Matt and I headed to the airport bright and early for our 9am flight to Las Vegas. We landed shortly after 10am, the earliest we’d ever arrived there. (We’re fans of the postwork late arrival that basically just looses us onto the Strip.) We hopped the airport shuttle and picked up our car, which was a much larger Nissan than I’m used to driving; we wanted one with a trunk, since we’d be leaving it parked with our luggage quite a bit.
Our first important stop was the In-N-Out Burger south of town. We picked up our usual lunch and continued on the interstate to the Hoover Dam. Matt had never been there before, and I hadn’t been in years.
We got there within 45 minutes, drove through the questionable security check, and parked in the ramp. Having been in sub-20s weather in Minneapolis just a few hours earlier, the sun and warmth were a very nice change.
We jumped into the ‘dam’ puns as soon as we arrived. It’s an important tradition to uphold. (I was later pleased to buy some ‘dam mints’ at the gift shop, and I’ve been carrying them around ever since.)
The highway bridge had been constructed since my previous visit, and it made the view even more impressive.
There was a paddleboat tour sailing around Lake Mead north of the dam. I made a note to look into that on our next visit, because I’m pretty sure that would be awesome.
At the center of the dam, there’s a sign marking the border between Nevada and Arizona. I hadn’t noticed that before.
Since Matt hadn’t been to Arizona, we made a point of walking across to the other side. It was Bally’s first visit, too! We’re actually going to Scottsdale in 2015, but it’s not often you can just walk into another state.
We went back across the dam, made the obligatory gift shop visit, and went back to the car. I’ve never actually taken the dam tour, but we decided to save that for later. It’s a time commitment.
On the way out of the visitor center, we drove up to the overlook. Lake Mead looked very appealing from there.
I’d read that it was a more interesting route to take Lakeshore Drive through Lake Mead National Rec Area, so we decided to go back to Las Vegas that way. The desert scrub is pretty great to see, and also it’s easy to get down to the beaches. They’re rock instead of sand, but still scenic.
We stopped at a few more desert overlooks along the way. There seems to be a lot of mysterious industry going on out in the desert.
We exited from the northwest corner of the park, and headed back in the direction of Las Vegas. After a few miles, the desert started changing into this weird terraforming zone, where they were obviously in the middle of building a ton of new properties. We took a wrong turn and ended up in a golf resort neighborhood, which just made me angry with all its perfect green grass and fountains. It’s the desert, for god’s sake. Watering lawns is just wasteful.
We could see Vegas in the distance, so we knew we were headed in the right direction, but Google Maps wasn’t making it easy for us. It sent us down a dead-end road that ended in a future roundabout, and then couldn’t quite figure out another route from there. We finally found a major street that led us back to the south end of town, and from there managed to get on I-5. We took the loop around the west side, and exited to find a spot we’ve wanted to visit since we first started going to Vegas so many years ago: Frankie’s Tiki Room.
It was 3pm and full sun outside, so we walked into the nearly-dark room and were completely blind. We could kind of make out the back of the bar, and saw that there were a few tables with candles on them, but otherwise we couldn’t see anything in the room. We wanted to sit at the bar, but couldn’t even tell if there were people there or not. We had to stand around for a couple minutes before our eyes adjusted enough that we could find seats.
We had a couple drinks and lost $20 apiece on stupid video poker. Matt bought one of their souvenir mugs, which is shaped like a slot machine. We didn’t know it then, but it was the first one of a collection of new tiki mugs we’d get on the trip.
We unfortunately couldn’t stay all night even though we wanted to, because we had show tickets and a car to drive. We decided to head downtown to the hotel before going to get dinner, since it was after the 4pm check-in time. We found our way down to the Plaza, but the parking there was really confusing. We ended up parking in a flat lot a block down (rather than the ramp), and had to roll our bags through some road construction to get into the building.
The casino looked a lot nicer than it had on our previous visit (we’d had dinner at Hash House A-Go-Go a few years back), and the front desk staff was really nice. There was a beer bar in the lobby with a good selection, so we got a drink to take up to the room while we unpacked. We had a great view looking down Fremont Street, too.
Once we were settled, we headed back out to the car and drove to the SLS. I’d done some research, and discovered that Umami Burger had both 1) vegetarian food and 2) a sports book. Plus we wanted to see what they’d done to the former Sahara. The casino was waaay fancier than before, and basically unrecognizable from its previous incarnation. Umami Burger was fantastic, too: we had good food, excellent beer, and there were sporting events on about a billion TVs around us.
After dinner, it was time to head to the Rio for our show. On the way out to the parking ramp, we noticed something I’d seen and totally forgotten about on previous visits: there are footprints ALL OVER THE PARKING RAMPS IN VEGAS. Like on the walls, overhangs, and all over the ceilings. Seriously, look in any parking ramp in Las Vegas and it will look like humans were walking all over the ceiling. Why is that??
The Rio is one of the offstrip casinos we hadn’t been to before (and one I regularly confuse with The Palms, which we’ve stayed at). It definitely wasn’t as nice as I was expecting, and shortly after walking in we were harassed by one of those people trying to get you to play dumb games that are really a way to get you to buy a timeshare or something. (I don’t even know what their scammy bit is about, but it’s dumb and ends up with people littering their fake million-dollar bills all over the place.)
We had tickets to see Penn and Teller at 9pm, and since we had some time to kill, we figured we’d stop and get a drink to bring into the theater. We found a really nice-looking bar at an Italian restaurant down the hall, and got Manhattans to take with us. Then we headed to the theater, and discovered at the door that you weren’t allowed to bring drinks in with you. So we were the super-classy people slamming fancy cocktails at a table right by the entrance. We then went up to our seats in the balcony, and the show started shortly after.
I’d kind of forgotten than Penn is a weird libertarian-type, and was surprised that he managed to work a lot of those opinions into the show. Still, it was really great, and despite having seen them do numerous demonstrations of their tricks on TV, we still couldn’t tell how they pulled any of them off. It was pretty entertaining.
On the way out, we found these photos in the lobby. They disturb me every time I see them.
We drove back downtown and parked at the hotel (in the ramp this time, noting the footprints all over the place). It was close to 11pm (or 1am Minneapolis time), so we decided to go wander around downtown for a very short time before heading to bed. Fremont Street was crowded, the display was going on overhead, and a band was setting up near the hotel. We stopped into the Golden Gate for a drink, and then went to wander.
We ended up at Binion’s, just like we always do. It’s one of our favorite spots to gamble. I wanted to play craps, and ended up being lured to a table by a Canadian couple who saw me looking at it. Matt didn’t want to play dice, so he went to find a blackjack table. I talked to the Canadians for a bit before they wandered off, and then set to losing my money at that table. After a bit, the guy came back and we ended up talking about hockey forever; he was an Edmonton Oilers fan, and had no end of complaints about the fans’ bad attendance and the team just being bad in general. He was envious of the Wild being good, which is funny since that’s a fairly recent development. He also did a really good job of distracting me from craps, which meant I managed to lose $100 more than I thought.
When he took off, I grabbed the rest of my chips and went to join Matt for blackjack. He was doing very well, and I managed to recoup some of my losses too. By the time we decided to wrap up at Binions, it was of course really late at night (this always happens in Vegas). We walked back toward the Plaza and ended up standing and watching the cover band play at the end of the street. The scantily-clad female bartenders from the Golden Gate were up dancing on the bar, and the whole area was surprisingly crowded.
We finally made it back to the Plaza, and decided to stop and get a late-night slice at Pop Up Pizza in the lobby. Because not only did they have good pizza, they had a statue of a horse wearing a lampshade.