You may think Vegas is all poker chips and strippers. Oh no. New York style and travel writer Rima Suqi found the real action: the machine guns, the race cars, the off-roading, the killer kobe meatballs. When she went to Las Vegas, she said yes to everything: snakeskin pedicures, machine guns, bulldozers, race cars, mafia wire taps, spa treatments, and extra dessert.
LAS VEGAS – I recently spent a week in Vegas. You read that correctly. Seven days in Sin City — and I'm a girl who doesn't gamble or go to clubs and has no desire to imbibe blue frozen drinks from plastic containers that resembles bongs or sunbathe topless poolside with a hundred of my closest friends.
Turns out there are plenty of ways to occupy yourself here, even after taking the obvious Vegas activities out of the equation. Warning: None of it comes cheap. So bring a high roller....or aim to become one.
Fly Virgin America via San Francisco for $120 one-way. The Virgin terminal at SFO is hands-down the best I have seen in the United States. Red leather egg chairs! Long bar-like tables with outlets galore! Organic deli! Bathroom lighting that makes you look amazing even after an early morning flight! Priceless.
Get to Vegas. Check into Aria at CityCenter. Walk into lobby, smell vanilla. (It's pumped in.) Spy Bar Masa. Am obsessed with Masa. My 30th-floor room has a view of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings at New York, New York. The irony is not lost on me.
Am meant to meet a friend at Caesar's for dinner. Get lost in Caesar's Forum Shops, take note of gigantic H&M (apparently the largest in the country) where Marni collection will debut the next day. Pray I can get there before it sells out.
Aria's gym is packed at 6 a.m., but the spa is not. Try the Japanese ganbanyoku heated stone beds — super Zen and very meditative. Worth the $30 day fee.
Have snakeskin pedicure at Vdara Spa & Salon. It's a gel pedi topped with layer of naturally shed snakeskin. It takes two hours, and lasts a month or longer. Am surprised at how cool it looks. ($200).
Take free poker class at Mandalay Bay (offered Monday-Thursday, 2 p.m.). Find out that "splashing" has nothing to do with water and a "brush" has nothing to do with hair.
Late lunch at Burger Bar where you can completely customize your burger from protein to bun to garnish. Discover the secret star here is the truffled potato chips.
Head to H&M to see if any Marni is left. It's 3 p.m., so I'm not hopeful: In NYC it sold out within an hour. But guess what? It's all STILL THERE! Okay, not all. Accessories are gone, no jewelry, no sunglasses. Who cares? I get two tops, a T-shirt, a pair of shoes, and an awesome men's tote. Jackpot! I officially fall in love with Vegas.
Have dinner at Bar Masa. Discover amazingly delicious hamachi kama (collar fish), thanks to sommelier T.J. Buraszeski, Jr., who also poured the perfect champagne to go with it.
Start the day with dolphin yoga at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, a not easy class beneath the dolphin tanks, where you can watch them frolic as you're led through a series of poses. I suck at yoga. The dolphins seem amused. (Friday-Sunday, $50; 702-791-7472.)
Take burlesque class at X Burlesque University at the Flamingo. Find out the hardest part is application of false eyelashes; wish I had worn higher heels. (Thursday-Sunday, 3 p.m.; $44.95.)
Walk through Crystals Mall and pop into Tom Ford, Lanvin, Marni, and YSL, where the salesperson has no idea what "Le Smoking" is.
Go to Public House in the Venetian for dinner. Almost leave because, while the space is sophisticated, the music is so damn loud and awful, it's a total disconnect. Stay when I see marrow on the menu (truly some of the best I've ever had) as well as 200 beers on tap. Learn my preference is for "hoppy" options. Have a hazlenut brown ale float for dessert.
Check into Encore at Wynn. Décor galore! No surface untouched — not even the vents painted to match the walls in the rooms. Lots of chic Euros and Japanese here. It seems to be the sophisticated, fashionista hotel of choice, despite its remote location on the Strip.
Hit the spa, also OTT but gorgeous. Lockers look like old steamer trunks. Liberal use of dramatically swagged fabrics with lots of bullion fringe. Try the Jacuzzis of different temperatures and the "experience showers."
Tour Neon Museum, a space off the strip with a collection of old signs from hotels and restaurants. Much more organized than the last time I visited ten years ago. Guide is awesome and knowledgeable — talks enough but not too much. Love. (Must book ahead; $15.)
Try to sit through Le Rêve, the in-house Cirque-esque show at Encore. Leave after 30 minutes. Just say no.
Dinner at Sage in City Center. Have chef Richard Camarota's tasting — four very generous portions, including dessert, with choice of beer or wine pairing. I was with a friend; we tried both. Bonus: pistachio hot chocolate ending "amuse."
Take Pink Jeep tour of Hoover Dam. Find it a bit anti-climactic, but think that my late father, who was an engineer, would have loved it. The new-ish poured-concrete Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which spans the dam, is absolutely gorgeous. Ponder a jack-a-lope stuffed animal at the gift shop.
Back to H&M with my friend who joined me from Los Angeles for the weekend. Lots of Marni still there!
Have dinner at Old Homestead. Chef Tim Henderson loves that I live around the corner from the original OH in NYC and forces us to try a heavenly truffled gnocchi and a gigantic kobe meatball — in addition to our Pat LaFrieda dry-aged steak. Oink.
Check in at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Have a closet lined with Fornasetti wallpaper and a balcony with a view of the Bellagio fountains next door, even from the shower. They're mesmerizing. Turn into the person who videos the damn fountains.
Go to Machine Guns Vegas where you can shoot everything from historical pistols to one-of-a-kind SEAL weapons to, yes, a variety of machine guns. (From $89.95.)
Dinner at Blue Ribbon Sushi, on property at the Cosmopolitan on the third floor surrounded by other marquee restaurants. Sit in the back room at the sushi bar with a couple magazines and a plate full of "quality over quantity" raw fish that is melt-in-your-mouth fabulous. Have yuzu sake for dessert.
Head to Dig This — an off-the-strip site where you can learn to operate real construction equipment, namely a bulldozer and/or excavator. (From $210.)
Then off to Exotics Racing where you get five laps in the exotic car of your choice (Lamborghini, Ferrari, Mercedes AMG SLS, Audi R8...) with a professional driver in the car to instruct you. It's paddle shifting, and these are factory-direct racecars. I've only driven stick twice in my life, so decide to be a passenger.
I get in, the driver says, "How fast do you want to go?"
I say, "How fast are you comfortable going?"
He says, "Ma'am, that's not a question you want to ask me."
I survived without closing my eyes or peeing my pants. We lapped the Corvette. (From $199.)
Back at the Cosmopolitan, grab a slice at the not-so-secret pizza place on the third floor. (No phone.)
Have a hammam treatment at the in-house Sahra Spa. The hammam room is a $3 million beauty that's all stone with heated stone beds. I have to be peeled off said bed at the end of the treatment.
Buy Coola sunscreen at the spa store. It's my favorite, it's all natural, and impossible to find in New York City.
Have a pre-dinner drink at The Chandelier, a three-level bar swagged in two million beaded crystals — with a bar on every floor, each offering a different style of cocktail. Tried Campfire Delight, a s'more in a glass, complete with toasted marshmallows on top.
Dinner at STK. I hate restaurants where the music is so loud you can't hear your dining companion, like this one. Since you can't talk, you concentrate on the food. Which was — I hate to say it — very good. Chef Steven Hopcraft picks great cuts of meat, "accessorized" by generous usage of truffles and foie gras.
Do a quick drive-by at Minus 5, one of those bars where everything is made of ice: the structure, the furniture, the glass that holds your drink. Don a fake fur (provided by them), which sets the tone, and actually had a great time (and great drink — the bartender rocked). (Entry starts at $15; pricier packages include an outfit of faux fur coat and Ugg-style boots. Two locations: Mandalay Bay and Monte Carlo.)
Pink Jeep tour of Red Rock Canyon, a national conservation area about a half hour off the Strip. Absolutely gorgeous drive through the 13-mile loop. I see fossilized sand dunes, Native American pictographs, and a few endangered turtles. Red Rock has the best-designed, mostly outdoor, visitor's center I've ever seen.
Check into the spa at the Mandarin Oriental — absolutely gorgeous. Very Tom Ford Gucci-era with brownish/grey tinted glass, brushed brass fixtures, marble galore, and an incredible lap-pool-sized Jacuzzi with views of the Strip. Have Lucky 8s treatment, fall asleep, and wake myself up snoring. Exhausted and embarrassed.
Take a quick tour of Downtown Vegas establishments including Insert Coins, an arcade bar. Across the street, the Griffin (511 Fremont St.; +1-702-382-0577), is the hipster bar of choice, with reasonably priced drinks and indoor fire pits. Downtown Cocktail Room serves proper cocktails in a cute, intimate space.
Locals steer me to Frankie's Tiki Room, a full-on tiki bar with drinks served in specially commissioned, artist-designed, ceramic tiki mugs. I try a drink called the Thurston Howell. How could I not? It tasted like every other rum drink you've ever had in a tiki bar. And yeah, I bought the glass, which resembled an Easter Island statue.
Last stop: the Double Down Saloon. A proper dive with punk undertones: black walls, stickers everywhere, a bathroom with no lock and no toilet paper. And a house drink called Ass Juice. You read that correctly. I tried it. Grape-y. Don't sip: Shoot it with a beer chaser.
Do carry out from Lotus of Siam which many food writers have said is among the best Thai food in the United States. Order a curry but forget to order rice, which apparently isn't automatically included when ordering a CURRIED RICE DISH. End up back in hotel room, buzzed, with a tub full of what looks like soup ... that's meant to be eaten with rice ... and no rice. Bummed.
It is, hands-down, the best themed museum I've ever visited. Where they got this memorabilia, I have no idea, but they've got a lot of it: Letters from jail, weapons, photos, even John Gotti's white suit and matching white shoes.
Did I mention you can listen to wiretaps? Oh yes.
Lots of interactive exhibits. And the whole thing is housed in the old courthouse building downtown.
Grab a sandwich at The Beat Coffeehouse & Records, a very cute coffee shop downtown where, the day I stopped in, they were playing the Laverne and Shirley album (who knew?) on the turntable.
Try to check out the Burlesque Hall of Fame right next to The Beat (I am, after all, a graduate of X Burlesque University), but it's closed.
Hit the highway for the four-hour drive through the Mojave Desert.
Leaving Las Vegas. Loved Las Vegas. Nobody is more surprised than me.
Cabs: Cabs here are incredibly expensive, and they charge a $3 fee on top of the fare, for using a credit card.
Walking: Walking is like navigating a human obstacle course. It's impossible to get from point A to point B as the crow flies. On the east side of the strip, people have been drinking at the cheap bars and stumble around clutching their guitar-shaped plastic cups filled with that blue substance. On the west side of the strip, the throngs are gawking at stores like Tom Ford and Gucci. You have been warned.
Mini bars: Many mini bars are the pick-it-up-and-you've-bought-it variety, with no extra room in the refrigerator for beverages you might have purchased on your own. To avoid accidental purchases and have use of a refrigerator, ask housekeeping to clear the whole thing out.
ATMs: ATM fees in Vegas are exorbitant. The lowest we saw in a casino was $5. Some started at $9 and went up from there. Bring plenty of cash or go to the ATM in the Nordstrom in the Fashion Show Mall, across the street from the Wynn. It's between the EBar coffee shop and shoes on the first floor and, as of this writing, the fee was only $1.95.
Manicures: Manicures cost a fortune at any hotel salon or spa on the strip — as much as $75. Get your paws done at home prior to the trip.