Las Vegas's Best New Attractions
And this glimpse into the life of “Mr. Las Vegas” is just the beginning. In fact, the city is having something of a renaissance, opening up new restaurants, clubs, museums, and other venues at a fantastic rate and returning Sin City to the ever-changing kaleidoscope it once was.
That time of change was less than 10 years ago, when Las Vegas was in the middle of a no-holds-barred building boom. The historic downtown was about to undergo huge changes. A burgeoning arts district was gaining cachet. Mega condo-hotels were coming. George Clooney was going to ignite the Strip with a giant mixed-use property.
But things happen, and Vegas seemed to be put on a giant “hold” for several years. The only major plan that was actually completed was the awe-inspiring multihotel, retail, and restaurant complex, CityCenter. This was no small achievement, of course: it included the Mandarin Oriental and Aria hotels, as well as Crystals shopping center. CityCenter was so popular it completely vacuumed people off the Strip and deposited them firmly in its fun and artsy atmosphere.
Now the excitement of CityCenter has spilled over into the entire city: new restaurants, museums, and clubs have either recently opened or are on target for 2012. Some of them you’ll find downtown, which the city is focused on really revitalizing this time. At its heart will be the most anticipated cultural venue in recent Las Vegas history: the $450 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which was built for symphonies, not Celine.
Even the Las Vegas steak restaurant has received a refresh. The new 35 Steaks + Martinis, in the Hard Rock Hotel, marries a 35-day aged, 35-ounce prime steak with “Wines that Rock,” including labels by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
So even if you visited Vegas recently, don’t assume it’s still the same. And don’t head to Sin City without checking out our list of the newest and best things to do.
The Royal Resort’s hidden restaurant, The Barrymore, is the best place to ensconce yourself for an evening of modernized Rat Pack–inflected glamour in Las Vegas. The 1,400-square-foot space is pure, old-school cinematic Vegas, with handmade wallpaper, blue-tufted booths, and a ceiling lined with antique movie reels. You’ll also find funky Rorschach portraits of Vegas stars, and modern twists on Vegas classics like lobster eggs Benedict and octopus salad. Inside the Royal Resort; 99 Convention Center Dr.; (800) 634-6118.
Opens Valentine’s Day, 2012. It’s the actual former federal courthouse where such landmark hearings as the 1950 Kefauver hearings on organized crime were held. Here, Las Vegas’s former “Happiest Mayor on Earth,” Oscar Goodman, defended real-life wiseguys like Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro (playing himself defending a facsimile of The Ant in the movie Casino). The long-awaited (a decade, to be exact) $42 million museum was created by the same team that designed the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Among its showpieces: part of the bullet-ridden wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. 300 Stewart Ave.
35Steaks + Martinis
You may think that the last thing Las Vegas needs is another steak house, but inhale one of the Tomahawk Steaks, a 35-day aged, 35-ounce prime steak of Flintstone’s proportions, and you’ll think otherwise. It’s a traditional steak house with a rock ‘n’ roll design: custom chrome-plated chandeliers in the main room, textured silver walls, and chocolate padded columns. Don’t miss the Applewood bacon creamed spinach or the 35 Gimlet (with cucumber essence and Hendrick’s gin). The wine list, appropriately, is stocked with “Wines that Rock,” including labels by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. In the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino; 4455 Paradise Rd.; (702) 693-5585.
Reopens October 28, 2011. From a cramped and outdated building, the Nevada State Museum flings open the doors to its $50 million museum—and its showpiece, the 43-foot-long ichthyosaur—in the Springs Preserve. For those who know the massive preserve and its interactive “edutainment” format, think more of the same. For those who don’t, imagine a touch screen to tell the story of continental drift, a cave to explore, and a 3-D movie about the desert at night. Springs Preserve; 333 S. Valley View Blvd. at US 95; (702) 486-5205.
Wayne Newton’s Casa de Shenandoah
Opens Spring 2012. What lies behind the walls of Wayne Newton’s 42-acre property has long been a delicious mystery to Las Vegans. Starting next year, “Mr. Las Vegas” will be throwing open the doors to his mansion and grounds. Aside from the expected Arabians that gallop the property, you’ll find wallabies, penguins, and sloths. Also on offer: a new museum dedicated to memorabilia from his 50-plus years of entertaining, including Nat King Cole’s makeup case and the watch he was wearing when he died; Johnny Cash’s guitar memorabilia from Elvis Presley; and a microphone from Frank Sinatra. Corner of Sunset and Pecos.
TheSmith Center for the Performing Arts
Opens 2012. While you’ve always been able to catch mind-blowing extravaganzas on the Strip, Las Vegans have had to travel for performances by the likes of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and The Cleveland Orchestra. Enter the most hotly anticipated cultural venue in recent Las Vegas history: a $450 million performing arts center designed by David M. Schwarz that (finally) puts Las Vegas on par with the world’s great stages. 361 Symphony Park Ave.; (702) 982-7805.
TheHangover Brunch at Bar + Bistro
The most delicious reason to visit downtown’s Arts District is the hangover brunch at its new Bar + Bistro, whose unique menu spans Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Puerto Rico (among others) and is hot among the neighborhood’s cognoscenti. (Catch it on the morning after the circus-like First Friday art party.) Plates like rich Cangrejo Benedict Mofongo and brioche flan French toast sop up the spill from the night before. And if the ambience and the Applewood-smoked bacon don’t right you, a whiskey-spiked cappuccino will. 107 E. Charleston Blvd.; (702) 202-6060.
For years, the most iconic Vegas neon signs have been relegated to the so-called Neon Boneyard, where you must book tours two weeks in advance to ogle the historic goods. (A favorite Boneyard activity is a program called “Mess the Dress,” where Vegas brides take post-wedding pictures all over the dusty signs.) But as of 2012, you can enter and tour the collection through the rescued lobby of the historic La Concha hotel (now the visitors’ center), to see signs that date back to the 1930s. (702) 387-6366.
Opens New Year’s Eve. This celeb-heavy NYC club is going Vegas, replacing JET in the Mirage and opening with a humdinger bash on New Year’s Eve. Brought to Vegas by the Butter Group, it will undoubtedly bring the same kind of celebrity popularity as the original. (Think Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Derek Jeter, Madonna, and more of the usual suspects.) Inside the Mirage, 3400 South Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 693-8300.
Fly and Float the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead
A helicopter ride over the Strip at night? So yesterday. Now there’s the “Fly and Float” experience from Papillon Airways and Forever Houseboats. Get picked up right from your hotel on the Strip, and for three days and two nights, you’ll lounge aboard Forever Houseboat’s 59-foot or 70-foot Millennium houseboat on Lake Mead (availing yourself, naturally, of a full crew to sail you around, anchor, and beach your “home”). Spend the last day on Papillon’s EC-130 B4 EcoStar helicopter, swooping 4,000 feet into the West Rim of the Grand Canyon to explore the Native American Hualapai lands and picnic under a Hualapai shelter. (800) 255-5561.