Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vegas Vacation: The Fun

As many a bachelor party will tell you, there is plenty of fun to be had in Las Vegas. Whether you’re a gambler, a bachelor, or a first time Vegas visitor, there’s plenty to do in Sin City.

If you have three days, a limited budget, and an adventurous spirit, grab your closest wolf pack and follow our tips for fun things to do in Las Vegas:

See a show!
From world famous magicians to the flying acrobats of Cirque du Soleil, there’s a show on The Strip that’s perfect for every man, woman, and budget (limited or otherwise.)
As a “superfan” (thanks for coining that term, Donald Driver!) of the TV show Dancing with the Stars since season 1, I knew I had to see Dancing with the Stars Live in Las Vegas at the Tropicana (doesn’t anything pertaining to the Tropicana sound so Vegas?) For two hours Lori and I sat mesmerized as former contestants Sabrina Bryan, Kyle Massey, Joey Fatone and professional dancer Lacey Schwimmer waltzed, tangoed, and cha-cha-cha-ed their way across the stage. Whether you’re a fan of the show or simply want to be entertained, head to the “Trop” now through August 5th for the show that judge Len Goodman would surely give a “10!”

See the Sights!
Like most visitors to Vegas, we stayed right off The Strip. As a first time visitor, I didn’t realize just how much there is to see and do in that 4.2 mile stretch of sand. Each casino, from the contemporary Cosmopolitan to the canals of the Venetian, boasts a unique theme and atmosphere. It’s free to stroll in browse and provides an excellent escape from the relentless Nevada heat. You can walk the streets of “New York” or jump from the top of the Stratosphere, just make sure to see a few of the unique gamblin’ halls while you’re there, even if you’re like me and don’t gamble a penny!

“Experience” Fremont Street
Before Vegas became the modern, sleek, and polished vacation destination that it is today, Vegas was…Fremont Street. Located in downtown Las Vegas, Fremont Street is home to such venerable casinos as the Golden Nugget and Binion’s and has been featured in hit movies Viva Las Vegas and Diamonds Are Forever. Sadly, Fremont Street has lost much of its original luster and we found the characters lining the street to be seedy and sad and many of the shops shuttered. If you decide to go, make sure to head there at dusk when the Fremont Street Experience is aglow in lights.  And if you’re brave, see the street from above and zip line across Fremont Street. We did and it was the highlight of our Fremont Street Experience.

Dance the Night Away
By nature, I’m not a club goin’ kind of gal. I much prefer a wine bar and jazz to the bump and grind of a disco. But, as they say, when in Vegas…dance the night away! Lori, Marion, and I left Mike to his own devices at the poker table and headed to Tryst Nightclub at the Wynn. If I had any doubts about going out for a night with the girls, those reservations were put to rest once we entered Tryst. A lagoon, a ninety foot waterfall and superb service were on display at this Vegas club known for employing guest DJ’s Jermaine Dupri and deadmau5. Seating at Tryst is reserved for bottle service patrons only, so ladies beware, between the dance floor and your high heeled dancing shoes, your feet will hurt at the end of the night. But, spending a night dancing and drinking at Tryst? Totally worth it.

Head to the Hoover Dam
Anytime I mentioned that I was going to Vegas, people would tell me, “You have to go to the Hoover Dam!” So, one afternoon we packed up the rental car and made the one hour trip to the engineering marvel named after President Herbert Hoover. We opted for the thirty minute, $11 “Power Plant Tour.” And, that sounds about as interesting as it was! Take our advice: skip the tour and go directly to the Observation Deck or the Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, where views of the dam and the Colorado River can be seen for free.

See an Elvis Impersonator
No trip to Vegas is complete without the hip shakin’, lip quiverin’ experience of an Elvis impersonator. And if you’re going to go, you might as well head to Harrah’s for the free “Big Elvis Show” performed by Vegas veteran Peter Vallee. Voted the #1 Vegas Attraction by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2011, Peter Vallee performs many of Elvis’ hits while including the audience in on the fun.

Viva Las Vegas
Las Vegas, like New York City or Paris, has a look, feel, and speed all its own. If you’ve never been, don’t let your preconceived notions of what you think Vegas is like determine your decision to visit the City known for Sin. Let Vegas be Vegas. Enjoy it in all its glittering glory and you just might find yourself saying, “What happens in Vegas…goes on your blog, Facebook, and twitter account.”

You can read Part I of my Vegas Vacation: The Food here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vegas Vacation: The Food

I’m beginning my three part “Vegas Vacation” series with something I hold dear to my heart: Food! I’m one of those people who plan my vacations around restaurants and starts thinking about dinner while I’m still eating lunch. I love trying the “it” restaurant in town whether it’s burgers and “ta-ta’s” at Hamburger Mary's, the organic beef brisket at Winslow's Home, or sipping signature cocktails at The Chandelier. For three days, we ate and drank our way around Las Vegas and I discovered why this city in the sand is known as a culinary hotspot.

Our first stop on our foodie tour of Sin City was the Sugar Factory American Brasserie. Winner of the 2012 “Diner’s Choice” Open Table Award, the Sugar Factory is the place where celebrities Katy Perry, Kourtney Kardashian, and Drake come to get their sugar rush. Led by Executive Chef Michael Sellmann, the Sugar Factory is becoming known for being more than just a candy connoisseur and the “Eats, Sweets, and Treats” lived up to the hype. 

For lunch, I tried the Monte Cristo sandwich: Turkey, Honey-Cured Ham and Swiss cheese served on Grilled Brioche bread, topped with Tomato Jam and lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. Foodie alert: The tomato jam made this sandwich! Lori and I split the $36 “Lollipop Passion”, a drink so big they served it to us in a goblet and it came complete with smoking dry ice and candy accessories. Not be outdone, Mike and Marion sweetened the deal by splitting the indulgent “Strawberry Cheesecake Overload Sundae” for dessert.

You’re going to need to walk off all of that food somehow, so amble through the 6,000 square foot flagship candy store where you’ll find everything from Couture and Signature Series lollipops to milkshakes and cupcakes. The delicious food and chic dining experience at the Sugar Factory are enough to make any Parisian say, “Ooh la la!”

While living and studying in Europe in 2004, Lori and I started a tradition of eating at the local Hard Rock Café whenever we visited a new city. Whether it was London, Dublin, or Munich, we stopped in for the Sante Fe Spring Rolls and a little taste of home. As poor students traveling through Europe, we did this more out of necessity than preference: I worked my way through college partly by working at the Hard Rock Café St. Louis and, in return, received 50% off my meals at all Hard Rock Cafe locations. 

The tradition continues today (sans employee discount) as we stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe Las Vegas for the Jumbo Combo (delicious!), a break from walking The Strip, and a rockin’ good time. Looking to escape the heat and rest those weary feet? Stop by for a free tour of their vast collection or peruse the world's largest Rock Shop. 

No trip out West is complete without a trip to the hamburger Holy Land known as In-N-Out Burger. I first visited In-N-Out last year while on a business trip to San Diego and fell in love with the kitschy “crossed” palm tree themed interior, the paper-hat wearing employees, and the “Not-So-Secret” menu options. The line was long at In-N-Out Las Vegas (Dean Martin Blvd. location), but the wait was worth it. And as any devotee will tell you, there’s only one way to do it at In-N-Out: “Animal Style!”

For dinner on Saturday night, we put on our Vegas best and headed to Bally's Steakhouse. One of the oldest steakhouses on The Strip, Bally’s has the look and feel of a 1960’s country club, complete with Ralph Lauren pinstripe wallpaper, servers dressed in tuxedo’s and photos of the Rat Pack adorning the walls. For dinner, I started with the Maine Lobster Bisque and finished with the 16 0z. Filet Mignon, served with a Béarnaise sauce. The sides are a la carté and as a table we split the asparagus and twice baked potato.

While Las Vegas is becoming known for their celebrity chefs and world-renowned cuisine, Bally’s hasn’t kept up with its neighboring restaurants. We thought the food was good and the service was decent, but the overall look and feel of the interior seemed shabby and outdated. Looking for a good steakhouse experience in Sin City? Don’t bet on Bally’s.

For my last meal in Vegas, we headed to the appropriately named, Hash House a go go. The winner of multiple awards from the New York Times, Travelocity, and Fodor’s Magazine, Hash House a go go has been featured in publications and on tv shows since opening in 2000. Fans of the Travel Channel series Man vs. Food will recognize Hash House a go go from the episode where host Adam Richman tried to conquer both the Fried-Chicken Eggs Benedict and a one pound Stuffed Burger. Creator and Founder Johnny Rivera and Executive Chef Craig Beardslee wanted to create “twisted farm food” giving those old, farm-made recipes a twist. The interior of the restaurant reflects that farm feel with blades of wheat on the tables and industrial accents that’ll make you feel right at home on the farm.

Need a big breakfast to recharge after a night out in Vegas? Be careful what you wish for. My “Tractor Driver Combo” came with a 16 inch apple cinnamon pancake. Everything from the turkey sausage to Marion’s Snicker pancake (made with actual mini Snicker bars) was downright delectable.         

Whether you're looking for a casual bistro or fancy fare, Las Vegas has ample opportunity for you to sample the best from world famous chefs. I'm heading back to Vegas in October for work and I'm already planning my restaurant itinerary: Stack at The Mirage and Aureole at Mandalay Bay have made the list. 

Stay tuned for part II of my Vegas Vacation: The Fun!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Viva Las Vegas!

Today I’m headed west to that shimmering city in the sand – Las Vegas!

I’ve always been a bit indifferent to the desert town known as Sin City. I’m not a gambler, I’m not much into all-you-can-eat buffets, and photos of the “strip” make it seem so…gaudy. But what does appeal to me is old Las Vegas. The Las Vegas of the Rat Pack era where Sinatra, Sammy, and “Deano” performed in The Copa Room at the Sands Hotel. The Las Vegas when men dressed in dinner jackets and women wore dresses showing a bit more décolletage while stepping out at “The Riv”. The Las Vegas of the glamorous showgirls with sequined costumes.

While Sinatra and Sammy no longer perform and The Riviera has entered a new stage in Vegas history, what I’m most looking forward to is spending quality time with Lori. Lori and I met eight years ago in a quaint Austrian town called Salzburg and have been “Salzburg Sisters” ever since. As she pointed out to me last night, we’ve know each for eight years, we’ve visited eight countries together, and when we touch-down tonight in Vegas, we’ll be visiting our eighth state together. Forget the lucky horseshoe, I think we just found our lucky number.

If you have any tips or recommendations for our Vegas Vacation, let us know!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Restaurant Wednesday: Hamburger Mary's

Sometimes you run across a place that’s so wild, so wacky, and so tacky that you just have to try it. The newest restaurant to hit St. Louis is Hamburger Mary's, a place known for its bold décor, big burgers (hello, one pound “Proud Mary”), and open-minded atmosphere. 

Originally opened in 1972 in the SoMa district of San Francisco as a burger and beer joint, Hamburger Mary’s currently has twelve locations across the US including one of its newest locations in the heart of Midtown Alley.

Stessie and I headed to Hamburger Mary’s on a steamy St. Louis Friday night, ready for a good dinner and cold drinks. What we weren’t ready for was the flamboyant, fun, and family friendly (believe it or not!) atmosphere.

Stessie and I with our Fuzzy Tea Bags
There aren’t many places where you can get dinner, drinks, and a drag show, but Hamburger Mary’s has all three. I opted for the St. Louis Blues Burger (naturally) with a side of the Tasty Ta-Ta’s (tater tots for the uninitiated) and both were fabulous. Think this is just a run of the mill greasy spoon? Think again. Hamburger Mary’s offers a variety of meats to choose from including Natural Angus Beef (from humanely treated cattle), Kobe/Waygu Beef (my favorite), homemade Blackbean, and Ahi tuna. As Mary would say, that’s “Hot and juicy, honey!” You have to wash all of that meat and tasty ta-ta’s down with something, so Stessie and I opted for the Fuzzy Tea Bag - a delicious blend of Carolina Sweet Tea vodka, peach schnapps, and pink lemonade.

Since its humble beginnings in San Francisco, Hamburger Mary’s has been a proud supporter of the LGBT community and continues to welcome patrons of all backgrounds – kids, families, and drag queens alike.

 Just another night out with Stessie and of course I was pulled up on stage for TV trivia.
Of course I was.

Mary's "Drag Queen Diva's" put on a show in true Facts of Life style.

Come one, come all, just be ready to “Eat, Drink, and be…Mary!”

Monday, July 09, 2012

Weekend Recap: Lake of the Ozarks Edition

You know what I love? I love the Hamptons. I love the luxury, the summer homes, and the yachting. I love the ocean breeze, the quaint little restaurants, and the exorbitant amount of Lacoste seen on every man, woman, and child. I love the ridiculous wealth of it all.  

Alas, I’ve never actually “summered” in the Hamptons, but my sources (mainly the Real Housewives of New York City and innumerable books about the Kennedy’s) tell me this is what it’s like. St. Louis may not have the Hamptons, but we do have the tony hamlet known as the Lake of the Ozarks in which to while away our summer weekends.

So, to escape the sweltering 100+ degree temperatures, we made like Carole Radziwill and headed west.

We made a quick detour and stopped by the state capitol on our way:

We did some serious reading (and cigar smoking):

We sampled the Ozarks favorite lake fare:

We drank boozy Arnold Palmer’s:

We watched the boats go by:

We had a fabulous lake weekend and hope you did, too (even if you weren’t in the Hamptons!)

What? Like you don't take four bags with you for a two day trip.
The Polish Princess would.

{All photos taken with my iphone using the Instagram app.}