A gamble-free Vegas weekend is still a big deal

RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer
rich@dallasvoice.com

I’m not gonna lie: Las Vegas has never held much appeal for me. The bright lights and big city are certainly a fun attraction, but a trip to the city also seemed like voluntary sensory overload, and my post-quarantine self had come to be a lot more chill. Plus, I’m no gambler.

So how did I end up there for a fun, fabulous weekend?

Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino (WestgateResorts.com) extended an invitation for a weekend visit this past January. In proper transparency, the resort hosted the trip that would allow me to experience its amenities and entertainment, all just off-Strip. Like many, if not all the resorts in Las

Superbook: A sports fan’s dream

Vegas, Westgate offered layers of interest, including its massive casino, chef-driven food, onsite entertainment and ultra-comfortable accommodations.

Since I arrived in the daytime, Las Vegas surprisingly didn’t overwhelm me with flashing lights and slot machine noises everywhere. But yes, that was everywhere inside Harry Reid International Airport, which was a fun if not expected sight for my virgin Vegas eyes.

The resort itself is minutes away from the main drag but served a lovely blend of Vegas energy and relaxed ambiance. Its casino is front and center upon entrance, but as you go meandering through the resort, its features unfold nicely.

Westgate is located adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center and its own attractions include Edge Steakhouse, the cabaret show The Magic of Jen Kramer and SuperBook, a sports fan’s wet dream featuring a massive 220-foot-by-18-foot 4K video wall of practically every sporting event happening at the moment.

The indoor shopping mall featured an eclectic selection of shops and services.

I committed the first day, a Friday, to just exploring the resort. Prior to dinner, I caught Jen Kramer’s show, and she delivered a quite charming performance of magic that still blew my mind. Magic isn’t a big go-to for me, but her very homespun delivery mixed with glamtastic gowns really made the show a fun experience. Her magic tricks and illusions were mesmerizing, and, despite the smaller cabaret stage, she delivered a spectacle of a show.

The upscale Edge Steakhouse recalled a bit of Fort Worth’s Reata’s atmosphere. The elegant rustic fusion with its just-right mood lighting really set the scene for an elevated dining experience. The cream of butternut squash was a revelation as it was poured over a frozen foie gras mousse to create a silky, flavorful bowl.

A steak in a steakhouse should be an obvious move, but I opted for the sea scallops with celery root, golden raisins, apple chutney and a side of grilled asparagus topped with bearnaise sauce and charred lemon. The scallops were buttery and the mix of sweet and bitter flavors of the root and chutney packed a tasteful punch.

For a more casual yet still gorgeous dining experience, Silk Road Asian Bistro filled the bill. An unfussy menu of noodles, rice dishes and bento boxes offered a relaxed feel, particularly in the restaurant’s peaceful, dark ambiance. My simple choice of pot stickers and shrimp-fried rice may not sound too exciting, but the freshness of each item stepped up a notch with subtle flavoring that offered both familiar but surprising tastes.

For major convenience, the resort has a shuttle to the Las Vegas strip and is next to the monorail. Getting to and from the heart of the city was an easy task. For a daytime walkabout on Saturday, the shuttle dropped me off at Treasure Island, and I had at least two hours to kill before the next bus back.

Las Vegas is exactly as it seems in movies and television. So while there’s no surprise to the grandeur of each hotel and sign along the road, it is something to embrace in person. The fountains of the Bellagio are magical to watch live. The gondolas at the Venetian looked romantic or at least as if they would offer a nice respite from walking. The Greek statues at Caesars Palace were simply magnificent. The eye is never at rest as you take in the different buildings and architecture, as well as all the people on the street — from showgirls looking for photo ops ($40 bucks each? No thanks) to a bevy of international travelers.

I had anticipated walking into these iconic hotel to see interior architectures and features in person. As I said, I am not much of a gambler, so walking through casino after casino became a bit meh. But it’s easy to enjoy the excitement of all the goings-on inside each location and worth checking them off the Las Vegas famous hotels list if you’re kinda OCD like me.

For a Saturday night out, I had one destination: RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! Showgirls? No thanks. Adele? Hell, she canceled that weekend. Give me the drag queens – especially hometown queen Asia O’Hara who hosted the show.

With a rotating cast, the evening’s show at The Flamingo featured performances by Naomi Smalls, Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo, Yvie Oddly and Derrick Barry. The show was flat-out fun and funny. Directed by RuPaul, each queen was performing at her highest level — whether dancing, lip synching or sashaying. For Drag Race super-stans who know each queen’s backstory, the show was even more exciting. Seeing Vanjie so polished and precise compared to her somewhat busted first appearance on Drag Race was astonishing. Naomi proved that she was the star she always thought she was, and Yvie’s eccentricity was pure wacky performance art. With both single and group acts, the high energy of the show was truly thrilling to see as well as hilarious AF. And the Werk Room is a must for RPDR memorabilia.

Before hitting the airport back to Dallas on Sunday afternoon, I squeezed in a morning visit to Area 15, the immersive entertainment district that houses Meow Wolf.

Area 15 (Area15.com) is located just minutes from the Las Vegas Strip and is described as “the world’s first experiential entertainment complex that offers live events, monumental art installations, unique retail, groundbreaking technology, bars and eateries and more.”

Among its features are the Emporium, Oddwood, Dueling Axes, Lost Spirits Distillery, Wink World, The Beast Food Hall by Todd English and, its main attraction and anchor, Meow Wolf Las Vegas. Think of a massive warehouse blacklit entirely inside, making for trippy visuals throughout the two-story complex.

Where to begin with Meow Wolf? Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart was everything you want from a supermarket, with bright lights and fully-stocked shelves. A closer look at the products, though, shows something far away from the usual — Casual Tomato Milk, Whale Song deodorant, Oh Those cereal and other cheeky takes on popular grocery items. Then step into the refrigerated section into an entirely new world of secret portals, sinister intentions and interactive experiences that lie underneath the surface of the squeaky clean market.

Walking through MW’s Omega Mart was extraordinary. This modern take on an art exhibition truly flips the script with innovation, humor and high-tech gadgetry. The experience is self-guided, so it can either be up to two hours or. if you move fast without distraction, just shy of an hour. Either way, the place is beyond remarkable and an incredible respite from the casino side of Vegas.

Upstairs, Wink World is its own art experience mixed with a side of funhouse. After entering through a corridor of 3D art in blacklight, I took a  journey through six infinity mirror rooms that mixed music, light, sound and movement into energetic ballets. Before even entering Area 15 is its Art Island, with a magnificent display of sculptural, interactive art. You’ll definitely pile up your Instagram with pics and selfies from Area 15 alone.

Westgate currently hosts queer icon Barry Manilow in residency weekends  through June 11. Of other queer interest is the National Lesbian Gay Chamber of Commerce’s International Business & Leadership Conference held in August.

For this first-timer, Las Vegas was an impressive city, no doubt. Definitely more for the on-the-go type traveler who can handle a whole lot at once. But it’s certainly a versatile city that’s much more than its casino image. The city hosts myriad personalities with its various hotels (European, New York, tropical, Ancient Greece) but perhaps its true personality is that it brings all those into one setting for an exciting time — whether it’s for a weekend or a whole week.

You can check out Westgate’s Vegas deals here.