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As We See It

[The Strip Sense]

Las Vegas, virtually

What a whirlwind web-tour of Vegas—with a little help from my memory—taught me

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Behold! An iPhone app!

In my work, I get to see Las Vegas from many different angles. I’ve been in the fanciest suites and the crummiest slot halls, I’ve enjoyed the best entertainment and I’ve left theaters angry that someone had wasted my precious time and money on such garbage. I’ve been in helicopters and hot- air balloons, pink Jeeps and pimped-out stretch limos. I’ve had top executives and designers walk me through properties before they’ve opened, and I’ve had implosion experts give me tours of the skeletons of doomed buildings.

And yet the whirlwind tour I took last week will probably go down as easily one of my most memorable and enlightening experiences, one that helped me emotionally reconnect with this city after the past couple of rough years.

I visited some 55 Vegas resorts in about four days, taking an inventory of their assets and boning up on their history. It was a mad dash because, as usual, I procrastinated until I was up against—and over—my deadline. Oh, and did I mention I did it all without even leaving the house?

I was hired to rewrite the hotel descriptions for a popular iPhone application called VegasMate. (Yes, I do iPhone apps. I also do weddings, bar mitzvahs and high school reunions. Ba-dum-ching!) It’s essentially a mobile, electronic guidebook, the only kind that makes any sense anymore given how quickly things change. In the past four years, I’ve published two dead-tree guidebooks of different ilks and the one thing both had in common was that they were outdated by the time they came back from the printers.

So the gig was to write 200- to 300-word summaries on a list of 55 resorts on the Strip. It wasn’t necessary—or in the budget—for me to go visit the resorts in person, because I’d been to almost every one at least once, and I wasn’t really passing judgment on them. That part is taken care of by the users, who get to write their own reviews and rate the places Yelp.com-style.

Still, as I am wont to do, I decided to take it a little bit farther, challenging myself to come up with at least one interesting factoid or lesser-known tidbit about every one of these places. I figured that if I had to write about Texas Station or the Fiesta Henderson or other places that precious few tourists would ever bother to investigate, maybe I could entice them to read all about it out of the curiosity of what could possibly be interesting there. That’s how I learned, for instance, that the Eastside Cannery’s security staff are the first in Vegas to scoot around on Segways or that the Riviera was the Strip’s first high-rise or that the Las Vegas Hilton does have a 13th floor!

It may also floor people to know—I know I was surprised—that just about every single resort has something distinctive about it that is worth noting or checking out. No, really. Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, for instance, at least has Fat Elvis, the Plaza has the tapas delight Firefly, Sam’s Town has Mystic Falls Park with its water and light shows. Well-regarded restaurants turn up in such misery-inducing edifices as the Four Queens, Gold Coast and Circus Circus.

I also don’t think I realized until this:

• That while Green Valley Ranch is generally regarded as the turning point at which Station Casinos moved into a more highly designed, opulent resort, it was actually lowly Sunset Station. As I went through the research, I realized I’d forgotten how we all marveled back in 1997 when they opened with the seemingly unnecessary perk of a sensational 12-ton, blown-glass chandelier that hangs over the central casino bar. It’s still pretty awesome.

• Just how many bowling alleys there are in casinos these days, albeit not on the Strip. I didn’t even think bowling was still popular. And where’d all the tennis courts go? Doesn’t anyone play tennis on vacation anymore?

• That several of the outlying resorts actually have free shuttle service from McCarran Airport. They include Suncoast, Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock Resort, the M, Palace Station, Terrible’s, the South Point and the El Cortez. It intrigued me that only one Downtown resort provided this service.

• Just how dreadful the Wynn and Encore websites really are. I love the hotels and I admire the resort’s excellent uses of Facebook and Twitter to engage and market, but wow.

It’s been five years and still they force visitors to hang out while it loads, and while Steve Wynn coos sweet nothings. For a good time, check out the spoof site Wynncore.com that the Wynn attorney brain trust actually tried (unsuccessfully) to shut down.

There was just something thrilling, when the project was completed, in being reminded how vibrant the town is, how much there is to offer and how diverse those offerings can be. I actually—and I am not making this up—have a hankering to get out to Circus Circus to see what the acrobats do there or go play a little bingo in the gargantuan 571-seat bingo parlor at Boulder Station.

Sadly, I probably won’t. There’s always something new coming up to grab my attention. I’ll be off to the next premiere, the upcoming opening, the newest ride. That, too, is the charm of Vegas, isn’t it?

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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