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May/June 2005 | Las Vegas Confidential

May/June 2005 | Las Vegas Confidential

Behind the rhinestone-studded truth of Vegas's fast and flashy queer side

Liberace once quipped, "When the reviews are bad, I tell my staff that they can join me as I cry all the way to the bank." Years later, when asked about his critical success (or lack thereof), he gleefully responded, "Remember that bank I cried all the way to? I bought it." This is Vegas in a nutshell. Culture snobs have long eschewed the glitz and campy glamour of Sin City, but money talks in chaos-driven Vegas. In fact, it is the lingua franca of this entire strange desert oasis. In a city that has continually transformed itself from mob municipality to family destination to tight-lipped lap of luxury, even the most over-trotted and sophisticated traveler has to appreciate its sheer bawdiness and florescent radiance.

After recovering from their foolish "Las Vegas is for families" ad campaign in the tourism slump of the mid '90s (which almost certainly alienated gay and lesbian travelers), Vegas once again reinvented itself by owning up to its true identity with the slogan "What happens here, stays here." The results were staggering. Vegas was once again a destination for both gambling grannies (who never left in the first place), the Japanese nouveau riche, hipster dot-commoners, and middle-age secretaries with a 401k. Gay travelers took note and joined this motley crew, starting a small gay flourish.

Nowadays, even the culture snobs are impressed with Vegas's forthright self-awareness (and rightly so), which has given a leg up to shows like Cirque du Soleil's Ka, O, and Zumanity, all of which are truly astonishing feats of theater that make Broadway or West End theatrical budgets look like petty cash funds. But it's not just the money that goes into these shows that makes them great--it's the uncrushable Vegas spirit that gambles against the odds.

But is Vegas for gays? The city has traditionally gotten a bad rap regarding its gay scene. It's not so much that anyone hates or even dislikes homosexuality. Gay residents are out and lead healthy lives amid the hetero indulgence. It's just that hatred and racism have little financial value, and are therefore dismissed with speed. True, a gay traveler might often feel overlooked, especially since stripper shows are a dime a dozen and rather ubiquitous. And the fact that even straights know that Vegas is "campy" seems suspect. But it's hard to argue with the rhinestone-studded truth: Liberace, Siegfried & Roy, Showgirls, Cirque du Soleil, Celine Dion, and Elton John all lay some claim to the city, giving it a very queer sheen indeed.

ESSENTIALS

Accommodations

Although the newer accommodations in Vegas offer the expected lux amenities like wi-fi access, cotton piqu? robes, and well-stocked minibars, many resorts have fallen into high-end one-upmanship these days. The burgeoning luxury and spa culture capitalizes on middle-class tourist casino winnings and helps put that money right back into the Vegas cash cog. Won at blackjack? Get an Ashiatsu massage. Hit the jackpot? Hit Prada. This is best evidenced at Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd.; 702-693-7111; 888-987-6667; from $200), which offers every kind of luxury amenity you can imagine (and that you can purchase during your individualized VIP checkout) including very comfy Serta mattresses, down pillows, and electronic drapes that reveal a spectacular view of Lake Bellagio's whimsical fountain show and neighboring Paris's Eiffel Tower. The location also provides a convenience to some of the city's best new restaurants. If you've foolishly gambled away a chunk of money, you can reflect on your losses at Bellagio's Gallery of Art, which is oddly enough showcasing a Monet exhibit through May. The celluloid-indulgent MGM Grand(3799 Las Vegas Blvd South, 702-891-1111; from $200) features a giant gold lion outside while live lions roam indoors. It still ranks as the second largest hotel in the world (Thailand's 5,100 room Ambassador City Jomtien Resort is the largest). Each of its 5,005 rooms is lavishly festooned with amenities like imported marble bathrooms, brass trimmed showers, and ornate fixtures that speak a kind of mob dialect of luxury. Skylofts are MGM's latest incarnation, offering high-end design loft decor with butlers, cooks, and pampering ad naseum at a mere $3,500 to $10,000 a night. Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd South, 702-632-7777, from $200) is a stylish and younger resort, while Hard Rock Las Vegas Hotel(4455 Paradise Rd., 702-693-5000, from $150) is surprisingly the hotbed of alty action in Vegas and where many modern bands perform in the city. Sin City's only gay-exclusive resort, Blue Moon (651 Westwood Dr., 702-361-9099), offers a more private Palm Springs kind of take on Vegas. Its 45 rooms and suites are situated in a clothing-optional lagoon and grotto setting, replete with waterfalls and steam room.

Restaurants

The food in Vegas has moved way beyond the all-you-can-eat buffet line, clustering into a more sophisticated (albeit mall-like) territory. Just this year, the food scene is beginning to experience a renaissance that shamelessly but thankfully borrows heavily from the New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco culinary worlds. The recent presence of celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio (the whiz behind New York's Craft empire), Thomas Keller (French Laundry and Per Se), and Alain Ducasse in Vegas has upped the bar. This is refreshing, considering that the stand-and-pick Vegas dining experience was never embraced by gay travelers. Craft Steak (702-891-7318) in MGM Grand is a sleek and warm steak house packed with delicious cuts of meat and jet-setters who appreciate good food. Colicchio's other venue, another Gotham clone, 'wichcraft (702-891-1111) is a clean, well-lit sandwichateria just down the mall-hall with delicious combos like bacon and gorgonzola or meatloaf and cheddar. For spicier options head over to Diego (702 891-1111), which boasts a wide array of tequila and tarted-up (but delicious) Mexican and desert-style cuisine, including interesting ingredients like agave nectar and cactus honey. Sensi (702-693-7111) back at Bellagio is a Japanese-fusion spot tweaked with an emphasis on western luxuries like truffles and oysters. Adjacent Fix (702-693-8400) is a swank 24-hour burger and comfort food eatery. If you need to escape the chaos of the casinos, head to Hamburger Mary's(4503 Paradise Rd., 702-735-4400) or Rainbow Lounge (900 E. Karen, 702-735-0885), both of which offer a cruisier and gayer gathering with standard American cooking.

Nightlife

Nightlife in Vegas is an endless affair, since there is no last call and most bars legally serve alcohol 24 hours a day. Gay bars like Flex (4371 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-385-3539), Free Zone (610 E. Naples Dr., 702-794-2300) and Back Door Lounge (1415 E. Charleston Blvd., 702-385-2018) are all friendly starter bars that offer a diversity of gay clientele beginning their nights out. Gipsy (4605 Paradise Rd., 702-731-1919) has all that and dancing too. For a more country-western kick, check out Back Street (5012 S. Arville Rd., 702 876-1844). On Sunday afternoons it hosts a popular beer bust. Badlands Saloon (953 E. Sahara Ave., 702 792-9262) is another queer cowpoke dominated bar. Krave (3663 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-836-0830) is the newest hot spot, mega dance club, featuring a Roman coliseum motif that suits that certain Vegas flair. On Saturday nights Krave's cabaret room is the setting for the Vegas incarnation of Girl Bar, L.A.'s popular lipstick lesbian hangout. Eagle Leather (3430 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-458-8662) hosts an underwear night on Fridays, while Buffalo (4640 Paradise Rd.; 702-733-8355) caters more to Levis than leather.

Attractions

Meeting the right man at one of these clubs by night may land you by day in the Gay Chapel of Las Vegas (1205 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-384-0771), Sin City's only gay-owned and -operated ceremony chapel, where you and your 100 nearest and dearest can celebrate a disco-, Elvis-, or shotgun/mafia-themed commitment ceremony. For a more subtle touch, check out Metropolitan Community Church (1140 Almond Tree Lane; 702-369-4380). But by all means, don't leave Vegas in your honeymoon dust. Liberace Museum (1775 E. Tropicana Dr.; 702-798-5595) is an international must-see that is housed in Liberace Plaza, a sorry-looking strip mall accessible by the museum's shuttle bus. It not only is the current home of the world's largest Rhinestone (thank you, Swarovski!) but also houses the piano prodigy's fabulous costume and car collections. Furthermore, the museum is a candid (after years of denial the museum finally admitted to Liberace's death from AIDS-related complications) and touching retrospective of a complex and dynamic man who lived, lived, lived and who was and still is the exemplification of Las Vegas...er...Viva, Las Vegas.


The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at update@outtraveler.com if you have any new information.
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