New Year's Eve may be a little less than a month away, but the Champagne corks are already popping in Las Vegas, ringing in new hotels, restaurants and attractions.
The Vegas boom, once as sizzling as an August afternoon, has slowed to a simmer since 2008. But a growth spurt is underway in Southern California's adult playground in Nevada, and some folks are downright giddy — and not because of the bubbly.
Visitors will find a new hotel, a fish-and-chips shop from a feisty British chef, an elegant Japanese restaurant from another celebrity chef and the Vegas version of a beloved L.A. deli. A new arena will host a singing superstar who swears her 2017 Vegas shows will be among her last — but we've heard that song before.
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Vegas is the city that never sits still—at least, not for long. Here's the 411.
Welcoming China — and you
What: Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino, a 203-room boutique hotel just off the Las Vegas Strip whose operators hope to entice Chinese and American visitors.
When: The hotel casino welcomed its first guests Nov. 19 and was to have its grand opening Saturday.
The inside scoop: The Lucky Dragon is tiny by Las Vegas standards — the Bellagio, for instance, has nearly 3,800 more rooms — but the new hotel is long on authenticity. The development was guided by a feng shui master; the casino bar is eight-sided (for luck); and the property goes from the third floor to the fifth, skipping the fourth floor because the number 4 is considered bad luck.
The restaurants serve what executive chef Phuoc Luu calls authentic Asian food, mostly Cantonese but with Thai and Vietnamese influences. You'll find dried abalone on the menu, but don't look for sweet and sour chicken.
There's the grab-and-go Bao Now, where gamblers can get congee, noodles or soup. Eating at the gaming tables, a no-no elsewhere, is OK here.
Just off the casino floor, Dragon's Alley, which has neon signage and Chinese lanterns, evokes the feel of a night market. Guests choose their food buffet style, but plates are individually priced.
Upstairs are two more intimate restaurants. Pearl Ocean features roving dim sum trolleys and fresh seafood from tanks near the banquettes. Phoenix, the high-end restaurant, focuses on modern Chinese dishes such as deer tendon.
The casino is heavy on table games with an emphasis on baccarat, which is particularly popular with Chinese gamblers.
The surprises: Hainan Airlines was to begin nonstop service between Beijing and Vegas on Friday, but the Lucky Dragon's guests are more likely to be your neighbors than visitors from Asia.
"We expect about 10% of our visitation would be from overseas," said Dave Jacoby, chief operating officer of the Lucky Dragon.
Southern California, the largest target market, is expected to account for about a third of all visitors.
When gaming gets to be too much, Lucky Dragon's guests can now repair to the bar — a tea bar, that is. Cha Garden — cha means "tea" in Chinese — claims to have the largest selection of Chinese teas of any hotel in the world. Prices for its traditional tea service start at $12. Yum cha, small plates of food, also will be available.
Make sure to get a glimpse of the casino's centerpiece, a 1 1/4-ton chandelier with hundreds of sparkling crystals encircling a dragon made of Champagne-colored glass. The piece's country of origin? Croatia, not China.
Info: Lucky Dragon Hotel, 300 W. Sahara Ave.; (702) 889-8018. Room rates depend on seasons and events. Before Christmas, the weekend rate for a king bed starts at $258 a night. That increases to $599 for Chinese New Year in late January and early February.
What: W Las Vegas Hotel is the latest space to evolve from the old Sahara Hotel.
When: Opened Dec. 1
The inside scoop: The Lux, one of three towers at the SLS Las Vegas, has been reincarnated as the W to appeal to younger visitors. The Wet Deck, a trendy poolside gathering spot, will sit atop a new four-story building that has event and meeting space. The rooftop will have cabanas, cocktails, DJs and some cool original murals of the Strip and the desert. Dining and club options are available next door at SLS.
The surprise: Singer-songwriter
Info: W Las Vegas Hotel, 2535 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (877) 822-0000. Doubles from $185 a night.
New places for noshing
When: Ramsay's newest outpost opened in October. Virgil's is expected to open this month, although no date was available by the Travel section's deadline. Canter's is expected to open its Linq location in March after launching a deli in February in nearby Summerlin.
The inside scoop: Ramsay's place is packing them in. The fresh, sustainable cod for the fish and chips ($14.99) is hand cut before being fried in batter that turns delectably crispy.
Expect lines to form for such items as fried shrimp ($15.99) marinated in basil and lavender; battered sausage ($13.99), a kind of upscale version of a corn dog without the stick; and a sticky toffee pudding milkshake ($8.99).
"If William and Kate were landing in Vegas," Ramsay said of everybody's favorite British royals, "I guarantee they'd be coming here for fish and chips."
New Yorkers may know Virgil's, a popular rib joint near Times Square. Besides ribs, the restaurant will serve fare such as catfish, fried chicken and pulled pork.
Canter's, the L.A. deli that opened on Brooklyn Avenue in 1931 before moving to Fairfax in 1953, is returning to Vegas. (Its Treasure Island location closed in 2012.)
Gary Canter, grandson of the founders, promises a menu that will include favorites such as hand-cut brisket, pastrami, cheese blintzes, matzo ball soup and potato latkes.
"It's like an all-star team of our best stuff," Canter said. The pastries and specialty breads will be baked fresh daily.
The surprise: The Linq Promenade offers a visual dessert after your meal: a new sound-and-light show choreographed to pop music that illuminates the fountains and the High Roller observation wheel. The free shows start at 5:30 p.m. each day, continuing each half-hour through 10:30 p.m.
Info: Linq Promenade, 3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is sandwiched between the Linq and Flamingo hotels. Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips; (702) 322-0529. Other properties awaiting phone numbers and websites.
Culinary flair but no flying knives
What: Morimoto Las Vegas at MGM Grand is Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's 14th restaurant.
When: The grand opening was Saturday.
The inside scoop: The restaurant is Morimoto's first to feature teppanyaki, the table-side display of food preparation.
The surprise: Don't expect to see razor-sharp knives flying through the air as happens at other teppan restaurants. "I cannot do this," Morimoto said with a laugh.
Info: Morimoto Las Vegas, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 891-3001. The a la carte menu includes bouillabaisse cooked in fata (transparent) paper ($38) and various cuts of wagyu beef ($30 an ounce, with a 3-ounce minimum.) The multi-course teppan tasting menus start at $180.
What: The Park Theater at the evolving Monte Carlo (it's being transformed into two hotels, expected to open in late 2018) is getting performers' creative juices flowing. Its new technology, designed to embrace the audience, so intrigued Cher that she is abandoning retirement for a 2017 residency.
When: Stevie Nicks will launch the new venue Dec. 17.
The inside scoop: With 5,200 seats, the Park Theater has about 900 seats more than Caesars' Colosseum, its closest competitor. Video projection walls that extended about 50 feet beyond each side of the stage will enhance interaction of the performers and audiences. Stars will include Cher (who did her first farewell tour in 2003) and Ricky Martin.
"The artists that we are seeking and that are coming to us are creating shows specifically designed for this space and the technical elements that we have here," said Dan Bernbach, the theater's executive director.
The surprise: Bernbach, formerly a professional singer-actor, plans a test run of the "absolutely incredible" acoustics starring...himself.
"I haven't sung on this stage yet," he said, "but I'm definitely going to…when the workers have all gone home for the day and it's dead silent."
Info: Park Theater, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (844) 600-7275.
No sugar on this tea party
Asking for milk or sugar with your tea at Cha Garden in the Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino is like asking a Scottish bartender to add ice to a tumbler of his finest whiskey. It's gauche.
It would be a shame to add anything to any of the more than 50 kinds of teas served at the Las Vegas hotel's tea bar because the point is to savor their nuances. Most of the teas come from China, and some are available only to the country's ruling elite
"Lots of them I never saw in China," said Lola Zhao, the resort's tea sommelier who grew up working in her uncle's tea shop in Shenyang in northeast China.
"Some of them I've never heard of."
If you're going to indulge at Cha Garden, plan to spend enough time to taste several infusions of the same tea during the gong fu service.
That involves brewing tea — the leaves, stems and buds — in small pots called known as gaiwan. Guests sip from cups that hold only about an ounce, but the service may involve as many as eight tastings. For each cup, the tea is steeped a bit longer.
"No one's even attempted to do something of this nature — to have this many teas, but more importantly, to have this many high-quality teas," said Joe Muscaglione, the hotel's beverage manager.
"Some of them come from trees that are hundreds and hundreds of years old," said Muscaglione, who spent decades researching wine before focusing on tea.
"We know the tea grower's name, the day they picked it, the elevation and the geographical location."
He's especially proud of the Qinba Wuhao tea, a Lucky Dragon exclusive from Shaanxi Province. In the fields, ladybugs have replaced pesticides, and the picking and processing are done by hand.
Tea service starts at $12 a pot — that's for multiple infusions — and tops out at $58, depending on the tea. Guests also can buy teas. Muscaglione thinks some of his best customers will be visitors from China, who can't get the same quality at home.
Cha Garden is open 9 a.m.-11 p.m. weekdays and until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations are not required.