Sunday, May 29, 2011

Vegas, Baby!

Billboards around my part of the planet in California proclaim in ads for the ARIA Hotel: "The Center of Vegas. Shifted.''

Allowing for the usual advertising and marketing hyperbole, that's not far off. ARIA, a mostly tasty, nifty 4,0004-room highrise (hey, it's Vegas) hotel, sports the obligatory casino, of course, but it has much more on offer for us non-gamblers. I stayed there two nights for the World Travel & Tourism Summit, where Obama administration honchos like U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with global travel biz leaders at a newly constructed convention center. People at the convention promoted their ventures, of course (cities, towns, nations, tour companies, hotel chains, airlines and the like) and worried about the uneven world economy and tight U.S. travel visas restrictions. (We're working on it, replied high-profile guests like presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, a former hotel GM).

When not in meetings in windowless rooms amid tight security, I trolled The Strip and the attendant clustered hotels, restaurants and brand-name shops in City Center, the development that has been opening in stages over the past year or two in Sin City. Vegas and ARIA are about more than buffets now in the Food Department, happily. I settled-in for tapas and cava at ARIA's Julian Serrano, run by and named for the gifted Spanish chef of the same name. While not cheap, the food was sumptuous, the service swift. City Center reminded me a bit of the interconnected highrises of Tokyo, very unlike the sprawl in the desert that Vegas (Vegas, Baby! if you're enamoured of the Rat Pack and 'Mad Men') has long represented.

Of course, some things don't change. On The Strip, a street preacher was calling out: "The Bible isn't just a book, it's God's autobiography.'' Moments later, a cluster of men in cowboy hats walked by, leaflets in hand, wearing T-shirts that gave a phone number and a message that read: "Girls to your room in 20 minutes.''

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