Industry / Shows

JCK Las Vegas Showgoers, Are You Ready for an Experience?


Matt Villano is JCK’s point man in Las Vegas. Although he’s based in California’s Sonoma County, he travels to the Nevada desert every month to suss out Sin City’s latest and greatest food, beverage, and entertainment experiences. (Since 2003, Villano has written and updated new editions of 13 guidebooks to Las Vegas, mostly for Fodor’s.)

Matt Villano
Matt Villano

Does a Vegas guidebook really require an update every year, even after the pandemic? “Totally,” Villano tells JCK. “It’s kind of bizarre that while every other market is constricting and contracting in the wake of the pandemic, Vegas is still growing. Three resorts opened since 2020: Resorts World, Circa, and Virgin Hotels, which moved into the old Hard Rock space and completely rebranded.

“The Palms is reopening next week, with almost all the food and beverage outlets intact, which is great,” he adds. “The Fontainebleau is coming soon. There’s stuff happening, which is really cool. Vegas was essentially shut down for four months in 2020, and here we are, with new hotels and restaurants opening. The pandemic didn’t knock Vegas off its growth trajectory: 2022 is already on track to match 2019.”

Below, Villano provides a cheat sheet to the greatest experiences awaiting JCK showgoers in 2022.

What are the can’t-miss entertainment options this year?

I cannot say enough good things about Area15. Between last year and this year, it’s almost doubled in size. More cool, quirky, weird attractions have opened.

Area15 by Peter Ruprecht
Area15 (photo by Peter Ruprecht, courtesy of Area15)

They added, essentially, a bar that floats. You go in, you buy a seat, you strap in, and it takes you 130 feet in the air—long enough to have a drink and come down. It’s called Liftoff. By early June, the wind will have died down, and at night it will be an awesome place to go and enjoy a drink and get a really cool perspective on the city.

AREA15 LIFTOFF Peter Ruprecht
Drinks at Area15’s Liftoff (photo by Peter Ruprecht, courtesy of Area15)

They’ve added axe throwing. Omega Mart is the coolest thing in town. Lost Spirit’s Distillery has now expanded and added live performers; you might see a snake charmer or a gymnast or a sword-swallower. It’s super random. You’re in this dark space, drinking high-proof rum. After three samples, you feel like you’ve entered another dimension. No matter how many times I come back, it’s never going to be the same. Lost Spirit’s perfectly encapsulates what Vegas should be.

Lost Spirits Distillery Tango
A tango performance at Lost Spirit’s Distillery

Which of the city’s long-standing attractions would you recommend?

The Pinball Hall of Fame, a pinball museum and interactive arcade, moved during the pandemic to a nice big new space on the Strip just south of the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. That would be a really cool outing for JCKers because it’s so intricate and sort of an art form in itself.

The Neon Museum is amazing, and they’ve added some live interactive events, almost like shows, where they use laser technology to make it seem like the signs are coming to life. It’s always best to go at night to appreciate the neon.

I’m not a huge show guy, but the Dolby theater at Park MGM—that’s where Lady Gaga did her residency, and since then, they’ve doubled down on the sound. I’m going to see Silk Sonic there—Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. They’re getting great talent there. Whoever is performing there, it’ll be amazing.

Which new restaurants are on your hit list?

Delilah is an old-school supper club. The food isn’t great, the cocktails are amazing, but the vibe is legit. It’s like a throwback to the 1920s. You walk down into a room with a stage and performers. The menu has classics like wedge salads and Crab Louie. It’s an experience, and as someone who’s covered the town for 20 years, I don’t go to Vegas for the best food on planet Earth; what I want is an experience. Delilah—I will remember that night in its entirety. You can’t ask for anything more.

Wynn Delilah Ceiling Sweep Robert Miller
Delilah supper club at the Wynn (photo by Robert Miller, courtesy of the Wynn)

Esther’s Kitchen continues to be the most popular restaurant in town. It’s in the Arts District downtown. Tourists are now leaving their Strip hotels in ride shares to have dinner at Chef James [Trees’] place. He’s a local Vegas guy and cooks Italian food like his family taught him. There, it’s more about the food than the experience. The restaurant has an expansive patio, live music.

The only other place I’d mention is Resorts World, which has an amazing food and beverage program. They’ve got Wally’s from L.A.; the steakhouse, Carversteak, is getting a lot of attention,. They’ve got an amazing food court, Famous Foods, with Asian street food. There’s a hidden speakeasy, with arguably the best cocktails on the Strip, called Here Kitty Kitty, behind a secret door in one of the stalls in the food court.

The other two restaurants at Resorts World are Brezza and Bar Zazu, both run by Nicole Brisson, this amazing slow-food chef. Brezza is the best Italian food on the Strip. They have an Amaro cart. I don’t know of another Italian restaurant on the Strip that has an Amaro cart, where you can taste different Amaros from all over Italy. That’s the kind of experience you’d get in New York or Italy.

Amaro cart at Brezza at Resorts World
The Amaro cart at Brezza at Resorts World

Chinatown is always amazing. Pretty much anyplace on Spring Mountain Road in the Chinatown district is going to be great. Some of these authentic holes-in-the-wall include China Mama, Lamoon/Lamaii (they are sister restaurants), Hobak Korean BBQ, and District One.

Any suggestions for spots closer to The Venetian?

At The Venetian itself, they’ve got a brand-new pool deck worth exploring. It’s really nice up there. It’s one of the nicer pool decks in town right now. The OG vegan restaurant in Vegas is at the Canyon Ranch Spa, Truth & Tonic, so that’s definitely worth mentioning. And Resorts World is adding by the end of next year a vegan fine dining restaurant, so that trend is continuing.

Truth & Tonic food
Truth & Tonic at Canyon Ranch Spa is the OG vegan restaurant in Las Vegas (photo courtesy of Truth & Tonic).

Definitely encourage people to check out the Sphere, which they’re building behind the Palazzo. It’s yet another arena—Vegas is going arena crazy. Outside is going to be completely enrobed in LED digital screens. It will be a destination even for those not seeing an event on the inside. Just to witness a show from the outside. From an engineering perspective, it’s really cool.

Top: The pool deck at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas (photo courtesy of The Venetian Resort)

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By: Victoria Gomelsky

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