Top 10 post-pandemic thoughts and observations from Las Vegas

8 November 2021

After an extended, pandemic-induced dry spell of trips to Las Vegas, I was fortunate enough to return to the vibrant city that has become like a second home to me twice in the last four weeks.

And I’m happy to report, Vegas is back.

Yes, masks are still mandatory when indoors (although most casinos have a very casual approach to enforcing the rules) and that may not be the case by the end of this month. But other than the face coverings, trust me, Las Vegas is buzzing once again.

While the main reason for these “business” trips was to attend the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) and cover the 52nd edition of the World Series of Poker, I did manage to find time to explore other areas of Sin City and, in doing so, filled a couple of notebooks with random thoughts and observations.

Today, we present 10 highlights of the two trips with a promise that there is plenty more in that notebook to report on in the coming weeks.

10. Circa is spectacular
The hype surrounding Circa Resort & Casino, the first ground-up resort destination to open in the downtown area in 40 years, both before and after its grand unveiling back in October 2020 was monumental.
I was admittedly skeptical as I made my way to Downtown Las Vegas for a maiden visit to the Derek Stevens creation, wondering if it could live up to the hype, and it did.

Circa really does have it all. It’s hip and energetic. It offers an alluring mix of bars and restaurants, and everywhere you look, it pays homage to Las Vegas history (absolutely love the Vegas Vickie sign and adjoining bar). While the three-story, stadium-style sportsbook is a jaw dropper, it’s Stadium Swim that really takes your breath away after you go up the escalator and walk into this slice of heaven, a multi-tiered pool amphitheater that features a 135-by-41-foor LED screen.

While most pools in town are getting ready to shut down, Stadium Swim is open 365 days a year. It’s free to enter for guests of the resort, but non-guests must pay a fee ranging anywhere from $20 mid-week to as much as $60 on NFL Sundays, which is outrageous. But it really is one of the most unique settings you’ll ever experience.

9. Resorts World Las Vegas
From afar, it didn’t seem to me that the opening of Resorts World Las Vegas received as much pomp and circumstance as Circa did. After strolling through this magnificent property that became the first ground-up resort development to open on the Las Vegas Strip in more than a decade back in June, it’s clear that it deserved just as much hype.

Both Resorts World and Circa were designed by renowned casino architectural firm, Steelman Partners, and drastically enhanced the Las Vegas skyline in matter of months.

Simply put, Resorts World, which, along with Circa, was designed by Str is massive with 117,000 square feet of gaming space, 70,000 square feet of dedicated retail space, a 5,000-capacity concert and entertainment venue, 3,500 luxury guest rooms and suites from three Hilton brands and over 40 food and beverage options to choose from.

My personal F&B favorites are Gatsby’s Cocktail Lounge, a stunning pinkish-hued bar, and the “Street Market” section just off the casino floor that offers a center bar surrounded by over a dozen different small plate, casual dining options.

The north end of the Las Vegas Strip has long been in need of a revitalization and the folks at Resorts World did a fantastic job with the infrastructure surrounding the property, making it easy to get around and walk across the street to Encore Resort. For years, there really was no reason to walk past Wynn Las Vegas on the Strip, but times are changing thanks to Resorts World and...

8. SAHARA Las Vegas
Speaking of the north end of the Strip, I had the pleasure of making my first stay at SAHARA Las Vegas this week and thoroughly enjoyed everything that is has to offer.

The original Sahara Hotel opened in 1952 and with its African Sahara theme became one of the most iconic venues in Las Vegas. It closed in 2011 and SLS Las Vegas opened in its place, but that was short lived as the Meruelo Group bought the property in 2018 and brought back the Sahara name in the process.

The “reimagined” property does a fantastic job of remembering its storied past with memorabilia and photographs all over the place, as well as classy cocktail bars like The Tangier (which may sound familiar) and CASBAR. I had one of my best Las Vegas meals ever at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés and the resort also recently opened the first Chickie’s & Pete’s sports bar on the West Coast.

The poker room, which has a great set-up with a large screen that can break down into four different TVs, was active while I was there and the pool even offers a mini-Stadium Swim feel with large screen TVs.

We’ll have more to report on SAHARA soon, but in the meantime, this is definitely a spot you want to check out the next time you are in town and hopefully, combined with Resorts World, this fine property can help re-energize the north end of the Strip.

7. Off-Strip convenience
While it’s always great to stay right on the Strip when in Las Vegas, there are plenty of decent, more affordable off-Strip choices. Here at Casino City we have kind of adopted Tuscany Suites and Casino as our official home base when we travel to shows and the place has really grown on me.

First off, it’s super convenient, located on East Flamingo Road, about a 10-minute walk east from Bally's - Las Vegas on the Strip. It’s also an easy 10-minute, back-road, Uber ride to the Sands Convention Center, where G2E is held each year.

The Tuscany rooms are indeed suites, with a large sitting, couch and coffee table, kitchenette, refrigerator and microwave. While the casino is small and usually full of locals, we love the choice of restaurants and bars, including the coffee shop, Caffé Bottega, the wide selection of craft beers at PUB 365, and dinners at Tuscany Gardens, an Italian eatery. There’s also a decent sized gym and the pool area is quiet and relaxing.

When you’re budget calls for an off-Strip hotel, or you just want to get away from the hustle bustle, Tuscany is a great option.

6. Cocktail Hour at The Cosmo
I’m always searching for Las Vegas Happy Hours and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has a tremendous offering of specials on a daily basis.

The Cosmo has become one of my favorite spots on the Strip and the Happy Hours make it even more desirable. Nine restaurants offer “Cocktail Hour” specials with a range of different times and days, but all are generous.

I hit two of them this week and left feeling both full and satisfied. I tested the Agnalotti (short rib, brown butter, horseradish, toasted breadcrumbs) and a glass of wine at Scarpetta for a combined $15 and then hit up Jaleo (which, like Bazaar Meat at SAHARA, is also a José Andrés creation), for the Coca Escalivada y Anchoa (crispy Catalan-style bread with roasted peppers, roasted eggplant, cippolini onions, and Spanish anchovy) and a glass of wine for a whopping $13.

Two down, seven to go. See you soon, Cosmo!

5. Cleaver
In addition to Happy Hours, I’m also always on the hunt for hidden Las Vegas gems that are off-Strip and usually only known by locals, such as Herbs and Rye and Lotus of Siam.

Well, thanks to a tip from a Strip bartender, I can now add Cleaver-Butchered Meats, Seafood & Classic Cocktails to that list, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s owned by the same people who run Herbs and Rye and there are also some value-laden, all-day-long Happy Hour specials available. Located in a small strip mall that’s currently being renovated, about two miles east of the Wynn, Cleaver doesn’t look like much from the outside right now, but inside there is a robust menu of meats, seafood, cocktails, wine and beer.

The service is superb, the food is fantastic (I devoured the Squid Ink Pasta with Grilled Shrimp) and every day there are about a half-dozen entries that can be had for as much as half-price. Sure, there are a ton of amazing restaurants from household name chefs up and down the Strip, but when in Vegas, my advice is to always try and go where the locals go from time to time.

4. The Sand Dollar Lounge
We continue our tour of off-Strip gems at The Sand Dollar Lounge, a fantastic music joint on Spring Mountain Road, less than a mile west of Treasure Island.

If you like live music in smaller venues like yours truly, this is a must-visit. There’s a fine selection of cocktails that are stiff and reasonably priced, unlike what you’ll find on the Strip. The acoustics are outstanding and the energy is captivating.

Over the summer, the Plaza Hotel and Casino announced that it would open a second Sand Dollar venue soon and after a rollicking time at the original on Friday night jamming to some great Blues music, it will surely be on my lengthy Las Vegas hit list.

3. Energy and excitement at WSOP
Yes, despite this column making you think the contrary, we did log in multiple hours at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino for the World Series of Poker.

This was my ninth time covering the WSOP and definitely the most unique, due to the pandemic. While there was a ton of controversy within the poker community when a vaccine mandate was announced for players, it turns out that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Sure, there were some big name players that opted out, but from my view, for the most part it was non-factor. The validation process was simple and painless and surprisingly (to me), most of the players were not wearing masks at the table. By my judgement, I would say at least 70% were playing without a face covering.

Attendance for the $10,000 Main Event has been brisk, as today was the fifth of six starting flights, and the place was hopping.

Poker players are known for complaining, but the overall attitude and atmosphere here this week was one of utter excitement. The players truly missed the spectacle that is the World Series of Poker last year, and it was clearly evident this year.

“Everything has exceeded expectations so far, and we’re looking to finish strong with a real busy Main Event,” said Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP. “You can tell the players are excited to be here.”

Speaking of “here,” in case you missed it, Stewart confirmed with us last week that this will indeed be the last year the WSOP is hosted at the Rio after a memorable 17-year run with an announcement about where it will call home next year, most likely at another Caesars Entertainment property on the Strip, coming “very shortly.”

2. Allegiant Stadium
While I was hoping my first experience at the new Allegiant Stadium would be a Raiders game, the scheduling didn’t work out. But seeing The Rolling Stones in their first Las Vegas concert in six years at the spectacular domed stadium that looks like a giant, black Roomba from the outside wasn’t a bad alternative.

Logistics-wise, judging from the traffic congestion and ride share prices in the hours leading up to the show, the best way to get to Allegiant Stadium is to take the tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay and then make the half-mile stroll along what is called Stadium Walk, which is actually a bridge on Route 15 that is shut down for all traffic for events.

As you would expect, the stadium is ultra-modern and massive. Only complaint is that there was a lot of confusion trying to get in before the concert and there were long lines everywhere for concessions and bathrooms, which is what I expect when attending a Sox game at my beloved Fenway Park in Boston, but not for a brand-spanking-new arena that should have been built to avoid long lines.

As for the concert itself, Tom Brady isn’t the only one defeating Father Time. Mick Jagger is 78, looks 98 and jigs across the stage like he’s 28. What a marvel. There was a nice tribute to drummer Charlie Watts, who passed away in August, and the band had the 60,000 or so in attendance in a tizzy for almost the entire two-hour-plus show.

There’s something special about a generational band that can bring all different ages together. I saw multiple people around my age (call it 50ish) with their parents or older relatives, which is pretty darn cool.

Looking forward to getting back to Allegiant for a football game, someday soon.

1. Why I love Las Vegas
In a nutshell, Saturday night was a prime example as to why Las Vegas is one of my favorite cities in the world.

The entertainment options on the Las Vegas Strip on this particular night included, but were not limited to, Sting at Caesars Palace, personal favorite Lionel Richie at Wynn Las Vegas, Gwen Stefani at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas, Santana at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Sammy Hagar at The STRAT Hotel, Casino and SkyPod, a championship boxing match featuring the current king of boxing, Canelo Alvarez, at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, the Professional Bull Riding World Finals at T Mobile Arena and, of course, The Stones.

As the thousands of us wearing Stones' "tongue and lip" t-shirts were making our merry way over to Allegiant, thousands more people, wearing “CANELO” head bands and dancing to Mexican music were cruising in the opposite direction toward MGM Grand. All of these people were heading to “bucket list” events in their lives. The Canelo fanatics probably had no idea that a legendary rock band was playing less than two miles away, and vice versa for the Stones devotees. In fact, I heard a number of them ask, “Who’s Canelo?”

As the clock struck midnight, the fans from all of the aforementioned events were happily mingling together on the Strip. Canelo made history. The Stones were amazing. Dudes wearing cowboy hats with cowgirls on their arms seemed pretty pleased as to what went down at the PBR Finals. I’m sure there were also fans of Santana, Gwen, Sammy and Lionel out there, joining in on the fun. Everybody was in their happy place.

What an atmosphere and what a city. There really is no other place in the world like Las Vegas.

Related Links
Caesars Entertainment Ownership Details
Bally's - Las Vegas Details
MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Details
Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Details
SAHARA Las Vegas Details
Treasure Island Details
The STRAT Hotel, Casino and SkyPod Details
Circa Resort & Casino Details
Plaza Hotel and Casino Details
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Details
Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Details
Wynn Las Vegas Details
Tuscany Suites and Casino Details
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Details
Resorts World Las Vegas Details
The Sand Dollar Lounge Details
Encore Resort Details
Ranked Online Poker Rooms
Ranked Online Sportsbooks
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2021