When a friend sent me a commercial for AREA15's forthcoming Omega Mart installation, I knew that I would soon be taking a trip to Las Vegas to see it. This was my very first visit to the legendary city of glitz, glamour, and good times, and the newest player in the luxury resort/casino scene welcomed me to experience what they're all about.
Circa Resort & Casino is ushering in a new era of Las Vegas, just as the usually bustling city is coming out of the hibernation of the COVID pandemic. The glittering, towering building happily honors the glamour of old Las Vegas with a cascading light entrance on Fremont Street and a three-story tall refurbished neon sign of Vegas Vickie right in the middle of the casino floor, and it welcomes the future of entertainment with two massive screens built for sports betting.
I opted for a view of the mountains because (being from somewhere very flat) I'm always amazed by them. The room was surprisingly understated; it didn't have loud, garish colors or décor that could potentially crowd your already overstimulated mind. Yet there were little tasteful touches of Vegas glamour. Vegas Vickie's figure and a closeup of a slot machine hung in frames on the wall. The bathroom was lined in a showgirl-print wallpaper. The king bed was like a cloud with almost too many pillows. After a really long night, however, that royal blue couch and ottoman could feel great as well. One amenity that I really appreciated was the shampoo/conditioner/body wash dispenser in the large shower. It was much more helpful than a tiny, inefficient bottle.
Just an hour after arriving, I was invited to see Project BBQ, located outside of Circa on Fremont Street next to their massive outdoor bar. Project BBQ looks like a food truck located in a park; the dining area is complete with AstroTurf and string lights. This night, the local media was getting a taste of the Hogstravaganza: a meal and a show all in one. A whole roasted hog and all the sides were brought out to the table with bursting sparklers and booming sirens.
One of the main treats of this trip was Spiegelworld's show Absinthe, performed in a circus tent just outside of Caesar's Palace. I've seen many circus/vaudevillian variety shows in my day, but Absinthe gets extra snaps for their incredibly immersive set-up, their highly crude humor, and for one act that I have never seen before. One performer scaled the interior of a plastic tube and performed a fascinating piece (think about a shower curtain that has been glued together at the ends to form a cylinder, then stretched out 20 feet long). This night culminated in a highly-anticipated visit to the Golden Tiki, an off-strip watering hole that is as popular with locals as it is with visitors. I've never been to a more beautiful tiki bar. Between the twinkling stars on the ceiling, the wall-sized fountain, and tons of mysterious artifacts from around the world, you really feel like you're in a different place. I had to have my drink served in a pineapple that came flaming to the table. This is a bar that I would absolutely visit again (and again).
Back at the Circa, I took in a meal at Victory Burger, which overlooks the unparalleled multi-story screen showing every sport imaginable and live statistics. Victory Burger is loungey and made for socializing with friends, and it gets packed when the big matches are live. I had the signature half-pound Fondue Burger with sweet red peppers, roasted artichokes, and roasted tomatoes slathered in gooey cheese sauce, which was nestled in a pile of crispy fries. I had to get the juicy chicken tenders, and a Cap'n Crunch Crunchberries Milkshake to go with it, of course!
Finally the day came when I visited AREA15's Omega Mart, the attraction that I came to Las Vegas to experience. AREA15 itself is indescribable. You are immediately immersed into a space bustling with activity. You can have a drink and dine ensconced in a glowing neon tree while people zip-line just above your head. Omega Mart is just one part of this otherworldly attraction. Entering into the seemingly normal grocery store is surreal. It looks like any other store you've gone to, except the products on the shelf (all of which are available for purchase) are just a little off. The canned Tattoo Chicken is proof of that. Unmarked doors, tunnels through the coolers, and mere holes in the wall lead you to a completely different land of tubes, trees, mountains, and trippy scenes that I really can't put into words. You soon realize that there's a story here that only the most discerning sleuths can solve. Omega Mart is not as innocent as it seems. You can truly be lost in this psychedelic space for hours on end.
Stadium Swim is the future of Las Vegas, I was told. Stadium Swim features seven heated pools, lined up stadium-seating style so that you can the gargantuan 40-foot screen showcasing games and live statistics. In true Vegas fashion, there are gaming tables under the screen area right next to the DJ booth. On Saturday, the pool was filled to capacity. The cabana girls were constantly parading out bottles, even spraying one lucky guy with several bottles of champagne.
After a long day at the pool, I dined at Saginaw's Delicatessen on Circa's second floor. This eatery is particularly special for Circa and for Las Vegas. Paul Saginaw always wanted to open a restaurant in Las Vegas; the restaurant he co-founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Zingerman's Delicatessen has flourished for decades, even garnering a couple of James Beard Award nominations along the way. When this opportunity came along, Paul moved out west to Vegas, living quite near to Circa in downtown Vegas so that he could walk over to Saginaw's whenever he wanted to. I was lucky enough to run into him when I went in for dinner, and he dined with me! He told me exactly what to try out, and it was such a delight getting to hear the stories behind the dishes and his restaurants. I'm a soup person, so I had to have the Chicken Matzo Ball Soup, which was hot, salty, and so savory. It really hit the spot and tasted like a home-cooked meal. I wanted to try out some of the most popular menu items, which Paul said were the Royal Flush Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss, and house-made Russian dressing grilled on rye, as well as the Ben's Big Brisket with slow-roasted brisket, Tunisian harissa aioli, demi-glaze and braised onions on a Brioche bun. Both of the sandwiches were overloaded with flavorful meats that were great to the last bite, and the house-made Gambling Chips that they were served with just melted on my tongue. It didn't end there! Paul insisted that we finish the meal with some sweetness. The Pecan Pie was topped with huge whole pecans, and Nate & Sally's French Toast was magnificently decadent. Berries, whipped cream, and warm, gooey syrup … Las Vegas is said to be a city of excess, and this is a great example of that. Dinner at Saginaw's Deli with Paul Saginaw himself is an incredible experience that I will always treasure.
A few days in Las Vegas can feel like a lifetime when you stay on the move. There was so much to do, eat, drink, and experience that I didn't even make it to everything on my list. Though there weren't quite as many visitors as there would be in normal times, Vegas is back and ready to awe anyone ready to come. Be sure to bring your mask!