Rock Climbing in Red Rocks

Rock Climbing in Red Rocks

The image is blurry but i still love the two women rock climbing. Part of me wants to raise my fist and yell “girl power!” Another part of stares in awe, i have such a fear of falling that i’m not sure i could ever do this. I also love the dry, desert rocks against with subtle colors of the two women’s climbing gear. Photo take in Red Rocks Canyon, NV circa 2014

When In Vegas, Go Neon!

Heading to Vegas and can’t get tickets to Britney’s show? Or maybe you’re just in search of something a little more low key and more uniquely “Vegas?” Before you panic, keep in mind that shows in Vegas are mostly over-hyped, over-priced and sometimes performers don’t even actually sing. You’re paying for backing tracks. What to do instead? Here’s my suggestion, head to the Neon Museum. It is an overlooked gem in Sin City.

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. My pick for a good night out!
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. My pick for a good night out!

During the 1990’s, Las Vegas boomed with big casinos. At that time, the Allied Arts Council came together with the City of Las Vegas and YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company) to create a non-profit association to help preserve what is synonymous with Las Vegas. Their mission was to protect and preserve many of the historic neon hotel and casino signs in danger of being lost in the constant reinvention and revitalization of casinos. In 1996 they formally organized the Neon Museum and it officially opened for visitors in 2012.

Tours begin in the historical La Concha Motel. The shell-shaped building was designed by architect Paul Revere Williams and is considered “googie architecture” — a form of exaggerated design in the 50’s with up-swept roofs, geometric shapes and at the time bold use of neon, steel and glass. It’s a perfect introduction to what the museum is about since the La Concha was saved from demolition in 2004 and moved to its current location to serve as the Neon Museum’ lobby and visitor center.

After your group is ready, a guide ushers you through the “neon boneyard.” This is where you’ll see signs from the original Vegas strip – Freemont Street. The collection currently features some classics including the Stardust sign and Binion Horseshoe.

The famous Stardust sign on display at the Neon Museum. Its so large, it's almost impossible to get the sign in one photo.
The famous Stardust sign on display at the Neon Museum. Its so large, it’s almost impossible to get the sign in one photo.

Not familiar with Mr. Binion? Thank him, as the person responsible for putting carpet in casinos to make them nicer. Previously visitors would bring in their animals, specifically horses, and the floors were shall we say …quite dirty? Mr. Binion also came up with the idea of serving free drinks to gambling patrons. Okay. Maybe he’s not a great visionary, or inventor, but I for one enjoy the carpeted/free drink/livestock-free environment.

Tours run about an hour and are available day and night. That said, who enjoys neon in daylight? I strongly recommend a night tour so you can see the signs lit up. Because Las Vegas is in a dry, desert area and the temperature drops significantly at night, take a warm sweater and a good camera!

And unless you have a rental car, you’ll need to take a cab—all in all, expect to part with $50-$60, but unlike the slots, you’re guaranteed to walk away satisfied, with a sense of the history surrounding Las Vegas.

An old gas station sign visitors would pass on their way out of town. Free aspirin seems about right!
An old gas station sign visitors would pass on their way out of town. Free aspirin seems about right!

Vegas Eats

Along with the over-the-top shows, nonstop gambling and overcrowded bars, Las Vegas is chock full of great places to eat. I can rail on the “cheese” factor, or the obscene wealth and squandering of money, or the opulence that takes ones breath away. But I hand it to Las Vegas, they invest money where your mouth is. Unfortunately, it’s all horrifyingly expensive.

Your choices range from the affordable, say McDonald’s, to mid-priced, theme restaurants like Senior Frogs. From there, I didn’t notice anything but a sheer cliff up to the exclusive VERY expensive celeb chef places like CraftSteak. But let’s be honest, nobody comes to Vegas expecting to eat at McDonald’s. Locals, people with hangovers, or people who “let it ride” go to a Vegas McDonalds. I’ve been to Las Vegas several times for work and decided I know enough of a range to finally recommend a few of my favorite places.

Before i get to my little gems let me say something to those of you who’ve never been to Vegas. It’s it’s important to establish a budget for dining out. This place is not cheap. Even a small breakfast will run you $20, and you don’t want to be lightheaded and drinking if you’re gambling. It’s also important to know that it will be—as all Vegas—over the top. Theportions are massive and tend to be on the salty side, which can encourage you to drink. I recommend club soda on the side. With careful planning you can stick to any food regimen (i’m 4HB and found it easy to stick to the regimen) but again, you need to plan. All that said I never had a bad meal in Las Vegas. The food may not be to your personal liking, but it will never be bad.

My hands down favorite for a special occasion or to celebrate a job well done is Nobu at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel. I recommend skipping the menu and putting your faith in the server. There are two reasons for this. First, the chef will know which cuts of fish are the best that day, and which dishes turned out the best. Second, it makes it an adventure, and Vegas is one big adventure.

The server will ask you a few questions about allergies, desired spice/flavor, if you want sushi included. If you have a strong to aversion to something (say sea urchin), this is an excellent time to speak up. Be sure to give the waiter a price point (“I don’t want to spend more than $$ per person), or you’ll have a heart attack when the bill comes. To give you an idea, three people having two drinks each and sushi cost about $500 with tip. After that, sit back, relax and eat your heart out. Food items range from sea bass, salmon belly, lightly fried crab and steak cooked on a hibachi.

If you are looking for a fun place to get drinks, i recently discovered The Chandelier at the Cosmopolitan. It’s a small three floored bar/lounge surrounded by crystals, as the name might imply. Drinks are not cheap ($15, but healthy pours), but if you are networking this impressive place is my recommendation.

For the sports fan in all of us, i recommend Lagasse’s Stadium. Yeah, that’s the guy who goes “BAM” on his cooking show, and the walls shake when he pours an entire bottle of wine over eight cloves of garlic. At least he used to. Anyway, the food is bar/pub food but you aren’t going for food. You are going to watch sports, which is why the TV screens are about the size of a movie theater. The added surround sound makes it feel like you are standing on the sideline of your favorite NFL team on any given Sunday. It’s impressive.

For something more laid back and on the cheeky side (good, cheesy, silly fun), try the Fireside Lounge. On the other end of the strip, compared to the Chandelier, it’s actually closer to Freemont Street than the Vegas strip. This dinner/cocktail lounge is a throwback to the older days of Las Vegas. The good old days—not the best old days, if you ask me…not the Rat Pack, or Sinatra Live at the Sands. That’s not the vibe you’ll get here. The decor is like walking into the Brady Bunch house, waitresses donning black—if  you are lucky enough, sit by the fire pit. (Tip of the hat to to a former ConAgra client who told me about this place. I return every time because it’s a relaxing experience, you don’t have to dress up, it’s relatively low-key, and comparatively affordable (drinks are $10). Like any place in Vegas, it is affordable, but it can get expensive real quick.

For brunch, the restaurant Bouchon (not the bakery on the strip, a “to go” place which is lovely), located inside the Venetian remains my favorite. I first ate at Bouchon five years ago and can still recall the French toast. Usually that kind of recall is reserved for Mr. Os, and special occasions, so what I’m saying is you’re money will be spent, but it will be memorable for more than the check. The French Toast is art on a plate.

For a more casual breakfast, i recently discovered Jean Philippe Patissere inside the Aria Casino. This small cafe packs a punch with sweets, pastries and sandwiches. Not to mention, they make some really great coffee. Mr. Os weighed in to say that last statement should be put in italics…because complimenting coffee is not what I do.

Hate to end on a “let down” but, well, even though Vegas is known for its steak houses and i’ve been to many of them. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that I can recommend. Every one runs like a Swiss Watch, but a glass of wine with the steak (no sides) will already put you at about $75.00.Maybe I’m harping too much on money in this blog. But I want to make sure any reader who is planning to go is properly prepared. Even over prepared would be good. And, if you happen to hit the jackpot, well then please disregard the above.

For steak places, the majority tend to be excellent cuts of meat that are well cooked, yet often overly salted.  One final recommendation: make a reservation wherever you go. Otherwise you will be waiting a looooong time. In fact, make a reservation before you fly out, while you’re waiting to board your flight. Trust me now, thank me later.