Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

July 29, 2008

Motoman's July 2008 Trip Report

Posted by Hunter

Regular reader motoman has been kind enough to share with us a report of a recent trip. Here's Moto:

"What follows is a fairly lengthy report about a fairly mundane trip (certainly not up to Mike E standards, but then, who could top that? ;-) It's roughly chronological but each paragraph has its own subject, so feel free to follow along, skip ahead, or skip completely as you prefer, after the jump."


We had fun one night chatting with a blackjack dealer and pit boss, chasing our money back and forth. On several occasions after coming back up to even, I would joke "Well, I could quit now and pretend I spent the last x hours doing nothing!" When it got to the point that x=5 and I saw my brother reach into his wallet to cover a double-down bet, I figured we'd be crawling back to our room on hands and knees. Instead we had an incredible rally until the morning shift change shortly thereafter, at which point we told the new dealer and pit boss "No offense, but we're leaving!" I felt good, being up a few hundred at what had begun the evening as a $15 table. I know, many here are used to action a couple decimal points to the right of that, but to us it's still a big deal -- for perspective, think in terms of twenty times table minimum. (Little did I know that the very next evening the Maloof brothers would take it all back!) We decided to follow in Mike E's footsteps and go to Terrace Pointe for a treat. My brother was feeling the sleep deprivation and zombie-walked all the way, not appreciating until later that he had made a tidy profit as well. At the cafe, which is still the nicest 24-hr joint I've seen, we ordered decaf and I asked the waiter to help me choose between chocolate cake and carrot cake. Because you see, there is chocolate cake and there is *good* chocolate cake. The waiter's instantaneous and emphatic "Oooooh...!" told me all I needed to know. It was indeed very good chocolate cake, and the sliced fresh strawberry on strawberry sauce was a nice seasonal touch. As the windows began to glow with morning twilight, we headed up to get some sleep and I was glad I'd advised the rest of our crew to make separate plans for the morning.


The next day (actually, later that same day) I fulfilled a promise to take us to Country Club for lunch. It took some gentle prodding but I reminded them that the golf course might be a construction site the next time they see it (hopefully they'll preserve that waterfall view), and they'd better take me up on the offer while the money was still in my pocket! The Angus burgers were awesome if a bit messy to eat. On the way out to the patio to take in the view, I noticed a tall man in a white uniform walking past the bar. Even from the back I recognized Chef Lenger, and quickly moved to compliment him on the meal, thank him and shake his hand. (I resisted the geek impulse to have him stand for a photo with us....) Chef Lenger extended heartfelt thanks in return. Being a recovering Food Network addict, I've come to recognize that chefs are essentially artists whose canvas is the plate, and they genuinely appreciate the recognition. (Chef Klein was known to come around to the tables and chat with guests during his stint at SW, and although I never ate there, I thought that was a nice touch.) Out at the patio, the bartender came rushing out to help us with some group photos. "Can you tell I do this a lot?" she joked. With that, we boarded a cab for the south Strip and a bit of casino touring.


Based on mike_ch's Strip walks, I was interested to see the changes to NewYork NewYork. The interior is largely draped in black construction tarps (the entire center of the casino and a whole section just inside the cab entrance) but still, the place was a madhouse. The bridges to MGM and Excalibur were packed with people flowing in both directions. The sheer amount of money flowing into Kerkorian's coffers is stunning to comprehend. Bellagio was very nice and this time, based on detroit's comments over the years, I took notice of the various bars and restaurants around the casino and lake. Bellagio does have a much nicer variety of bars than WLV, some ideally located for people-watching in the casino, but for a small roller like me, lacking serious compage there's no reason not to partake at the tables instead. There was a mix of blue/gold canopies and red/gold -- I don't recall if this represents a mixture of new & old? I could come to appreciate Bellagio but as others have noted, the place is jammed with fanny-packing lookie-loos that you must dodge at every turn. That alone, added to MGM's makeovers, tells me I'm fine with staying at Wynn. I know, part of it is location -- Bellagio's central location allowed Aladdin/PH and others to jack their room rates for "Fountain View" rooms -- and WLV will catch up in foot traffic as the north Strip continues to develop and Encore allows an entry point closer to the street. But even the layout of WLV is more guest-friendly than Bellagio.

The July heat, like last year, was compounded by unusually high humidity so being the bunch of old men we now are, we walked only as far as Caesars but did not go in, simply queuing up for a cab back to Wynn. There are still plenty of families vacationing in Vegas and the kids, especially girls, are always amused by the statue of David at the Caesars porte cochere. I used to be troubled by this as it's a very high-traffic area for Dave to hang out, but now as a wiser and more enlightened elder (Ha!) I'm simply amused by the false prudishness of American society toward such things. (Somewhere I still have an old illustrated children's Encyclopedia with a drawing of an emasculated David. Just plain weird....)


Other things we saw this trip include the Hard Rock, Rio and Palms, in our first venture off-Strip. We wandered the Rio's enormous convention facility where they were just cleaning up after the World Series of Poker, posters of Doyle Brunson still visible. That facility is huge, and plenty nice. I'd never given off-Stip a second look before, but there was nothing second-class about Rio's convention center. The food court was quite good, featuring a round, turntable-style flame broiler. At one point a cocktail waitress got up and danced on a stage amongst the slot machines, and all I can say is, thank goodness we were eating and not playing or her gyrations would've seriously distracted us from the cards. That girl had moves! Rio is also the only casino where I've noticed male drink servers. One of them also got up and danced, twice. Or was it two different waiters -- not my thing but FYI. On the way out we passed a bowling alley with huge TV screens above the pins and dim blue lighting on the lanes. Then, a short walk to the Palms -- which will be responsible for four cases of PTSD due to an extremely cold blackjack table, compounded later by a middle-aged Ukranian woman who just couldn't stop dispensing her entirely unsolicited advice.

The Playboy Club was a curiosity but given the need for a cover charge and two suit-wearing "escorts" to the elevator, we decided to pass. There's a store off the main casino that sells Playboy merchandise.


On the last day we finally made it to Mirage to see BLT Grill but by then I had lost the craving for one of their signature "spiked" milkshakes. Looking at the menu, I now declare the shakes to be a gimmick. There are but a half-dozen choices, simply listed separately in the middle of the milkshake section but not highlighted or featured in any way, and nothing special at that. Even the hostess, when asked for a recommendation, pointed to one of the "regular" shakes (heavy in chocolate, of course!). Meh.


As an exclamation mark to end our trip, my brother entered only his second poker tournament and for the second time, took first place. (This time at T.I., a nice small fishtank -- um, poker room.) Some more blackjack profits while waiting to leave Wynn and he's the solid winner of our group. With the Maloofs having taken the rest of our profits, I can't wait to come back for the Encore opening. But as a group, we've decided to stick to the Strip and never, ever, go back to the Palms again, ever. Not ever. (Well, unless those losses earned us a free room or something. In that case, Thanks George jr. and company!)

Update: having done some reading on the Maloofs I see they are truly an American success story. That the Palms has done so well despite its location and the competition in town is a testament to that. It's great they're hosting Podcasat-a-palooza, and I know at one time they were the only place that would allow CSI to film interior shots. I wish them well....just not on our dime! (Update 2: Of course we could've left the cold table at any time. And of course we could've ditched the loudmouthed gambler. We understand this. It's just funnier to complain about it! )

People always look at you funny when you say you broke even in Vegas, like you're lying about your losses. Really it means you're managing your money correctly. My brother swears I taught him this but we both read the same book. He'll (correctly) push his blackjack bets harder than I, which helped his profits. (For the record, that's Mike Goodman's "How To Win," chapters 8, 13, and 26. An early example of the genre whose advice has no doubt been repeated endlessly by others.)


I did wander around the shopping mall and I have to say, it wasn't terrible. Quite the opposite. In fact, for the casual tourist lookie-loo there's lots more to see and do than at Wynn and there's no way 99.99 percent would know or care about the differences we continually parse here on the blog. It's simply a much bigger spectacle in a town full of big spectacles. The casino has a completely different vibe than either Wynn or Venetian and I can't say I hated it either. Do I still prefer Steve Wynn's work? Definitely. Will I stay or play at Palazzo? Likely not, but that's a personal choice. Will the place compound Adelson's enormous fortune? Absolutely, without a doubt. Funny thing, the Wynn golf course development and the LVS properties will only complement each other going forward, long after both men and their feuds are history. At least, until someone else comes along and tears it all down.

Viva Las Vegas.


Read archived comments (16 so far)
July 29, 2008 11:56 AM Posted by Joe

did you stroll down the via shoppes at bellagio lately? There carets their are the dirtiest ones ive seen yet!!! Someone has to do something about this.

July 29, 2008 1:02 PM Posted by detroit1051

Another great report on this blog. Thanks, Motoman!

Wynn Las Vegas' reputation and success is certainly enhanced by enjoyable interaction with staff, in your case with the Terrace Pointe waiter, Chef Lenger and the bartender at Country Club. Your experience is a great endorsement for Wynn.

July 29, 2008 5:01 PM Posted by mike_ch

Joe, I've been ranting about the Bellagio carpets in the mall for a while now.

I went through there the other week during a rainy day and I felt a grand total of one water drop, so I'm glad the glass roof seems to be holding together.

Really, the day I see a trash can set out in the centre of the Bellagio mall to catch water drops coming in off the glass ceiling, is the day the whole joint is dead to me.

July 29, 2008 7:11 PM Posted by Joe

Well I think that the reason is that most of the carpet is white and with lookeeloos (cant spell it) walking around over the years, it got dirty. I wonder if the same thing happens at the Wynn esplanade? Also do you think the glass can be fixed?

July 29, 2008 8:17 PM Posted by Adam F

I too returned from Vegas this July and had an amazing trip as well...
Bellagio is showing its age here and there, with mixed matched new and old around the property (the worst, and possible the funniest case can be seen at the back near the grand patio where it splits to old/new in a direct line). However, i'm still torn between Wynn and Bellagio.
There are many aspects of each property that i like. Personally i prefer Cafe Bellagio, they have great food and i'm able to recognize people i have met and talked to over the years. Terrace Pointe is still a good place to eat, and Zoozacrackers is absoletuley outstanding.
Before this trip I had a completely different attitude.
When Wynn first opened the thought of Bellagio completely slipped my mind, I couldn't think of a better place to stay than Wynn. But from this last trip i have to say my view is quickly changing. We split our stay between the two hotels half/half. Both places could not have been any better, food/service/everything was excellent. 'Lookie-loos' are definately more pronounced at Bellagio, and sure they can be a hassle and get in the way, but I remember my own and even others first times who have come with us and I can't say we were not somewhat similar. (We just weren't as bad :-) )
Really, there are alot of changes happening at Wynn really quickly that i'm not too fond of, but what can you do. I have photos of Encores development from my room (which was above all of it) if anyone is interested, thought i'm not sure if anyone is since there are alot to be found everywhere...

Overall, I think i'm swaying towards Bellagio now and I still can't believe that it's turning 10 this year.

July 30, 2008 5:02 AM Posted by detroit1051

I was staying at The Hilton when Bellagio opened in 1998. We joined the crowds to have a look, and even though it was wall to wall people, I remember thinking how all the carpeting looked superior to that in any other property in town. The carpeting being discussed here, in Via Bellagio, seemed to my untrained eye to be the ultimate in design and quality of weaving. I haven't been there recently enough to know how many times it has been changed. It certainly can't be the original run after ten years and bazillions of visitors.
I may have posted this before, but one night at Picasso, the bartender told me Steve Wynn had ordered enough of the original design carpeting to change it out five times. I wonder how it looks now.
Does Dave Schwartz have any recent photos of Via Bellagio and Picasso carpeting?

July 30, 2008 7:31 AM Posted by Brian Fey

Adam - I'd love to see your picture of Encore from above. Especially the pool area. I was on the tower side this trip, and couldn't see around to the Encore pool area much.

I am very curious as to what all these changes are at Wynn which you are not fond of?

I'm sad to see Tableau go, as its my favorite place for breakfast, but I'm sure Wynn will keep it fresh and give me something else great. I was OK with Spamalot leaving, it had its run. So I'm just curious what changes you don't like.

The one thing I will say about Wynn, is he likes to change it up. I can remember him closing good places at Mirage, just because. But then he would replace them with even better places. The Mirage was being changed all the time, and I guess that's a good thing. If a property never changes, then you don't have a good reason to go back and see and experience it. Wynn is three years old now, and none of the dining places have changed really except Stratta since its opened. Some have changed menu's, even chefs, but as far as a total change and remodel, that's the only one that has, aside from the nightclubs. So I have to welcome change, and look forward to new and different things. This is Vegas, nothing last forever!

July 30, 2008 11:39 AM Posted by motoman

Joe, we did exit Bellagio thru the shopping area and I did think the carpet looked, maybe not scrungy, but faded. As you noted, because of the light color, but also the dark pattern looked faded.

Hunter noted in an early podcast that Wynn's red carpet was fading and others have indicated it may have been changed, multiple times, by now. Oh, and we noted yet again, repairmen dealing with the glass mosaic floors in Wynn's lobby. Seems to be an ongoing issue. I was able to point out to one of our group detroit's observation about the marble floors at Bellagio compared to the glass tile at Wynn.

July 30, 2008 9:18 PM Posted by Joe

dont worry MGM will replace it with a better one very soon. ( I hope)

August 1, 2008 5:40 AM Posted by detroit1051

Motoman, you'll be interested in the RJ's review of Country Club. An "A" rating with a comment on the high prices, but hey, it's Wynn.

August 1, 2008 8:24 AM Posted by motoman

Heh, yeah. We went for lunch because I didn't win enough to treat for dinner ;-)

Maybe my imagination but I could swear the prices at the casual eateries (Sugar & Ice and Zoozacrackers) seemed lower than before. I convinced the others to try S&I the first night instead of Mall food -- skipped that part of the report.

August 2, 2008 1:43 AM Posted by Mike E

Great report! We must have just missed each other as I got back a few days ago myself.

I too didn't find BLT's shakes very appetizing and wound up opting for a Chimay to go with my burger instead. The best thing the place has got going for it are its munchie-satisfying operating hours.

I wouldn't rule out Palms. Did you get a chance to check out Palms Place? You'd enjoy it very much.

October 11, 2008 10:24 AM Posted by Joe

Paris las vegas and Palazzo compares really well- both about the same size- similar theme etc but Paris is built with higher quality well in my opinion. what do you guys pick over the two?

October 12, 2008 2:19 AM Posted by motoman

Actually I noticed something funny: looking at dates in December, Palazzo is renting for *less* than Venetian. Hmm....

Joe, it's interesting you'd point out quality. I heard the Five Hundy folks say how [someone!] chipped out some wall material in a Palazzo restaurant with little effort. With all the changing ownership over the years I don't even remember who built Paris, although it was considered inexpensive (owing no doubt to the shared facilities with Bally's) at the time.

October 12, 2008 10:24 AM Posted by Hunter

Yeah, I wouldn't know anything about the wall crumbling next to my dinner seat a Table 10 at Palazzo. :-)

When I was there a few weeks back, Palazzo was a hundred bucks less a night than The Venetian. Crazy.

Paris Las Vegas was built by Park Place Entertainment, the Hilton Hotels spin off corporation for gaming that owned The Flamingo [Hilton], Bally's and the Las Vegas Hilton at that point. It was inexpensive at about $780 million at a time that Bellagio, MBay and The Venetian had just opened north of that cost.

It was originally on the same gaming license as Bally's - the operating entity was actually the same "ParBal Co", similar to how Palazzo is setup with The Venetian. They share a ton of back of house for cost savings, plus if you look at the lot, it doesn't have all that much Strip frontage.

The footprint of Bellagio's Strip frontage includes Bally's, Paris, and a bit of P-Ho on the other side of the Strip.

October 12, 2008 10:39 AM Posted by Joe

Paris las vegas was built at a much lower cost than the bellagio, venetian and mandalay because it was much smaller then all of them. Compare the size on google maps and you will see how bigger the other resorts are.