Vegas! Vegas! Vegas! 3 Days, 3 Ways
On the Strip, off the Strip, and out of town—native Geraldine Campbell reveals insider tips to make your next trip a win-win-win proposition.
Let's face it: In the long run, the house always wins. Still, some win faster and more punishingly than others, and according to gambling guru Michael Shackleford, a.k.a. the Wizard of Odds (wizardofodds.com), the loosest slots in town are at the Palms. Shackleford, a former University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor of casino math (yes, it exists), has run studies on everything from casino air quality to Megabucks jackpots. His expertise is compiled in the 2005 book Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for All Casino Games (Huntington Press, $15)—recommended reading if you're hoping to walk away a winner. Whatever you do, don't test your luck in the airport: Those one-armedbandits have the worst odds of any machines on or off the Strip. 4321 W. Flamingo Rd., palms.com.
Kitschy cocktail hour
Half a mile west of Las Vegas Boulevard, Frankie's Tiki Room, run by local nightlife icon P Moss, is a 24-hour, Blue Hawaii–style drinking den, complete with blowfish lamps and hand-carved tiki sculptures. Moss first opened the wildly popular Double Down Saloon, a self-described anti-Vegas hangout, back in 1992. His latest endeavor is equally beloved for its strong drinks (such as the Tiki Bandit, a potent combo of pineapple rum, apricot brandy, 151-proof rum, and blue curaçao) and a jukebox loaded with surf rock. 1712 W. Charleston Blvd., frankiestikiroom.com, cocktails $8, with souvenir mug $20.
After midnight, the town's top chefs kick back at Aburiya Raku, a tiny (by Vegas standards), 49-seat restaurant off Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown. Even at that hour, a reservation is recommended—you won't be the only one hungry for a second dinner. The focus here is on robata-style (charcoal-grilled) meats, fish, and vegetables; the custardy, fried agedashi tofu, served in a sweet, briny dashi broth, shouldn't be missed, either. 5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd., raku-grill.com, eggplant robata $4.
Much has been made of east Fremont Street's recent rise from gritty to glamorous, although, in all honesty, the three-block stretch is still a little rough around the edges. That scruffiness hasn't deterred bar owners or the local party crowd, who consider it one of the only realistically walkable bar crawls in the city. Start at The Griffin (511 Fremont St., 702/382-0577, cocktails from $6), a cave-like lounge with vaulted ceilings, fire pits, and PBR on tap. A few doors away, Beauty Bar (517 Fremont St., beautybar.com, cocktails from $7) fills up with a motorcycle-boots-and-miniskirts crowd, and around the corner, the speakeasy-style Downtown Cocktail Room (111 Las Vegas Blvd. S., downtownlv.net, cocktails from $6) attracts a slightly more sophisticated, though still artsy, set.
DAY 3: Out of Town
Greater Las Vegas spans almost 600 square miles, and believe it or not, many of the city's most worthwhile sights are actually on its fringe—in the Henderson and Summerlin suburbs and in the dramatic deserts that surround the city.
Navigating Vegas with kids can be a challenge. (You can only watch the Bellagio's fountains so many times.) Fortunately, the 180-acre Springs Preserve, about 10 miles north of the Strip, has enough botanical gardens, hiking trails, and educational activities to kill half an afternoon. Our favorite: the exhibits of the Origen Experience, home to desert rabbits, bats, foxes, and lizards. 333 S. Valley View Blvd., springspreserve.org, adults $19, kids $11.
It should come as no surprise that the 3-year-old Hachi, tucked behind a solid neon-pink façade, is no run-of-the-mill sushi joint. The menu of former Nobu chef Linda Rodriguez is full of playful touches, like specialty rolls named for illegal substances and unconventional sushi ingredients such as watermelon, cilantro, and crispy coconut shrimp. Best of all: A "38 for under $8" list encourages experimentation. Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd., ilovehachi.com, specialty rolls from $13.