Vegas - Bright Lights, Big Elvis
For many of us, if over a certain age, Las Vegas conjures up images of The Rat Pack tuxedoed up at The Sands, others immediately see Elvis straining the seams of a rhinestone studded jumpsuit. Personally, we can't help but love them both. However Las Vegas today bears little resemblance to either of those eras. Other than a few impersonators there is not much left that The King or The Chairman of the Board would recognize. Is it better? We're here to find out.

Since our first foray into Sin City, back in the late seventies, most all of the famous names of The Strip have been demolished. The Sands, The Desert Inn, The Dunes, The Stardust and The Silver Slipper have all given way to way-high-rises and parking lots. The Landmark was
demolished in a blaze of glory and all the drama was captured in the movie "Mars Attacks" -- now there's something for posterity!

The new Strip goes for flashy/classy over the old splashy/trashy, but like most everything here, it is all an illusion. Gone are the innumerable flashing neon signs, replaced instead by false skylines and Eiffel Towers. No more $2.99 buffets and cheap rooms to lure in the gamblers, now it's
fine dining and five star hotels.

Not quite sure what to make of all the changes, we decided embrace the new Vegas with gusto. Why not go out for a fine french dinner our first night out? After all, Paris is right down the street.

Mon Ami Gabi offers al fresco dining under The Eiffel Tower and right across Las Vegas Boulevard from the famous fountains at The Bellagio. Gallic cuisine and top-notch people watching...dinner and a show.

Mon Ami Gabi prides itself on its wines and with a fanciful twist the by-the-glass selections are served from a rolling cart that circulates the restaurant. The food was French, Vegas French. Pâté, escargots, beef Bourguignon, crêpes and quiche share the menu with an All-American cheeseburger. Even offering a choice of brie, blue or gruyere on the burger didn't help to convince us we were on the left bank of the Seine, still, the food was très bon and the service fantastique.

Veronica's soup du jour, chestnut bisque, was deemed fabulous, the bread was surprisingly authentic and David's pork tenderloin in port-wine

cherry sauce with pommes puree certainly met or exceeded our expectations.

One of the evening's highlights was a discovery made in the bathrooms. Piped in over speakers were the most useful French lessons we've ever come across.

Won't it be helpful to know how to parlez-vous:

“Is that an eclair in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

“Oooh La La, Are those real?”

“Can I buy you a drink or should I just give you the money?”

or the pee-in-our-pants funny:

“If you were a McDonald's hamburger you'd be McSexy with Cheese.”

These lessons prove indubitably that everything sounds better in French. Next time we really are on the Champs-Élysées, we're bringing some of these gems out. Sure hope we can remember them all.

After dinner we went for a real show... wait, The Strip IS the real show, what with any number of feeble Elvis wannabes sharing the road with an array of freaks, drunks, fish-out-of-water tourists and a never-ending supply of lowlifes snapping hooker's calling cards (complete with full-color naked photos of the entrepreneurs) at the unsuspecting fanny-packers who pass by. Enough of the
street theater -- Penn & Teller were at The Rio so we made the short trip over from central Europe to South America. Only in Vegas, baby!

Amusing AND amazing properly describes these guys. It's not the typical Vegas show. Very little glitz, no T & A, but a whole lot of laughs and some very interesting insights into how many magic tricks are accomplished. Plus a dash of Libertarian politics tossed in for good measure ( a metal credit-card-sized "Bill of Rights" to trigger metal detectors at airport security was available for purchase after the show). Even when Penn explains a trick (Teller can't, he never speaks) it's still astonishing to watch them pull it off. The boys have style.

The next morning... (Yes, we said morning. The age of staying up all night at the craps tables and counting the olives in the bottom of dirty martini glasses is sadly behind us.) ...we checked out the monorail that runs behind the hotels along The Strip. Très modern, almost like Disneyland. Seriously, it's quite convenient and saves wear and tear on the old dogs, since the new casinos are HUGE and spaced pretty far apart.

Getting off from time to time to stroll through several of the swanky spots, we noticed another change. Back in the day, the only way to get to from Point A to Point B in Vegas was through a casino. The powers-that-be fiqured your money would leap out of your pockets and
land in a machine or on a table. Not anymore. These days we were instead forced to walk through never ending mazes of cleverly disguised stores filled with every sort of over-priced product known to man.

Under fake indoor skies that maintain a permanent dusk, we strolled the streets of Venice, ancient Rome, Rio, Paris and New York... anywhere BUT Las Vegas.

To some degree, we found it working on us. Not the marketing of costly crap but the disconnect from reality. We really HAD forgotten the outside world and embraced the fantasy.

That happens here. Once the brain accepts things like Marilyn Monroe and Alice Cooper dealing blackjack as reasonable, anything seems normal. Constant noise, flashing lights, free drinks, never ending sunsets, no clocks, dead celebrities everywhere, continuous sex on display... it's all part of the plan. Surreal replacing real -- until money becomes nothing but a colorful cache of chips -- who really
cares if those get taken away by the nice dealer?

We needed a big dose of realism and nothing says real in Vegas like Elvis. We needed a good Elvis, the best Elvis, the biggest Elvis... that could only be Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon. Four hundred pounds of Elvis, three shows a day... now THAT'S real. The scuttlebutt around Bill's was that Pete used to be an even bigger Elvis, twice as big they say. Girth aside, the boy could whomp down a pretty mean My Way.

Properly Hound-Dogged-up and with our feet back on the ground, we were ready for an immersion into the old school Las Vegas. The one that harkens back to the days when Bugsy Siegel and his merry mob of mobsters still ran the joints. Back to the time and place that earned this place the name Sin City. It was time for a trip downtown to Fremont Street.

The old Vegas is alive and well down here, neon rules the night. The classic cowboy “Vegas Vic” lives on among the bright lights of The Fitz, The Fremont, The Four Queens and The Golden Nugget. The Neon Museum Las Vegas restored many of the classic bygone signs from The Strip and showcases them in an outdoor ”gallery” along Fremont Street. Many others are stored for posterity in The Neon "Boneyard." No trip to Glitter Gulch is complete
without an evening under these lights.

Revisiting our own good old days, we allowed The Fitz to buy us drinks while we studied the intricacies of Switch, a two handed version of blackjack that we'd never seen before.

We didn't quite greet the sunrise like the old days but it's a good thing The Deuce double-decker shuttle buses run all night.

As for those colorful little

chips -- by the time we turned them all back into legal tender, we found that we had almost as much as we started with. Not bad, but we weren't out of the woods just yet.

The airport is also a casino.

Ah, Lost Wages, Nevada.

David & Veronica,

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