My Las Vegas Renaissance

The first time I went to Las Vegas was for a bachelor party. Highlights of that trip included seeing Siegfried at the airport, my first limousine ride in which a limo driver handed me a beer, playing the card game War at Circus-Circus and – after 24 straight hours of mayhem – falling asleep inside one of the world’s worst strip clubs. I don’t even think it had a name. I think it was just called “Strip Club.”

For the record, there is no sleep like strip club sleep. It is a far superior experience compared to falling asleep on the toilet at work

, a phenomenon that I have documented extensively.

When I moved to Los Angeles I returned to Vegas every six months or so. No matter the company, it was always good times. The best flight in the country might be the Southwest flight from LAX to Vegas on a Friday night. (They leave every 35 seconds after 4 PM.) The girls are dressed to party. The cocktails flow. The pilots leave the cockpit and play Frisbee with the black box. It’s good fun.

The best part is how quick it is. You go wheels up in L.A. and within an hour you are on the streets of Las Vegas. There are many advantages to living in Los Angeles and easy access to Sin City is one of them.

(Above: Southwest flight 089 from LAX to Vegas.)

It was bound to happened. After six years of good times I finally soured on Las Vegas.

A few years ago I had a bummer of a weekend at a bachelor party. At the strip club I was one of the few guys buying drinks and lap dances – something everyone should have been doing. At dinner, some of the groom’s friends bought bottles of wine and steaks and demanded that we split the bill equally. Because I’m a spineless dolt, I paid $75 for a $25 meal. (If my buddy is reading this – I think the world of you and your wife, but some of your friends are cheap. I had a good time with you and our friends.) I am not sure why, but I blamed the weekend on Las Vegas. I felt like I had made too many withdrawals from the Clark County Good Times Bank Account and I was overdrawn.

I finally returned last year to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. It was a good trip – my family is great – but it’s a far different experience than when you’re hopped up on Bud Light and peel ‘n eat shrimp with eight of your friends.

So here I was, ready to write Las Vegas off forever, checking out pamphlets for Laughlin and Primm, when my brother calls and asks if I want to go to Sin City for 24 hours. We had a free flight and accommodations. All we had to do was attend an event for his work.

Thus began my Las Vegas Renaissance.

We flew from LAX to Vegas in the early afternoon, arrived at our hotel and did something incredibly smart. We both took naps. This is one of the best-kept secrets of Las Vegas, something noted Vegas-phile Bill Simmons doesn’t write about on and the tourism board will never advertise. Naps are the battery that powers Las Vegas. They’re nature’s Red Bull. Without that one hour of laying unconscious in your hotel bed in the middle of the afternoon, the entire city does not happen. No drinking, no gambling, no sleeping with women named Yvette. You have to nap. Bugsy Siegel knew it. Frank Sinatra knew it. Danny Gans knew it. And now you know it. No city’s economy relies more on the mid-afternoon nap than Las Vegas.

After finishing our naps – and shaking each other’s hands in congratulations for being the smartest brothers ever – we hit a pre-event happy hour for free food and drinks. I am a journalist by trade and have never been close to the money stream in any company at which I’ve worked. My brother works close to the money stream. My advice to my children will be to bathe in the money stream, to let it wash over them in free Jack-on-the-rocks and delicious skewered meats. They may lose their souls in the process, but they’ll never open an empty refrigerator and contemplate eating the light bulb.

We attended the event. I am going to give the event short shrift because it’s never really about the event in Las Vegas or Hollywood. It’s about the after-party. And we were given access to a kick-ass after-party at what is arguably the hottest night club in the country – PURE at Caesar’s Palace. This is where Paris and Britney and Arab guys whose fathers hold hands in public with President Bush go to party.

The line outside the club was 200 deep. I didn’t have to wait because I was part of a VIP party. This 25-pushing-44 hag in a red cocktail dress scowled at me like “How are you getting in and I’m not?” I actually shrugged my shoulders as if I knew what she was thinking. I didn’t turn around to see her reaction, but I like to think she ran off and shoulder-tackled a slot machine into the ground.

My PURE experience was probably different than the average person’s. I was let into a roped-off section that featured a table, seats and “bottle service.” “Bottle service” or “table service” is when you purchase $50 bottles of vodka for $400. For reasons that are still unclear to me, vodka just tastes better when it costs $350 more than you would pay retail. I remember thinking, “I wish poor people were here to see this.” I also remember thinking, “This vodka would taste better coming out of the last bald eagle’s dry white skull.”

I am not a night club regular. (No! Joe, are you kidding? Come on. Your wardrobe is sporting goods chic and you drive a car that can at its best be described as “sensible.” You’re a party animal, bro! Nope. Not true, bro.) As a non-regular, I was struck by how many sections were off-limits to other people. Our section was roped off to everyone who was not in our party. Tables were roped off. Stages were roped off. The supply closet where they kept the rope was roped off. Everything was roped off.

(Above: The upstairs roof at PURE. Note that the western half of the city has been roped off for VIP access.)

Everyone in town has a little bit of money, but those who have a lot of money can show off by purchasing access to roped-off sections. A small table sets you apart from the Joe Public crowd. Having your own elevated stage section sets you apart from the table crowd. Our driver from the airport to the hotel said that there are guys – rich heirs, mostly – who go into these clubs on weeknights and drop $10,000 like it’s nothing. (That could buy me so many workout shorts.)

The evening completely confirmed for me that Las Vegas is no longer a gambling destination, it’s a clubbing destination.

After a 24-hour blitz through the city on someone else’s dime, I f
ell back in love with Las Vegas. I won a couple bucks at roulette, met some new people, was given more beer by more limousine drivers and traded “Caddyshack” quotes with 12 complete strangers in a limo while riding up and down the Strip.

It’s a great city. Las Vegas is the girlfriend you can’t break up with, mainly because she’ll let you do anything to her. You know you can’t marry her, but you also know you’re an idiot if you ever dump her.

(To hear Sean, Mike, Carlos and me – and special guest comedian Hal Rudnick – talk about this column on The Second Column podcast on iTunes, click here.)

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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