Lake Las Vegas, Sin City's alter ego

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If Las Vegas is Sin City, the resort half an hour east alongside Lake Las Vegas is more like Sun City.

As much as we relished the peace of Viera, a just-opened condominium-hotel at the new MonteLago Village of shops and restaurants, we wondered who besides us would choose this languid retirement community-like setting over the high-energy smorgasbord of the Strip.


FOR THE RECORD
Ritz-Carlton brunch An article in Sunday's Travel section on a weekend escape to Lake Las Vegas, Nev., incorrectly characterized brunch at the Ritz-Carlton as a buffet. Diners order off a menu.


The answer came while we were humming across the lake in a canopied, 10-passenger electric water taxi. The young couple opposite us seemed a tad too cool. They looked vibrant and adventurous, the sort of people who might stay up past 10.

What, we asked, are you guys doing out here?

We're from Iowa, they said. Spent several days on the Strip, they said. Partied hearty and came to Lake Las Vegas to relax before heading home.

And so there it was. Lake Las Vegas is the anti-Strip, a kind of decompression chamber, the place to readjust one's timing after a high-octane outing on Las Vegas Boulevard 17 miles away.

The contrast is stark.

Out here, it gets dark at night. The little 24-hour casino is less illuminated than some churches. Until Viera opened in late September and a Ritz-Carlton first welcomed guests eight months ago, the only other lodging was a 4-year-old Hyatt Regency.

Entertainment here is miniature concerts on the green; locals show up with lawn chairs and picnic baskets of cheese and Chardonnay.

It's all part of a 3,000-acre, work-in-progress development for 3,500 full- and part-time residents that features 54 holes of golf and the 320-acre lake.

Viera's target audience, apparently, is golfers and people attending conventions at the two hotels. But the condo complex has established guest privileges at the hotels and the lake's marina, so guests can sign up for stargazing (celestial, not celebrity) at the Ritz-Carlton or rent pedal boats at the Hyatt.

A larger fleet of electric-powered boats — from six-passenger cruisers ($59 an hour) to a 40-person yacht ($465) — can be rented at a marina. Fishing tackle can also be rented for $12 a day, and because the lake is private, no license is required.

Such slow-poke activities are fine for families, as are Viera's accommodations. The condos range from studios to three-bedroom suites. Families can save money by hauling in groceries; the kitchens have almost everything you need, including dishwashers. And there's daily housekeeping service.

For an introductory rate of $129 a night, my wife, Jeanne, and I reserved a one-bedroom unit for a Saturday-through-Monday stay to avoid the worst of Interstate 15 traffic. (The published rates of $149 to $399 are competitive with the Strip, considering the amenities.)

The Viera staff, unaware that I was on assignment, upgraded us to a two-bedroom unit because of a paperwork glitch. It had a king bed, a queen bed and a living room sofa-bed that, though uncomfortable for sitting, could have accommodated even more sleepers. We were on the fifth of six floors, overlooking pools and part of the lake. Las Vegas' neon was nowhere in sight; despite the Italian-villa-inspired design, this could easily have been Palm Desert.

Though the condos double as a hotel, Viera is no resort. There were two large swimming pools and a whirlpool, an exercise room and a small game room. But for spa treatments, shopping, gambling and dining, you have to leave the building.

For dinner, the front desk recommended we drive around the lake to Mira Lago, the dining room at the Reflection Bay Golf Club. When we arrived, we found two wedding receptions underway, so we sat on the quieter outdoor terrace. When temperatures oblige, dining outdoors in bug-free Las Vegas is a lovely experience, the tiki torches and lighted palm trees providing salve for the soul.

Jeanne ordered lobster, and I selected a teriyaki salmon with a cucumber citrus salsa, both of which were nice. We also treated ourselves to a chocolate soufflé, ordered at the outset so it would be ready by dinner's end.

We had the makings of a romantic night: wedding guests coming and going, and distant lights glistening off the still lake.

Until, that is, our waitress told us to ignore the commotion inside the main dining room where a mouse was running about. The staff was trying — unsuccessfully — to shoo it outside. Outside, as in, where we were.

We spent more time peering at our feet than gazing wistfully at the lake. We anxiously awaited our soufflé.

And waited and waited. At one point, our waitress put a piece of cheesecake in front of us.

"Sorry about the soufflé," she said. "Someone didn't completely close the oven door. Maybe you'd like to eat this while you wait." We declined.

Finally, 45 minutes after our entree dishes were cleared, our soufflé arrived. Much to my surprise, there was no offer to take it off the tab.

Ghost townWe returned to MonteLago Village and strolled past mostly empty shops. Only about eight of more than 20 are open — art galleries, clothing boutiques, jewelry and other specialty stores. Of nine planned restaurants and bars in the village, only one was open during our visit. Most of the remaining businesses, a spokesman said, intend to open by spring. We burned some time in one store with what looked like the world's largest candles and in another with every color of bath salts.

We walked through the small casino (675 slots, 15 table games), but none of the machines (bills only, no coins) called out to us. We finished the evening on our balcony, looking into the dark desert night.

Sunday we strolled to the Ritz-Carlton with high hopes. The $37 brunch buffet was, for me, too rich in both respects of the word, so I settled for the less indulgent and less expensive regular breakfast menu. But because the brunch offerings included bottomless cocktails and I'm a sucker for Bloody Marys, I encouraged Jeanne to indulge.

She had a crab and avocado appetizer followed by an entree of eggs Sardou. Think eggs benedict but with beef tenderloin instead of Canadian bacon.

The setting was delightful: a sunny, golden room with chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling, expansive windows overlooking a courtyard of Italian cypress, a pianist.

Then the server brought my over-medium eggs, as hard as rock. Yes, I said, I will have another Bloody Mary. Jeanne's dessert tray served us both, at least. Its centerpiece: pot de crème in a bed of sugar.

An attendant cleared our dishes and crumbed the table, but rather than palm the bits or push them onto a plate, he whisked them onto the carpet.

We meandered around the airy lobby, then strolled down to the water taxi for a 45-minute tour of the lake. After the first 10 passengers got on board, the driver cut off the line, leaving some members of a family dockside, protesting that they were separated from their group.

"Work it out yourselves," he said curtly, before leaving on a 10-minute break.

On the tour, he talked of how the lakefront properties have skyrocketed in value and how the homeowners have to pay to replenish the water, which drops an inch a day because of evaporation and is pumped from Lake Mead, just a mile or so away.

The finest experience of the weekend was dinner at Como's, a steak and fish house steps from our condo. Jeanne said her steak was as good as any she'd ever had, a New York cut topped with blue cheese butter, accompanied by sinful shoestring potatoes. I tried the pork tenderloin with a root beer barbecue glaze and found it more tender and tasty than the best baby-back ribs. It came with incredible sweet potato fries.

Afterward, we tried our hotel whirlpool, but the water was unheated. So we retreated to our room. Jeanne, after all, had purchased bath salts, the tub was oversized, and it wasn't yet 10 o'clock.

Tom Gorman is an assistant metro editor.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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