It’s March 20, 2021, and I’m returning to Las Vegas.
Sin City—with state COVID protocols mandating 50 percent capacity, masked revelers on the Strip chugging phallic-shaped slushy drinks, gaming-floor action still favoring the house through protective Plexiglass barriers, and high-end eateries like the Mayfair Supper Club mixing fine dining and jazzy stage theatrics—is basically back.
I’m revisiting the Strip during the long weekend previously owned by March Madness crazies. In Vegas, Hoop Heads annually converge to watch the opening rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. In 2020, along with everything normal in our lives, coronavirus put the kibosh on that.
A mini resumption of March Madness is happening. Note: A major calling card of years past was the Ballroom Viewing Party. Casino-resorts up and down and off the Strip dedicated ballroom space to March Maddies. They’d bring in dozens of big-screen TVs, satellite gaming kiosks and sell concessions.
None of that is happening out of safety concerns for massing unsafe crowd numbers.
Instead of ballroom parties, basketball fanatics are posting up at smaller watch parties in food-and-beverage outlets. MGM Resorts has 39 mini parties going in nine Strip properties: ARIA, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Park MGM and The Mirage.
It’s even possible to watch underdogs upend higher seeds while you’re making the rounds in a mall. The Miracle Mile Shops have about a half dozen eateries where you can celebrate buzzer-beaters with a Miller Lite in one hand and a Buffalo wing in the other.
The post-pandemic recovery has begun, says Bill Hornbuckle, president and CEO of MGM Resorts International. In a March 19 LinkedIn post, he writes that after a challenging year, the 2021 NCAA Basketball Tournament “represents a transformative moment for sports, gaming and our industry’s post-pandemic recovery.”
Returning to Las Vegas
March Madness weekends were a longstanding tradition for friends and me.
In perspective, the pandemic inflicted a barrage of tragedies—including the deaths of more than half a million Americans.
Loss of life can’t compare with inconveniences caused or the quarantine lives we’ve lived for more than a year.
That said, missing March Madness in 2020 was the first thing that made COVID-19 real for me.
Flying to Vegas this year brought mixed emotions. I’ve always been a laid-back frequent flyer but cabin anxiety was very real for me during the flight.
On arrival at ARIA Resort & Casino at the end of the City Center cul-de-sac, my composure returned. Most everybody was wearing a mask. In the check-in line, a couple of blonde ladies were complementing each other’s colorful dresses. A dude in a UCLA t-shirt was talking loudly into a cell phone about point spreads.
Glorious public banality.
I’m not completely letting my guard down in Las Vegas. “But goddamn,” as Dua Lipa sings, “you’ve got me in love again.”
Boom! The Mayfair Supper Club
There are thousands of less jolting ways to transition back into the fast lane of leisure travel than dining at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Days ago, I was on a Zoom business meeting wearing flannel pajama pants. Suddenly, I’m sitting one row from a glowing stage in a white booth with a white linen table cloth. It feels like I’ve been dropped into that scene in Good Fellas where the boys take their goomahs out for a night on the town.
The Mayfair Supper Club is a nod to the mid-1900s New York City dining scene that included both fine food and musical performances. HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, set in Atlantic City during Prohibition, also represents the glitzy supper club décor.
Set on the Strip side of The Bellagio Hotel & Casino, the Mayfair also has an outdoor deck that overlooks the property’s famous dancing fountains.
Supported by a three-piece band, Mayfair performers bound on and off the room’s central stage with energy not associated with America circa 2020. The upbeat dance numbers are at times burlesque and other times jazzy or modern.
Both the male and female dancers have physiques that remind me that human beings can still have abs.
That four-person dance team supports vocalists who have commanding pipes. You can feel the martini in your belly swirl during their renditions of “My Way,” and “Hey, Big Spender.”
The light-bedazzled show is just as creative as the restaurant menu. One off-the-charts, surf-and-turf appetizer is a wagyu and caviar sushi roll, a tasty starter that’s topped with gold leaf, soy glaze and wasabi.
My New York strip steak was wonderfully blended with whiskey shallots and aged balsamic. Other classic entrees on the menu include a lobster thermidor served with cognac cream, prime rib (Mishima wagyu with au jus and horseradish sauce), and a 40-ounce dry-aged porterhouse.
Somehow, I also managed to eat nearly a whole bowl of buttery truffle pasta. Had to carb up for marathon basketball viewing the next day.
The sum of the tastes, sights and sounds added up to a mesmerizing evening. It brought to mind how travel can lift us, sow new ideas in our soul and remind us that life is a gift worth experiencing.
“But goddamn!” How great it was to be doing Vegas, again. J&J
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