"I'm gonna keep on the run, gonna have me some fun, if it costs me my very last dime.
If I wind up broke, well I'll always remember that I had a swingin' time!"
Elvis in Viva Las Vegas
We really managed to cram a lot into this trip! Click on any green text to see pictures...
Days One and Two: Chandler and Scottsdale
We started our odyssey in Chandler, Arizona, home of both my aunt Camille and grandmother. We stayed with Camille (thanks, Camille!), which was very convenient for visiting Muz, my grandmother. We got over to Muz's house after we managed to rouse ourselves Saturday morning and it was so great to see her, since it had been almost two years for us. She was game to go out to lunch, so we went to Del Taco, which may not be fancy, but we can't get it in New York, so it's exciting for us! After lunch I got the bright idea to shop at Cost Plus World Market, which will make anyone in the west laugh, since it's a chain store, but, again, we don't have them in the northeast, so we were happy to shop for cheap, exotic gifts and bar stuff. We picked up a couple of bottles of Hinano Tahiti beer, which we'd never tried, and some wine for Camille and our friend Lynn, who lives in Scottsdale, since she's really into Halloween and this was Halloween wine. As luck would have it, Lynn invited us over right after we'd finished shopping, so her bottle of wine didn't explode in the hot car in the Arizona heat. We love visiting Lynn. Her family is so nice and fun to talk to. We had some wine and hors d'oeuvres with them, then made our way over to Trader Vic's in Scottsdale. This was a very exciting moment for us because, being the tikiphiles we are and considering the fact that we always look for any possible tiki any place we visit, you might be surprised to learn that we'd never before been to ANY Trader Vic's! That made the first Mai Tai that much tastier. We'd finally arrived! We bought a coconut mug, which is funny, considering we'd end up with FOUR by the end of the trip, and grabbed lots of matches, takeout menus, cocktail picks and any other swag we could lay our hands on!
The next day, after our visit with Muz, we set off in search of In-N-Out Burger, another chain restaurant I miss from the west, where a fabulous cheeseburger will set you back $1.90 and an order of fries is big enough to split. We started to leave the strip mall with In-N-Out when we realized they had a BevMo, so we had to stop there for liquor shopping. BevMo is one of those places I've only heard about, since it's another chain missing in the northeast (do you sense a theme here?). I was enthralled with the way they sell not only liquor and wine, but bar supplies, party food and all kinds of exotic and strange sodas. New York's blue laws stipulate that only alcohol can be sold in most liquor stores, which is stupid, but there it is. We found a bottle of parfait amour, for which I've been searching in vain for about a year, and several gifts. The parfait amour made it home intact in Paul's suitcase, thankfully, and I'm enjoying some right now!
We thought we'd drive to Tempe and check out the area around ASU after lunch, since they have some funky looking shops. However, we didn't get very far before happening upon a Goodwill. Our rental car (Oscar) knew us well enough by then to know not to pass a gigantic thrift store, so we dove in and came out with several records and some great aloha shirts for Paul. Our next stop was, well, another Goodwill. This one provided more records and a goofy vintage Guinness stout item, which is either a very large bar towel or a very small tablecloth. Who can tell?
We were hot and thirsty after all that thrifting, so we made our way toward Drift, a neo-tiki lounge in Scottsdale, which we love because it's very '60s and looks like a Shag painting come to life. After that it was time to call it a night.
Day Three: Grand Canyon and Vegas
We stopped by Muz's Monday morning before hitting the road and enjoyed a nice breakfast with her in her apartment complex's dining room. After breakfast it was off to the Grand Canyon, which neither of us had seen before. We stopped at a rest area along the desert highway and were rewarded with spectacular views and, apparently, deadly wildlife. Fortunately neither of us had any close encounters! We hit the Canyon in the early afternoon and it really was incredible. We'd brought the film camera to catch some Floyd and Lula footage (coming to YouTube sometime soon) and I was a little alarmed when we first got there, because it was so cloudy you couldn't see the actual canyon, just a bunch of clouds. I can see that in New York! The good news is that the clouds and rain were only intermittent, so we were able to see the spectacular views, shoot some film footage and even see a rainbow. We bought the first of many shot glasses on this trip, sent some post cards from the Grand Canyon Post Office, then hit the road.
One of our favorite things is road food, those fabulous restaurants you find along the highways and byways of the country, and we'd already seen selected one for lunch on the way to the Canyon, Fred's Diner, in Bedrock City, an entirely Flinstone-themed campground and restaurant complex. They had a wood fire (it was pretty cold up in those mountains) and Christmas lights, so I was in heaven. We had Fishasaurus Sandwiches and Cactus Juice (half fruit punch, half lemonade) and shared some chili cheese fries. The food was really great and the entire total, with tip, was under $15. After that we set out for Rock Vegas!
We were already running kind of late, since we stayed at the Grand Canyon longer than we'd planned, but we figured we'd make great time to Vegas, being a weeknight and all. That was true...sort of. There wasn't a lot of traffic on the road, but we stopped at a checkpoint before entering Nevada, then quickly found out why: you literally drive through the Hoover Dam as you enter the state. It's a very winding road and the speed limit is 15 MPH, but the views are spectacular and we hadn't planned on seeing Hoover Dam, so that was a bonus. We pulled into Vegas at about 9:00 PM and met up with Kristy and Geoff at New York, New York, where we popped into their version of a Bronx/Irish pub, Nine Fine Irishmen, for some large beers and appetizers.
The Rest of the Trip: Vegas, baby!
We're not normally late sleepers, but I find Vegas to be a nighttime kind of city, so we tended to wake up late in the mornings and go until well after midnight most nights. By the time we were ready to head out on Tuesday morning it was pretty much lunchtime, so we made our way to L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, which Paul and I discovered recently in New York, and which has great plate lunch specials for under $5. I had fried mahi mahi, a Pass-O-Guava soda and some Spam musubi, which I plan to attempt to make myself very soon. After lunch we visited the Atomic Testing Museum, where it's just as well that you can't take pictures, since I would have snapped about 1000. My favorite exhibits were the pop culture artifacts, such as toys, records, candy, etc. that were called "Atomic This-or-That," with pictures of atoms on them, illustrating the mid-century public's fascination with atomic energy, the exhibit with pictures of the people who lived at the Nevada Test Site doing things like bowling, dancing and eating at their very own steak house, and the films they showed.
Tuesday night turned out to be very exciting for us. We were all a little depressed that the brand spanking new Trader Vic's Las Vegas wasn't going to be open in time for our visit, but I managed to wangle an invitation to a preview party, which just happened to coincide with our visit. It was fabulous! They used a party room at the Planet Hollywood Hotel for the party, since Trader Vic's was still somewhat of a construction zone, but they did a great job decorating it and had more Trader Vic's cocktails and food than we could consume (hard to believe, I know) and we met some really nice people from Tiki Central there, who were eager to offer suggestions and advice about their city. We even got to take a tour of the facility and get an idea of what it will look like when it's done (this pic features Greg, who will be the general manager). Everyone looked great, Paul got pulled in front of the crowd to dance with the hula dancers and a good time was had by all. And, as a bonus, they were giving away coconut mugs like the one we bought at the Trader Vic's in Scottsdale, so we made it home with a set of four!
We were all dressed up after the party and not ready to call it a night, so we piled into a cab and headed for the Peppermill Lounge, which is considered one of the best makeout spots in the country and has a fabulous round fireplace within a basin of water in the middle. We got a sofa looking right toward the fountain, had some drinks and I'm pretty sure Paul got the picture before he turned in for the night.
After lunch at Carl's Jr. on Wednesday (another fast food chain we miss here in the northeast) we went to the Liberace Museum. Oh, boy, where do I start? Fabulous doesn't begin to describe the experience. We had tickets to the show, which is performed by Liberace tribute artist Wes Winters, who, in addition to being an incredible pianist and really, really funny performer, is a genuinely nice person and loved the shirt Paul was wearing, which I made, so that made me happy. We got to see tons of costumes, including the infamous hot pants costume (here's how he looked in it), jeweled pianos, cars and decor, and even slot machines (I love the detail on this one). I loved it all and even started to feel a little weepy toward the end, since he was known to be such a nice person, who loved his family and loved to put on great shows and bring joy to the world. And he loved gaudy spectacle and wore hot pink!
We had some time to kill before the restaurant and bar affiliated with the museum opened, so we drove over to Sunset Park, which is where the Aku Aku moai, which used to reside at the Stardust Hotel, before it was unfortunately recently taken down, now lives. It's on an island in the middle of the lake, presumably to keep folks like us from getting too close! After that it was back to Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens, formerly Liberace's Tivoli Gardens, but which is still obviously very closely associated with the museum. We had a cocktail and some yummy crab stuffed shrimp appetizers and bread and were able to see the showroom, which is very glamorous, full of twinkle lights, Knoll chairs for a very swank '60s look, has a jeweled piano where Wes Winters entertains at night, and a bar designed by Liberace himself, with large inlaid piano keys. It was too much.
To continue the old school Vegas experience we were already having that day, we took a cab (I didn't want to drive the rental, since I wanted to drink with the folks!) to Fremont Street, where some of the older hotels and casinos can be found, and had dinner at the swank steak house at the Main Street Saloon Hotel, the Pullman Grille. I had prime rib, a whiskey sour and, later, some fabulous beer that they brew at the brewpub there. We mainly walked after that and I got lucky at an Elvis slot machine at the Four Queens Casino. We're not big gamblers (translation: we don't enjoy throwing away large sums of cash), but I'm pleased to report that I ended the week ahead as far as gambling goes. Ahead in this case means a few bucks, but, hey, winning is winning! We popped into Mickey Finnz for some drinks, since we can't pass up a tiki destination, no matter how large or small, then called it a night.
Thursday we piled into the car and made our way to the south end of the Strip to Tahiti Joe's. You may have seen commercials for the Tahiti Village timeshares in Vegas. This is their restaurant. The decor was really good, the prices were great and I enjoyed my tacos and mojito. They had mugs you could purchase, so we added two tiki mugs to the collection. The only weird thing about the experience was the fact that the waitress couldn't take your cocktail order--the bartender had to come to the table and take your order. None of us had ever heard of such a thing, but, hey, we got cocktails, so who cares?
One of the tips we'd gotten from a tikiphile at the Trader Vic's party was that you can buy tax-free cigars in the Paiute smoke shop, which is in the Paiute Colony, right there in Vegas. Paul picked up a nice stash. While we were in that neck of the woods we also visited the Neon Boneyard, which is where old signs go to die. Apparently they have tours, but we just climbed up on the Jersey barriers to have a look inside. I saw an old Liberace sign, one from Binion's and what we're pretty sure is a sign from the recently imploded Stardust Hotel, among others.
Driving back to the Strip we passed (or, rather, DIDN'T pass) Main Street Antiques, where we killed quite a bit of time and money we'll never see again, but it was great. We picked up a Drei Moai bowl from Tiki Farm, which I've wanted for ages, some tiki napkins, a moai pendant for me, some records and open reel tapes. They specialize in mid-century antiques and I literally could have bought everything they had. I WILL go back one day!
Dinner Thursday night was at the Hofbrauhaus, which, yes, is affiliated with the one in Munich. They had a live band, which I was afraid would be loud, but it turned out to be really fun and we even got to dance! There was tons of food and beer, I (and eventually Kristy) ended up in the conga line and I think we all felt pretty relaxed after a couple of big beers. We walked around after that, passing through the Venetian, Treasure Island (where we collected another tiki mug at Kahunaville), Caesar's Palace and the Bellagio, where we had a cocktail in their swank piano bar.
We left Vegas on Friday night, but had time for lunch at Cheeseburger before we had to leave, which I loved, because it was chock full of Hawaiian and tiki collectibles from someone's collection, so I spent a bit of time looking at everything and we were able to buy Cheeseburger tiki mugs, which we've wanted for quite a while now. We also shopped at Hilo Hattie's, where I got a purple and black teatimer blouse, Paul got a string of kukui nuts to wear around his neck and we found a nice dark wood Ku tiki for our collection. We also stopped into the Bettie Page store, where I drooled over the very '50s dresses, Sin City Brewing for some beers and Fat Tuesday for frozen drinks. After that it was time to sober up for the trip home.
A surprising number of people tell me they don't like Las Vegas. I suspect it's because they either have never been off the Strip and/or because they don't know where to look for unique experiences there. We had a great time and I fully intend to go back in the not-too-distant future to visit Trader Vic's and do the things we didn't get to. My ideal trip would be a cross country road trip and I hope to make it happen within the next couple of years. In the meantime, Viva Las Vegas!