Thursday, November 12, 2015

Drink locally

I enjoyed a little local flavor during my last visit to Vegas. During one evening we took the BMW convertible to a tap room on Main Street called Hop Nuts Brewing.

It's on Main Street, just south of Charleston Boulevard. That means it's not a quick, easy to access tap room from either downtown or the Stratosphere. It's not miles away, it's just not located in a high density pedestrian district. 

I learned about Hop Nuts prior to our trip when I was using one of the major discount websites to purchase discount tickets for the High Roller. I saw a deal for Hop Nuts, and decided that with the bonus discount the website was offering that day, $16 for two flights and two souvenir pint glasses was worth an investment. 

Hop Nuts is not a fancy tap room, but it's a tap room. There's nothing dingy about it, but it's not swanky. It's near the arts district, and I'm sure it gets its share of traffic, but on a Wednesday evening, not long after the dinner hour, it was not super busy. 

They don't have a huge production facility, but they do brew their beers on site. They had several, and our flights provided us with five decent-size samples of their brews. Our bartender was helpful and friendly, making our visit very enjoyable. 

I am not a critic, especially when it comes to food and drink, so I can't paint a word picture of what was good or bad about their beers. All I will say is that they have distinct brews in several different styles, and I didn't fall in love with any that I had sampled, but I didn't find them to be displeasing. Their uniqueness and character weren't to my personal preference, or to my girlfriend's, but you're getting a quality product that may be more to your liking than mine. 

What makes Hop Nuts different than the tap rooms I am familiar with here in Minnesota is that Hop Nuts has guest beers. They carry taps of brews from other craft brewers in the area or region. (I forget how far away they recruit such product.) Those guest brews are not available through the beer flight voucher I had purchased, but if you're a regular paying customer, they have other options on tap. 

And they have a liquor license, something else I haven't run into at a Minnesota tap room. If you have a member of your party who just doesn't enjoy beer, he or she can enjoy an alternative beverage during a visit to Hop Nuts. Pretty cool.

Hop Nuts doesn't have food service, but they have menus of nearby restaurants that will deliver to you there at the tap room. 

If you're a beer connoisseur, look them up, you might find something you love. If nothing else you'll find a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist scene.

The following night we finally visited Frankie's Tiki Room, a longtime favorite hangout of folks who like a tourist trap away from the strip and downtown. 

I refer to it as a tourist trap, but it's a nice place, and worth the visit. It's exactly what you expect from a tiki bar, lots of bamboo carvings and kitschy decorations. The place is open 24 hours, every day. And if they serve anything other than exotic mixed drinks, it's news to me. I'm sure they do, but you go to this place for the atmosphere and the unique drinks, not a bottle of light beer. (There's no food service here, either.)

My girlfriend and I each had one mixed drink, $9 each. It was a fair price for a mixed drink with multiple ingredients, and the atmosphere is hard to beat. There wasn't much of a crowd during our Thursday night visit, and I couldn't help but wonder who is in that place at 6 a.m. on a weekday morning. Somebody must be. 

The building is colorful on the outside, so it's hard to miss. It's not far down Charleston Boulevard from Main Street. I wouldn't call it a must-see destination, and again, you won't be walking to it, but it's worth a visit. I'm sure I'll be back there some day.

I decided to fill up our gas tank at the gas station next door when we left Frankie's, and my girlfriend decided to take a few pictures of the outside of Frankie's. A dude approached her and asked her if she wanted to buy a pair of men's leather high-top shoes. Only in Vegas.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A road trip TO Laughlin?

As noted previously, my most recent trip to Vegas included the renting of a BMW convertible.

When I spend several days in Vegas, I like to hit the road and see something interesting, typically away from the hustle and bustle of the casinos and the endless traffic. Once you leave the greater Vegas area, however, there aren't a lot of places to go.

Seeing nature's beauty is your best bet if you don't want to travel more than an hour away. It's not far to Red Rock Canyon, where you can loop through a scenic, rocky, somewhat interesting national conservation area. Further away you can visit Valley of Fire, a state park with similar qualities, which I found to be more interesting.

For a drive up, up and away from the shimmering lights of Vegas, Mt. Charleston is an option. There's not a ton to see up top, although there's a ski resort. There's a cool neighborhood where people live up there, built along a hillside near the top. Oddly, most of the houses are rather close to one another. Very strange.

During my spring visit to Vegas we visited the Primm casinos and outlet mall. I doubt the outlet mall is that much better than what you'll find in the Vegas area, although I don't know, as I rarely darken the doorstep of an outlet mall.

One of the best road trips I've taken was to Rhyolite, Nev., a very cool ghost town I'll write about some day. It's not a quick trip from Vegas, and I wouldn't call it a must-see destination, but if this sort of thing interests you and you have a day to dedicate to the trip, I would recommend it.

With a BMW convertible, it was essential to incorporate a road trip into our plans during last month's trip. My girlfriend didn't have any particular destination in mind, and she wasn't interested in the short trip to Primm for another shopping excursion at the outlet mall. I had suggested it because it would give me an excuse to visit either the Gold Strike, M or South Point casinos.

So I suggested we go to Laughlin. Yes, Laughlin.

I have been to Laughlin three times. Many years ago I was in Vegas with a friend and her parents. My friend knew that Laughlin was a casino town along the river, and in the early 2000s there were plenty of ads offering free bus rides to Laughlin, along with a free buffet lunch and a coupon book for whatever casino was sponsoring the bus.

In hindsight it seems like I wasted my time. I had a limited time to spend in Vegas, and we spent many hours of one of those days on a bus to and from Laughlin. Part of my interest in the Laughlin visit was to experience a trip through the desert, something I hadn't done before.

I never expected to return to Laughlin, but five years ago I did, thanks to a former girlfriend who inexplicably was being offered a lot of casino perks from the Harrah's folks. We ended up with two free trips to Laughlin in the span of a few months, and during both of those trips we rented a car and drove up to Vegas for one or two nights. They were great trips, and they demonstrated to me what a boring city Laughlin is.

So why go back? We needed a road trip destination and didn't want to give up an entire day. The daily high temperature was above average during our stay, and my girlfriend hadn't had the benefit of a lot of warm days at the pool during our five previous trips together. In three cases that was because we went around Halloween, or later, in the year. (And even during one of those Halloween trips we had a couple of nice days by the Orleans pool, given the time of year.)

I figured if we went to Laughlin, we could hit the road around 5 p.m. and enjoy the mostly boring desert landscape as the sun set, with the top down. Although the drive isn't very exciting, it's quick and easy once you get outside of the Vegas area, and the final miles into Laughlin are an interesting experience, as the altitude drops quite a bit as you descend toward Laughlin. There aren't any breathtaking views, but the drive is a neat experience.

We arrived in Laughlin at sunset and went to Harrah's, as I had a two-for-one buffet coupon from the American Casino Guide. We had dinner and quickly departed. The casino action wasn't too bad for a Tuesday night in May, but I wasn't there to gamble.

We drove up the road and parked at the Laughlin version of the Golden Nugget, but didn't go in. We went next door to the small, amusing Pioneer, featuring an illuminated Vegas Vic sign outside the building, much like the one in downtown Vegas.

The action inside the Pioneer was lacking, and after looking at a couple of old slot machines on display we walked along the river to the Colorado Belle. The Belle is a cool looking casino shaped like a paddle boat, and inside there's a microbrewery. We didn't have a beer there, and we didn't stay long. My girlfriend had a chance to walk along the river between the casinos, where there wasn't much to see. A water taxi did pull up to a dock, but there wasn't anything else happening on the river after dark. I bored her with stories about how cold the water is, which is ironic given how hot it gets in southern Nevada. Without much to see at any of the casinos, we headed back to Vegas in the dark of night.

When you travel between Vegas and Laughlin the north-south highway you take is Highway 95. It's a divided, four-lane highway. There are signs that suggest the highway is patrolled from above, which isn't something you see every day. I have no idea how often it is patrolled, but with the top still down as we headed back, a helicopter flew over us twice during the first 30 minutes or so of our trip back.

There are a couple of non-towns along Highway 95, and one of them is Searchlight. It's a town that once existed because of mining, or so the story goes, and today it's a geographic dot on the map where you can get stop for gas, food and gambling. Having stopped at the Terrible's in Searchlight in the past, I decided we should stop on the way back for a cheap beer.

I don't remember what I paid for a bottle of beer in the past during those trips from Laughlin five years ago, but it wasn't much. The "casino" at Terrible's is a modest room full of machines. I wasn't interested in playing video poker for a free drink, I simply wanted a cheap beer. They had a sign promoting pints of Rolling Rock on tap, for 50 cents.

Other than the crappy beer they'd sell in a 10-ounce cup for 50 cents at the Vegas Club downtown, I can't remember the last time I found a place selling a beer for 50 cents. I  haven't seen a price like that since I was in college, and that was more than a few years ago.

My girlfriend and I each had a pint, and then I decided to change it up to my go-to macro brew, Bud Light. I assumed I was ordering a bottle when I asked for one, but the bartender had it on tap, and poured me a pint. My girlfriend ordered a second Rolling Rock. I had no idea what the tap of Bud Light cost when I ordered it, but eventually we noticed a sign on the wall behind us: $1 for a pint, $3 for a pitcher.

The total for our four tap beers: $2.50. We left $5 for our tab when we departed.

I have no interest in returning to Laughlin, unless somehow I end up with another free trip, but it was the perfect destination for a September evening drive in a BMW convertible.

When I was in Vegas in May I would have bet against my ever returning to Searchlight. While I have no reason to expect I'll ever return, life is funny. I wouldn't bet against it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Everybody loves a parade?

An hour ago I read the news that the 2015 Las Vegas Halloween parade is not happening.

I've had mixed feelings about the Halloween parade for years, but I'm sorry to read it's not happening in 2015, even if I won't be there.

This year was to be the sixth annual parade. A vague Facebook post suggests that the lack of a supporter/producer has resulted in the scuttling of this year's parade, but an organizer plans to carry on in 2016, bigger and better than ever.

One of the reasons cited as a challenge in 2015 is that the parade would be on a Saturday, since it has always been held on Halloween night. Based on past parades, this year's parade and post-parade festivities were estimated to draw more than 100,000 people. I'm not sure how that figure is calculated, and it seems a bit high to me, but the parade does draw additional pedestrian traffic to the Fremont East area. More than other events that happen east of the downtown canopy? I can't say.

This much I know, I attended the second annual parade in 2011. Back then the parade started south of Fremont Street, worked its way north, crossed Fremont and ended. There was some sort of disco dance party in a lot north of Fremont, but I didn't wander over to it.

There were hundreds of people gathered to participate in the parade that Monday evening. The parade doubled as a costume contest, featuring several categories. Parade participants weren't obligated to enter the contest in order to join the march north to Fremont. I was among those who made the trek, and I didn't enter the contest.

The parade featured a variety of vehicles with a Halloween theme, but overall it wasn't a massive parade. It had the chance to be a great spectacle, but the parade's execution was lacking.

That's because there was a judging stage with "celebrity" judges a block or two before Fremont, as well as bleacher seating for spectators. Participants in each category were judged at this point in the parade, and it created an uneven flow to the parade. For participants like me, who just wanted to make the stroll toward downtown while in costume for the hundreds gathered along the street, the judging station didn't play well. For those who wanted to see the parade participants in action at Fremont Street, it made for a rather unspectacular parade, as best I could tell.

I returned to Vegas for Halloween in 2012 and 2013, but I didn't seek out the parade. Since my 2011 experience, the parade has changed its route, moving its starting point further east on Fremont and working its way back toward the canopy. At the conclusion of the parade a portion of Fremont Street is closed for a street party of sorts. I wandered through the area in 2013, and while it wasn't anything magical, it was a fun way to wander about with costumed characters spending their Halloween in Sin City.

Having a parade on Halloween night is a curious choice. It's not likely to draw families, as children are more likely to want to go trick-or-treating, I would imagine. Since it's a Sin City parade, and at night, it attracts a bit of an element that's not exactly family oriented, so perhaps it's a good thing that it's held on Halloween night and not the last Saturday afternoon of the month.

Since it's always on Halloween, it's on a night that will perpetually draw a larger-than-average crowd to popular gathering places, such as the Fremont Street corridors. I was a bit overwhelmed by my last Halloween under the canopy in 2013. That was a Thursday night, and navigating through the crowd was harder than I had ever experienced.

While I'm skeptical of how big the parade's draw is, and I'm not in a hurry to see or experience the parade again, I hope that the grassroots effort to build a downtown Halloween event will continue, despite this year's hiccup. I have long enjoyed the creativity and fun that the Halloween season brings, and even when Halloween is on a Saturday night here in Minnesota, you won't find any gathering here that rivals Halloween night in Vegas. The parade certainly added to that, and like most things I suspect it was getting better with age. I'll be in Vegas for Halloween 2016, I hope my theory will be proven correct.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Getting around in style

For many, many years my Vegas vacations were sans a rental car. It didn't seem that important to me to drive around town when there were numerous mass transit options.

I did rent a car for a couple days during a January 2007 trip. I had a job interview in Henderson and it made more sense to rent a car than take a cab back and forth. And I was able to use the rental car to explore Red Rock Canyon for the first time.

I'm cheap. I like to save a little cash if I can. But I have my limits.

I started staying off the strip in 2009. I stayed at a timeshare property west of The Orleans, and I did so without the benefit of a rental car. I used shuttles from the timeshare property to The Orleans and city buses across Tropicana to access the strip and Pinball Hall of Fame. It worked for me at the time.

It was my Halloween 2011 trip that changed my mindset about renting a car in Vegas. I wanted to visit area haunted attractions, and the only way to do so reasonably was to rent a car. So I did so, and now the rental car is a necessity for my trips.

I have typically rented my car through Costco. I have a membership, and the rates Costco offers have been better than anything else I could find, no matter how many discount codes I used by booking through an agency's website directly, or how many searches I did through the many booking websites out there.

Costco has partnerships with just four agencies, but it turns out that one of them has been outstanding to deal with.

I used Budget a few times, but didn't love the fact that I had to wait in line and deal with an agent. (I've been told you can bypass the agents if you do some fancy online confirmation prior to your departure.) I also didn't like the fact I got stuck with whatever car they chose for me. I didn't get the choice of a Toyota or a Chrysler, and I didn't get to pick the color. The color shouldn't matter, but I hated getting stuck with a white vehicle.

The first time I rented with Alamo, however, my life changed again. I was able to check in via a kiosk, and didn't have to deal with the hassle of a clerk trying to sell me additional insurance. And upon completing my paperwork at the kiosk I was able to chose any of the available vehicles in my class. Having a choice of vehicles, and colors, is a nice bonus.

And in my experience, Alamo is laid back when it comes to the damage report you have to file when you drive off the lot. It's less of a hassle.

For my 2015 trips to Vegas, however, the Costco rates haven't been so hot. I did use Alamo in May, and rented a mini van at a higher rate than I'm use to paying, as that was the most economical option, even with the reduced gas mileage of the vehicle.

Last week, however, I did something quite different. I ended up using a new company. I rented a car from Sixt, and it worked out well for me.

Sixt is a small company across the street from the main rental car facility. You have to either haul your luggage down the road to their offices or wait for their shuttle van to come by and pick you up. From my experiences, they were quite efficient on both ends of my rental. This extra step was not an inconvenience.

I have been a longtime Costco customer, but for the past 10 months I've also had a Sam's Club membership. I don't plan on being a member of both long term, but I joined Sam's Club because of a deal last December that basically made my first year free. Like Costco, Sam's Club has car rental deals available to its members. It has different deals, and a different protocol for securing them, but with Costco failing to offer me any vehicle for less than $200 during my five-day visit to Vegas, it was hard to pass up renting a full-size vehicle from Sixt for $164.

That full-size vehicle was going to be a Nissan, but the clerk at Sixt offered us a $15/day upgrade. Instead of a Nissan sedan, we could get a BMW convertible. I was reluctant to say yes immediately, but my girlfriend encouraged me to splurge, so I agreed to it. (I do all the driving in Vegas, all she cares is that she feels safe alongside me.) In hindsight I can't believe I hesitated to say yes. When am I ever going to drive a BMW convertible again?

Sixt is a small company, so there isn't a large inventory of vehicles on site. I didn't get to chose the vehicle, but I didn't care, even after seeing the BMW was white. I felt like a high roller, and it was a much more enjoyable vehicle to drive than the 2003 Toyota Camry I drive in Minnesota. My car is fine, but it's no BMW.

So, which would I choose the next time I'm in Vegas, all things being equal? I'd still go with Alamo.

Sixt has a small staff, and when we picked up the BMW, it was quiet. That was a Sunday evening. When dropping off the car, however, we had to wait more than 10 minutes to process the return. That's not a deal breaker, but it's annoying. Alamo processes many car returns each day, and they have it down to a science. It takes about a minute to complete the process.

That's not enough of a reason to avoid Sixt. What scares me about the company is that it doesn't appear it manages its inventory properly.

I can't say for certain, but it appeared that a few people were waiting for their rental vehicle. They clearly weren't waiting for the shuttle back to the airport. And we heard one couple being told that their rental vehicle wasn't due for another hour. Perhaps these folks were there to rent their vehicle early, and therefore getting burned because of it. But I got the sense that on a Friday afternoon the renters were showing up and the vehicles they intended to rent weren't ready to be picked up. That's a proposition I'd rather not face, all things being equal.

My cheap BMW upgrade and minimal hassle with Sixt obviously won't prevent me from renting from the company again. I had a good experience, but assuming I'm not getting a cheap upgrade to a BMW the next time I walk through their door, (I was told that the normal rate to rent the BMW was $80/day – that seems a bit high,) I'd rather go with the efficient, reliable Alamo service I've come to know and love.

But if you should happen to find that Sixt is your best bet, you might find your experience is as satisfying as mine was.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Goodbye to 100-degree heat

I just finished a five-day stint in Las Vegas. Here are some highlights:

• Sunny and hot weather all week long!
• Driving around Vegas with the top down.
• Another trip on the High Roller.
• A road trip to Laughlin. No I'm not making that up.
• Local beer.
• Local tiki room.
• The match play gods did not like me.
• The "Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em" gods liked me.

Some of these highlights will be covered in greater detail in the days to come. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

You can hardly contain yourself

It took me a year-and-a-half to get there, but in May I finally got a look at the Downtown Container Park.

I don't have anything brilliant to say about it. I spent a couple of hours there, and I spent very little during my visit. 

In a nutshell: It's a unique retail and restaurant concept that is well done, and will likely inspire imitations, if it's not already. (Is the Vegas version a replication of the concept?)

DCP is impressive. They took metal containers, the type that are used to ship goods around the world, and fashioned them into a three-level mall. There are plenty of stairways, and an elevator, to help you reach each level. There are a a variety of specialty retailers, as well as several restaurants. There's a playground in the middle of it, and a stage at the far end where they provide entertainment during the evening. 

It's simple, it's unnecessary and it's worth a visit. I wouldn't say that you should add it to your Vegas bucket list, but it's worth seeing if you're downtown.

The shops aren't targeted for the tourist crowd. Sure, plenty of tourists will find their way to DCP, but it's not the place to go for Las Vegas ashtrays and T-shirts. The small shops squeezed into the stacked, adjoining metal containers feature a wide array of products, from socks to jewelry. There are products that would be easy to take home in your suitcase or carry-on bag, but there are things that would pose a challenge to squeeze into said bags when it's time to head to the airport. Keep that in mind.

My favorite shop was Kappa Toys. Sure, they're selling commercial products, stuff that can be found elsewhere, but they cram a lot into that store, offer plenty of things you won't find at your local Target store and seem to have something for everyone, from the youngsters to the young at heart. 

There are a variety of restaurants, and one or two places that only serve beverages, if I recall correctly. I didn't sample any of the food, so I can't say what you should or shouldn't try, but I've read more than one review of DCP and it sounds like there are some good eats to be had. 

I sense that in the summer you had better be careful about what you touch as you walk around. Metal in the desert, that has got to get hot. 

And I wonder how well the shops on the third level do. It's a lot of fun exploring the shops and following the nifty walkways they've created to connect all the shops, but I imagine a lot of people don't end up seeing every shop, and the third level stores don't have the benefit of people walking by like the shops on the ground floor do. 

However they work it out, there wasn't an empty space to be found in May, and I think the concept was designed to offer an affordable way for would-be Trumps to launch their global empire. 

DCP is on Fremont Street, a block past El Cortez as you make your way east of the canopy.

It's worth a visit if you're downtown, especially before the evening shenanigans begin under the canopy. 

I know I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It's better to be lucky than good

During my May trip to Vegas I didn't have very good luck. I didn't even gamble during my first day in town. My Sunday night began with an appearance at the Riviera, and during the time my girlfriend and I were there, we had drinks at the bar. The tables were full for the final night at the Riv, and it looked like a fun atmosphere, but my girlfriend doesn't play cards, so I figured I'd spend an hour playing blackjack on Monday morning.

Of course I arrived on Monday morning to find out the tables were already closed. And I'm not much of a slot machine or video poker player, so I never gambled a final $20 at the Riv.

Four nights of our trip were spent at the Orleans, and the final two nights were downtown at Downtown Grand. I had lousy luck at the Orleans. Really lousy. Luck was not on my side.

I had a few match plays for the Orleans, and I had one left on Thursday morning before we relocated to downtown. My luck had been terrible, so I decided that my luck couldn't be worse by using a match play at the roulette table. And instead of picking red or black, I made my girlfriend pick the color.

The match play was for $10, so I put it and $10 down on the color my girlfriend chose. I won $20 just before I walked out the door of the Orleans. I'm a low roller, so winning $20 on my way out of the casino was a nice consolation prize. I was down about $250 at that point. That's an hour's worth of gambling for some. For me it represents a couple of nights of non-winning blackjack.

I had match plays for downtown, some from the Las Vegas Advisor coupon book. Downtown Grand also gave us match plays since we were hotel guests, so I had a few to play there. I had a pair of $25 match plays and one $10. I didn't play them all at one time, but my girlfriend went three-for-three with them. Three correct calls with match plays netted me $120.

I also cashed in a $25 match play coupon at The D. And sure enough, my girlfriend picked the right color again. (Every bet was red or black. We never picked odd/even or 1-18/19-36.) That was another $50 in my pocket.

Now here's another example of how not chronicling everything immediately after my trip turns out to burn me. I'm not sure where I played the final $10 match play. It had to be downtown, but I can't figure out where. Perhaps I had two $10 match plays for Downtown Grand.

What I do know: I played six match plays on roulette, put up $105 for the bets and won all six of them, netting $210 in the process. According to one online source I found, the odds of betting correctly on six such bets is 74.4 to 1. There's a 1.33 percent chance you'll pick six in a row correctly.

And since we had multiple match plays at Downtown Grand, my girlfriend played a $10 match play with her own money. And of course she lost.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dinner and belly dancing with "Jasmine"

My girlfriend wanted to treat us to a special dinner during our May trip to Vegas, and we decided Thursday night would be the night to dine at Marrakech.

We don't do many fancy dinners during our trips to Vegas. Our nice dinner use to be at The Flame inside El Cortez, and that's because I always had a discount coupon for it. Now that The Flame is gone, we don't have a go-to restaurant, and in searching for interesting places that weren't overhyped celebrity chef restaurants on the strip, my girlfriend found Marrakech.

I vaguely knew of this place. Years ago I knew a woman who had worked there, as a belly dancer. I didn't know where the place was, or much else about it, and never in my wildest dreams did I expect I'd wind up dining there. Perhaps there's more than one Mediterranean restaurant featuring belly dancers in the Vegas area, but I doubt it. 

Marrakech is quite an experience. It's located in a strip mall north of Flamingo on Paradise Road. It's very unassuming from the outside. 

But once you step inside reminders of Sin City are nowhere to be found. It seems rather dark inside, and the dining room area is highly decorated. The dining room is designed to look like the inside of a Moroccan tent, according to the Marrakech website, and I'd say they nailed it. Candles illuminate the dining area, and although it seems rather dark when you first enter, your eyes will eventually adjust to it. 

There's no lunch menu at Marrakech, it's dinner only, and it's a prixe fixe menu. Sure, you can substitute chicken for beef along the way, and they offer vegetarian options, but you eat what they make for you, and you will like it! 

It's a $50 dinner and you have little choice in the matter. If you're a red meat and potato gal, you probably shouldn't dine at Marrakech. But if you enjoy the Mediterranean flavor, you'll love Marrakech.

The dinner includes a sauteed shrimp appetizer that was delicious, a lentil and rice soup that was tasty and a vegetable and dip tray that I enjoyed, and I'm not the biggest fan of raw vegetables. Dipping sauces, be it ranch dressing or hummus – the latter being part of the Marrakech offering – go a long way toward my enjoyment of the uncooked vegetable. 

We were also served a beef kabob and the "royal Moroccan couscous platter with djaj (chicken)." Both were outstanding. Many of the offerings are eaten with your hands. I don't recall if they gave us a spoon for the soup, but I do recall they gave us forks to eat our royal chicken platter.

By the time you've been served the five courses, and eaten your share of bread, you've had a healthy meal. They wrap it all up with a Moroccan pastry stuffed with bananas, nuts and chocolate. 

We skipped the pricey beer, wine and cocktail offerings, but that didn't diminish the experience. The service staff was prompt at filling our water glasses and great all around. 

We dined early in the evening, and the place was far from full. We were seated next to a trio, and could see one other group from our semi-private corner. There might have been another group seated in an area we couldn't see, but that was about it during our visit. And as promised, the restaurant featured a belly dancer that would perform intermittently throughout the evening, sometimes near our table.

The first time she came to our area she beckoned one of us to get up and dance with her. My girlfriend was quick to be a stick in the mud, so I deemed it necessary to get up and be a good sport. Although it's a bit dark in the dining room, my girlfriend managed to get a decent picture of me attempting to mimic the dance moves of the belly dancer. And she posted it on her Facebook page. Her sister showed the picture to her 5-year-old niece who seemed to think I was belly dancing with the Disney princess "Jasmine." 

Marrakech has been around since 1979, according to its website, and they promise a feast for your senses. While it's not a cheap date night dinner, it's a great experience, and well done within the confines of a Paradise Road strip mall. I won't be making a return visit later this month, but I have no doubt I'll be back some day. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Prime rib and cheap sneakers

As I noted once upon a time, summer is short in Minnesota. It's going to be hot and steamy the next few days, but by Labor Day we might be wearing layers of clothing for the remainder of the year.

I haven't taken a lot of time to write this summer, and I have a new Vegas trip on the horizon, and it's less than a month away. So in celebration I should probably finish chronicling my memories from my trip in May.

My May trip was for the closing of the Riviera. From my arrival on Sunday night through the wee hours of Monday night, I was a busy guy. By Tuesday it was time to relax. I spent that afternoon at the Orleans pool and had dinner that night at The Prime Rib Loft.

 I go out of my way for cheap prime rib when I'm in Vegas, and I decided it was time to try a cut above the cafe specials I typically enjoy.

I'm not a food critic, so I can't tell you how succulent the meat was, or how fluffy and delicious the baked potato was. My girlfriend and I both had simple prime rib dinners. I didn't try to eat my weight in prime rib, but there are some hefty cuts available. Our bill was less than $50 for two plates with sides, whatever that entailed. I don't remember if we had drinks of any kind with our meal, but I tend not to wash down my food with beer, wine or spirits. Or soda for that matter.

We were both satisfied with the quality of the meal and the price. We both noted that the cuts of prime rib we received were finer than what you get for $9.99 at a cafe, as they should be, and that the service was top notch. I suspect we'll be going back for dinner later this month.

When I rent a car and spend several days in Vegas I like to take a road trip. During this trip we didn't want to spend a day on the road, so we opted instead to take an evening trip south to the California border.

I made my first visit to Primm, Nev., on May 6, and it was quite an experience.

Never having driven south, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I'd be out in the middle of nowhere, but I had no idea how surreal the experience would be.

Holy crap, Primm is creepy on a weeknight in May.

The area looks cool when you see pictures of it. And it seems like a fun place to stay if you want a cheap casino getaway without all the hustle and bustle of Vegas.

We made the outlet mall our priority. I can imagine the mall does quite well on weekends as people travel back and forth between Vegas and southern California. On a Wednesday night it's almost depressing.

There are plenty of stores, several kiosks and a food court. I can imagine it being busy during the holiday shopping season. It strikes me as a place that people would happily shop at. But on a Wednesday evening, most store employees looked bored out of their gourd. I felt sorry for them.

The mall is attached to the Primm Valley Resort and Casino. It looked like a nice place, although it was a bit quiet. I was there during dinner time, so I didn't expect it to have the vibrancy of Caesar's on a Saturday night, but it was a little too empty for my liking. Little did I know.

My girlfriend found some deals on clothing she was happy with, so with her retail purchases in hand, we set out to find dinner. We bypassed any dining options at the outlet mall and casino and looked next door, at Buffalo Bill's.

Bill's looks like a lot of fun. They have a roller coaster outside the casino, and a couple of other rides somewhere on their grounds, I believe. It's a colorful, decorative building, and inside they play up the old west theme quite a bit. It's old school Vegas, a casino with a distinct theme, and dedication to it.

And it was as dead as a doornail.

I think there were a handful of people gambling in the casino, and it's not a small casino.

There was a small food court area, and one of the restaurants within it was open. It looked like their buffet was open for dinner, too, although I don't know why.

We opted not to eat at Bill's, and wound up eating at The Mad Greek Cafe, near a fast food option or two outside of Primm Valley Casino. The joint touts how great it is, how beloved it is, and it's fine, but it's not special, it's not a bargain and I wouldn't make a point to eat there again.

We finished our depressing visit to Primm at Whiskey Pete's, across the highway from the rest of the action.

Pete's has a cool Bonnie and Clyde display, including their bullet-riddled car from the 1930s. It's a neat display, and it was my favorite thing about the trip to Primm.

It was after 8 p.m. at this point and the casino had no table games open. There was a sign denoting that fact. If you want to gamble at Pete's, you play a machine. There were a handful or two of players, but again, Wednesday night is not the time to visit Primm.

Since we weren't in a hurry to get back to the Orleans that night, I regret that we didn't stop at the Gold Strike Casino on the way north. I should have stopped there just to see it, although I suspect I'd have been disappointed with the ambiance there, too.

During the drive we also passed the well respected M casino, another place I've never been to. That's much closer to Vegas than the Gold Strike, so perhaps I'll find my way there some day.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Surviving Vegas the new-fashioned way

Not so long ago I stumbled upon a Facebook page for a web series called "Surviving Vegas a Buck at a Time." How it came to my attention I really don't remember.

The show calls itself a web-based reality series. It appears to be primarily the work of a duo, which appears to have spent a lot of time putting it all together. As best as I can tell the series was filmed in 2013 and released earlier this year. The 14 episodes are about 10 minutes each, and are all available on the Youtube channel for the series. In addition to the episodes there are several promo videos and bonus videos for each episode, it appears. (I'm still in the process of watching the bonus videos.) They're also in the process of translating the episodes into Spanish, evidently. That seems darn ambitious.

The series features four "buskers," or as I like to call them, "tipsters." The prodcucers profile a couple of older gents who portray Cupid and Gene Simmons, a woman who dons a Strawberry Shortcake outfit which is rather revealing and a guy they dub "Steeler Nation."

Tipsters aren't a new phenomena, but you didn't see them in Vegas five or seven years ago. There was a time when I'd encounter "porn slappers" on the strip and an occasional timeshare hawker. Downtown, I'd rarely encounter anybody soliciting anything. I never saw porn slappers, and don't remember seeing many homeless folk asking for a spare change. That changed several years ago with the emergence of tipsters, although the porn slappers don't seem too interested in marketing toward the penny pinchers associated with the downtown scene. Increasingly I'm seeing a growth in performance art downtown, such as dance crews and puppeteers, as well as people hawking balloon animals and flowers made out of palms, or something like that.

"Surviving Vegas" shows the tipsters at work, but also delves into their personal lives. Each tipster has a different story as to why he or she is working the streets, and they're not simply a group of out-of-work folks with limited skills. While I found Steeler Nation to be the most interesting character, I remember least what his reason is for working the streets.

Besides the main four characters, you will see other tipsters at work now and then, and one episode spends most of its time devoted to several other tipsters.

This web series is not a slick, cable channel production. But it has decent video quality, it's clearly not an amateur production done with a cell phone camera. And the episodes are nicely edited. You won't mistake it for an E! reality series, but the producers of the show would like it to be. They're trying to drum up interest in taking their Youtube videos to the next level. To that end they have a Facebook page dedicated to the show, although it numbers less than 100 likes at this point. Their Twitter account has drawn more interest.

I watched the first episode a while ago, and made time this past week to watch the rest of the series. I wouldn't call it a "must see" series, but there are things the Vegas fanatic will enjoy when watching it, and things that left me disappointed.

As I noted, it's not the most polished of productions, but you don't feel like you're watching amateur video on Youtube. I watched several episodes on my Kindle while spending a night in the hospital recently. I watched the rest on my 50-inch TV using the Youtube channel on my Roku. The video quality is good, and that's important. Watching crappy video is a tough sell to a casual viewer.

The characters are interesting enough to warrant profiling. None of them amazed me, but they're interesting to watch, at least in the small does provided. I'm not sure how well their lives would translate to a cable channel series, but there's some potential, and there are other tipsters out there waiting to be plucked from obscurity and most certainly compelling enough to keep viewers coming back. (There have been documentary movies about tipsters, such as "Buskers; For Love or Money," and "Confessions of a Superhero," both of which I've seen, and enjoyed.)

The tipsters talk about the ups and downs of their business. Some days they make great money, some days they don't. They don't talk a lot about how much they make, which makes some sense. If I were being profiled about working for tips, and presumably not reporting the income derived, I'd not want to talk a lot about how much I make. There is a bonus video that I have yet to see, in which they allegedly talk about their incomes. I'll be watching that one when I'm done with this.

There are several things that left me disappointed, or wanting more, depending upon how you look at it.

Steeler Nation is more of a performance artist than the other tipsters. Cupid works the crowd quite a bit, and it seems to benefit him. Steeler Nation's character is all about working the crowd. He wears a Pittsburgh Steeler uniform and pushes a mop on the pavement along the strip. He frequently takes the mop and uses it to wipe the pavement with a jersey representing another team. And he'll engage folks in banter about their favorite team. What is unclear to me is how he makes money. I don't recall seeing him receive a tip, as people don't seem to stop for a picture with him, they only seem to stop to gripe about his using a jersey representing their favorite team as his mop. His schtick gets people to stop, but I didn't see how insulting the fans of 31 other NFL teams makes him a lot of money.

There are episodes that show the challenges of being a tipster. During filming of the series they were being hassled about where they stood on Fremont Street in relation to the entrances of the casinos. And the debate about freedom of speech and their right to be on Fremont Street is touched upon. But many of the challenges of being a tipster, practical ones, are not addressed, at least not fully.

The tipsters will talk about working long days, sometimes in the summer heat, to make money. These people have to eat, have to drink and have to pee, just like the tourists. Do they stop for an hour to duck into a casino cafe for a bite to eat? Are the casinos chasing them off their properties if they want to come in and use the restroom? I got the impression that the casinos aren't too friendly to the tipsters, so what do the tipsters do when nature calls?

I imagine it's easy for Cupid to quickly duck into and out of a restroom. But some of those folks are wearing cumbersome costumes. What do you do if you're working as a Transformer in downtown Las Vegas and need to shed the costume to answer the call of nature?

It's gotta be awfully tough to work long hours on a summer evening in Vegas. What are the practical challenges to doing so?

I've seen cell phone videos on Youtube and walked past an argument or two between tipsters, as they get pissy about their territory being infringed upon by a competitor. This probably goes on regularly. There's got to be some territorial pissing that goes on amongst the tipsters, so what happens when a new Superman or Spider-Man arrives on the scene? How easy is it for a rookie to infringe upon the real estate that so many are already laying claim to?

More than a few times you'll see shots of Cupid working on Fremont Street, and standing near him is a guy holding a sign, asking for donations to help take care of his 13-month-old child. If you've walked Fremont the past few years you'll have encountered plenty of people who are asking for donations, claiming to be homeless and/or military veterans. Some of them are probably making false claims to gain sympathy, but I'm sure some of them are legitimately homeless and down on their luck. They wouldn't stand out there with the tipsters if they weren't benefactors of generosity from the tourists, but how do they feel about having to stand begging for a dollar or two while competing for those dollars against cartoon characters, celebrity impersonators and sexy showgirls? Are they bitter when they see a tipster raking in tips in exchange for photos while they're passed by, hoping for a few dollars of generosity?

Perhaps my questions weren't of interest to the producers, or perhaps they're questions that the producers skipped, hoping to answer another day, should they find the time and financial reward they're seeking. You can't burn through all your ideas in one batch of Youtube videos, no doubt. So perhaps the best is yet to come, should there be another chapter.

Despite the mediocre theme song that you're subjected to during just about every video they produce, there's plenty to entertain the Vegas enthusiast, and it doesn't require a major commitment. The final minute or so of each episode – except for the final episode – has closing credits and an "in the next episode" feature that's worth skipping. So you can burn through the 14 episodes much quicker than a season of "Orange is the New Black."

I may not be sold on the viability of this web series as a major cable channel reality show, but it's clear that there was a lot of time put into this project without the benefit of a corporate bankroll. I may not be its biggest fan, but I was entertained enough to want to see what the producers could do next. I hope I get the chance.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The more things change

When I started this blog, I predicted that my output would be light during the summertime.

Yes, I would like an audience, but no, I'm not going to turn my blog into a part-time job in order to have 100 loyal readers.

And not to my surprise, I haven't written much since I returned from Vegas in early May. I still intend to recap some of my adventures from that trip, and perhaps I will do so in August, as my regular summer routine will be disrupted thanks to surgery that I knew was coming at some point this year. I'd rather wait until winter, but I don't have a choice. Such is life.

While I will continue to write sporadically, my favorite daily resource for Vegas news, Vegas Chatter, will no longer be churning out content. The world learned of this earlier today.

Vegas Chatter shared information of interest to the tourist community, and plenty of it. Some of it came through sharing information reported by news sources, some of it came through press releases handed out to anyone willing to help promote a show, restaurant, resort or tourist trap. Some of it was little more than speculation based upon somebody's inside source. Some of it was simple firsthand experience, be it the recent chronicling of the final 24 hours of the Riviera or a review of a show or restaurant.

Vegas Chatter was a simple website. It provided information that was easy to access and search, and allowed for reader feedback on individual articles. There's a Facebook and Twitter account for the site, of course, and probably other social media resources I don't use. (I just looked at their page. They have a button for Foursquare. Foursquare! Who  uses that in 2015?) But the website remained simple. Sure, there were ads on each page, but they weren't intrusive. I rarely noticed them.

I don't know much about running a website, but history shows us that news and information sites are not an easy proposition.

Presumably Vegas Chatter was paying its content creators for their time. Whether that compensation was generous or paltry (likely the latter), there needs to be revenue to pay those people. Unless the website is being funded as a public service by a very wealthy benefactor, it has to be difficult to sell enough advertising on a website to support it. Many "web only" news sites have failed to generate enough revenue, through advertising or other vehicles, to support the operation.

I'm not sure what the business model was for Vegas Chatter, but it appeared that advertising was the only form of revenue for the website. I didn't read the website much until a year or two ago, so perhaps there were other revenue generators affiliated with Vegas Chatter once upon a time. All I know is that the site hasn't offered me any sort of premium access or VIP member benefits for an annual fee, sold merchandise of any kind or tried to entice me to use its site to book my next vacation.

And today we learned that Vegas Chatter and its sister websites, under the ownership of media heavyweight Condé Nast, are being shuttered at the end of this month. Given what I just detailed, this shouldn't come as a surprise. There appears to be a healthy amount of daily web traffic to the Vegas Chatter site, but traffic doesn't simply translate to dollars.

The forthcoming Vegas Chatter shuttering is nothing new. The Internet's history is littered with stories of websites that were built – sometimes as nothing more than a labor of love – into a successful entity, one that became too desirable for a well-funded corporation to ignore.

It's now being spun off as an independent company, but Paypal has long been part of the eBay portfolio. And why is that? Somebody was smart enough to figure out how to offer secure, instant online auction payments, which buyers and sellers appreciated. Seeing that success, eBay attempted to create its own rival platform, but Paypal was already entrenched in the eBay culture. So eBay bought Paypal and integrated it into its auction platform, eventually making it the mandatory platform for buyers and sellers of eBay's auctions.

I'm less familiar with the story of Cheapo Vegas, but from what I've understood, the website was started as a labor of love, providing useful information about what Vegas casinos and hotels did and didn't offer. And if you wanted to know where to find cheap eats, the site was good for that, too. It seemed to be a popular site that was well regarded in the online community.

With a loyal audience, Cheapo Vegas was purchased by an ownership that wanted to monetize it by encouraging you to book your Vegas vacation plans through the website. The name was the same, the mascot of the website remains in place, but the website's sensibility and charm has been lost. The site is still active today, but its Facebook and Twitter accounts have been inactive for about four months, and the website's blog has seen little activity in those past four months, giving what remaining fans the website has little reason to visit it. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cheapo Vegas disappear from the online landscape in the next two years.

Blogs are a classic example of labors of love. I have been a longtime reader of The Vegas Solo, a blog that has provided a wealth of information to Vegas visitors, solo or otherwise. It's clearly not a cash cow, there's barely a trace of advertising to be found on the site. Perhaps the financial benefit comes in the form of a tax write off for each trip to Vegas, during which content is gathered for the blog. Regardless, after years of providing weekly content, its creator scaled back her production, and I'm guessing that blogging about her love of Vegas became more labor than she cared for.

Ten years ago newspapers were struggling with the question of how to provide their content online while still reaping the benefits of the printed product. Newspapers don't make money off of subscriptions and single-copy sales, that money just reduces the costs of circulation, printing and delivery. The money is made via ad sales, and the ad sales for printed newspapers have spiraled down the toilet during the past 15 years or so. Newspapers continue to struggle with how to remain viable when so much of their ad revenue has been lost, forever, to the Internet. Charging for access to the content, as more newspapers are attempting to do, doesn't solve the problem.

Is it any surprise that information-heavy websites such as Vegas Chatter are not financially viable businesses for the Condé Nasts of the world? Not at all.

Today's Vegas Chatter announcement is another sad reminder of that.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Monday night at The Linq

Hours after the Riviera closed its doors last month I was making my first visit to the retail and entertainment mecca known as The Linq.

I don't spend a lot of time on the strip these days. I went to see "La Reve – The Dream" at Wynn last November, and we stayed two nights at the Stratosphere (which I'll never do again), which included a viewing of "Pin Up" (which was better than I expected). Thanks to my girlfriend I've found my way to the strip a few times the past couple of years for things I wouldn't do if I were traveling solo.

The Linq had never been on my "must see" list, and despite my girlfriend's fear of heights, she was fascinated by the High Roller last November, so we made a pilgrimage to the big wheel.

But first we stopped off at Brooklyn Bowl. OK, that was at least second. We stopped off at some fun, interesting retail store, the name of which I don't remember. It had cool stuff, and it had a book I was interested in, but I wasn't going to carry it around all night, so I didn't buy it.

We went to Brooklyn Bowl because my girlfriend wanted to see something resembling live entertainment on this trip, and we didn't make it a priority in May given we went to three shows during three nights last November. (The third being Gordie Brown at the Golden Nugget. Not good. The tickets were comps and I still wanted my money back.)

Our compromise was to go to a show at Brooklyn Bowl. On Monday night, the night before Cinco de Mayo, we went to see Mariachi El Bronx.

It's what you think it is. It's mariachi music.

This seems like an odd fit for a live music venue that sells itself as a punk music haven. Why a bowling alley is attractive to the punk music lovers of America I don't know, but that's what they're going for.

Brooklyn Bowl is a second floor venue, featuring 10 or so bowling lanes and a big open floor in front of a stage. If you bowl during a concert your back is to the music, but they have live video of it on big screens above the pins. It seems like a fun way to bowl. I'm guessing they play music videos on those screens during the daytime hours.

From what I could tell, the bowling ain't exactly cheap at Brooklyn Bowl. You rent a lane by the hour, and I think the range was $20-25 per hour, depending upon when you're bowling. Live music in the house, it costs more to bowl, evidently. Perhaps the rate is no worse than four individual games at a premium price, I don't know, I'm not a bowler.

Overall I still find the merger of bowling and punk music to be odd.

As for the non-punk band playing that night, it turns out that Mariachi El Bronx is a band that developed from a punk band called The Bronx, so says Wikipedia. From what I can tell, it's basically an alter ego of the punk band, and it seems like the mariachi version of The Bronx is doing pretty well, and keeping pretty busy. MEB has performed on "The Late Show with David Letterman," and the lead singer spoke about having recently toured somewhere overseas.

Now that I know that MEB is an alter ego of a punk band, (I didn't that night,) the lead singer's comment made sense. He said something about people calling them posers, and scoffed at it. Other than the fact much of the band is white guys (and a white woman), I didn't think it was fraudulent. They seemed to do a good job playing mariachi music, although what do I know about that?

They played for a little over an hour, and the small crowd there that night seemed to be into it. Some folks looked like they were there for a punk rock concert. And there were some elders in the audience. Plenty of people were younger than me, but I didn't look like an old guy trying to fit in with youngsters. It was quite a mix of people. I'd estimate the crowd at somewhere south of 300.

The show ended and it was time to go to the High Roller. The giant Ferris wheel takes you 550 feet in the air. Unlike a Ferris wheel, however, you're not in an open-air cabin. It's enclosed, and they have a video narration playing inside as you make your revolution.

This giant wheel is set at the back side of The Linq. It offers views up and down the strip, although they're not the best views. At night the wheel lights up and changes colors.

The High Roller is a major attraction, but it's not doing the numbers that the Caesar's empire envisioned. Since opening more than a year ago they've run countless deals trying to pack up to 40 people in the cabins. (They claim the capacity is 40, but there's no way 40 people can stand around inside a cabin and enjoy the rotation.)

Among the deals have been ticket discounts through the daily deal sites, and I procured a pair of tickets that way. Two nighttime tickets were less than $60. (Nighttime tickets are more expensive.) And our tickets were for the booze cruise.

After the High Roller showed signs of underperforming, the geniuses running it decided to start offering cocktails on a portion of the cabins. There's a bar with a limited selection of canned beverages and a bartender that will mix drinks with the limited inventory of available liquors. You can drink as many as you can get your hands on during your 30-minute loop through the sky.

We had about a dozen people in our cabin, and once everybody had a drink, you didn't have to wait long for your next one. Our bartender was sharp, she would remember each person's drink of choice. I knocked off six or seven mixed drinks, mostly Malibu sunrise, during the rotation. I think I took a can of beer for the road.

Booze and a 30-minute spin 550 feet into the sky for less than $30 per person, I have no complaints. That's not something you can do many places. I won't make it a priority to return during my next trip, but if there's a discounted ticket to be had....

As for The Linq, I didn't hit up any of bars, restaurants or other gimmicky places. Most of our time was spent at Brooklyn Bowl and at the High Roller. I should have set foot in O'Sheas to see what they're passing off in the name of the former low-roller casino that was closed down three years earlier to make way for The Linq.

I'm not in a hurry to return to The Linq, but you never know who will be rocking the maracas the next time I'm in Vegas.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

One last morning at the Riviera

Count me among those who was there when the celebrated Riviera casino and hotel closed its doors at noon Monday, May 4.

I showed up about 10 a.m. that morning, which was later than I wanted to arrive. Breakfast was too important to skip before heading over.

I parked in the ramp once again and noticed several people lined up to check out. I guess some people still do that.

It appeared that the main restaurant(s) in the casino were serving that morning. I was quite surprised, however, to find that the table games were all closed. I wanted to play a little blackjack that morning, but it wasn't in the cards. As a result, the automated craps machine was seeing more action than any weekday morning in years.

My first order of business was to connect with Sam. Sam stayed at the Riv during its final night. He does not live in Nevada, but he visits Vegas regularly, more so than I realized. I had only known him through his photos and, more recently, writing. He has shared a variety of great photos over the years, and now pens a few stories for Vegas Chatter. I had corresponded with him a bit prior to May 4, and he suggested contacting him when I arrived that morning.

As we were talking near the bar a few people he knew passed by and stopped to greet him, both local and out-of-towners, if I recall correctly. After a few minutes the group was ready to move on, as they planned to visit the "secret pool" above the casino. It was my mission to visit this pool area, and I mentioned to Sam I was going to tag along with the group. He agreed not only to join us, but took us up by the elevator that dumps you out right on the pool deck.

The secret pool was a separate pool area designed in the 1980s, but never used as a pool, as it had a structural flaw that resulted in it leaking into the casino when they attempted to fill it. Why they were unable to correct this flaw is unclear, but Sam knows a lot about the pool's history, and he shared it not so long ago on Vegas Chatter.

We took pictures of each other in the empty pool and talked for 15-20 minutes while standing around in the pleasant Vegas air. A few of us picked up a loose pool tile from the empty pool to take home as a souvenir. I had to have one. It's an odd Riviera souvenir, and one not many people own, I suspect.

I wish I had taken pictures of the pool from different angles. Sam's article shows the pool from several angles. Why I didn't take similar pictures I can't explain.

Eventually our group disbanded and Sam headed back to his room to pack up. I went back to the casino floor and walked around, waiting far too long for a $2 bottle of whatever beer they had left at the bar.

Outside the casino a crew was removing the "Crazy Girls" bronze sculpture prior to the casino closing. A bunch of people, as well as local TV crews, took photos and video of its removal from the casino wall. It was said this bronze sculpture weighed hundreds of pounds. I don't doubt it, as it took several men to transfer the sculpture to a trailer.

I watched TV reporters interview folks gathered outside the Riv that morning, or do live reports for their midday newscasts. I would have made a great interview, I'm sure, but nobody asked me for an interview. Their loss.

Inside the casino the food court was quiet. None of the restaurants were open that morning. I walked by the main pool and workers were putting up a fence around its perimeter. My theory is that they didn't want a group of protestors jumping in at noon when they were told the casino was closed. For some reason there were several $1 bills on the bottom of the pool in the 9-feet-deep end. Remember the glory days of hotel pools, when you could dive into a deep end. The old Frontier had a pool that was 12 feet deep on one end, if I recall correctly. There might still be one of those old, deep pools around, but I wouldn't know where.

A couple of the shops in the back of the Riv had merchandise on sale, but they weren't really trying to liquidate the inventory. I'm guessing the inventory was going to be packed up and sold elsewhere.

I'm not a very bold person, but I did venture up an escalator in the back of the property. The escalator was not running, and clearly it hadn't run in quite some time, as there was visible dust on the steps. Up at the top I found myself looking at the Riv's old buffet. I knew it had a buffet, and from what I had heard in recent years, it wasn't very good.

I stood at the front counter and surveyed the area. It looked like it had only been recently shut down. Chairs were sitting upside down on top of tables, the buffet stations looked clean and ready to be put to use and there were a few empty pans sitting in a stack. I'm pretty sure the buffet had been closed for a few years, but you'd think they had just shut it down a month before closing the casino. Had I been adventurous I would have walked back into the kitchen. I wouldn't have seen anything fascinating, I'm sure, I've been inside commercial kitchens. But I probably would have found  a lot of kitchen equipment still inside. I'm guessing the pots, pans, plates, utensils, as well as stoves, blenders and refrigerators were all still sitting there. I'll never know for sure.

I wouldn't be surprised, either, if the phone at the front counter was still operational.

I returned to the main casino for the closing, and the first announcement that the casino would close came five minutes before noon. Then another came at noon. Some folks, clearly longtime and former employees, had gathered together. There were a few cheers and hugs at noon.

Since the table games were closed, people decided to stand inside the pit and pose for a picture, as if they were the dealer. The craps machine was full of players, and a few minutes after noon a casino manager told the players that they had to cash out when the game "sevened out." I didn't stick around to see the game end.

As I slowly made my way toward the back of the property I watched as maintenance personnel began shutting off slot and video poker machines, and I passed a few people still feeding credits into operating machines. It was 10 or 12 minutes past noon as I was finally exiting the casino area, and there were a handful of players who had not yet been chased off their machine. I get not wanting to give up a hot machine, or knowing that your machine is just about to finally pay off, but to sit there trying to feed the machines minutes after the casino is closing seems a bit ridiculous.

Security personnel were locking the front doors at noon. They flushed everyone out the back of the building, where there was a long line waiting for cabs. I guess nobody planned for a mass exodus at noon, as there was a shortage of cabs to meet the demand.

Before I left I picked up some $1 and $5 casino chips from the cage. I needed just one $1 chip, but my friends wanted a $20 mix of chips, so I walked out with $21 of unredeemed chips.

I was a bit disappointed overall by the final morning at the Riv. I had been at the closing of O'Sheas three years earlier and it was quite a festive atmosphere. In discussing my observations with one of Sam's acquaintances a plausible theory emerged. When O'Sheas closed, it was with the intention of recreating it as part of the Linq development, and the casino was part of the Caesar's portfolio, a major, albeit debt-ridden, casino conglomerate. The Riv, conversely, wasn't part of a major chain, and its ownership was merely cashing out. Although it could have wrung several thousands of dollars out of the casino prior to closing, all that extra revenue was merely drops on the $190 million bucket, and therefore not worth a lot of effort.

Since the Riv was a bit isolated from the rest of the strip, it didn't have the same volume of traffic walking by its doors on closing day. O'Sheas, however, had plenty of foot traffic at center strip when it closed.

Although a bit disappointed by the overall party atmosphere, and the lack thereof, I still enjoyed my time, and am glad I planned a trip that allowed me to be there for the final hours of the Riv.

A few parting shots:

• The Riviera's once-active Twitter account is locked and dormant. Not really a surprise.

• About 10 days after it closed, a liquidator started selling off the contents of the Riv. Most reports are that the stuff is priced too high, although plenty of stuff has been sold. I wouldn't have expected the sale to last into June, but last I heard, it's still open.

The sale has provided access to all sorts of areas the common man never sees, from penthouse rooms to behind-the-scenes areas. Photos posted online show all sorts of interesting areas of the casino. Some, such as offices, looked like they had been abandoned in haste. Stacks of old documentation appear to be left sitting anywhere and everywhere.

While it was fun to be there for the Riv's closing, at this point I think I'd trade the experience for a chance to walk the hallways of the old building today.

If you're interested in some great pics of the abandoned Riv, check out the Twitter feed of @_Lucky45.

• As has been reported, a 48-year-old woman took advantage of the liquidation sale to commit suicide by jumping off of one of the towers. She landed near a pool, although it's not clear to me which pool it was. And it doesn't matter. It's always sad to hear stories like that, and it's an unfortunate footnote to the closing of the Riv.

• I tweeted several pics that morning, and some day I'll upload them to some online platform. I wasn't sure how many people would notice, or care, but it was nice to know that my work was followed/appreciated by a few people, particularly @VertigoDragon, who retweeted many of my pics. Thanks for sharing my labor of love.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

One last night at the Riviera

I'm slow to recap my recent Vegas trip, but tonight I will finally chronicle a few memories from the final hours of the Riviera.

I arrived at the Riv sometime after 10 p.m. Vegas time on Sunday night. My flight arrived a couple hours earlier, and the only thing on my agenda that night was a cameo at the Riv.

With my girlfriend accompanying me we drove over from the Orleans and entered from the parking ramp side of the building. People were still checking in at 10 p.m. on the night before closing. That surprised me.

There was decent action in the casino that night, much better than a typical Sunday night, I'm sure. The table games were lively and full, and there were plenty of people congregating around the big casino bar. The bartenders didn't dazzle me with their hustle, and the guy serving us didn't seem very jovial, but he did his job. I'm sure it sucks knowing your longtime source of employment is about to disappear, but the tips were good that night, and most of us seemed in fine spirits, so why not enjoy the atmosphere?

As I had read, drinks were cheap. Any bottles of beer they had were $2, and they were pouring mixed drinks for $2. And they were pouring generously. They poured plenty of Captain Morgan in my cocktails. Down the street that drink would have cost me about $15 that evening. Ironically they still charged my girlfriend $2.75 for the one diet cola she ordered.

Plenty of people were taking pictures of the bronze butts outside. The bronze sculpture of women's backsides was installed in homage to the long running "Crazy Girls" show, a show I saw in January 1997 during my first visit to Vegas. I wasn't blown away by the craziness, that much I remember.

The Pinball Hall of Fame machines had already been removed, so that was a bummer for me, but not a surprise. Most of the dining spots in the food court were open, and there wasn't much happening there. The pizza joint was still charging about $5 a slice, despite the lack of a crowd lining up for the hot pie.

It had been a long day and I wanted to make a point to return by mid-morning on Monday, so after an hour or so we departed.

I had read that the final night of a casino is a huge party, so I was a bit underwhelmed by the turnout at the Riv. I know, it was a Sunday night, and it was on the north end of the strip, but I expected a little more than what I got. I wasn't too disappointed, however, as I knew Monday morning would provide me with a huge party.

I'll save the Monday morning finale for my next chapter.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Vegas, conquered

Twelve hours ago I was playing pinball in Las Vegas.

I have returned from six nights in Sin City, and here are a few hightlights:

Sunday evening:
• An hour or so during the final night of the Riviera

• More than two hours at the Riviera as they closed the doors 
• A Mariachi el Bronx concert at Brooklyn Bowl
• A ride on the High Roller

• Dinner at the Prime Rib Loft in the Orleans

• A cameo in Primm

• Dinner at Marrakech 

• Container Park
• A whole lot of Fremont Street

• Pinball Hall of Fame
• Traditional "last supper" at In-N-Out Burger

The trip included a couple of afternoons at the Orleans pool. It was supposed to include pool time every afternoon, but the weather didn't quite cooperate. 

I will elaborate on some, if not all, of the aforementioned highlights in the blogs to come. And I will also explain how I managed to hit all three of my $25 match plays and three $10 match plays, thanks to my good luck charm.

And if you've seen the Twitter feed, @vegasinsight, you've seen pics from the final hours of the Riv. Some day I'll find a way to share some of those via my blog, as well as through a separate website. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Goodbye Riviera

I don't have a lot of great memories of the Riviera, or a lot of insight into how the iconic strip property evolved, and devolved, over the decades, but I do have a few memories of my time there.

My first trip to Vegas was in January 1997. I was on a charter package, and they were selling show tickets during the flight. My buddy and I bought two tickets to "Crazy Girls." It sounded like a lot of fun for a couple of 20-something guys. 

I don't remember much about the show all these years later, but I do remember that I wasn't blown away by the craziness, or the number of girls dancing up a storm. Was it topless? Hell if I remember. It was a small cast, that danced and did routines to music. It didn't leave me wanting to come back for more. 

Back in the days when there was pedestrian traffic at the north end of the strip, the Riviera had an area, almost separate from the casino if I recall correctly, for nickel slots and other low-rolling gamblers. It seemed to be a busy place, and it had a concession stand with cheap eats. I'm pretty sure the quality of the eats was in line with the price, but it seemed to be a good draw. I can't figure out why that wasn't worth maintaining during the Riv's declining years. 

When poker became all the rage about a decade ago there was a "poker room" in every casino. I played in a weekday morning tournament at the Riv several years ago. It drew but a few tables of players, at the most. I think it was 2007. It wasn't a bad draw for a weekday morning in January, all things considered. I didn't win any money. I might have foolishly folded a hand I should have called with. 

I stayed for two nights at the Riv about five years ago. I was planning a trip to Vegas and had two nights booked at Orleans. I wasn't sure where I was staying the rest of my trip. I ended up staying a third night at Orleans and then spending my final two nights at the Riv because I had learned of some online promotion offering two free nights, simply by signing up for them via the Riv's website. It was that simple. I booked those two nights about two weeks before my trip. That worked out nicely. 

My room wasn't bad, but it did show signs of its age. I don't remember what tower I was in, and I didn't ask for any special accommodations. Based upon that stay, I wasn't anxious to pay for a room at the Riv again any time soon, and I wasn't going to be comped a room by them, I was certain. I don't think I ended up gambling in their casino during my stay. 

I have visited the Riv a few times in recent years solely for the purpose of playing pinball. I loved having 24-hour access to pinball at the Riv, courtesy of the Pinball Hall of Fame. I didn't exploit that benefit enough, unfortunately. 

I ate a meal at the Riv's food court during a solo trip a few years ago. Damn depressing. Eating in a mostly empty food court is a depressing feeling. I wondered how any of those little restaurants made enough to pay the monthly bills. My theory was that their rent was free, as it was the only way the Riv could keep a food court open. 

Speaking of paying the rent, during that hotel stay about five years ago I walked around the back of the property and saw there were a few shops back there. A souvenir stand with sunscreen and other products you might need for an afternoon at the pool, that made sense. There was also a tattoo parlor, which claimed it is "world famous." Sure, they all are. 

Honestly, who seeks out a tattoo parlor in the back of the Riviera? How did they build enough of a business in such a lousy location to pay the rent? The economics of it made no sense to me.

A year or two ago I was in the Riv for an hour prior to heading home. It was a weekday afternoon, I think, but damn, the casino was quiet. There were but a few blackjack tables open, and they had $10 minimums. That seemed rather odd to me. 

The Riv has a lot of history, an old school vibe and once was an entertainment and vacation mecca. In recent years it became a cheap alternative for people who really wanted to stay on the strip or needed relatively easy access to the convention center. 

When word of its impending doom came earlier this year, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone who has been inside the joint in recent years. The writing was on the wall. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Other game shows in Vegas

When I wrote my previous column about the game show history of Las Vegas, I noted that there were probably a few things I wasn't aware of, or had forgotten.

A search of Vegas Chatter informed me of something I didn't know, "Cash Cab" taped episodes in Las Vegas several years ago.

A game show enthusiast noted that "Las Vegas Gambit" was taped in Vegas. Turns out it was at the Tropicana, the same casino where the current run of "Let's Make A Deal" got its start.

And the Wikipedia article for Gambit noted that a show called "Dealer's Choice" taped part of its two-year run in Vegas, too. Like LMAD, Dealer's Choice started at the Tropicana before moving to Hollywood.

That's it, I'm done reminiscing about game shows in Vegas. If you know of one I forgot, please share it in the comments!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vegas game show history

There's a multi-state lottery game show that recently started airing, and it's taped in Vegas.

"Monopoly Millionaires' Club" is taped at the Rio, and it's basically several games of chance that offer big cash prizes if you beat the odds. Contestants are people in the audience who qualified for the show via their local state lottery. Details about it can be found at Wikipedia. For the moment, there's a second Wikipedia article about it.

The first episode is available on YouTube. (See below) I sampled about half of it before I started this column.

The show offers some big cash prizes, and the games in which they are awarded are loosely based upon the Monopoly board game. The big hook is a $1 million prize, presumably at the end of the show. I'll know more after I finish writing this blog.

The show would be boring to watch if not for the big cash prizes during each game. It ain't "Jeopardy!" There's no trivia or knowledge required to play the game. It's not "The Price is Right." You can't play along, trying to guess the price of a bag of rice. The fact people are gambling to win big cash prizes is the only reason the show is appealing. If the top prize were $10,000, people would line up to be a contestant, but few people would watch.

Big cash prizes are an easy way to draw viewers to an otherwise uninteresting game. (See also: "Deal or No Deal")

What bugs me about the show is that it, like most attempts at some form of a game show during the past 15 years, relies upon an actor/comedian to host it. In this case it is Billy Gardell, who is currently starring on the CBS show "Mike and Molly." Usually the chosen host is a known actor/comedian who doesn't have a hell of a lot going on. Drew Carey had hosted a forgettable high stakes game show for CBS prime time when he was tapped to replace Bob Barker. Bob Saget wasn't doing much when he was asked to host my favorite big money prime time game, "1 vs. 100." Howie Mandell wasn't doing a lot of talent show judging when he was handed "Deal or No Deal."

Gardell isn't bad, but as a game show aficianado, it still bugs me that he was tapped to host the show. Ironically the show uses Todd Newton, who does have a game show host resume –– albeit for second-tier game shows and live stage shows based upon TV game shows –– as its co-host. He does what appear to be pre-recorded bits with folks playing simple games for cash prizes, separate from the action at the Rio. I've never been a big fan of Newton, and his overly enthusiastic celebration of a $10,000 win actually makes me thankful that Gardell is the host of the main game.

So the Monopoly game show is now taping in Vegas. It's not the first. I'm not an expert on this topic, but I know of a few other instances where games shows made Vegas their home.

As noted previously, the current rendition of "Let's Make a Deal" began its run at Tropicana.

Now and again "Wheel of Fortune" will tape a couple of weeks from one of the casinos. The recent episodes I saw were taped at the Venetian.

"The Price is Right" doesn't take its show on the road like WOF, but for its 30th anniversary there was a special show taped at the Rio.

In the early 1990s, as daytime game shows were falling out of favor, Caesar's Palace was the setting for a short-lived NBC game show called "Caesar's Challenge."

I don't remember this, but the final season of the original run of "Hollywood Squares" was taped at the Riviera in the early 1980s. I read host Peter Marshall's autobiography and he wrote a bit about that year, including a story about how he had an incredible run of luck gambling in the casino one night (roulette, I think) and was mysteriously robbed of his winnings while asleep in his hotel room. I might have that story wrong, but that's what I recall. I enjoyed Marshall's book, I should read it again.

Without researching the subject, those are the game shows I'm aware of that have a tie to Las Vegas.

What did I miss?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My price was wrong

I wish I could forego my knack for long-winded reminiscing as I revisit another chapter in Las Vegas game show history, but that's not possible.

For several years there was a "The Price is Right" stage show in Vegas. It was an afternoon show, and it was a bastardized version of the TV game show America loves.

As a lifelong game show fan, I attended several TPIR tapings in Hollywood. Six of them, to be exact, over three separate trips about 15 years ago, including one about two weeks after 9-11. So many people had canceled travel plans because of 9-11 that the usual flock of would-be contestants didn't show up for the taping. Oh, they filled the studio with an audience, but it wasn't quite the circus outside the studio that most people experience.

Six shows, and not one call to "come on down."

Several years ago the folks at Caesar's had a ticket deal where you could purchase a 48-hour pass – for about $115, tax included – for shows in the Caesar's empire. Well, any of the second-tier shows. If you wanted to go to one of their premium shows, you could buy a ticket at a discount.

I was on a solo trip to Vegas, so I bought the "all-stage pass," or whatever they called it, and used it to see six or seven afternoon, evening and late night shows.

You had exactly 48 hours to redeem your pass for tickets, and you had to show up at the box office prior to the show for a ticket. If it turned out the show was sold out (which wasn't an issue) you were out of luck. I used it to see several shows, including the Price is Right stage show.

I told myself I'd never pay to see the Price is Right fantasy camp when I've been to the real thing. But given I had bought the pass, and my afternoon show options were limited, I decided I might as well see the stage show. I timed it so that I bought my 48-hour pass shortly before the Wednesday afternoon show, then came back on Friday to cash in my pass for a ticket as early as I could do so at the box office for that day's show. That allowed me to see the 2:30 show both Wednesday and Friday afternoon, despite the fact that the pass hit the 48-hour expiration before the start of Friday's show. There was no Thursday show, otherwise I would have been there for it, too.

I had read enough reviews via Trip Advisor to know the secrets to this stage show. If you were lucky enough to play a game, you played for modest prizes, yet the games were trickier than on TV. A progressive game that has cash prizes ("It's in the Bag") is played for $16,000 on TV. I think the top prize during the stage show was $2,400, and it seemed to be ridiculously impossible to intelligently play the game until completion and pocket $2,400. You have the option to stop along the way, and I would have stopped at $300 had I been on stage to play the game, it was that difficult.

They chose everyone randomly to participate, and four people would be called to contestant's row to bid on a small prize and win the right to go up on stage. You didn't get to stay in contestant's row if you lost out, they pulled four new people each time.

The show was in Bally's big theater, big enough to seat hundreds of people. The theater was less than half full, however. I'd estimate it drew a crowd of about 250 per day.

On my first day I was the first person called, and I was able to take the coveted fourth spot in contestant's row. We were bidding on some speaker system, and even though I bid last and was trying to be strategic, I bid too high in bidding over one of my competitors. The prizes were mostly in the $200 range, and the others seemed to know this, as we weren't getting bids over $500. At this point I don't remember what game I would have played had I been on stage. Needless to say I was disappointed, but I wasn't having much luck at blackjack during that trip, so this was par for the course.

At the end of the day everybody had a chance to be randomly called up on stage for the showcase. Two people were called, but I wasn't one of them. The secret to the showcase was that they made it seem like it was expensive, but in reality it was between $14,000 and $15,000. Unlike the TV show, both contestants privately bid on the same showcase, which included a bunch of shares of a stock that sounded expensive, a Mexican vacation that sounded expensive and an economy car. You'd think the economy car would be worth at least $15,000, but it must have been the most stripped-down version of a compact car. The trip was probably far less fancy than it sounded (it was probably three nights, no frills) and the stock might have sounded impressive because it was a well known name, (Yahoo, I think,) but it clearly wasn't a blue chip.

If a winning bid came within $100 of the actual retail price without going over, the contestant won the showcase. If it was more than $100, I think they gave you the trip. If both overbid, nobody won. I knew you had to bid in the $14,000 range to win, and although I couldn't have been the only one who knew this, others in the audience were shocked when the host read the actual retail price, as were the contestants, at least on the first day, because both overbid by plenty.

I had read that people won the showcase occasionally, but if you didn't know the secret, it was just about guaranteed you would overbid.

The show is no longer in Vegas, but it tours regularly to casinos around the country. I went to it here in Minnesota a couple of years ago with my girlfriend and her sister and brother-in-law, as they wanted to go. I didn't want to, even though a ticket was just $15, but I went, as I didn't want to be a jerk. They changed the format of the showcase, as just one person played for it, and they played "10 Chances" in order to win the showcase prizes. And they've made sure it is even more unlikely a person will win the compact car they show off.

As for the hosts of the show, it is a revolving gig. In Vegas they'd change hosts every week or two. Sometimes it was Jerry Springer. Sometimes it was second-rate game show hosts of yesteryear that only hardcore game show fans know by name. In my case it was Bob Goen, known most for his years co-hosting "Entertainment Tonight." I was surprised he never mentioned he was the last host of the daytime version of "Wheel of Fortune." I bet most people don't remember that two people hosted the daytime show after Pat Sajak left NBC daytime for a crack at a late night talk show. Goen was one of them, but it was never mentioned that day. Very weird.

In case you didn't guess, I wasn't lucky enough to be called to "come on down" on Friday afternoon.

The game show gods just don't smile down upon me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Six nights in Vegas

When all goes well, I make it to Vegas twice per year, typically in the spring and the fall, at least according to my recent history.

That changed last year, I only made it to Vegas in mid-November. I had to forgo a spring 2014 trip because my girlfriend had her heart set on San Antonio. She had been to Vegas with me three times in the two years we had been dating, so I couldn't tell her no. While I have no desire to hurry back to San Antonio, I enjoyed it and would welcome a return visit someday, even though the $630 bill for three nights at an Embassy Suites pained me greatly. 

Part of the ability to sell my girlfriend on a return trip to Vegas less than six months after our last trip is the weather. We've been in Vegas on Oct. 31, March 31, Oct. 31 and Nov. 19 during the past four trips. We had decent weather for Halloween during that first trip, and had a really nice afternoon at Palms Place during that March 31 trip, but the dates we've traveled haven't coincided with ideal pool weather. The idea of 90F weather in early May appeals to my girlfriend, even if we should be seeing daily averages of 60F or so here in Minnesota. Nobody swims outdoors in Minnesota in early May. It can get hot, but that's unlikely. Heat in Vegas is unavoidable come early May. Bring it on, we say!

Part of the reason I contemplated the first week in May was my interest in being a part of another sad chapter in Vegas history: the closing of the Riviera. I happened to be in town on a solo trip a few years ago when they closed O'Sheas (April 30, 2012). Being at a casino when it closes isn't a spectacular experience, but it was an entertaining atmosphere that Monday afternoon, and I won't miss the chance to do it again since I'll be in town for the closing of the Riv. 

I'm looking forward to those final hours at the Riv, in part because I've already arranged to meet with one member of the Vegas online community whose contributions have been appreciated by many in recent years. And I'll be able to share words and pictures from those final hours with my friends back home, as well as the tiny online community I'm connected to via this blog and its Twitter account. This blog isn't here to make money, it's an outlet for my recreational writing. But it would be nice to know my effort reaches some sort of audience. And if one member of that audience appreciates the effort, I'll be a happy bear. 

During our last trip in November we went to a few shows, which isn't something we've always made a priority. We were in town four nights, and we saw three shows. (More on this another day.) We may go to one mid-level show while we're in town later this year, but it's not a priority this time. 

Four nights will be spent at the Orleans, a regular destination during my visits, and two nights will be at Downtown Grand, our first time staying there. I enjoy being downtown, and I enjoy the Orleans a lot, so I'm always happy when I'm able to split my time between the two destinations. 

My biggest disappointment about the week we'll be in Vegas: I won't be able to attend a Las Vegas 51s game. I've wanted to go to a game for years. When I went to Vegas solo in early May 2012, I managed to visit when the 51s were out of town. Three years later I've done it again.

While I had been considering this trip for a few weeks, it wasn't booked until three nights ago. As soon as that happened my online activity increased exponentially. I keep tabs on the happenings in Vegas throughout the year, but I spend far too much time online during the weeks prior to departure. I'm terrible that way. 

Needless to say my blogging average will likely be better than an entry per week for the next month. Everybody wins!