Why Cincinnati Reminded Me Of Vegas

Why would a city like Cincinnati remind me of Las Vegas?  Simple….. Everything reminds me of Las Vegas if I let my mind wander a bit.  There is more to it than that.  My wife and I decided to go on a road trip last month.  Vegas was on the table like always, but for one of the first times, I decided against going to Vegas.  I know… Crazy right?  Well, we’d been there earlier this year, and we’d be travelling with an ‘almost 2-year-old’ (who’s been to Vegas twice already).  I thought maybe it was time to switch it up a bit and do the road trip thing, which we have fairly limited experience with.  My wife wondered if my son would hold up with all the driving, but I preferred the thought of that over trying to keep him contained on an airplane for 5 hours, plus all the customs and security BS.

So we chose Ohio.  We’d been to Cleveland before, but this time we stopped in Akron to visit friends, and continued on to Cincinnati, with a couple of stops in Columbus before heading over to Pittsburgh.  I know my wife was thinking that Vegas might be easier.  She was preaching to the converted.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder however, and I thought that going somewhere else this time was the right call.

Cincinnati had some reminders of Vegas though.  The first one was actually not in Cincinnati itself, but in Newport Kentucky, which is a walk across the pedestrian bridge away.  We ate at the Hofbrauhaus which is a German brewery/restaurant that has great food (who would have known that I would love Sauerkraut Balls), and also great beer.  The original Hofbrauhaus was built in Germany in the 1500s.  There’s quite a few of them in Europe, but this was the first one built in America.  Guess where the second one was built??  Vegas baby!!!  It’s slightly off the strip, close to the Hard Rock Hotel.  I always seem to pass there on my cab ride from the Airport to the strip.  The menu is good.  I had Schnitzel, but the appetizer sampler platter was awesome.  As nice as the quiet lunch we had was, I’d love to see it at night with a bunch of drunks in there 🙂

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The next day we went to the Great American Ballpark to watch a Cincinnati Reds game.  Very nice experience, especially when it came to the food and beer selection.  Before the game I went into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.  Even though the Reds aren’t my team, I’m certainly ‘baseball nerdy’ enough to know a lot about their history, and appreciate much of what I saw in what I thought was a great attraction.  The Reds best teams were in the mid-70’s when they won back to back World Series Championships.  One name that kept popping up was Pete Rose.

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Pete Rose is an absolute legend in Cincinnati as he should be.  He is the most prolific hitter in the history of major league baseball.  He owns the major league record for most hits over a career.  A record which will likely never be touched in my lifetime.  Derek Jeter who recently retired is the closest this past generation got, and he was still about 800 hits off the mark.  Below is a tribute to the World Series team as well as that record.

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Pete Rose unfortunately is known a lot more these days as the guy who got kicked out of baseball for gambling.  I’m not necessarily saying I’m OK with that, but I’ve seen a lot worse in terms of crimes going either unpunished, or being forgiven.  This happened so long ago, and the MLB has been so stubborn about upholding this lifetime ban.  I’m not saying they should let him manage a team or anything, but at least let him into the Hall of Fame.  It’s not like his accomplishments on the field should be in question like if he took steroids or something.

Pete Rose is in Las Vegas if you ever want to meet him.  He makes his living signing autographs at memorabilia shops in Casinos.  I’ve seen him at Caesar’s Palace, and I’ve seen him at Mandalay Bay.  It’s sad, because for all he’s accomplished I feel like there should be a huge lineup of people trying to meet him.  It might just be that I tend to go during ‘off travel season’ when it’s quieter, but I’ve seen him alone with no lineup, eating takeout food waiting for someone to come in.  It’s sad.

I’ll leave you with a Pete Rose quote from the ESPN 30 for 30 short doc…….

“I”m just a guy looking for a second chance….other people get second chances….. alcoholics, drug addicts, spouse abusers…… not gamblers though.  If you want to put something on my tombstone that was very important to me.  It’s 1972.  That’s how many winning games I played in.  So that makes me the biggest winner in the history of sports.  No one else can say that.”

Good on you Cincinnati for not forgetting him.

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Vegas Burgers

So……Hungry……Right……Now……

I feel like a burger.  I also feel like going to Vegas.  You know what they have in Vegas??  Burgers!!!  Among other things.  I’ve been trying not to think about Vegas.  Once I come back from there, I have a cooling down period where I still get a kick out of looking at photos, and reminiscing about my trip.  Then a sadness comes over me when I realize that I won’t be headed back anytime soon.  Then the travel deals start coming by every available media outlet.  Then my wife and I start giving each other that look like, ‘We really should go somewhere else this time…… let’s just compare prices……..oh…… Vegas looks cheaper than that other place………Is it weird if we go again?……..’  It goes on and on.  Who knows when we’ll end up there again.  Maybe sooner than later.  In the meantime, let’s talk about hamburgers.

I’m not the foremost expert on hamburgers in Las Vegas.  Not even close.  I’m thinking that I can tell you a few things, and maybe you can tell me a few things.  I want to know what Vegas burger I should try next.  Any input would be appreciated.

The first place I’ll probably go that I haven’t tried yet is……

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The last time I was in Vegas, I walked by here on the day that it opened for the first time, about an hour before it opened.  As you can see, there was already a small lineup.

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Bobby Flay was there promoting it, and I took a picture through the window like some strange celebrity gawker.  As much as I like him, and have total faith that he would make a good burger, I had just finished a buffet breakfast at the Cosmopolitan, and wasn’t going to eat for another 4 or 5 hours.  Friends of mine,  who travelled to Vegas about a month later, ate there twice, and provided me with this picture of the New Mexico Burger.  Note the location of the potato chips.

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Some of my favourite Vegas burgers include…….

The Rising Sun Burger at Holstein’s (Cosmopolitan).  Man, I wish I took a picture.  Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo & Tempura Avocado.  This was a recommendation from the waiter.

The Euro Burger at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR (Planet Hollywood).  Truffle Aioli, Goat Cheese, Arugula, Oven Roasted Tomato.  I ate this before going to a UNLV basketball game.  Go Rebels!!

The Famous Blue Cheese Burger at Strip Burger.  Normal-ish ingredients other than the blue cheese, but this was the best cooked burger I had.  There could have been nothing on it, and it would have been amazing.  This is up near Fashion Show Mall, right on the strip.

ABC Burger at Serendipity 3 (Caesar’s Palace).  Avocado, Brie and Caramelized Onions.  This one I took a picture of.  Notice how proud I look.

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What Burgers should I try next time I go???

The Beatles In Vegas

Last week was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  In the history of pop culture and rock n’ roll, this was about as historic a night as there was.  I tried to think of things that have happened in my lifetime that have been as significant, and couldn’t come up with many.  How many amazing artists have come and gone, and made appearances on prime time television in the last 50 years?  Many.  How many appearances were so memorable that they will be remembered 50 years later?  Few I think.  There was a great tribute show on TV commemorating it, and it was great to see Paul and RIngo up on stage together, as well as all of the other artists that paid musical tribute, not to mention the Cirque du Soleil performers who joined the spectacle.  It made me think of Las Vegas!

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What doesn’t make me think of Las Vegas?  When I drive to the store tomorrow morning to pick up milk for my son, I will find a way to think of Vegas.  That’s just how my mind works.  There is a good Vegas/Beatles connection though.  One of the Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip titled “LOVE” is a fantastic show inspired by the music of The Beatles.  When I went to The Mirage Hotel to see this a couple of years ago, it was the first Cirque performance I’d ever seen.  I had heard that it was something not to be missed if you were a big music fan, but if you wanted to see the crazy acrobatics that these shows are known for, then maybe there were better Cirque shows to see.  Personally, I’m all about the music, and I could care less about the degree of difficulty for the performers, as long as they perform well, and they did.  In fact, this show was so well done on every level that I contemplate seeing it again every time I go back.  There wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  The visual presentation was stunning.  I can’t speak on behalf of all Beatles’ fans, but I loved the music.  It’s almost like a mash-up of The Beatles catalogue, which probably has purists cringing, but the mixing was done by The Beatles’ original producer George Martin and his son Giles.  This gives the show some extra credibility for the music fans.  I liked that it wasn’t a greatest hits collection either, but a great mix of #1s and album tracks with subtle re-workings and remixes thrown in.  Any uptight music nerds can un-clench, and trust me.  It’s awesome, but buy the soundtrack at your own risk.  The performers were incredible too.  I get so nervous for them while I’m watching.  I don’t have a good stomach for that stuff.  They really brought the music to life.

In case “LOVE” is out of your price range, there is another intriguing option for The Beatles’ fans travelling to Vegas.  At Planet Hollywood Hotel, there is a show called “B – A Tribute To The Beatles”.  This one is cheap and cheerful by Vegas standards, and has a 5:30 pm start time, which means you can watch the show, and not have to rush through dinner afterwards.  These guys are impersonators who put on a full concert in full costume, which they change 3 times during the show to reflect their evolving looks.  The music is dead on, and whether you think watching impersonators is cool or not, there is no way any of us will ever see The Beatles in concert, and this might be as close as we’ll ever get.  If this sucked, I would tell you, but to be honest, these guys are pretty incredible.  If you sit too close, you’ll realize they’re way older than the guys they’re impersonating were, but it must have taken them years to get the act sounding this good.  It might be the best bang for the buck show on the strip if you like The Beatles.

My Stay At The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

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This Vegas blog is gonna get better and better now that I’ve actually been to Vegas again.  Last week I spent 4 nights at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.  When deciding where to stay, I searched through expedia.ca, and looked at the hotels on the strip.  I don’t have the patience to stay off the strip at this point, although maybe in the future I’ll branch out a bit.  I had stayed at the Cosmo last year, so I did have a comfort level with it, as I had really enjoyed my time there.  It’s a little pricier than most of the hotels I was looking at, but it fulfilled all of my requirements, being centrally located, with lots of cool restaurants, and great rooms.  Expedia had a deal which included free breakfast at the Wicked Spoon each day.  That put me over the top, and made it easier to justify paying the extra money.  In a previous post I’ve talked about some of my favorite buffets in Vegas, and The Wicked Spoon tops the list.  Not only were we not going to be buying breakfast every day, but after feasting there, nobody wanted lunch most days either.

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The service there was great.  It is a 5 star hotel and it’s first class all the way.  I had my son staying with us, so we needed a crib.  When we checked in, the lady at the desk co-ordinated crib drop-off and also asked if we were going to be using the mini-bar, warning us that moving items in the mini-bar would result in a charge to the room.  Anticipating that we might need the fridge for milk for our son, she offered to have someone come up and clear out the mini-bar.  This was thoughtful and a nice touch.  By the time we got up to our room, the crib was there in under 5 minutes.

I love the second floor.  This is going to sound crazy, but one of my favourite parts of the hotel is a spot where there is almost nothing going on.  There are two towers at the Cosmo, and the distance between them is substantial.  On the first floor, it’s mostly casino, but on the second floor there are some shops and restaurants in the front, but there’s a long carpeted path to get to the back.  Pretty quiet there most of the time, but actually a great place to bring a 15 month old who needs to run around a bit.  They play obscure 70’s soul music, and have a lot of great pictures of classic Vegas performers to look at as you walk through like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte.  There are 3 TV screens with footage of old Vegas, and some people just stop and watch it for a bit.  It’s a sharp bit of decor that gives a great retro feel without being tacky.  The rest of the hotel doesn’t seem retro at all, but I think its ultra cool that there’s this little quiet pocket where you can take a trip through time as you walk to your elevator.  I also like that they’re paying homage to old Vegas, even though it’s a newer hotel.  

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I’ve eaten at a few of the restaurants there as well.  I had previously eaten at STK which is a chic steakhouse that usually has a DJ spinning while you eat.  I remember really enjoying it there.  This time I went to China Poblano which is a Chinese Mexican fusion restaurant which is worth going to for the originality of their offerings.  Holsteins is a burger place that has a great beer menu, and specializes in adult shakes.  Probably the most interesting place is the pizzeria which not everybody knows about.  This pizza place (I believe) is open 24 hours, and is located down a hallway with no signage.  I don’t even know what it’s called.  It’s not on The Cosmopolitan website.  It’s a secret pizza place!!  How cool is that??  I had a White Pizza slice.  It was really really good.  Might be the best $5 I spent while I was there.  I would include a photo of that, but I don’t want to blow their cover.

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If you’re going to go to Vegas and get hooked on it like I did, get a rewards card.  The Cosmopolitan has a good one.  The drawback is that they only own that one hotel, so you can only use it there, but the awesome part is that you can swipe it for any money you spend there, so even if you aren’t a big gambler, you can still get points for staying there and eating in their restaurants.

I don’t have much to say that would be considered negative regarding my trip to the Cosmo.  If I have to nit-pick, I’d say that the doors to your room are loud enough to hear at Caesar’s Palace, so it’s difficult to sneak in after a night of gambling when you have a baby in the room.  Light sleepers beware.  Also, there’s a significant difference between the views from the windows.  If it’s your first time, try to get a room that faces the Bellagio.  That’s the best view.  If you get a suite, you get a balcony, and that’s the only place on the strip where that is the case to my knowledge.

All told, The Cosmopolitan is an amazing hotel, and I haven’t told you about half of the stuff there.  I highly recommend it, and it’s worth a couple of extra bucks in my opinion.

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Observegastions

Wow, my first Paymevegas.com blog post actually being typed and posted from Las Vegas itself.  Seems like a long journey.  How did I ever think I could do a blog about another city without going there to do more research?  Life gets in the way of Vegas sometimes.

Today I wanted to do a post that would be universal enough that I might be able to post it in thoughtsandrantsinjoggingpants.com as well.  Kind of a lazy move that I don’t usually like to do, but as I’m typing this, I’m sitting in a hotel room at the Cosmopolitan hotel, fully equipped with a bottle of Blue Moon that I got for free while gambling (free my ass, it turned out to be the most expensive bottle of beer ever purchased, if you’re counting the money I was losing while waiting for it to arrive), a day old bag of Garrett’s popcorn (which is supposed to be consumed the day of, but tastes better a day old than all other popcorn no matter what day), and I’m watching a TV station called Palladia which seems to be nothing other than classic rock concerts (I’m watching Queen live from Montreal in 1981), so I won’t be writing two separate blogs!!!  My wife took her mother and aunt to see Human Nature at the Venetian, so I’m on babysitting duties as my son is fast asleep in the other room.  This will allow me to blog and slow the rate of me losing money in the casino.

Here are some Vegas observations from things I’ve noticed the last couple of days.

– If you travel to Vegas with a baby who is sleep trained to go to bed for the night at 6:30 pm Eastern Standard time, and you decide to bring this baby to a place like Las Vegas, or any other place that’s on Pacific Time, you have to be prepared for this baby to want to go to sleep for the night at 3:30 pm, and want to wake up for the day at approximately 3:30 am.  Obviously as the days go by, you can inch him closer to a respectable time, but we’re only here for 4 nights.  He has yet to sleep in past 4:30 am.  My wife tries to let me sleep until 6 am.  I love her for that, but these are not the Vegas vacations of old.  That said, it’s still far better than being at home where people are sweating icicles.

– Anytime you’re in Vegas with a first timer (my mother in law), you usually want to take them for a walk up and down the strip and into all of the famous hotel properties.  As we passed through Belllagio and Caesar’s Palace, I couldn’t help but notice how many high-end jewelry stores there are.  So you can walk right out of a casino, and right into a jewelry store.  I’ll probably never know what it’s like to have the disposable income where you can blow a ton of money in the casino, and still have money left to buy jewelry, artwork, or a car.  Oh to be a high roller…. I wonder if this is a way for the hotel to get back any money won from their casino……’yeah you hit the jackpot alright, but if you buy a diamond necklace that money’s staying right here’.  Or perhaps it’s a ‘hey buddy, feeling guilty about all the debauchery???  Why don’t you get something for your wife that says sorry I was at a strip club on our anniversary, honey’.  Either way, I give Vegas full marks for ALWAYS thinking of everything.  There is no indulgence that isn’t right at your fingertips here.

– I’ve seen a bunch of movies with Las Vegas as the backdrop.  I really like watching them now so I can see what hotel something was shot in, or see a scene from somewhere I’ve been recently.  There’s no movie that Vegas has capitalized off more than The Hangover.  In that movie they stayed at Caesar’s Palace, and the gift shop there has close to 10 different shirts with Zach Galifinakis on the front with a quote from the movie.  I even saw a look-alike out on the strip with a fake baby strapped to him taking photographs with tourists for tips.  If you never saw the movie, I’m really not sure it needed to be a trilogy, but the first one was brilliant.  Great laughs, awesome Vegas shots for the enthusiast.

Well that about covers it.  Freddie Mercury has done a costume change near the end of this concert I’m watching.  His outfit is fruity by the fruitiest of standards.  Not that I want to see it, but I’m morbidly curious to know if his balls are going to fall out of these shorts or not.  That said, he was awesome, and the rest of the band doesn’t get enough credit.  They were sensational.  Got a bit more gambling to do tonight.  Gotta remember to take some pictures to use in future blogs tomorrow.  Hope Thoughts and Rants fans enjoyed my Vegas post.  🙂

Back On Track!

This Vegas blog has had one HUGE fundamental problem.  An author who hasn’t been to Las Vegas since the blog started.  That’s unacceptable!!  I need to get this blog back on track.  Not because it’s a New Year’s resolution, but because it’s the right thing to do.  The only way to do that my friends, is to sacrifice my time in the comforts of my own home, and a bit of precious vacation time from work to take a trip to Las Vegas.  I’m willing to make those sacrifices for you, the reader!

I am booked for later in the month, and on a mission to see things I haven’t seen, do things I haven’t done, and eat at places I haven’t eaten at.  All while doing all the same things I’ve always done, going to the same places I always go, and eating the same things I always eat.  How is that possible?  It’s not, but I’m gonna push myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself to experience as much of Vegas as I can, so I can share those memories (and most importantly pictures…. otherwise I’m going to have to keep posting pictures of the Bellagio fountains like this one) with you.

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I’m going for 4 days and I’ll be staying at the Cosmopolitan.  It will be my second time staying there, and third if you count the time that I had friends staying there, and I hung out in their suite all the time before retiring back to my modest headquarters of the moment which was The Carriage House.  I like a January trip to Vegas because it’s pretty much the cheapest time to go.  The weather isn’t hot, but more of a spring type of temperature during the day.  It gets a bit chilly at night.  That said, for those who don’t know me, I am Canadian!  Therefore Vegas in January is a welcome relief from Toronto in January which is quite a bit colder.  The swimming pools aren’t open this time of year, but I’m not much of a swimming pool kind of guy.  I would probably go once per trip if it was open, but I won’t miss it if it’s not.  I absolutely love the Cosmo.  I had to pony up a bit extra to stay there instead of many of the other hotels on the strip, but I did get a package that came with free buffet breakfast every day.  As I’ve explained in a previous post, I love Vegas Buffets, and the Wicked Spoon is my fave!  I’ve also signed up for their rewards program, so I’m trying to get my comps up.  I’ll probably dedicate a whole post to the Cosmopolitan at some point, but I’ll wait until I’ve stayed there again, and can get some more pictures.

The last time I was in Vegas which was about a year ago, I fell in love with Garrett’s Popcorn.  This is an outfit from Chicago, and they make the most incredible popcorn I’ve ever had, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.  I’ve tried every brand that seems to be coming out with a knock off ‘Chicago Mix’, but nothing has compared.  I haven’t been to Chicago since the 90’s and it isn’t a regular stop for me, so I go to the Garrett’s in the Miracle Mile shops at the Planet Hollywood Hotel.  I’m told that Oprah attributed some of her weight problems to Garrett’s, and I definitely understand why.  The key is not to pig out on Garrett’s all day because there are restaurants I need to check out, and I don’t want to spoil my appetite.  I don’t want to hit that vacation wall I sometimes hit, where I just lose my appetite completely and start ordering salads.

Wish me luck!  If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll have a lot more pictures to share with you, and hopefully some stories and recommendations.  Can’t wait!!

The Nature Post Pt 2 – Valley Of Fire

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So if you read my last Vegas post you know that I’m not a nature guy.  Not that I can’t appreciate its beauty when it’s thrust upon me.  I just don’t go out of my way to have it thrust upon me.  My good friend who used to live in Vegas IS a nature guy, and when we would go to visit, we usually ended up out in the desert somewhere.  I’m glad I brought a camera, because these are some of the best pictures we ever took.  My last post which was about Red Rock had a few nice photos, but to be perfectly honest, I was only there for an hour or so.  I managed to squeeze a blog out of the pictures I took plus a little research.

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Valley Of Fire was a different story.  We made a day of it.  We went to Whole Foods at Town Square, and got ourselves lots of snacks and refreshments for the road.  This was a bit further out than Red Rock.  I enjoyed this so much more because we actually hiked for a bit, and saw a lot of different things.  I remember loving it so much, and thinking to myself that if I wasn’t friends with this guy, I NEVER would have been out that way, but I’m so glad I did it.  One of my best days in recent memory!  It was certainly the highlight of that particular trip.

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Usually I’m so verbose in my blogs, but I’m just gonna let the pictures speak for themselves.  This is definitely a worthy trek if you’re in Vegas, but want to get away from the strip and see something beautiful.

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PS…….  I think I might be able to finally get back to Vegas in January, but I don’t want to jinx it….. Stay tuned!!

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