The casino-less lobby of the Vdara Hotel & Spa is welcoming. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Casino-less Las Vegas

There’s more to Sin City than gambling

Much of Sin City has reopened with various COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

MGM Resorts, which has 13 popular Las Vegas hotels, including the Bellagio, ARIA Resort & Casino and MGM Grand, has taken the reopening seriously. It has instituted a seven-point safety plan that consists of temperature checks, mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing, enhanced sanitation, increased air circulation, contactless check-in options and increased incidence response.

That said, even in the non-COVID era, anyone who knows me, even marginally, knows I am not a gambler. Indeed, an apropos nom-de-plume for me could easily be Madame Risk Averse.

So when I headed to Las Vegas in early March, it would seem an odd weekend choice for me. However, I am truly a big fan of eating. Huge, in fact. And Las Vegas is replete with great dining choices.

When my daughter told me she was flying from the East Coast to a surgical conference in the “Bone Yard” — a reference not to orthopedics, but to all of the continuing, unfinished Vegas construction — the lucky dice were cast and off I went.

The bed

Not being a gambler and doubly cursed with a rather significant crowd allergy, the search was on for the right place to hang my hat. I wanted comfort and convenience, yet no crowds and no casino.

I hit pay dirt with Vdara Hotel & Spa, a casino-less, all-suite hotel. It has plenty of space and is a smaller property, relative to its behemoth brethren nearby, and is conveniently located in the heart of the strip.

Vdara is connected to the Bellagio Hotel where there’s plenty of action and where entertainment, shopping and food reign supreme. For those wishing to gamble away Junior’s college fund, Vdara is also adjacent to ARIA Resort & Casino. No small wonder Milton Berle called Las Vegas the “City of Lost Wages.”

Vdara’s 1,495 suites are enormous, starting at nearly 600 square feet and set up as true apartments with the benefits of a hotel. Slumber was sweet with high-count sheets, top-notch pillows and electronic black-out shades.

The master bathroom had a deep soaking tub, walk-in shower and dual vanities. Better yet, the fully separate living room had a queen-size fold-out sofa bed, work desk and half bathroom. And if you want Fluffy or Fifi to be a joiner, no problem as Vdara is Fido friendly, up to 70 pounds.

Two flat-screen televisions, a dining area, stacking washer-dryer and a full kitchen with stainless steel appliances completed the comfortable accommodations. Though why anyone would want to cook in Las Vegas remains a mystery to me.

A small, well-equipped gym meant massive weight gain was not in the cards. For a small fee — or complimentary if staying in an upgraded suite — the Vdara Club Lounge hospitality retreat is a great spot to refuel between excursions with daily breakfast, light bites throughout the day and most importantly, happy hour.

The meals

Right next to the Bellagio pool is Sadelle’s Café. With cheetah-upholstered furnishings, French bistro chairs and swaying palms, this airy restaurant encompasses the three C’s: comfortable, classy and chic. Even the salmon-hued jackets worn by Sadelle’s waiters are inspired.

Bagels are baked at Sadelle’s hourly, soups are as good as granny made and there are even fish tacos to fawn over. If you do nothing else is this life and are seeking a near religious experience, order the key lime pie.

For French-inspired bistro cuisine with an intellectual decor, Nomad Restaurant is set in a dining room with sky-high ceilings and shelved walls that are home to a collection of over 25,000 books.

In the company of books, spicy tuna is prepared tableside at Nomad Restaurant. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Nomad’s house made tuna tartar with chili and togarashi was delicious and the 45-day, dry-aged New York strip steak was excellent. Apropos of a fun day at the carnival that is Las Vegas, the meal ended sweetly with a stick of cotton candy. Though Nomad is still shuttered, check before you go, as it’s expected to reopen before year end.

While Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant is in Beverly Hills, the floating glass windows of Spagos Las Vegas face the Bellagio fountains and offer up a spectacularly swanky view. The spicy tuna tartare in sesame miso mini ice cream cones were perfect, Puck’s famous salmon pizza that’s served at the Oscars was notable and the raspberry pavlova was otherworldly.

A pair of sesame miso cones stuffed with spicy tuna is served with a view at Spagos by Wolfgang Puck. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The finds

The Spa at Vdara is an 18,000-square-foot, two-level haven of tranquility. There are three separate relaxation lounges including a coed mediation room.

Separate men’s and women’s wet areas have Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas, and since they are clothing optional, no cell phones are allowed — so all that zen quietude becomes a truly blissful digital detox environment. It is made Eden-like by very talented massage therapists.

The Vdara Spa has a zen entry way. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

If in need of retail therapy — or to walk off some of those great meals — Planet Hollywood Miracle Mile Shops has 170 stores under roof with staples such as H&M and Tommy Bahamas.

High-end shoppers can scratch their itch at the CityCenter’s Shops at Crystals where the likes of Louis Vuitton and his cohorts ply their wares for those who hit the jackpot.

If channeling the heyday of a 1940s-style dinner club sounds like fun, the Bellagio’s Mayfair Supper Club that opened New Year’s Eve is an unforgettable experience.

In a gorgeous Martin Brudnizki-designed space with views of Bellagio’s iconic night-lit fountains, I was bowled over by the fantastic entertainment provided by talented singers LaShonda Reese and Steve Judkins accompanied by brilliant dancers and musicians. While Cirque du Soleil often delivers an “ocean of emotion,” at least before it filed for bankruptcy protection, the Mayfair entertainers deliver a show awash with an abundance of skill and heart-filled passion.

Uber-talented LaShonda Reese sings her heart out at Bellagio’s Mayfair Supper Club. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

That would certainly be enough except chef Dai Matsuda and his team deliver a culinary performance equally as grand that’s coupled with outstanding service.

Chef Dai Matsuda prepares a gorgeous hamachi with calamansi and chili at Bellagio’s Mayfair Supper Club. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The menu offered mouthwatering ahi on crispy rice, black truffle pasta that had me swooning, and table-side prepared Dover sole that was easily the best I have eaten anywhere. And a ballerina-laden jewelry box, reminiscent of nearly every girl’s childhood dreams, was filled with petit-fours and was artistically speaking, delectable dessert porn.

The Mayfair Supper Club serves from a ballerina-clad jewelry box of sweetness for dessert. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The lesson learned

While Las Vegas is a gambling mecca, it’s also a great place for shows, shopping, spas and excellent eating. Take your masks, be cognizant of social distancing and frequently wash your hands. Most important: Leave your diet at home. Happy travels.

Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning travel memoir “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Some vendors hosted the writer however content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely her opinion.


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