Vegas was never my type of town. I avoid it by all means.

Before this weekend, summer of 1998 was the last time i was in Vegas, for a conference. It was before this new wave of new hotels being built (both Bellagio and Venetian opened in the fall of 1998). I remembered i spent most of my spare time sitting in my hotel room watching History Channel, at the time there was a series on Alexander the Great. I loved the show. Hated the endless rows of slot machines I must navigate from the front door to the elevator. The interior of a casino was so depressing. People sitting in front of slot machines, their faces expressionless, their movement mechanical. It felt like death. Everything looked dark, gloomy, and cheesy.

The only highlight that i enjoyed from that trip (other than Alexander the Great) was a night i spent with my fellow co-workers in a bar at New York New York, it was a blues bar, quiet, with a older black man singing the blues at the piano. We drank martini and smoked cigar. Maybe i liked it cuz it was not cheesy or loud, like everywhere else in Vegas. Maybe I liked it cuz it didn’t look like vegas.

That was my second trip to Vegas. The first time i went when i was still in college. Vegas’ night dazzled me. I disliked the gloom of the casinos at first sight. But i was amazed at all the light and spectacles one could see from the street and in the shops. I liked ceasers palace’s painted sky. But that section was rather short.

I didn’t have much expectation about vegas this weekend. I figured there would be now enough new hotels and attractions for me to check out during the day, and there will be plenty of alcohol and good food to keep me happy at night. I can handle one weekend in Vegas.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Because Vegas has grown up. The cheesy vegas built with the old money was slowly fading away. Vegas now is being built with the new money from the 90’s, lots lots of money. Came along with the money is a classier taste, a more creative design, and endless ambitions. The newly rich of the US has been yuppified. Maybe money does age well, like a good wine.

The new hotels are beautiful, grand, and fantastic. Even the casinos are not so hateful looking in these new hotels. Especially in Bellagio and Venetian. The casino is less gloomy, lighting is more closely resembling one’s own living room. It is comfy and cozy. Chandeliers in the casinos are tastefully done. In Venetian, the ceiling is as usual painted with gorgeous renaissance images.

There is a new theme, too. Americanized Europe.

Europe has its over a thousand year’s history and deep routed culture heritage. The United States has money, lots of it. So Europe has Venice, and Paris. The US can capture each city in its finest moment — Venice in the early morning, and Paris in a early spring evening–freeze it, built it from ground up in the center of a desert. What’s more, it is new, clean, not smelly, perfectly air conditioned, no need to deal with troublesome foreign language, and they are 10 minutes walk apart from each other.

Looking at Venetian’s gorgeously painted ceilings and exquisite details of each element of its interior (from lamp to door knob), one realized that the US really has nothing to feel inferior about herself comparing to Europe. Everything here is just as grand, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing as any European palace, and these are newer, more elaborate, brighter, with certain sense of creative repackaging in a modern sense. It is as if Europe the old man one day wake up and was 500 years younger and dressed in Armani instead of medieval knight armor.

The ultimate representation of capitalism.

I also just realized that with most of American cities been built to its capacity back in the 1950’s, Vegas is the only place left where one could see all the newly created wealth at work in physical forms. Each wave of development represents a new generation of wealthy tycoons, the theme represents the current aesthetic inclination. i.e. Greek Parthenon versus Roman Coliseum.

Rushdie has long ago claimed that today’s celebrities are the new gods. We worship them and we crucify them. They behave just like the ancient Greek gods, full of genius, talent, and humane weakness. If that’s the case, then today’s Vegas is our Athene. We built temples (hotels) to worship our god (money).

-Flew in Friday evening

-Check in The Venetian, we ended up in Venezia tower, the nicer/newer part of the hotel

-Had buffet dinner at Rio (not as good as many of us remembered, but enough to fill us up and get ready for a night on the town)

-Went to Shadow Lounge at Ceasers Palace, where PURE lounge is the main sensation, the line of people trying to get into PURE was out of control, supposedly people wait till 2am in the morning to reach the door! The attraction of Shadow lounge are these two walls flooded with pink lighting, and projected on it are video clips of human sized shadow of dancing women. Similar to those ipod billboard one sees everywhere. Except these women was shown as if they were naked, cuz you get to see their nipples when they dance side ways. The lighting and the projection was cleverly done. It created the illusion that the women were dancing on a hidden stage in real time behind a screen, right behind the bar. It was sexy, classy, and simple to operate. Turned out Friday was Mexico’s Independence day. We had a few guys and gals waving Mexican flag and dancing on the table from time to time. The ambient was lively and happening. I liked it here.

Saturday woke up early, checked out Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, Wynn, Fashion Show Mall, Bellagio (had the most expensive bowl of noodle for lunch in Bellagio), Paris. Wynn’s interior used simple lines, and dark wood framing against white. It is like a supersized Crate and Barrel, only prettier with the Barcelona style mosaic tiled walkway, and nicely maintained botanic gardens. Bellagio is elegant, Dale Chihuly‘s hand-blow glassworks were seen throughout the vincinity, airy and light, too pretty to be true. The music fountain took my breath away. The Chinese restaurant in Bellagio, Jasmin, provids the VIP view of the fountain. The menu indicated a bowl of tofu costs $30. After we watched the fountain dance by the lake, seeing how great a location Jasmin has on the lake, my friend sighned, “of course, that’s why a bowl of tofu costs 30 dollars. You are eating the view.”

– Saturday evening, Dinner at AquaKnox, Party at Tao nightclub. Both places were excellent. Everything we had at Aquaknox was excellent, from appetizer to desert. Truly an amazing feast. When i was in beijing earlier this year, friends were showing me various clubs and bars. I was under the impression that Bejing has surpassed the US in their club creation capability. But seeing Tao, I realized that Beijing still has a long way to catch up. But i must admit i felt a little disturbed seeing all these stone budda statues surrounding this three story space, which was filled with overflowed desire and lust. Maybe i worry too much. Budda can find serenity from within.

More Photos:
The Venetian
Wynn, Bellagio, and Paris.

More Dale Chihuly’s work here.