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September 21, 2014

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24 hours at CityCenter

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Sam Morris

Veer Towers

This woman at the bar looks like my mom. A lot like my mom—like a younger version. And it’s freaking me out.

I tell her. She doesn’t react well.

A nearby cocktail server with short black hair tells me I need to work on my game, but I’m not trying to pick her up. I’m just stating a fact: She looks like my mom.

I take out my cell, find a picture of my mom and show it around, thus proving that I’m not crazy, that I don’t have an Oedipus complex.

The lookalike says she lives here in Vegas and works as an entertainer. I ask whether I can take a picture, so I can do a side-by-side comparison, but she says no. She says that Vegas is an ageist town, that the comparison might hurt her business.

“I’d make it clear that you look like a younger version of my mom,” I say. “It’s a compliment.”

“No,” she repeats. “I don’t want you to take the picture.”

So I don’t.

And as I begin to allay her concerns about the written part of the story, her friend speaks up:

“You’re a prick,” he says, this big bald guy, sitting about three feet from me. “If there weren’t so many cameras here, I’d punch your lights out.”

Just as I start thinking I should get security, the guy asks the bartender to do just that. Maybe he realizes that he’s assaulted me (an assault occurs when a victim feels fear after a credible threat of violence) and wants to get his side of the story in first. But I beat him to it. And I explain everything.

“Do you want to file a police report?” the security guard asks. “If you do, this guy will have the same rights as you do.”

The comment is meant to discourage me, but it doesn’t. What discourages me is knowing how long police report filings can take. I’m 15 minutes late for dinner with a friend who has to catch a flight. So I let it go.

And that’s how my 24 hours at CityCenter begins.

I first heard about CityCenter in Vegas magazine. A February 2008 ad read, “A revolutionary project. At the center of the Las Vegas Strip. With resort. Casino haute couture. Exclusive residences. All together. Creating a new urban lifestyle. And changing the face of the world’s most exciting destination.”

Typically, you only hear lofty promises like that in presidential campaigns. And you know how the media likes to check up on how many of a presidential candidate’s promises he actually makes good on after the election? Well, that’s what I wanted to do at CityCenter. I wanted to visit the property to see whether the Vegas ad had come to fruition.

My friend Leslie—we’ll call her Leslie—lives at Veer Towers, and a couple of weeks ago, I considered moving there, too. The towers don’t feel like Vegas buildings; they feel like they belong in Chicago. (The difference being, everybody at Veer is 26 and beautiful.)

Leslie, her boyfriend and I make spinach salad with warm bacon dressing and barbecue chicken pizza. Over dinner, they tell me about their place: They like the location, and they love the actual apartment—the “exclusive residences” CityCenter promised. Only, it turns out, they aren’t so exclusive. Prices at Veer are actually rather reasonable for the heart of the Strip, with rent for a one bedroom starting at about $1,500 on the official Veer website. Veer advertises still-cheaper rates on the building itself.

Sure, its neighboring Harmon Tower sits empty, and nobody wants to live next to an abandoned building, but let me defend CityCenter’s architectural surprises: When you execute a revolutionary project, you can’t foresee every result. (If you can, the project isn’t really so revolutionary, is it?) So, yes, the Harmon is deficient and Vdara initially reflected a strong beam of light lovingly called the Death Ray. They’re casualties of the revolution.

After dinner, I check into my room, at Aria. There’s a flyer on the dresser for Viva Elvis: It offers, “for a limited time,” tickets for 30 percent off. All I have to do, it says, is press the concierge button on my in-room telephone or visit the box office and mention an offer code.

Funny. Just last week I wrote up a story on deals for locals. And I see that Cirque is, essentially, offering the same deals to locals and to hotel guests, but making each group feel as though they’re getting an exclusive deal.

I drop my bags off and walk to the Mandarin Oriental. I take the elevator to the third floor and the convention area. Toward the entrance, there’s an easel with a giant pad of paper.

“Overall Branding: Consistent use of tagline/logo,” reads one line. “Strong sense of industry, expertise,” reads another. The handwriting is worse than mine, and believe me, that’s saying something.

I walk through the hallway and into the far ballroom. I sense that I’m not supposed to be here, but nobody has told me this. At the far end of the ballroom there’s a glass door that seems to lead straight off the east side of the building. And it’s open.

It leads to a 100-foot balcony with a view overlooking the Hawaiian Marketplace, which is closed down and roped off for the evening. To the left, Planet Hollywood and Paris Las Vegas. To the right, souvenir shops.

I walk back inside and compare that view to the one across the Mandarin hallways—the one that faces CityCenter. The contrast is a mindfreak. One second, I’m overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. The next, I’m overlooking what could be a just-built corner of New York’s Financial District.

I walk back to Aria before I get in further trouble. I’ve already spent enough time with security for the night.

At 11 p.m. I’m done taking notes. Time to stop writing and start experiencing. I sit down at the poker table next to a guy name Dave. He looks 60 and tells me it’s his 34th birthday. He says he wants to spend it at Aria because the weekend rates are more reasonable than those at Wynn.

Dave asks me if I’m a professional poker player; I tell him I’m a writer. I tell everyone at the table. Before long I’m up $844, and every time I win a pot, the “I’m a writer” bit grows less and less amusing. Soon everybody begins to suspect I’m a pro who goes around telling players “I’m a writer” to cover my skills. And the more I try to convince them otherwise, the less charmed they are.

Oh, I’m drinking, too. Three double-shots of tequila and one mojito. And I’d had an early dinner.

At 3:30 a.m., I head up to my room, sharing the elevator with two girls who seem just as drunk as I am. They get off on my floor and follow me down the hallway. So I start up a conversation.

The girls are from Chicago, my old town. They keep saying how “awkward” our conversation is, but it doesn’t feel that way to me.

But then things do get awkward: When I get to my door, they just stand there, next to me. Not saying anything.

Are they hookers? I wonder. They don’t look like hookers.

Turns out they’re not. They’re staying two doors down and just being silly. I wish them goodnight, walk into my room, close the blinds (electronically) and conk out without brushing my teeth.

In the morning I head to Cafe Vettro for an omelet and a ($7.50!) glass of orange juice. I sip—$0.50 per sip—and ponder whether CityCenter made good on its long-ago promises.

And the answer is yes. For the most part. The project was revolutionary—especially in terms of architecture and scope. And CityCenter did change the face of Las Vegas.

Maybe it’s the massive poker victory, or maybe it’s the drama, or maybe it’s just the booze talking … but my night felt epic. Back in 2008, we didn’t use “epic” the way we do now. But if we had, I’m sure CityCenter would have adopted the word as its own. And it would have been right.

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