On a recent October jaunt in Las Vegas, I had two missions: learn to play blackjack, and find a few under-the-radar spots along Las Vegas Boulevard.
The first mission was accomplished easily enough, with the help of a low-limit table at Treasure Island, a couple hundred dollars and a friendly blackjack dealer willing to help me (“What does the book say?” was one of my favorite phrases of the night).
Finding hidden gems—shops, spas, restaurants and other locales—was not so easy and was, in some ways, even a riskier bet than my choices at the blackjack tables. The sheer amount of people, celeb-driven locales and flashy advertisements made the task of finding any worthy spots that still remained hidden daunting. How, amongst the crowds and the glamour and the gaudiness was I going to find any undiscovered worth-talking-about places along Las Vegas Boulevard?
Thanks to a few in-the-know contacts, I dug up a handful of hidden gems. Here are my top 10 (in no particular order):
Andre’s at Monte Carlo. Celebrity Chef Andre Rochat has a few outposts in Las Vegas, but this one has one of the largest selections of Cognacs, Armagnacs and after-dinner drinks in North America. Upstairs, there’s a cigar lounge where a professional will help you pair a drink with a cigar.
The Auto Collections at Imperial Palace. Who would guess that within this unassuming casino and hotel there would be one of the world’s largest classic car showrooms? The collection is valued at more than $200 million, and each is for sale. Entry price is $8.95 ($5 for senior citizens and children), and car aficionados, high rollers and big dreamers can peruse for hours. The Auto Collection is located on the fifth floor, near the rear of the casino.
Qua Baths & Spa in Caesars Palace. Meant to mimic the old Roman public bath house culture, the classic Roman Baths portion of the spa consists of three different pools at varying temperatures and sizes. The first and largest pool holds warm, mineral-enriched water. The second and third pools are smaller: one is hot to release tension in your muscles, and one is a chilly plunge that invigorates your body. For $45 for a day pass (that includes the fitness center), this makes for an affordable day with girlfriends or a restful solo experience. Also not to miss are the Arctic Ice Room (pictured above), a chilly 55-degree room with falling snow; the Inhalation room, a steamy men’s shaving area that helps prepare skin for a smooth shave; and the tea sommelier that will pair drinks with signature services, such as antioxidant-rich Summer Rain white tea paired with a classic facial.
MiX Lounge at THEhotel in Mandalay Bay. This fashionable lounge, attached to MiX restaurant, is high atop THEhotel’s Mandalay Bay tower on the 64th floor. Enjoy stunning views in a hip location. But the true hidden wonder: get there early for happy hour, daily 5-10 p.m.
Strip House at Planet Hollywood. Strip House’s (pictured left) location on the mezzanine floor of Planet Hollywood deters many tourists from discovering this sexy steak house. The vintage black-and-white photographs of old-time female sirens, red décor and servers donning classic white uniforms give the place a sultry, vintage vibe. Any restaurant that starts a meal off with a tasty amuse-bouche sets the stage right away for a fantastic meal. Classic cuts of beef, inventive sides, such as black truffle creamed spinach, dessert decisions—the 24-layer chocolate cake or the caramelized banana tart?—all are reasons you should meander up to quieter second floor of Planet Hollywood on your next Vegas trip.
Todd English P.U.B. in CityCenter. Todd English’s first pub concept, this is an attractive space for both men and women, young and old. The real kicker here is the pub’s seven-second challenge: finish your pint before time runs out and it’s on the house. (Note: this could be messy but entertaining to watch.)
The Spa & Salon at ARIA. The spa at ARIA—a massive 80,000 square-foot complex—is the only place in the country that offers Japanese Ganbanyoku stone beds. These are heated stone beds that soothe muscles, increase circulation and eliminate toxins from the body. Even better: a day pass that includes access to the fitness center, pools and the stone beds is only $30.
The Sporting House at New York-New York Hotel. This two-story restaurant and bar is a prime spot to watch a game. Two 16-foot HD screens plus 100 or so other monitors scattered about means you never have to miss a second of the action. The food is high-quality sports bar grub (Maine lobster club wrap, for example), but my favorite part of this place is the family-friendly vibe—especially the massive second-story arcade. This isn’t necessarily a hidden spot, but the space just went through a re-branding and is worth checking out.
China Grill in Mandalay Bay. Happy hour is called Dragon Hour here. For two hours every evening (5-7 p.m.) enjoy half-priced sushi, half-priced cocktails and complimentary hors d’oeurves. Need I say more?
Artisan Hotel. While technically off the strip (but within walking distance), I have to mention the Artisan Hotel. The bohemian-gothic décor is gorgeous, and this little boutique hotel is decorated with art from the likes of Da Vinci and Cezanne. The room rates are extremely reasonable, but if you have other hotel arrangements, at least stop in for a drink at the dark, arty lounge.
Did I leave anything out? Share some of your faves with other devoted Sky readers by commenting below.