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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 21, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 25
It's getting hot in Vegas - 'Sin City' heats up as a Gay travel destination
Arts & Entertainment
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It's getting hot in Vegas - 'Sin City' heats up as a Gay travel destination

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN Travel Writer

It's ridiculously hot, noisy, crowded, somewhat expensive, and dotted with massive hotels that individually employ more people than the population of most small towns. Sounds like a place you'd want to avoid, right? Nope. We're talking about Las Vegas, one of the most exciting destinations in the world for all walks of life, from grooms-to-be celebrating their last days as bachelors to couples commemorating a milestone anniversary to anyone wanting a weekend of 'anything goes' under the sun.

'Sin City' is wild and over-the-top, but that's what sets it apart - everything is bigger and crazier and hotter in this desert oasis of nearly two million residents. In recent years it's managed to reel in a prestigious consumer, the Gay leisure traveler, with boutique-style hotels, upscale restaurants, festive LGBT events, mainstream entertainment, and premier clubs. Where else can you party in your Speedos with a thousand other men, then watch Celine Dion belt out 'My Heart Will Go On' later that evening, then dance the night away at the largest Gay bar on the planet? Only in Las Vegas. Flights from Seattle are frequent on both Alaska and Southwest airlines or through Bellingham (Allegiant), with a gate-to-gate time of two hours and 15 minutes. If considering a trip to Las Vegas, get started at www.lasvegas.com/gaytravel. Here's what I recommend putting on your itinerary.

GAY CULTURE/NIGHTLIFE
Newly opened on April 6 is The Center
(www.thecenterlv.com), a valuable resource for Las Vegas' LGBT community and the only one of its kind in the whole state. Operating on a yearly $1.8 million budget, its converted hardware store facility incorporates an Event Hall that accommodates 617 standing and 300 sitting; a Youth Center complete with pool table, 75-inch TV, and social gathering space; a clinic offering tests for HIV and other STIs; an AA meeting room; a library; and computer stations with free Internet. The Center also has its own café, called Bronze
, known for its sinful treats and signature LGBTQ Sandwich.

The Las Vegas PRIDE Night Parade & Festival
(www.lasvegaspride.org), presented by MGM Resorts International, is scheduled for September 6 and 7. The weekend event, beginning at West Charleston Boulevard and ending two blocks from the Fremont Street Experience, is expected to draw thousands of revelers.

Krave Massive
(www.kravemassive.com), now claiming the title of the largest Gay club in the world, welcomed its first guests on June 15. Taking over a vacated movie theater complex, it currently includes an expansive dance floor with speaker columns, flashing strobe lights, and VIP booths. An independent cinema for LGBT-themed films is in the works. A floor below Krave, and under the same ownership, is Drink & Drag
(www.drinkanddrag.com), a drag queen-run bar that doubles as a bowling alley with scantily clad go-go boys. On the opposite side of town is Share Nightclub
(www.sharenightclub.com), a sizzling dance lounge with sexy go-go boys, a locals-mostly crowd, reserved VIP area and remixed Top 40 music.

'Temptation Sundays' at Luxor
(www.luxor.com/lgbt) draws mainly Gay men to splash around in a shallow pool with a DJ playing tunes by today's biggest artists, all the while watching cute boys strut their stuff in skimpy swimsuits. Straight friends are welcome (and some hotel guests do wander in and end up staying). Admission fees are posted on the event website, and private cabanas are perfect for groups.

ACCOMMODATIONS
Of the many hotel-casinos in Vegas, I recommend the MGM Grand
(www.mgmgrand.com). It has a couple of distinctions: (1) MGM Resorts International, the property's parent brand, is a huge LGBT supporter that donated generously to The Center, as well as sponsoring ongoing events from 'Temptation Sundays' to the PRIDE Night Parade; and (2) the amenities are abundant and impressive throughout its premises, from Michelin-star restaurants to major concert venues to well-designed, tastefully decorated rooms (5,044 total) with some unique features, such as automatic blinds and MGM's signature line of bath products. Common room furnishings include flat-panel TVs, glass-top work desks, mini-bars, USB/iPod ports, and shower-tubs. Turn-down service is offered, as is free WiFi. Of course, the casino floor is filled with slot machines and card tables, but you'll also encounter a Starbucks, a food court with late-night/early morning offerings, the MGM Grand Arena (Beyonce, iheartradio Festival, Billboard Music Awards), Cirque du Soleil's KÀ, and plenty of retail shops.

EAT & DRINK
What's changed in Las Vegas in the past 10 to 15 years with the food scene is that the focus has shifted from buffets to sophisticated dining. The major hotel-casinos have lured celebrity chefs and trendy chains, who now dominate the eating selections. Andrea's
(www.wynnlasvegas.com), inside the Encore, serves wonderful Asian-infused dishes from made-to-order sushi rolls to specialty fried rice (pineapple, crab, tofu, egg) and noodles (pan fried, lo mein, phad thai) to succulent meat dishes, like five-spice garlic lobster, Saikyo miso black cod, and Wagyu rib cap, all in a posh, slightly retro ambiance. The wok-fried broccoli or bigeye tuna and crispy rice are must-tries at Andrea's. The Border Grill
(www.bordergrill.com) is another great spot to hit and woos a significant Gay clientele. Nestled inside Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino and helmed by Top Chef stars Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, the menu features sensational dressed-up versions of Mexican and South American dishes such as Peruvian ceviche, plantain empanadas, Yucatan pork tacos, chile relleño burgers, and a wonderful plate of chicken poblano enchiladas that comes with a colorful presentation. Even for a quick stop, to sit on the outdoor patio with a view of the swimming pools over chips with house-made guacamole and a black-cherry mojito, the Border Grill is definitely worth it. Suggested for a fabulous brunch is Simon Restaurant
at Palms Casino Resort (www.palms.com), where adorable servers don printed pajama bottoms and complete your meal with complimentary cotton candy. The dining space has a clean, modern appearance with lots of windows, allowing the bright sun to come through, and has an intimate bar-lounge that invites brunchers to concoct their own Bloody Marys. You can opt for the buffet-style brunch, offering everything from sushi to carved prime rib to pastries, granola, and mini-desserts, or you can order from the kitchen menu that includes egg bennies, wood-fired pizzas, and a 'White Trash' selection of chicken-fried chicken, pigs in a blanket, biscuits and gravy, and Simon baby-back ribs.

For drinks, I recommend The Chandelier
at The Cosmopolitan (www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com), a multilevel lounge that is sexy and spirited. The main floor area is highlighted by a live music stage, where local bands perform blues, swing, and jazz-pop music, while the upper levels have snazzy bar counters with dim lighting and scattered, plush couches. The Chandelier's innovative cocktails, using freshly sourced out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, are both tempting and fun to sample. Park on Fremont
(www.parkonfremont.com) is closer to downtown and a good place to go for Bloody Marys. They list four varieties, aside from the standard version, including the Texas Tuxedo (Ciroc vodka, cucumber, basil, grape tomatoes, and Bloody Mary mix), delivered to your table in oversized mason jars. While you're there, check out the risqué patio art and the bar's teeter-totter in the back.

SPAS
If you're gonna play, you've gotta recover, right? And the best way is to recharge is at the spa. BATHHOUSE
(www.mandalaybay.com), inside THEhotel Tower Rooms & Suites, is not easy to find but well worth the challenge. The clothing-optional soaking baths, with separate sections for men and women, are particularly lush, with high ceilings, black tile floors, and beach chairs, along with self-serve fruit-infused water, gourmet trail mix, and cucumber slices for fatigued eyes. My treatment of choice was the Luxe Noir Massage, a 50-minute session that allowed two enhancements (hot stone, etc.) worked into the actual massage. I also have good things to say about Reliquary Spa & Salon
at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (www.hardrockhotel.com), which is actually more elegant and sultry than drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. The baths are about the same size as those at BATHHOUSE, though in a brighter setting. Their treatments have catchy names - 'Help,' 'Cloud Nine,' 'Tenderness' - and I loved being massaged while listening to a Coldplay playlist, rather than the cheesy music you succumb to at most spas.

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