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Vegas Ups the Ante

Tonight will be dedicated to youth, though. Dressed in my glossy new shirt and accompanied by my girlfriend, Lola, who's popped down from Colorado for the big evening, I take a cab to the Palms Casino Resort, young Hollywood's preferred Las Vegas playground and the setting for a recent season of MTV's The Real World. Lola is excited, and she grows more so after three quick roulette wins achieved with my money but whose profits she pockets—with my macho, big-daddy blessing, of course. ("Luck Be a Lady" and all that.) The Palms makes a man feel virile and confident, like there's a lot more where that came from. It's not a joint for tourists with fanny packs or for medallioned James Caan types. It's aimed toward more contemporary, New Age hipsters who drive sporty roadsters or tricked-out SUV's instead of long sedans. Sinatra wouldn't have liked it; it's where Ben Affleck plays.

We order two New York strips, done rare, at N9ne, the hard-to-get-into steak house off the gaming floor. Our waiter is an old pro from Chicago, brought in by management for authenticity. He may be the smoothest waiter I've ever had, and the steaks are top-notch, too. I don't drink alcohol but Lola does, and she says her wine is so good that she's breaking her rule and ordering a second glass, which I don't tell her is actually her third. The sound system is magically discreet: the music is somehow soft enough to whisper over but loud enough to entertain us when our conversation falters. If I knew Lola just a bit better I'd propose to her.

Up we ride 55 stories to Ghostbar, where we've been told we might glimpse Britney Spears. (In fact, she stayed at the Palms before her "wedding," and turned up at Ghostbar and N9ne.) It's one of those places that showcases its bartenders, who are better looking than the patrons, a few of whom may be bartenders from lesser joints. The bar is packed with a fashion-forward crowd that might easily camouflage a pop star. The one spot that isn't SRO is a two-foot-square area on the open-air deck that juts out over the city like a diving board and would be the perfect launch pad for a drug-related celebrity suicide. Lola walks to this spot—she's seen it on The Real World—and stands on a large transparent brick of glass through which I can see tiny cars far, far below. The glass doesn't cave in or shatter. My girl's immortal.

Moments later she's chatting with a cocky young movie producer whose shoulder-length ponytail may be a clip-on and who's dressed in a flowing caftan-like white robe that belongs on a Middle Eastern desert nomad. He flew in from Los Angeles for a drink, he says, and I wish for a second, but only for a second, that chatty Lola had taken the plunge.

She drinks more wine and tells me she wants to dance. Surprisingly, she wants to dance with me. Back down the elevator we go to Rain Las Vegas, the loudest nightclub I've ever set foot in, jammed with wall-to-wall twitching human plasma that seems to be drawing its energy from a high-voltage light show I'll still be seeing when I go to sleep in a few hours. Dancing at Rain is like being trapped inside a rock star's brain during an overdose. My lone, obsessive thought: Fire exits. The good news is that I'm pressed so close to Lola that I can feel her heartbeat through her shirt. The bad news is that a dozen other dancers, wedged in just as close, can feel it too.

As we dance, a question of etiquette absorbs me: How does one ask a woman he's still getting to know to accompany him to a strip club?The Johnny Mathis Voice told me the other night that I have to check out a place called Crazy Horse Too.

"I think I'd like a lap dance," I tell Lola.

"That's cool," she says.

Bless the new feminism. May it last forever.

Our next cabbie calls himself an "entertainer" but declines to say in what sense, which always sounds creepy. Though there's no one around to overhear him, he informs us under his breath that he can get us "anything." I ask him what that means. "Anything," he insists. Nuclear trigger devices?Stolen antiquities?I'm pretty sure I know what he's referring to, but I'm not interested in going to jail tonight.

What happens here, stays here. Tell it to the narcotics squad.

The dancers at Crazy Horse Too have better surgeons and better genetic backgrounds all around than the ones at Jaguars and the Rhino. A dying tycoon would marry any one of them. The tiny stage in the center of the vast room is purely notional; the action is on the floor. There's a lap dancer for every lap, and there must be a couple of hundred laps: Midwestern party-boy laps, pro-athlete laps, window-treatment-conventioneer laps, and lots of adventurous wife and girlfriend laps. I sit down and add my lap to the squirming orgy while Lola ducks out to use the ladies' room.

The girls wander up to me soliciting dances, and I feel terrible when I turn them down. I feel as if I owe them cab money or something. The other men are kinder, courtlier. They call for drinks when the girls sit on their knees, then engage them in light conversation for a while as though it's important to make a real connection before getting down to business. The girls twirl their index fingers in the men's dimples or affectionately kiss their bald spots. The men tip their heads back and laugh. The girls laugh, too. When I was in high school in the swinging late seventies, having grown up watching Dean Martin movies and racy TV shows like Laugh-In and Love, American Style, I thought all grown-up parties were this way, and I was crushed when I later found out they weren't. Crazy Horse Too revives a teenage fantasy of semi-sophisticated public foreplay that I thought had died in me but has merely lain dormant, waiting for a long red press-on fingernail to tickle me under the chin and reawaken it.

I'm looking for a very specific type, and, given the immense selection of women here, I'm sure I'll find it. Sadly, the law of strip clubs dictates that the girl one fancies most will always be dancing for a nearby fat man who has paid in advance for 12 consecutive songs. Finally, my girl is released by her plump master. I give her the high sign. She's Britney's twin sister.

"Want a dance?" she asks me, bending near.

"No, I want a V8."

I wish I'd said that. Instead I say, not very confidently, "How much?"

They always say "twenty" and yet it's always double that. I know the game. No touchy, no kissy-kissy, just let your arms hang limply at your sides while whoever-she-is with the fake name and the no-good boyfriend who steals her tips looms nearer and nearer like a fleshly parade balloon and fills your nostrils with the smell of baby powder, which I guess they use to cut friction. I'm too old for this, I decide. And yet I'm not. No man is. Which is why Las Vegas prospers.

Lola approaches, my oh-so-tolerant date, and I shrug at her in a way that's meant to say: I'm almost done here and I'm not enjoying it, but, hey, I may as well get my money's worth. She'll understand—I think. I pray. But does she?She pivots, then veers toward the bar. It doesn't look good. Worse, Britney II is taking her time with me.

It feels like it's over: my date, my trip to Vegas, and—there she goes, right back to that old fat man—my lap dance. I scan the room for Lola. Where is she?I bought that dance for research, darling. Come back!

What happens here, stays here.

Tell it to your ex-girlfriend.


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