DANNY ROBINS' INDIE TRAVEL GUIDE TO...VEGAS
I read the other day that the chairman of Leyton Orient was taking all his players to Las Vegas as a reward for drawing against Arsenal. It made me think we should do it for Huey's last week on the show. So here we go, off to Sin City...
The Music Scene
When you think of music in Vegas, it tends to be of the rather glitzy kind. The big shows that the likes of Liberace, Elvis and The Rat Pack did made Vegas famous as the entertainment capital of the world.
You can still see those kinds of shows - Celine Dion is the latest artist in residency - but things are changing. The Liberace Museum, a building as flamboyant as the man himself, once a Vegas institution, shut down in the autumn - people just weren't interested anymore.
The biggest music export from Las Vegas these days is The Killers. And just as they couldn't be more different to Liberace, there are Vegas venues that offer you musical alternatives to the glitz, camp and excess of the big hotel shows. Indie Vegas is out there!!!
One of the most famous venues is in a hotel but it's not too cheesy. The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel is one of those places bands want to play. It has plenty of mainstream acts on the bill but it's also where Arcade Fire will play when they're in town.
Another very established venue is The House of Blues which is part of a nationwide chain. Like The Joint, it's a real musical mix - this month sees a 'Gospel Brunch', Steel Panther and Pendulum.
Sadly, it looks like the recession has hit a lot of smaller venues. Quite a few places I would have recommended a few years back have now closed down. To really find the heart of Indie Vegas though, you need to get away from the strip and head over to East Fremont Street...
East Fremont Street
If you were an indie kid living in Vegas, you'd want to escape from the cheese of the Strip and go somewhere a little more alternative, right? East Fremont Street is the place to do it. Fremont Street is home to the glowing neon Fremont Street Experience mall, but head east of there to find the kind of places I'm talking about.
This is home to the legendary Double Down Saloon - a fantastically seedy down at heel music venue and the birthplace of the Bacon Martini. You'll get the Stooges, The Sex Pistols and The Clash on the jukebox and they trumpet a policy of 'you puke you clean', though you can pay $20 puke insurance if you don't fancy doing that. Nice...
Indie Krush are a collective of underground/independent musicians, bands, DJs, promoters, visual artists, and party-goers who are at the forefront of the underground arts movement in Las Vegas. They throw regular parties that are well worth checking out, usually based around the bars of East Fremont St.
Other venues that are worth looking at are The Beauty Bar and The Bunkhouse. The Griffin used to be a great hipster hangout but it seems to have now rebranded as Downtown. No idea if it's kept its vibe but perhaps worth a peak.
Elvis, was a hero to most...
We can't really talk about Las Vegas without giving a quick mention to the man who gave it its 'Viva Las Vegas' anthem - The King himself.
Elvis may be dead (or he may be alive...) but his spirit lives on. You can of course get yourself hitched by Elvis (well an impersonator) at places like Viva Las Vegas Wedding - he'll actually perform the ceremony (yes, Elvis is ordained and will chuck in a couple of songs).
To check out a fine, and rather hefty, slice of Elvis impersonator, head to Bill's Gamblin Hall to catch the Free Big Elvis Show. Big Elvis is a rather rotund man in a jumpsuit (don't think any actual jumping is likely judging by the size of him). He used to be whopping 945 pounds. He's now slimmed down to a stick-thin 425 pounds. With all that weight comes quite a voice.
And, if you want to eat like the King, you could try 'The Big Daddy Barrick Burger' - the world's biggest burger. It's 12 inches in diameter and weighs 9 pounds. It costs fifty dollars, but if you can eat it all within 24 hours you get it for free - that's if your colon survives the experience...
Do something a little different...
I haven't mentioned gambling yet. Of course it's one of the things you have to do in Vegas, but when you get sick of it all and fancy checking out somewhere a little different, have a look at one of these places...
A graveyard for all of Vegas's old neon signs. You have to arrange a tour, but you can wander (and wonder) around their huge collection of old casino and hotel signs - an alternative way of charting the history of the town.
As the title suggests, this is a museum devoted to pinball machines, collected together by aficionado Tim Arnold. He's got machines dating all the way back to the 1930s - over 400 of them.
This one is a little pricey but, hell, it's worth it. You'll take a ride in a chopper, complete with a soundtrack of Ride of the Valkyries if you want it, almost 4000ft down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. The scenery there is awe-inspiring - makes you realise that America, far from being a new nation, has been around since pre-historic times.
Las Vegas for Free...
You can spend a lot of money in Vegas - the average visitor parts with $250 a day, but you can also get away with doing quite a bit for free. The best known tip is of course that if you are in the casinos you will get free drinks.
Another free thing worth taking in is the fountains at the Bellagio hotel. The fountains 'dance' to various pieces of music. Performances are every 30 minutes between 3pm and 8pm and every 15 minutes after 8pm until midnight. Tacky? Probably, but you don't go to Vegas to avoid tacky.
You could go to M&M's World - an experience devoted to the sweets Eminem named himself after. It's free! (I think it may secretly be trying to make you buy things).
Just wandering around can sometimes feel like they have entered a theme park - where else can you be wandering along the canals of Venice one moment, a Parisian boulevard the next and Ancient Egypt a moment later?
And how often do you see Lions inside a hotel? It may sound like a safari holiday that has gone horribly wrong, but this is Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand. They've designed an environment where you can see lions in their 'natural habitat' (yeah right) inside the plush hotel, and all for free 'with MGM's compliments'. Apparently they are descendants of the MGM studio lion who roared in the opening credits of MGM films. Famous kids, eh?
And don't forget to have your photo taken by the iconic 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign. Nobody will charge you for that... yet.
Have fun there and remember, 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas'...