Vegas and Culture - An Oxymoron?
meandered through the Claude Monet exhibit at the Bellagio Hotel and
Casino’s Gallery of Fine Art on the Las Vegas Strip with my girl friends of
45 years! We have been friends since our early college years as 18 year old
freshman. Our girl group has been taking trips together for over 20 years.
Before we left for our trip to Las Vegas we
learned of the Claude Monet art exhibit. The Bellagio Gallery presents
traveling art exhibitions from around the world. Recent exhibitions have
included exhibits from the Faberge’ designs of St. Petersburg, Russia. The
Monet exhibit has been on loan to the Gallery from the Boston Museum of Fine
Arts world-renowned collection of works by Claude Monet. We are all fans of
the 19th century Impressionist painters such as Renoir, De La Croix, and
Monet. Apparently this is the first time in ten years the Museum has agreed
to loan paintings out to any group from its collection of works by Monet.
Culture on the Las Vegas Strip? I have to
admit I was surprised that this level of culture would make it to the Las
Vegas Strip – an area devoted to gambling! Claude Monet is considered one of
the most important artists in history. In recent years, Las Vegas has
increased its cultural offerings tenfold.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and
Visitors Authority, the city known for gambling now offers a well-rounded
dose of art and culture. In 2001, the Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum opened at
the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino. This collaboration is the first joint
venture between the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia and New
York's Guggenheim Foundation.
Las Vegas is also making a name for itself as
a place to see great theater. The Aladdin Hotel and Casino offers the
Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, which is home to cultural and
popular entertainment including Broadway musicals. The new Wynn Las Vegas
has two theaters and has presented the Tony award-winning production “Avenue
Another cultural event we enjoyed was an
absolutely full sensual theater experience with one of the oldest
entertainment art forms in the world – the circus act. The “O” Cirque de
Soleil show, also at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, is breathtaking! There
are amazing technical aspects that transform the stage floor into a giant
water pool where the acrobats and performers become divers and synchronized
Although we had great center seats in the
middle of the theater, there didn’t appear to me to be any unfavorable seats
to observe the high level of action in the performances. The theater is the
size of several movie theaters. The only thing that baffled me was whether
there was supposed to be a theme or a plot. I guess we believe we need to
anchor ourselves to a theme or plot in our need to make sense out of a
performance rather than just enjoying it for its artistry and beauty. “O”
had plenty of both!
Las Vegas Hotel can feel a lot like Europe and Paris with their charm and
old world culture! I have a friend who goes to Vegas often in between her
trips to Europe because she says it’s the next best thing till she gets to
the real thing! We were staying at Bally’s Hotel and Casino, which is
connected by the shops and restaurants of Le Boulevard to the Paris Las
Vegas Hotel. Wonderful!!
Paris Las Vegas has been true to the City of
Light in every way as best that can be accomplished in a replication in an
enclosed structure including a vaulted ceiling complete with a blue sky and
clouds that seem terribly real. One evening we were in one of the more
soothing and restful lounges in the center of Le Boulevard in the casino
area having a very late night drink. With the blue sky of the vaulted
ceiling above us it very much seemed we were living the moment in the
The Hotel with its cobblestone street,
fountains, statuary, and the scaled-down replicas of the Eiffel Tower and
the Arc de Triomphe legs thrusting through the casino causes you to feel
removed from Las Vegas to Paris in another time with its old world
attraction and beauty. Even the renowned designer boutiques and shops are
deliberately small to reflect another time and elegance.
Co-mingling among the restaurants, boutiques,
and shops in Paris Las Vegas is an urbane champagne bar called Napolean’s –
what else? We started each evening there with a cocktail and the
complimentary prime rib sandwiches. Large windows let you gaze out onto the
Paris “streets” from plump leather and overstuffed couches. It also has an
elegant side cigar room. Live jazz is performed nightly.
Napolean’s exhibits the type of old elegance
we used to see in the 40’s always associated with high society and culture.
Talking to one another, a favorite past time of ours on the trips, within
the bar/club atmosphere was easy for us to do at Napolean’s unlike many
clubs. The music was not too loud and overpowering and the furniture was
roomy and cozy so that we didn’t feel crowded. The clientele each evening
we were there were an older crowd at least over 40 – like us!
The Hotel’s restaurants resemble Parisian
cafes, complete with outdoor seating and cozy dining rooms. We ate at the
Hotel’s French bistro Mon Ami Gabi that offers al fresco dining overlooking
the Fountains at Bellagio show on the Strip side. We went early for lunch,
having made a reservation. We don’t recommend trying to get in without one.
We got there just in time to watch the Fountains at Bellagio show again and
people watch. I, personally, never got tired of seeing the Fountains show.
The food was simple French food served by
impeccably polite and polished waiters. Having been to Paris I can say it’s
the closest thing to dining on the Champs Elysee’ that I’ve experienced this
side of the Atlantic!
The Las Vegas Strip in years past was
uncultivated when it came to places to eat with only inexpensive buffets and
all-you-can-eat specials. The only places to get great food when I visited
the Strip 20 years ago was in the high end hotels who catered to the high
rolling gamblers. The Strip now includes cuisine from every part of the
Apparently since Wolfgang Puck opened Spago’s
in Caesar’s Hotel and Casino in 1992, it has started a culinary revolution
for dining in Vegas. We went there for dinner late one evening. Along with
our usual salads, we shared one of Spago’s famous pizzas with smoked salmon.
It didn’t appeal to us at all. Just too different on pizza for our taste
Spago’s is casual dining with the tables a
bit too close together to be comfortable. But, the restaurant is in an
open-air setting under the enclosed area of the gigantic Caesar’s Hotel
keeping it from feeling claustrophobic. It does have a great wine list. And,
of course, the wait table staff were elegant in all things you would expect
in one of Puck’s restaurants. The food was good but not better than other
food I had in Vegas on this trip.
Another day for lunch we ate at Olives
restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel in the outdoor patio dining area. Olives
has one of the world’s best known chefs in Todd English. We made our
reservation for a bit later that day when the restaurant was not crowded so
that we would be able to see the Bellagio Fountain show while we ate. We
suggest also making a reservation for this restaurant as it will be
difficult to expect to get in without one. The Mediterranean food served
there had amazing presentation and it was very tasty.
On our last day in Las Vegas we wandered
almost breathlessly through the rainbow of color, texture, and fragrance
using all of your senses in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino Conservatory. The
Conservatory is across the lobby from the front desk. We stopped often to
submerge our senses in the smell of gardenia and the lush, magnificent
living garden of exotic plants and flowers weaving throughout the gardens.
Built in the midst of the garden are gazebos, ponds, and bridges.
You can easily forget you are in Las Vegas
with such soul enriching surroundings. Apparently the Conservatory recreates
nature representing each season of the year all year round. It was spring at
the Conservatory when we were there with gigantic snails skulking in the
plants and large butterflies flying high in breathtaking colors.
Talk about oxymorons – combining this natural
sensuality with the high activity of Las Vegas creates an almost startling
impact on one when entering this completely sensual and perfect environment!
All of these cultural experiences in Vegas? Not the old Vegas I remember
from coming here 20 years ago!
The Fountains at Bellagio are considered the #1 free
attraction on the strip. The Fountains are a water and music show
contained in the quarter-mile long lake in front of the hotel on the Las
Vegas Boulevard side or Strip side. The shows repeat the music and water
presentations using the spectacular fountains firing at a variety of
heights and angles synchronized to music. The shows run daily every 15
minutes or every half hour, depending on the time of day. They may not
have a show when there are high winds.
About the Author:
Ph.D., spent 35 years in Adult Education and Adult Literacy Education.
She has also spent the past 25 years writing and traveling - turning her
favorite hobbies into her occupation. As avid traveler, Shelia has
visited cities around the glob including living and working in South Korea
and South Vietnam for two years. Places she have visited include
cities throughout the US and to Mexico, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong,
England, Puerto Rico, and Aruba. Sheila who resides in Texas specializes in
writing about the history and cultural aspects of a travel location. (More
about this writer.)