Tag Archives: Vegas

Vegas 26: Go Knights Go!!

April 7- April 12


While the trips keep getting better, we are now entering a stage of being harder to impress. That isn’t to say that I am less passionate about Vegas just a lot more comfortable in my excitement. I’ll continue to watch countless fountain shows but now I’m much more critical. On this trip, we didn’t venture out very far from the Bellagio with the exception of a journey to the Neon Museum for the new Brilliant experience. My first review captures the essence of our trip.

The Second Best Part of Vegas 26: Beauty and Essex

The absolute best part of Vegas 26 was going to see the Golden Knights in their first play-off game which also happened to be my our NHL play-off game. On Sunday night, Anne and I went to Beauty and Essex in the Cosmo for what was one of the best dining experiences we’ve had in Vegas with a horrendous ending. First, let me say that we will absolutely return.

Beauty and Essex has the ultimate hipster vibe. You walk through a fully operational pawn shop before entering a dark, sparkly and velvet covered restaurant. The music played just loud enough to be noticeable but not so loud to disrupt a conversation.

Our server was fantastic. Well, mostly. Anne ordered a glass of wine and I had a beer. The three items that are worth noting were the deep-fried tai shrimp, barbecue fried and the burrata and tomato on toast. All were excellent. My favorite shrimp is Emeril’s New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp. The deep fried tai shrimp is a close second. Not breaded, crispy on the outside and cooked perfectly on the inside, I would easily have ordered more. Anne is a connoisseur of French fries and she was very happy with the barbecue fries. She describes them as like eating really, really good barbecue chips but exponentially better. I wasn’t as impressed with the burrata and tomato. The burrata wasn’t all that creamy and the tomatoes tasted a bit like ketchup. The focaccia was great! I peeked over at a couple enjoying the ceasar salad toast which looked like a much better play.

At the end of our meal, we were relaxed and enjoying the vibe of the restaurant. In looking at the gluten free menu and reviewing it with the server who made some fantastic recommendations, we settled on two cappuccinos and the tiramisu ice cream sundae. I can’t recommend this dessert enough. The espresso ice cream was light and flavorful, covered with rich chocolate powder and chocolate nibs and a flavorful cake base. Wait? Did I say cake? We were halfway through the dessert when I took a bite of the cake and said, “this is not gluten free.” One of the servers came over to check on us and when we made her aware, she immediately reacted. Moments later the manager came over. Before we could even explain, he apologized, comped our meal and asked Anne how she was feeling and if he could do anything for her. It was so unfortunate because everything was so great. He gave us his card and asked us to call him if we return in the future but understood if we wouldn’t be back. Fortunately, Anne was only slightly impacted the next day. We will definitely return.

 Hotel Review: Bellagio

 The Bellagio just isn’t what we wanted it to be but is exactly what we expected. The property is congested because of the tourist traffic. The pool complex is large and nice enough but lacks any privacy from the tourists walking through the resort. The room is fine but is starting to show its age. The casino was incredibly kind to me! Finally had a very nice run on the slot machines. We ate at Harvest and Prime which we fabulous. The most disappointing aspect of the Bellagio was the service. We were mistreated on several occasions including a front desk associate who, when my wife complained about the music coming from the one of the clubs, was told to “get some earplugs from the gift shop.” And the next day when we spoke with one of the supervisors was told that we were “ in Vegas” and continued by saying, “what do you expect.” This type of treatment continued in several areas of the hotel including a security supervisor being incredibly rude and disrespectful to an elderly couple at the pool for being in Cypress (VIP pool). The couple didn’t understand at first and were berated. We shared our experience with Joe, a manager, who did an outstanding job of listening to everything. He kindly removed one night of charges and sent us a bottle of champagne and strawberries for our troubles. It is as if the Bellagio relies on its name but forgets that they need to continually earn their guest’s loyalty. We will go back to the restaurants and maybe to play but I don’t see us returning to stay there unless the deal is just too good to ignore.

New Experience: Brilliant at the Neon Museum


We loved the Neon Museum and when we heard that they had a new feature, we bought tickets right away. The Neon Museum features a collection of over 200 retired and restored neon signs from Las Vegas. Brilliant is a new feature created by artist Craig Winslow which utilizes many of these signs to capture the history and spirit of Las Vegas. A story told through music and cutting edge technology called “projection mapping” brings the signs to life. Vegas geeks like my wife and I will certainly enjoy the experience. Watching Liberace projected onto a neon sign of a piano as if he were playing once gain is surreal. I don’t know if most people would be as entertained or interested but if visiting the Neon Museum, I would recommend seeing Brilliant.

Aces of Comedy at the Mirage

The Terry Fator Theatre is a fantastic venue. We’ve now seen Terry Fator, Boys II Men and Ray Romano featuring David Spade there. One of the reasons I love Vegas as much as I do is that I don’t know of any other four-mile street (the Las Vegas strip) where you can have dinner at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant at 5pm, see Celine Dion at 7pm and Ray Romano at 10pm if you wanted. While the sets were shorter than we expected, the show was worth the money. Spade and Romano both delivered and even took the stage together at the end of the show for some Q and A. If given the opportunity, we would love to see George Lopez, Kevin James and many others who are featured at the Mirage.

Golden Knights: The Best Part of Vegas 26

This trip featured a lot of luck. The casino was kind but even more lucky was the fact that the Las Vegas Golden Knights played their first every play-off game on Wednesday, April 11th vs the LA Kings. Anne and I decided to be VGK fans the moment that the NHL announced that Vegas would have a hockey team. As a Yankees fan, I’ve been spoiled by lots of winning in my lifetime. This is different. The fans are still learning how to be fans. The city is figuring out what this means. The team and venue have done an awesome job in building a culture and winning certainly helps. In a closely contested game, the crowd stayed engaged throughout all three periods and the arena was explosive. However, until you’ve experiences some real hard losses and drama, you can’t find your intensity as a fan base. Conversely, I know this pain too well as a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan. As both a Yankees and Bills fan, I can attest to the tension and anxiety that comes with each and every pitch or snap. I LOVE being a Knights fan but like the rest of the fans, I’m just happy right now. The pain will come and that’s when Vegas will learn what kind of fans they will be. Sitting in the “Fortress” for the first play-off game was a true “once-in-a-lifetime” experience and I’m grateful to have been a part of it. I didn’t need another reason to love Vegas more but as luck would have it, I certainly found one. Go Knights Go!

Vegas 27

Coming August 2018!

Back home. Back to Aria.


How Vegas Saved the Worst Christmas Ever

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‘Twas the morning of Christmas, 2007, in Aun’t Sue’s Queens Village House
The robotic figurines were singing with Santa Mickey Mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

Aunt Sue smeared red lipstick on my cheeks. The musty red pants and jacket trimmed in white grated against my skin. Countless uncles, aunts and cousins adorned the costume throughout the years and, somehow, it was now my turn. Aunt Sue called me just a few days before Christmas and asked me the question that I undoubtedly knew would result in a catastrophe. What I didn’t realize is that it would ignite a chain reaction of failures that would scar me forever.

“Can you be Santa this year?” she asked.

I replayed the conversation in my mind as she put the finishing touches on my look and adjusted my beard and hat.

“Yes,” I had replied. “But, I don’t want to be held responsible when Cailyn figures out that Sal is Santa and Santa isn’t real.”

“She won’t know and if she figures it out, I’ll handle it,” she said.

As I prepared for my first, and last, appearance as Old Saint Nick, I reminded myself that if I would be on a flight to Vegas in just a few short hours. Vegas during the holidays is a special place to be. My first day in Vegas was New Year’s Day. On my next trip, I celebrated New Years Eve at the Hard Rock. And, with a few summer trips in between, I looked forward to the day when I’d land in Vegas to the pilot, flight attendants, cab driver and hotel desk would wish me a “Merry Christmas” in Vegas. I’m a Vegas guy but I’m also a Christmas guy and a Christmas Eve baby. Needless to say, I was excited to combine my love of Vegas with my love of Christmas. But first, I needed to play the role of Santa.
The children bustled in the living room above;
With visions of Santa and the story of a white glove;
And my wife in her sweater getting ready for a laugh,
Double checked her luggage tags on the bags nicely packed,

I could hear Anne’s cousins Cailyn and Ava dancing around the living room asking when Santa was coming. Cailyn was seven and had begun questioning Santa’s legitimacy. Her parents had gone so far as to leave a hand-written note carefully crafted by a friend of the family to mask the handwriting and a single white glove, complete with chocolate chip cookie stains. She had sealed the glove and note in a Ziploc bag and told the entire family the story while, downstairs, Aunt Sue instructed me on how I would make my grand appearance. My mission was to wait until I heard the manufactured reindeer hoofsteps on the ceiling and then begin “ho ho ho-ing” from the deck.

When out of the living room arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the basement with presents I gathered.
Away to the patio I flew like a flash,
Tore open the screen door and prayed they fell for my cheap beard and mustache.
The entire family stood in the living room as I “ho-ed” the best I could. Now, it is important to note that I have had some theatrical training in college. I dabbled in the arts and acted in a few shows. I’ve got skills. But, when the seven year-old I’ve known my entire life stared through me skeptically, I knew I had no chance of pulling this off. My wife says I looked terrified and that I was the worst Santa ever. And, I’ll admit that it wasn’t my best performance. I plopped down in the big chair next to the fireplace. The tree to my left and presents scattered around the room, I called Cailyn over to give her some gifts. She sat on my lap and without skipping a beat she said, “Sal? You’re not Santa.”

The heart in my chest fell to my stomach below,
Rapidly, I grew flustered and searched for words to follow,
When what to my wandering eyes did appear,
But another littler girl and I spoke with so much fear,

“Cailyn, it is Sal,” I whispered. “Don’t tell Ava.”

That’s all I could muster. Very few feelings are as terrible as taking the magic of Christmas away from a child. Ava seemed to be clueless but Cailyn was acutely aware of what had just transpired. She ran to Aunt Sue, her Grandmother, who said something about Santa having to visit a lot of children and that I was filling in but it was too late. The damage was already done. I don’t remember exactly what happened from there. Shortly after the Santa debacle, I found myself back in the basement racing to get out of that costume. Scrubbing my face over the sink, soap mixed with tears as I struggled to remove all remnants of my Santa failure. I dressed slowly as I was too embarrassed to show my face to the family. Anne came downstairs.

“You Ok?” she asked.
“No. Not really. How is Cailyn?”
“She’s dealing. She wanted me to tell you that it’s ok and she forgives you.”

Yes. She really did say that. The seven-year old forgave me for basically ruining her Christmas forever. As I put myself back together, Anne reminded me that we would be on our way to the airport soon . Vegas is a surefire way to change my attitude about anything. So, I returned to the family. They laughed at my expense but I found no humor in what happened. I still don’t. But, at least things can’t get worse, I thought.

When I finally emerged from the basement, Cailyn’s Mom, Alyson, assured me that she was fine.
“You did ya best,” she said in her New York accent. “Cawl and check to make sure your flight is running on time,” she advised.

Please. This wasn’t my first time to the show. No delays or cancellations in New York. After opening presents, enjoying Christmas dinner and having a cup of coffee, Anne and I were ready for Christmas in Vegas.
Hopped in my car, so lively and quick,
We were on way to Sin City and jumped on the Van Wyck.
More rapid than timeshare hawkers harassing tourists in vain,
We whistled through traffic and reviewed our Vegas stops by name:
To the fountains, conservatory, Olives and Bellagio Buffet!
We’ll hit the Miracle Mile, Forum Shops, Venetian and Cirque Du Solei!

With time to spare, we parked our car and began the cold trek across the parking lot to the terminal. My Santa failure faded into the gray Queens sky behind me as the Christmas and Vegas spirit filled my core as I took in the frigid air.

We pulled up to the counter. The Delta representative greeted me with a hearty, “Merry Christmas!” We presented her with our credentials and she began clicking away at her screen. The process seemed to be taking a little longer than usual.

“Everything all right?” I asked.
“Ummm…you’re at the wrong airport,” she replied.

From the depths of New York I pleaded! Who can you call?
Help us get away! get away! Get away from this all.
Despair set in. I begged they help us fly,
But, we were met with obstacles from getting in the sky;

The best advice they had at JFK was to get to Laguardia. Without a word, I grabbed our suitcases and raced back to the car. I was determined to make the flight. Our flight was in two hours and Laguardia was only 20 minutes from JFK. The clock was ticking.

So back to the car, we certainly flew
With shame and embarrassment, Terrible Christmas, part two—
Slamming the car doors, driving with something to prove
Punching and grunting, I felt like a complete doof.

We made it to Laguarida with less than an hour to our flight. We ran to the counter hoping for mercy and a Christmas miracle. When we finally attempted to check in for our flight, we were too late. The Delta representative, Angela, was incredibly kind. We simply had no options. We rebooked for the following day, I called Planet Hollywood and they nicely accommodated our request and added a day to our reservation. Similar to the moments after ruining Cailyn’s Christmas, I don’t remember the walk back to the car.

For the 2nd time on this Christmas, I found myself ashamed and embarrassed and pondering my failures. Sitting in my car at the Laguardia parking lot with the motor running, I made phone calls to a few friends and family members letting them know that we weren’t on our way to Vegas. So ashamed of my moronic error, I lied and said that we just rearranged our flight to leave on the 26th. Anne and I had barely exchanged a word since the Delta representative said, “Umm…you’re at the wrong airport.” I knew I couldn’t avoid it any longer but all Anne said was, “It’s ok. I forgive you.” I temporarily lost all emotional control and just broke down. How can this have happened on Christmas?

As I drew in my head, the day that had seemed to confound,
From my failed performance of St. Nicholas to an empty seat in the air and me on the ground.
Filled with anger, regret and shame, from my head to my foot,
Christmas, tarnished forever? I believed it would;
We spent the night at Aunt Sue’s. Our flight was scheduled for the mid-afternoon on December 26th. I barely slept and the next day, I checked on our flight almost continually and I made sure that several people checked that we were going to the right airport. We arrived at JFK three hours before our flight.
Clutching my boarding pass with a bag on my back,
We sat by the gate, so thankful my wife never gave me any flack.
Her eyes—with that Vegas twinkle! She began to smile, well, barely.
For weeks we hoped for a Vegas Christmas so Merry.
Perhaps it wasn’t too late, after all we were on our way now,
And no weather in site, no rain, sleet and thank god no snow;

I don’t remember the flight. I don’t remember landing. Nobody wished me a Very Merry Vegas Christmas. But, as soon as we were in the cab and saw the lights of the Vegas strip, I began to feel healed and whole again. I regaled the Planet Hollywood front desk with the story of our journey and perhaps it was the pain in my voice but he simply said, “I think you’ll enjoy your room.”

The room was corny and cheesy, if I do say so myself,
And I laughed at the James Bond themed items, funny as hell;
I walked to the window, a grand view would be great
Little did I know, all my bad luck was about to change;

Anne and I stood at the window and stared for quite some time. We had a great view of the Bellagio Fountains and, could even hear the music. Christmas songs played as the fountains danced. Normally, on the first night in Vegas, I can’t wait to go out and explore but everything caught up with me and I passed out with a smile and the fountains dancing in the background. That trip was fantastic. We saw some great shows, had some luck in the casino, loved our stay at Planet Hollywood and dined in places that we would return to several times. But, it was that view that made the difference. Every morning, Anne would sit by the window with a coffee and enjoy the view and every night, we would spend some time watching the fountains dance. A few years later, I finally got to Vegas on Christmas day and, while I loved it, it is the worst Christmas ever that will be etched in my memory forever.


We work hard every day until that final whistle,
And we look forward to our Vegas trips which always shine and never fizzle.
As we celebrate Christmas, think of those neon Vegas lights,
I say to you all- “Merry Vegas to all, and to all a good night!”

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“Last Vegas” movie review. Vanilla Vegas

Last Vegas: Vanilla Vegas

I’m a sucker for Vegas movies. I’ll watch anything that shows the city in all its splendor even real clunkers like “Burt Wonderstone” and “What Happens in Vegas.” I’ve been looking forward to Last Vegas ever since last October when I was in Vegas for a conference and I saw them filming. I’m pretty sure I saw Deniro as he was on set, walking in front of the Mirage, and I was standing in front of Casino Royale. Pretty sure. My excitement was reignited a few weeks ago when I was in town for the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic or #vimfp and the Last Vegas cast was there as well for their premier.

So, as I was traveling to San Antonio for a conference, I hoped for a free night to catch the movie. The first night in Texas, as I was taking in the Riverwalk, I had that empty feeling that I often associate when I’m away from home (CT) but not in my 2nd home (LV) and I passed a mall with a movie theatre. With a couple of clicks on my iPhone, I found that I had 10 minutes to catch the last showing of Last Vegas so I raced up a couple of working escalators (strange to find a city with so many working walkways) purchased tickets and took my seat. I have to include information about this AMC theatre. The seats in this AMC Theatre are all reserved so I chose my perfect location and, get this, they are full leather recliners. Like, what?! Perfect.

The plot is simple; Paddy, Billy, Archie and Sam (Deniro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline respectively) have been friends for over 60 years and call themselves the Flatbush Four. They’ve lived full lives. Paddy’s wife, who was from the old neighborhood, passed away a year ago. Archie recently had a stroke. Sam lives with his wife in a Florida retirement community and bachelor Billy is finally settling down with a woman less than half his age. Billy wants his old friends to celebrate his Vegas wedding by joining him for the weekend and of course they decide to throw him a big bachelor party the night before the wedding. Billy and Paddy have unresolved issues, Archie is dealing with his overprotective son while Sam is in the midst of a very late mid-life crisis. Add Mary Steenburgen who plays Diana, an attorney turned lounge singer, and you have your main players.  The plot line and story are a bit thin but this isn’t about a solid story with a substantial plot and satisfying resolution. This is about four old guys experiencing Vegas. Movies that choose to set their stories with Vegas as their backdrop need to learn how to use the city to complement their film and help propel it. Part of the charm of The Hangover, Oceans 11 and even Vegas Vacation is that Vegas becomes another character of the film. We wait to see how that pesky antagonist, Vegas, will impact those romping around in her playground and often, we look forward to the magic Vegas moment where the city forgives and sometimes rewards her pawns. The majority of the movie is set in the Aria which is one of my favorite places to stay. I wonder how much MGM/Mirage paid because the Aria is shown beautifully in every way from success in the casino to a grand night at Haze and a suite with revolving beds and a personal concierge. The cast of Zarkana makes several appearances including even participating in Billy’s bachelor party. The rest of the city takes a back seat to the Aria with the exception of Binions which is where Diana performs. In fact, little things about the movie’s use of Vegas drove me crazy like the characters walking the wrong way to the Aria and, later, being dropped off at baggage claim instead of the departure terminals when they were leaving from their adventure.  The movie captures the spirit of the city but doesn’t fully use the nuances that could have added so much humor and conflict like old guys on a budget paying for steaks, watching a Cirque show with absolute confusion, being accosted by the street walkers, hustling a few young bucks at a poker table or maybe getting arrested for starting a brawl. Perhaps it was the PG-13 rating, but I felt that they didn’t push these old men who were, mostly, looking for a little “life” in their lives and turned to Vegas for that lift. But, it was more vanilla than an episode of the Golden Girls. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have some laughs and isn’t fun. After all, the cast is just too good to let the movie fall completely flat. Overall, what saves this is five great actors letting their characters’ friendships grow, develop and reconnect. I haven’t spent much time in Vegas with my closest friends but I look forward to early bird dinners with my wife, being the old couple at the pool and sharing our love of Vegas with friends, nieces, nephews and godchildren as they get to experience Vegas for the first time. Hopefully, our adventures won’t be quite as bland as the Flatbush Four.

As for Last Vegas, if you love Vegas, don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the way the movie features the city but you’ll appreciate the way the characters celebrate the spirit of Vegas. As a movie, it was a low B-. Wait for DVD unless you absolutely love the actors or are obsessed with Vegas.

Introducing Veni.Vidi.Vegas!


As much as I have enjoyed the moniker, “The Vegas Expert” and the website “theVegasExpert.net,” I started to feel as though this seemed a bit pretentious.  Through the web and social media, I discovered a community of Vegas enthusiasts, such as myself, who are experts in their own right. For the past several months, I’ve been searching, making lists, reading, talking to friends, colleagues and other bloggers about their thoughts on a new direction to express my love and obsession with Las Vegas. I narrowed down my list to a few concepts. I asked myself what I wanted to communicate to others about Las Vegas. I’ve always wanted to provide my personal stories of Vegas geekery, reviews and opinions from myself and others, and maybe, most importantly, tips and advice on how to have the absolute best Vegas experience possible. I wanted something catchy, different and authentic.

I started playing with words and concepts and one night I was playing with some alliteration using the word “Vegas” and it just happened. During a text conversation with my good friend and colleague, Eric LaCharity, it all clicked. Veni, Vidi, Vici or “I came. I saw. I conquered” which really speaks to what I want to say about Vegas. Go to Vegas; See Vegas; Conquer, or win, in Vegas. Winning just doesn’t refer to gaming but also in having the best experience possible. The further I explored these ideas, the more I thought about my personal experiences of Vegas which are filled with over-the-top and sometimes gaudy entertainment, the gluttonous meals and spirits, the freedom to be unnecessarily excessive and the fun and sometimes brutal world of gaming.  Vegas feels strangely like a place that reflects the stories of ancient Roman times existing in our modern world.

With that, Veni. Vidi. Vegas! was born.

Since that day, I’ve been working to incorporate this brand/concept into the website and into a new business venture that I hope to start.

I am happy to introduce the NEW VeniVidiVegas.net!




Most of theVegasExpert.net still remains with a few new additions.

Facebook Group- For those interested in connecting with me and with other Vegas enthusiasts on Facebook, join the group https://www.facebook.com/groups/venividivegas/ .

Twitter- I will continue to tweet primarily from @salvegas24 which will not only include Vegas related content but also the musings from my daily life. For Vegas related information only, please follow @veniVidiVegas .  Tweets are much more seldom from this account.

Shop for cool Vegas stuff- I am most excited about this new venture! I’ve opened a new Vegas shop utilizing Etsy.com. The first item is the official Veni. Vidi. Vegas! T-shirt “I came. I saw. I Vegased!” which is available for $19.99 or $18.99 if you don’t mind adorning venividivegas.net on your back to help promote the site.

Click here to visit the shop.

vegas front and back tshirt





VIMFP- I am looking forward to attending my first Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic http://www.vegastripping.com/picnic/ in two weeks. Knowing that so many other Vegas enthusiasts will be gathering to celebrate their love of Vegas, share their experiences and network is part of the reason I wanted to make some changes.

Thanks- I would be remiss if I didn’t thank some people that humored my obsession and helped me develop this concept. Thank you to my friends, colleagues, brain trust, or “Rizza’s 11-7.”

The Professional- Ray Bendici, an accomplished author, editor and blogger (http://www.damnedct.com/.

The Professor- Andrew Marvin, an incredibly intelligent professor, writer and blogger (http://andrewmarvin.net/ ) .

The Realist- Chris Piscitelli, a realistic and grounded professional, caterer and owner of Grill 145. (http://grill145.com/Home_Page.html )

The Ideas Guy- Eric LaCharity, a talented graphic designer and creative mastermind.

The Better Half- Anne Rizza, the best school teacher and composition professor in the world. She’s also married to this guy who is obsessed with Vegas and not only humors his obsession but supports his frequent trips and daily Vegas ramblings. She is an awesome wife, fellow Vegas enthusiast, friend and my official partner in Vegas and in life.


The Vegas Pre-Game Series- Vegas Viewing

The Vegas Pre-Game Series

Athletes, actors, performers and teachers all have rituals that they have before big games, performances or major lessons. So do Vegas geeks like myself.  I’m pretty sure that many of us all have our own ways to mentally, financially, strategically and spiritually prepare for the next trip to the “motherland.”  Some of our ritualistic behavior may have to do with superstition, habit or just the act of getting as amped up as possible to fully enjoy the greatest place on the planet.  In The Vegas Pre-Game Series, I will share the ways I prepare for my Vegas vacations. This series will be in no particular order or sequence. While some of the pre-game series will be absolutely ridiculous (like listening to Las Vegas radio stations for weeks before the trip) some will be practical advice (like researching where conventions/conferences will be in Vegas to avoid long waits at restaurants). I hope this series offers a bit of entertainment and advice and helps you find your own pre-game ritual.

Happy Vegas-ing!

Vegas Viewing: The Top Five Movies You MUST Watch Before Vegas!

I’m a sucker for any movie or TV show that even mentions Las Vegas. Whether it is a shot of the strip (Oceans 11), scene in a casino (Swingers) or Vegas related antics (The Hangover) watching a few Vegas themed flicks is a great way to get into the spirit. Below, I’ve listed the top five movies to watch before your trip. As a film buff, I’ll be the first to say that the movies below are NOT the best quality films about Vegas but movies that will help you get in the right mindset regardless of what type of Vegas trip you’re going on.

5. Casino- Arguably the best film ever made about or featuring Las Vegas, Casino (1995), directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring dynamic performances by Robert Deniro and Joe Pesci, is not-so loosely based on real life gangsters Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro. This outstanding film offers an inside look of the era when organized crime ruled Las Vegas and some of the principle players and stories associated with that time period. The reason I like this film is that it highlights some of the events immediately preceding the mega resort era of the very late 80’s and 90’s. Watch this film before the others if possible! (Accompany viewing of this film by reading the book Super Casino, if possible and/or reading a little bit about the history of Las Vegas- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Las_Vegas#1970-Late_2000s:_explosive_growth ) (Vegas sites featured- The Riviera Hotel and Casino)

Scene- Everybody Watches Everbody, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIPmu6bYZOs

4. National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation- I believe that prior to every trip my wife and I have taken to Las Vegas, we’ve watched Clark Griswold and his family be seduced by the sins of Sin City.  Initially, I think it was just coincidence and then we started making a habit of it and now we watch it the week we are leaving. As much as this isn’t a great movie, it is absolutely enjoyable. The movie is a bit dated and Vegas has changed a LOT since 1997 but Clark’s Black Jack scenes, the music and the feel of the entire movie are still pretty relevant. I specifically recommend watching this if you plan on visiting the Hoover Dam.  (Vegas sites featured- The Mirage, The Hoover Dam)

Scene- The Blackjack Dealer,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvDu3IysKiM

3. Swingers- The entire extent of Vegas in this 1996 indie hit lasts maybe 15 minutes as Trent (Vince Vaughn) and Mike (Jon Favreau) take an impromptu overnight trip to “Vegas, baby!” But within their brief foray into Vegas and throughout the rest of the film, this movie lives, breathes and screams Vegas. Some great Vegas quotes from “Vegas, baby, Vegas” “they’re gonna give Daddy the Rainman suite,” and “we’re gonna be up five hundy by midnight” all come from Swingers. I specifically recommend watching Swingers with your buddies if you’re taking a guy trip to Vegas and I dare you not to say, “you’re so money,” while you’re walking the strip.

Scene- Vegas, Baby, Vegas! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dV1HSscPYSY

2. The Hangover­- In 2009 when this incredibly popular comedy debuted, myself and a group of very fun and spirited guys and gals planned a trip to Vegas.  A few weeks before our trip, most of us went to watch The Hangover together in the theatre and it set the tone for our trip. While none of us were kidnapped, drugged or married a stripper while we were in Vegas, we definitely had a few very fun and memorable (for most of us) nights.  The Hangover does the best job of showcasing the “night out” in Vegas. And although it is a completely ludicrous plot, it isn’t as farfetched as you may think. Additionally, The Hangover also does a great job featuring some of Vegas’ celebrities, performers and socialites. As you walk the strip, you will find numerous characters from The Hangover hanging out with Batman, Superman, Homer Simpson and other superheroes, cartoon and movie characters. And yes, it is a lot of fun to go up to the front desk at Caesars and ask if “the real Caesar lived here.” I did it and the staff member I spoke to didn’t seemed pleased. (Vegas sites featured- Caesars Palace)

Scene- Did Caesar live here? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX73FP1ks20

1. Oceans 11 AND Oceans 13– If you’re going to watch just one movie, I’d recommend Oceans 11 and I would watch it as close to your trip as possible. If you can fit two movies in, add Oceans 13 or The Hangover depending on what you’re in the mood for. The Oceans movies do the best job of capturing the casinos, strip and feel of Vegas. While the other movies may get you all hyped for the partying and gambling, these movies do the best job with making Las Vegas another character in the film. The film’s director, the incredibly talented Steven Soderbergh, does a particularly great job with making the Bellagio look warm, luxurious and irresistible. Most of the shots in the movie at the Bellagio are by the Petrossian Bar located off of the main lobby. However, the layout of the lobby has changed significantly since 2001 but you still get a great sense of the Bellagio. There is something magical in the scene where all of Danny Ocean’s 11 are standing against the railing watching the Bellagio fountain show. After watching Oceans 11, you’ll be ready for the lights and action of Vegas and hoping for that one perfect hand where “you bet, and you bet big and then you take the house.” (Vegas sites featured- The Bellagio)

Scene- Reeling in Reuben, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mJf24luhuo

Happy viewing and Happy Vegas-ing!