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Our Fabulous Vegas

Our Fabulous Vegas

With boyfriend in tow, OutTraveler correspondent Steven Burns checks out Sin City's latest gay grab.

?Few cities in the world are more sexually charged than Las Vegas. Spend a few moments on the streets and you?ll see an abundance of strip-club card-slappin? touts, billboards with ?ber-masculine, oiled-up Greek gods, and girl-on-girl eroticism—all pretty much geared for heterosexual tourists? tastes. On one hand, it?s a refreshing change to raise an eyebrow and judge (with a laugh) at how unhinged hets gone wild can get. But when it comes down to it, I've always been curious why Las Vegas isn?t a more explicitly gay destination too. LGBTs do love it, and go in droves, but that's more a fact of it just being a popular destination, period. Ask any local: Las Vegas is no gay paradise.

?But that's changing. For a few years now, the big resorts have tapped that stream of gay and lesbian visitors gambling their way up and down the Strip with ads in gay pubs and official diversity embracing policies. In some ways, we?re exactly the type of traveler that Las Vegas dreams of. There are luxurious hotels for those with even the most discriminating tastes. You?ll find unbelievable dining, shopping, a wide spectrum of music and glitzy shows, and, of course, the time-honored tradition of staying up into the wee hours of the night hoping to win a little on the casino floor. And now, there?s the official big gay weekend, Fabulous, conveniently hinged on Lady Gaga (who else?).

?For four full days MGM Resorts turned the keys over to the queers with a slate of parties and events as Lady G's Monster Ball rolled into town. Score one for the new Vegas. With my boyfriend—he's never been, but I always thought he should, and sacrificing his Vegas virginity in the name of research seemed particularly apt on her altar?I checked into the relatively new Aria hotel, part of MGM's massive city-within-a-city complex, CityCenter, and centrally located to all of the events with a mod, urban appeal. Maybe it was my own fears and insecurities about Las Vegas not being too gay-friendly, but we were immediately welcomed as a couple and openly thanked by the front desk staff for joining the hotel's LGBT weekend. Score two: simple touches go far. Score three? Expert flourishes.

?A hint of jasmine hung in the air as we opened our hotel room door. The lights turned on, jazz began to play on the flat screen, and the curtains slowly and oh-so dramatically opened up on the glitzy Strip. Aria?s rooms are stunning, big, and well equipped. My inner gadget-loving geek loved the ability to set timers for when lights turned on, which curtains opened, what temperature I wanted the room during the day, and what music was playing—all from one touch-screen remote. Every amenity was there, including a nice soaking tub and a shower that could fit you, your mate, and about four more new friends. Not that anyone stays in their room all that long in Vegas: The most welcome feature was a simple button by the nightstand that said "Goodnight"—which dimmed the lights gracefully, and gently closed the curtains.

? It's a well-known fact turned cliché: Vegas doesn't do small or subtle. And it certainly doesn't abide by it. Our plans to "just relax" quickly were abandoned with no regrets whatsoever. We arrived late Thursday and intended our first night to be pretty low key, as Gaga, Cirque du Soleil?s sexy bi-sensual Zumanity (the gayest attraction on the Strip after the Liberace Museum) and numerous weekend events and after-parties were on the agenda. Plus meeting and hanging out with other gay travelers at MGM's sister properties, from the Mirage all the way down to Mandalay Bay. What started out innocently as checking out the fountains at the Bellagio that night, ended up being a crazy, wandering multi-mile journey (see above, Vegas equals epic) all the way up past Paris, Caeser's, and the Venetian to the Wynn, and then back down to the MGM and New York, New York resorts. Screw it. We were in Vegas after all. Straight folks from square states best watch out.

?Walking the strip—a must do, if you?ve never been—is amusing and brings people-watching to a whole new level. Sure there was a messy girl stumbling along with a two-finger grip on her fishbowl a quarter full of slushy blue booze, who announced to everyone around "Oh my gawd, I am just soooo happpppy!" There were the group of college guys who were all friends, dressed alike and simply stunning to look at, but so pathetic in their attempts to meet girls. One approached a complete stranger and got down on his knee and said, "Baby, will you marry me?" She scoffed and walked away in her ridiculously short dress. Yes, this stuff really happens in Vegas. And my boyfriend looked at me and said, "Are you OK if he gets down on one knee and asks to marry me?" Another gay couple leaned in and said to me, "Oh honey, you better ask to share if that happens." And that?s the funny thing about walking the strip: You can?t help but think you are in a sea of straight people—but you?re not. You?re in a big melting pot of glitz, showy casinos that never sleep, and streets where it?s OK to wander about with an open container of your drink of choice.

?Although one quickly learns that it is impossible to maintain any normal sort of sleep schedule. (They say it?s a myth that the casinos pump in extra oxygen to keep people awake, but something is energizing in the air.) Our first night quickly became our first morning. In the bright sunshine, we soon found ourselves at it again. We sipped complimentary champagne?thank you Fabulous Vegas wristbands?at Crystals, the Daniel Libeskind?designed jewel of a high-end shopping center footsteps away from Aria. And there, I began a tortuous love affair with a Tom Ford leather jacket from last season that was quilted down with stunning suede details. But even though I found it on the ?sale? rack, our love affair was forcibly ended by a $9,000 price tag (the bitch!). Time to move on. At Louis Vuitton, amongst all the LV branded clothes, sneakers, iPad cases, you name it, I fully expected Andr? Leon Talley to walk through the door at any moment. Van Cleef & Arpels was fun to sample champagne in and look at the stunning diamonds, but we both beelined for the door once the staff started asking how long we?d been together and whether we?d considered something sparkly to commemorate our relationship. Awkward situation; pleasant that they asked.

?Even if you?re not a Centurion Card holder or hot for slots, we soon discovered there were plenty of other activities to do just around the 67-acre CityCenter complex, whether that means checking out the hotel's art collections?definitely go check out the huge Nancy Rubin?s Transformer-esque canoe sculpture in Harmon Circle (you can also see if from the tram that runs from CityCenter to the Bellagio), it?s stunning. Along with the giant Typewriter Eraser by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen near the Mandarin Oriental. What I really loved, in addition to the Dale Chihuly glass exhibition at The Gallery, was that art was everywhere around the CityCenter?and it is impressive and genuine. Not just some showy gimmick. You?ll find more artwork just by walking around, not to mention the stunning industrial, urban architecture. Foster + Partner's checkerboard yellow/blue Harmon Hotel (slated to open late this year) is winner. You?ll also find an impressive bevy of restaurants and cafes. Eva Longoria (I know, I know, we've all given up Desperate Housewives) actually has a pretty fun club called Eve, but we always moved on as the night progressed to clubs with more boys. Next door, you?ll find Beso, which while fancy, delightfully unpretentious and sinful, its freakin? incredible Mac & Cheese was the perfect "ahh, screw it, I can work this off later at the gym" treat.

?After shopping and donating cash to some very greedy slot machines, we managed a quick refresh in the room, and found ourselves having an amazing dinner at Fiamma Trattoria in the MGM Grand, just footsteps from Gaga mania. The restaurant is modern, dark and perhaps the perfect choice before the concert, with a waitstaff choreographed for a relaxed pre-show rush. A burrata app and Short Rib Raviolini with Barbera wine, butter and black truffle special were to die for. The crochette dessert?little amaretti doughnuts with hazelnut glaze, chocolate gananche and passionfruit cream dip?a decadent end. At the show itself, scads were people dressed up and the excitement electric. Semi-Precious Weapons with their loud and fun electro glam set, riled up the crowd and Gaga naturally killed it, ?Bad Romance? turning her encore into a huge sing-a-long. (We also loved how she wore a fan?s underwear that he threw up on to the stage for several songs.) Better even than the spectacle, the $20,000 from our show alone she and Virgin Mobile are donating to
Re*Generation, an outreach to homeless gay and lesbian kids.) Once again, we found ourselves forsaking sleep and merging with the crowds of Vegas at the official Studio 54 after party, a mish mash of Fabulous weekend attendees and general party crowds, and later at Krave. a gay club right off the Strip that was recommended to us by a fellow concert goers. As gay clubs go, its exactly what you?d expect, and thankfully close, just across the street from ARIA.

 The next day was all about relaxation. We didn?t rush to go see a million different things and just enjoyed all of the amenities that were available to us. After a visit to the Aria spa for a Thai Poultice massage, its muslin-wrapped hot packs filled with herbs and spices kneaded into pressure points the perfect post-party antidote, we melted away poolside, and with Fabulous drink specials in hand met another gay couple that were unaware of the gay weekend promotion, but were finding Vegas to be a great destination to just simply treat yourself well. (Agreed.) This seemed to be reoccurring theme. We?d meet great gay couples, but it was just a fluke that we all happened to attend this weekend. The span of events and properties was massive, so while every MGM hotel offered something over the course of four days, it was impossible to be at everything, or necessarily even tell who was a Fabulous attendee. Perhaps for Fabulous 2.0 (in the works for next year), events could be centralized at one hotel and the gay presence solidly visible.

 But despite Vegas' image and focus on creating an unapologetic hetero Candyland, our weekend proves great gay times can be had, even in unexpected places. And while the town's official DADT tourist policy, ?What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas?, lends a certain freedom for people to fly above radar, a weekend like this proves it doesn't always have to be a one-off. Specifically, being out and proud in Sin City shows there is power in boys, boys, boys. During the promotion it was refreshing to find spaces specifically designated as gay bars within the big casinos themselves. How long is it before a fun and happening gay bar is standard in every casino? As for my Vegas virgin boyfriend, after crashing back home. I looked up and said, ?Well?? And he smiled devilishly, ? We ate like kings, we drank like fish, we danced and partied like we were in our early twenties again. What?s not to love about that? When we go back, we need to just take a bunch of friends and make our own gay weekend.? Hmm, apparently, we are going back... For more travel info on gay Las Vegas, click here or check out our Las Vegas Travel Guide.
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