Showtime in Vegas: Tom’s Tips for “Phantom” Opera-goers

Your Tipster has already reviewed on this website the utterly sensational Phantom of the Opera now showing at the ultra-opulent Venetian in Las Vegas.  The Phantom run will continue for at least the balance of 2008, and is now the most popular and best-selling show in all of Las Vegas. 

(To access the “Phantom” review, see: Tom’s New Year’s Pleasure: “Phantom of the Opera” in Vegas.)

Since we have also commented on other shows presented in Vegas, many of our readers wanted some additional tips, especially on the Las Vegas dining scene, as well as some side trips in the area.

Tom’s Tips for Unique Fun in Las Vegas

By now, nearly everyone has been to Vegas at least once and has a rather good idea of what they want to do, where to dine, which shows to see and how rapidly to empty the wallet or purse with utmost skill.

It is not your Tipster’s intent to pretend to be a comprehensive tour guide, but from decades of delightful and frequent experience (since I love Las Vegas!) here are a few, very special highlights which you may not yet have tried, or that have escaped your notice.

[Above left: the Caesars Palace swimming pool and spa area; below right: the Fountain in the Venetian Hotel’s main lobby; photographs by Tom.]

Today, Las Vegas has evolved on a truly world scale and morphed itself into Fun City.  It is not so much the Gambling capital or Sin City any more, even though gambling is (as is sin) readily available.  But it now features many of the most spectacular restaurants in the United States. 

It has by far the best shows in the most dazzling venues, and an unexcelled collection of Over the Top hotels and resorts – The Bellagio, Caesars Palace, The Wynn, Paris, The Mandalay Bay  and of course The Venetian, home of Phantom. 

Some of these hotels sport the most overwhelming swimming pool and spa venues conceivable, such as that of Caesars Palace.  Vegas is now an adult’s fabled Disneyland Gone Berzerk!

[Below left: castings of statues from Karnak at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas; photograph courtesy of Tom.]

Full scale reproductions of some of the world’s greatest architecture is flaunted, like in the marvelous Egyptian Luxor, the splendid  Garnier  Opera House at Paris, or the Doge’s Palace at the Venetian are just three examples. 

You begin to think like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

Off Day Side Trips

Even visitors who think they have seen it all, probably have not been to the beautiful Red Rock Canyon, easily reached from the Strip in less than half an hour. It’s best in the cool months, when there are wildflowers in profusion, with a well-maintained “loop” drive covering the entire area.

This affords close-up approaches to some of the grander views. The area is similar to Arizona’s red-rock Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon (although without the river!) and you get a view of the Strip as you drive about.  It’s very much worth the visit.  It doesn’t even remotely resemble anything that you associate with Vegas!

[Below right: Mount Charleston, only a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip, in winter; photograph by Tom.]

The same is true of the Mount Charleston – also very close to the Strip.  It’s best seen in midwinter, when there is skiing, vast snowdrifts, towering pines – an Alpine experience few even know exists in this area.

Another very new and most dramatic destination is Lake Las Vegas, in the Southeast area (Henderson) of Metropolitan Las Vegas.  It’s surrounded by multi-million dollar villas and palatial waterfront mansions. 

The resorts here are truly grande and include the Moroccan-themed Loews (which began life as a Hyatt Regency resort).

The posh  Ritz Carlton (at 1610 Lake Las Vegas Parkway, Henderson, Nevada) replicates an olde Tuscan Village, here named MonteLago Village Resort (Remember, this is Vegas!), with a replica of Florence’s most-photographed Ponte Vecchio bridge across the Arno River!

The ultra-elegant  Medici Cafe and Terrace at the Ritz (702.567.4700) is excellent, certainly in keeping with restauarants at other Ritz properties.  Get an Las Vegas area map and don’t miss Lake Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston.

Further out, but still nearby (30 miles southeast at the Arizona-Nevada border is Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead Reservoir, which surprisingly few Vegas visitors venture over to see. 

[Below left: the Red Rock Canyon, just a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip; photograph by Tom.]

Start at the Hoover Dam Visitor Center (which charges a fee, but is included with the $11 Powerplant Tour, with discounts for persons age 16 under and 62 or above, and active military and their dependents). Plan not only to walk across the top of the dam, but take the Powerplant tour of the dam’s inside .  You don’t have an idea of how big it is  and what an engineering feat was achieved until you take the tour.  It’s almost, but quite not quite, like winning a Jackpot.  (Yes, some of us do win, once in a long while!) 

For those who are especially fascinated by this engineering marvel, there are longer guided tours (not wheelchair accessible) for persons age 9 and above, at a $30 per person charge, with no discounts available.

Where to Stay

[Below left: the front desk of the Paris Resort and Casino; photograph by Tom.]

All of the national chains are here, but no American city has anything even remotely like the Glitz City knockout resorts. Everyone has their favorite, but the “high end” hotels like the Bellagio Hotel, Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Country Club and Caesars Palace often have specials  and reduced rates from Sunday through Thursday, especially during the hot weather. 

The rooms at Wynn are luxurious beyond belief, and Caesar himself would have been supremely comfortable in the marble-everywhere bathrooms at Caesars Palace.  I shop the websites like  and to see what bargains might be available.

The Dining Scene

Dining in Vegas is almost overwleming.  New on the scene is the stylish lakeside Daniel Boulud Brasserie at Wynn (702.770.3310) where you look at a Yosemite-like forest with waterfalls and enjoy the most incredible $35 hamburger ever (with foie gras and other exotic trimmings) – worth every nickel.

The lakeside bar next door at the bottom of the Wynn Resort escalators is a must.  It is fabulous in the evenings when there are surreal motion picture projections on the huge waterfalls across the lake!

[Below left: Napoleon’s Bar in the Paris Hotel; photograph by Tom.]

Incidentally, speaking of bars, do not miss the gilded grandeur of Napolean’s Bar in Paris at number 28, where one may enjoy the finest cigars, acompanied by the best in sherry or cognac relaxing in unsurpassed elegance.

Many of the great American restaurants are represented in Las Vegas.  Your hotel will have the full shopping list.  Reservations are a must in all of the top spots.

A classic wood-panelled, Gentlemen’s Club style chop house is The Capital Grille (702.932.6631) in Fashion Show Mall, across Las Vegas Boulevard from Wynn. (Take the escalators to the third level.) It is very affordable (part of the large family of Capital Grille restaurants) with huge glasses of wine.

Joe’s Seafood Prime Steak and Stone Crab (702.782.9222), under the new and colossal Imperial Rome scale Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is unexcelled for seafood. (The restaurant is the third of the famous Joe’s Seafoods also located in Miami Beach and Chicago.) It is always busy and always terrific, with the best stone crab claws in town. (Bring money!)

[Below right: the Mon Ami Gabi Restaurant, on the Las Vegas Strip; photograph by Tom.]

My overall favorite restaurant with a view is the Mon Ami Gabi, named for the renowned Chef  and Owner Gabino Sotelino (who also oversees his four restaurants, based in the Chicago area and Washington DC suburbs). 

The Las Vegas site (702.944.4224) is on the Strip near the Paris Resort’s Eiffel Tower. From Moni Ami Gabi one can view the Bellagio’s 125 foot high gushing fountains, and the Las Vegas Strip street “action”. This is a classic Parisian bistro reeking with French panache – affordable with a very broad menu and crisp, attentive, professional service.  It has the best garlic/butter/lemon/wine escargots in captivity.

[Below right: the Hofbrauhaus; photograph by Tom.]

For lots of noisy (um-pah-pah) fun, go to the Hofbrauhaus, located at 4510 Paradise Road at Harmon Avenue (across from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino). It bills itself as the world’s only “faithful recreation” of its affiliated restaurant, Munich’s iconic Hofbrauhaus Munchen. (And both restaurants are designed to prominently promote Munich’s HB Beer.)

With its immense steins of HB direct from Germany, hearty fare and raucous laughter, the Hofbrauhaus is like a trip to Munich.  (702.853.2337;

In contrast, Andre’s French Restaurant in the Monte Carlo (702.798.7151) is another of my favorites for a quiet, calm evening in the formal French tradition.  

(It is one of Chef/Owner Andre Rochat’s three Las Vegas Restaurants, that include the Alize at the Palms Casino Resort and the original Andre’s at 4321 W. Flamingo Road.)

For Nevada’s only three-star entry in the Michelin Guide, is the magnificent and very expensive Joel Robuchon French Restaurant  (702.891.7925), which is guarded by the huge gold lion which commands Las Vegas Boulevard at the MGM Grand. (Perhaps this is why Michelin so lionizes Andre’s.)  Note that no Southern California restaurant received three Michelin stars. 

The only California restaurant honored with three Michelin stars is Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in the Napa Valley.  Your Tipster is sending you to Keller’s Bouchon at the Venetian (702.414.6200,  at the Venezia Tower on the top of the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino, whose lobby entrance to Bouchon is palatial beyond belief.

There are literally legions of other restaurants for every budget, with every hotel, casino and resort haing a generic (but often quite good) buffet heavy on shrimp – the ones at Caesars Palace, Bellagio and Wynn are outstanding and not overly pricey. With lots of available pickings, I have tried to highlight what I have found to be the best of the best.

Finally, although you could possibly spot Phantom’s composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber or producer Harold Prince at a Phantom performance in Las Vegas from time to time, you’re very  likely to have an  Elvis sighting. He is alive, well, and prospering in Vegas – and in more than one location at a time! 

Meanwhile, don’t curse those nickel and diming slots and gambling tables so strongly as you emerge from the casinos broke.  How do you think they built those multi-billion dollar hotels and casinos? But do have fun in Fun City!