Cocktails In a Chandelier—And Other Las Vegas Wonders

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I are just back from Las Vegas, and although it is not my favorite place in the world to visit I must admit there are things you can see in Las Vegas that you won’t see anywhere else.

Most years we head to Las Vegas to see the latest and greatest travel products at the Travel Goods Association show. As in years past, we stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton, recently renamed the LVH (I wonder how much they paid for someone to come up with the new name?), right next to the convention center. This is one of Las Vegas’ older hotels with little charm. Truth be told, the LVH has no charm, not one bit.

In years’ past I’ve insisted that Bob and I walk to various destinations in Las Vegas. While walking is good for exercise and for avoiding seemingly outlandish taxi fees, it often puts you up close and personal with the seedier side of Las Vegas. So this year we bit the bullet and cabbed to our night spots.

We were in Las Vegas for two nights, and although we didn’t see a show on this occasion, on a previous visit we took in Cirque de Soleil’s “O” and highly recommend it. We loved it, and in our opinion, it was well worth the steep (most seats are $155) ticket price. With trapeze artists and acrobats launching themselves from land to water and back in the blink of an eye, “O” is like a highly imaginative and top-notch circus event.

On this trip however, our evenings were devoted to my favorite pastime, eating good food. The first night we ate at Lotus of Siam, which is well off The Strip and in an area our cab driver referred to as Trannie Alley (I’m hoping I don’t need to define that for you). This restaurant has been touted by many as serving the best Thai food in the United States. While I won’t go quite that far (as I haven’t tried all the Thai food in the United States of course), I will say the food was exceptionally good. We told our Thai waiter (always a good sign) that we love Thai food, have traveled in Thailand, and like it spicy. We then asked for his recommendations and he did not disappoint. The first dish, a papaya salad, was on fire, almost too spicy. I was worried that subsequent dishes would be equally hot, but the spice cooled down a bit and we devoured many plates, including Drunken Noodles with Seafood (also know as Pad Kee Mao), a Spicy Catfish, and Crispy Duck with Basil. Lotus of Siam is known for their extensive wine list, but we stuck to beer. It was a very satisfying meal ($80).

On our second night in Vegas, we cabbed to the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino. We had reservations to eat at Jaleo, a Spanish tapas restaurant by Jose Andre, and also wanted to check out the Chandelier Bar. Only in Vegas can you have cocktails inside of a three-story chandelier. The Cosmopolitan is also home to Bond, a bar that is part performance art (with live women dancing in boxes), part musical performance venue, and part bar, true Las Vegas style. We enjoyed our dinner at Jaleo immensely, and were particularly impressed by a couple of tapas dishes, including a chilled almond and garlic soup with crabmeat ($13) that was out of this world.

The lobby of the Cosmopolitan was equally fun and impressive. Large columns in the middle of the lobby and the area behind the check in counter feature an amazing, ever changing electronic art display. When we arrived at the hotel, the electronic display was a library, with books moving in and out of the shelves. When we left, the lobby columns were images of an elevator. Various couples (actors of course) would move up or down the “elevator” out of view, then back into view. On the way up a couple might be arguing, and on the way back down, kissing. It was fun to watch, and quite imaginative.

Speaking of imaginative, a stop in Las Vegas should also include a look at the impressive Bellagio fountains. Set outside the Bellagio hotel, the fountains “perform” to music every 15-30 minutes (depending on the time and day), and you’ve got to see it to believe it. It is a lovely show, and the water seems to dance in time to the music.

So it’s true that there are many cities in the U.S. where I would rather the Travel Goods Show be held, but if I have to go to Las Vegas, I’ll try and embrace it. Rest assured however, I will never ride a gondola in the Venetian hotel and try to pretend I am in Italy.