In post-recession Las Vegas, value remains the primary watchword as applied to the daily tourist spend, followed closely by luxury.
Surprisingly, the two aren't always mutually exclusive.
In more than 20 years of writing about this town, I can't recall a time when the intersection of price, quality and value was as favorable to the buyer as it is right now. Thus, visitors looking to maximize their dollar on luxurious accommodations, fine dining and entertainment might be wise to consult this 2012 edition of Las Vegas' Best Bets. Best Gourmet Room With a View: Top of the World (Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower)
For years, the Stratosphere's 106th-floor, rotating Top of the World restaurant was all about the view: The food product never matched up to the spectacular vistas of the Strip and surrounding valley. That all changed when management wisely opted to obtain the services of Claude Gaty, an immensely talented French chef who took over the kitchen in 2009 and completely revamped a tired menu. Since then, Chef Claude has rewarded those making the ascent up the tower with his deft showcase of modern French cuisine touched by Asian influences. His uncomplicated, subtly sauced and beautifully presented dishes are a study in perfection. The moderately priced lunch menu, featuring a subset of the dinner offerings, may be the best-kept secret at this revolving gourmet room. Visit www.topoftheworldlv.com
.Best Luxury Room Value on the Strip: Octavius Tower (Caesars Palace)
Providing further proof that Las Vegas is continuing its recovery from the effects of the 2008-2009 recession, Caesars Palace has opened its long-awaited Octavius Tower, adding 686 rooms and suites to the property's inventory. The exterior was finished in 2008, but the resort's sixth tower sat dormant until its grand opening in January. Reached via a dedicated entrance on Flamingo Road, the boutique hotel-within-a-hotel features richly detailed decor and direct access to the Garden of the Gods pool complex. But it's the luxurious accommodations here that impressed me most. Standard rooms, at a generous 550 square feet, all feature upscale bedding; comfortable furniture, including a table, chairs and sofa; multiple flat-screen TVs; and a media hub. Lavish marble baths are outfitted with twin sinks, a large stall shower with rainfall showerhead and a jetted spa tub that accommodates two. With midweek rates starting as $169, the Octavius Tower room product can certainly be considered an affordable luxury. Contact www.caesarspalace.com
.Best Bang for the Buck: V — The Ultimate Variety Show (Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood)
Independent Vegas producer David Saxe has come a long way since his original, campy Showgirls of Magic played at the old San Remo Hotel (now Hooters Casino Hotel). Saxe now produces 11 shows, playing across two theater complexes, that appeal to a wide range of audiences. But it's V — The Ultimate Variety Show, playing at the V Theater nightly, that's the gem of his collection. Seven fast-paced specialty acts combine to entertain and often amaze us in 75 minutes, including former Strip headliner Melinda, the First Lady of Magic, who weaves her spectacular illusions in the intimate room. It's the Skating Aratas, however, and their death-and physics-defying act, who leave audiences in gape-mouthed awe as they close the show. This production is a good buy at its full price of $69.99 (plus fees), but booking online with promo code TW50 halves that. The TW50 discount may only be applied to bookings made via the show website at VtheShow.com. (Note: Under the current seven-day show schedule, which is subject to change, Melinda is off on Saturdays, and the Aratas do not perform on Mondays.)Best Free Lounge Act: The Sax Man (New York New York Hotel & Casino)
Free lounge entertainment, once ubiquitous in Las Vegas, has in recent years been supplanted by celebrity DJs at ultra-lounges and nightclubs that ultimately generate more revenue per square foot. Happy Hour in the Bar at Times Square, however, is a throwback, graced by the soulful sounds of David Brown, aka the Sax Man. Brown's smooth sax and smoky voice enchant passersby in the casino, while longtime fans return often to enjoy the veteran performer, who is in his element in this intimate locale. The Sax Man performs Sundays through Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Visit www.newyorknewyork.com
.Best Buffet Concept: Wicked Spoon (The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas)
The term "high concept" doesn't typically apply to Vegas buffets, but the Wicked Spoon isn't just another all-you-can-eat affair. Interesting and innovative preparation define the dishes here, typified by gnocchi with lamb ragout; pear and gorgonzola pizza; butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage; and bourbon creamed corn with bacon and caramelized onion.
It's the presentation of these small plates, however, that is not only a feast for the eyes but also serves to keep hot food at its best temperature. Diners enjoy their meals amid an avant garde decor, well-spaced tables and multiple live-action stations that effectively eliminate lines. Contact www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com
.Best Steakhouse on the Strip: Old Homestead Steakhouse (Caesars Palace)
In continually reinvented Las Vegas, the intersection of old and new is a rare phenomenon. The arrival of an outpost of New York's 144-year-old Old Homestead Steakhouse at Caesars Palace joins the two while simultaneously taking steakhouse fare to the next level. Provisions are premium quality, and with novel sides like gnocchi in truffle butter and "duck fat" fries, the meat-and-potatoes regimen held to by much of the competition pales in comparison. Dinner here can get pricey, but service is crisp and attentive and the room, though located in Las Vegas, buzzes with New York energy. For details, click here
.Best Buffet Desserts: The Buffet at Aria (Aria Resort & Casino)
While only a handful of Las Vegas buffets can truly be deemed gourmet, dessert at these feasts often seems like an afterthought. After dining on exotic meats like venison and buffalo, or feasting on Indian tandoor and Mediterranean fare, we expect the final course to be something special. With executive pastry chef Mathieu Lavallee calling the shots, the Buffet at Aria stands above all others, at least where sweets are concerned. Chef Mathieu and his team turn out a sinfully impressive array that includes authentic creme brulee, apricot rugalach and Linzer tea cake. The midweek price of $30.95 is an excellent value proposition. The price notches up $8 on weekends, but so do the offerings, which include Maine lobster, unlimited red and white wine, chocolate truffles and other homemade candies. Visit www.arialasvegas.com/en/dining/restaurants/buffet
.Best Bachelor Party Venue: Sapphire Gentlemen's Club
They don't call it Sin City for nothing. Though rarely mentioned in tourism reports, a major economic engine running on adult entertainment employs thousands while operating just off the Strip. Claiming to be the largest adult entertainment club in the U.S., Sapphire Gentlemen's Club is scaled up appropriately for Las Vegas. The 70,000-square-foot complex, boasting a wine cellar and stadium-like skyboxes, is so busy on weekends that management must import dancers from L.A. to meet demand. On a recent Saturday night visit — for research purposes only, of course — I witnessed over 500 dancers competing for the attention of about 1,500 guests. For a $5-per-person service fee, Sapphire will provide complimentary limo pickup from any Strip hotel and waive the cover charge (typically $30). Visit www.sapphirelasvegas.com
.David Yeskel, armed with two decades of experience writing about Las Vegas, has been producing an annual "Las Vegas' Best Bets" for Travel Weekly since 2003.