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January/February 2006 | Luxe Vegas

January/February 2006 | Luxe Vegas

After rolling the dice with a lavish makeover, Sin City is making room for the glamour amid the glitz. No wonder queer thrill seekers are showing up in spades!

You know the clichés. Everybody does. And they’re not entirely false. Standing at night on the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Strip at Tropicana Avenue, Las Vegas’s gleaming, incessant energy overwhelms—from Space Needle rip-off the Stratosphere to the flags atop the $95 million Colosseum that Céline Dion calls home; from taxis sporting ads of Frank Marino in Joan Rivers drag to an ersatz Statue of Liberty, which countless travelers took as virtually legit when they left thousands of mementos at her feet in the months after 9/11.

But there’s more to Vegas than meets the overstimulated eye. Look closer and you’ll find same-sex partners at the MGM Grand enjoying a “couples massage.” Amid the schlock of Crazy Girls and Jubilee! you’ll find Tony-winning musicals like Avenue Q and Hairspray, starring out actors direct from the Great White Way. Indeed, Sin City’s gay-welcoming wave extends all the way to the rowdy casino floor: On a recent visit to the Venetian, I saw a craps dealer chase a pair of drunken frat boys out of the casino for mercilessly mocking a flamboyant queer patron. You may start to wonder: When did Vegas become such a gay travelers’ paradise?

There comes a point in the life of any city aspiring to greatness when it consciously decides to move beyond its traditional comfort zone to court people of all types. For decades, Las Vegas was an old boys’ club of topless revues, reckless gambling, and cheap surf ’n’ turf. What passed for being of queer interest was largely unintentionally so—showgirls in feather headdresses, garish neon glitter, Siegfried and Roy.


That stigma persisted until hotel visionary Steve Wynn unveiled Bellagio in 1998, ushering in the new standard for a Vegas resort. Bellagio offered tasteful rooms, an art gallery with real Monets, a fleet of award-winning restaurants, and dancing fountains that have become as iconic as Elvis impersonators. Threatened by the spread of legalized gambling, Vegas figured the way to stay vibrant was to expand the market and compete not with Orlando, Fla., and Branson, Mo., but with Paris and New York. On a tour of the new Wynn Las Vegas in August, the most expensive casino-hotel ever built, Wynn exclaimed: “We don’t worry about the gambling anymore. We just want people to come here. The gambling takes care of itself.”

Seven years post-Bellagio, Vegas is a changed city—as my partner, Miles, and I discovered when we checked into the retooled MGM Grand. In 2005 MGM unveiled 51 bi-level suites called Skylofts located on the top two floors of the hotel. Adorned like urban apartments, each Skyloft includes at least five flat-screen TVs, a convertible shower–steam room, and so much Bang and Olufsen technowizardry that an attendant has to explain how it all works. We returned from dinner to find the “champagne bubbles” massage tub already filled and a menu left by the “dream butler” asking which of nine pillow styles of we desired. (Miles picked the “NASA memory foam”; I went with “natural buckwheat hull.”)

In food and shopping, too, this former wasteland of cheap buffets and tacky T-shirt stands now rivals the great cities. Such renowned chefs as Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, and Charlie Palmer have invested millions in visually stunning restaurants, while Saks, Tiffany, Manolo Blahnik, and Carolina Herrera have all opened outposts.

What’s more, Vegas’s sex appeal is now more evenhanded. Hot male models dance on a platform above the casino floor at the Rio as well as at the Centrifuge bar in the middle of the MGM casino. Meanwhile, at the Silverton, an off-Strip hunting-themed casino, hot “mermen” swim around in a 120,000-gallon performance tank during free midday shows. (Fair warning: While gay men are welcome at the various male stripper revues, the shows are primarily for women, with virtually no interplay between dancers and male patrons. Same goes for lesbians at female revues.)

The full-blown production shows also now have more to offer us. In the 1990s, the Strip’s best pseudogay moment was when a pair of shirtless muscle-bound Russian brothers lifted and twirled each other in Cirque du Soleil’s still-running Mystère at Treasure Island. Cirque took homoeroticism even further in 2003 with the $50 million Zumanity, a risque over-18 production emceed by Greenwich Village drag legend Joey Arias and featuring a same-sex ballet that culminates in an intense, lingering French kiss. We also get it where we least expect it: A number in Céline Dion’s show features a dozen bare-chested hunks writhing about the songstress—but they seem far more curious about one another.

The complete article appears in the January/Feburary issue of The Out Traveler.


The MGM Skylofts


Room rates in Las Vegas vary wildly based on the time of year, day of the week, and events in town, with December, July, and August offering great deals at even the most expensive properties. This guide is based on room prices for Jan–Feb 2006. Inexpensive: On the Strip, an excellent value is the Luxor (3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 888-777-0188, $79 and up), where the elevators run diagonally. One block up, New York–New York (3790 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 888-696-9887, $80 and up) is known for courting gay visitors thanks to Zumanity and an overall Manhattan vibe. The rooms have, um, character, with odd wall angles and strangely placed windows, but you can’t beat the location. Away from the Strip, the Golden Nugget (129 E. Fremont St., 800-846-5336, $79 and up) is the class act of the downtown properties, with the Fremont Street esplanade and light show right outside. Within walking distance of the “Fruit Loop” bar area is the Palm Springs–like Alexis Park Resort (375 E. Harmon, 800-582-2228, $109 and up), a nongaming all-suite hotel dotted with palm trees and small hot tubs and pools. The only gay hotel, the Blue Moon Resort (2651 Westwood Dr., 866-798-9194, $119 and up) has a clothing-optional tropical pool area. For the best stargazing, Palms (4321 W. Flamingo Rd., 866-942-7770, $99 and up) has parlayed its Real World appearance into a mecca for Britney, Paris, Jessica, and the lot. Moderate-Expensive: The MGM Grand (3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800-929-1111, $80 and up) has a range of room styles, from the cute West Wing rooms, which eschew floral-print bedspreads for clean whites and leather furniture, to the unbelievable bi-level Skylofts, fully loaded with gadgets and personal services. Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 888-987-6667, $179 and up) is the standard-bearer of Vegas elegance. The marble-floored bathrooms are always spacious and beautiful, even in the most basic rooms. Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 877-632-7800, $199 and up) is nicknamed “Mandalay Gay” because of its consistent queer clientele. Their new tower, THEhotel, offers suites decked in calming grays and blacks, plus a separate spa and access to the Mandalay pool spread—the best on the Strip. The newest kid on the block, Wynn Las Vegas (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 888-320-9966; $199 and up) has infused a bit of new luxury into even the basic rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows and flat-screen HDTV-capable sets mounted on swivel arms so they be viewed from the bed or the couch. Caesars Palace (3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800-634-6661, $140 and up), probably the city’s most venerable brand, remains au courant with its new luxury Augustus Tower and the expanded Forum Shops, complete with the continent’s only tri-level curved escalators. Finally, the business traveler–friendly Venetian (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 877-857-1861, $249 and up) is home to the sole Las Vegas branch of the renowned Canyon Ranch SpaClub and is a perfect location for enjoying both the north and south parts of the Strip.


Inexpensive-Moderate: Firefly (3900 Paradise Rd., 702-369-3971, $4–$10 per dish) is a rocking Spanish tapas hot spot just off the Strip, with dishes like bacon-wrapped dates and marinated lamb chops. Vegas also has one of those gay-owned Hamburger Mary’s (4503 Paradise Rd., 702-735-4400), where a serviceable burger can be had for about $10 before walking to the bars. At MGM Grand, ’wichcraft (800-929-1111) is an excellent offshoot of New York City’s Craft, offering creative sandwiches (like grilled Gruyère and caramelized onions on rye) for under $10. Red 8 (at Wynn, 877-321-WYNN, $5–$30 per dish) serves up Vegas’s most authentic Chinese noodles and dim sum. For the new rage in buffets, head to the elegant Cravings (at the Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800-374-9000, $12.50–$22.50), where you’ll find 11 food stations and addictive macaroons. For some real Vegas lore, head to the Bootlegger Bistro (7700 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-736-4949, $10–$30 per dish), a 24-hour Italian classic co-owned by a former lounge singer who’s now lieutenant governor of Nevada. Expensive: On the top floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is Mix (877-632-7800, $25–$50 per entrée), an Alain Ducasse joint where you can sit outside and gaze down the Strip or sit inside and be mesmerized by a 15,000-piece blown-glass chandelier. The food’s amazing too, particularly the salmon with the spicy shallot marmalade. Try Charlie Palmer’s Aureole (at Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7401, $95 tasting menu) for eye-popping ambiance—a four-story wine tower rises from the sunken dining room—and incredible surf and turf. Nob Hill (at MGM Grand, 702-891-7337, $115 tasting menu) is a stunning version of the Bay Area classic, offering its signature lobster pot pie, while down the walk at the same hotel is Craftsteak (702-891-7318, $26 and up per entrée), another impressive descendent of Manhattan’s Craft, with a similarly inventive menu highlighted by their amazing “monkey bread” for dessert. Wynn, too, has made it tough to choose where to eat—whether in the Hello, Dolly!–inspired recessed dining room of Alex (888-352-DINE, $35 and up per entrée), where the short ribs are a specialty, or along the Lake of Dreams at the SW Steakhouse ($30 and up per entrée).


Off the Strip, the “Fruit Loop” area offers a gay dance club, Gipsy (4605 S. Paradise Rd., 702-731-1919), which is across the street from an all-purpose watering hole called FreeZone (610 E. Naples Dr., 702-794-2300). There’s also a strip mall with both a bear bar called the Buffalo (4640 Paradise Rd. #11, 702-733-8355) and the restaurant–cum–drag club called Suede (4640 Paradise Rd. #4, 702-791-3463), where in an earlier incarnation the band the Killers got their start. On the Strip, check out the “omnisexual” factory-style club Krave (at the Aladdin, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-836-0830), the white-on-white Pure (at Caesars Palace, 702-212-8806), which attracts the world’s top DJs, or the ultralounge Lure (at Wynn, 702-770-7000), where you can unwind amid calming blue light and seductive leather furnishings.


Vegas shows ain’t what they used to be. Avenue Q (at Wynn, 888-320-9966, $88 and up), Mamma Mia! (at Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7580, $82.50 and up), and Hairspray (at Luxor, 800-557-7428, $71.50 and up) are real Broadway imports, and the glorious Mystère (at Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800-963-9634, $60 and up) and erotic Zumanity (at New York–New York, 866-606-7111, $65 and up) explore two distinct sides of Cirque du Soleil. Cirque’s two other Vegas shows rely heavily on astonishing technology, with O (at Bellagio, 800-963-9634, $93.50 and up) performed over a 1.5-million-gallon pool with a retractable stage, and (at MGM Grand, 877-264-1844, $99 and up), in which the stage literally flies around and turns into a ship, a mountain, and a battlefield. Céline Dion, Elton John (both at Caesars Palace: Dion, 877-4-CELINE, $87.50 and up; John, 888-4-ELTONJ, $100 and up), and Barry Manilow (at the Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Rd., 800-222-5361, $95 and up) represent the modern resurgence of the resident headliner. But some shows do hark back to the old days, with Clint Holmes (at Harrahs, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800-392-9002, $60), who calls Sammy Davis Jr. his biggest influence, doing a vintage song-and-dance act, Jubilee! (at Bally’s, 3645 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800-237-SHOW, $65 and up) offering topless dancers in outlandish headdresses, and An Evening at La Cage (at the Riviera, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-794-9433, $60.50 and up) still serving up some of the country’s best drag. Once you’ve had enough of the Strip, call Pink Jeep Tours (888-900-4480, $74 and up) and have them haul you to Hoover Dam or the sensational Red Rock hiking area Valley of Fire, each about an hour’s drive from the Strip.


Direct flights are available from almost every major domestic city. A quarter of Vegas visitors drive in from Southern California via Interstate 15 or from Arizona via US 93.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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