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WEEKEND ESCAPE: LAS VEGAS

Faulty Towers

The new Venetian glitters, but service causes that sinking feeling

July 25, 1999|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — When Cassie, our college freshman, came home for the summer, she was ready for a Vegas fix. She's a Vegas veteran, dating back to her first arcade game at Circus Circus as a 5-year-old. Now, at 18, she loves the shopping, the pools, the restaurants and the shows.

From among several recently opened resorts, including the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay, we opted for the 3,036-room Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, which opened in early May as the Strip's newest shrine to self-indulgence. The Venice, Italy-themed resort was built for $1.5 billion by entrepreneur Sheldon Adelson to compete at the high end against Steve Wynn's Bellagio and Mirage resorts.

On many counts, Adelson's Venetian can hold its own. But our weekend also betrayed it as still wet behind the colonnades.

Weekend rates are the biggest wild card in Las Vegas and can vary dramatically, depending on whether the town is filled with conventioneers or prizefight fans. We reserved a suite--the smallest rooms come at the Venetian--for $224 per night, which included a $35 nightly surcharge for Cassie. It may have been the most expensive "standard room" in Vegas that weekend, but clearly the Venetian felt it could command such prices; the reservations clerk said the hotel was "110% booked."

We pulled our car into the Venetian's driveway at 2:55 p.m. on a Friday two weeks ago. We weren't in our room until 3:45. Delaying us were painfully disorganized valet jocks and a reservations clerk who would have overcharged us if I hadn't caught her.

But what a handsome suite it was, dressed in royal blues, golds and butter-cream yellows with a king-size bed and a sunken living area with a fold-out sofa, chairs and tables. The room had two TVs, three phones, a mini-bar and a computer printer/fax/photocopier machine. The marble tile bathroom was more than spacious, with amenities appropriate for a place this pricey.

The 11th-floor room might have been flawless had it not been for huge drips of paint on the outside of the window.

Indoors, the Venice-inspired ambience--with marble-tiled floors and painted ceilings--succeeds as well as most of Las Vegas' themed resorts, but didn't seem as genuine as the Bellagio's opulent decor. Sadly, some of the upscale restaurants are situated along a large, antiseptic hallway to a convention center.

Outside, the Venetian was too static and too close to the Strip (with the Mirage's volcano erupting and Treasure Island's pirates battling right across the street) to effectively transport us to Venice. Distracting, too, was the scaffolding alongside a still-unfinished building housing Madame Tussaud's wax museum and Sephora, a chic perfume and cosmetics store. And while the faux Doge's Palace is photogenic, the singing gondoliers could not be heard over the traffic noise. Put wireless mikes on them!

Where to dine presented a problem. Two of the hotel's most upscale restaurants had not yet opened. Among the others, the bellhop said the buzz favored Delmonico, an a la carte steakhouse. It was already booked solid on Saturday but could take us Friday.

The restaurant--done in a modern-minimalist sort of way--was comfortably loud. The food was spectacular. Jeanne and Cassie started with the Caesar salad-for-two, its dressing prepared from scratch at the table. I selected a salad of greens, grilled chicken, sweet corn and caramelized onions. For main courses, Cassie chose a New York steak; Jeanne, rack of lamb encrusted in a Creole mustard. I succumbed to the daily entree special, a black pepper-grilled rib eye flanked by trout-and-mushroom potato hash and crispy onion strings.

Service was troublesome, however. Our waters and iced teas were mostly neglected, and our waiter did not come back to check on our satisfaction until we were nearly done with our meals.

The kicker: We asked that Cassie's unfinished steak be wrapped up, and the next day, we were staring at someone else's mashed potatoes. Hope they enjoyed our steak. . . .

Picking out Friday night entertainment was a thoughtful exercise. The Venetian's showroom (soon to feature an impersonator) had not yet opened. We decided that Cassie was now old enough to view a slice of Vegas that seems threatened in this increasingly G-rated town: the classic topless-showgirl production.

We went to the 10:30 p.m. show of Jubilee! at Bally's. Theater seats, no drinks, run $55 each. Wife and daughter found the show "lame."

We all slept well; Cassie said her pull-out bed was surprisingly comfortable and, indeed, when I lay on it, I felt none of the support bars that have tortured me elsewhere.

Saturday morning, Cassie and I grabbed bagels in the food court and then headed for the two rooftop pools. They were big and wet but lacked the cooling landscaping of the Mirage, Bellagio and other casino resorts.

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