Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Four Days in The Desert - Day 1a

For the first time in the winter gathering, I was travelling solo.  I'd been to WPBT events in the summer by myself, but come December I always had a small entourage of local friends who wanted to gamble it up a bit. This presented a few problems. First we were always co-ordinating flights. Some people couldn't get off work and took later flights, others got delayed a day by vacation scheduling SNAFUs, I would generally be rushing to the airport while others were whiling away the hours waiting for me.

Then we'd get to Vegas and I'd be splitting my time between two groups of friends. The ones I saw regularly, and the ones I saw yearly. My priorities were scrambled.

This year, nobody could come with me. I was a both a little disappointed, and a little relieved. Solo for WPBT is easier. Besides, I'd be returning to Sin City with my usual blokes in January.

In short, I was heading to Vegas by myself to meet up with dozens of friends. I get tired of explaining this to people every year. Maybe I'll tell them I'm going to Scranton. Nobody asks who you're going to Scranton with.

I wisely gave myself some extra time to get to the airport, and the accident on the expressway justified the reduced sleep schedule, for I arrived with still plenty of time to spare.

Not that it mattered too much, as the plane was seemingly delayed about an hour. I'm not sure why, as I was asleep on it as soon as the doors closed, so I didn't notice us sitting on the tarmac the whole time. In fact, I didn't notice we were delayed until I thought, "hrm, we should be there by now."  This put a bit of a kink in my plan to play the Aria 1pm as a Winter Classic warmup.

I strolled through McCarran Terminal 1, a bit concerned about the impending taxi lineup, and tweeted such (yay US roaming plan!). But I won the check-in lottery (2nd bag out) and the taxi stand was a well-oiled operation, so I was checked-in at the Aria by the time I got the "Hey, we just landed and have a rental, want a ride?" tweets.  Bloggers rock.

I was riding the high of being back in Vegas, so decided that yes, I could use some help with my ONE bag, and tipped the bellman as I strolled to the front desk.

The past couple of years I've slipped $20 to the check-in clerk at the Bellagio and am running about 75%. Yes, 2/3 of 2.  The first year was a slam dunk with the penthouse floor room with a lake view (you all know the picture that resulted). The second year was a bit of confusion. Spa tower, strip/lake view, 8th floor. But she didn't touch the $20 and made no suggestion that an upgrade had been given. So I kept the cash.

This year I opted to try a different route. I'd ask for the basic upgrade first (strip view, preferably higher up) and tip if I got it.  No dice.  "I'm sorry, we don't have any strip rooms available, but we do have a very nice room clean and ready for you with a mountain view." Fine... no tip for you.

Ah yes, Aria. Fancy new hotel in the centre of The Strip. I was intrigued by it last year, and April  had swung a pretty solid deal for us degenerates this year.

Sixteen floors up I walked into this:

Aria Room 

Well, I thought, this ain't too shabby. Purple, but nice. I think I made the right call. The rooms were nice, the bed was amazingly comfortable, and the elevators were fast. Being plunked down two doors from the elevator bank made for a particularly easy walk, with surprisingly little hallway annoyance.

Aria Room Detail

That clock there? It controls the whole room. It's the god-clock. Blinds, lights, TV, you name it, the clock controls it. I think I could have ordered room service from it.  The technology in Aria is well-used. Although a couple light switches wouldn't hurt.

I set up my tripod and started shooting the room.  Why? Because I had an assignment on interior design shots due the Monday I got back and had bupkis. Above are a couple of the shots.  Yes, I started my Vegas trip with homework, but that's only because I knew that once I left the room, I wasn't getting any more work done for days. I immediately realized that my setup looked like I was about to shoot amateur porn in a Vegas hotel room. How clich√©.

Far too long later, I had my shots taken, adjusted, and sitting on my laptop.  But before I left, I snapped a quick iPhone pic of my view.  Actually, before I left I searched the room for the safe. I took a tweet to @AriaLV to finally locate it. Twitter is damned useful.


Walking outside I realized that the mountain view might be the better option with Aria. Corner suites probably have a good view, but dead-front strip? You get Polo Towers... not much to look at.

I decided to check out the surroundings. I hadn't really explored CityCenter on my last trip because it wasn't entirely finished yet. I also figured it would be good to know where the hell Jaleo was as I was meeting April, Dawn, Maigrey, Peaker (Dan, Dan, the marathon man), Grange, Absinthetics, and the artist formerly known as TheWife (who would be getting in too late, but made it for the bill) there for dinner in an hour or so. I meandered through and around and outside Crystals before finding my way to The Cosmopolitan, noting the much simpler route I could have taken (and later used all the time).  Jaleo wasn't too hard to find, except for them not really putting the name in an easy-to-see location. With time to kill, I wandered The Cosmo a bit more and decided I rather liked the place. There's something unique in its overall design and layout... it feels new with a touch of rat-packy retro-Vegas. The chandeliers, the decor, the death rays on the way to the buffet...

Anyway, I wandered back to the restaurant to await the group. I plunked myself on a chair and played Angry Birds or something, occasionally looking up. I'd met most of the above people before, but had no clue what Absinthetics or Grange looked like, so I figured one of them would show up first. A few lost souls wandered around and left, and I tweeted my curiosity if one of them were who I was looking for. Then someone who stuck out just a bit started wandering, and checking his phone regularly. I knew I had a blogger in sight.  I casually strolled behind him and glanced at his Twitter stream... why, I knew all those people...

"That looks like a familiar list of followers."

"Hi, I'm [Absinthetics]."

"Astin/[real name]"

And so the group started to form. Dawn tweeted that she was on her way and blaming F-Train for her lateness. April and co were coming straight from the airport and a wee bit delayed due to Budget having a no horns, and no honouring your quote policy or something. Oh, and Dan had made it town on time too! Which we were all very happy about because it sucks to have your flights cancelled.  Read about it on his blog.

I presented myself to the ladies at the restaurant to let them know my party was a bunch of slackers who don't believe in watches or "time" so they were late. No worries I was told, and no worries were had. The group showed up about half an hour late and we were promptly seated.

Drink menus on iPads were delivered, wine was had, and much delicious food was ordered. Chevre on endive, iberico ham, serrano ham, veal cheeks and morels, chicken wings, bacon-wrapped deliciousness, amazing lobster paella, lamb ribs, flans, and so much more. Tapas is amazing for a group like us - food gets passed around by design, more of any dish can be ordered on a whim, and good times are had.

But my personal food highlight was a simple thing. On the drink pad, "Jose's Gin & Tonic" is listed as "the best gin and tonic you've ever had!"  So I had to inquire what I was getting for $17. I mean, I make a solid G&T, and there are really only two ingredients.  I was assured by our very competent waiter that it would surpass all expectations or he'd take it back. I suggested I simply drink it and not pay if it wasn't "the best" but only the second best. He declined this generous offer and I ordered the drink anyway.

Damn, they were right.

"This ice ball is quick-frozen over dry ice with pure water for absolute clarity."

"Umm.. okay. It's ice."

"The gin is from Scotland with hints of cucumb.."

"So it's Hendrick's?"

"Uh... yes, it's Hendrick's."

"And finally our tonic, it's Fever Tree tonic from the UK. You can find this at Whole Foods."

"Never heard of it."

It's all in the tonic boys and girls. DAMN. Not as sweet as the usual stuff, this made for one FINE G&T. Not mentioned were the slice of lime, the zest of lemon, the two juniper berries, or the bay leaf floating in my drink as well.

The Best

$17 worth? I dunno. But it's Vegas, so expect higher prices.  Which reminds me I need to go to Whole Foods after work to find that tonic. (please be in Canada, please be in Canada).

Anyhoo, dinner was fantastic, and from there we went to storm the castle.  Well, *I* went to Excalibur, everyone else went to check in or tag along with those who were checking in.

Yah, this is a long one, and it's still day 1, and I haven't reached the Excal yet. Okay, I'll break it up here.


Memphis MOJO said...

gresy recap, great photos

BWoP said...

I'm drinking a Fever Tree Ginger Ale right now :-)

Grange95 said...

Oooohhh, Fever Tree Ginger Ale and Templeton Rye, FTW!!

P.S. Glad to finally have a chance to chat a bit with you this trip. You are a credit to all Canadians, and most Epicurians.

Dawn Summers said...

"Oh, but most importantly, I got a giant pack of the BEST candy in all the world! Now, I roam the streets of Toronto looking for a supplier." Okay, post fixed.

Astin said...

Mojo - thanks!
BWoP - dammit!
Grange - Shucks.
Dawn - Umm... precisely?