My eyes are bloodshot, and my clothes stained martini red. The walls twirl like a baton before I ascertain that I am in fact, horizontal. It is the morning after the night before, and it feels like I've awoken in a scene from The Hangover, the blockbuster movie about a wild Las Vegas bachelor party. This city packs them all in: hustlers, retirees, workers, college kids, families, foodies, foreigners, brides, grooms and the revellers that precede them - the stags and stagettes.
My group of guys is just one of many stalking the Strip, excusing our excesses, celebrating the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. In Vegas, this life transition is usually ushered in with neon lights, naughty shows, thumping clubs, bars and pool cabanas. Much of it, inevitably, soaked in alcohol.
From the start, we knew our hotel selection is key. We wanted to be on the Strip, but blend some of that old-school Vegas glitz with its modern city flash. This led us to The Tropicana. First opened in 1957, it is featured in The Godfather: Part II, and is where 007 stayed in Diamonds Are Forever. Since The Tropicana has recently undergone a $180-million refurbishment, it a hotel for Vegas past and present. Moreover, the hotel's Paradise Tower penthouse, with a huge hot tub in the centre, screams for epic room parties, served by a one-of-a-kind automated bartender. Invented in Vegas, the Smart Bar mixes 750 perfect pour cocktails and martinis at the push of a button. A robot bartender never judges a late night story, and you don't have to tip him either.
Las Vegas puts on some of the biggest shows on the planet, which provide a welcome break between dinner and the mayhem that follows. Just about every casino presents a Cirque du Soleil show because it appears French Canadian theatrics in the desert are as natural a mix as gin and tonic. Dressed in the loudest garb we could find under $10 at the Value Village back home, we headed off to Zumanity at New York, New York. Cirque's most sexualized show is surprisingly ribald, as a cast of topless and scantily clad contortionists, acrobats, singers and dancers entertain an enthusiastic audience.
Absinthe, a limited-run show at Caesars Palace, takes R-rated cabaret to the next level. In the intimate Spiegeltent, a ringmaster and his potty-mouthed sidekick mock the audience as they introduce jaw-dropping acrobatic acts. A phenomenal roller-skating act just about decapitates those unlucky enough to sit in the front row. Absinthe even pokes fun at Cirque du Soleil, with a satirical act that defies belief. Bachelor parties are no place for Celine Dion and The Osmonds, so it's good to know there are options.
With the thermometer cracking 42 C, chilling out in the afternoon is a physical necessity. But this doesn't mean the party has to stop. Our group takes a scorching stroll over to Caesars Palace's Garden of the Gods, where we sprawl around the pool like models in some decadent Roman-era mosaic. We grab ourselves a cabana, with a bottle of vodka and fresh punch, served in containers of solid ice. Our server is dressed in a white string bikini, and vaguely resembles Britney Spears. The Garden of the Gods lets us cool down and flirt harmlessly with beautiful young women who, for some reason, all seem to come from Toronto.
Our next stop is the much-heralded Marquee Day Club in the new Cosmopolitan. Disappointingly, bouncers with heavy attitude greet us. We want a pool bar, not airport security. So we cab over to the Tropicana Pool, relax under the shade of palm trees, and enjoy some quiet before the storm. Oh wait, someone just ordered another round of shooters.
Dinner is at the appropriately named Strip House in Planet Hollywood. Renowned as one of the best steakhouses in the city, it lives up to its reputation with melt-in-the-mouth appetizers, twice-baked potatoes, homemade jerky, Gorgonzola garlic bread, and spiced filet mignon, chased with a bottle of Malbec. Stomachs decadently lined, we call up Michael Tomes, founder of a company called VegasVIP. They take care of stag party needs, setting up VIP treatment at top clubs, limo and table service, and even personal security in the form of Derrick, a seven-foot giant from Baltimore with a big, easy smile. Michael and Derrick whisk us into the throbbing Chateau Nightclub at Paris, with its outdoor patio facing the strip. A bottle of vodka appears and disappears. Then another. I am escorted out and taken to the city's finest gentlemen clubs, Sapphire and Spearmint Rhino. This is where my notes and memories go fuzzy. I do recall dozens of beautiful, scantily clad girls giving me marriage advice, congratulating me and taking a lot of my friends' money. Then all goes blank, though there is photographic evidence of me sprawled out on the carpet of the Tropicana casino. Please note: I am not condoning this behaviour. For one night of my life, it was merely a role I had to play, in a city designed to be the perfect stage.
Our final night ends at the latest superclub to hit the strip, Tropicana's fantastic Club Nikki. An eclectic crowd heaves to the energetic tunes of a rip-roaring DJ duo called Sex Panther. Bouncers, servers and attendants are good-natured and congratulatory. If you treat people with respect in tip-happy Vegas, it comes right back to you. The DJs and table dancers shower everyone with champagne and glitter - the old Vegas tar and feather. I find myself dancing with my friends, our fists pumping, cameras flashing, all big smiles and bear hugs.
In the end, my Vegas bachelor party was not about steaks and shows, gentlemen clubs and casinos. It was simply an excuse for old friends to tear themselves away from family and work and pretend the world is still the big party of our youthful memories. So if you want to know the real truth about what happens in Vegas, here it is: It's a break from reality, but not reality itself. Back home there's a very real, very beautiful girl waiting for me to tie the knot. Let's just hope I'm over the hangover by the time I walk down the aisle.
Robin Esrock is getting married this weekend, but you can find him online at his blog moderngonzo.com.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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