Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to one day in Las Vegas. Regular readers of this blog know that I have been hard at work visiting all 50 states in 5 years. Before I started this project, I decided that I was going to give each state a fair shake. It turns out that if you decide you are going to have fun in a place before you go there, your dream usually becomes reality.
But I have to admit that I wasn’t too excited about spending one day in Las Vegas. I assumed it was only home to gambling addicts and showgirls with hearts of gold. I wanted to visit the new Mob Museum, but that was about all I was looking forward to.
How wrong I was! While the Strip has many delights to offer, I preferred the more subdued charms of Downtown Las Vegas. If you follow this one day in Las Vegas itinerary and get a little off the beaten track, I guarantee that even the most Vegas Skeptic can enjoy themselves.
One Day in Las Vegas
Where to Stay?
Sometimes I recommend hotels that are a little obscure or off the beaten track. Today is not that day. Today, I recommend you choose the world famous Bellagio Hotel for your One Day in Las Vegas. It has the perfect location on the Strip, there’s tons of gorgeous artwork, and it has crazy fountains that light up at night. (If they’re good enough for George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven, they’re good enough for you.)
One Day in Las Vegas
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Vegas can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
One Day in Las Vegas
Morning: The Mob Museum
I am from New York City, and I feel that New Yorkers tend to identify themselves as being like the opposite of Las Vegas. We’re raw and real, they’re artificial from their replica of the Statue of Liberty to their silicone implants. But one thing New York City and Las Vegas definitely have in common is gangsters.
That’s why I was so excited to visit the Mob Museum. The museum is actually located in a former Las Vegas courthouse where some famous mob trials took place. (Much more on this later.) I learned more mob facts at this museum than you can whack a stick at. If I tell you all of them, I’ll have to go into witness protection. But at least I can reveal…
Three Fun Facts: The Mob Museum
1) Is the Mafia Really That Bad?
Short answer: yes! But not just because they committed many crimes. After all, bootlegging isn’t the worst thing in the world in many people’s eyes. However, the Mob Museum goes to great lengths to show how the Mafia’s activities led to oppression of many law-abiding Italian-American citizens. In 1890, a police chief in New Orleans named David Hennessy was murdered, probably by members of the Mafia. In response, a mob of angry New Orleanians lynched 11 Italian-Americans. (This conflict, which did not make it into any history lesson I ever learned, almost led to war between the United States and Italy.)
Many Italian-Americans went into law enforcement and politics, in part to show that they were just as committed to stopping crime as any other ethnic group. This man pictured above was New York City police officer Joe Petrosino. He was the first person in the NYPD to speak Italian, which is groundbreaking indeed. The techniques he used to fight the Mob are still being used today in many police forces. Officer Petrosino was assassinated while attempting to fight the mob back in Sicily.
I’ve chosen to show his picture here instead of one of the more famous gangsters. Those guys have enough movies made about them already.
2) So What’s Up With Vegas and the Mob?
A better question would be what isn’t up with Vegas and the Mob. Las Vegas has been associated with gambling and living it up since the turn of the century. The Mob Museum even has a photo of Wyatt Earp chillaxing in the famous Arizona Club in Las Vegas back in 1907. (Really, shouldn’t it have been called the Nevada Club? Am I missing something?)
But things really began to take off in Vegas, crime-wise in 1931. That’s when gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada. After World War II, the plot thickened when New York gangster Bugsy Siegel brought his act out West to Las Vegas. (As a New Yorker, does this mean I owe Las Vegas an apology for Bugsy Siegel? Am I personally responsible for everything tacky in Las Vegas? This really changes my perception of myself.)
The mobsters didn’t just bring crime. They also brought some bad elements like Hollywood actors, musicians, and worst of all, magicians. I suppose the flashy shows were meant to distract the tourists from all the crime and corruption in Sin City. Nowadays, the Mafia no longer controls Las Vegas. So you can enjoy your Cirque du Soleil show in peace without worrying that you are subsidizing gangsters.
3) What About the Crime Fighters?
Many law enforcement officials who took on the Mob became celebrities in their own right. The courthouse that now houses the Mob Museum was home to one of the famous Kefauver hearings that were held to investigate organized crime in America. Estes Kefauver was a Senator from Tennessee. He was determined to take down the Mafia by any means necessary. I didn’t think there were any gangsters in Tennessee because Dolly Parton took them all down single-handed.
Senator Kefauver was apparently quite a character. An opposite once called him a “raccoon-like Communist puppet”. Kefauver took this as a compliment and began wearing a raccoon-skin hat all the time. As the Kefauver hearings were televised, they attracted a huge amount of attention. 30 million people tuned in to watch this odd Southern gentleman grill mobsters like Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, and Mickey Cohen. I wonder if Kefauver didn’t accidentally do more to glamorize the Mob than he intended.
Other famous people to take on the Mob included Tom Dewey, of Dewey Defeats Truman fame, and future New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. (You can see a photo of Giuliani undercover above.) I was most interested in Eunice Carter, the first black woman on Tom Dewey’s staff. She helped take down Lucky Luciano. Where’s the movie about her, Marty Scorcese??
24 Hour Treat
Please enjoy this photo of a very young future Senator Harry Reid sniffing a pencil.
One Day in Las Vegas
Afternoon: Vintage Las Vegas Arts Tour
Las Vegas is home to over 600,000 people. That means that a lot of locals live there. But almost no tourists to Las Vegas get to see the “local” side of things, especially during One Day in Las Vegas. That’s why I was interested in taking the Vintage Las Vegas Arts Tour after the Mob Museum. We would spend a couple of hours in the afternoon getting to see the 18b neighborhood, which is populated almost entirely by Las Vegas residents. It was so exciting to explore here and meet the local entrepreneurs. And it was easy for me to find…
Approximately Top 5: Las Vegas Arts District
1) Burlesque Hall of Fame Las Vegas
Is there a better place for a burlesque museum than Las Vegas? If so, I can’t think of one. And this happens to be the only burlesque museum in the world. For those not familiar with the term, burlesque is a type of variety show aimed at adult-only audiences. The main acts in a burlesque show would be “blue” comics and strip tease artists, aka exotic dancers. Arguably the most famous burlesque dancer of all time was Gypsy Rose Lee, who had a musical made about her.
Admission to the museum isn’t included with the tour, but we did get to go inside, meet the staff, and check out the gift shop. The Burlesque Hall of Fame had recently moved to this new location when I visited, so I actually got to chat with the Executive Director because he was hanging out in the lobby.
Many of the staff at the museum are burlesque dancers themselves, and they’ll be happy to answer your questions. I think I confused them by asking so many questions about Gypsy Rose Lee, or why I kept yelling, “Sing out Louise!” But then I don’t know how many Broadway musical nerds they get in Las Vegas.
2) Vintage Shopping!
Of course one of the best things to do in Las Vegas is shop. But who wants to buy some tacky top that says My Grandma Went to Las Vegas and All She Bought Me Was This Lousy T-Shirt? My guide took me to the cutest vintage shops that Las Vegas has to offer. Have you ever wanted your home to look like something out of an episode of Mad Men? Then head on down to one of these shops. I bought a floral spring coat here and managed to convince a French lady it was Givenchy. (Spoiler alert! It was not.)
If you want something more contemporary, stop into Hiptazmic Studio. All their pieces have a steampunk vibe. I make a point of collecting earrings everywhere I go, so I bought a fine pair of hearts with gears in them from the husband and wife team that owns the store. I always prefer to buy directly from the artist because then they have to answer all my weird questions. Like if I wanted to become a steampunk-theme burlesque dancer, would they be willing to make my costumes for me? What would a steampunk cover of “Let Me Entertain You” sound like, anyway?
3) Gallery Hopping
Of course the most obvious and cheapest thing to do in any arts district is check out the artwork. My guide, whom I shall call Bobby, was an artist himself specializing in neon. This is the most Vegas form of art possible. Bobby knew every single artist in the neighborhood and seemed determined to introduce me to every single one.
My favorite was a mixed media artist named Lisa Herr. After earrings, I love buying small pieces of artwork to cover up the terrible “cottage cheese” 70s era splatter that blight the walls of my apartment. This jeweled hummingbird I purchased does the job very nicely. And I think every home could use a little Vegas sparkle every once in a while.
4) Mundo at Mingo
Of course the best form of art is the culinary arts! So I was grateful to stop for a snack and cocktail at a chic Latin American fusion kind of place. It is also about a frillion times less crowded and expensive than the lounges at the Strip. So Bobby and I could enjoy our mojitos…
As well as the very authentically Latin American and delicious deep fried pickles.
Now they call Las Vegas Sin City for a reason. And I assume one of those reasons is that you can’t go on an arts tour of Vegas without having at least two cocktails. Our final stop as our One Day in Las Vegas was winding down was at the freezingly cool ReBar. ReBar advertises itself as the only bar where everything is for sale. Meaning that for the right place, you can take any of the vintage items that populate the store home with you. I was sorely tempted, but after my jeweled hummingbird and my Not a Givenchy Coat, I felt I needed to show some restraint.
My favorite thing about ReBar is that they serve Charitable Cocktails. Each drink is associated with a different local charitable organization. So a part of your purchase goes to support that charity. I got a Nevada Old Fashioned, which means that I was also making a contribution to the Nevada Public Radio.
I do not care about NPR; I just like bourbon. If you’re asking what makes something a Nevada Old Fashioned, I believe it is stirred using the tongue of a Wise Guy who talked too much to the Feds.
One Day in Las Vegas
Evening: Dinner at Picasso
So I know I’ve been going on and on about getting off the beaten track in Las Vegas. But sometimes being ON the beaten track can be just as fun. That’s why I stayed at the Bellagio. Where else can you see a giant lady’s head made out of flowers in the lobby of your hotel? Also, the Bellagio is home to some of the finest restaurants in Las Vegas, and we are going to chow down at the very finest at the end of our One Day in Las Vegas.
It used to be that the main kind of grub you could get in Vegas was some sort of weird all you can eat steakhouses. But now Las Vegas attracts the top chefs in the world. It even has several Michelin-starred restaurants. Picasso, located inside the Bellagio, is one of those restaurants. (In fact, Picasso has two stars.)
The food is Spanish-French fusion, and the Picasso design theme even trickles down to the designs on the plates. There are also actual Picassos on the walls, so basically you’re getting a museum and restaurant in one. Lucky diners are seated outside with a view of the Bellagio’s famous fountains. I was not so lucky, so instead I was seated next to a woman and her four young children, who were having trouble finding anything on the menu that they wanted to eat. But this did not stop me from enjoying…
Approximately Top 5: Picasso Las Vegas
1) Maine Lobster Salad
I could tell that the theme of the evening was going to be decadence as soon as the first course arrived. Lobster with caviar on top is one of the clearest ways for a restaurant to say, “Yes, we are happy to take your money.” I don’t think the carbon footprint on this dish is great, because it must be very difficult to get fresh Maine lobster all the way to Las Vegas. But it tasted so delicious, I don’t care. Let the rainforest burn!
2) Pan Seared Scallop
Another dish that generally makes its way onto Fancy Tasting Menus is the scallop. This was made even more decadent by being served with veal juice. This was a Dayboat scallop, which means that ship that catches the scallop has to return to shore within 24 hours of departing. This makes the scallop fresher. So get ready for my upcoming article: A Perfect 24 Hours in a Scallop Fishing Boat!
3) Foie Gras
And here we have it! No dramatic display of decadence can be complete without the fatty liver of a goose. (I’d really like to know who the first person was who realized that goose liver is extra delicious with a whole bunch of fat on it.) At Picasso, they want to make sure you don’t complain that the foie gras portion is too small. That’s why they set you up with a whole giant seared steak of the stuff. I’d much rather have this baby than an all-you-can-eat steakhouse, let me tell you.
4) Main Course
For the main course, you can choose from three different options: filet mignon, lamb, and halibut. I was feeling like a lighter main course with such a heavy meal, so I opted for the fish. But since the perfectly flaky halibut was served with a liberal drizzling of rich hollandaise sauce, I’m not sure it made much of a difference. Oh well, I hear what halibuts in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, anyway.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Las Vegas!
What would you do with One Day in Las Vegas? Do you think I should go into steampunk-themed burlesque dancing? And why on earth is Harry Reid sniffing that pencil? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Las Vegas. If you have time for another one day in Las Vegas, try this itinerary.