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New York in Sin City: How the Big Apple's latest imports stack up
The scene at Brooklyn Bowl was a familiar one: Clips of "Soul Train" were shown on multiple screens around the venue, The Roots had just finished performing with Elvis Costello, revelers were sticking around to dance and the bowling lanes were busier than one would expect for a Saturday night at midnight.
But with the "High Roller," a 550-foot-tall observation wheel, to the right of the Bowl, the drunken debauchery of O'Sheas Casino to the left and, on a March night at the tail end of one of the snowiest winters in history, not a jacket in sight, this party wasn't going down anywhere near Williamsburg.
Brooklyn Bowl is the latest in a long line of New York imports in Las Vegas, a city that has, quite frankly, never quite gotten the Big Apple right. Its previous major attempt, the nearly 20-year-old New York New York Casino, imagined a Manhattan-exclusive city with cartoonish skyscrapers and a roller coaster. But over the past few years, Sin City has partnered up with New York steakhouses, Italian restaurants and entertainment venues to establish outposts in the Nevada desert.
"When I think about New York, I think about excellence," said Jeffrey Frederick, the vice president of food and beverage at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. "So when we think of Vegas, and the world coming to us as their playground, getting the best and the brightest and the most innovative restaurants, we often look to New York for inspiration and partnerships."
Still, viewing the Big Apple through the funhouse mirror that is Las Vegas takes some adjustment. Traditionally, New York has been represented by skyscrapers, brick walls and dark corners (as if the desert designers believe that Manhattan's high-rises are actually tall enough to blot out the sun). And from a design aspect, it's still true. The Las Vegas version of Rao's, at Caesars Palace, is its own enclosed brick enclave in the midst of an otherwise open space. A few corridors away, Chelsea favorite The Old Homestead Steakhouse sits across from Nobu, with lighting low enough in spots that it can be difficult to tell the difference between the filet mignon and the bay scallops by sight.
Both restaurants take on the spirit of home in different ways, though. Rao's still has a wall of celebrity-signed 8x10s, featuring New York greats of stage, screen and/or baseball diamond. Old Homestead, meanwhile, trades its wood-lined walls and red banquettes for a more industrial theme, with reproductions of steel beams lining the ceiling and filament bulbs providing a faint glow. In fact, many of the brands that have best adjusted to Las Vegas have been restaurants.
Serendipity 3's frozen hot chocolate is now a must-have on a Vegas triple-digit-degree day, while the Sin City version of Mesa Grill keeps the name alive in the wake of the original's closure.
STK has been an important part of the dining scene at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, as well.
"Vegas and New York are both great foodie towns," Frederick said.
But the newest and flashiest import is Brooklyn Bowl, which has set up shop in the Strip's newest and flashiest outdoor gaming and shopping center, The Linq. Equipped with 32 lanes of bowling and a 2,000-person capacity performance space, the Las Vegas version is larger than its Williamsburg older brother. The second level of the concert venue also features a very Vegas-style VIP area. But the little details are still in place, including the Blue Ribbon fried chicken and Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap.
And, this being Vegas, there are still brick walls and dark corners here, too.