Las Vegas, off the beaten Strip

The Las Vegas Neon Museum doesn’t announce itself with flashy lights; you have to find it in less obvious ways. Take a $20 dollar cab ride up to northern edge of Sin City, past the baking asphalt parking lots erupting with weeds and stout pawn shops eager with WE BUY GOLD placards, to the nondescript building the museum calls home. That’s when you’ll see it. Across the street, shimmering in the desert heat like a mirage: a gigantic, rusty-metal pool player. In one hand a cue, cocked, ready to fire, the player’s torso twisted in contrapposto like a billiard-playing colossus. Near this metallic giant lay dozens of gorgeously decorated neon signs – Stardust, Golden Nugget, Silver Slipper – artwork from a bygone era of Vegas history, out of sight and out of mind. Las Vegas is not a city that honors its past. Yet somehow fragments remain, ready to reveal their secrets to visitors who venture beyond the town’s glittering Strip.

Vegas is town forever stuck in the present; a city that appears to have neither a past nor a future: it simply is. It’s a fact borne out by the city’s relentless reinvention, renovation and recreation. On the famous “Strip,” outdated hotels are leveled to make way for the newest mega-resort. Even finding a clock inside a casino is a challenge. All of this suggests a town that ignores the passing of time in exchange for the pleasures of an ephemeral present. Except not all of the Old Vegas has disappeared; it’s simply been shoved to the margins. Venture ten minutes from ageless Las Vegas Boulevard and a different Vegas emerges; a destination of Atomic Era drinking dens, whimsical pinball parlors and a museum harboring a gallery of neon masterpieces.

If you’ve ever wondered what exists in Vegas beyond Roman Strip Malls and Eiffel Tower knock-offs, it’s time to dig beneath the surface. Let’s tour Las Vegas, off the beaten Strip. Keep reading below for more.A Neon Graveyard
If it’s possible for an Inert Gas to symbolize the magnificent highs and tumbling lows of Vegas history, then Neon is it. This strange element has been fueling the glowing signage of Las Vegas ever since mobster Bugsy Siegel dared to imagine this fantasy desert town as the world’s foremost gambling mecca. Though the casinos of Bugsy’s day long-ago met the wrecking ball, some of their signage lives on at the Neon Museum in northern Las Vegas.

For $15, visitors can explore “canyons” stacked with old Vegas neon signage, and imagine for a moment what once was: a place that hummed with a fiery visual energy, full of wildly exotic genie lamps, cocksure cowboys and colorful flamingos erupting like fireworks in the dark. It might not look like the Louvre or The Met, but this is one of the world’s great repositories of art, strokes of neon artistry left to rust and bake in the relentless desert sun.

Drinking in the Past
The Atomic Liquor Store is more than a bar: it’s a temple to long-lost Americana. Reportedly the “oldest bar” in Vegas, this drinking den got its name from the 1950’s nuclear tests that took place only 60 or so miles from its front door. Swanky Vegas cocktail lounge this is not. In addition to its location deep in the heart of seedy Fremont Street, visitors will need to be buzzed in the locked front doors.

But fear not, this historical oddity is worth the trip. From the minute you catch a glimpse of the sturdy decades-old neon sign out front, greeting you like an old friend, to the inflation-proof $1 cans of Busch Beer and molding pool tables, you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. The bar’s ramshackle decor, killer jukebox stocked with plenty of Springsteen and Mellencamp and a rotating cast of local Sin City characters is guaranteed to provide a memorable night out.

Playing for Keeps
Games are the de facto language of gambling. In Las Vegas, wherever you move you’re sure to encounter these games, the constant gaze of a slot machine or the hypnotic spinning eye of a roulette wheel beckoning you to try your luck. But a very different type of game competes for your attention at the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. Except instead of one-armed bandits you’ll find 10,000 square feet of vintage pinball and arcade games from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, waiting for you to give them a play.

Whether you’re a fan of Captain Fantastic or Guns ‘n Roses, Waterworld or Pac-man, there’s a childhood memory begging you to relive the past. Drop in a quarter, and a real-life time machine springs back to life. Bells clink. 8-bit explosions foam in your eardrums. A flickering orange glow of enjoyment fills your view. But too soon, your pinball disappears from view and the machine again falls silent; a teasing vision of a Vegas that once was, but is no more.

Atlantic City hotel vying for ‘Jersey Shore’ tourists

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the “Jersey Shore” debacle, but it’s true I can’t get enough of the super-fist-pumping-hair-bumping promotions hotels are doing to cater to wanna-be Guidos and Guidettes.

The most recent hotel vying for the attention of “Jersey Shore” fans is none other than The Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City,
site of episode 7 of the hot MTV reality show. Get your spray tan on and get a load of this deal:

The “Jersey Shore Package” includes:

– Overnight accommodations in a standard guest room starting at $878 per night per room, or $4,230 per night for the suite where cast members stayed
– One dinner at Il Verdi, the resort’s Italian restaurant
– Breakfast at Seaside Café
– Gift certificate to the Tropicana Salon, good for a “Jersey Shore Do” (for girls, guidette poufs with bumpits and for guys a guido “blow-out” ala Pauly D)
– A room service basket stocked with Italian delights, including (but not limited to) Italian cured meats, bread sticks and biscotti
– VIP admission to Providence nightclub and complimentary IN Cards which give access to nightclubs, food and beverage and parking discounts and more.

The “Jersey Shore” package is available through June 26, 2010. If you go, please take pictures of your new ‘do.


Cuba Libre: Being sick and discovering “Cash Cab” in Cuba

[Though this might look like the U.S. Capitol, it is actually Havana’s Capitolio. The strange resemblance makes even stranger sense when you get to the “Cash Cab” comparison at the end of this post.]

Peter and Frank planned to leave for Trinidad on Monday, leaving Lora and I in Havana. They had hoped for a noonish start to their day and planned on renting a car for the remainder of their stay. (Road trip in Cuba? Yes, please! I tried my best to convince Lora to hit the road with the boys, but she was nearly out of cash, had somehow forgotten her ATM and credit cards in Canada, and therefore was relying on the three of us to fund the remainder of her trip).

The boys dilly-dallied for a good two hours by having lunch and weighing the pros and cons to Cuba’s expensive car rental rate, which would come to a whopping $75 per day. By the time they decided to go for it, the car rental guy informed them there were no more cars available. So, that evening, Lora and Frank went to see the famous cabaret show at the Tropicana. They paid nearly U.S.$100 each for three hours of entertainment. Peter and I were less interested in seeing scantily clad women wearing chandeliers on their heads, so we walked to a delightful little paladar called La Cocina de Lilliam in the Embassy district and splurged on a delicious three course meal with red wine.

This paladar was a pleasant contrast to the crowded yet intimate La Guarida in town. La Cocina was set in the side courtyard of a large, lavish house. There were waterfalls and fountains spread about the courtyard as well as plenty of green plants and birdcages with cockatiel and parakeets. Peter and I had a really nice conversation about traveling and other things that time seemed to float by undetected. Somehow we didn’t get home until midnight. Soon after, Lora and Frank returned from their cabaret date. After a nightcap of Cuba Libres, smoking a bit more of our Cuban cigars, and listening to the ocean on the patio, we retired at 1 or so.

It is never a good sign waking up pre-dawn with with a cold sweat, headache, and stomachache. The only time I felt this ill was when I ate a sweet (but apparently foul) mango in India and found myself on the toilet for two full days. My body felt weak, and I felt tired and gross.

Peter and Frank left early in the morning for Trinidad, but I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept almost all of Tuesday. Lora still made the most of her day, visiting la Plaza de la Revolución (with an enormous monument for pre-revolutionary figure José Martí) by cab and walking around our Miramar/Playa neighborhood. She found a cinema just a few blocks away and decided to have a quick dinner and catch an 8:30 movie (for just a dollar!). To her surprise and dismay, she was the only one interested in viewing this film and was turned away by the cinema attendant. Had I gone with her I think she would have been able to see it. So Lora was home by 9 p.m. and we watched a film on TV (I slept through most of it) and made it an early night. I didn’t eat anything all day.

My mysterious illness was a doozy (Pete and I think the lamb at La Cocina could have been the culprit), but I felt quite lucky to be in a 5 star hotel. I mean, things could have been much worse! I could have been like my friend Brody in the middle of rural Laos, who had to visit the village doctor to get hooked up to an IV and take an anti-vomit shot in the butt. If my situation had been more dire, I could have found myself in a Cuban hospital without travel insurance and maybe even lacking cash for medical care.

In the end, I think this sickness just made me appreciate the important things in life – like friends and a warm, comfortable bed. While I would have enjoyed seeing more of Havana, staying at the Melia Habana and with Lora was so comforting. In addition, as I am usually a solo traveler, I could have easily been much more depressed all by my lonesome and staying in some tiny casa particular.

The following morning I felt well enough to sit up and watch some TV, where I discovered my new favorite game show. Since I don’t have cable nor any real interest to watch TV here in Hawaii, leave it to my travels and stay in a 5 star hotel in Cuba (of all places) to hook me onto “Cash Cab” on the Discovery Channel. What a perfect and delightful premise and show! I watched 3 whole hours (that’s 6 episodes) of Cash Cab. It is utterly ironic how I stumbled upon this particular show in Cuba, though, for the contrast between the high-paced capitalist capital of New York City (the setting of Cash Cab) and my current environs couldn’t be more stark.

My excitement over this kind of game show just reaffirmed my Western upbringing. As I watched contestants win over $1,000 during a short cab ride (which is more than twice as much a Cuban citizen makes in a year), I wondered what Cubans thought of such a show. I was, however, watching it in English, so I imagine only educated and wealthy Cubans could actually comprehend the nature of the show. Regardless, the show’s premise is both perfect for the intended Western audience and quite jarring for Cubans (along with being a disgusting display of capitalism at work).

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —

Feathers fall to floor for “Folies”

“Les Folies Bergere” is about to come to an end. The topless review, which has called the Tropicana hotel and casino home for 49 years is about to take its stripping off the Strip. The show will close on March 28, 2009, in order to make room for something new … though no details have been released. Ron Thacker, president of the Tropicana has not explained the decision, saying only that his company is “”extremely proud to have been part of such an iconic Las Vegas production.”

The demise of Folies leaves only one full-scale showgirl production on the Strop: Bally’s “Jubilee!” Once a distinguished tradition (with the exception of an awful movie, of course), these shows are being pushed aside by the likes of Cirque du Soleil.


5 reasons why the Motel 6 on Tropicana is the best deal in Vegas

I’m writing this from the confines of my motel room in chilly Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m in town for CES, because I love technology and gadgets, and I love walking around large convention centers and seeing the latest and greatest. Above all, I love doing it drunk. On a Tuesday afternoon. But right now I’m holed up in my favorite place to sleep in Vegas: the luxurious Motel 6 Tropicana — largest of its brand in all of the United States. Sure, the room is tiny; a faint smell of stale cigarettes lingers in the air, and every thirty seconds, my chest rumbles from the sound of a jumbo jet taking off. Really, I could go on and on about the negative qualities of this motel. In comparison to any other place in any other city, it’s a dump.

But we’re not in any other city, we’re in Vegas — the land of $600 hotel rooms; a place with over 130,000 beds in 10-mile radius. So why, you’re probably thinking, do I repeatedly choose to stay in the Motel 6? Good question!

1. Close proximity to the strip. For being an off-strip establishment, the Motel 6 is as close to the strip as you can get without being accosted by flier-snapping porn peddlers. It’s located off the south end, at the corner of Tropicana and Koval, next to the Hooters Casino (conveniently, some might say), and directly across Tropicana from the MGM Grand. In about 5 minutes walk time, I can be across the street, through MGM’s south entrance, and onto the Las Vegas Monorail heading practically anywhere on the strip. Five minutes in the other direction puts me at the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard.

2. Price. This is one of the strongest qualities the Motel 6 has going for it. For three nights in a double, I’m paying $287.97 USD, or roughly $95 per night. This is during CES, mind you — the largest trade show in Las Vegas, with over 150,000 attendees. During this week, at any other place on the strip, you can expect to pay more per night than I am for three. It’s even cheaper if you’re splitting the room with someone else, as I am. This brings the total cost per person, per night, to under $50. And I didn’t have to book 8 months in advance; these reservations were made in early December. But get this: a quick search of the reservation database reveals that not only are rooms still available this week, they’re cheaper than what I paid last month! Unbeatable. (And I’m on my way down to the desk to get a refund!)

3. Convenience store. One of my favorite things about the Motel 6 is the convenience store located on-site. The Eagle Mini-Mart, open 24/7, is filled with just about anything you’d ever need during your average stay in Vegas. They’ve got beer and liquor, smokes, sunglasses, medicine, toiletries — everything you’d expect to find in your neighborhood 7-11 back home, save for the blinking slot machines in the back corner. It’s priced for convenience, of course, but then again, isn’t everything in Vegas priced for convenience? My first stop upon arriving is at the store to pick up a big box of beer. Then it’s off to the room, where I dump it in the bathroom sink and fill it up with ice from the machine. Anything that doesn’t fit in the sink is placed in the next-best makeshift cooler: the trash can. (Tip: place the included plastic liner in the trash can first!) Classy, I know. After a long, hard night of debauchery, stop back by the Eagle for free coffee (guests only) in the morning.

4. CoCo’s. Directly west of the Motel 6 is CoCo’s, a greasy-spoon, Denny’s-like restaurant open 24/7. Forget the $20-plus buffets on the strip, CoCo’s is cheap, fast, and delicious. There’s absolutely, without a doubt, no better way to sop up a hangover then a tall stack of flapjacks and a side of fries. Plus it’s the only place in Vegas where you can dine with both vacationing families and pimps at the same time. And unlike most places in town, it’s 100% smoke free. Get there early on the weekends, or expect to wait for a table (unless you’re a pimp).

5. No-frills, but clean and safe. If you’re staying at the Motel 6 in Vegas, you have to be in the right frame of mind. I admit, it’s not for everyone — nor is it for every situation. If you’re on your honeymoon, for instance, or trying to impress someone, you’d be better off splurging for something a little more lavish. The Motel 6 doesn’t have butler service or elegant linens. Nor do they have a flat screen television or his-and-her Italian marble baths. If these things are important to you, go elsewhere. But if you need a clean, safe place to lay your weary head, the “6” passes with flying colors.

And sorry to burst your bubble, but they won’t leave the light on for you. You know, the whole global warming thing.


Motel 6 Las Vegas – Tropicana #67
195 E Tropicana Ave
Las Vegas, NV, 89109
Phone: (702) 798-0728 | Fax: (702) 798-5657