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The Ersatz City of Lights, a Brasserie and Sleight of Hand

Ed Rampell: Most of the deftly executed procedures left members of the aud scratching their noggins and wondering; “Hmm, how the heck did he do that?”
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Ersatz City of Lights

Reynold Alexander with his​ levitating assistant. ​Alexander is appearing at ​​the Casablanca Theater at ​​The Conquistador Hotel in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

Part II: Travel to Las Vegas

In Part I of my two-part travel series on Las Vegas I wrote about experiencing Cirque du Soleil��s fab Fab Four show LOVE The Beatles. Here I write about an enjoyable place to stay, a great restaurant, an amusing magic act and more.

Abracadabra!

I’m not an expert on magicians (although Houdini was my childhood hero), and Reynold Alexander’s show at the Clarion Hotel and Casino is one of the few I’ve ever seen in person. Much of the bearded Alexander’s act consisted of a variety of card tricks, levitations, disappearances and reappearances. Of course, there is the obligatory, always crowd pleasing (and mystifying) sawing of the attractive ladies in half, too. Most of the deftly executed procedures left members of the aud scratching their noggins and wondering; “Hmm, how the heck did he do that?” The show also included the use of shadows, which reminded me of Indonesian “Wayang Kulit”, or shadow puppets, and taped music, including Scott Joplin pieces.

As Alexander the Great hails from Puerto Rico his performance has a Hispanic flair. In addition to his two attractive female assistants who happily submitted to being vanished, banished and sliced and diced in various boxes, Alexander’s ragtime band included lots of comic relief. This came in the form of the corpulent Hansel, who opened wearing a white jacket and bowtie and black shirt and slacks, and humorously explained his trickery, such as pouring milk into a rolled up newspaper. Throughout the hour-or-so-long performance, just for gags a clownish caricature of Latino dancers burst onstage to “disrupt” the proceedings with a rather droll spoof (or perhaps homage to?) the type of goofy hoofer one might see in Hispanic variety shows.

Alexander’s routine ended on a touching, personal note that I’ve not seen elsewhere, wherein to mark the time we’d spent together the illusionist used sand to illustrate the nature of the passage of time. It was well done and moving. Since enjoying Alexander’s combination magic and comedy last June he has pulled a disappearing act and is no longer appearing at the Clarion. However, when he and his team rematerialize Reynold Alexander and company are an entertaining, amusing and less expensive option to Vegas’ more high end abracadabra acts.

Ersatz City of Lights

Paris Las Vegas: The City of Lights in Sin City

I just watched Diamonds Are Forever on cable TV, and this was the first time since this James Bond flick was released in 1971 that I had seen it since. An interesting aspect of Diamonds is that much of this last installment of Sean Connery in the Broccoli-Saltzman 007 franchise is its location shooting in Las Vegas. This seemed to be shot before the construction of the Strip, and those themed resorts. I stayed in one of the latter, the Paris Las Vegas, which is, obviously, modeled on the fabled City of Lights

Ersatz City of Lights

The sprawling, labyrinthine, cobblestoned walkways, hallways and lobby have a faux French flair. For example, cafés offer baguettes and brioches, crystal chandeliers hang above the main lobby where guests check-in, plus the Baroque-style architecture all enhance the Gallic ambiance. As does the blue, yellow and red hot air balloon structure bearing the “Paris” sign facing the Strip, which is illumined at night and was inspired by the Aerostat Réveillon, the balloon used in a September 19, 1783 demonstration for King Louis XVI in Paris by the Montgolfier brothers, for the first lighter than air flight.

Of course, the hotel’s Francophile pièce de résistance is its reconstruction of Paris’ most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower. At 460 feet tall, the Las Vegas replica is half the size of its Parisian counterpart. The reason for this half-size scale is that the Paris Las Vegas is located too close to McCarran International Airport, so zoning and safety issues forbade building a 986 foot structure. This despite the fact that it, too, is lit up at night, making it one of the Strip’s most recognizable sights since fireworks were shot from it on Sept. 1, 1999, when French actress Catherine Deneuve performed the honors and with the flip of a switch illuminated the imitation City of Lights.

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It’s well worth a visitor’s time and money to buy a ticket to ascend the Paris LV Eiffel Tower on a sunny day (of which there are beaucoup in the Nevada desert) and/or at night, when the Strip is ablaze with neon, offering an entirely different fiery vista. In daylight the sumptuous, resplendent views stretch beyond Sin City’s limits to the mountains and deserts afar. For newcomers to Las Vegas, these panoramic scenes can help orient tourists to a cityscape that is often ajar with a profusion of crowds on sidewalks and traffic clogging the Strip and other streets. The views from on high offer different perspectives from ground level perceptions, providing a visual sense of place.

My room at Paris LV was spacious and comfortable with a large window facing away from the Strip (a room with a view of this stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard is more expensive). Paris LV’s two-acre, outdoor pool is gigantic, although there is little shade for much of the time during those long, sunny Nevada summer days. (Tip: It’s shadier if you take repose on a lounge chair near the base of the Eiffel Tower.) Nevertheless, I had fun frolicking and hanging out poolside with my longtime friend comic Tamayo Otsuki, that delightfully kooky kabuki player. Like a desert oasis, the pool cooled things off, as did the liquid refreshment provided by a poolside bar and bikini-clad waitresses.

Le Burger Brasserie: Gourmet Gluttony on the Bounty

One of Paris Las Vegas’ various restaurants is the wood paneled Le Burger Brasserie, which its passionate General Manager Jason Rinta described to me as being where “food fanatic meets sports fanatic.” Indeed, in addition to its many flat screen TVs, where fans watched the World Cup live during the soccer championship matches, as well as other sporting events, such as good ol’ baseball games, the classy yet reasonably priced Le Burger Brasserie’s cuisine tickles and entices foodies’ taste buds.

Ersatz City of Lights

Playing off of the triple seven combination that spells luck for gamblers (it is Vegas, after all!), at the high end of the sports grille’s menu is a $777 (per person) dining experience that includes a half pound Kobe steak, lobster tail, foie gras, Dom Pérignon champagne and more. Needless to say your struggling scribe ordered other dishes. To drink I had a nonalcoholic Daryl Strawberry Mint Lemonade minus the vodka, consisting of minty, club soda, strawberry, lemonade and perhaps lime, which not only cooled me off like a dip in Paris LV’s pool, but refreshed my palate. Guided by our knowledgeable, good natured waitress Allison, who was tattooed with a musical motif, we ordered a somewhat spicy, very creamy concoction, Buffalo chicken dip with Point Reyes cheese and pretzels for dipping and bread (baking is done daily on Paris LV’s property) for swiping. This was followed by a Pazanella salad composed, like a salad symphony, with bibb lettuce, artichokes, fresh mozzarella, pesto, vinaigrette and toast.

To tell you the truth this would have sufficed for supper, but as it is Le Burger Brasserie -- and the eatery does boast that it serves Vegas’ best burgers -- for my entrée I devoured a delicious, gourmet veggie burger with Portobello mushrooms and French (well, it IS the Paris!) fries. To help wash all this down we ordered a cereal inspired drink, a Captain & Crunch milkshake, which combines the breakfast cereal with vanilla ice cream and Captain Morgan rum. It was an interesting mélange, but after a sip, let’s just say that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

As if all this wasn’t enough, for dessert we indulged in S’mores Cheesecake, with toasted marshmallow ice cream, graham crackers, and various chocolates. It was a fitting grand finale for our gluttony, a not-so-deadly sin in Sin City, which we thoroughly enjoyed, along with Allison’s always attentive service. GM Rinta, who has worked in Las Vegas for eight years, explained how he’s trying to put his stamp on Le Burger Brasserie: “I try to be innovative. I launched a new menu in March [2014]. Before then it was more French-themed; now it’s more a la carte and fresh.”

Aside from the throngs and traffic (here’s a tip on beating the crowds -- when departing Paris LV’s garage, instead of turning right and driving into the maelstrom on the Strip, turn left instead and navigate down side and back streets), I enjoyed visiting Las Vegas, with its shows ranging from Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE to the magical Reynold Alexander, and staying and dining at Paris Las Vegas and Le Burger Brasserie. However, if you really want to get a sense of what the real (and not the ersatz) Paris is like, the next time you hit the jackpot run straight down to McCarran International Airport and book a flight to alight at France’s exquisite City of Lights.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based journalist and reviewer Ed Rampell co-authored "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book" (see:http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/).