Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book review: 14 things to do in Vegas before you die

Among the things given to us when we checked in at Tahiti Village last October was a sheet listing 100 things to do in Vegas.

I didn't inspect it closely, but I kept it, thinking I would critique it at some point via this blog. Instead I threw it away. 

Now I'm curious to know what that list contained, and if it was as bizarre as the 100 things listed in a 2016 book, "100 Things to do in Las Vegas Before You Die."

I was perusing my local library's Vegas book collection not so long ago and found the book. It is written by two former writers for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. You'd expect it would have great details and great local perspective. Well, not so much. 

The book's preface notes that it lists "bucket list" items for both the tourist and the Vegas area resident. Many of the items aren't worthy of any such list, regardless of your residency status. There are some interesting, obvious and bizarre suggestions in the book, and here's a sampling of what you'll find in the book. I'll leave it to you to decide which entries are interesting, obvious or bizarre. 
  • The book has a list of craft breweries and places to find craft beers, both in the touristy areas and in the suburbs. I'm not sure going to a craft brewery in Henderson really needs to be on a bucket list, but for the uninitiated, the book gives you a clue that you can sample local, small batch beer at a few casino properties.
  • Enjoying a meal "al fresco" warrants an entry, and offers three suggestions of places to eat outdoors. You haven't lived until you've eaten an outdoor meal at Paris Las Vegas.
  • If you want to drink or dine at a "Vegas dive," there are a few suggestions, although the book doesn't tell you why you should visit Frankie's Tiki Room. Hint: Don't go there for the veal.
  • I had no idea there were wineries in Pahrump, but if I die tomorrow, I don't think not having visited one will be near the top of my regret list.
  • I'm not sure why tasting boba tea in Vegas is critical for tourists or residents, but a place called Cafe Teaze has servers who wear lingerie. Suddenly I'm interested in trying boba tea, otherwise known as bubble tea, as best as I can tell. I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of this before. I had to look up this place to learn more about it. Located in Chinatown, it changed its name to Milk Teaze at some point, evidently, and a Facebook page for the business notes that as of late January the location has closed due to a lease issue. But the owners promise to find a new location.
  • An eclair at Jerry's Nugget gets an entry, although nowhere is it mentioned that this should be the last item you knock off your bucket list, for safety reasons.
  • Three happy hours are worthy of mentioning on a page dedicated to the topic. Perhaps they should have limited the book to 99 things.
  • Celebrating Oktoberfest in Vegas is a must-do, so they say. Yes, make sure to experience a knock off of the German celebration at Hofbrauhaus, by all means.
  • White Castle at Casino Royale makes the list. Of all the chains that aren't called McDonald's, White Castle is the one to highlight? A "tip" at the bottom of the page, which is found on a bunch of the entries, mentions a few other chains you can find, including In-n-Out.
  • Two entries are set aside for gambling and exploring the strip. Do we really need bucket list items for such general activities that are a lot of the reason people come to Vegas in the first place?
  • Glorifying an EDM DJ at an expensive nightclub makes the book's list of things to do in Vegas. If I live another 50 years my life will be incomplete when I die.
  • I haven't lived unless I've experienced the National Finals Rodeo, allegedly.
  • Going to a concert, at places such as Bunkhouse Saloon, Brooklyn Bowl and The Pearl is unlike anything you'll ever experience in Milwaukee. The "go to a concert" page does note two festivals that take place annually, although it tells you nothing about why you should go to all the trouble to attend Life is Beautiful.
  • I had no idea that I could discover a desert oasis at Wetlands Park. I can't recall seeing any chatter or discussion about this county park, where you can ride your bike, allegedly. I'm curious to learn more about this park, wherever it is.
  • You can pick your own produce at Gilcrease Orchard in North Las Vegas. You haven't lived until you've picked apples from a spring-fed orchard in the desert.
  • It turns out there are at least three parks in the area that have ponds stocked with fish. Catch a catfish from a stocked pond in Vegas before you die!
  • For some reason geocaching in Vegas is worthy of your bucket list. If you don't know what this is, it's a high-tech game of hide-and-seek. It's a great hobby that can be fun for the family, and can be a great way to discover and explore parks and other public areas near and far. I use to spend time enjoying the activity, and have done it in Vegas during a few trips. Some people like to do a little geocaching everywhere they travel, and I've done my share of it in multiple states while on vacations in the past, but I'd say skip going to the trouble of doing it in Vegas unless you've tried it at home first, are hooked on it and can't take a vacation from it.
  • There are three places to shoot a machine gun, or other firearms, the book reminds us, including AR-15s. I'm gonna guess a new printing of the book would include an edit of this page. 
  • You haven't lived until you have signed up for slot clubs at Vegas casinos.
  • Dancing in a casino lounge: Gotta do it!
  • You must savor an artisan cocktail in Vegas. You must. While four places to do so are noted, including The Cosmopolitan, nowhere does it note one of the most unusual cocktails you'll ever discover, the Verbena at Cosmo's Chandelier bar.
  • Witnessing a wedding, if not having your own, in Vegas is essential. I've never been to a Vegas wedding. What am I to do? According to the book, I can hang out at the wedding license bureau to see if there's a couple looking for a witness.
  • There's a Martin Luther King Jr. statue in North Las Vegas. It's in a historically significant area, I'm told, but I'd argue that visiting Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King once preached, and is now maintained as a national park, might be a better way to honor his memory.
  • Almost every review I've read says that Gold & Silver Pawn, famous thanks to the "Pawn Stars" TV show, is not worth the effort to visit. The authors think you need to go there before you die.
  • Somehow a nail spa that does fancy nail art makes the Vegas 100 bucket list. How much did Scratch Nail Spa in Henderson pay to be included in the book?
  • You gotta "drop some cash at the finest stores around." Until you do, you haven't lived.
  • For some reason you need to visit one of four record stores listed in the book, if record collecting is your thing. Why not list comic book and toy stores as two more items when you start running out of ideas?
  • If I had to judge the quality of this book based upon one thing, I'd base it upon how well it touts the Pinball Hall of Fame. As a devout pinball enthusiast who knows a decent amount about the place, I could tell you more than you'd want to know, unless you're a pinhead like me. As for the book, its summation of the hall of fame is lackluster. It gives you a basic description of the place, noting that there are machines from the 1950s through the 1990s, and cites a few machine themes. I'm not sure where their info came from, but it's a rather sloppy entry that could have done a far better job of detailing what you'll find. But the tip at the bottom of the page notes you can peruse the interior of it via Google Maps. The images are outdated, as many machines have been moved around, but it gives you a good idea, and a great view of a bunch of the machines you can find in there today.
The book is a compilation of information, some of which is outdated, naturally, thanks to the nature of Vegas. It has some good information about things that would be of interest to Vegas rookies as well as transplants who haven't had a chance to explore the greater Vegas area, but not enough to make it worth the $16 cover price.

The book falls short in a several ways. It gives you addresses for many places, but doesn't tell you where they are in relation to anything else, with limited exceptions. Sometimes it's obvious a business is in a casino, sometimes it's obvious a location is outside of the tourist districts, but plenty of times it's not very clear.

There are driving directions, and time estimates, for a few of the destinations noted in the book, such as ghost towns, but nowhere does it suggest which items are best suited for locals or which places are reasonably accessible for tourists who don't have their own vehicle to get around.

While prices are subject to change, there's rarely a hint of what it might cost to see a museum or attend a festival. Yes, I can do my own research, and that's what this book seems to expect me to do. I get it, it's not a visitor's guide with excruciating detail, but it has so little information about anything it references that it serves as little more than a book of ideas, ideas you can find on websites galore.

The book's title leads you to believe that it's a great resource full of great ideas, but it falls short on both counts.