Las Vegas style, pictured above from left to right: J’ADIOR Christian Dior visor, Lizzie Fortunato Gentlewoman earrings, Story Mfg. Short On Time Embroidered Organic Cotton-Canvas Chore Jacket, and Judith Leiber Slim Slide Black Card crystal minaudiere.
…is hard to do.
I started this post intending to critique Las Vegas. Call it fake and off-putting. Excessive and bleak at the same time, lacking in any real culture other than money. And it is all that.
But the truth is, I liked it. I had a lot of fun there and was charmed by the maximalism attitude. It’s a place where there is little pretension and few social norms, just a price of entry. No matter where you’re from, who your family is, or where you were educated, Vegas only cares that you can pay.
Though true to most of the advice I got ahead of my first trip there, I was done after a few days on The Strip. As fun and indulgently impulsive as it is, one still feels a twinge of emptiness upon exit.
The stimulating, enchanting bits about Las Vegas
Great high-end shopping
There is no lack of luxury on The Strip, so unloading your wallet is easier than finding a good cup of coffee. Many brands have multiple doors in close proximity to each other (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Chanel — the complete list is much longer), and there’s one each of Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Barneys department stores.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the middle or much that’s curated. Very little is both fashion-forward and subtle, so the motto of Vegas shoppers seems to be: “more is more.”
Even though I couldn’t spend any money, I brought cute things with me to wear and felt fancy browsing and striking up conversations with salespeople.
Great weather for laying by the pool
I don’t know about you, but I really adore a poolside afternoon. Maybe it’s my Florida roots. There’s something sexy and centering about exposing some skin, getting some color, enjoying a cold drink, and intermittently napping.
Las Vegas was chilly (upper 40s to low 60s) while we were there, but the sun shined bright so we still managed to bathe in the glorious UVs at the 38th floor rooftop pool in our hotel.
On Saturday, our last night in Vegas, we saw Celine Dion in concert at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace. She isn’t mainstream trendy anymore, but her shows still sell out, for an average ticket price of $200, and they don’t disappoint.
I grew up listening to her albums on compact disc, every night in bed before I would fall asleep.
I wasn’t however the biggest fan in our group, which means we all ended up singing aloud and clapping hysterically for earth mother, queen Celine.
Of course, she is just one of many performers who have regular gigs there. I’d love to see Gaga’s new show. Or Cher. When is Cher a bad idea?
Though I will qualify this by saying: expensive restaurants. It’s actually hard to eat inexpensively in the city and still get some good quality. Along The Strip, anyway.
I won’t go into all the options which are too numerous to accurately summarize, but we did go off The Strip for dinner at Raku and it was epic.
Recommended by the Goop guide, it’s a non-sushi Japanese restaurant in the Chinatown-esque area of Las Vegas. The menu is more tapas style, with all sorts of interesting and delicious tofus, grilled meats and fish, brothy noodle bowls, and things like fried asparagus.
It’s companion dessert bar is in the same strip mall and is even more popular. All the dishes are made-to-order using fruity and nutty ingredients in interesting combinations. I had a black sesame sponge cake with green tea mousse on top.
Occasional refinement in the form of arts and culture
Hey, there was a Yayoi Kusama installation at the Bellagio while we were there! That’s something. It was small however, and comically had no line to enter at midday on a Saturday.
The Infinity Room (pictured above) was immersive and yet simply executed. For 45 seconds I had it to myself, staring into the oblivion of twinkling LEDs.
Too quickly, I was returned to the overwrought Mediterranean corridors of the Bellagio Resort and sent on my way.
If only for the ‘gram post, I’m glad I found it and paid my $15 to check it out.
The bleak, soul-sucking parts of Las Vegas
In Las Vegas, the casino is a way of life, and certainly one that subsidizes lots of other fun aspects of the city.
Nevertheless, I never really saw people having fun in casinos. They were entranced, addicted, and resigned about losing money — or hungrily betting more, fueled by a sort of time warp. There are no clocks in casinos and very few other limitations other than funds.
And all of them are smoky, which in 2019 is just repulsive. Though, I had to chuckle seeing all the people who were blissfully in their zone, cigarette perched at their lips, drink in hand, and a perpetual glimmer of hope about the next round. In other words, multiple addictions being fed at once.
I’m not an addictive person, minus a bit of shopping and a sweet tooth, so I sorta get it, sorta don’t with gambling in Las Vegas.
Tourist-trap by design
Yes, there are a thousand things to do and see and eat and drink in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, most of them are overpriced and tend to under-deliver.
Perhaps more than most, I have an aversion to even the slightest whiff of a tourist trap. I hate bad quality, half-baked themes, gimmicks. There’s tons of it in Vegas, so it requires a careful navigation of options.
In terms of the built environment, The Strip is also designed to route you in the most circuitous, roundabout, easy-to-get-lost ways. Good luck being an efficient pedestrian, because even the buildings “on the next block” require a 20-minute walk up, down, around, and below to reach.
And of course, along all those corridors are places to grab a drink (to stay or to go), so it reminds me of the many other well-known alcohol-fueled destinations like New Orleans and every cruise ship ever.
In many ways Las Vegas is the adult Disney World: an endless string of indulgent eating and drinking, entertainment, reproduced themes borrowed from other cities (which hardly achieve authenticity), and a 24-hour culture that is more than happy to cater to any whim as long as it’s celebratory.
A culture of money
The only thing that’s serious in Vegas is money: spending it, winning or losing it, and making it (from the perspective of the entire local establishment).Though, who knows if the workers who actually keep Las Vegas running smoothly are paid fairly.
I really hated that even basic things were stupid expensive: a $5 double-shot espresso at Starbucks. $5 for a protein bar that costs $2.50 in San Francisco. It was insane.
Perhaps the emphasis on premium is simply more honest in Vegas than it is in other cities. Maybe that’s why so many people go there. It’s up front about itself, doesn’t require any guesswork.
But it’s decidedly flashy, obnoxious, mostly tasteless money. This is Vegas, not Cape Cod.
And so, it was with a mixed set of feelings that I departed the city in the desert.
While there is plenty to love about an extended, debaucherous weekend of fun and sun and whirlwinds of indulgence, the realer aspects of the place leave an emptiness. Did I really get to know the city, or was I distracted by all its shiny diversions?
Where was the local flair? The third wave coffee joint or the neat historical architecture? We looked for it, spending a morning in Downtown Las Vegas. We only found more of the same, just older and smokier. Today, Las Vegas’ historical icons are buildings like the Luxor pyramid, which is fantastic and strange, but not exactly timeless.
Another curiosity: there are no bookstores anywhere near The Strip, except a rare books dealer inside The Grand Canal Shoppes. Ha! Reading. Pffft.
My friend who lives there, a woman I graduated from college with ten years ago, who works for a non-profit that helps homeless youth, said it’s always been hard to make friends, sustain relationships, and that she often leaves the city on weekends.
Within an hour of this sprawling city of drunken transients and sad slot machines, there exist some of the most striking natural landscapes—that most visitors probably miss. Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead are two that come to mind. I desperately wanted to try a zipline through the mountains in Boulder City, but the timing didn’t work.
As with any place, escape is essential. The clever way to “do Vegas” may be to pack in a day or two in the city for a show, some shopping, some wild partying, and maybe a visit to the spa to recover. Then, rent a car and head out to the desolate wilderness for a more refined, soulful experience under the real stars.