Even post-Liberace, Vegas offers camp and sexy glamour for gay travelers
From the latest Hangover film to the recent, acclaimed Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra, Las Vegas continues its campaign as the town where anything can happen.
There’s a fair case to be made that’s true. Vegas is a city built on will: It’s in the desert, but boasts water fountains, huge swimming pools and even greenery. It’s a haven of sex, gambling and caffeinated beverages, but is surrounded by Mormons. It’s known for chorus girls but is also a gay destination point.
And why not be all things? Who says anything has to make sense when food and shopping are involved? Vegas may be the only city outside the Disney Co. constructed entirely to serve the enjoyment of its visitors.
Remember: This is a town where they put roller coasters atop skyscrapers and have a pyramid shooting a beacon so bright that it can be seen by astronauts. Don’t tell them how to behave.
And thus it is not altogether astonishing that this pocket of indulgence in a conservative Western state would seek to distinguish itself with another superlative: The opening last week of the humbly named Krave Massive, touted as the largest gay nightclub on the planet.
What’s the advantage of being biggest? If you ask that, well, you don’t understand Vegas at all.
Krave Massive is the third iteration of the club, and when finished out (parts were still under construction on opening night) will offer 84,000 square feet where light shows, loud music, bottle-service cocktails and dancing boys can mingle equally with the patrons. It’s located (unlike the previous two) in downtown Vegas near Fremont, which used to be “The Strip” in Sinatra’s day. (That sobriquet now refers to Las Vegas Boulevard.)
Fremont is in a renewal period, still buzzy on a Saturday night, and the gays are helping make it that way. About a year ago, Drink & Drag opened (next door to what is now Krave Massive) in the Neonopolis development with a faboo concept: bowling, billiards, booze and a bar staff mostly populated by drag queens. (On Sundays, they even host a contest, So You Think You’re a Drag Queen, where volunteers get blinged out by professional female impersonators, and then compete for a cash prize.)
Closer to the current Strip is the cozier, naughty-feeling Share, a small space with excellent light shows and plenty of go-go boys. You can even get your gay going on The Strip itself, inside some of the casinos. At The Mirage, just walking into Revolution nightclub is a show in itself, with their wild, friendly staff bedecked in costumes and (again) plenty of dancing boys and girls. And not all nightclub activities take place at night here: The Luxor’s Oasis Pool becomes Sunday Funday midday with a weekly gay party all summer (culminating in the local Pride festival in September).
And of course, the real gay party is currently playing nightly at Caesar’s Palace: Celine Dion’s show. A rapturous 90-minute visual effect spectacle, the diva is in stunning voice and looks amazing as she performs about two dozen numbers with a full orchestra.
Celine notwithstanding, Cirque du Soleil productions continue to dominate the entertainment landscape, with sexuality served up a la carte at Zumanity (at New York New York) and the Michael Jackson tribute One a singular sensation at Mandalay Bay. The latest creation, Zarkana at the Aria, displays a dark glamour amid a stunning flag-tossing act, a beautiful sand painting segment and cutting-edge multimedia effects.
Looking for sheer size? None is bigger than the MGM Grand, whose emerald color is inspired by The Wizard of Oz (and therefore ideal for Friends of Dorothy). For a smaller, gay-friendly accommodation, Planet Hollywood is adjacent to the Miracle Mile Shops and is more youth-targeted. Plush Bellagio, with its signature Chihuly glass ceiling, even has its own art gallery now exhibiting works by queer artist Andy Warhol.
The Hard Rock Hotel provides an unexpected surprise: luxury. Located near the city’s gayborhood, its on-site spa Reliquary is an oasis of relaxing sophistication coupled with a staff trained in diverse massage techniques (their Russian massage feels like pythons furiously squeezing every muscle). Hard Rock is co-ed, unlike the clothing-optional Bathhouse at Mandalay Bay’s upscale THEhotel.
The comparatively new Cosmopolitan oozes sex, with elaborate and sensual video displays in the lobby and live music with a retro sound in the impressive Chandelier Bar. (Those in the know will order an off-menu cocktail called the Verbena for a one-of-a-kind beverage experience.) While there, you might wanna come see Comme Ca, specializing in seafood with a French twist and boasting one of the best views in town.
Speaking of restaurants, if you’re not in Vegas to gamble, food can be its own kind of entertainment here. Sage inside Aria is French-Middle Eastern influenced American cuisine from James Beard winning chef Sean McLean, with the foie gras brûlée a virtual foodgasm of richness among lovely muted decor. There’s even an absinthe cocktail that won’t make you cut your ear off.
What the relatively new Andrea’s — straddling The Wynn and Encore — lacks in flash it more than makes up for in execution of its Asian-inspired dishes, excellent service and soothing atmosphere. Nobu continues to turn out exceptional and spicy Japanese flavors with deft brilliance at Caesar’s in a gorgeous setting.
Nobu isn’t the only branded chef here, either. Just the concourse at Mandalay Bay evinces a who’s who of designer restaurants, including lesbian chef Susan Feniger’s delightful Mexican cantina Border Grill. Celebrichef Gordon Ramsay has opened three new spots around town in the last year alone. The latest, BurGR, plays off his Hell’s Kitchen persona but also grills up some of the finest burgers in town, especially the farm burger, topped with duck bacon and a fried egg. The milkshakes double as luxuriant desserts.
For those who want to hang around downtown, Park on Fremont is a quirky cafe with a perverse Victorian sensibility and tons of beer and signature cocktails (including a bloody Mary called the Texas Tuxedo). The gays do brunch here on Sundays, too, and the campy Simon inside The Palms is a great option, with staff dressed in pajamas serving up sushi, prime rib, lox and cotton candy among the diverse and delicious menu.
For the best BLT you’ll ever eat, head over to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, known locally simply as The Center. Opened in its new digs in East Vegas (affectionately called Q Town) just this April, its Bronze Cafe serves coffee and that heavenly sandwich, the LGBTQcumber. You can also admire all the good works they do serving the gay community in the state.
Vegas is not a walking city — whatever you do, carry water always: it is hot here, hotter even then Dallas during the day, if you can believe it, and you’ll need to stay hydrated — but it is worth it to hoof it down to The Strip at least a few times just for the people-watching opportunities. From costumed hucksters to zaftig, baritone-throated drag queens, it’s a panoply of cultural kookiness. Indeed, It’s not unusual to see a shirtless, shoeless surfer dude staggering around tipsy at 7 a.m. What could he have been doing to get that way?
Remember: What happens in Vegas … is probably a felony anywhere else.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 21, 2013.