Las Vegas refreshed its look during the quarantine. As it always does. See what fun new accessories the city has in store.
They say every cell in the human body replaces itself over a period of seven years – so effectively, no part of you that exists today will still be around in 2030.
Las Vegas feels like that sometimes. Like a skin-peel addict, the city is in a constant, accelerated state of turnover and renewal, which can be disorienting if you’re a semi-regular visitor. That old casino where you used to slum it? A trendy boutique hotel now. That fusion French restaurant in the penthouse of The Palms? Currently a
And what about this 65,000-seat sports stadium I’m currently touring? Jet-black and oval-shaped, it looks like a giant birthday cake someone baked for Trent Reznor, and I don’t remember seeing it here, next door to the Mandalay Bay, the last time I visited Vegas.
But that was before the pandemic, and naturally much has changed in America’s favorite vice city since the world took a time-out in 2020. Tons of new restaurants, a pair of new resorts, numerous additions to the city’s stable of shows and attractions, it goes on and on. While we were pandemicking, Vegas kept on doing its skin-peel thing – shedding, evolving, adding. Which means there’s an especially large backlog of new stuff to experience for those of us who last visited before the shut-down.
There’s absolutely no way I’ll see, taste or otherwise ingest all of it in the few days of exploration I’ve allotted myself, but by great Caesar’s ghost I’ll try.
The Resort Scene
Speaking of Caesar, there’s the big man himself – all 15 feet of him done in white marble, lording over the newly remodeled main entrance at Caesars Palace (caesars.com) like he owned the place. Part of an ongoing $150 million refresh of the casino, the towering Augustus Caesar statue – along with a new porte-cochère and enormous, glowing dome ceiling that seems to suck you into the eye of Zeus as you walk under it – make for one of the Strip’s most extravagant statement pieces. Extending an insouciant finger toward the craps tables, Caesar seems there to remind you that the 57-year-old property is still one of the elites.
The pandemic also ushered in a wholly new hotel and casino to the Strip. Built over the bones of the old Stardust, Resorts World (rwlasvegas.com) – a long-delayed project originally conceived as a magnet for Asian tourists, but reconceived for a general audience – was the first new top-to-bottom resort to open on the Strip in 11 years when it debuted in 2021. It’s an impressive beast, to say the least. Located mid-Strip near Wynn, Resorts World is actually a confederacy of three hotels under one roof, including luxury Hilton imprint Conrad.
In the warren of casino games and restaurants that connect the three hotel properties, you’ll find no shortage of amusements. Fans of fine tobacco will swoon over Eight Lounge, a club-like respite from the mob that counts Mike Tyson, Alex Rodriguez and Charles Oakley among the celebrities who keep personal humidor boxes at the cigar lounge. The lounge’s genteel general manager, Ian Florenza – a prodigy in the cigar world who got hooked on the culture as a high-schooler in Michigan – amiably instructs me in the art of puffing and appreciation, and proves to be the best company of my visit.
For Vegas visitors who’d rather steam their pores than fill their lungs, Awana – the resort’s excellent spa – will not disappoint. Now, I’ve taken dozens of steams in a whole mess of Vegas spas, and let me tell you: Awana is one of the very best. The facilities are first-rate, top to bottom, but perhaps the most distinctive feature is a his-and-hers serenity lounge filled with soaking pools and three-dimensional wall projections of wind-swept Saharan dunes and jagged Himalayas. It’s mesmerizing. Usually, I find serenity rooms a waste of time, but this one I loitered in.
Vegas fans know that the city’s old-timey downtown area has enjoyed a major renaissance over the past decade. And the culmination of that, arguably, is Circa (circalasvegas.com), an innovative resort and casino that was the first new property to hit Downtown since 1980 when it opened in 2020. Sports betting and pool partying are the dominant themes at Circa, manifested in the resort’s two statement pieces: a three-story sportsbook with a 30-foot-high bank of video monitors that will make any self-respecting fantasy football devotee drool with delight; and Stadium Swim, a mammoth pool-party complex, accessible by escalator, that can accommodate 4,000 revelers under a 143-foot video screen. The sheer dimensions need to be seen to understood.
Needless to say, Circa (which has no spa, yet) is purpose-built for bro trips and bachelor parties. Know it by Vegas Vickie, the 20-foot reclining neon cowgirl reclining in the lobby – a salvaged artifact from Glitter Gulch, the defunct downtown casino that was razed to make way for Circa.
Martha and Marbling
I wouldn’t know a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills from a citronella candle, but I’m also extraordinarily secure in my masculinity, so I have no problem sipping mezcal and prickly pear martinis while lounging on an Art Nouveau-inspired velvet banquette at Vanderpump á Paris (caesars.com/paris-las-vegas), the Strip-adjacent happy place of reality TV doyenne Lisa Vanderpump. Located at Paris Las Vegas across the street from Caesars, the restaurant really is gorgeous, a Parisian pastiche of wrought-iron cages, moody lighting and grassy overgrowth that suggests the moldering mansion courtyard of somebody’s rich French aunt.
It’s also part of a wave of female-focused food-and-drink concepts sweeping over the Strip. Another is The Bedford by Martha Stewart (caesars.com/paris-las-vegas/restaurants/the-bedford-by-martha-stewart) also at Paris Las Vegas, set in a replica of the lifestyle guru’s beloved 1925 farmhouse, with garden-inspired cuisine and all the immersive flourishes you’d expect from someone who spent a lifetime turning the dinner party into an art form.
I’ve having a full-blown breakthrough right now, realizing that Giada (caesars.com/cromwell/restaurants/giada), the proprietary restaurant of Food Network celebrity Giada De Laurentiis, is also at Paris Las Vegas (or, at least, The Cromwell mini-resort next door) and that Paris Las Vegas is basically the perfect feminine counterpoint to the sporty bro-resort Circa. The yang to its yin, if you will. Breakthrough.
As it happens, Circa does have a marvelous steakhouse on premises. How could it not? Set in the resort’s swanky, speakeasy-ish basement – of course! – Barry’s Downtown Prime (circalasvegas.com) is the kind of loose-but-classy steakhouse you want to take home to meet mom, with creative small plates (e.g., fettuccine alfredo with bone marrow luge) alongside unsparingly butch meat cuts, like the 12-oz. Center-cut New York sirloin I’m steadily devouring. Final assessment: One of the best steak experiences I’ve had in Vegas, up there with José Andrés’ Bazaar Meat at the new-look Sahara and Old Homestead at Caesars.
Looking for Mr. Cronut
James Beard Award-winning chef Dominique Ansel’s eponymous bakery is a hotly anticipated happening at Caesars Palace – if for nothing else than Ansel’s signature cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid that was named one of TIME magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2013. Get in our mouths.
Sting and Stadiums
If anyone understands cell rejuvenation, it’s Sting, I muse while watching the eerily well-preserved rock superstar belt out an acoustic opener of “Roxanne” at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. I also congratulate myself for accidentally timing my visit to coincide with the Sting: My Songs residency, a multi-night series of performances that the musician will repeat in early 2023 (see Vegas Residency Planner).
The residency revolution in Vegas – which has brought such diverse musical talents as Green Day, Katy Perry, John Legend and Morrissey to town in recent years – is a fitting exemplar of my skin-peel/Vegas metaphor. They come in for a week or two, they leave, the next one comes in. Constant renewal.
But it’s also just a good way to see a show. The acoustics in the 4,100-seat theater – built at a cost of $108 million, making it the most expensive in-resort venue of its kind in Las Vegas – are impeccable. Moreover, the stage design is more elegant and clean than a typical touring show, and the performers are presumably sharper and more well-rested. Sure, you lose a bit of spontaneity with a residency show, but for a studio-centric talent like Sting, don’t you want the repeatability? (Another revelatory thought: Steely Dan should do a Vegas residency. Please make it happen, booking gods.)
Impressive as it is, the Colosseum can’t hold a candle to Allegiant Stadium (allegiantstadium.com/tours), home of the Las Vegas Raiders football team and the newest, shiniest toy on the Strip. Completed in 2020 to the tune of $1.9 billion, the stadium cuts a lozenge-like appearance and makes for a fine day amusement via a walking tour of its corridors, offices and locker rooms, culminating with a stroll across the 50-yard-line. You’ll hear Al Davis’ pep talks, you’ll see David Carr’s practice cleats, you’ll imagine Lyle Alzado’s game-day body stench.
It’s new and old all at once.
Vegas Residency Planner
Go all-in on these multi-night musical engagements.