What better way to celebrate being closer to age 70 than to one’s birth, than to celebrate in style in The Happiest Place on Earth? Last week, to honor All Things Gillikin ™, Tony and I — with his wife’s forbearance — went to Las Vegas on a terrific offer from the Wynn. Herewith a recapitulation of the festivities.
I arrived in Lansing at 4 p.m. Tony drove us to Detroit Metro; we hopped a non-stop flight on Spirit Airlines from DTW to LAS at 9 p.m. Before departure, I received gifts including a grab-bag of travel goodies from Tony’s parents. When we hit Detroit, Tony bought us each a scratch-off lottery ticket. My ticket won: A sign of things to come. After grabbing some delicious food at Earl of Sandwich, we hopped aboard and enjoyed several mini-bottles of Johnnie Walker Black on the flight.
Once in Vegas, we caught a shuttle to the Flamingo, where Tony got us one comped night. After a free and unrequested upgrade to a Go! Room, we hoofed it to Bally’s for a bit of video poker, then to Cosmopolitan for a slice of “hidden pizza” — “hidden,” because the tiny little pizza joint isn’t on any resort map and resides at the end of an out-of-the-way, nondescript corridor. The pizza was pretty good, but the customers behind us appeared to be intoxicated Jersey Shore cast party rejects, so we bailed after plowing through our slices. We returned to the Flamingo and went to sleep.
After making Tony über-crabby (I dared to turn on a light in the room before noon), we checked out of the Flamingo, stored our bags with the bell desk then walked back to Cosmopolitan for brunch at Wicked Spoon buffet. From there, we ambled to Mandalay Bay for cigars at the Davidoff store, then we took the Las Vegas Monorail back to Bally’s. Our destination was Book & Stage, a sports bar in the Cosmo.
Book & Stage was a treat: The drinks were all comped as long as we played video poker. And it wasn’t well-drink crap, either — we pushed their mixology to a significant degree, including Scotch cocktails, top-shelf rum and vodka. Hats off to Cori and Danny, our bartenders, who made the gaming experience there as pleasant as it was “lubricating.” As I recall, I broke even during game play, but if we had ordered drinks like what we had enjoyed for free, our tab would have been north of $150.
After retrieving our bags from Flamingo, we caught a cab to Wynn. We had a kick-ass offer from Wynn: Three free nights, $200/night in food and beverage credit and $1,000 in free slot play. Yes. You read that correctly. Plus, we had a parlor suite in the Wynn Tower Suites (almost 1,300 square feet, with an average daily room rate of $1,216) — a hotel inside a hotel, with its own private café, elevator banks, pool, exterior entrance, concierge and reception desk. Oh, and its own private entrance to high-stakes Baccarat. We were in the part of Vegas normally reserved to the ultra-high-roller set, and it showed. I couldn’t complain about the service of Wynn employees if you paid me to nit-pick details.
Dinner that night came courtesy of Sinatra at Encore — a high-end steakhouse with a Frank Sinatra (duh) theme. With gratuity, the meal was roughly $250 for the two of us. My fillet was seared to perfection; our server, Robert, delivered impeccable service; and our table near the windows overlooking the outdoor gardens would have been the height of romance had my dining companion not been Tony.
Our gullets having been satiated, we meandered over to the Wynn casino floor. Lori at the Red Card kiosk very pleasantly and transparently authorized $1,000 in slot credit on my player’s card — no hassle, no “really? what’s your confirmation number and give me a notarized copy of your birth certificate” nonsense. I played through the $1,000 on 50-cent triple play bonus poker (i.e., $7.50 per hand). Came out in good shape; after I played through the slot credit, I cashed out for $1,220, which I split with Tony as per our agreement. Hitting a straight flush on all three lines helped, as well as hitting a pair of quads. And the kicker? As we were gambling, a Wynn casino attendant stopped by and gave me an extra $10 in free slot play “just to say thanks for visiting us today.” We continued to gamble … I think we ran through roughly $6,000 after the free play and I ended up being “up” even factoring out the free play. Not bad for a night’s work.
Wednesday was Downtown Day. After chasing the comp at Wynn (and note to self: never remind Tony that I charged him $25 to play $1 triple-play video poker to get him the points to get free buffet — chasing the comp cost us about $10 more than cost of the meal tickets) we enjoyed Wynn buffet. From there, we went to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and bought cigars at the Casa Fuente store — mine was a buttery, rich Fuente Fuente Opus X.
Much of Wednesday was spent at Caesar’s. We gambled on Tony’s players’ card to get him back to Platinum with the Total Rewards program. I lost $110; he lost $400 — but for him, it was the principle of the thing.
We stopped at a bar on the way back and had a couple of flavored martinis. Dinner was at Switch — a steakhouse at Encore that had great food, excellent wine and every so often, the decor changes. The ceiling and several wall panels rotate and fold so that the appearance of the restaurant changes. The lights switch color and intensity and the music modulates to match. Quite pretty. Costed about $250.
From Switch, we caught a cab to Golden Nugget. I had never been downtown before, so we walked through the Fremont Street Experience and all the casinos contained therein. Downtown is “old school” Las Vegas — some slot machines still have slots for nickels and pay out in nickels (grab a bucket!). The Fremont Street Experience itself is a covered walkway with LED lights on the roof that display light shows. The theme this year is the 1980s, so we got to see shows blaring to anthems from Queen, KISS, etc. I enjoyed my Fuente Fuente Opus X as we rotated around casinos, playing slots here and there and otherwise just watching. We spent an hour or so playing craps and table games at (I think) Four Queens and ended up the evening playing slots at El Cortez before catching a taxi back to Wynn, although we did put in a brief appearance at Insert Coins, a bar/club with vintage video games everywhere. Before we left downtown, we tried the zip line: You get harnessed up at five stories above the merriment on Fremont Street, then shoot down a quarter-mile-long cable to the other end of the district. Quite fun.
Happy Birthday to Me. We enjoyed breakfast at Bellagio’s buffet, then walked through several different casinos playing penny slots until we ended up at Bally’s to play one verrrrrry slow five-game round of keno (I actually broke even, go figure) and then video poker. Our favorite cocktail waitress, Diane, was working and ensured that our Bacardi-and-diets flowed swiftly and stiffly. Visits to Diane have become something of a habit; she is a cocktail waitress at Bally’s who impressed us by remembering us from between visits a few years ago. She’s turned into our “Vegas friend” and we congratulate her on her recent marriage.
After gambling a good long while, we returned to Wynn, napped a bit, then hoofed to SW Steakhouse for a $350 dinner. We began with cocktails: Tony bought us each a snifter of Johnnie Walker Blue (best $100 he spent the whole trip) then we sat down for dinner. We both had fillets, with shared gourmet mac-and-cheese and scalloped potatoes. Plus a tasty dessert and a half-bottle of really nice pinot.
Our plan for the night was to visit Imperial Palace for karaoke, a Jason and Tony tradition. However, we first walked down to Riviera (we think it’s on the short list for the next casino closure) and over to “Slots o’ Fun” and Circus Circus before walking back. After a detour into Walgreen’s for water, we hoofed it into the scary no-man’s land of failed casinos down Convention Center Drive, including the former Greek Isles Casino (which was the former Debbie Reynolds Casino, of all things). There were maybe two dozen slot machines in there, plus cockroaches all along the sidewalk out front. If ever a casino had a buffet that served “some of the yeller” — this is it.
But instead of heading to the I.P., we called it a night early.
After a luxurious morning — including a relaxing soak in the whirlpool bath — we walked to The Mirage for breakfast buffet, then to Paris Las Vegas for souvenirs for our peeps in da Michigan hood. We returned to the Wynn, checked out, and waited for our shuttle bus. Wynn offered to send a car for us, but I figured we had already paid for the shuttle. This calculation proved regrettable: The shuttle was almost 45 minutes late, and would have dropped us off at McCarran with far less lead time than we would have preferred. So, we got off the shuttle at Palazzo and caught a cab to the airport (courtesy of a driver whose conversation was as fast and as disjointed as a chipmunk on amphetamines). We got on, caught our flight out, and life was good. We connected through O’Hare, but we ended up saying on the same plane, with the same punchy flight attendants, for the Detroit leg.
Our ride from DTW back to Lansing was uneventful; I played some of the Rush 24×7 podcast for us. My drive back to Grand Rapids was quiet and peaceful. I got home and crashed around 4 a.m.
… and thus, All Things Gillikin came to an end. And all told, after all the cigars and gambling and drinking and fine dining, I came home only $200 lighter than when I left. Not bad. Not bad, at all — and perhaps a harbinger of good things to come for the second half of my useful life.