Caveat Emptor at the Cosmopolitan’s Wedding Chapel

Did you know that we’re in the middle of engagement season? We know, we thought our relatives were just bothering us about our future for no reason, but the holiday season is actually peak time for popping the question.

If you’re ready to get hopped up and make some bad decisions this weekend, you can now officially skip the waiting period in style at the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s pop-up wedding chapel, which opened this week on the glittering ground floor of the hotel, so passers-by can admire you and your new spouse in all your glory (read: try not to be falling-down drunk) while you wed. The $80 “Hitched in a Hurry” package includes two Coppola canned champagnes, rubber rings, and a photobooth session—but it’ll be an additional $90 to make it legally binding. 20-minute ceremonies are offered from noon to 10pm on weekdays and until midnight Thursday through Saturdays, and you can kit out your big day (okay, moment) with custom playlists, bouquets, and more.

Best Killer View of 2011: Las Vegas (and Other Awards)

There are a lot of roundups of, oh, everything this time of year, but we always look forward to the awards from the blogger community, and HotelChatter’s list has some fun, quirky nominations that get at the heart of what we love and hate about traveling.

Along with the positive, like this surprisingly expansive view from a Caesar’s Palace one-bedroom Senator’s Suite (is that actual sky?? Not just another hotel? You don’t say!), great new openings like the Public Chicago, and great amenities like a portable Wi-fi hotspot at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, they don’t shy away from the negative—a raw sewage backup in Palm Springs, bad view, bad hype, and more. They’ll be updating through tomorrow, so keep checking back.

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 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…

Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Drink

You may have noticed a significant omission in our last New Year’s Eve story—after all, how could we write a party round-up without including one of the biggest party cities of them all? But that’s only because what’s planned in Las Vegas for 2012 is so big, it required its own day. Herewith, our guide to the best of New Year’s Eve festivities in the hotels on the strip:

For a straight up club experience, the Spectacular Spectacular at The Palms sounds like it will be just that, with Paul Oakenfold playing at Rain, the John Legend afterparty (more on that later) at Moon, Miss Nevada USA hosting at Ghostbar, and a horde of Playboy bunnies taking over the Playboy Club. Naturally we’d suggest the VIP pass, for unlimited access to a selection of top-shelf liquor from 10pm to 1am at all the venues. At the Venetian and Palazzo, there’s a similarly comprehensive situation, with their five combined bars hosting Midnight Mix from 10pm to 2am, while DJ Sam Ronson spins on the terrace at Lavo, in the Palazzo, from 9pm to midnight, finishing up with a major fireworks display.

For a loungey experience, the heavenly bodies of Cirque du Soleil will be lighting up the room at Gold Lounge at the Aria Hotel, while the heavenly bodies of the Kardashian siblings will be spread around town, hosting (for better or worse) what are sure to be hot tickets: Kim at Tao at the Venetian, Kourtney and Scott at Chateau Gardens at Paris Las Vegas, and Rob at Tryst at the Wynn. And make room for some nostalgia: Pamela Anderson will host at Studio 54 at the MGM Grand, a big goodbye bash at the 14 –year-old venue, which will be closing early next year, while starlet Taryn Manning will be hosting at Tabu with DJ Kid Jay.

Stay tuned for our guide to Las Vegas’ most lavish eateries, up next…

The New Year’s Eve Hotel Roundup

Planning on getting out of the house for New Year’s Eve? Of course you are. And if you don’t feel like going home that night (falling into your own bed can be a little anticlimactic after popping bottles all night, don’t you think?) it’s the perfect night to indulge in a hot hotel escape. There are a lot of offerings around the country, but these are come of the most exciting.

For their friends in New England, rounded up some great last-minute deals. All Kimpton properties, like the modern boutique hotel Nine Zero are half-off on Jan 1st to make the most of your long weekend, while the upscale XV Beacon is offering a bottle of Taittinger to stay in and enjoy in front of your in-room fireplace, after checking out the city’s First Night festivities or else a reception in their wine cellar and fireworks on the rooftop terrace, followed by brunch at Mooo and late checkout at 2pm. They’re also featuring some deals at the Hyatt48 in New York, and The Joule in downtown Dallas.

Another Southwestern property we can always count on to go big for a holiday is the W Scottsdale, who’s making a weekend of it with their $2,012 “New Year’s Eve Fiesta Bowl VIP Experience.” Football fans kick off the four-night weekend stay with top hats and Champagne in their room, a vintage-circus themed party throughout two of the hotel’s venues (be sure to get onto the terrace for the midnight fireworks) entrance to the Fiesta Bowl block party on January 1, and two club level tickets to the game on January 2. It’s just one of the many W-hosted New Year’s soirees; check out your local location for details on theirs.

The club hoppers at Guest of a Guest have put together a great roundup of parties for the night in New York City, including several hot hotels—it’s showgirls and circus performances before an indoor ball drop at the Tribeca Grand, Debbie Harry hosting at the Standard, and a massive open bar at the Empire Hotel rooftop, as well as other festivities at the Jane Hotel and the Soho Grand.

No, We Haven’t Had Enough Sugar Yet: The Grand Hyatt’s Guide to Pairing Pastry With Wine

Our holiday leftover are always a wicked combination of sugar and wine, so Wine Enthusiast’s interview with Katzie Guy-Hamilton, executive pastry chef at New York’s Grand Hyatt came at the perfect time for our pantry. The Top Chef Just Desserts contestant shared her favorite wine pairings for the season’s most popular desserts.

For something velvety, meaning anything from a classic pot de crème to rich, ganache-filled chocolate truffles to chocolate pudding (no, not the Jell-O kind) Guy-Hamilton recommends pairing with grappa, like Grappa da Uve di Vin Santo from Avignonesi, for its hints of dried fruits and tobacco, which are common notes in many fine chocolates. If tapioca is part of your family tradition, pair it with an ice wine whose fruity aromas complement coconut-accented tapioca pearls. She recommends Canadian producer Inniskillin’s Vidal Icewine. For coffee-flavored desserts, Guy-Hamilton challenges you to step up your game in two ways. First, look for coffees or espressos from small independent coffee-roasting companies like Stumptown or Intelligentsia for maximum flavor and complexity, then pair with a tawny Port, an elixir that is also experiencing a major resurgence in popularity.

Feel the Need for Speed in Whistler, B.C.

It’s theoretically winter, even though most of us missed out on a white Christmas. But that hasn’t stopped many travelers of looking elsewhere for their snow fix. And leave our neighbors to the north to bring the powder. The sporty city of Whistler, already home to some of the best skiing on the planet, has opened its new bobsled facility this week to the public. It’s the same track used in the 2010 Winter Olympics, which is the steepest in the world. 

After a quick orientation, you’ll cram into a sled with two other bobsledders and your pilot, you’ll go hurtle down the track at nearly 80 miles an hour, experiencing more than three Gs of force on your way to the finish line. We’d recommend choosing a hotel with an appropriately equipped spa to massage away any unexpected aches and pains after your ordeal. Try the massive, modern Westin Whistler Resort & Spa, or the warm, elegant Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where the granite soaking tubs in every room are just a complement to the full spa and heated mountainside hot tubs. Visit the Whistler Sliding Centre to book.

Le Cirque Goes Global: Mauro Maccioni on His Brand’s Expansion

Not all big restaurant successes are built to scale up, but in the case of Le Cirque, the Maccioni family’s legendary New York haunt, build up they will. And like many restaurateurs, they’ve found hotels to be a useful partner in their expansion, choosing to align their brand with properties that cater to both their current jet-setting customers. We spoke with Marco Maccioni, one of the sons of founder Sirio Maccioni, to get the scoop on where they’re headed.

Where are your current projects located?
The original Le Cirque is here in New York, established in 1974 by my father, and has had three different addresses, like 65th and Park, which is now Daniel, who took over the space from us. We moved to the Palace until 2005, and we’re now in the Bloomberg tower since 1996. Outside of New York, we opened Le Cirque at the Bellagio, which my brother manages, and as of two years now, when MGM completed City Center, we have our third Las Vegas restaurant, Sirio, named after my father. We opened in the Dominican Republic at Casa de Campo, located in La Romana on the south side. It’s a golfer’s paradise. The resort has a few F&B outlets, but we took over the two main ones—the Beach Club by Le Cirque, which is a daytime restaurant and then more elaborate in the evenings, keeping in mind that were in the Caribbean and not trying to recreate Le Cirque. 

How do you decide where to expand next?
As we progress and my brothers and I get more integral to the decision-making process, we’ve been trying to establish the brand and take it from a mom-and-pop generation to a more organizational brand. Those were the first steps in that expansion. That allowed us to focus our attention on  newer markets, and while we’ve had offers in the Middle East and Russia before, it wasn’t until all my brothers had established ourselves and my father was comfortable that we expanded there.

What does it take to safeguard a brand like Le Cirque when working with international partners?
We work only with friends. If we know the owners and we can count on them, we’re much more comfortable looking into these kinds of projects. The Le Cirque name, we guarantee by overseeing the operation. Our guarantee to our customers is that they’ll have a Maccioni experience whenever they’re in our restaurants. It’s the advantage of working in a family: one of us can disappear and the rest will hold down the fort at home.

My brother went out for a month to our restaurant in the Leela New Delhi in India, I’m due to go after the holidays. If we can’t walk to it, we’ll fly to it, and if we can’t fly to it, we won’t do it. We have a friendship with the Nayyar family, they’re similar to the Forbes family here in the United States. They have wonderful goodwill, a true respect for the business world and the Indian population. They’re frequent guests of ours and they know our restaurants, and we work with Kempinski, so when we had the chance to work together in India, which is a blossoming market. I think of it like Las Vegas, where we were the first big restaurant (aside from Spago)—we were the first to the gold rush.  If my father does it, because he’s so cautious, then lots of people will follow.

How do those Le Cirque signature dishes translate around the world?
Where we’re located in New Delhi, it’s a governmental-political kind of neighborhood, and we get a lot of that clientele. We realized quickly that the French palate wasn’t something the Indian population liked so much, and they preferred Italian, which was not a problem for us, so we focused on the Italian preparations we’ve always offered. The pastas are the most popular by far, and they really love fish preparations. Our chef is an Italian national, born in Italy but of Indian descent, Mickey Bhoti, and he’s just perfectly in line with what we do over there—lobster risotto, not just white-sauce-red-sauce kind of cuisine. They do traditional crudo, with extra-virgin olive oil instead of wasabi, fish carpaccio, things like that.

What about the design signatures? Are they standard from restaurant to restaurant?
A lot of people say oh, we’re going to Le Cirque, so they’re looking for lions and tigers on the ceiling. My father coined the name when he was a waiter at Maxime’s in Paris. All the people pushing out of the doorway in furs and evening gowns, shoving each other to get up to the host, it was a circus in there; that’s where the name comes from. He was talking about that experience of excitement and dynamism, which is what he liked about it. We design in partnership with the venues, but Adam Tihany, who is our architect of choice, has built all our restaurants except the original in 1974, and the locations in the Dominican Republic and India, because in India they already had a design theme that was prevalent throughout the hotel. Our accents and themes were incorporated, though, and he provided drawings of our other restaurants. We try to keep a common theme, but it has to be an elegant restaurant that is flattering to the ladies, and a space that is appropriate for celebration.

How would you characterize the overall feel of the restaurant? What does it add to the hotels and cities you choose?
The energy and quality and traditions are what set us apart. I don’t mean a stodgy waiter with a greased mustache, but the standards and food traditions have stood us well in New York’s tough market, which is a unique experience to diners elsewhere. Not being a chef-driven restaurant, I believe our offering of the total experience is what we bring to the table. There are better chefs than ours, but ours are keyed into the dining experience, and our customers come back because of the atmosphere. They can entertain here, we can offer them everything food-wise, as well as the host—an order off the menu, a special request—we’ll never say no. Over four decades you get a feel for your customers, and you want them to be regulars. You have to make them feel like they’re at home—if we have it in the fridge, we’ll cook it for you. They’re elegant but also comfortable.