Finally free from the shackles of the recession, Las Vegas hit the reboot button in 2014 with construction restarts, restaurant openings, room renovations and property debuts. This year's Best Bets pay tribute to the new, renewed and legacy products that stood out from the pack.
Best-Kept Secret on the Strip: Vdara Hotel & Spa
Although the range of accommodations on the Strip runs deep and wide, the majority of those rooms lie within crowded casino megaresorts that can be a challenge to navigate. Guests looking for a more intimate, nongaming, nonsmoking alternative need look no further than Vdara, tucked into the northwest quadrant of MGM Resorts International's massive CityCenter complex. This 1,495-suite, standalone tower, offering modern elegance amid a low-key atmosphere, provides luxurious accommodation in large, residential-style, kitchen-equipped units. And with every guestroom door no more than three minutes away from the hotel's front entrance, coming "home" never felt so sweet. Visit www.vdara.com.
Best All-Around Performer: Frankie Moreno at the Stratosphere
Vegas headliners come and go, with talent, surprisingly, not always a requirement for longevity. Frankie Moreno's act at the Stratosphere, however, packs the power of multiple performers into one impressive package. Endowed with good looks and charisma, Moreno is a talented musician, songwriter and singer. Complemented by a tight backup band, the show, offered Wednesdays to Saturdays, is not only one of the best values in the city, it's one of the best shows. Tickets start at $19.99 plus tax for Stratosphere hotel guests, $39.99 for nonguests. Contact www.stratospherehotel.com.
Best Comeback Story: Palms Casino Resort
When the Palms opened in 2001, its coolness quotient was on par with the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, drawing Hollywood A-listers and pop music celebs to its trendy Ghostbar, fantasy suites and wild pool parties. But the recession and related financial problems took a toll as the property's physical and figurative status waned. Now, at the culmination of a $50 million top-to-bottom refresh, the Palms is back. A sexy room makeover in the Ivory Tower, trendy new restaurants, the popular Ditch Fridays pool party and other renovations have returned the Palms to relevance. Visit www.palms.com.
Best Tribute Show: Legends in Concert at the Flamingo Las Vegas
A few years back, as celebrity impressionists remarketed themselves as "tribute artists" in a successful bid to gain legitimacy, the 30-year-old Legends in Concert show had already begun its evolution into an elaborate production. Although the five tribute acts rotate, "Elvis" and "Michael Jackson" are mainstays and offer faithful renditions of the original stars. But it's the impressive production values, featuring dancers, costumes and sets appropriate to each act, that put this show over the top. Visit www.legendsinconcert.com/las-vegas.
Best Hideaway on the Strip: Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace Las Vegas
When Caesars teamed up with Japanese uber-chef Nobu Matsuhisha, actor/partner Robert De Niro and architect David Rockwell to transform and rebrand the property's legacy Centurion Tower last year, creative juices flowed. Now, in the midst of the property's bustling casino, the chic and understated entry to the Nobu Hotel is not merely a gateway to a unique hotel-within-a-hotel but a portal to another experience. As guests reach the intimate second-floor lounge, they experience a level of serenity and privacy unimaginable only one floor below. Asian-themed room accents and upscale amenities enhance the soothing accommodations in the Nobu Hotel's 181 rooms and suites. Contact www.nobucaesarspalace.com.
Best New Restaurant: Crush at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
In a never-ending quest to keep up with food trends and evolving tastes, casino-resorts here have tasked their restaurateurs with delivering interesting dining concepts to clientele with increasingly sophisticated palates. At Crush, chef William DeMarco has crafted innovative and complex small plates whose ingredients mesh harmoniously, thus befitting the eatery's tagline: Eat, drink, love. His Sea Scallop Benny, topped with a quail egg, is a perfect blend of quality and presentation that typifies the impressive menu. Visit www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/crush.aspx.
Best Adult Pool: Bare Pool Lounge at the Mirage
Since dayclubs turned once-sleepy Vegas hotel pools into revenue-producing titans, their prominence has grown exponentially, as has their raison d'etre. It's all about the continuation of the nightclub ethos into the day — with a lot less clothing — drawing partygoers who spend freely on cover charges, food and beverage and cabana rentals. Sheer hedonistic pleasures await at Bare Pool Lounge, the topless pool scene at the Mirage. Monday is Industry Day, when local hospitality workers strut their stuff, making the rest of us pale (figuratively and literally) in comparison. See www.barepoollv.com.
Best Bang for the Buck: FAME at the Linq
The debut of the Linq outdoor shopping/dining/entertainment district this past spring made waves with its spectacular High Roller observation wheel. But it was FAME (an acronym for Food, Art, Music and Entertainment) that also drew me in. Inside the whimsically decorated dining bazaar, guests are treated to street food culled from the best of Asia's night markets. But the real kicker here is the price point: $10 to $15 a head, which is a bargain for a quality meal, center-Strip. Visit www.caesars.com/thelinq/restaurants/fame.html.
Best Close-Up Magic: Murray Celebrity Magician at the Tropicana Las Vegas
Magic fans wax nostalgic about great magicians pulling off seemingly impossible, large-scale illusions. But experts have a reverence for the intricate maneuvers and deft sleight-of-hand that defines "close-up magic." Big Las Vegas showrooms are the place for the former, but the latter can only be found in a few intimate club spaces. Comedy magician Murray SawChuck and his sidekick Lefty do amazing close-up tricks that take years to master and are no less thrilling than making showgirls disappear. His afternoon show at the Tropicana's Laugh Factory is rounded out with some impressive illusions and funny shtick. Visit www.murraymagic.com.
Best Happy Hour Experience: Happy Half Hour on the High Roller
Caesars Entertainment's High Roller is the world's tallest observation wheel and the anchor attraction for its Linq promenade; that's certainly no surprise. But the Happy Half Hour promotion is an only-in-Vegas twist I never saw coming. For $29.95 (afternoon)/$39.95(night), guests enjoy a 30-minute ride with an in-cabin open bar to deliver a happy hour experience that's tough to top. Visit www.caesars.com/thelinq.
David Yeskel has been producing an annual "Las Vegas' Best Bets" for Travel Weekly since 2003.