Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Dance

Headliners of all stripes and styles are seizing the moment to take stages all around town, and that includes several major hotel performances. Whether they’re opening a hot new nightclub or just partying with old friends, musicians all over the city want to make it a night to remember.

At the Cosmopolitan, the legendary Stevie Wonder is kicking off 2012 at the Chelsea, while a potential heir to the piano crooner throne John Legend will be onstage at The Pearl at the Palms, followed by an afterparty at Moon. Also on piano, Bruno Mars is playing The Bank at the Bellagio, while Chris Brown’s show at Pure at Caesar’s Palace will be set to the backdrop of the Strip’s fireworks show. And throwback alert: Vanessa Williams will be taking the stage at the Riviera, performing her favorite old R&B hits.

The rockers of Guns N’ Roses are finishing off their farewell tour with a two and a half hour set at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel—singer/rapper Drake will kick off 2012 with a performance the following day. If you like your rock a little more alt, Franky Perez is playing a set at Rocks Lounge at the Red Rock Hotel; their other venues are hosting DJ BKNY at Lucky Bar, and Latin dance group Toto Zara at Onyx. Turntables more your speed? Steve Angello (the house DJ and one-third of DJ trio Swedish House Mafia will be spinning all night at XS Nightclub at Encore. And if “Party Rock” is your anthem of the year, LMFAO is coming to Haze at Aria for the midnight show.

In clubland, House of Blues at Mandalay Bay goes punk for the evening, with performances by Old Man Markley and NOFX, while producer and rapper B.o.B. takes over LAX at the Luxor. Poptart Fergie opens up the new outpost of 1OAK at the Mirage, while bandmate Will.i.am is spinning at Surrender at Encore with DJ Ammo. And for one of the biggest tickets of the night, R&B goddess Mary J. Blige opens RPM Nightclub at the Tropicana. Many VIP packages have already sold out, but the hotels are planning on making these concerts a party—even the cheap seats are sure to come along with a good time.

If you haven’t had enough (or, let’s face it, are still up the next day) dance out your hangover at Hyde, the new club opening at the Bellagio at 5pm on Jan. 1 with DJ88 spinning, snacks from Circo, and a special show by DJ Paul Oakenfold.

Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Eat

The palaces of excess lining the Strip are no slouch when it comes to excellent edibles, and they’re going all out on December 31st. Most of these hotel restaurants have two seatings, but expect to pay more for primetime.

To start the New Year off in true luxury style, the Black Truffle Prestige menu is nine courses of Restaurant Guy Savoy’s truffle-enhanced goodness, including artichoke and black truffle soup, black truffle risotto and brie black truffle. The other dinner option: a seven-course meal with caviar and roasted duck. Visitors to the Cosmopolitan can all enjoy the lobster paella and chicken fritters on the prix-fixe menus at Jaleo, but those truly in the know can book e by Jose Andres, a secret eight-seat restaurant hidden within the restaurant and serving a 25-item tasting menu of insane tapas like Iberico pork with squid and artichoke puree with vanilla.

We’ve always loved the optimism of seafood in the desert, and the options at the Wynn are stellar: a seven-course meal from James Beard Award winner Paul Bartolotta at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare features his amazingly fresh family-style Italian seafood pastas, and the Lakeside Grill highlights include features carpaccio of fluke with Spanish caviar and orange yuzu, sea scallops with black truffle. But if steak is more your speed, there are multiple options: try SW Steakhouse at for roasted squab breast and Mashima beef tenderloin.

Overall, though, we’re dying for dinner at the Bellagio, where they’re truly catering to the high-rollers (literally); the traditional six-course menu at Picasso, will have you drowning in Chef Julian Serrano’s six-course menu of oysters, foie gras, and Wagyu beef paired with selections from the 1,500-bottle wine cellar. There’s also a high-style French fete going on at their Le Cirque restaurant and surf-and-turf (read: Grade-A steaks and poached lobster) at Prime. Upscale seafood is done two ways: six courses of upgraded comfort food by Michael Mina including ahi tuna tartare and lobster pot pie, and a seven-course Omakase menu at Yellowtail that might have everything from a tuna-truffle pizza to duck prosciutto, or order dishes and sushi a la carte.           

Up next, the hottest concert tickets in town to rock out as the clock strikes midnight…

The Flamingo Tries to Recapture Its Past

From Bugsy Siegel to Frank Sinatra, the Las Vegas Strip has gone through multiple evolutions, and it’s possible to enjoy one kind of a trip there without ever experiencing any of the city’s other lives—foodies can hole up in great restaurant after great restaurant, club kids can dance to DJ after world-famous DJ, gamblers can spend the night in the eternal midafternoon of the casinos, and hotel junkies can bounce from room to room. But many of those have never sampled classic Las Vegas—and that’s something the Flamingo is looking to change.

They’re wrapping up an extensive renovation next year of their 2,307 rooms (the first 500 will be ready January 2nd) to try to lure back the clientele that have departed for flashier climes, but travel writer Michelle Barran asks the obvious question—while “the ambitious revamp brings to bare how the Vegas of yore compares to today’s newer, bigger, seemingly flashier Vegas,” she asks, “is it a better Vegas?” The city’s older properties, including the Flamingo, which opened in 1946, have a sense of history that the Cosmopolitan can’t replicate—and isn’t trying to. It’s questionable whether hotels will still plan to stick around for generations of visitors like the palaces of the past; while bigger hotel groups are putting more money into their properties, they’re also more likely to pull the plug on underperforming locations. We’re betting your kids won’t be having their bachelor parties at the Cosmopolitan like you did—but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be drawn back to the Flamingo either.

Industry Insiders: Andrew Pollard, Liquid Courage

Crafting the perfect cocktail is a labor of love for Andrew Pollard. As the head mixologist and general manager of the Vesper Bar, the achingly hip cocktail lounge in the new Cosmpolitan Las Vegas, he’s able to indulge his twin passions, cooking and bartending, to create truly inspired drinks that add new twists to old classics. Vesper Bar’s menu is filled with creative libations with names like the Violet Femme, Mambo Italiano, and the boite’s namesake, Vesper’s Vesper, a take on the James Bond original.

The Phoenix, Arizona native has risen quickly since embarking on a high-end mixology career in 2004, working with legendary bartenders such as Tobin Ellis and being named “Most Inspired Bartender 2009, Las Vegas” by Bombay Sapphire/GQ Magazine. He loves working with ingredients like Green Chartreuse, Amaro, and especially ginger, but it’s his light touch that makes his concoctions such a hit among the many high rollers who frequent the bar. “My drink-making philosophy is not to overthink your cocktais,” he says. “I try to create complexity through simplicity.”

[Photo: Erik Kabik]

Retna Murals in the Parking Garage of the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas = Brilliant

Arriving at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas last Wednesday evening, my friend and designated driver Ted Madsen told me to keep my eyes open for something cool in the parking garage. He was referring to a high-tech system of red and green lights that show which parking spots are unoccupied. The system was impressive, except that the sensors don’t always recognize compact cars, which must be rather rare in Nevada. But after we parked the Infiniti and began walking to the elevators on our way to the Vesper Bar, I spied something much cooler. The walls of the garage were adorned with murals by graffiti artist Retna.

It was one of several sublime moments in Las Vegas, which I was visiting to fête the launch of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey – a smooth, honey-flavored bourbon that’s great as a chilled shot – at the nearby MGM Grand. The moment I saw the walls, I literally stopped in my tracks and said words to the effect of “Oh my god, that’s Retna!”

Retna, for those who haven’t seen his work in galleries or read my BlackBook profile on the man, is a Los Angeles-based graffiti artist who produces paintings, sculptures, and large-scale murals that incorporate stylistic elements of Arabic and Hebrew writing, Asian calligraphy, the Old English style of gang tagging, and Incan and Egyptian hieroglyphics. There’s something truly engaging about his work, as though it imparts a very clear message through its characters – which don’t actually represent any language. And, apparently, it’s amazingly well suited for large, utilitarian spaces like the garage beneath the most exciting new hotel on the Strip.

In part, I suppose I was pleased with myself for recognizing his work. But I’m far more impressed that somebody at the Cosmopolitan was prescient enough to hire Retna to do the murals. Whoever was ultimately responsible for the commission deserves a major pat on the back. More than 99% of the people who see the murals will have no idea who painted them, but that hardly matters. They represent contemporary art at its finest, the polar opposite of the oversized Grecian urns and clown paintings that pass as art in some of the resorts. With the Retna murals, even if you don’t quite know what you’re looking at, you know you’re seeing something real.

Better still, the Cosmopolitan doesn’t even make a big deal about it. The only mention of it on its website is a news release about its Wallworks series. (I regret that I missed the works by Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, and Shinique Smith.) With Retna’s murals, the Cosmopolitan achieves something so many resorts in Las Vegas aspire to but rarely attain: class.