T+L goes behind the scenes at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, learning the secrets of what life is like as a Las Vegas concierge.

Credit: Jeff Minton

In the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas sits a huge golden lion upon a dais of red flowers. The lion is the corporate mascot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the movie studio whose most iconic film, The Wizard of Oz, told the story of a young Kansas girl trying to find an all-powerful wizard in a fantastical land of color and magic. The girl’s quest ends when her dog, Toto, tugs open a curtain, revealing the Great Wizard to be a smallish, elderly man frantically pulling levers and cranking handles and amplifying his voice by means of a speaking tube. Generations of moviegoers have come away with the impression there never really was a wizard in the first place, that it was “just” a little man behind a curtain all along.

But that isn’t how “Gary Ring” sees it, in the quiet of the Post-Lunch Lull, standing behind the mighty Desk and staring across at the great gold lion.

“Gary Ring,” you see, he knows that magic is real, and that wizards walk among us. The dreams that you dare to dream, “Gary Ring” knows, they really can come true. He has seen it happen. He has even made it happen. Because “Gary Ring,” you see….

“Gary Ring,” he is the concierge.

“Gary Ring” wasn’t always the concierge. He wasn’t even always “Gary Ring.” Early on the first morning, deep underground, the woman in Uniforms gave him his blue suit, and his corrugated cornflower-blue necktie, and his white, white shirt, and all of it fit so well, as if the clothes had been waiting there for him, forever, that he was almost surprised not to find a brass name tag, too, like the other concierges wore, preprinted with what he would soon come to think of as his “old name.” But no. There was nothing, no name tag at all, until mid-morning he thought to mention it to Jeanne Mills, who was not just the chef concierge at the Grand, but the sitting U.S. president of Les Clefs d’Or, the international, prestigious society of elite concierges. Jeanne’s name was pronounced with two syllables, like genie, and like a genie she disappeared, and returned not long after with a name tag for him, and just like that he was “Gary Ring.”

He was “Gary Ring,” just like that, but he was not yet the concierge. For there was too much, still, that he did not know. He had not yet learned the trick of upside-down map reading—for when a concierge is giving directions to a guest from behind the mighty Desk, the map, to the concierge, is always upside-down. Nor had “Gary Ring” yet mastered the art of arranging flower petals in the shape of a heart upon a bed. His first attempt came out lopsided, almost closer to the shape of an actual, anatomical heart than to the stylized, universal icon of romance, and “Gary Ring” looked at his heart and was ashamed.

These basic skills he would quickly acquire, and more besides. At placing a champagne bottle into an ice bucket such that the label faced forward “Gary Ring” exhibited talent right off the bat, and he could open the door of a Rolls-Royce Phantom to permit a guest’s smooth ingress or egress as if he’d been doing it all his life. But for all his skills, “Gary Ring” was still not the concierge, because he did not yet understand, and he could not yet make dreams come true.

Well, he could. If your dream was merely a pair of tickets to Cirque du Soleil, with a reservation afterward at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and one of you didn’t eat “gluten,” whatever that was, “Gary Ring” knew, by the end of his second day, how to enter these requests into The System and present them to you as a printed Itinerary. Under the excellent tutelage of the concierge Jesse Ramirez, “Gary Ring” had further learned how to grout or caulk the Itinerary, as it were, with a smooth paste of limousines, balloons, and surprise champagne, thus giving it the integrated feel of an Enchanted Evening.

But this was not true concierge, “Gary Ring” knew. Yes, he could get you a table at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill or a midsize sedan for the weekend, or tweak your seating assignment at Cirque du Soleil to allay your fear that you’d be kicked in the face by a supple gamine…. But true concierge was when a guest said it was her birthday today and then hung up the phone. True concierge was when a guest showed up ashen at the mighty Desk and said, “My mother-in-law has just arrived unexpectedly and I…please just…please….”

A special kind of ingenuity and creativity was required, it seemed, and “Gary Ring” wasn’t sure he had it. Toward the end of day three, Jeanne Mills sat him down at a carrel in the phone-bank room, and gave him a pen, and had him answer questions from the official Test of Concierges. He had to design a 20th Anniversary Surprise for a man to enchant his wife with, a man for whom “money is no object,” and also a less surprising Romantic Evening to be enjoyed by a couple for whom “money is tight.”

“Gary Ring” sucked his pen for a while, and stared at the pattern on the carpet, and then decided that both couples would go to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. He had been to the franchise in London a few times himself, at different points on the spectrum of liquidity, and knew that while a mind-set of “money is no object” was absolutely to be preferred when one was dining at L’Atelier, it was possible also just to order a side dish of truffled mashed potatoes—pomme purée truffée, to be technical about it—and indeed that there was something romantic about just having the potatoes, in a Dickensian or O. Henry sort of way. “One day, darling,” a man could pledge to the woman that he loved, spooning pomme purée into her mouth, “we will come here and also have the quail.” It was a form of commitment, in a way—and commitment was something women loved, “Gary Ring” knew. They loved it as much as flowers, and only a little bit less than chocolate. Oh, and after dinner, each couple could stroll along the Strip, “Gary Ring” thought, and watch the fountains dance at the Bellagio, as he himself had done once years before….

“How’s it going?” asked Jeanne Mills, coming to check on him after an hour. “Pretty good,” nodded “Gary Ring,” folding up his answer sheet and sliding it into the pocket of his blue jacket. “It’s going actually pretty well.”

It wasn’t, though, he knew, looking at the carpet again after she’d left. It wasn’t going well at all. He wasn’t making his notional couples’ dreams come true, or even giving them Enchanted Evenings. He was painting by numbers, and “Gary Ring” became discouraged. Would he ever be the concierge? he asked himself silently. Would he ever accrue enough knowledge, confidence, and general savoir faire to step into people’s lives and enchant them, the way a true concierge must? Would he ever make people feel like kings?

And the answer came back, a faint, ghostly voice within him, “…no…probably not….”

Toward the end, when “Gary Ring” would sleep and dream, he would dream of flying, just like a sad bird in a cage does, or an inmate serving life, or a person in a terrible short story. In his dream, “Gary Ring” flew away from Las Vegas and the deafening chaos of the Strip. He flew away from the all-night jangle of the slots… the diamond squelch of bottles sliding into ice buckets…. In his dream he flew away from all of it, soaring up into the silence of the sky, over the blistered orange desert with its mesas and plateaus, its sudden shining silver lakes of mercury, then swooping down between the crimson walls of a steep and ancient Canyon, down to where a copper-green river oozed silently along, as it had been oozing along since before there was Time.

Waking, “Gary Ring” would think about the dream, and though he knew the dream was in part just a memory—on the second day, someone from Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters had made a presentation to the concierges and offered them free chopper flights so they might recommend the product to their guests, and “Gary Ring” had said yes—it was more than that. The orange desert, in his dream, was how far he had come, and the cold green river was the understanding that he did not yet have. And “Gary Ring,” he did despair, as his time grew short, for he was losing hope that he would ever understand, that he would ever be the concierge.

But then he did, and then he was.

He was Out Front when it started to happen, Out Front with Jeanne Mills, just doing some stuff behind the mighty Desk, when up on the lobby’s giant video screen flashed a massive image of a gourmet cheeseburger beside an outlandish portion of french fries in a paper cone.

“Wow,” said Jeanne Mills, glancing up at the projected food. “That looks pretty good.”

“Oh, it is,” said “Gary Ring,” and he told her, because he knew, that this was the American Kobe burger from the Nobhill Tavern, where “Gary Ring” had dined alone on his first evening. The burger was exemplary, he went on, and while the quantity of fries might seem excessive, this was because when chef Michael Mina had been a child, he had run out of fries, once, while eating a burger, and through his tears had made a personal vow that should he ever himself have a restaurant, no diner would ever feel that specific ache of depriv—

“Bruno?” Jeanne Mills interrupted, suddenly, confusingly, and she looked up at “Gary Ring” with a soft sort of pride. “This, right now…. This is very concierge.”

And “Gary Ring” had to look away. Blinking and breathing and feeling emotions, he steadied himself against the mighty Desk. He did not know what he had done, or said, to so impress Jeanne Mills, but Jeanne Mills was Jeanne Mills, and if Jeanne Mills said a person was very concierge, they were very concierge. And it was with a false new confidence that he headed back through the little door to stand with the others at the pre-shift briefing, in the little antechamber before the phone room.

The hotel was at 98 percent capacity that day, said Brittney Bowen, who was running pre-shift, and “Gary Ring” clenched his jaw determinedly, just like his fellow concierges. Just like them he gave an “oh yes” of recollection at Brittney’s reminder that a new Sugar Factory franchise was opening that week, somewhere in the bowels of the vast hotel. Then pre-shift broke up and as “Gary Ring” looked around, wondering what to do first, his eyes fell on a man in the corner of the room who was smiling at him. The man had on the same blue suit as “Gary Ring,” the same cornflower-blue necktie, but as the curtain of concierges parted to reveal the man’s lapel area, “Gary Ring” saw that the man had no name, and “Gary Ring” went cold and felt ashamed.

“Gary?” said “Gary Ring,” his voice squeaking a bit.

“Hello,” said Gary Ring.

And “Gary Ring” fumbled for the name tag in his lapel, and he held it out to the real Gary Ring. “Thank you so much,” he stammered. “I…. I hope it wasn’t too much of a…. Too inconvenient.”

Gary Ring looked down at his name, and then back up at “Gary Ring,” and in the eyes of the real Gary Ring there was a joyful selflessness every bit as ancient and serene as the cold green river flowing slowly through the eternal Canyon. “No,” said Gary Ring, smiling, and he shook his head for emphasis. “You hang on to it.”

And it was only then that “Gary Ring” understood. It wasn’t skills that made a concierge, or expertise, or savoir faire, or knowing the difference in cost and longevity between low-helium and high-helium balloons. True concierge was the willingness to give of oneself, to give it all, one’s handkerchief, one’s personal burger memories, even, if needed, one’s very name. And to do it all not out of duty, or self-sacrifice, but out of the simple, unshakable understanding that other people’s dreams, they really are your own, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove—and that the map of the human heart, when by some miracle you finally do get it unfurled, is always best read upside down.

Advice from Jeanne Mills, head concierge at the MGM Grand.

“Old School” Vegas: “The former mayor Oscar Goodman recently opened Oscar’s (Plaza Las Vegas, 1 Main St.; plazahotelcasino.com), a steak house downtown where the walls are lined with photos and memorabilia dating back decades.

Best View in Town: “The outdoor patio of Mix atop THEhotel at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; mandalaybay.com)—Las Vegas Boulevard for as far as your eyes can see.”

Don’t Miss: “A private tour of the Neon Museum (702/387-6366; neonmuseum.org; by appointment only).”

People-Watching: “Late night at the Bootlegger Bistro (7700 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; bootleggerlasvegas.com)—where legendary Las Vegas entertainers go to relax and sometimes have jam sessions.”

Secret Desert Getaway: “Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (6375 Hwy 159; parks.nv.gov), once owned by Howard Hughes, is a 520-acre oasis within Red Rock Canyon.”

Best Comfort-Food Spot:Peppermill (2985 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; peppermilllasvegas.com), for the incredibly large portions.”

Favorite Local Oddity: “You can wear just about anything and not get strange looks.”

Neon Museum

After years of opening by appointment only and going by the “Neon Boneyard,” this collection of 150 neon signs (the largest in the world) dating from the 1930s is now open to the public. The rehabbed La Concha Motel lobby now stands as its visitors’ center, through which you’ll enter to see iconic signs, including ones for Moulin Rouge, Desert Inn, and Stardust.

Peppermill's Fireside Lounge

With colorful neon lights, cozy black booths, faux vines and a blazing fire pit surrounded by bubbling water, Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge is an old-school Vegas experience like no other. For decades, locals and in-the-know tourists have been stopping by this casual diner on the Strip for 24-hour breakfasts, pre-party dinners and late-night snacking. Of course, snacking isn’t quite the appropriate term since every dish at the Peppermill comes in heaping portions, from the towering pancake stacks and enormous omelets to the 13-pound fruit plate and gravy-drenched country fried steak. The potent, brightly colored cocktails are equally gargantuan and amazingly tasty.

MGM Grand

The 5,000-plus-room ode to Emerald City on the south end of the Strip is massive. Home to some of the world's top chefs (Robuchon, Puck, Colicchio, Lagasse), MGM Grand also has partnerships with Hakkasan, which runs its spectacularly large club; Wet Republic, one of the most popular pool clubs in Las Vegas; and dozens and dozens of bars, retail venues, restaurants, swimming pools and Cirque du Soleil production . But MGM isn't just about size. A renovation in 2012 also brought 42 "Stay Well" rooms completely devoted to purifying the air, detoxing your body, and even eliminating sleep-disruptive electromagnetic fields.

THEhotel at Mandalay Bay

Fashionably minimalist, THEhotel is meant to feel like a boutique hotel (though with 1,117 rooms, this is hardly the case). A non-gaming property, it adjoins Mandalay Bay but has its own lobby and check-in, full-service spa (The Bathhouse), and high-profile lounge (Mix in Las Vegas) on the top floor. Rooms, in mellow grays and tans, average a generous 725 square feet and have spacious marble-and-granite master baths with separate powder rooms, giant 42-inch plasma TV’s, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Despite the Mandalay Bay’s location right next door, THEhotel is still removed from the fray, with a contemporary art-filled lobby that always feels exclusive and clubby.