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The new Vegas is sleek and chic — City Center Part 1 of 2 — Aria

January 7th, 2011 5 Comments

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.

Admittedly, the prices at the restaurants are steep, but room rates start at $150-$180 at the Aria and Vdara – their boutique hotel that feels like a private VIP tower.

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.

Next door to Lemongrass is Blossom, which also boasts authentic Chinese food.

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).


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.)

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New To Las Vegas – City Center

December 4th, 2010 1 Comment

New to Las Vegas — CityCenter I only took a quick jaunt around the City Center last time I was there.  Everything I saw was the antithesis of Vegas - sleek, contemporary, clean open space…In other words, a place I might actually like to hang out! Also, it’s a LEED certified project, which means it’s built to high environmentally-friendly and efficient standards.  Here are the places that have received the best reviews thus far.  If you happen to hit one up, let me know your thoughts! Hotels: Aria The Cosmopolitan The Harmon Hotel - not open yet! Mandarin Oriental Restaurants: Sage Restaurant American Fish BARMASA Shaboo Not open yet: Comme Ca and STK that will be in Cosmopolitan (Photo via)

I only took a quick jaunt around the City Center last time I was there.  Everything I saw was the antithesis of Vegas – sleek, contemporary, clean open space…In other words, a place I might actually like to hang out!

Also, it’s a LEED certified project, which means it’s built to high environmentally-friendly and efficient standards.

Here are the places that have received the best reviews thus far.  If you happen to hit one up, let me know your thoughts!


Not open yet: Comme Ca and STK that will be in Cosmopolitan

(Photo via)

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Favorite Spots Around Town – Las Vegas

June 19th, 2009 No Comments

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.

Wynn – A beautiful place to stay with a great casino bar.  The rooms are lovely and the Private Tower is exquisite if you can afford it.  Bartolotta is one of the best Italian restaurants in Vegas.

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.

Mason Loved Craps

June 13th, 2008 No Comments

Mason spent all night at the craps table in Vegas. Beginner’s luck was not on his side. But he’s excited to go back to LA if only for the weekend. He’ll get a power nap on the plane.

“Whale Me”

May 18th, 2008 No Comments

“I was so drunk. My friend’s says ‘Whale Me.” (This is her ass. When I asked to take the picture, she pulled down her bottoms to expose her crack. Only in Vegas!)

He’s wearing more eye liner than me

May 17th, 2008 No Comments

David Hasselhoff just lipsank pathetically at Prive. He is wearing more eye liner than I am.

My Head to Toe: Last Night in Vegas

April 29th, 2008 No Comments

Our last night in Vegas we at at Ago in the Hard Rock Hotel.  It’s one of my favorite places to dine in Los Angeles (coming soon to NYC!), and it was equally as tasty in Vegas.

Head to Toe:

  • Silk blouse from Encore!
  • Taffeta, pleated, high-waisted shorts from Zara (LOVE these)
  • Jimmy Choo heels
  • Val black patent Moe CLICK bag

After dinner I hit the black jack and craps tables.  Megs won big earlier so I thought I would try my luck.  And lucky I was! I walked away even, and for Vegas, that’s saying something.

They Said 4000

April 27th, 2008 No Comments

See! They said 4000 people would be in and out of here today.