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TR Feb 2014 - construction, great dining, Bond impressions, etc

Last edit: jimmybond on Sunday, 16th February 2014 9:55 am
Last response by socalduck 23rd February 6:18pm

Trip report Feb 2014 – detailed style for those like me who enjoy that, including addressing some issues brought up in VT articles over the last year (like new construction, casino conditions, etc.) This was my most recent trip since June 2013, first time ever midweek. Enjoy!

The Strip is hopping again with projects from MC all the way up to TI (and beyond, if you include SLS, Resorts World etc). MC front area coming along nicely, I actually like what they’ve done with it and the new restaurants form a funnel ‘tunnel’ towards a central entrance which is much more evident than before. Double Barrel should be fun with friends. They have also blocked off and started to work on the “Central Park” area between MC and NY-NY.

Elsewhere, The Cromwell activity was continuing at a fast pace. They still have a ton to do to make April soft opening, though, still pretty much looks like a shell from the outside (and Giada’s is still open to outside, no décor going up yet etc). Caesars group hasn’t spared the marketing push for it, though, feels like it was only named yesterday yet the purple logo and advertising and Drai pool photo and Giada photos are up everywhere, even behind checkin at PH.

High Roller is in testing, I saw it slowly rotating a couple times. Most interesting, though, is how bright the LEDs are on it, like EDM festival bright. We saw it testing from Mandarin Bar and having had a couple drinks I thought it was actually an arch for a special event on Paris’ roof before realizing it was High Roller and I just couldn’t see the whole thing. Even from that distance the lights’ brightness created a ‘halo’ effect in our vision. The lights on it are large and cover basically the whole white ‘ring’ support structure. These are sure to light up some formerly quiet east-facing rooms at Quad/Flamingo/Harrahs, and north facing tower rooms at Ballys. Maybe even some south Strip-view rooms at Venetian too.

Was down on trip until had a couple good hits on last day – quad aces on STP single play was a nice hit early on that final evening to kick it off. Later, had put wife upstairs to bed, came downstairs to play and on very first hand at Pai Gow hit a straight flush bonus. Worst of all was that I got short paid and didn’t notice thanks to copious drinks all evening and at dinner, but rest of my table pointed it out, so problem remedied and I chipped in for their next bonus. Later same night hit another straight flush at Pai Gow. Made mistake of going to play Crazy 4 Poker at empty table with kindly old dealer, bye bye $200. That game might be fun with multiple people but holy cow what a lot of rules and bets (five bet spaces).

Overall I was surprised at how packed the casinos were for midweek. Only quiet time in mornings, evenings were jammed. Mind you most places had a couple pits closed that would have been open on weekend so looked busier than if they’d been staffed, but still people flocking to Vegas.

MIRAGE - I can confirm recent story here – Mirage is ALL 6:5 tables (combo of on-felt and signs) unless you are in the $25 min row across from high limit. That row when we walked by on a Wed evening had one table $25 min DD S17, and two tables $25 min H17 shoe games (8D?) Besides those three tables, absolutely everything else was 6:5, so forget about Mirage as a cheap place with friends. Which is too bad because property looks great with carpet and chair reno, and sports book remodeled since I was last there to do more loungers and less ‘study room’ seating.

CAESARS GROUP - I have said it before and will say it again, don’t write Caesars properties off for gaming conditions. While limits tended to be higher in evening of course, rules were decent at most places all day AKA 3:2. Walking from PH up to Caesars, Flamingo was the only joint with a $10min Pai Gow table in evening (rest $15-25). Didn’t go as far as Harrahs I would expect (hope) they had one too? Also Planet Hollywood was aggressive at BJ limits the whole trip I thought, only time I saw $10 was in mornings and as I was sitting down one day at 11am they raised limit to $15 (at 11am on a weekday!) But at least 3:2.

COSMO – the Bond renovation was actually kind of staggering. I am impressed that they were able to effectively double the ‘crowded’ area at the front. Gone are all the curtained salon-style tables, and some slots (?). In exchange is a party pit with the most stunning table dancers of all party pits I\'ve seen, and good looking dealers too. The wall between Bond and that part of the casino was dropped, so the pumping DJ beats spill into the pit. If it weren’t for horrendous table game rules (never mind being a party pit, it’s Cosmo, so no surprise there) it might actually be a really fun place to hang out and play with a group of guys. Wife and I were both not impressed with the whip-bearing sleeveless actors in full masks creepily lounging on a wall in the DJ booth behind the head-bobbing DJs; that combined with giant chains hanging from the ceiling that I didn’t remember from other trips made me think that maybe ‘Bond’ is now referring to the restraints in some kind of kinky S+M? The new party pit is worth checking out from a design perspective at least for the new tables with full LED lighting around the bottom of them, they are pretty swank to look at (and LEDs are turned on, though in \'static\' mode, earlier in day even when pit unstaffed) One other creepy thing about the party pit is they have all the comely female dealers dressing and doing their hair the same in a bun up-do, which combined with the skin-tight \'leotard\' one-piece outfit has the effect of making them all look like ballerinas. I know the party pits (and normal pits) all have uniforms, but requiring a uniform hair style made it a little weird.

Continuing with Cosmo, propertywide and especially up front @ Bond the DB quotient remains high (and I’m not talking Deutsche Bank). Also, it\'s staggering to me how many people throwing down big money at crappy games. It’s one thing to see tourists getting hosed playing $10 at Mirage for 6:5, it’s another to see guys betting $200-300 on H17 6:5 $15min shoe games at the Cosmo. Seriously, go next door at Bellagio and play double deck with great rules for a quarter of the minimum. Overall, though, the Cosmo casino was packed every night we walked through, making me think a sale by DB (the bank this time) won’t be as far fetched as it seems since this was always the weak link relative to F+B and hotel. One thing’s for sure, we’re a few years in now and Cosmo definitely still has buzz.

TABLE LIMITS IN GENERAL: don’t be shy about asking floor supervisor if you can play for less if table empty or if you are 2 people wanting to play together. This has worked every trip for me with friends and again this trip. When limit was $25 on a table with only one person playing, wife and I asked supervisor quietly if we could play for $15 each (= $30 total), were told no firmly, so we turned to walk away and as we turned around the supervisor said “Ok, ok” and asked us to sit down but keep it quiet. So it never hurts to ask – worst they can do is say no and you play elsewhere or save money for the next day. Besides which a more full table encourages others to join and play, no sooner did we sit down then two more people joined and all of a sudden a full table was in play.

===highlights: ===
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon @ MGM. Insane food. Awesome server. We did smallest tasting menu (4 course) and food was outstanding and we were full. Next time might go for larger tasting menu, or do as couple next to us did which is to order 9 course ‘seasonal discovery’ to split plus a couple more dishes a la carte. Wine pairing expensive I thought ($65 for 3 pours) but were awesomely paired to the food which in the end is what a pairing is supposed to be (but oft not what happens!) If you are a foodie and want a blow-your-mind dining experience, try to get in here (they have a waitlist, ask at podium out front - we did it so are proof it can work!) If you would rather have food that is not assembled artfully by tweezers and designed to be looked at and savoured slowly, save your bucks and go elsewhere.

Lindo Michoacan (off strip), Mexican awesomeness (on different more casual level than Atelier!) We went to the location on Desert Inn Road due east of Encore. (almost at freeway) Came highly recommended with ~500 Yelp or Urban Spoon reviews with high praise, and didn’t disappoint. Excellent service, place was packed even midweek early afternoon, lots of locals. Worth the trek (and maybe even worth a cab if you have a few people). House margarita $8 was one of the best I’ve ever had including vacationing in mexico, so smooth it had no burn.

Earl of Sandwich @ Planet Hollywood – never mind the tasty alcohol absorbing breakfast sandwiches, their house coffee was $0.99 for a large size and delicious.

Mandarin Bar @ Mandarin Oriental – were there Tues night – supposed to be Shanghai Nights event, theming of which has been cancelled even though event still on their website. Ordered pork ribs and they were out (?). Finished nuts and asked for more (the wasabi ones are insane), which never arrived. When your drinks are $18 each, you’d think they can throw some more nuts on the table! Worst, though, is they were supposed to have live jazz. My wife and I are jazz fans and realized that Strip bar jazz is not going to be the same as a club basement in Greenwich village, but all I can say is don’t go to MO for the music. Unless your taste in jazz is slowed down pop covers by a quasi-college band, highlighted by a drawn out version of Benny and the Jets (\'Benny, Benny, Benny\' has never sounded quite so painful) Hint to MO: A live band playing pop covers is not \'jazz\'.

Gordon Ramsay BRGR @ Planet Hollywood – overpriced and thus overrated in my view. Did not try spiked milkshakes which would be highlight of next visit. BUT, a positive highlight was Angry Orchard apple cider on tap which is a definite plus at $6 per pint (hard to find cider on tap in Vegas!)

===Other info:===
Drinks tip: PH sports book will give drink tix for $50+ bets, and the bar there will let you order higher-shelf stuff like Maker’s with that ticket, or a fancy mixed cocktail, so keep that in mind if you want something better than the ‘well drinks’ with no-name gin or vodka that are all some other sports drink tickets will get you (such as Mirage drink tickets @ the Mirage sports book bar).

DINING HOURS IN GENERAL: If you go midweek, don’t expect to find much open late for nice dining. We have always been there weekends and apparently spoiled by late night dinners. But Sun-Thurs a lot of places close earlier (I don’t blame them, especially the staff who need a break!), expect to see dinner services finishing 10:30 or 11:00pm. This makes it far from ideal if you are catching a show at another property starting at 7:30-8 with plans for dinner afterward elsewhere. One exception (always a winner on the food front too) is Jaleo @ Cosmo which is open till midnight nightly, even as Scarpetta/Milos/etc around it close earlier.


I don’t know why people made such a big deal here or on Vegas Message Board about the vendors/homeless on the pedestrian bridges. It felt to me to be the same number as all other trips in the last few years, and never more than 1-2 on each bridge. In fact one morning 10am I saw Metro police cuffing a shady-looking guy on the Cosmo-Crystals bridge so they ARE patrolling. Not to say that more crackdown isn’t needed, the Bellagio fountains hosted no less than 3 ‘spray can’ artists along its Strip frontage (3 for crying out loud!) And there are still some traffic management issues such as the street dance and street magic groups using the large plaza outside PH’s PBR/Pink Hot Dogs area to generate crowds (and tips). But absolutely the least safe I felt this trip was driving around downtown. We have never been downtown before this trip and from what we saw I am likely to never stay there. I know saying so is practically sacrilege on this board given there are others on the board who love it there, but at least the weekday daytime crowd looked so sketchy that there is absolutely no appeal to me. Maybe it’s the same number of sketchy folks as the Strip but they stand out without the Strip crowd numbers to surround them (not much tourist foot traffic the times we drove by), but for sure as a new visitor I was put off immediately. I was expecting more historic grandeur but Downtown Vegas looked sad, and I actually thought “this is what my Vegas-naysayer friends think the whole city must look like”- in this case I couldn’t agree more with that assessment as it relates to downtown, whereas having been on-Strip many times I think the Strip is far nicer and generally safer except for the odd location (Bally’s front and Bill’s bridge I’m looking at you, though Cromwell open should hopefully help that!) Good luck to the D and Downtown Grand, Zappos etc in turning over the downtown…it needs a serious cleaning before I’d be bringing my tourist dollars there, and this is coming from someone who goes down to Vegas 3x per year. Driving through it was downright depressing. And that Slotzilla monstrosity is an eyesore, you’d think that in exchange for blocking the entire view of Fremont from Las Vegas Blvd the city would have made them at least have to make the back of the structure look somewhat decent. We drove south on the Strip from downtown to Venetian and in my opinion the SLS will have a big challenge pushing the higher-end clientele bracket that far north, might be more feasible when Resorts World built, but for now that place will be a higher-end gem in the midst of a low-end neighbourhood. The foot traffic around the Strat and Circus Circus do not look like they will be the same crowd dining at Bazaar. And I don\'t consider myself especially judgemental, but we even stopped at a 7-11 on the Strip near Strat to buy a bottled water, and not only was there a near-domestic going on inside but I couldn’t make it the 10 steps to the car without getting hit up for money. No thanks, first impressions dashed.


Did the neon museum ‘boneyard’ tour late afternoon. Highly recommended. Interesting tour spiel, cool old signs, and great small souvenir shop. Feels like a very ‘Vegas’ experience. Book tix ahead, they are $18/pp. Anyone interested enough in Vegas to be on this website should find it worthwhile.


First time renting a car from McCarran, it was a breeze. Did Priceline bidding, ended up with a full size from Alamo for $25/day plus taxes and fees. Well worth it we thought, had a new Malibu with leather seats and some pep, great experience for a rental. Definitely give the priceline bid approach a try, though, as prior to the trip the online quotes were far higher than our rate per day. Only complaint is that the free shuttle bus longhauled us through the tunnel to the rental center. ;)

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 8splitter responded on Sunday, 16th February 2014

Great report. Thanks!

 motoman responded on Monday, 17th February 2014

Detailed, indeed. Also enjoyed the narrative style. (Almost) worthy of the eminent MikeE's reports back on TwoWayHardThree!

Thanks for the updates. Will look forward to seeing the Wheel in motion and Cromwell next trip.

 johnnyd75 responded on Tuesday, 18th February 2014

Thanks for all the great information regarding all the casino conditions. I really appreciate your insight since it comes directly from someone that knows what to look for when it comes to blackjack rules/mins.

 Chuckmonster responded on Tuesday, 18th February 2014

Great! Thank you!

 Malibugolfer responded on Tuesday, 18th February 2014

Thanks so much for posting Jimmy. And I especially appreciate your subjective interpretations. Well done.

 socalduck responded on Sunday, 23rd February 2014

Good info, thanks for sharing. From my observations last month, I would agree that the Cromwell April soft opening will be a challenge. I have never tried Joel Robuchon, mainly because MGM Grand is sort of off my radar and I forget they have some great dining options over there. Definitely need to add this to my to-do list.