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Holiday Survival Guide: Best New Bars of 2013

December 15th, 2013 No Comments

Mary Rambin Drinking a Beer

When I go home over the holidays, I like to try the new hot spots all of my friends have been raving about. Thrillist just posted this list that includes bars from all over the country.  They rarely lead me astray, so if you see your city, give their rec a shot!

Click here to read the full article with descriptions of each place.



    What you’re getting: A Jester King seasonal
    What you’re getting: The Dealer’s Choice

Cambridge, MA

    What you’re getting: A VFW Old Fashioned

Charleston, NC

What you’re getting: Moscow Mule with homemade Sweatman’s ginger beer


    What you’re getting: Fernet & Cola
    What you’re getting: Poipu Beach Boogie Board; a Treasure Chest (if you’re a baller and/or shot-caller)
    What you’re getting: Dusek Punch



Las Vegas

    What you’re getting: The Crucifix in a Deathhand; the Burning Bush

Los Angeles

    What you’re getting: A delicious gin cocktail
    What you’re getting: Any drink on their extensive list; the Toucan Sam if they’ve got it


    What you’re getting: Whatever sweet tiki drink Susie Hoyt wants to make you


    What you’re getting: The Pain Killer




    What you’re getting: The Honesty of Constant Human Error

New Orleans

New York

    What you’re getting: A beer you’ve never heard of before that’s probably been barrel-aged
    What you’re getting: Morning Reviver
    What you’re getting: Remember the Maine



San Diego

San Francisco

    What you’re getting: Eye of the Tiger
    What you’re getting: A crazy sour beer you’ve never heard of


Washington DC

    What you’re getting: The Daily Punch
    What you’re getting: James & the Giant; the Stroppy pale ale


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“Where should we go for dinner tonight?”

September 13th, 2013 No Comments

Thrillist iPhone App


When the questions arises, I can NEVER think of the places on my wish list or Eater’s hit list.  No more guessing or driving around in circles with the new Thrillist iPhone app.  

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How to get more luxury from your vacation without spending a lot – Part 4 of 6 from Gary Leff

May 3rd, 2013 4 Comments

 Hundred dollar bil

Gary’s Tip #4: Tipping Works

If you haven’t done it yourself, you’ve heard about people “greasing the guy” to get something better, faster, harder, longer, you get the idea.  I know this seems like an amateur move, but when it comes to hotels, it works.

I once checked into the “full-committed” Bellagio, and knowing what I know, was sure there were better rooms for my wife and I to rest our heads in while in Vegas.  So when I handed over my credit card to the front desk clerk at check in, I did so with a $100 bill tucked underneath.  I was staying four nights, and simply said, “I was wondering if you had any upgrades available?  I’d love one of the big penthouse suites.”  She saw the $100 and started typing.  We ended up in the lap of luxury with two bedrooms and  FIVE bathrooms!  The average nightly cost to me? $25 for the upgrade on my $139 rate booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts which already included free breakfast.

If she couldn’t have done anything I’d have taken back the $100.  If all she could have offered was a fountain view, I’d have swapped it for a $20.  You can’t do this everywhere, but tipping big in Vegas made me feel like Frank Sinatra.  Word is that it works in New York as well, but don’t try it in Tokyo — tipping is offensive in Japan!

(MR note: I have to say, I’m not sure how you would ask for your money back…but if you said so Gary, I would walk off a cliff so I’ll stand with you on this one.)

For other posts in this series and more tips from Gary, click here.  If you travel often, follow his blog for regular tips and current deals.  The man is an expert at discovering loopholes, online mistakes the airlines and hotels have to honor, and how to manipulate the fine print. You can feel free to tweet him questions @GaryLeff.  He’s super sweet so don’t be shy.

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Las Vegas has a new bangin’ attraction for the boys.

January 20th, 2012 No Comments

Because booze, bucks, and boobs, just weren’t enough B’s, now Vegas can add BANG to the list.

Machine Guns Vegas is a new 10,000 square foot shooting range and lounge set to open next month.  Pretty genius idea if you think about it.  The only range I know of near the strip is outside of town.  Thankfully they won’t be serving alcohol or allowing anyone already intoxicated into the establishment.

Funny story: a Yankee friend of mine said, “I don’t think anyone would get all liquored up and then go shoot weapons.”  LOL. If you’re from the south you know the opposite to be true.  One of the biggest parts of hunting culture is cold beer and lots of it!

As for this place, I don’t have to bet it will be a success, I know it will.  I’ll give it a shot next time I’m in Vegas for sure.

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Looking for a small scoop and big discounts on day spas and resorts?

September 16th, 2011 No Comments

First of all, please excuse the horrendous picture of me at the spa (at the Capella in Cabo).  Apparently it’s the only one I have of me in full R&R mode.

Now, let me tell you about SpaWeek.com! I’ve just started contributing spa reviews to their blog, but that’s only a fraction of their value to you. They catalogue most of nation’s best spas, offer major discounts on treatments and packages, and twice a year they put on “SpaWeek.” 

During SpaWeek, you can get hundreds of spa treatments for $50!

The best way to keep up with them is by following them on twitter @SPAWEEK

My first article posted yesterday, “Aria Spa Las Vegas: All you could ever want from a spa.” The bottom line being that in the price of your treatment, you have access to not only the spa and all of their facilities (including the infinity pool, fireside lounge, hot stone beds, and salt room), but also the hotel pool and expansive gym.  It’s not the best on the strip, but definitely the best bang for your buck.  Read my review on their blog SpaWeek Daily here. You’ll find it’s very resourceful!

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The new sleek and chic Vegas – City Center Part 2 of 2 – The Mandarin Oriental and The Cosmopolitan

January 16th, 2011 No Comments

On either side of the Aria Hotel and Casino, which serves as the heart of the new City Center on The Las Vegas Strip are two extreme opposite venues – the super luxe and small Mandarin Oriental hotel and the wanna-be glitzy and glam Cosmopolitan.

(Technically The Cosmopolitan is not part of City Center, but since everyone thinks it is, and it’s connected via sky bridge, I’ve included it.)

I think you can already tell which one I prefer, but they both serve completely different purposes.

High rollers should STAY at the Mandarin Oriental (as expected, room rates are pretty steep) and EAT at some of the best restaurants at The Cosmopolitan.  If you read my review of The Aria last week, you’ll realize it provides the best of both worlds – nice rooms at an affordable price, unique restaurants from famous chefs, and a fun atmosphere with gambling and clubs.

THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH — The Mandarin Oriental

If you know about the chain, it’s no surprise that The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is quiet, private and also pretty pimp. They spare no expense on creating a luxurious experience for the big spender who does not want to feel like he/she is in Vegas.  It’s small and understated – upscale done right!

  • Valets in top hats and cashmere walk you into a small casino-less lobby
  • The real lobby is on the 23rd floor with huge floor to ceiling windows
  • Minimal and modern Asian decor in hues of beige, brown, and espresso accented with red
  • Rooms with external valet closets, a touch screen remote that controls everything, large tubs, the whole kit an caboodle basically
  • 2 small restaurants with exceptional and food
  • One of the best spas I’ve been to in Vegas – again, small with unique amenities and solid services

The MO wins in my book because you have privacy and peace you’ll only find at The Four Seasons Hotel (which is at the end of the strip)  AND the great location of being dead center in the middle of the Vegas action.

A few pics from my tour to give you an idea.

I wish I had taken a picture of the valet, which is desolate in comparison to the other hotels.  This bit of decor is tucked a way in the corner of the downstairs lobby.

On the 23rd floor, where you would check in, you’ll find the front desk, tea lounge, Twist (the fine dining restaurant), and the club (which I don’t remember the name of, but it was PUMPING when I passed by).

Twist, which is the main restaurant in the MO, was being prepped for an event while I was there (which is why I used a press photo).  It seems lovely, but a little cold.

This is MOzen bistro which serves Japanese and Indian, both are fantastic!

I L-O-V-E-D the Indian curry and will attest that the best roll I’ve ever had in my life was here.  Feast your eyes on (I forget their name for it) shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado wrapped in soy paper, easy rice, with spicy tuna (like they make in LA) on the top.  OMGoodness!

Ok, the roll isn’t that photogenic, but you know what is…a room at this place!

Totally chic but still comfy – my favorite combo.

What I really love about the rooms at MO’s are the valet closets – a little closet that can be accessed from the hall so they can drop off deliveries and food without having to come into the room.

As I said, the spa was spectacular as well.

Above is the pool with submerged airbeds.  When you lay down, bubbles turn under you to support you and contour to your body.  Below are heated marble seats that overlook the strip.

They treated me to a facial which was fantastic.  I liked the treatment rooms and staff better here than at The Aria.  The darker atmosphere, smaller space, and decor made a big difference.

GLAM BAM THANK YOU M’AM – The Cosmopolitan

As a friend of mine told me recently my standards are high.  So keep that in mind when I tell you I think The Cosmopolitan is on the trashy side, it’s like the Hard Rock revamped and on crack.  The whole venue has a cartoon sensation (see large shoe pic below), but inside you’ll find some of the classiest restaurants – just like Nobu at the Hard Rock.

This all sounds  harsh, but that’s how I felt when I walked in the door just after leaving the beautifully modern and stark Crystals mall in The Aria.

BUT! Many people love the hyperactive character of the decor and the energy of the younger crowd.  It’s a youthful, whimsical, I-wanna-be-a-billionaire Vegas.

My reason for going – the restaurants.  I’m a huge fan of most of the national names you’ll find inside like STK, Comme Ca, Blue Ribbon Sushi, and Scarpetta.  And many locals recommended Estiatorio Milos for unforgettable Greek.

Here are some pics I took, take a look and tell me what you think.

WTF?  This giant shoe sums up the whole hotel for me.  But the rest of my pics make it seem pretty cool.  Which it is…just not my kind of cool I suppose.

The Lobby

The shopping

The stores tailored my opinion of the Cosmo.  As I said, I walked from the pretty Crystals mall in The Aria to find  boutiques with questionable clothes displayed in their windows lining the carpeted hallways.  You can’t really tell from this pic, but you just have to trust me on this one.

On to my favorite part, the restaurants!

Comme Ca



While you wait for a table, you can sit at a bar (there’s one around every corner) or play foosball.  Pretty cool!

The decor of the room doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  It’s really random, no?  But most have balconies (which is unusual) and kitchenettes!

As for the pools, I believe the party would be pumping all day long, but just like at The Hard Rock, I really want no part of the tatooed, Ed Hardy, I-wish-I-was-still-in-college, spring break crowd.

Leven says one of her favorite LA DJ’s spins at their club sometimes.  No question in  my mind that their club is one of the hottest spots on the strip right now.

Rereading my notes on The Cosmopolitan I beat this place up pretty good.  It’s just not my cup of tea, but is a really the best example of a modern and hip Las Vegas.

My Bottom Line For The City Center

You can’t go wrong here.  There are room rates, accommodations, and an aesthetic you’ll appreciate at every price point between The Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, and Cosmopolitan.  Plus, it’s so easy to explore all of the different places because the compound is connected.  If you do choose to stay elsewhere, you’ll absolutely want to come spend the day roaming around, eating, drinking, and gambling the day away.

So you’ve seen it all now through my eyes.  What do you think?  Have you been?

(Full Disclosure: A meal and spa service comped by Mandarin Oriental. Many thanks for the invitation.)

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No gamble here! — Vic & Anthony’s (Las Vegas and Houston)

January 13th, 2011 No Comments

No Gamble Here! — Vic and Anthony’s  (Las Vegas and Houston)

In my southern opinion, the true testament of a steakhouse is how you feel when you leave.  Assuming you don’t eat every morsel on the table, you shouldn’t feel like you need a wheelbarrow to get to your car. Good meat, potatoes, and veggies don’t need to be laden with butter and cheese. Head chef Carlos Rodriguez of Vic & Anthony’s understands this and lets the food speak for itself.

There is no debate that V&A is hands down the best steakhouse in Houston thanks to Rodriguez.  His understanding of meat – the cow, aging, cuts, prep – is extraordinary.  He is constantly trying out new things and attempting to open people’s eyes to the intricacies of steak.  Last year he imported $10,000 worth of Kobe to treat Houston foodies! This resonates throughout the rest of his fare – traditional, approachable, and rich without being overbearing.

Unfortunately the Vegas location is in The Golden Nugget downtown, about 10 minutes from the strip.  There are countless A-MAZING steakhouses on the strip, so you have to be dedicated to the trek to get there.  The upside is once you get downtown you’ll find $5 blackjack tables and friendly dealers in the older casinos. Otto and I made the trek and did not regret it. (Love you dude!)

Pricing at both locations is what you would expect from an upscale steakhouse and I can attest it’s worth every penny.

Other than the steak, I highly recommend ordering the fresh lump crab cake, cream spinach, and chocolate cake.

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My Strip Cred

January 10th, 2011 No Comments

My Vegas Strip Cred

I think it would be helpful for you to know my background with Vegas as I offer these reviews and seemingly snap judgements.

Thankfully I would never call myself a Vegas expert, but I have quite a history with The Strip because I went to school in Los Angeles, which is only a 4 hour drive away.  And then actually went back when I was old enough to legally participate in the sinning ;)


In a nutshell, I’ve stayed at a handful of hotel casinos at every pricepoint.  Off the top of my head, going from South to North, these include:

  • The Hotel at Mandalay Bay
  • Tropicana
  • New York New York
  • Bellagio
  • Rio
  • Palms
  • Cesar’s Palace
  • The Mirage
  • Imperial Palace
  • Venetian
  • Palazzo
  • Wynn
  • The Hard Rock – YIKES!

Holy cow.  That’s almost embarrassing!  I even stayed at some of those places (like the Imperial Palace) BEFORE the renovations.


In terms of restaurants, I’ve been to a good variety of those too, but still have a list at least a page long!  In my opinion, the food is the city’s best attraction. The tables and the sports book are a close second.  I’m a pretty good black jack player, so-so at craps, only lucky at poker sometimes, and always love the sports book.

I think that’s about it.  Shows are really not my thing.  The Canyon Ranch spa, after its renovation, is still my favorite.  Although I think the smaller spa at the Mandarin Oriental, that treated me to an amazing facial this weekend, is now a VERY close second.

More to come this week in Part 2 of 2 of The City Center review to feature The Mandarin Oriental and The Cosmopolitan (which actually is not part of the property).

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