Angelika We keep going back to Las Vegas, and if it is just because this is where we met for the first time, both travelling the U.S. independently during a long long summer break. Las Vegas keeps reinventing itself, and it's hard to keep track on how fast things are changing. Both being college students back in the day, we were drawn there by the unbeatably low expenses in gambler's paradise: There were all-you-can-eat buffets for only five Dollars and rental cars were cheap, too, to explore the nearby world-renowned national parks. It was not until a few years later that newly themed casinos like the "New York New York", "Treasure Island", or the pyramid-shaped "Luxor" were built on the strip.
Then came a time of economic slowdown, and hardly anyone could be convinced to travel to Las Vegas, unless hotels offered killer deals. Savvy travelers set themselves apart from the masses and splurged 150 Dollars per night for dream rooms with two separate levels or round 200 gallon jacuzzis. Recently, ultra modern hotel towers are all the rage, like the "Aria" or the "Cosmopolitan", featuring contemporate room decor and all kinds of technical gadgets for the iPhone and Youtube generation.
While this was happening, prices exploded in Las Vegas. It's not as easy anymore to find reasonably priced rooms on the Las Vegas Strip and the cheap all-you-can-eat buffets have vanished like CD sales. Restaurants by internationally acclaimed chefs like Gordon Ramsey, Wolfgang Puck, or Joel Robuchon are the new trend. But it's not an easy task for any chef in Las Vegas to impress guests coming from culinary relevant metropolitan areas. We've come to realize that upscale food options in Las Vegas don't quite match what you'd get in San Francisco, let alone that most Las Vegas establishments nowadays are tourist traps that are about twice as expensive as top-notch places in, say, Los Angeles. It's evident that the restaurants on the strip have found out that business people from rural America are happy to overpay, because they're flush with money and don't know any better than mistake mediocre food for high-end cuisine, because at home they're eating dinner at the local diner with their baseball cap on.
I've got to say, though, that we were pretty impressed with the "L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon" restaurant inside the MGM casino. It's expensive, but you get excellent classic french food with a modern touch. There's a more formal and yet more expensive restaurant "Joel Robuchon" next door, but if you like it more casual and enjoy watching the cooks preparing your food from the counter, I'd recommend L'Atelier with its exquisite food and wine selection.
During our last stay in Las Vegas, we strayed from Las Vegas Boulevard ("The Strip") a couple of times and explored other neighborhoods. We revisited Downtown Las Vegas again after a long hiatus, birthplace of many famous casinos, and playground for the mob way back when. The Mob Museum there charges quite an exorbitant entrance fee, but it's quite fascinating to study the criminal history of Las Vegas, going back to the times of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.
Downtown Las Vegas faded into insignificance in the 1960ies, when a construction frenzy started on the "strip" and the casinos opened their doors there. The gambling parlors in Downtown lost their glamor and started to attract an audience known as "low rollers", who prefer to work the five cent slot machines. But recently, there's been a wave of nostalgia, and many follow the trend to explore old Las Vegas again. Looking at the interior of the "Main Street Station Casino" gives a taste of a different long-lost era. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos (a popular online shop for shoes), is driving an initiative to turn Downtown Las Vegas around to lure a younger crowd to this long neglected part of town.
Hsieh first transferred his firm's headquarters to downtown Las Vegas und then invested 350 million Dollars of his own money into the so called Downtown Project. The goal is to get small independent stores, companies, and restaurants into the downtown area. The Containerpark on Freemont Street is a good example. Surrounding a big playground, small container-like buildings are hosting shops and restaurants. All over the property, chairs and tables invite visitors to sit down and relax in the sun.
It's really a promising concept, especially since Las Vegas is inundated with chain stores. At the Container Park, I found a nice jewelry store named "Blu Marble", which we'll also be featuring in this edition's top product section below. A few famous chefs have also discovered downtown Las Vegas and have opened small restaurants there. Like renowned chef Kerry Simon, who hopped onto the new trend with "Carson Kitchen" in the downtown area. We had a memorable lunch there with excellent food and at a reasonable price, absolutely on par with places in San Francisco. Yepp, things are in motion in downtown Las Vegas!