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…

Jack Daniel’s Launches Tennessee Honey Whiskey in Las Vegas

When you’re in Las Vegas, forget about subtlety and go for the glitz. That’s what Caesars Palace mixologist Eddie Perales (pictured) did with his winning entry in a competitive cocktail competition last week at Tabu at the MGM, which pitted 14 of the city’s most talented bartenders against one another to create a drink that best articulated its theme ingredient: the newly-released Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey.

I was a guest of Jack Daniel’s, along with a handful of other journalists, at the official launch of the spirit, where we learned about the Lynchburg, Tennessee-based family of whiskeys from master taster Jeff Norman. Having tasted and enjoyed Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey before, I was happy to be there. It’s a smooth and well-balanced spirit made with traditional Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 and a proprietary honey liqueur, and while it’s a fine mixer in all kinds of cocktails, it’s delightful on its own as a chilled shot. Jack Daniel’s is the perfect thing to ask for at the bar when you’re not sure what to order, because it’s always mellow and easy to sip slowly. Tennessee Honey complements the Jack Daniel’s portfolio – which also includes Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel – nicely.

The events began with a tasting of all four of the brand’s “expressions” at a sky-high loft at the MGM, with Norman explaining how the barrels are charred and where the young spirits are stored in the warehouse to mature. We continued on to dinner at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak (try the flatiron!), followed by drinks at Tabu, where violin-playing triplet sisters kept the crowd entertained until the wee hours.

But the main event occurred the next day, as we returned to Tabu to watch some of Sin City’s finest mixologists mix up creative cocktails using Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey as a base spirit. Several journalists from our group – though not me, sadly – were called upon to judge, and the cocktails started flying across the bar. There was all kinds of action to see, with chopping and shaking and stirring and funky glassware. This being Vegas, however, the eventual winner was big on the theatrics, bringing his own ice bar for the proceedings. Eddie Perales mixed up a punch he named “Honey I’m Off Sunday,” with a melange of fresh juices and syrups and even some edible flowers, and it was enough to get him the win. Second place went to Arto Nourijanian of the Bellagio, while Mark Kiyojima of ProgressiveBar took third.

If you’re up for trying to duplicate the winning cocktail for yourself, Eddie’s recipe is below. (Ice bar optional.)

Jack Daniel’s “Honey I’m Off Sunday” Punch

Recipe for 1 punch bowl: • 1/2 liter Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey • 1/2 liter fresh watermelon juice infused with strawberries • 1/2 liter fresh orange juice infused with blackberries • 1/2 liter fresh lemon sour and fresh cantaloupe juice • 1 1/2 ounces of rock melon Monin syrup • 1 1/2 ounces of watermelon Monin syrup • 1 tablespoon of orange marmalade • 15-20 large mint leaves • 3 ounce cup of edible flowers • Watermelon balls – small • Cantaloupe balls – small • Paper thin sliced oranges, blood orange, lemon, limes • 2 ounce cup of muddled fresh cranberries

Add all ingredients together in pitcher or bowl with ice. Mix, stir, and pour.

The New Carlton Hotel Brings Back Old New York

When I first started writing this column, one of my primary goals was to give my readers an insider look at some of the industry’s leaders, and how they approach the business. Some of these people are relatively unknown, as they allow the successful properties and brands they’ve created and promoted do all the talking. Most appear occasionally as a bold-faced name in a newspaper or magazine. Peter Chase is a player. He’s the founder of BPC, which develops and manages creative hospitality concepts. His concepts have included: Skybar in Miami Beach, Wunderbar at the W Montreal, MGM Grand Casinos (MGM, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Borgata) in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Atlantic City, as well as Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, and the W San Diego.

When Ian Schrager needed to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber back in 2000, he sought out Peter to manage and develop bars at each of his hotels. He has overseen fourteen bars in nine hotels, spanning New York, London, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He has also overseen the creation of several new ones.

I spent three hours chatting with him at the Carlton on Madison and 29th the other evening. I could have stayed for eight hours. Peter knows what he’s talking about, and finds himself poised to do even greater things. He is very aware that the ancient, though wonderfully redecorated hotel finds itself between the uber-hot Ganesvoort Park Hotel and the seriously hip Ace Hotel. He’s gearing up to embrace the crowds that will be passing by his door: He understands their needs, and will entertain them. He is one of the unsung heroes of the industry, and today I am singing his song.

Ian Schrager brought you in to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber. How did you approach that impossible dream? Ian and Rande had a relationship going back quite some time. I respect what Rande has done, and continues to do, but I think Ian was excited to create outside of that relationship. What we accomplished at the Clift with the Redwood Room, the re-interpretation of the Morgans Bar, and the complete transformation of the Whiskey into the Paramount Bar makes that evident.

Rande and I come from very different backgrounds. Rande was a former model that got into the bar industry, and I am someone that worked within the hospitality industry, and went to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. Beyond all of the extraordinary creative aspects of working with Ian, I approached the “impossible dream” from a business perspective. I set out to implement better systems, controls, reporting, and several initiatives to maximize profit from every drink served.

I worked for Ian and Steve Rubell, and learned a great deal. What did you take away from that experience, and how do you apply it nowadays? I know that many of the things that I discounted or infuriated me about their style/personally applied when I had such opportunities. I never got to meet Steve, but I feel like there were several talented people Ian employed to help him create his vision. I learned so much from Ian that it almost seems that I learned nothing. So much of what Ian does can’t help but resonate and change the way you look at bars, restaurants, and hotels, or for that matter, everything. Ian has a way of instilling in you his perspective on service, music, design and style. He often accomplishes this through intense demands, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make diamonds without a lot of pressure.” Eventually, you change (for the better, I might add) and forget what you thought was acceptable before. His vision is his own. Many have tried to replicate it, some with success, but there always remains just one original. I use this valuable resource every day in operating my businesses, and owe a great deal to Ian for teaching me to view things differently. Sometimes the fates bring the right person to the right place and time. The Carlton finds itself on a strip between the new Ganesvoort Park and the highly successful Ace Hotel. What are you doing to exploit this moment? Having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I have watched its evolution. Back in 1904, just before the NYC subway opened, the Carlton (then the Seville) Hotel opened and helped turn the neighborhood into one of the city’s most elegant locales. The original bar from the Seville is still intact, and has hosted luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and “Diamond Jim” Brady. A block away lies the remnants of Tin Pan Alley, where much of the world’s greatest music was written and produced. The Breslin Hotel, now the Ace, opened the same year as the Seville, and was part of what was known as the “Avenue of Hotels.” Today, with the renovation of both hotels, and the addition of the Gansevoort, I think that we are seeing a re-awakening of the 29th Street hotel corridor. I have always treated my competitors like neighbors. There is plenty of business for everyone, and if we support one another we all stand a better chance of succeeding. Let the Gansevoort and the Ace do what they do best, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the area, and offer a connection to its storied past through music.

Having spent countless hours in what was originally the Café at Country in the Carlton, I always knew that its center bar needed to be removed and filled with energy, be it through people, or in this case, live music. The Salon as it is now known is the entry point for all things Millesime. It acts as a portal to another time. Upstairs, we have our seafood brasserie, and across a glass bridge, Bar Millie, which will soon open. It will feature burlesque images from the turn of the century, and views looking down onto the stage. Bar Millie will be a place where you can make a reservation for a table, and come and sip cocktails with friends. A lot of places charge a cover, or pack the room to help offset the expenses of the musicians. We work with musicians, and allow them an elegant space in which to showcase their talents.

A phenomenon in the current era is the synergy and possibly the necessity of solid NYC nightlife in hotels. Tell me your take on that. How much is food and beverage driving your hotel, and will that now increase dramatically? I operate bars in W Hotels, and consult for casinos: there are few things as important to a hotel or casino as its food and beverage offering. I do not know if Ian and Steve invented it, but they certainly exploited it to the fullest. When a new hotel opens people are not going to immediately rent a room. They will pop into the bar, or grab a bite in the restaurant, and then promote the property given their experience. This puts heads in beds, and safe guards the real investment: real estate. The press will only write about a hotel when it opens, but they’ll cover any celebrity sightings as long as someone communicates with them, be it the venue itself, a cell phone picture from a customer, or a random tweet. If it is from the venue itself, this can be a double-edged sword. As a policy, we do not actively pursue press regarding our customers unless they are at a function where it is understood that their picture may be taken. Celebrities know this as well, and use certain venues to garner press when it suits their needs. Additionally, restaurants and bars are the perfect locations for movie premieres and charity events. These bring press, cameras and celebrities, which only adds to the properties cache. In the six or so months since we have been open, we have already hosted TV film shoots for Curb Your Enthusiasm, House Wives of New Jersey, an after party for the band Rammstein, listening parties for NE YO and Estelle and the several charity events including one for Artists for Peace and Justice, hosted by Paul Haggis. The word “boutique” in regards to hotels seems to be very last century. Is there a new word? Will most hotels have to go chic to remain relevant and occupied? I agree that the term sounds very outdated, but as a concept it’s still relevant. The problem started when hotel companies and designers started calling something “boutique” but only regurgitated previous design work. Boutique should represent true individuality within its local context. This only happens when passionate people are involved in every detail of development.

Unlike the Gansevoort in the Meatpacking, the Gansevoort Park was designed and pre-engineered with hospitality, food, and beverage in mind. Carlton is a much older property. What steps are you taking to retro-fit protection for your hotel guests against the sounds and such that successful watering holes inevitably bring? At the new Gansevoort Park they have added separate elevators to access the upper bars from the hotel, and seem to have situated the bars away from guest rooms. This means no more intoxicated guests on elevators with families staying at the hotel, and no more non-guests on hotel floors causing safety issues. When they built the Carlton they constructed it in such a way that sound from the bars does not disturb the hotel guests. Bars and clubs can be a tremendous asset to a hotel, but it is vital that veteran operators and professional audio engineers are involved in the design and construction phases, or you can end up with costly renovations, or lost room revenues for decades.

Tell me about Salon Millesime. The idea with the Salon was to create a sophisticated platform for progressive artistry and extraordinary musicianship. My partners and I have handpicked our talent from all ‘walks of life’ including students of the Juilliard School of Music, DJs, and well-regarded, established artists. The Salon is our doorway into the hotel. Everyone works off of their laptops or phones, and they are doing this in coffee shops more and more. People who have been laid-off, or are self-employed, are looking for a place to be able to have a meeting or get work done over a cup of coffee. During the day we offer a relaxing environment to do this and at night, sip wine and listen to our interpretation of Voix de Ville, the voice of the city. The Salon menu features casual French and Mediterranean inspired cuisine by my partner Chef Laurent Manrique. We installed a state-of-the-art Bose sound system for an unparalleled musical experience. Nightly performers include artists from far corners of the globe to nearby neighbors. N’Dea Davenport, Swizz Beatz, Nickodemus, Estelle, Grammy winning rapper Pras, Grammy winning singer Ne-Yo, and Brooklyn songstress and Si*Se have already graced the stage. When not performing live, there is a select roster of DJs like Carol C from the band Si*Se, and DJ Sir Shorty, a veteran of the city. I invite guests to gather and sip artisan cocktails like the French 75, or perhaps the Night & Day—my version of the Manhattan—a portion of whose proceeds supports VH1’s Save the Music.

We wanted to evoke an intimate music venue with hints of the history of the area’s past. The team came from Redhook Brooklyn and was lead by Doug Fanning’s DYAD Studio. Doug chose to transform the space with stylish mix of leather banquets, tiger print chairs, and glossy ebony cocktail tables with bronze inlays reminiscent of the early Café Society interiors. He also custom designed the oversize light shades reminiscent of old Vaudeville stage curtains. Designer William Calvert, a longtime friend, created a luxe cocktail dress for the servers.

How does Millesime and the other food and beverage spots in the hotel interact with each other? We chose to create one iconic name, Millesime, with multiple concepts feeding into it. Since no two guests are alike, we created an offering that appeals to each guest’s unique needs and desires, as well as those of our local community. Beyond the Salon we have the Lobby Bar, a dimly lit saloon where you can “belly up” to a magnificent mahogany bar dating back one hundred plus years to the original hotel. Order a scotch, eat a burger, catch a game on the flat screen TV, or just people watch as hotel guests arrive from near and far. Just around the corner from Millesime, across a 30-foot glass bridge, will be Bar Millie, a reservation cocktail bar. Reminiscent of an old French sitting room, it is an ideal perch for relaxing, chatting and drinking with good friends. Leather-bound chairs, metal screened burlesque images, a handcrafted marble bar, and traces of the past hang in the air like ghosts of prohibition. It’s a nostalgic portal to an era when automobiles had curves, women were dames, men wore hats, and a deal was sealed with a handshake. The room, with its vaulted ceiling and wood panels, is a place that encourages you to linger over drinks and trade glances as music wafts throughout. Seven hard shakes with a cocktail shaker and you’re transported back to the splendor of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, and luxurious hotel lounges. It’s a trip back to the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby,, and watching William Powell coach the bartender on the proper way to shake a martini in The Thin Man.

14 Sexy Penthouses Around the World

For that desirable combination of unbeatable luxury and city access, you can’t top the penthouse. What better way to enjoy panoramic skyline views, concierge service, and lush interiors fit for a mansion? From the retro chic to the ultra modern, from bustling metropolises to the serene tropics, we’ve compiled a list of some of the sexiest penthouses in the world.

1. Presidential Suite, Intercontinental, Hong Kong: One of Asia’s most spectacular penthouses, this 7,000-square-foot dream space boasts five luxurious bedrooms, a 2,500-square-foot terrace with an infinity swimming pool overlooking Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong, and all-glass walls that enable you to enjoy the skyline no matter where you’re sitting. For the detail-oriented, the bathroom sinks were carved from single slabs of Fujian marble and the television cabinet is solid mother-of-pearl. Sure, it’s $11,215 per night. But it could be money well spent for one hell of a swank party.

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2. Skylofts, MGM Grand, Las Vegas: The 6,040-square-foot Skylofts in MGM Grand, designed by world-renowned architect and designer Tony Chi, are bringing some much-deserved attention to this classic Vegas hotel. For $10,000 a night, you can bask in the sleek, ultra-modern bachelor pad, and enjoy an unbeatable view of the Vegas skyline. Before you retreat to one of the three decked-out bedrooms, check out the Infinity Edge spa tub with “champagne bubbles” technology and the capacious “immersion chamber” steam shower.

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3. Royal Suite, The Carlyle, New York City: This classic, elegant duplex, designed by Alexandra Champalimaud, captures the essence of New York style for about $6,000 a night. The original hardwood floors, luxurious fabrics, inspiring artwork, and Steinway piano will place you at the pinnacle of city sophistication. Don’t forget to admire the city that never sleeps with an inimitable view of Central Park and that famously picturesque NYC skyline.

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4. Apogee Penthouse, Miami: As its name suggests, Apogee is the self-proclaimed top dog of Miami penthouses. The 6,583-square-foot space lets you to enjoy all the splendor of the Miami sunshine with over 11,000 square feet of outdoor living space. If you are even a little deterred by the $22 million price tag, check out the private pool on the roof, with its 360-degree view of South Beach.

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5. Perivolas Suite, Perivolas, Santorini, Greece: You’ve probably never seen anything like this before. The 1,500-square-foot Grecian grotto is nestled cozily in the cliffs of Santorini. Featuring sleek white-washed walls and arched interiors, this cavernous hideaway exudes Mediterranean elegance. Don’t be fooled by the idyllic decor, though. This $1,586-a-night pad is stocked with fine amenities: the steam room, hydrotherapy massage tub, and indoor-outdoor swimming pool should be more than enough to keep you busy.

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6. One Hyde Park Penthouse, London: This penthouse has yet to be completed, but it’s already one of the sexiest in the world. In fact, at 100 million pounds, the One Hyde Park penthouse, slated for completion later this year, is the most expensive in the world. The coveted property will boast bullet-proof windows, purified air systems and…panic rooms? Here’s to hoping you don’t need to spend much time in those on your honeymoon. Instead, be sure to stop by the communal spas, squash courts and private wine-tasting facilities. And just who can afford this record-breaking price tag? Why, the A-list stars, oil barons, Saudi princes, and Russian oligarchs who have already claimed their own One Hyde Park flats, of course.

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7. Hugh Hefner Sky Villa, The Palms, Las Vegas: Anything with Hefner’s name on it is sexy (with the exception of…Hugh Hefner) and his one-of-a-kind penthouse fits the bill. What could be more Playboy than relaxing in an outdoor, cantilevered hot tub overlooking the Vegas strip? In addition to amenities like a media room, gym with sauna, and a spa-style treatment room, the Sky Villa features a glass elevator, a huge show tub, pop-up plasma TV, sunbathing areas, and, of course, a round, rotating bed. If ever there were a proper place to charm the pants off a damsel to the tune of $40,000 a night, Vegas is it.

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8. Penthouse Suite, Cavalieri Hilton, Rome: If you’re tired of gazing at skyscrapers, check out this penthouse in Rome, where you can bask in the glory of St. Peter’s Basilica from the comfort of your own rooftop hot tub. Don’t forget to consummate the evening with a visit to the custom-stocked cigar humidor and wine cellar. And if security is of concern, take solace in the fact that this 7,000-square-foot luxury fortress features bulletproof glass and an elaborate fleet of surveillance cameras. For $8,998 a night, you can soak in all the beauty that old Rome has to offer—with nary a worry of a gladiator ambush.

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9. The Gray, Milan: This unforgettable penthouse embodies all the lively eccentricities of a Milan fashion show. The lobby greets you with a pink velvet objet d’art (too bad they didn’t include one in the suite), the rooms are decked out in ostrich leather and crocodile, beds are suspended from the ceiling, and one of the staircases consists of cantilevered platforms rising up the wall. At 450 square feet, this penthouse may not be the largest of its kind, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an even remotely similar experience elsewhere. Oh, and at “only” $1,000 a night, it’s the most affordable penthouse on this list.

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10. Luxuria Penthouse, Boca Raton, Florida: For $12.5 million, you can enjoy the Boca Raton coastline in style. Even before you enter the suite, the lobby showcases twin golden staircases and a floor-to-ceiling water wall. For the penthouse that already has everything you need, you’ll have access to a 24-hour valet service and on-site concierge. And, to keep you and your belongings safe, the penthouse boasts a state-of-the-art security system with thumb-print recognition and resident-only lobbies.

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11. Endeavor Penthouse, Seabrook, Texas: The $3.6 million Endeavor Penthouse combines the comfort and security of indoor space with the charms of an outdoor setting. Make sure you check out the 500-square-foot balcony and the 1,200-square-foot rooftop terrace, where you can bask in the breeze while overlooking the still waters of Clear Lake. This majestic lake isn’t the only perk for water lovers: the space features features a hot tub, an infinity pool, and a resistance pool for fitness enthusiasts.

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12. Penthouse Suite, Raleigh Hotel, Miami Beach: This classic penthouse personifies the suave sophistication of 1940s noir. Built in 1940 and overhauled in 2002, the Penthouse Suite at the Raleigh features an attractive combination of modern and retro tastes: low-slung sofas and floor-to-ceiling windows complement the nostalgia of the wood-paneled bar downstairs. Though it’s easy to get lost in the charm of the interiors, 2,000 square feet of this 6,000-square-foot beauty are devoted to the terrace, where a pool overlooks Miami Beach. The price tag, however, is anything but retro: $5K a night.

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13. 2999 Kalakaua ave Penthouse, Honolulu, Hawaii: At $5.2 million, you can luxuriously soak in all the natural splendor—crystal-clear waters, verdant vegetation, blue skies—that Hawaii has to offer. This penthouse is renowned for its panoramic views of the surrounding tropical paradise. Newly renovated, the 3,445-square-foot space overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head State Monument. A uniquely Hawaiian spectacle.

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14.Central Park West Penthouse, New York City: We all know that living in New York is not cheap, but in this case, you may just get what your $47.5 million pays for. This lavish penthouse features 14-foot ceilings and over 5,200 square feet of space, not to mention a stellar view of Central Park. And what’s a lofty price tag without some sort of bonus? In addition to the penthouse, you’ll get a 1,222-square-foot ground-floor suite with private street access.

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The Legend of Vegasmas: Spending Christmas in Sin City

Good ideas are often spontaneous and usually involve booze. Starting a new holiday tradition called Vegasmas was no different. Three days after Thanksgiving, there was still leftover Tofurkey in the fridge and already I was bombarded with imagery from that otherwise miserable holiday called Christmas. A few beers deep, I was on the living room couch watching the Lakers when my girlfriend Kelly came home with what she thought was terrible news. “I have to work Christmas,” she said sorrowfully, as if I was destined to burst into tears. After nine years, I thought she would have known what a terrible person I was because to my ears, this was like getting a free ticket to hear Jimi Hendrix jam with Keith Moon, John Entwistle and Eazy-E. An early Christmas present, if you will. Maybe it was the Pabst Blue Ribbons talking, but I couldn’t pretend to be upset because for twenty-eight years, I had been at the mercy of either my girlfriend or my mother when it came to Christmas. Kelly’s inability to celebrate gave me the courage to stand up to my mom and do what I’d flirted with doing since the day I turned 21: Go to Las Vegas for Christmas.

Like a reliable neighbor with a fully stocked bar always willing to share, Sin City had a track record of making bad times good and good times great. Christmas, I figured, would no different. Instead of decking the halls, I’d be getting hammered at a casino, blowing money on me, not shitty presents no one wanted. Years past I woke to the sounds of children rummaging through boxes, wrapping and bows, but something about the thought of getting up at noon in a strange bed with a hangover and only the sweet sounds of slot machines seemed to fit me much better than watching A Christmas Story while faking a smile when my family asks if I like my Army green sweater.

When I was younger, I’d make the six-hour trek to Vegas without a hotel reservation because when you’re 21, sleeping in your car is a totally viable option, one that saves more money for debauchery. But I had no idea what I was in for regarding Christmas, so like a responsible adult (my two least favorite words) I called ahead and found two nights at the Excalibur for approximately $100. One debit card number later, it was official. I was going to Vegas.

The original plan was to fly solo, but one mention of Vegasmas to my friend Chip — whose girlfriend was flying home to Ohio for the holiday — and he was in. So was our friend Deryck, a Trinidad and Tobago native whose girlfriend was also leaving the state for a few days. I had no qualms about partying by myself, but with these two on board, Vegasmas was transforming from some stupid word I made up to escape Christmas into an actual event that required its own greeting card section at the corner market.

A major curveball nearly derailed Vegasmas before it began, but nothing can stop the proverbial train that is three guys in their late 20s and early 30s who decide they’re going to Vegas. My girlfriend had to recognize this when, on Dec. 15, she told me she got someone to cover her shift so we could spend the day together. That was fine by me, as long as she understood our day together was going to be spent in Nevada, not Long Beach, Calif. She wasn’t thrilled, but similar to the power that Santa gets from all them cookies and milk, Vegasmas was marching along and wouldn’t be denied.

The best part of Vegasmas revealed itself the week prior to that other holiday the rest of the world was celebrating. Every conversation I heard was about people being stressed regarding long lines, parking lot traffic jams, not being able to find the proper gift and insufficient funds. Not me. Because I wasn’t making a familial appearance on December 25, there was no need to buy presents. While the world sweated holiday bullets, I was doing the only thing I’ve ever been good at, which is relaxing.

Deryck and Chip left at 9 a.m. Vegasmas Eve while I stayed in Long Beach with Kelly until noon. My friends traveled lightly and wanted to hit the road to not only avoid traffic, but to take full advantage of the pot of gold that awaited us at the end of the Interstate 15 rainbow. But with a female traveling companion, rolling out of bed and getting behind the wheel wasn’t happening for me. We (i.e., she) had things to do in the morning that prevented us from getting a quick start, even though she packed her bags three days prior. How a woman can be packed for days and still take three hours to get ready on the day of a trip is beyond me, but even with a late start, nothing could stop Vegasmas.

Nothing, that is, except traffic.

Kelly and I were stuck on the State Route 91 and going nowhere fast. We had already been gone for nearly two hours when the Vegasmas spirit caused me to squeeze my Toyota Corolla between two plastic dividers into the 91 Express Lanes, a toll road used to bypass all the schmucks in the congested lanes. A light but steady flow of cars sped past and once I saw an opening in my rearview mirror, I went for it. I careened into the lane and narrowly avoided hitting a Mercedes in the passenger door. The jerk honked, but I deserved it and let it slide. Besides, it was Vegasmas Eve and when you’re starting a new tradition, it’s of the utmost importance to make sure you get the first one absolutely perfect because no one needs the annual car accident as part of their holiday to-do list.

Four hours later, we rolled into Excalibur and I was surprised to see the parking lot at three-quarters capacity. Not since “Seinfeld” introduced the world to Festivus had I felt like maybe I wasn’t alone in my hatred of all things Christmas. I stopped for a beer before checking in, then got another round before getting to our room. After ditching our luggage, Kelly and I met Chip and Deryck at an Excalibur lounge where an ‘80s cover band was playing.

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Two vodka-cranberries later, someone decided we should make the short walk to Bar at Times Square at New York, New York and there was no disagreement from me. During our stumble through the casino, I noticed the family-friendly crowd often found at Excalibur huddled around a man in a Santa suit, but these weren’t the same Midwestern families I was accustomed to seeing at the hotel. I’m no linguist, but I swore I heard Indian, Hebrew and Chinese spoken before we hit the exit. This unusual array of languages didn’t register until we braved the cold rainy night and walked over the bridge to New York, New York, where I overheard an Irish family, a Scottish couple and group of Japanese in their early 20s.

The piano bar was half full when we arrived just after 10 p.m., which was fine by me because that place is absolutely the worst spot in Vegas to get a drink when it’s at capacity. The lack of crowd allowed me and my girlfriend to discuss what I perceived as a trend.

“Have you noticed anything about the people here?” I asked.

“You mean how everyone is from somewhere else?” she replied.

“Yeah, you noticed that too?”

“It’s pretty cool. Like we’re getting some culture with our vacation.” At that moment, I knew Kelly was knee-deep in the Vegasmas spirit and wouldn’t regret leaving our friends and families to get wasted in Sin City.

A group of seven Canadians proudly sporting t-shirts and hats with their country’s flag huddled around us and sang at the top of their lungs to “Purple Rain” while two Asian businessmen in suits stood against the bar, raised their beers and shouted the two-word hook each time the pianists got to that part of the chorus. My front-row view of the United Nations of drunken sing-a-long was interrupted by Chip, who tapped me on the shoulder with important news.

“Dude, look at Deryck,” he said. “Then look at the guy next to him.” I did as I was told and saw that my friend and this stranger were wearing the exact same shirt, so Deryck turned toward the guy and we pretended to take a picture of our friend at the bar. But what we really did was make sure we got both of them in the picture because this magical Vegasmas moment had to be captured on film.

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Unfortunately for me, the fun would not last. Somewhere between the beers at Bar at Times Square and the margaritas at the nearby Gonzalez y Gonzalez, I realized I lost my phone. This was a bummer; thankfully, if not for the Vegasmas cheer, I might have been more upset. Kelly and I looked around the casino for spots where it might have slipped out, but after a half hour of searching, I decided to call it a night. Vegasmas Eve was a party, but I needed something left in my tank for Vegasmas day.

The next morning Kelly suggested I call Excalibur security to ask if they had my phone. This was Sin City and there was no way anyone would find a phone and return it, but I did as she said because that’s what boyfriends do. Five minutes later, we were downstairs retrieving my cell. A Vegasmas miracle!

I celebrated the return of my phone by calling my parents with a mini-hangover to wish them a Merry Christmas. For the first time in longer than I could remember, I actually meant it. Kelly and I bought bagels, then threw on our scarves to walk the ghosttown-esque Strip, where the sole reminder of the holiday was a Christmas tree atop a structure being built at CityCenter. The iconic image didn’t bother me and I understood that, when not hit over the head with people ringing bells outside grocery stores, the pressure of having to explain that what I really want for Christmas is nothing and being subjected to David Bowie and Bing Crosby sing while I’m on a treadmill at the gym, Christmas really ain’t half bad. It’s the idiots who overdo the decorations, the cheesy songs and pressure to be happy all the time who ruin it for me.

Thanks to copious amounts of booze, the remainder of Vegasmas Day is kind of fuzzy, but I’m almost positive it was the best Christmas I ever had.

Neither my girlfriend nor my mother knows this yet, but Vegasmas ‘09 is in the works. With a $50 Christmas brunch featuring five spiced glazed duck, pan roasted Alaskan salmon and warm apple cobbler at DJT at Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, an average nightly rate at Planet Hollywood of approximately $100 that includes a free bottle of booze and two packages at MGM Grand that include access to Studio 54 or Tabu Ultra Lounge and tons of credit, Vegasmas the Sequel is destined to be even better than the original.

Vegas Casinos Crapping Out on Recession

The crapped-out economy has hit Las Vegas hard. With the city’s industry crashing like casinos were Chryslers, everyone from CEOs to chambermaids is muttering that “It’s never been this bad.” And, well, it hasn’t. Gambling revenues tumbled, with the take on the Strip’s tables dropping 15% in January (compared to January 2008). Moody’s Investors Service has repeatedly downgraded virtually every casino company — MGM Mirage twice in a week! — citing “aggressive and substantial debt-financed development activity and earnings pressure from slowing consumer spending trends that began in fiscal 2008.” In short: Casinos went into massive hock to expand extravagantly. Then everyone got The Fear, and blowing five grand on blackjack and bottle service became less appealing. Well, not less appealing, but more difficult to get away with on a regular basis.

MGM Mirage (MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, etc.) is struggling to complete its sprawling City Center project. The company was forced to sell the Treasure Island casino to a Kansas billionaire when banks refused further construction loans. The complex’s centerpiece was to be the Harmon Hotel, a shimmering boutique tower designed by celebrated architect Lord Norman Foster — which was chopped in half in mid-build, reportedly due to construction problems and evaporating condo sales. Even with cutbacks and postponements, MGM Mirage is scrambling to restructure debt and float this thing until it opens in the fall.

The Fontainebleau — a sister property to the Miami Beach hotel — is believed to have enough cash to complete construction and open in October. But both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are going negative, and some wonder whether the high-tech, high-style resort will sell enough of the all-important condo units to survive.

Another project in limbo is Echelon Place, which was to have contained Vegas’ very own Mondrian and Delano Hotels. Boyd Gaming (Sam’s Town, Orleans, Gold Coast, Main Street, etc.) had to suspend the project when a chunk of financing fell through. Man, they better not have torn down the Stardust for nothing.

The Sands Corporation (Venetian, Palazzo) has been ousting executives and cutting costs — but it’s also opening casinos in Singapore and, erm, Pennsylvania. CEO Sheldon Adelson (Forbes’ third-richest man in America — last year) has expressed confidence in thundering tones, but he’s already had to pour a billion dollars of his own money into the company to meet loan requirements, and may be looking to offload some of his interests in Macau.

Station Casinos (Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock, Aliante, Boulder Station, etc.) is scrambling to renegotiate with bondholders as the clock ticks toward an April 15 bankruptcy filing deadline. Boyd Gaming offered to buy most of Station’s properties, but Station’s Fertitta family rejected them. Boyd persists, meaning we may have a good, old-fashioned casino family war between the Boyds and the Feritttas. Station’s plans for a luxe Strip property — Viva — have died quietly.

So, who isn’t putting a poker face on panic? Well, Boyd Gaming has enough cash to buy other casinos, even if they have halted new ones. Hilton announced that it will take over the foreclosed-upon Cosmopolitan Towers project as one of the launching pads for its new Denizen hotels brand. Wynn Corporation seemed to be weathering the tsunami, but Steve Wynn’s just-announced divorce from wife (and longtime boardmember) Elaine Wynn could cause chaos. Both have lawyered up — Elaine with Don Schiller, who got one of the biggest divorce settlements is history for Juanita (Mrs. Michael) Jordan. Nothing like watching billionaires divorce to take everyone’s mind off of their own bottom line.

Vegas Financial Fallout = Cheap Hotel Rates

imageThere’s rumblings of the “B” word in Las Vegas. MGM Mirage, of the Bellagio, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, and MGM Grand, is in danger of defaulting on their debts of $13.5 billion and filing Chapter 11. Other hotels are in similar predicaments, so this is the time to book hotel rooms in Vegas, as rates are dropping to unheard-of numbers at primo properties — like $149 a night at the Four Seasons.

The best way to get these crazy deals is to sign up for the hotels’ newsletters, as they publish their best rates to their biggest fans first. Just as an example: Those on the Mandalay Bay email list were offered an exclusive Four Seasons deal called the “Vegas Escape.” It included rooms for $149 plus a $25 spa credit, with a two-night minimum March 10-May 14, based on availability. If you want to get really ridiculous about it, there are rates as low as $6.25 for rooms outside of town — but who wants to stay on the fringes when the deals in town are so good?

Las Vegas: Top 5 Pool Parties

imageTans, tits, and tequila …

1. “Bare” @ Mirage – Tropical pool complex becomes a Miami-style club. Not enough transformation: How about the glass cover that turns the pool into a dance floor? 2. “Wet Republic” @ MGM Grand – The first pool complex built expressly for partying, with underwater speakers, waterfalls and a built-in ultralounge. 3. Tao Beach (Strip: Central)) – Flatscreen TVs. Celeb DJs. Poolside spa services. Meals delivered from Tao proper. The only reason you’ll get up is to dance.

4. “Ditch Fridays” @ the Palms – Poolside bikini fashion shows, cheap domestic beer and MTV’s DJ Skribble. It’s like spring break, but cooler and with high heels. 5. “Rehab” @ Hard Rock Hotel – Five years after opening, the original Vegas pool party is still drawing LA’s aspiring starlets.

Las Vegas! New Year’s Eve!

imageSin City is expecting over 300,000 partiers this New Year’s Eve. The Strip gets shut down, and a giant block-party ensues. Along with neon drinks and dancing in the streets, here are five ways you can ring in the New Year, Vegas style:

1. Party at XS (Encore): Be the first! Steve Wynn’s latest hotspot hotel, Encore opens its doors for the first time at 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve.

2. Party with Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Pete Wentz at Pure (Caesars Palace): The $200 admission fee includes a midnight Champagne toast.

3. Gorge yourself on an eight-course meal at Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand): The prix-fixe, special holiday meal — featuring black truffles — is $600 a person.

4. Go see the Akon show at the House of Blues (Mandalay Bay) and dance your way through midnight. The show starts at 11 p.m.

5. Have a private party at Palms Place. If you’ve got 10 friends and $25,000, the Palms Palace will throw you a party in the penthouse. The price includes accommodations and brunch the next day.