I have complicated feelings about Las Vegas. When I was young my father had a gambling addiction and would often disappear there for days at a time. So growing up Vegas didn’t represent carefree, harmless debauchery to me the way it does to most people but felt like a heartless place where people went to exercise their most crappy, irresponsible, and selfish behavior. I call myself an adult baby and this is probably why–while my dad was off being the rebellious teen, I as an actual teen became a curmudgeonly old man focused on responsibility and being ‘good’ and have only learned how to have fun and enjoy life as an adult…who is also kind of a baby learning these rudimentary things for the first time.
In my 20s I could only focus on the things about it I didn’t like and closed myself off to enjoying my visits (it’s something of an inevitability you end up there if you live in LA and have friends who don’t have similarly traumatic childhoods…😂) but as I have gotten older I have learned that Vegas is an example of being able to find something you like anywhere, when you make yourself open and learn how to get over your shit. There are plenty of things I enjoy about it now, even if I probably wouldn’t ever make it a destination in and of itself.
I stopped in Vegas both on the way to and way back from the Valley of Fire and Bryce Canyon last week. Driving in at night I was tired and mostly wanted something to eat so headed for Evel Pie, an over the top Evel Knievel-themed pizza parlor and bar on Fremont St. that reminds me of Sizzle Pie in Portland/Seattle as it is full of attitude and visual stimulation. Their motto is “live hard, ride fast, and eat pizza.” Yes to all of that. The pizza was just okay, but I am pretty sure that had more to do with the fact that if you don’t eat meat your only by-the-slice option is–whomp whomp–cheese. Toto, I don’t think we’re in macrobiotic, vegan, gluten-free LA anymore (though they do have vegan and additional veggie options if you’re buying a whole pie).
After dinner I gambled for half a minute until I admitted defeat at my attempt to keep my eyes open and went to sleep, knowing I had to be up at 4:30am to make the Valley of Fire by sunrise anyway. On my way back home a couple of days later I arrived at Vegas during daylight and stopped into my absolute favorite place in this city, The Peppermill. It’s a diner with a bar attached from the 1970s and nothing about this place except the mediocre food can be described as anything other than an amazingly cuckoo neon extravaganza. I love it.
After my giant plate of french toast (my first hot meal since that pizza I had eaten at Evel Pie two days earlier…) my body was fueled up for the rest of the drive home, but I stopped at the Seven Magic Mountains for some mental fuel. It’s seven stacks of giant neon and metallic rocks, a temporary art installation dreamed up by artist Ugo Rondinone that is set up in Jean, Nevada, just off the I-15 for another year or so (it is supposed to be removed in May 2018). I visited it the week it opened and this time the paint was definitely looking a little worse for wear and it was so much more crowded than a year ago but it’s still a fun little mood-booster on your way in or out of town.
Other things I didn’t do this time but highly recommend:
- Buy cookies at Milk Bar in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. They are ridiculously delicious. There’s also cereal milk soft serve. Go there if you like sugar. The end.
- Eat oyster shooters at the Oyster Bar at Harrah’s Casino.
- Visit the Pinball Hall of Fame.
- Stay at the Bellagio. Thanks to my dad’s many comped nights here I can tell you they have the world’s best showers and pillows. If you’re one of those rare people who plan to actually sleep while you’re in town, shell out if you can. Otherwise, stop by for the Dale Chihuly glass sculptures in the lobby and the ever-changing garden display on the ground floor. And have a delicious Cable Car cocktail, which is a modified sidecar they make there-it’s sublime!
- Bowl on one of the 70(!) lanes at the Gold Coast Casino‘s 24-hour bowling alley.
- Drink tiki drinks at the Golden Tiki, just off the strip. It’s like Disneyland for tiki freaks and just a fun place to get smashed.
- Take a tour at the Neon Sign Museum‘s boneyard. Here’s where all of old Vegas’s signs come to be reborn and you’ll learn some great bits of history of the city.