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Las Vegas and Culture - An Oxymoron?

Sheila Rosenberg

I 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 Q”. “Hairspray”.

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 swimmers.

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!

Paris 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 daytime!

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 world.

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 buds.

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:

Sheila Rosenberg, 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.)




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