Travel Guyd: Las Vegas’s Big Gay Gamble

David Toussaint
Authored by
David Toussaint
New York Guyd/Features Writer
February 23, 2012
5:31 p.m.

There’s a multi-colored strip, there’s multiple men stripping, there’s lots of guys in heavy makeup and wigs who’ll happily swivel their hips for you as you pass them on the street. There’s also Elton, Celine, and, recently, Cher and Bette. It’s not like Las Vegas just turned gay; it’s more like it’s finally coming out.

While it might seem like an oxymoron to “gay-up” Nevada’s desert oasis, the people behind the glittered curtains are doing their darnedest. Gay tourists are being courted faster than a topless dancer after a breast enhancement, and the result is a delicious mixture of glamour and sophistication, backdropped by slot machines, high-tech hotels, and more fun than a barrel of jock strapped go-go boys. Many of the hotels have LGBT club nights and pool parties, and even the most established resorts offer commitment ceremonies and packages geared for the gay traveler. Wynn and Encore both have “Pride” concierges. Check out www.VisitLasVegas.com for a terrific gay guide. 

If you’ve been to Las Vegas in the past 20 years you know about the hetero face-lift. Gambling is everywhere, still, but much of the seedy factor has been replaced by theme hotels and casinos, “O” so many Cirque Du Soleil productions, and enough great food spots that you could skip the slots altogether and eat your way through town. Thank the Good God Charo that the new hotels have terrific gyms. 

Gay-wise, the resorts, big and small, are now expecting you (when I enquired about the homo-friendliness of Caesars Palace, a representative said, “Hello, Celine is here. Gays are all over the place”). And even Hooters has an all-male review! I opted to forego the couple of spots that are gay-specific, and booked rooms at two very different resorts—Paris Las Vegas and Tropicana Las Vegas—neither one of which gave me a credit card hangover. While the city itself is quite expensive, the hotels are affordable enough to make you thrilled to be waking up in Vegas. 

Paris Las Vegas is decked out like the City of Lights, complete with an impressive (half-scale) Eiffel Tower that gives you a panoramic view of the city. Underneath, the Eiffel Tower Restaurant overlooks those famous Bellagio fountains across the street, and is one of the smartest places to stop for a cocktail (judging by the Bloody Mary’s served at outside restaurants, Happy Hour in Vegas is a state of mind). Rooms are simple, dark, and sleek—no frou-frou here. Ask for a room above the 20thfloor—the lights of the Strip will thrill even a sober mind. And don’t believe what you see in the movies: I heard not a peep from other patrons during my stay.

Paris is burning red: A Sumptuous Hotel Suite.

Another advantage of Paris Las Vegas is that it’s right next to Caesars, and, perhaps more important for a New Yorker, Serendipity 3; I’d like to think the numeral is an indication of how much bigger the portions are here than at 1 and 2. Arrive hungry, leave fat, and with frozen hot chocolate, natch. But not too fat, cause you need to come back and experience dinner inside the hotel at Payard Patisserie Bistro. (Hint: Do like I did and play dumb—the chef might mix you up his own favorite, amazing dish.) Now walk it off by checking out the gazillion shops and—hoity-toity much?—art gallery at Bellagio. 

While you’re in the area, get tickets for “Jubilee!” at Bally’s. It’s the oldest, most traditional topless extravaganza in Vegas, and so unintentionally gay by new millennium standards that Liberace would be kicked out for being too butch. The showgirls act out the Titanic disaster, in headdresses and exposed nipples—talk about exposure! For deliberately gay theater, hit “Divas Las Vegas” at the Imperial Palace. Frank Marino’s been headlining this act for ages, and it’s worth every penny to see drag performer Kenneth Black do a Madonna that is so good you’ll think the Material Matriarch stopped by to rehearse a few new numbers. 

Tropicana Las Vegas, also on the strip, just got a hefty, 180 million dollar renovation and the result is the hottest thing north of Miam-uh. There’s no hard-core theme here, just class, with warm-colored beach-hued suites with plantation shutters that overlook the New York-New York Hotel & Casino across the way—oh, don’t miss that roller coaster; it does a loop and a corkscrew and it’s built inside the hotel’s grounds. Even this jaded, Coney Island-loving Cyclone rider was impressed.

Caribbean Chic: A Suite in Tropicana Las Vegas.

Tropicana Las Vegas has a sophisticated, South Beach vibe, with great restaurants, including the casual, save-your-money-for-roulette Bacio by Carla Pellegrino. Yep, she’ll come out and say hi if you play your, er, cards right. The resort’s sprawling, goes-on-for-years lot is home to spanking-new (I never understood just how apropos that expression could be) Nikki Beach, where waterfalls and open beds and cabanas are perfect for the Memorial Day White Party, May 26—the official Grand Opening. 

Gay bars are dotted all around Vegas (those show-boys have to unwind somewhere), and the action starts awfully late—I hit one bar a little after 10 and not a soul was there. Nicknamed the Fruit Loop, there’s a slew of bars just off the strip, Piranha getting the most raves from people I talked to—and yes, the cabdrivers know how to get there. Krave is the only gay bar on The Strip, and tends to attract tourists and pretty men too good to go home with anyone but themselves. But enough about me. 

You didn’t hit Las Vegas just to gay-up your own travel itinerary; opt for a different slice of lifestyle and take the local bus or a taxi to Fremont, right past the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, the only gay-owned and operated chapel in town. Seediness and sassy cocktail waitresses proudly live on in this original Vegas Mecca, home to the Golden Nugget and scenes from Viva Las Vegas and Vega$. The “strip” is enclosed, and goes full-wattage spectacular after dark. This is probably not the smartest place for hand-holding, but you’ll feel the ghosts of Vegas past as you hit the cheap slots and cheaper booze. 

When all is said and done, head back to town and take in another show. I suggest Chippendales, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Once geared only for chicks, the guys now happily bump and grind it for the gents in the crowd. Go with your beau, and they’ll even put a spotlight on you and wish you happy birthday, engagement, or marriage. Be sure to say hello to the boys afterward. You’ll be sitting in the lap of luxury … I should know. yes

In case you’re confused, I’m the one in the hat.

Las Vegas QPF: Queer Protection Factor

While I saw many gay men and women along The Strip, I never noticed hand-holding or public displays of gay affection. I’d be cautious, too, as, like many a big city, the area does have its share of homeless folks and seedy types. (Vegas, for all its theme-park dazzle, is not Disney.) Inside the resorts, be yourself. And, like Manhattan, go see a show and the crowd is “family” friendly. When in doubt about the homo-sphere of any attraction or spot, ask the concierge. They know you’re here.

–D.T.

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