Las Vegas boasts a long and sordid history chock full of vice, broken dreams and guilty pleasures, all of which I've experienced in many years of covering the city. Alas, since only the latter category can be suitably detailed in this newspaper, I'm willing to share some of my favorite Vegas guilty pleasures with the aim of helping others feel good about being bad.
• Venturing into the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower's gritty, low-rise neighborhood, dotted with quickie wedding chapels and even quicker motels, one easily appreciates the enormity of this towering skyscraper.
The recent redo at the north Strip landmark, however, aims to draw us back in for something more than sheer spectacle: luxury. Yes, thanks to the Stratosphere Select initiative, guests in the Select Tower now enjoy upgraded rooms with duvets, flat-screen TVs, better toiletries and a large bathtub, starting at only a $10 differential over the hotel's standard rooms. Visit www.stratospherehotel.com.
• Although Jubilee at Bally's Las Vegas is the last of the old-school, big production shows, smaller topless revues play on the Strip with varying degrees of sexual content. Fantasy at Luxor Las Vegas has morphed over the years with cast changes, music and choreography overhauls and even a name change: previously known as Midnight Fantasy, it actually played at 10:30 p.m.
Its raison d'etre, however, remains unchanged: entertainment for singles and couples looking to put a little edge in their evening. Fantasy's fast-paced, sexy format, featuring a troupe of talented dancers and the powerful vocals of Lorena Peril, hits its mark. Visit www.luxor.com.
• Gluttony might be the most underrated of the seven deadly sins, but it certainly made a play for advancement in Las Vegas when Caesars Entertainment introduced the 24-hour, unlimited Buffet of Buffets pass. For $44.99 (with a free Total Rewards Card; $49.99 without), one can eat at any or all of six buffets at six Caesars Entertainment properties in a 24-hour span. And while quality varies from buffet to buffet, the value-to-cost ratio of this proposition lies heavily in the buyer's favor. Visit www.caesars.com.
• In the pantheon of Elvis tribute acts, Big Elvis isn't hyperbole. You'll have to catch his free act on weekday afternoons, though, at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon (formerly the Barbary Coast). And for those who missed the original, this Elvis' voice may be even better. In the smoky lounge, Big Elvis faithfully belts out the King's hits while seated in a gargantuan, Adirondack-style chair suitably sized to accommodate his massive frame. Visit www.billslasvegas.com.
• While the combination of a campy King Arthur tale and a banquet-style meal that you must eat without utensils doesn't sound like a winner, there is a key redeeming quality to the long-running Tournament of Kings arena show at the medieval-themed Excalibur Hotel & Casino: down 'n' dirty fun. Mix in the references to the Middle Ages -- an era not exactly known for its entertainment quotient -- and you've got a family-friendly, horse-centric morality play, served with dessert. Visit www.excalibur.com.
• When famed chef Michel Richard agreed to helm Central Michel Richard, the new, 24-hour casual American bistro at Caesars Palace, foodies salivated in anticipation of the James Beard award winner's famous pastries.
And while those sinful endings don't disappoint, none achieve the decadent pleasure of Richard's signature lobster burger. Featuring lobster meat bound with shrimp and scallop mousse, this rich sandwich, topped with a thin potato tuile and served on a homemade bun with a little ginger-lemon mayo, is perfection on a plate. Go to www.centrallv.com.
• With a name like Sugar Factory, this operation better be ready to live up to its moniker and deliver on its obvious promise. Known for its celebrity-endorsed couture lollipops, this Las Vegas-based retail candy chain opened its only full-service American Brasserie at Paris Las Vegas in late 2011. Diners top off their meals -- or head directly into sugar shock territory -- with a diverse choice of guilty sweets, including the signature chocolate fondue, made with imported dark, milk or white chocolate and served with six homemade dipping options. Go to www.parislasvegas.com.
• Where else but in Las Vegas could a mob lawyer-turned-mayor retire and then open a freewheeling restaurant-nightclub combo called Oscar's Beef, Booze, Broads? The name itself violates political correctness on multiple levels, but it's a guilty pleasure triple play that fits perfectly with Oscar Goodman's outsize personality.
Located downtown, inside the iconic dome fronting the newly remodeled Plaza Hotel & Casino on Fremont Street, Oscar's aims to offer diners a throwback steakhouse experience in a modern setting.
And then there are the "broads," attractive hostesses-cum-dinner companions who will sit with diners and discuss politics, wine, sports or Las Vegas history. Had this place been around in Las Vegas' formative years, Bugsy Siegel would have been a regular. Visit www.plazahotelcasino.com.