The downtownster approach to travel, will to a great extent, focus on places that appeal to those of us who live in an urban environment, want to get to where we’re going reasonably fast, and given today’s economy – present some bang for the buck. But like several other categories of this sacred blog site downtownster travel may transcend the very paradigm I have just described. I found myself writing a poem last summer on Mackinac Island…Great place and I might very well write about it one of these days. The fact that the almost defunct LA Times did a piece on it, well it was hardly experiential. However, for today it’s about my favorite LA suburb—Las Vegas.

            I cruised in last Sunday, wind in my hair, to attend the Grand Opening of the new M Hotel, which is just south of South Point. And I will describe my experience to you in the same fashion I described it to Kristen the PR Manager at the Wynn. “Crowded, jammed, packed, and that’s all I can really say.” “That’s what I heard,” replied Kristen as we transitioned to the more relevant topic of Wynn and Encore. So, there I sat discussing a future piece I might be doing on Wynn and Encore, the reality weighing on me that I did not get the story that I had come to Las Vegas to get. My mind drifted to a Downtown Oliver Brown adventure, which might save the day, but rather I resolved myself to find some gem of a travel piece in my 48 sleepless hours.

            “How about a report?” I asked myself. “Something of a prelude of things to come.” And just like that the good time I was having made perfect sense—I was in Vegas! So let me start by stating the obvious, business is off in Vegas. The former fastest growing city in America is awash in foreclosures—largely due to Californians who bought houses there speculating that prices would continue to go up. A reservation at Switch, the pricey restaurant at Encore that transforms itself every twenty minutes, was easily had with less than an hour’s notice. Gone are the three-hour waits to get into clubs like Rain. And there’s lots of room at the tables to play. Sounds pretty bad—it’s not.

            There’s still plenty of people in Vegas, it’s not a ghost town and Saturday nights will make you think it’s still 2007. Frankly, I like the smaller crowds and room prices that have come back to being the good deals that make you want to spend a crazy amount of money on everything else that the casinos have a much better profit margin on. I would warn the casinos to not cut back on staff or service to save money during these hard times. Getting it right now can really make for a customer for life. And what about the crowd at the M on a Sunday night?

            M stands for Marnell, and the Marnell family knows something about the gaming business. Anthony Marnell II developed the Rio, which during the ten years he and his son Anthony Marnell III ran the place both innovated and set the bar for Vegas in many ways. The buffet, Club Rio, and Danny Ganz leap to the front of my mind. Now for the sake of full disclosure I produced a big hit called “Night Tribe” at the Rio, but this was sadly long after the Marnell’s had left. And I was lucky enough to try and hold to the standard that they had set as Harrah’s, the new owner, did everything possible to make the Rio into the unremarkable place that it now is.

            So, when the Marnell’s opened on Sunday the locals turned out. People do have memories after all, and they wanted to see if the casino run by Anthony III would bring back the magic to the local market that Harrah’s had destroyed. And they turned out and turned out. Apparently, so delicious is the rewards card that they offer, people stood in line hundreds long to get one—I bear witness to this. But of course M is a hotel that knows how to take care of locals.

Now I’m tempted to start telling you more about the place but I was quite serious when I mentioned earlier that the M was just too crowded to get into any kind of depth. To do the hotel justice I plan on going back and really getting into the nooks and crannies. I will tell you this: I like the location. The view of the Las Vegas valley and surrounding hills is one of my favorites. The design of the hotel has a kind of classic 80’s feel with a kind of updated twist that gives it an incredibly open feel that lets in a whole lot of light. The view from the lobby out to the pool is incomparable. And the terrace off of the bar makes equally good use of this feature. And I did have a bite in the café. The quality of the food is there. Suffice it to say I’m really looking forward to my next post on this 400 room destine to be a success of a hotel and casino.

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