even that MGM took the little ropes of lights away from the ceiling moldings until recently.

I found another picture here of the mall as it was.

It does appear to be quite a de-theme. The thing that really gets my guff is the exact same light fixture being used over and over. Time will tell if we prefer faux-cobblestone streets and distressed natural looking surfaces to a flag, mall-esque floor and stark white paint. They really aren't done yet.

Just so it's not forgotten, here's the contents of the original mall on's mobile site before it someday gets wiped: "The Street of Dreams shopping and dining area includes Monte Carlo Classics, Monte Carlo Reflections, Monte Carlo Collections, Bubbles, Elton's, Indulge, Lunettes and the Medici Cigar Club. "

So far the new mall has The Pub and a jewelry store in the works. I don't know if the windows I found that said "BonVivant" are old or new, but considering the French in the old shot you posted, I'd guess they were overlooked in de-theming.

September 29, 2009 7:38 PM Posted by Sam

I've defended MC here in the past, and still think it's a better property (esp. for my price range) than it gets credit for. That said, the "Street of Dreams" was always pretty lame. It's so far at the back of the property that you could spend a fair amount of time at MC, even stay there, and never go any further down the "Street" than the entrance to the brewpub. So I don't really care about that particular piece losing its theme. The low-rise exterior was always the strongest part of the MC theme, and that was torn up pretty badly with Diablo's.

Not to beat a dead horse, though, but it'd be better if MGM was preserving what works. Fine, make Monte Carlo a generic Ikea/contemporary resort. That's fine. Just don't try to shoehorn the same thing into Bellagio.

October 4, 2009 8:38 AM Posted by Andy S

Thanks for the update Mike!

Really hope that no more of Mandalay's themeing is being removed, the look of the casino has already suffered with the hidious eyecandy lounge.

I am not hugely keen on Monte Carlo and always thought the outside was the best part (before Diablo's). However surely the street of shops were better than spending money to rip out the themeing and have something really plain and generic. I bet they spent a long time coming up with the new name for the brew pub.

Just have to hope the same thing doesn't happen to Greenwich Village at NYNY (I then have zero reason to go into a casino that was once my favourate.

October 6, 2009 5:39 AM Posted by detroit1051

Dave Schwartz discusses Monte Carlo's Dragon Noodle Co. in this week's LV Business Press. Mike_ch first talked about the Japanese anime aspect of it on his Strip Walk.

October 8, 2009 4:30 PM Posted by Kenny

Speaking of themed and de-themed resorts, check out this old video footage of the Mirage (and the atrium) taken in 1991. It was much nicer and different at this time.

October 8, 2009 4:32 PM Posted by Kenny

Sorry I forgot the LINK:

October 8, 2009 4:42 PM Posted by Hunter

Thanks, this is awesome. Love these old videos.

The trees were not even mature! And The Mirage looks really different without TI there.

October 8, 2009 5:14 PM Posted by detroit1051

The Mirage video sure brings back memories. I stayed there shortly after it opened. The atrium was much more lush when Steve Wynn owned the property. I don't understand why MGM thinned it out so much. It looks strange seeing Holiday Casino and Sands across the Strip.

October 9, 2009 4:01 AM Posted by mike_ch

With so much time spent watching cars come and go, I was looking to see how what kind of cars were showing up, and it confirmed what I had thought but was never around to know.

I miss Steve Wynn hotels for 80% of people who come to Vegas. Bellagio knocked it down to 60% or so (would be lower without the free attractions), and we're quickly approaching 20% now.

It's why people (Mike E!) who complain about all the people not sleeping there wandering the halls of Bellagio cause much ranting and gnashing of teeth. It's like the height of our VIP-obsessed, velvet rope Las Vegas that I feel can't go back to being a niche again soon enough.

Not that Steve will be the one to take us there, though. With nothing new being built for five years or more, he doesn't have enough supply to take any of it further downmarket than it need be.

October 9, 2009 10:58 PM Posted by Kenny

Just if you guys want to see any more old pics of the Mirage, heres a link on flickr for it:
Thats all I got.

October 13, 2009 2:00 AM Posted by motoman

Apologies -- it was I who made that crack about "fanny-packing lookie loos" at Bellagio, in a trip report last summer. It was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek because that's exactly what I am, wandering through there. Fell flat, I guess.

Heck, the whole world went bigger-is-better during the boom so it may not be entirely fair to blame Vegas or Steve Wynn for selling the luxury/fantasy image when folks (thought they) had cash to burn. There's a homebuilders' show here in the NW called, incidentally, "Street of Dreams" that was once a place to get ideas but became a showcase of grotesque excess. (This year, post-crash, they held the show in unsold condos!)

And I really do enjoy your Strip Walks. Bellagio gets all that foot traffic from its location and I'd guess Wynn/Encore would love to have that kind of action ringing up the slot machines and eateries. As you've pointed out, these places all depend on that, Asian whales and affectations of exclusivity aside.

December 5, 2009 11:21 AM Posted by Kenny

WTF! I can't believe Vegas Tripping changed Bellagio's 5 star rating to 4 star! They must have been serious when mentioning the tube tv issue.
The Bellagio REALLY HAS to renovate its rooms in order to compete with Wynncore, Venetian/ Palazzo again. (as long as MGM doesn't make it look all funky like they did to the Mirage's rooms)

December 29, 2009 7:28 PM Posted by Kenny

Incredibly rare video of the Luxor in its glory days. This includes the old Nilr River ride, the cheesy talking camels and the laser show.

December 29, 2009 7:29 PM Posted by Kenny

Incredibly rare video of the Luxor in its glory days. This includes the old Nile River ride, the cheesy talking camels and the laser show.