Vegas called to me…

and I went willingly into her arms. I planned the trip months ago knowing that I’d need a break after Northern Food Night was done. Nothing like stimulation overload to balance the mind and body.

This was my 9th trip to Vegas and the first one as a girls trip with my sister and her friend. No, there were no sweaty nights with the Thunder from Down Under, or dancing on table tops at clubs reserved for the Thin and Pretty; this was all about shopping–with some play time on slot machines to give the credit card a rest.

In Vegas, you spend money no matter how you look at it. Even when you win, you’re not really winning because the money, eventually, goes back into Vegas’ belly somewhere.  But as one fella said as we chatted while playing slots side by side, “At least you’re having fun, right?” And that’s what Vegas is all about.

On this trip, my sister took me to places I hadn’t been before…places that were a bit out of the way, but definitely worth going to. We rented a car — definitely required if you want to get off the Strip and explore.

Our home base was the Tropicana this time around. The Trop is located at the south end of the Strip across from the Excalibur. The only casinos more south (on Las Vegas Blvd) than the Trop are the Luxor and Mandalay Bay. McCarran Airport is also near, to the east of the Tropicana.

The Tropicana is one of the older casinos (original building completed in 1957) but it just underwent a 100 million dollar renovation. It’s nice, but still old. The casino is a mere 50,000 square feet in size — relatively small in comparison to some of the other behemoths on the Strip like the MGM Grand across the street whose gaming floor is 170,000 square feet.  But the Tropicana’s rooms are clean and very nice and the price was right: $500 for airfare (return from Edmonton) and hotel for four nights.

To get around the Strip, the Monorail is a good option at $5 for a single ticket. The nearest station to the Tropicana is at the MGM but even though the MGM is right next door, it will take about 20 minutes to get to the Monorail station…or 2 hours if you get waylaid by slot machines, which is pretty typical and happens often as try and make your way down Las Vegas Boulevard.

I sat down for a rest at the new Siberian Storm slot machine and got lucky for a while…but then I spent it all the next day. That’s just the way it goes in Vegas.

We went downtown to Fremont Street and had supper at Vic and Anthony’s in the Golden Nugget. The Nugget has been around since the beginning of time, but Vic and Anthony’s has only been there since 2005. I can’t believe I haven’t heard about this place yet. It was, by far, the best steak dinner I’ve ever had. No exaggeration. My sister said it was so good it almost made her cry. She and I shared the 24 ounce bone-in rib eye with a side of fresh creamed corn. That hunk of meat cost $53 and worth every red cent. I would literally crawl over cut glass to get this steak again.
That’s HALF the steak. It was three inches thick and ran the whole length of the oval dish. This would definitely be my choice for my last meal on earth.
Fremont Street is worth seeing for a whole bunch of reasons…two of which are pictured above. Last time I was there, a guy was holding a sign that said “I am Jesus.”  Fremont Street seems to attract a certain kind of crowd and there’s some type of  spectacle to see or some form of entertainment going on everywhere you look.

The main attraction though on Fremont Street is the light show displayed on a four-block-long canopy lit with millions of LED lights. The show starts at dusk and happens every hour on the hour. A fairly new addition to Fremont Street is zip-lining down a 800 ft length of cable 14 to 67 feet above the crowds. Very cool.

Now, for the shopping: the Las Vegas Premium Outlets are a popular destination and worth spending at least a few hours at. Stop by the administration office and spend the $5 on a discount pamphlet that offers further savings at almost every store in the complex. Or, go online and search for printable discount coupons that you can take with you; there are deals everywhere. At LVPO you’ll find the big names like Coach, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Salvatore Ferragamo, BCBG and DKNY. Check the website for special events and sales.

Speaking of sales, it’s bargain-shopper heaven at stores like Ross, T.J.Maxx, Stein Mart and the Burlington Coat Factory. If you’re familiar with the Winner stores in Canada, the stores mentioned above are very similar to those. You’ll either love them or hate them, but guaranteed you’ll get some good deals if you take the time to pick through the unending stock. Lots of designer labels for bottom-of-the-barrel prices. You can get even more discounts if you go to their websites and search for online printable coupons.

Good shopping can be found at the Galleria Mall (Macy’s, JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting and Dillards are the anchors) as well and as luck would have it, right across from the Sunset Station, a great casino on Sunset Road — a 20 minute drive from the Strip. This is the kind of casino that “loves locals” and offers good deals. You can get a really nice room here for $40/night. The buffet was small but impressive, the machines were fun and the whole place is modern and clean. If you want to stay away from the Strip, this is a good option.

Another member of the Station Casinos family is Green Valley Ranch on Paseo Verde Parkway. This casino is newer than the Sunset, more upscale and again, about 20 minute drive from the Strip. We saw Rent (the musical) here and it was fantastic.

One store I sought out this trip was The Attic, a second-hand and vintage Vegas store…you can imagine the wild things this store has seen! Check out these shoes:

This is definitely a store worth stopping at if you like funky, freaky or freakin’ awful. I’ve never seen so much seersucker and polyester leisure suits in my life. Great place.

Note the new location: 1025 Main Street, right across from their old location which got blown up because of a gas leak last summer.

And one more “off the beaten path” place we stopped at: Carluccio’s Tivoli Gardens on East Tropicana. This was Liberace’s restaurant, a space he designed and decorated himself and owned up until his death in 1987. You can get real home-cooked Italian food here like the veal marsala I ordered which was outstanding.
The calamari is a recipe courtesy of Anthony “the Ant” Spilotro, a representative of “The Chicago Outfit” . The Ant wasn’t too happy with how they were cooking this particular dish, so he went into the kitchen one night to show them how to cook squid Sicilian-style.

Apparently Carluccio’s was a longtime favourite hangout for some mafia types and is how a favourite hangout for some paranormal types. The most paranormal activity happens on Liberace’s birthday (May 16th) and the anniversary of his death (Feb. 4th).

The coolest part of the restaurant though is the bar that Liberace had imported from England.

I would’ve loved to see him perform here. Come on, Liberace was one cool cat. You know it!

Next to the restaurant is the Liberace Museum which closed October 2010. Word on the street is that the foundations is planning an exhibit tour and taking the show on the road.
May is a great time of year to go to Vegas when the average temperatures are in the 80s and low 90s. I’m coming again in December when Andrea Bocelli is in town. I think I’ll have to go back to The Attic to get a Christmas outfit and then hit Vic and Anthony’s for steak. I can already taste it.