On a rainy night in Dublin, over a sushi dinner on Talbot Street, a pal and I were discussing my upcoming girly getaway to Las Vegas.
“That trip is wasted on you!” she exclaimed, a hint of jealousy in her eyes.
Her exasperation arose mainly from the fact that I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in six months — and didn’t plan to any time soon… not even on my impending trip to the ‘City of Sin’.
Fast-forward one week later and our five-strong girl gang are sitting in the swanky Sake Rok Japanese restaurant on the Las Vegas strip. A DJ plays Motown hits in the corner while we feast on hamachi sashimi, salt and pepper shrimp, balsamic seabass and a delicious sushi platter.
Suddenly, the restaurant staff, in glitter-gold blazers, congregate in front of the sushi bar before breaking into a dance routine to Bruno Mars’s Uptown Funk — and that song title describes this place perfectly.
Loud music, flashing lights, impromptu performances, lip-sync battles and diner participation are all par for the course at Sake Rok (sakeroklv.com). As the name suggests, there’s a lengthy sake and cocktail menu on offer. But for me, the tempura and theatricals will do just fine.
Just as well, because the next morning, it’s an early start in a city that never sleeps. Vegas is known for its nocturnal indulgences, but on this breakaway, we’re planning to discover some of its daytime delights too.
Our first adventure? Zip-lining down the Grand Canyon.
We get geared up at Flightlinez headquarters (flightlinezbootleg.com) before jumping on board their refurbished old schoolbus to begin our ascent up the treacherous, dusty road to the top of Bootleg Canyon. The views over the cliff-edge are dramatic and one or two of my group are particularly nervous about heights.
However, they won’t find any comfort from the crew from Flightlinez: the team entertain us with a well-rehearsed comedy skit that doesn’t hold back on the zip-line-related death jokes.
But their spiel is also really informative. They tell us about the bootleggers who distilled moonshine in the canyon during the Great Depression, and of the mountain bike trails that zig-zag down the arid terrain (Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, consisting of about 36 miles of track, is the eighth most popular tracks in the world, we’re told).
On alighting the bus, we enjoy sweeping views of Lake Mead in the distance before taking a short hike to the first of four adrenaline-inducing zip-lines. Secured in our harnesses, butterflies in our stomachs, we soar down 1.5 miles of zip-wire, reaching speeds of 60mph over the desert and wildlife below. What a ride!
… And Chill
Vegas is a hub of extremes, and true to form, just hours later, we’re at the palatial Venetian resort, calmly floating down the in-house canal on a gondola.
After being serenaded by our charming gondolier, we check into the tranquil Voie Spa Paris at Caesar’s Palace for some relaxing beauty treatments. From the exhilaration of barrelling down a zip-line 3,800 feet above sea level, to chilling out on a plinth while a masseuse kneads our tensions away, Vegas truly is a playground of pleasure.
But, what does a temporary teetotaller do in a city where drinks, quite literally, flow freely? Eat, of course!
That night, glammed up in our glad rags, myself and the ladies join the Lip Smacking Foodie Tour (vegasfoodietour.com), and for the next four hours, stroll from one fine-dining restaurant to the next, where we feast on the first-class creations from Michelin-awarded chefs.
Starters are had in Bardot Brasserie, where the dark wood interior and zinc bar (which cost no less than $100k) give the place an old-world feel. Avocado tartin, pastry-encased escargot, king crab Caesar salad and crusty French baguettes are all on the menu.
Next, it’s entrées in Julian Serrano Tapas restaurant, which is famous for its paella. Our third stop (and my favourite) is Estiatorio Milos — we’re told that it’s recognised in culinary circles as the best Greek restaurant in the world.
Here, top-notch seafood is carefully hand-selected each day; the olive oil is produced by the chef’s sister in Greece; the octopus is flown in from Morocco; and the capers are imported from Santorini.
Like the raw ingredients, the chef really does go the extra mile and the end results taste sensational. Top tip: at lunchtime, $29 will buy you a three-course meal, including dessert — an absolute steal. To give you an idea of the value, a Greek salad here at dinnertime sets you back $38…
The ladies and I are stuffed after our Mediterranean feast, but we soldier on for dessert at Cucina, celebrity cook Wolfgang Puck’s eatery.
The executive pastry chef catered for Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries’ wedding, and when we visit, there’s a tasting plate of limoncello panna cotta, tiramisu, pistachio cannoli and cremoso (a deliciously rich brownie with hazelnut crunch and dark chocolate mousse). Sweet!
Graceland Wedding chapel
Vegas is synonymous with whirlwind weddings, so the next day, we check out the iconic Graceland Wedding Chapel (gracelandchapel.com) — the home of the original Elvis-themed wedding. Famous people to say ‘I do’ here include Jon Bon Jovi, and Billy Ray Cyrus. Joe Jonas and Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner had earmarked the chapel for their recent Vegas nuptials, but it wasn’t to be: the chapel accommodates a maximum 40 guests, and Sophie and Joe had invited about 70 to their do.
Last year, there were 8,500 ceremonies at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, a number that’s expected to grow in 2020. Co-owner Brendan Paul Duffy (whose grandfather was from Cork) has officiated a whopping 100,000 ceremonies here, and according to the Elvis impersonator, Can’t Help Falling in Love is their most requested song.
The chapel does accommodate walk-in weddings, but contrary to popular belief — and the one where Ross and Rachel get hitched in Friends — wedding chapels in Vegas will refuse to marry drunken couples.
Meanwhile, for those looking for a more traditional affair, wedding planners at Cosmopolitan Hotel on the Las Vegas strip will design a signature wedding, with prices starting at about $4,000 (for an in-suite elopement ceremony, involving about 10 guests — not too shabby for a five-star hotel), and the sky’s the limit, depending on your budget.
Speaking of skies, Vegas comes alive at night, and what better way to experience the city’s neon lights than from above? We hop aboard one of Maverick Helicopters’ (maverickhelicopter.com) choppers and whizzed over the multicolour skyline, enjoying views of the ‘Eiffel Tower’, the Bellagio and all the other famous landmarks, while our pilot’s playlist blares through our headphones. Tom Petty’s Freefallin’ is an interesting song choice and definitely gives the flight an extra edge…
The flight back to Dublin is a more subdued affair, but before heading home, I’m determined to squeeze in at least one bet — this is Vegas, after all. So I head to the roulette table and place my $100 chip all on red. The wheel spins and seconds later, I’ve doubled my money.
A wasted trip? Absolutely not…
How to get there
United Airlines fly to Las Vegas from Dublin via Newark, New Jersey. For flight schedules and prices, see united.com
Where to stay
Flamingo Resort: Opened by gangster Bugsy Siegel in 1945, The Flamingo was one of Vegas’s first ‘entertainment resorts’. The city’s casino trade was born as a way to entertain the hundreds of thousands of workers who built the nearby Hoover Dam. Last year, 42.5 million tourist visited the city from around the world — so it’s safe to say that business is good! The Flamingo recently refurbished its rooms, and with its modern grey and magenta decor, it’s the perfect central base for a girly break. (caesars.com/flamingo-las-vegas)
Where to eat/drink:
Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano: This Italian eatery in The Venetian hotel has a great selection of salads, pasta, fish and meat. I highly recommend the delicious tuna salad! (matteosindy.com)
Tao Restaurant and Nightclub: Feast on succulent veggie dumplings, lobster fried rice, fresh sushi, plump, crispy sweet ‘n’ sour prawns and sticky teriyaki seabass under the giant Buddha at this renowned Asian bistro. Party with the beautiful people after hours, when it turns into a swanky nightclub. (taolasvegas.com)
What to see & do:
North Premium Outlets: With a great selection of designer and high-street shops, from Aldo to Armani, there are brilliant bargains to be nabbed here on bags, clothing and cosmetics. premiumoutlets.com
Atomic Saloon Show: This raucous Western-themed production involves impressive gymnastics, sexy pole-dancing, crass jokes and even a spot of Irish dancing. Not for the easily offended! spiegelworld.com/atomic-saloon-show
For more ideas on shopping, dining, tours, museums and sightseeing in Las Vegas, see visitlasvegas.com
NB: This feature originally appeared in The Herald.
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