Sunday, September 28, 2008

Now THIS Is My Kind of Vegas

Last weekend I went to Vegas with five girls, and it was a completely different experience than any previous trip. If I had to sum it up, I would say: less sleaze (slightly less – I mean, this IS Vegas), more sophistication. And yes, I got a little seduced. Not enough to stay for a full week, and certainly not enough to move there, but more than enough to consider another weekend in the near future.

At the heart of this change is Vegas’ newest trend: the all-suite, no-casino luxury hotel. Several of the Vegas behemoths, including the MGM Grand and The Palms, have built these smaller (relatively speaking) hotels adjacent to their main properties. By getting rid of the casinos, they are able to offer suites with stellar amenities like more space (about 100 square feet more), separate bedrooms, two flat screen TVs, private balconies and full kitchens at around the same price as a regular room in the main hotel. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the way to go. Tejal, who is taking a call on our spacious balcony in the shot below, would seem to agree.

Our she-group stayed at the Signature at MGM Grand, which bills itself as a “private retreat in the heart of the Vegas action.” Usually, I would regard such a statement as hyperbole. I’m a copywriter, after all, and I get paid to write such embellishments. But the fact is, it did feel like that. I barely noticed the crowds and the chaos.

With the exception of a few claustrophobic hours on Saturday night at Tao, The Venetian’s multi-floor megaclub (see my second Vegas post for that story), all of my usual peeves about vacationing with multitudes – such as having to get to the pool by 9 a.m. to get a lounge chair – were non-factors. We had our own private cabana for crying out loud. See the photo below to check out how much poolside privacy we had, as well as a huge hot tub practically all to ourselves.

Now, part of this royal treatment stemmed from booking the “Sex in Sin City” package, which included chocolate fondue in the room (see the photo below), cozy pink robes, the poolside cabana (which came with free pitchers of Mojitos), in-room continental breakfast, massages and all-day spa access, a fantastic sushi dinner at Shibuya, three hours in a limo on Saturday night and guest listing at Tao.

The other part? Pure luck. That’s all I can figure, anyway. Most people refer to luck in Vegas, and they mean winning big at the blackjack table. But for us non-gamblers, our luck was freeness. A free fourth hour in the limo. Four free desserts at dinner. Free goodie bags. A smorgasbord of free appetizers at the pool. It felt a little too good to be true at a certain point.

Perhaps it was because we were six cute girls, or perhaps it was because Vegas is no longer recession-proof, and they really appreciated our business. Who knows. But we took it for all it was worth!

Stay tuned to hear about our escapades Friday and Saturday night at the SUSHISAMBA restaurant grand opening fete and Tao, respectively. Because you can’t come home from Vegas without a few stories.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Love/Hate With Vegas

I love to hate on Vegas. (To be clear, I could never, ever live there.) But that's not keeping me from going this weekend.

Here’s why…

--Five hour drive from LA
--Someone else is driving
--Highs in the low 90s this weekend
--We have a poolside cabana all day Saturday
--The cabana includes free drinks and an attendant
--We’re going to a party hosted by the boys of “Entourage” (HBO)

Need I say more? Full report to come on my “hate date” with Sin City.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Travel + Leisure's America's Favorite Cities 2008

The votes are in, and my current geographical mate, Los Angeles, has placed last. In the "Traffic," "Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness," "Safety," "Intelligence," and "Friendliness" categories, that is. Ouch. The only thing LA even did fairly well in was "Luxury Boutiques" (#3). Ahem. That's just super.

Fortunately, my future potential mates did much better. Here's how some of my Top 15 Geographical Crushes stacked up in this annual survey of America's Top 25 Cities:

#1 in Environmental Awareness
#1 in Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness
#1 in Cleanliness
#1 in Public Parks and Access to the Outdoors
#1 in Safety
#2 in Traffic (meaning the least traffic)
#2 in Farmers and Specialty Food Markets
Worst showing: Luxury Boutiques (#24) and Winter/Christmas Destination (#20).

#2 in Live Music
#2 in Friendliness
#2 in Active/Athletic People
Worst showing: Luxury Boutiques (#23) and Museums/Galleries (#18).


#1 in Peace and Quiet
#2 in Art Galleries
#2 in Relaxing Retreat
Worst showing: Wild Weekend, Cocktail Hour/Lounge Scene, Late Night Scene/Clubs and Singles Scene/Bars (#25 in all four).

#1 in Friendliness
#1 in Traffic (meaning the least traffic)
#1 in Antique Stores
#2 in Romantic Escapes
#2 in Thanksgiving Destination
#2 in Noteworthy Neighborhoods
#2 in Peace and Quiet
#2 in Vintage Stores/Flea Markets
Worst showing: Late Night/Club Scene (#24), Wild Weekend (#23), Singles Scene/Bars (#21).

#1 in Live Music
#1 in Ethnic Food/Cheap Eats
#1 in Vintage Stores/Flea Markets
#1 in Destination Restaurants
#2 in Wild Weekend
#2 in Singles Scene/Bars
#2 in Late Night/Club Scene
#2 in Antique Stores
Worst showing: Cleanliness and Active/Athletic People (#25 in both).

What does this tell me? LA continues to get a very bad rap, warranted (traffic) or unwarranted (safety???). Santa Fe and Charleston, despite being smaller cities, are nationally recognized as great places to live the good life. Their primary downside is sleepiness, as demonstrated by their reputation for anemic nightlife. Portland offers superior quality of life for everyone (including regular working class folk who don't shop at luxury boutiques), New Orleans dominates gastronomically (to the detriment of one's health and girth), and Austin has cool people who strive to be as fit as Lance Armstrong.

One other finding about Portland, New Orleans, Austin and Charleston that affirms why I am so hot to trot about them. All four placed in the top 10 for "Affordability". As you know, that turns me on a LOT these days. Santa Fe was middle of the road at #16. Something to ponder.

Finally, to indulge yourself in some geographical daydreaming, you should vote for America's Favorite City in T+L's fun, sports-bracket-style game. Be warned: there are some tough choices. For example, Portland meets Austin in the first round. Doh!

p.s. Your random trivia of the day. Cities with the most attractive and least attractive people? Miami and Philadelphia, respectively.

p.p.s. Click here to see how my recent beau, DC, performed. Strikingly, to follow up on my discussion of its high taxes, it came in #21 in Affordability.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Revisiting and Reevaluating: My Date with DC

Last weekend, I took a second look at our nation’s capital, the closest metropolis to me while growing up in Virginia. Back then I considered it a real snoozerville. Didn’t really give it the time of day - not even when I spent two summers interning for The Discovery Channel in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of DC. Today I’d have to say I found its political underpinnings appealing (instead of vexing), its historic rowhouses quite comely and, yes, its pulse quickened.

I stayed at my friend Ali's apartment on Corcoran Street, a lovely shaded street of brick rowhouses in the Dupont Circle area. Over the course of the weekend, I learned that people in their 20s and 30s are moving into the city in droves, gourmet restaurants are opening everywhere, the walkability and public transportation are great (although having a car in DC is actually fairly manageable), and all in all, quality of life seems quite copasetic – if you can afford the taxes, that is. (In the mid-Atlantic region, DC is known for its high taxes on sales, income and property, although this Washington Post article argues that the reputation is not entirely warranted and that certain suburbs in Virginia and Maryland actually face higher tax burdens.)

In a city where you can inadvertently pass the White House while strolling (as the photo above proves), I found myself taking in all the sites and monuments anew. There’s a reason so many tourists come here. It IS something to behold. I also checked out the World War II monument for the first time. The photo came out quite moody.

But what really caught my attention was the food. Our memorable meals at Urbana, Proof, Cork and Cashion’s Eat Place demonstrated that DC is stepping up its culinary game.

In particular, I have to cite Proof as the strongest evidence – pardon the pun – and the most standout meal. The photo below shows a few of the fab appetizers, from local heirloom tomatoes to the roasted beet and kaleidoscope carrot salad to the ahi tuna tartare served with a tasty seaweed crisp. But that’s wasn’t all. My amazing five-spice roasted Peking duck on a bed of charred green onions was worth returning for in and of itself, and we all swooned over the unusual sticky toffee cake. Oh, and yes, the wine was pretty good too.

Clearly, I’m still licking my lips. Does this mean I could live in DC? The answer is yes. I’m not bumping it into my Top 15 Geographical Crushes, but if I wanted to return to the mid-Atlantic region, I would have to consider it, especially the desirable Dupont Circle area. Consider my longstanding biases shed – once and for all!