Rob Reed Contributor Travel I cover travel, adventure sports, marketing and various ways to drive fast
The COVID pandemic is coming up on its two-year anniversary. It’s all we’ve known of this new decade, the 2020s. First we were locked down, sheltering in place. Then we were socially distanced and masked. Not even a year in, though, the first vaccines offered proverbial light at the end of a dark and depressing tunnel.
Many saw that light as the dawn of a new roaring ‘20s—a new age of prosperity, excess and indulgence. Savings rates and asset classes were at record highs; consumer debt was at historic lows. A tidal wave of pent-up demand for travel, dining, and partying was about to wash over the world for the remainder of the decade.
Turns out that light was actually an oncoming freight train: the Delta variant. Which was followed closely by a bullet train: the Omicron variant. We masked up again and got boosted. COVID spiked to crazy new heights and then fell just as quickly. Alas, it now appears that light signifies legitimate hope. State-level mask mandates and distancing guidelines have largely been dropped. International travel is opening up, and that pent-up demand to party like it’s the 1920s has only grown. Which can mean only one thing: Vegas, baby!
Following is a guide to (finally) kicking off the new “Roaring ‘20s” in Las Vegas with some of the best restaurants, nightclubs and off-strip activities that Sin City has to offer.
One of the big hospitality developments during the pandemic was the acquisition of Hakkasan Group by Tao Group Hospitality, which is part of MSG. This created the largest luxury hospitality company in the world with a combined 61 restaurant and entertainment venues across five continents. A number of marquee venues are located in Las Vegas, which makes Tao Group a veritable one-stop-shop for organizing the ideal post-pandemic Vegas experience.
Beauty & Essex: The interior decor feels like you’ve been seated in an human-sized jewelry box. Indeed, there’s even a “pawn shop” stocked with actual jewelry to complement Chef Chris Santos’ Lower-East-Side-inspired menu. This is an NYC-meets-Las Vegas dining experience, appropriately located in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The mixologists behind the bar might start you with an O.D.B (Old Dirty Bramble) consisting of blanco tequila with smoked blackberries, honey, ginger and cold pressed lemon. The Yellowtail Sashimi from the raw bar and the Kale & Apple Salad are superb starters. B&E is very much a shared dining experience, as the 18 oz dry-aged, bone-in New York strip arrives pre-cut for all to enjoy. And for dessert, the signature “les,nyc” Doughnuts with dark chocolate fudge, berry and caramel sauces should not be missed.
Catch Las Vegas: Located in the Aria Hotel, this is one of the more difficult Vegas dinner reservations to secure. It can also be a challenge just walking to the hostess stand, as the flowery entryway is an Instagram photo destination unto itself. Once seated, though, it feels like you’re breathing rarified air. The Catch Las Vegas experience can go in several directions including a pure sushi route with signature rolls like the A5 Wagyu Surf & Turf with Maine Lobster and the spicy tuna Hellfire Roll, along with buttery Toro and Yellowfin sashimi. The hot Crispy Shrimp with spicy mayo is a classic starter, while the Herb-Roasted Branzino tops the entrée options—literally and figuratively.
Hakkasan: The pro tip for a complete Hakkasan experience is to make dinner reservations for 10:00pm—ideally on a Thursday—which sets you up to roll straight into the eponymous nightclub (see below). If you’re staying at the MGM Grand, this is an easy stroll. Otherwise, Hakkasan offers a private entrance beyond the MGM valet so you can avoid the casino. This Chinese-inspired menu has recently been reimagined with signature dishes including Chilean Seabass with bumble bee honey and a Black Pepper Beef Filet Mignon with asparagus, bell pepper and merlot sauce. You can also keep it light with an extensive selection of Dim Sum. Either way, the Zen-like Hakkasan vibe will set a positive mood for whatever follows this amazing meal.
Tao Asian Bistro: Located on the Grand Canal Shoppes level of The Venetian Hotel, Tao is the pinnacle of Asian-fusion cuisine. With a 20-foot Buddha statue floating above an infinity pool with Japanese koi; a bar decorated with hand-carved monks and candles; and some laser effects for good measure, it can certainly feel over the top. But it’s all part of the experience, which includes enthusiastic service and a menu incorporating Chinese, Thai and Japanese influences. The Chilean Sea Bass Satay with Wok Roasted Asparagus is an absolute must-order, as the fish just melts off the skewer and into your mouth. For dessert, the Potted Carrot Cake looks exactly like a potted plant…until you break it open to reveal the actual cake with cream and miso caramel. Be sure to take before and after photos.
Hakkasan: Coupled with dinner at the adjoining restaurant (see above), this nightclub makes for a seamless night out in Las Vegas. Though the club is a full five stories high with 10,000 square feet of space, you really want to reserve a table with bottle service in the first two rows off the main dance floor with a clear view of the DJ booth. The latest talent is DJ Pauly D of Jersey Shore fame, and you can also catch Steve Aoki, Lil Jon and many others. Just remember that while marijuana is legal in the State of Nevada, the casino properties are federally regulated; therefore, those same federal drug laws apply.
Omnia: It is arguably in a class of its own among Las Vegas nightclubs. First, it’s a phenomenal venue located at Caesar’s Palace. The first evidence of this is how impressive it looks from the Strip; the video screens alone are enough to get you into party mode. The centerpiece of the club itself features a multi-story chandelier over the main dance floor with gyroscopic rings that offer constant visual stimulation. And then there’s the talent. Frequent DJs include Martin Garrix, Kaskade, TYGA and Steve Aoki. The latter of which takes his craft to new levels, as he’s active and engaged in every moment of every track with a clear intent to stoke and inspire the audience. There’s never a time when Aoki is simply spinning a song. Marquee DJs typically start around 1:30am, and it’s highly advisable to book a table with bottle service.
Dream Racing: There are several supercar driving experiences in Las Vegas, but Dream Racing offers true auto racing roots and the absolute best selection of cars. I learned how to become a race car driver with Dream before the pandemic and returned recently to experience the track-bred Lamborghini Huracán STO, which ups the ante on the Performante variant with 53% more downforce and 94 fewer pounds. I also noted how much better the brakes are than any other street car I’ve driven—both the performance and brake pedal feel are more similar to a GT race car than a street car. This is Lambo’s answer to the equally amazing Ferrari 488 Pista, which you can also experience at Dream. Each of these Italian supercars blurs the line between road and track cars. Pro tip: be sure to request JT as your instructor.
Escape Adventures: If you’re looking to explore the desert trails of Red Rock Canyon, which is only a short drive west of the Strip, you can schedule bike tours for all ability levels with Escape Adventures. They’ll pick you up at your hotel and provide all the equipment you could need, including electric-powered bikes for those who want some battery assistance.
Maverick Helicopters: Although I typically associate helicopter rides with the Alaska snowboarding, this heli trip from Las Vegas Airport to the Grand Canyon is bucket-list material. You’ll fly over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam before arriving at the west end of the Canyon to toast champagne and enjoy some snacks. Pilots narrate the tour in your headset with plenty of fun facts, which can also include a curated soundtrack and the occasional dad joke. Though I was kind of hoping to hear Ride of the Valkyries as we swooped into the Grand Canyon and approached the landing zone.
NoMad: This luxury hotel occupies the top floors of the relatively new Park MGM, which is located in the most modern and vibrant section of the Strip. These upper floors offer the best views, of course, but the key benefits of the NoMad are its private entrance that avoids the casino chaos and the fact that it’s an entirely smoke-free hotel. If you’re traveling with a group, I’d recommend that one person or couple reserves a Suite Royale. This includes a sitting area, pool table and and freestanding bar, which is ideal for pre-game activities.
MGM Grand: As it’s home to the Hakkasan Restaurant and Nightclub, the MGM can be a convenient place to stay for enjoying that full Hakkasan experience. You just also need to appreciate mega Las Vegas casino resort hotels, as they can be overwhelming.
Virgin Hotels: The Hard Rock Hotel was the place to be in the late ‘90s. The Strip had become passé, so this was where the young, hip and beautiful naturally gravitated. Fast forward 20 years, and it’s been reborn as Virgin Hotels following a $200 million renovation and a delay in opening due to the pandemic. The property opened in March of 2021, and the legendary (though completely redesigned) pool complex will be fully operational for the spring of 2022. Notable dining options include ONE Steakhouse, Nobu Sushi and a good ol’ fashioned Dunkin’ Donuts. Rooms located in the Ruby Tower offer a private valet, check-in services and guest entrance that avoids the casino, and though the rooms have all been remodeled in the Virgin aesthetic, they still retain the party vibe of the original Hard Rock.