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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 18, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Once you get past the shining neon lights of Las Vegas, its true character begins to emerge. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

The newly renovated rooms of the MGM are good value and excellent location. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Ri Ra in Mandalay Bay feels so authentic ... (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

... and it's a great place to grab a pint. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Speaking of beer, go way off-strip to Aces and Ales, and you'll find a bunch on tap. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Tryst at The Wynn is a sight to behold. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

The new RPM at Tropicana has a more mellow but still upbeat vibe. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

China Poblano is a Chinese-Mexican fusion. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Whichever cuisine you choose, it's gonna be a winner ... (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

We opted for Mexican brunch. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Milwaukee porn star Victoria Rae Black at the AVN Expo. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Signing autographs was a big part of her job on Saturday. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Rice & Company served up solid Chinese food at the Luxor. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

But the Peruvian-Japanese fusion of SUSHISAMBA was out of this world. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

This is the sashimi you'll be dreaming of after you leave Las Vegas. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Speaking of Asian themes, Las Vegas goes all out for the Chinese New Year. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

And craft cocktails at Japonais set a nice base ... (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

... for the club scene at the new 1 OAK at The Mirage. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Boozy shakes and big burgers at Holstein's at Cosmopolitan. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

And delicious Italian food at wine at D.O.C.G. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

Las Vegas fusion


LAS VEGAS – "Where is your nipple?"

Paul stared blankly at the woman across the table, clad in skin-tight vinyl. It took a moment for him to connect the question to the electrically charged wand in her hand. But when he did make the connection, so had she.

"Ouch!" he cried. Then he paused a moment, and smirked. "That wasn't entirely unpleasant. Can you do that again?"

We honestly, seriously, really, didn't know when we planned our annual junket (that's also a ton of fun) to Sin City that it would coincide with the Adult Video News Expo at the Hard Rock Casino's meeting hall.

After all, this annual trip is more about providing OnMilwaukee.com readers everything they need to know about planning a winter getaway than anything else. But when we found ourselves credentialed to the porn and adult novelty show, we knew it would play a prominent role in bringing our readers along for the ride. So to speak.

And so, we took one for the team -- and Paul did so quite literally -- so you don't have to. What we saw that day was a fascinating study in a subculture we've only seen through the seedy side of the Web and the occasional bachelor party. At times it left us feeling more than a little icky, but more often than not we were wide-eyed with curiosity. And we even got a rare chance to connect with a real porn star with Milwaukee roots, who was even more pretty and more down-to-earth than we ever would have thought.

Food Fusion. Fun Fusion.

Las Vegas means so many different things to so many different people. But it means different things to the same people, too.

So, while we strolled the halls of an adult toy trade show by day, we also ate some of the finest sushi I've ever experienced at a world class restaurant on The Strip. We mixed a spa experience with the culture of a somber museum, and muddled the glitz of craft cocktails with off-strip libations at a winter beer festival.

In every way, Las Vegas today is all about the fusion. It's the American melting pot in miniature, and if you can't find it here, you can't find it anywhere.

As usual, several public relations teams in Las Vegas pitch us for inclusion in this annual travel article. But they know, going in, that free stuff doesn't equate to positive publicity. As always, our readers will get an honest review of what we saw, and what we did. This year is no exception.

Hit Me!

For the first time in my 10 trips to Las Vegas, our group of three stayed at the MGM Grand. Eron and I stayed in the newly renovated rooms, which were quite nice, even if the bathroom showed signs of the old design. In fact, the level of luxury came only behind Vdara and last year's suite at Tropicana. You could do much worse, and the price point is as reasonable as anything on The Strip. The unrenovated room was a bit worn around the edges, with rips and stains in the sofa and a slightly dated decor. Still, MGM is an iconic Vegas hotel with a great south Strip location. It's called the City of Entertainment for good reason; anything you could want from Vegas is all under one roof. And if it's not there, it's a leisurely stroll across one of the pedestrian bridges to New York New York, the Trop, or Excalibur with its tram down to Luxor and Mandalay Bay.

Our trip actually began across the street, with our old friends at Tropicana. We had lunch at Cafe Nikki, which had only been open for a week when we visited last year. Cool and modern, it remains a solid, quiet and affordable choice in the newly renovated casino.

Understand that the first day in Vegas is always a bit jarring. Time changes and an early Milwaukee departure tend to leave me a bit bleary, so I was happy to take in the day spa at ARIA. A day pass includes use of the indoor and outdoor whirlpools, sauna and steam rooms, as well as two themed meditation rooms. You'll need to dial down your excitement of being in Sin City during this respite, but if you take a deep breath, the rejuvenating powers of this spa will serve you well. Even a walk into the spa lobby, with its relaxing fountains humidifying the air, is a tranquil break from the hubbub of the casino just one floor below you.

For dinner, our group of three drove to Mandalay Bay's surprisingly authentic Irish pub, Ri Ra. It's easy to forget that this is nestled inside a luxury casino, because it feels as much a neighborhood Irish pub as anywhere. Solid food, live music and servers actually from Ireland are a nice touch. Just hearing that Irish brogue from our waitress Bernice while munching on fresh salmon, and you could close your eyes and imagine that just outside the doors you would find yourself on the wild coast of Connemara and not a sprawling casino and resort.

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Talkbacks

El Vez | Feb. 3, 2012 at 10:30 p.m. (report)

You're kidding, right? This sounds like my dream vacation. Did someone say "jealous?"

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jakkalope | Feb. 2, 2012 at 12:06 a.m. (report)

the strip is a pile of trash outside of the casinos. Still fun for me though

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ButterBurger | Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:50 p.m. (report)

I wish I were there now. Won some money at Cosmo on my last trip. It's my favorite too!

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beefsupreme | Feb. 1, 2012 at 10:16 a.m. (report)

vegas looks like a pile of trash to me.

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