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Posted by on Apr 25, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 0 comments

An Evening with Al Pacino

 

al-pacino-thumb

 

Writer’s Note:  Back in January 2017, I penned this article after seeing Al Pacino interviewed onstage in a two-hour career retrospective.  I’m publishing it here for the first time on the occasion of Pacino’s 80th birthday — April 25, 2020.

 

Few can command a room just by being inside it.  Al Pacino is such a man, with an undeniable command presence.

That was my instant takeaway the moment when the spotlight hit the iconic film actor who was introduced to a Saturday night crowd of about 800 loyal fans at the Opaline Theatre inside the Palazzo.

Pacino had arrived in Las Vegas for an exclusive one-hight-only, one-man engagement.  Think Pacino unplugged.  Aside from the somewhat nameless and faceless interviewer who tossed Pacino plenty of softballs to smash out of the theatre, this was Pacino totally in the raw, mostly unrehearsed and unscripted.  While some of the questions asked were repetitive and maybe even a few of the answers were orchestrated for maximum impact, the intimate setting was also loaded with plenty of spontaneous moments and edge-of-your-seat recollections for classic movie lovers.  Most satisfying of all, Pacino seemed to sincerely enjoy the trip down memory lane, with pit-stops where you’d expect them on his 50-year-career.  He was a much better storyteller than one might have anticipated.

Indeed, Pacino personifies what it means to be a movie star.  He made the Godfather’s fictional character Michael Corleone into someone who’s real to millions, forever embalmed into cinema’s collective consciousness.  When we hear Serpico, we think of Pacino.  Sonny, the bisexual bank robber based on a real incident, is Pacino.  Scarface.  Dick Tracy.  Frank Slade.  Carlito.  Lefty Ruggiero.  Shylock.  Richard III.  Phil Spector.  He even played Dr. Kevorkian.

I was surprised by my own reaction, that Pacino’s best moments weren’t the highlights of his superstardom, but rather the low moments and the struggles, both personally and career-wise.  We can forgive but he can’t forget, and Pacino carries the burdens of pain from his childhood, though no amount of talking about his early life could quite remove the lingering sting of loss all these years later.

He talked about growing up in East Harlem (and later the Bronx), born into a lower-class household, raised by a single mother at a time when single mothers were widely viewed social outcasts, especially in Italian-American culture..  Pacino’s father abandoned the family when Al was 2.  Interesting factoid from the show:  Pacino was mostly raised by his grandparents who were immigrants from….Corleone, Italy.

Pacino seemed the most unlikely heir of what was to become his ultimate destiny.  He worked as a messenger, busboy, janitor, and postal clerk in between acting jobs consisting mostly of small roles in stage productions.  There was even a period when he was unemployed and homeless.  Sometimes he slept on the street, in theaters, or at a friend’s house.

In the 1960s, leading men cast in movies did not look and talk like Pacino.  Smallish.  Way too New York.  And way, way too ethnic.  By age 30, even though he’d studied at the famed Actors Studio under the tutelage of mentor Lee Strasberg (who would later play the legendary role of Hyman Roth in Godfather II),  his acting career was going nowhere.

However, everything was about to change, including public tastes and mass audiences’ demands for authenticity combined with Hollywood’s own methods of casting prompted by a new age of writers and directors.  New movies would need smallish actors, with New York accents, who were genuinely ethnic.

Pacino’s role, playing a heroin addict in his first film The Panic in Needle Park (1971) caught the attention of movie director Francis Ford Coppola, who had just won an Oscar for screenwriting Best Picture winner, Patton.  Coppola took a big risk and cast Pacino as Michael Corleone in what became a blockbuster film, The Godfather (1972).  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and even Robert De Niro tried out for the part, but Coppola insisted on Pacino, to the dismay of studio executives who wanted someone better known.

The stories of phone calls between Pacino and Coppola during the tense negotiations were told here, presumably, versions heard by the public for the first time.  Neither knew of the monumental tidal wave that was to come engulfing both of their lives, totally reshaping the careers of both men.  Now, Pacino remained every bit as appreciative of that loyalty, noting that no other film director would have gone to bat with such steely determination, especially given that Coppola was also relatively young and didn’t have total control of casting decisions.

As one would expect, there wasn’t nearly enough time to tell all the stories.  Even Pacino’s most obscure film roles elicited some hysterical recollections about on-the-set disasters and even the actor’s own missteps.

Pacino had clearly done this before, and his experience as an amiable storyteller showed onstage.  Yet, the actor’s occasional gaffes were among the most endearing moments.  When absorbed in stories, he’d often get excited and would sometimes even ramble off on tangents.  A few times, the moderator had to steer Pacino back on track.  This wasn’t annoying at all.  It gave the presentation a genuine sense of spontaneity, that we were privileged to be sitting in an audience sharing Pacino’s recollections of what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling.  I should add that not having any film clips, props, or other supporting materials actually helped the format.  Midway into the retrospective, everyone in the audience seemed to feel what a special moment this was and we were lucky to share it.

Las Vegas might be known for gambling, but it usually leaves nothing to chance.  The odds are known.  Most shows are the same, night after night, year after year.  Pacino’s recollections, though imperfect and incomplete, was in a sense the acrobat performing without the net — no notes and no script.  While other celebrities have done one-person stage shows, with mixed results, most of those efforts look way too contrived, even manipulative.  Not so, with Pacino.

Pacino has crafted a reputation based on playing tough guys in movies.  But his first love is stage acting and theatre.  After taking about 25 minutes of questions from the audience (most of which were terrible — thankfully, Pacino was gracious and answered questions he’s undoubtedly been asked hundreds of times and anyone with access to IMDB can lookup), the legend paid homage to Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, and Noel Coward.  It seemed Pacino wanted to talk more about stagecraft.  Unfortunately, the interviewer cut off some of the evening’s most passionate thoughts from Pacino.

The final few minutes included a short glimpse of what was then Pacino’s next major upcoming film project.  That night, he’d recently signed a deal to play Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Was it enough?  Was it worth paying $80 to listen to a film icon talk about his life and career?  Was this a show to recommend?

The answer is simple.  Hey, it was Al Pacino.

Enough said.

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Posted by on Apr 12, 2020 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas | 1 comment

My Thoughts on Live Casino Poker Returning in the Shadow of COVID-19

 

CV19 Proof Poker Table

 

MY THOUGHTS ON LIVE POKER RETURNING IN THE SHADOW OF COVID-19

The main reason why poker will struggle in Las Vegas and elsewhere after reopening isn’t about safety. It’s because the games will suck.

 

1. Let’s ponder the reasons why most people play casino poker. The two primary reasons are:

(A) To make money and

(B) To socialize.

2. Now, let’s take a look at the prototype that’s been “trial ballooned” in the gambling media as just one of several possibilities for a functional poker table in the post-CV19 era. It’s a standard table with glass (or plastic) partitions. Presumably, this design will reduce the chances of contamination and/or infection spread between dealers and players and each other. Similar designs have surfaced elsewhere, and a few are reportedly being used now as some casinos begin to reopen.

3. Aside from the many questions as to whether this table design is truly safe to consumers and provides an acceptable level of protection while in the midst of a global pandemic that has infected more than a million Americans, even under a best-case scenario, how “good” will poker games be?

4. Returning to the original point raised in #1, will live poker games played in the shadow of CV19 be either (A) potentially profitable and/or (B) sociable? My conclusions are — no and no.

5. When Nevada casinos reopen, poker tables will reportedly be played with a maximum of four players. Now ask yourself this:
What kinds of poker players will play under these highly unusual, short-handed conditions? Pros and semi-pros? Yes. What about more casual players? Probably not. What about weak and inexperienced players? Absolutely not. Prediction: Standard four-handed games will be terrible. They will be virtually unbeatable, with only a few exceptions, noted later.

It will be like a pond of sharks feasting for any sign of a juicy morsel, all but impossible to find.

6. What about the social aspect of these games? Four-handed poker with dividers might be an interesting conversation piece for a few minutes but will quickly become very annoying. Partitions where players might have trouble speaking, not to mention problems with glare, will kill any prospects for fun and spirited games. Let’s face it: Live poker was already becoming unsociable, almost robotic in nature, *before *the pandemic and crisis. Smartphones and iPads had all but destroyed casual table conversation leading up to the events of early 2020. Now, remove half the players at any given table since seats are reduced from 9/10 down to 4 and set up dividers, and the social attraction of poker is obliterated.

7. So, games will be terrible in most situations. What’s the fallout of all this? Simple. Table draws/seating position will be so paramount to profit that managing the room will become far more difficult. Smart players will scout the room and try to find seats with weak players, which will be few and far between. However, a small number of players — primarily short-handed specialists — might enjoy a significant uptick in profit. But this will be only a small number. The vast majority of marginally-talented players who were grinding out modest profits before will instantly become break-even or even losing players. For virtually everyone, certainly in poker markets with tougher and more experienced players, the games will become unbeatable. With players’ portion of the rake likely to increase, as well as the occasions for tipping dealers (fewer players means higher percentages of pots won), this will only add to the stress of trying to earn a profit.

8. A very small number of locations, games, and players will benefit from the new conditions. Some markets do have broader skill disparities between skilled and unskilled players, and the better players will win more money faster. However, this could also be dangerous for losing players who might go broke faster and not be able to replenish funds. If they bust, who will take their places? So, even the winning players in the short term could end up suffering in the longer-term, especially if short-handed play is the norm for a while.

9. As for attracting new players to the game, forget it. Casino poker was already intimidating before. However, full games will up to 10 players often allowed novice players to blend in and not be forced into as many decisions. Short-handed games with blinds racing around and faster action will fail to attract new players who are essential to the prosperity of any poker room.

10. Thus far, I have not touched upon health and safety. I’ll leave it up to medical professionals to offer their assessments. Nonetheless, no other casino game typically includes as much personal interaction with others and touching common items as poker. While video poker and slot machines can be sanitized frequently, one must wonder how healthy it will be to play poker for many hours in a session, which is typical behavior for most players. It seems poker is far riskier than other casino games and activities.

Hence, I conclude the games will mostly be unbeatable. Poker games will be less sociable. And games might even be unsafe.

Is there any upside or positives? Well, online poker should fare well where it is now legal and/or quasi-legal. I strongly suggest players gravitate to trusted sites where consumers enjoy some protections. Too bad that so many “poker professionals” did so little to advance online poker years ago when they had the chance. Now, the game will struggle, at least for a while.

Personally, I have no interest in playing live casino poker until there’s a vaccine or the threat of infection almost entirely disappears. And I certainly have no interest in playing ina four-handed game boxed into a cubicle that resembles a jail visit.

I’m neutral on the question of poker’s greater future. I just don’t know and can’t offer any projections, and this is from someone who spent a few years on all sides of the game. How might our recreational and gaming habits change if these social distancing guidelines continue much longer?

I’ll offer one more assessment soon in a future column on the prospects for dealers and staff, who I genuinely have concern for in the months and years ahead. As for poker pros, it’s probably time to go out and get a real job, provided you can find one.

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Posted by on Apr 7, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal | 4 comments

Remembering the Castaways

 

Castaways

 

The Castaways Casino was open from 1963 to 1987. Here’s my recollection of that forgotten slice of the Las Vegas Strip before it was demolished to make way for The Mirage, which stands in its place today.

 

It was cramped.  It was smokey.  It was hot.  It was dusty.  It was ugly.  It was a hellhole.  And, it stank.

But none of that mattered at age 21.  None of those things were important when visiting Las Vegas legally as an adult for the first time every bit as capable of debauchery and degeneracy and depravity as the rest of America’s mad herd of merry gamblers.

I can’t identify what exactly it was that made the Castaways so damned appealing, so fun, so interesting, so compelling, and — now 36 years later — so memorable.  The Castaways wasn’t luxurious like its Haute neighbor Caesars Palace, next door.  It wasn’t famous like the Flamingo, down the block.  It wasn’t known for world-class entertainment like the Sands, across the street.  It wasn’t Ballys.  It wasn’t the Aladdin.  It wasn’t even in the class of run-down mobbed-up Dunes, soon slated for demolition.

The Castaways was a cramped square-shaped casino that resembled the inside of a bus station.  And it was loud.  Outside, the parking lot was too dark.  Inside, the casino was way too bright.  There was a small hotel, with 100 rooms, the quality about equal to a Motel 6 about five years too late for renovation.  There was a restaurant on the premises rumored to be pretty reliable, serving a truck-stop like menu 24/7 with prices starting at 99 cents for a full continental breakfast, including a tiny glass of artificially-flavored orange juice.

I made at least four trips to the Castaways between the ages 21 and 25, sometimes with $300 in my pocket and once with about $7,500 — my fate the same on each and every trip.  My final visit was in 1987, only a month before it closed down and was bulldozed to the ground to pave way for Las Vegas’ first giant mega-resort called the Mirage, which opened two years later in 1989.  The Mirage is a gorgeous hotel to look at and it ushered in what’s known as the modern era of Las Vegas with 4,000-room resorts being commonplace, famous TV chefs, circus acts, and showrooms of shopping and more shopping.

But I do miss the old Castaways.  Yes, I do.  Yeah, it was a dump.  But it was the dump where I liked to hang out.  Like an old pair of shoes or the girl you first fell in love with or a cheap can of beer, it all just seemed so real, so authentic.

castaways casino

 

The Castaways never established its own niche until perhaps it was too late and the times had changed.  Maybe that’s why some of us connected with it so easily.  As a casino, it was the orphan.  A stepchild.  More of a black sheep.  It was the ugly offspring that struggled and always had to borrow money from rich parents and brothers and sisters.  It was an oddball and an outcast.  And it eventually ended up as rubble, the spot where it once stood obliterated to the dustbin of history by a fake volcano.

Nothing seemed to go easily for the Castaways from the day it first opened.  In 1963, the casino was themed as a Polynesian Resort, with Tiki torches and palm trees surrounding the exterior.  The hit television show Gilligan’s Island with its own set of castaways couldn’t even save the casino, which struggled financially.  Things were so bad, the casino had to close its doors by the final day of 1964.  Unconnected to organized crime that was so pervasive throughout Las Vegas at the time, skimming apparently played no role whatsoever in the casino’s floundering finances.  Fact was, the Castaways was just a very poorly run casino positioned at a horrible spot on The Strip.  It sat next to a Mobile gas station.  Who would want to gamble at the little place with palm trees across the street when the Flamingo and Sands were packed with pretty people and the greatest live entertainment of the 60s?

The original owner was an oilman and he realized seven wasted figures deep that there was more money buried under the ground than above it.  So, the Castaways was sold in 1965.  The new owners invested $300,000 and redesigned the outer structure, installing a colorful motif in front which was far more alluring than the simpler facade with thatched roofs made of faux-straw.  They also put in eight fresh gaming tables, plus 70 state-of-the-art slot machines.  For the next two years, the casino didn’t make much money.  But it didn’t lose money, either.

Progress.

Howard Hughes changed the Las Vegas casino landscape forever when he went on a wild spending spree during 1968, taking full control over at least five major properties.  Included in this grand acquisition towards so-called corporate legitimacy was the Castaways.  The selling price was reported at $3 million — a tidy sum which included the land, a huge parking lot, the casino, a hotel, a restaurant, and the gaming license.  Hughes might as well have stolen the property given what was later to come.

Hughes didn’t survive much longer, but The Castaways did.

It outlived Hughes by more than a decade before a new suitor came along.  His name was Steve Wynn.  He had a grand idea to tear down the Castaways and build a new casino resort, the likes of which Las Vegas had never seen before.

castaways casino

 

The Castaways was a pioneer in at least one aspect, and that was sports gambling, and this was all due to the wit and wisdom of the late Sonny Reizner.

For someone widely considered so old school, Reizner was in many ways actually a modern maverick.  He one of the most important transitional figures in the history of legalized sports betting.  Around 1976, Reizner opened up one of the city’s first sportsbooks located inside a casino, which was housed at the Castaways.  Up until then, horse racing and sports betting were thought of as far too labor-intensive and not profitable enough to dedicate proper casino floor space.  Hence, racebooks and sportsbooks in Las Vegas were tucked inside smaller OTB-style storefronts that looked like strip malls.

sonny reiznerReizner saw the future and in some ways even manufactured it.  He knew that a well-managed outlet for sports gambling could attract new customers.  So, he manned a small sportsbook called “the Hole in the Wall.”  It took bets on sporting events only.  No horse racing.

By 1978, Reizner recognized he could create and then corner a new market when he launched the first-ever NFL handicapping contest.  It cost $1,000 to enter.  The winner was declared the handicapping “world champion.”

In 1980, Riezner was posting odds on things like “Who Shot J.R.?” from a popular television show.  His novel idea of a publicity stunt even created controversy as he issued tickets on the outcome, but the gaming commission stepped in and ruled wagering wouldn’t be permitted on entertainment-related events.  He put up numbers (later, for amusement only) on where the Skylab Space Station would crash when it fell back to earth.  Indeed, Reizner was a master of generating free publicity, and his home base of operations was the Castaways.  The Las Vegas Hilton, the Stardust, and the Union Plaza also caught on to this market and helped foster it, but the Castaways was the kickoff, the tip off, and the ground central, all encased in a cubbyhole containing two betting windows, a few telephones, and a large whiteboard with the latest odds scribbled in colored magic markers.

Long after Reizner passed away (in 2002), and the Castaways was but a memory, the football handicapping contest, and parlay cards, and other fun promotions created by the sports gambling maverick have become staples inside every major casino sportsbook.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to Sonny Reizner.

……….

And now, the final chapter, and my own story and recollections.

I don’t have any big scores or life-changing moments from the Castaways.  What I remember was a horribly run-down and painfully uncomfortable casino which was the greatest place in the world to hang out.

There were some blackjack tables, a craps table, and slot machines surrounding the parameter walls.  Two poker tables flanked the casino floor, separated by rails crammed with barstools.  Every seat seemed to be filled each time I went inside and it didn’t matter if it was 4 pm or 4 am.

The Castaways was super player-friendly.  Free drinks, never a hassle.  Helpful sports betting clerks.  But the dealers and pit bosses were what I remember most fondly.  They welcomed card counters.  They encouraged new players and even helped them place bets.  I even saw dealers and supervisors openly tutoring players on “21” basic strategy.  You’d never see that anywhere else.

Oh, everyone seemed to be talking and the noise was unbearable.  Back then, all the machines used coin in, which meant dirty buckets were pawed by eager gamblers, dropping silver dollars, quarters, dimes, nickles, metal slugs, and even pennies — one at a time, making the cling-clang down the shoot — and then to really get the full effect, multiply the echo of coins by 50 or 60 or 70, and add some bells, and the occasional scream from a lucky winner or furious addicted loser — and the place sounded like a cross between a tin can recycling plant and a hospital emergency room.

Then, there was the smoke.  The smoke inside was so thick it was blue.  Like a lava lamp hanging permanently in the air, gyrating until it melded with billions of other particle-toxins until it became one giant fucking ashtray the size of a casino.  The smoke was so thick it was nauseating.  Like burn your nostrils and water the eyes — thick.  But no one complained or even cared because no one thought about smoking and non-smoking and second-hand smoke back in 1987.  It’s just the way it was.  Hell, back then you could smoke on airplanes.

And I remember the poker, played by scary-looking people.  Old ladies.  Cowboys.  People who looked like they were part of the Mafia.  They all looked like professionals.  Cigs dangling in their mouths while they played, and while they talked even, the ash burning down and getting longer until there was actually a faint glimmer of suspense at wondering just how long that crooked ash from a burning Pall Mall could hang off and extend the butt, before crashing onto either the distorted green table felt or the shirt bib of the smoking poker player who was utterly oblivious to the ash and toxicity of what amounted to working inside a Kentucky coal mine, let alone concerned about the strategic position of the closest ashtray stamped in the Castaways logo.

I can’t forget the beer at the Castaways, either.  I’ve tasted lots of cold beer in my life, but the beer at the Castaways might have been the coldest.  It was always brought by a smiling waitress in those really thick red glass bottles, where the weight of the container was much heavier than the actual contents.  Longnecks.  Budweiser longnecks.  Ice cold Budweiser longnecks.  Goddamn, that beer was cold and it was good.

It was at least 105 degrees in Las Vegas on my final visit.  Or, it could have been 110.  The black tar burned your feet through the soles.  When you pushed that swinging glass door that never seemed to close because people were going in and out all the time, it just went back and forth on its hinges, faintly cutting the hot air outside from the blue nicotine of air inside, as an outdated AC system basically said “fuck it,” that was, if it could talk.

Funny thing was, the Castaways made lots of money during its last few years.  Every spot around it was much bigger and fancier, but lots of people must have also loved slumming around in the cheap place where no one ever paid for a drink, where the beer was cold, and cigs weren’t necessary if you smoked.  All you had to do was step inside, and inhale.

I lost my last $5 chip at a blackjack table, the last shred of anything of value on my person, but I still ordered another cold beer and took it out the door at an ungodly early morning hour I don’t know since there were no clocks on the walls and time didn’t matter anyway, and I headed back to my freezing hotel room at the Flamingo Hilton, which had luxury rooms shoehorned on the backside on the other side of the pool.  When I left that summer night in June 1987, I didn’t realize that was the last time I’d see my old friend.  I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

The Castaways shuttered its doors just a month later, and by fall, the parking lot was no longer burning hot but the asphalt was buried in busted concrete and broken glass, surrendered to greater powers and in the shadows of steel girders rising in the near distance.

 

Note:  There were two casinos named the Castaways.  This location is not to be confused with the casino that opened later on Boulder Highway and torn down in 2003.  Despite the same name, there is no relation.

 

Further Reading:  For more information on the Castaways, I highly recommend visiting “The Perlowski Files.”

 

Special thanks to David K. Li at NBC News in New York for prompting me to write this story.

 

Castaways Las Vegas

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Posted by on Apr 6, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 2 comments

Las Vegas Take-Out Reviews

 

Yassou Las Vegas

 

TAKE-OUT REVIEWS (LAS VEGAS WEST WIDE)

Here are my thoughts on the best take-out spots on the West Side of Las Vegas. I’m also including places that weren’t so good.

This list is by no means complete. It’s limited to the places I’ve tried in the last few months. Note that I am *not* a take-out enthusiast. I almost never did take-out nor fast food before this crisis. So, this whole ordeal is somewhat new to me.

THE BEST:

Flower Child (Charleston and Ft. Apache) — Outstanding quality, healthy food. Build your own platter options, all very tasty. Recommend the protein plus two side dishes for $12. Call in or order online and pick up inside. Social distancing strictly enforced indoors. Lunch and dinner served in very convenient circular take-out containers. All around, a positive experience. Also recommended: Forbidden Rice ($12)

Blaze Pizza (Hulapai and Sahara) — Fast. Easy. Cheap. For $9 you can build your own pizza, and it comes out exactly as you’d get it inside the store in a sit-down setting. Pizza travels well in a box, so there’s that. Online ordering was easy, just check the boxes on toppings your want (unlimited) and the price is the same. For $9 you can’t lose on a fresh, hot pizza. Must go inside to pick up was the only minor grievance.

Zaytoon (Durango and Twain) — This is one of the few take-out places I frequent regularly. Consistently good. $12 gets you the Koobedeh platter (spiced ground beef), rice, tomato, onions, and add a small salad for $5 and you’re all set. Family-run Iranian restaurant. Small kitchen. But fast and reliable. Must go inside to pick up. Served in styrofoam box which is no-frills, but can’t complain about the food, so this gets a high mark from me.

Nittaya Secret Kitchen (Fort Apache and Lake Mead) — This is one of my favorite Thai spots, been here close to 100 times. But this was my first take-out from them. Food travels pretty well, some items better than others. Curbside pick up is very convenient. 20 percent discount on all orders (I think, if memory serves). Sadly, some people might be dissuaded from trying Asian food at this time, which is a whole another discussion. But Nataya is always reliable. To the best of my knowledge, they are doing their entire menus as take-out.

Yassou (Charleston and Buffalo) — Very good Greek take-out with curbside. Excellent quality platters with meat, rice, salad, and pita bread all-inclusive for about $12. Solid. Never a disappointing meal here and take-out is every bit as good as dining inside.

AVERAGE:

Carrabas Italian Grill (Charleston across from Boca Park) — So-so on food quality and pricing. In their favor, pick-up at curbside is very convenient. One notable exception is the Mama Leone’s Chicken Soup. If you can get portions of that in a takeout bowl (which we did), that alone is worth the trip. Very good spicy chicken soup. The rest of the menu seems pricy and not worth it.

Bonefish Grill (Charleston across from Boca Park) — Family meals are on special; $38 for a meal with a main course, side dish, bread, and cookies which is a decent value. Unfortunately, selections are limited to only about five items. Wife liked them a lot. I thought they were average. Walk up to take-ut window is mandatory. In their favor, Bonefish currently has a “buy $50 gift card and get $25 free” promotion, which basically makes all the orders 33 percent off. I could have listed them in the “best” category if the take-out food and options were better. Nonetheless, they might be worth trying.

Marie Callender’s (Sahara and Cimarron) — They have a family meal bundle where they give you a free pie, which is pretty good. Food is bland but hamburders are decent.  Reasonable cost, and very convenient. Can’t believe I’m touting Marie Callender’s. Man, times are getting tough.

NOT RECOMMENDED:

Lucille’s (Green Valley/Henderson) — Since the Red Rock store is closed, I ordered from Green Valley and did the curbside pick-up. Didn’t seem busy, but there was still a 90-minute wait on all take out orders. Curbside seems convenient but isn’t. Poor food runner has to go back and forth inside getting extras and making change, delaying the process. Food (barbecue) is typically good here but lost some quality in the take-out experience. Cannot recommend.

Olive Garden (Summerlin on Town Center) — People know I bash Olive Garden as garbage Americanized Chef-Boyardee “Italian” fare, but for the money, you get what you deserve and the prices are reasonable. Tried the lunch one afternoon and the food was horrific. Frozen meals microwaved are much better (I’m not exaggerating — the Italian frozen bag meals at Trader Joes far outclassed Olive Garden). Rubbery noodles. Tasteless sauce. No frills standards. Boring as hell. Cold breadsticks may not be their fault, but this food doesn’t travel well, either. I won’t go here again.

Sonic (Drive-In — Multiple Locations) — No, I didn’t go here, but I found it interesting they seem to be packed every time I drive by. Perhaps it’s the easy drive-up car-hop style of eating that attracts customers. I think most of their food is crap (been perhaps a dozen times over the last 15 years), and I don’t like trays (do they wash them between servings?) and kids touching my food. Just seems like a risk to me, but maybe this is no worse/risky than any other restaurant. I don’t know. Open to persuasion if people think drive-ins are a good idea at this time.

Krispy Kreme (Drive-Thru — Multiple Locations) — Don’t even get me started.

This review is pretty limited because I haven’t done many to-go places. I welcome others who may want to post their own “best” and “worst” take-out spots. Since we might be on lockdown for weeks or perhaps even months, hopefully exchanging this information will be helpful. Please also note that I’m aware the best way to protect oneself is to stay inside and cook. We do plenty of that, too.

ALMOST FORGOT:

Parsley (Tropicana and Fort Apache) — Israeli-owned place that is outstanding. Metal containers make food travel well. Make your own Mediterranean dish for $9-12. Excellent food quality and extensive menu. Must pick up inside. they have counter that makes everything on the spot. Their pita is boring, but that’s a minor complaint. Also. I’m not fond of their sides, but main dishes are wonderful.

 

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 2 comments

Yes, You Can Still Go Out and Have Fun and Here’s How (Surviving Las Vegas During the Coronavirus Crisis)

 

marieta dalla

 

I don’t know when it will come but at some point during this “social distancing” thing, many of us are going to go stir crazy.

This is especially true if you live in Las Vegas, like me.

We’re used to going out and having fun.  We’re accustomed to casinos, and restaurants, and world-class entertainment within a short drive.  We’re spoiled by instant gratification.

Let me be very clear:  I fully support and encourage following every recommendation and guideline put out by any authority — at least those put out by people not named Donald Trump and Mike Pence.  The draconian measures of social distancing, and in some cases “self-quarantining” are sure to save many lives.  I beg everyone:  Please follow them.

But let’s also be realistic.  Many of us are going to go outdoors.  We will leave our homes and drive places.  Some destinations — such as grocery stores and medical facilities — are mandatory.  Others, such as amusements are optional.

Fortunately, Las Vegas is blessed to have some really cool places closeby.  Everything about these spots is positive.  I think many readers might enjoy them if they can get outside and are willing to try an adventure.

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few amazing places that I want to share.  Each destination is easy to reach from Las Vegas.  So, if you are a local resident, or visiting, these are very doable.  Best of all they are safe and cost next to nothing!

 

OPTION 1:  TAKE A HIKE AT RED ROCK CANYON

Distance from Las Vegas:  5 miles

Time Required:  A few hours (or more is optional)

Don’t be put off by the word “hike.”  I promise — it’s not that difficult.  There are many leisurely walks through the Red Rock Canyon National Park.  Some take no more than an hour.  Others are more challenging and can take up to a full day.  The option is yours.

The main thing is — the views our here are magnificent.  More like breathtaking.  And, since it’s March, the weather should be great this time of year.  The same goes for April and May.  So, even if this health crisis continues for months, Red Rock Canyon will be there waiting to welcome us.

The many times I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon, it’s never been crowded, like a city attraction.  Sure, several hundred people might be at the canyon at one time.  But they are spread out of many miles.  So, there’s virtually no threat going out and doing something that’s fun and good for you — walking and hiking.

Here’s my report of an amazing hike I did a few years ago with a friend, Nick Christenson.  Nick knows these trails very well, so I was glad to have him as my guide.  If you’re interested in learning more, please read this column, and if you really want to find out where to go, share the discussion on Facebook.  Either Nick or I will be glad to address it.  Read:  TAKING A HIKE:  THE OTHER SIDE OF LAS VEGAS

 

OPTION 2:  DRIVE AND VISIT VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK

Distance from Las Vegas:  50 miles

Time Required:  4 to 5 hours (can be done in a half-day)

Valley of Fire is about an hour-long drive to the northeast, about halfway to the Utah border.  It’s a pristine setting with lots of rock formations and natural beauty.

There’s no urban development out here, meaning no hotels or gas stations.  The natural splendor is what makes Valley of Fire so attractive.  The park is located next to an Indian reservation, which has a tobacco shop as the main cut off from the highway onto a single-lane road, which takes another 10 miles, or so.

I’ve visited this park many times, usually with family or out-of-town guests.  Everyone I’ve gone with enjoys the quiet solitude combined with the beauty of the unusual landscape.

Unfortunately, I have not written about the Valley of Fire in the past.  So, instead, I will provide this link to their OFFICIAL WEBSITE.

 

OPTION 3:  DRIVE AND VISIT DEATH VALLEY (DANTE’S VIEW)

Distance from Las Vegas:  120 miles

Time Required:  8-10 hours (full-day)

People hear “Death Valley” and they think of unbearable heat and barren desert.  But it’s not that way, at all.  Or, I should say, it’s much more than that.

One of the park’s best-kept secrets is an amazing landmark that overlooks the vast natural treasure, which is about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.  This is one of the best day-trips you will ever take from this city.  For reasons inexplicable, I’ve met very few Las Vegas residents (or anyone else) who has done this wonderful mini-vacation.  Don’t be like them!  Do it!

Remember, during this period, we want to be cognizant of social distancing.  Well, a visit to Death Valley is about as socially isolated as it gets.  The closest you will come to other people might be cars on the other side of the highway.

This article I wrote about Dante’s View will give you some idea of what awaits those to make the drive.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  And, once you are there, it’s a nice spot to get out and spend a few hours.  The view never gets old.

Be Warned:  There is no food or services out here, so please make sure you are well-fed and stocked up before heading out.  Oh, the area is totally safe.  You just need to make certain you have plenty of gas and don’t leave hungry.  Because you won’t find a fast-food place around for 50 miles.  And that’s what makes it so wonderful.

Try Dante’s View.  This is an amazing experience.  Read more:  DANTE’S VIEW:  A GREAT LAS VEGAS GETAWAY

 

There are more places to visit than just these.  Utah has some astonishing parks within a reasonable distance.  Of course, it’s also okay just to go outside and take a walk.

I understand these are unusual times.  For everyone.  We’ve never been in a spot like this before.  I encourage those I know and those I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet to stay safe.  But also — please volunteer and help when and where they can.

Just as important….I also think it’s vital to live a little and enjoy life.

Visiting one of the parks within driving distance is a breath of fresh air and a very responsible way to take advantage of this disruption of our normal lives.

The best way to appreciate Las Vegas right now might be to leave it, if for only a few hours or a day.

Please share with me if you decide to follow any of these recommendations.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Join the Facebook discussion on this topic HERE

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