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 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!
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.)Tweet this!
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.
While in Las Vegas for CES, I’m touring the new City Center to write an article for The Chronicle.
With the Aria as the heart and soul of the 18 million square foot compound run by MGM, the aesthetic is nothing like you’ve seen in Vegas before. Natural light streams in from all angles, the decor is modern and sophisticated, and only 2% of the property is casino. You’ll appreciate that the ventilation system works beautifully and pumps in a sweet vanilla smell to mask any signs of smoke.
In the City Center but run separately is The Mandarin Oriental that brings the luxury and VIP experience of The Hotel (by the Four Seasons in Mandalay Bay) to the center of the Strip. More to come on that next week.
Bottom line: The Aria is truly unique for Vegas and actually pleasant to experience. It does feel a little cold and unapproachable in comparison to the warmth of the Wynn. I never thought I’d say I don’t like natural light, but there’s something about it always being the same time of day when you’re in Vegas that is oddly settling. Overall, I really like the space for being beautiful, clean, and affordable.
Here are snapshots from my tour so you can see for yourself. I really love the space.
The rooms are contemporary, cozy, and hooked up to a touchscreen motherboard remote to control every feature with the touch of your little finger.
There are 3 pools and one adult pool that has a party to compete with the infamous TAO scene.
Not pictured here is the spa and gym which is sizable, but in my opinion not particularly noteworthy. I’m a huge fan of the Canyon Ranch spa that is housed in the Venetian/Palazzo. It’s a more comfortable atmosphere. The one thing that is cool about the full-sized gym at Aria is that admission is free for guests, while at some resorts, you have to pay a day fee.
On to my favorite part: The food! The collection of restaurants here is by far the best on the strip. They’re all helmed by famous chefs that have successful spots at The Bellagio (the Aria’s sister property also run by MGM).
Above is Sage, my favorite for decor and food in the Aria. It’s quiet, so don’t expect a scene.
For a more lively atmosphere head to American Fish from Michael Mina.
They have 4 different preparations for fish, each unique and not overpowering. Last night I devoured the smoked Dijon mustard cod and sea salt blue prawns. They don’t look like anything special, but both were definitely some of the best seafood I’ve had in Vegas.
The other popular spot is Lemon Grass – authentic Thai helmed by the exec chef from The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.
Other notable restaurants are Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Siriano (Italian), Todd English Pub, and Julian Serrano that serves up tapas in a colorful and quirky atmosphere (pictured below).
They served me up a little bit of everything, and it was all truly delicious.
What I love about all of these spots is that have a nice bar scene – great decor, good looking people, and not too rowdy.
The name of the “shopping experience” (management asks that you please do not refer to it as a mall) is called Crystals. Designed by David Rockwell who is on the commission for the new World Trade Center, it’s modern and angular structure is quite stark. Although you’ll see all of the same brands you will in the Bellagio, Wynn, and other hotels, the Tom Ford, Cartier, the largest Louis Vitton in North America, Donna Karen, and other designer stores all carry collections exclusive to Crystals.
Elvis is alive in well in the Aria making appearances nightly as the resident performance. I’m not much for shows, but apparently it’s popular. Next door, the Gold lounge is decorated with tons of memorabilia.
A boutique hotel without a casino in the lobby, the Vdara is truly the gem of the City Center and the Vegas strip. It’s hidden in the back, but you can get to the Aria and Bellagio by tram or foot within minutes.
It’s like the Aria and Mandarin shacked up one night and had pretty baby – chic, modern, warm, quiet, and affordable.
Each room has a stove top and mini fridge so you could actually stay in and cook or warm up leftovers if you wanted (not a bad idea considering the price of eating out in Vegas).
OTHER INTERESTING NOTES
The whole thing cost $11 BILLION to build, which makes it the largest privately financed development in the US.
There are residences called The Veer Tower, which they claim is 60% occupied.
Both the Aria and Vdara hotels are LEED certified and use environmentally friendly features like faucets and showers to conserve water.
If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see tons of amazing art on the walls.
The Harmon hotel was built completely, but incorrectly so now they’re going to have to tear the whole thing down PIECE BY PIECE. Can you imagine?!! What a waste!
There are two clubs here, both of which have a great scene and pump the best of pop and hip hop until the wee hours of the morning.
(Full disclosure: Media rates and comped meals provided for me. Many thanks to MGM for your hospitality and Shaunt for the very informative tour.)Tweet this!
Las Vegas is constantly improving upon itself by building bigger developments and offering more luxury experiences. And the growth seems to be moving The Strip eastward. Neiman Marcus used to be out in no man’s land, but now it is foundation of the new mall and near the center of the action. Gone are the aspirations to stay at The Hotel (Four Seasons) in Mandalay Bay. Yes, it’s still quite beautiful, but it’s too far from the other high-end hotels like The Venetian, The Palazzo, Wynn, and my personal favorite, Encore.
A lot has happened since your last visit to Adult Dinsneyland. So I’m going to tell you what’s hot on The Strip these days. But let me warn you, this isn’t for the faint of wallet. If you want the real deal experience, you better start buffing up on your black jack or bring along a very lucky lady.
My favorite place to stay used to be The Venetian. The expansive rooms and marble baths were so seductive. But it’s lost it’s luster in the shadow of its neighbors: The Wynn, Encore, Aria, and coming soon The Mandarin Oriental.
The two former hotels opened by Steve Wynn almost seem to be “boutique” in comparison to the others that line the Strip. Offering one main bar and a few select restaurants opened by famous chefs (Daniel Boulud and Phillipe Rispoli in the Wynn, and Theo Schoenegger and Jet Tila in Encore), you really never feel lost.
On the other hand, the Aria is the basis for the latest Vegas installment The City Center that will put the Cesar’s Palace experience to shame. Also in The City Center is The Mandarin Oriental, one of the nicest chains in the world. Without even seeing the inside, I can assure you it will trump all of the other accommodations in town.
Don’t be deceived, you can score some great deals to stay in the lap of luxury. But, if you’re looking for something even more affordable, I would base your choice on location. The Mirage, Treasure Island, Paris, Planet Hollywood, and Caesar’s
are all within reach of the restaurants, shopping, and clubs you’ll want to hit during your visit. I’ve stayed at all of them, and they are a solid bet for your buck.
You’re probably asking yourself, “but what about the Bellagio? I love that place.” Well, you used to love it before Aunt Jane with her fannie pack and Uncle Bill’s beer gut took over the lobby. The glamour is gone and the whole place looks rundown.
Don’t even consider staying at: The Flamingo, The Rio, The Palms, MGM, Mandalay Bay, and my all time favorite hell hole - The Hard Rock Hotel.
You all know my favorite way to spend an evening is dining out, so here are my choices for the finest restaurants the city has to offer. And yes, you need reservations.
Joel Robuchon -- The ONLY reason to go to MGM Grand is to sit down in this luxe, cozy restaurant that features plush purple cushions, giant orchids, and delicious french cuisine. Want a little more atmosphere at an even better price? Reserve a table at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. By the way, Guy Savoy is not a suitable substitute if you can’t get a table at either Robuchon. The cold interior sucks out any excitement you might have had about the prices of the moderately complex dishes that will surely shock you (sea bass runs about $100).
Emeril’s Delmonico — Succulent cuts of meat paired with truffle chips is a great way to end the day in Vegas.
Lavo — If you’re looking for a little action with your Italian this restaurant is the tredy place to dine before you head out for a long night.
Lagasee SportsBook in The Palazzo – Vegas is known for it’s sports betting, so if you’re looking for a swanky place to watch the game, this is it! A huge column is lined with flat screens you can see from every cabana and there is stadium white-leather couch seating in the center. It’s almost like a club for watching sports equip with hot waitresses, the best buffalo wings that has every touched your tongue, and you just feel cool being there.
Inside The Wynn – You’ll find every cuisine constructed by a famous chef. My favorite is Daniel Boulud, but you would be equally happy at one of the others.
Spago – Not necessarily a quiet experience, but Spago still serves up Wolfgang Puck’s finest.
Sage – Modern American in a quiet and spacious atmosphere. It’s a refreshingly pleasant place to dine, which is hard to find in Vegas.
Bouchon Bistro — I haven’t eaten here, but everyone insists it’s one of the city’s best. I can’t argue with EVERYONE!
American Fish – Another one I haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying, but I hear good things about this fishery in Aria.
Oh the Vegas club scene, it’s something special. Here’s my thought on the topic – why would I go to a club when there is so much else to do? Plus, I can go out and shake a tail feather at home. But then again, not everyone lives in New York, Los Angeles, or a city with a thriving nightlife. So here are few places you might consider throwing down for a table or ticket to enter.
Privledge – Pure –Blush – Bliss – Tao
Honestly, to me, they are all the same. You’re going to need some serious booze before you go in, so eat a delicious dinner, hit the tables for a couple hours, and then if you’re still standing, get your booty on the dance floor.
During the day, it’s always nice to lounge poolside. I would absolutely suggest Tao Beach at The Venetian (above). The people watching is priceless and and the party is pumping. Otherwise, your hotel will have a quiet spot for you to catch up on reading and/or sleep.
For the boys, golfing is a popular activity. You can ask your concierge for a nearby course, or if you’re looking for something a little more titillating, make a tee time at Royal Links that employs the hottest female caddies your spikes will ever see.
Girls, obviously the shopping is ridiculous. There is a new mall that has been built around Neiman Marcus as a welcome change to Caesar’s. Barney’s is open in The Venetian that will surely lead you to the Canal Shoppes that also has a good selection of designer brands.
Another option – spa day! All of the hotels I mentioned above have beautiful facilities. My personal favorite is Canyon Ranch at The Venetian/Palazzo as it’s just recently been renovated. Again, I can only imagine that Aria and The Mandrian Oriental will outdo them all because they are the new kings of The Strip.
I love the concerts and comedians. One of your favorite performers might be touring or even have a in Vegas, so see if you can score tickets. I’ve seen: Elton John, Lenny Kravitz, George Carlin, Joe Rogan, Cirque de Soleil’s Beatles LOVE, O, Penn & Teller (which almost put me to sleep). Right now Garth Brooks has taken up residence at the Wynn. I’ve seen him several times at the Houston Rodeo and he never lets me down.
If you’re good, play in a nice hotel. If you’re an amateur throw down at The Flamingo or even better O’Shea’s. Your money will last longer and you’ll have more fun. Don’t be scared to ask the dealers for advice on a hand or bet, they want you to win (and tip them).
Two words: Spearmint Rhino. It’s really the only decent place to go. I don’t have any complaints.
That covers my favorites. Please add yours below!Tweet this!
Favorite Spots Around Town – Las Vegas
I’ve been to Vegas more times than I can count on every different kind of budget. So I offer you my insight in hope this helps you plan your journey of overindulgence.
The Hotel at Mandalay Bay – by far the most beautiful and comfortable of all on the strip. Although, it’s at the end away from the action, the most expensive, and the pool is basically a concrete slab where people are fighting for chairs. The best spot to stay if you don’t mind cabbing it for everything else.
Venetian – My favorite place to stay because it offers everything you’re looking for in Vegas under one roof: luxurious, large standard rooms, Tao beach is one of the best pool parties, two expansive quiet pool areas, the Canyon Ranch spa and gym with newly renovated locker rooms ($30 per day for gym and locker room access), a Grand Luxe Cafe in the casino that offers good, affordable food (damn near impossible to find in Vegas), and is located next to the Bellagio and Wynn hotels. At night you can hit up Tao which is a bit tired, but after a few cocktails, you would never notice the difference. All of the Vegas douchebags look the same.
Palazzo – Attached to the Venetian so you enjoy the same pool, casino, spa/gym, but something about the rooms is different.
Bellagio – Nice accommodations, but I prefer the Venetian. The crowd has gotten a little too “touristy” if you know what I mean.
Mirage – The lobby and casino are in desperate need of renovations, but the rooms have gotten the makeover they need. In the middle of the strip with what I hear is a great pool scene.
Treasure Island – Great location, club, and casino. One of the best bets if you’re on a tighter budget. Across the street from the Venetian, Mirage, Palazzo, and Wynn.
Hard Rock Hotel – Used to be the trendiest place to stay, but it has now become the trashiest. Don’t be lured by Nobu and Ago that have taken up residence there, the whole place is a shit show. As for the pool, think Spring Break Mexico 1998.
The Imperial Palace – Newly renovated and right in the middle of the strip, this might be a good choice if you’re on a budget. (I stayed there when it was a roach motel.)
Not my favorites, but for the right price it would be worth it: The Rio (off the strip), The Palms (off the strip, but Ghost Bar is a good time), Caesars (in the middle of the strip, biggest selection of shopping and restaurants and might be more fun post The Hangover), New York New York (great if you have kids that need entertaining).
Bartolotta at the Wynn – quite and sophisticated with the freshest seafood in Vegas
Delmonico’s at the Venetian – pricey steakhouse with great cuts of meat. Be sure to order the Truffle chips.
In ‘n Out - Yep, there’s one on the strip. Order your burger “Animal Style” and thank me later.
China Grill at Mandalay Bay – Surprisingly one of my favorite things here is the caesar salad. Very pricey, but a great dining experience.
Tao at the Venetian – Party party atmosphere with solid sushi and pan asian fare. (You couldn’t drag me to eat there in NYC, but it’s a great Vegas experience).
If you don’t live in a big city, Vegas is a great place to experience some amazing food. Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, David Burke, Daniel Boulud – all of the big boys have at least one Vegas location that is sure to knock your socks off. (P.S. Not worth the trip to Nobu and Ago in the Hardrock.) However, if you are visiting from a place known for food, I would eat cheap at the diner in your hotel and go big on shows, spa days, or games. Ask your concierge to help, they’re better informed than I am on this one.
Gambling – If you’re not a pro, go to one of the cheaper hotels to find lower minimum bet tables and a more lively crowd. I love $5 craps tables because you can play the game, meet fun people to cheer with, and if you’re out $100 it will have been worth it. Black Jack is great if you win, but a $100 loss is not as fun. If you’re a poker player, STAY AWAY from the major casinos and opt for somewhere like the Flaminco. At least there you have a chance to go home a winner when you’re sitting with the drunkards. Players at the big boy hotels have their game face on and will take your money in minutes.
Comedy – some of the best stand up comedy is found in Vegas. You can see major celebs or the local talent and have a great time. I saw George Carlin and Joe Rogan on seperate occasions. Book tickets through your hotel and when you get to the box office, see if one of the VIP’s isn’t going to use their table/seats. They will be happy to upgrade you free of charge if something is available.
Shows – I’m not really a fan but O was by far and away my favorite.
Concerts – House of Blues is a great venue that always has someone you know preforming. Elton John was OK (I know, I hate saying that) because the audience was seated and seemed sedated the whole time. I hear Bette Midler is amazing.
Golf – It’s somewhere, but I’m not sure where.