The Mojave Desert electrifies as the long, hot days of summer set in. Far, far away from reality, in a destination so legendary it’s sinful, Las Vegas springs alive with vibe. June in the city happens like this: hot weather, cold cocktails, leisurely days, wild nights and an all-round great experience.
2012 has been an eventful year for this neon playground, with a crop of new cultural offerings opening up downtown, a short jaunt north of the iconic Las Vegas Strip. As temperatures soar, take a trip back to the days of yore at the recently unveiled National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement, aka The Mob Museum. Curated by the team that developed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, this is the city’s first legit museum – and, ironically, it’s about illegitimate activities.
Meanwhile, get your art fix at CityCenter, which is located just a short walk via a skybridge from Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas. Installations, art and sculpture by some of the most celebrated artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Frank Stella, Maya Lin and Henry Moore, are on display in the public spaces as part of a permanent collection.
Also downtown, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, whose curtain rose for the first time in March, offers a stellar roster of performances, from Broadway musicals to jazz, in an intimate setting. In the Reynolds Hall, from 12 to 17 June, Million Dollar Quartet tells the true story of a recording session that brought together rock’n’roll luminaries Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. At the Cabaret Jazz theatre, catch The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, from 29 to 30 June. This group, named after the famed music venue located in the French Quarter of New Orleans, travels the world, perpetuating the art form of New Orleans jazz, and has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. While on The Smith Center campus, check out the works and installations of Vegas-based artists Tim Bavington, David Ryan and Shawn Hummel.
If you prefer the outdoors (and triple-digit temperatures), spend a day exploring the desert without leaving the city centre. Located 15 minutes from the Strip, the Springs Preserve is a 180-acre attraction dedicated to the pageantry of arid landscaping. Expansive botanical gardens and intriguing exhibit spaces, inside and out, are only two of the reasons to visit. Found-object artist Dave Thompson is a third, as he kicks off the Gardens Art Program with surprising installations in Trash to Treasure, running through to September.
Ready to dance like never before? Spend a night or three at the city’s largest music festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, which runs from 8 to 10 June. Attracting nearly 200,000 dance-music enthusiasts in 2011, this surreal take on the traditional carnival is a fun fest that offers revellers famous DJs, dancing, art installations – and amazing people-watching – from dusk till dawn. In true Vegas form (ie, over the top) the best way to get there is by helicopter. And many of the Strip’s hottest nightclubs will offer special VIP areas with table/bottle packages.
If the palate begs for something more sophisticated than carnival fare, look no further than Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas. Here, at the famed French chef’s first restaurant in the US, enjoy a dinner expertly prepared by newly appointed chef de cuisine Ryuki Kawasaki. After a short walk to the adjacent Aria Resort & Casino, find chef Shawn McClain’s Sage, where the concept of farm-to-table cooking comes alive. McClain works with the Intuitive Forager, Kerry Clasby, to source fruits, flowers, vegetables, eggs and cheeses from California and various farmers’ markets. Finally, for a true taste of old-school Vegas, Piero’s is the name to know. And if you’ve never had a martini in the Monkey Bar, which celebrates 30 years in business, then you have truly never been to Vegas.
Melinda Sheckells, vrated.com
Photography by George Apostolidis