TRIP REPORT: Las Vegas Nights with Katie & Joe

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

Katie Pesznecker (pictured, above, with husband Joe Niva) is a regular contributor here at the Alaska Travelgram…and she’s really picking up the pace with another report from the sidelines of the Las Vegas Formula 1 races! Whether in Portland, Portugal, London or Las Vegas, Katie offers travelers some great tips on what to see and do (and EAT!). Here is her report. –Scott

Just when I thought Vegas couldn’t get any crazier, we arrived during the final night of the inaugural Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix. We landed on a Saturday just hours before major roads shut down, and our hotel, Planet Hollywood, became one of many trapped within the race track itself. The temporary street circuit was devised just for this event and the racers took to the route at night, screaming down Las Vegas Boulevard. 

Las Vegas Boulevard shut down and eerily quiet in advance of the F1 race.  Photos by Katie Pesznecker

To prep for the race, crews repaved roads, built temporary bridges and roadways to circumvent the track area, and erected bleachers and grandstands that obscured familiar sites like casino facades and the Bellagio Fountain (which was turned off all of race week, anyway). This was a very exciting time to be in Sin City. F1 fans heavy on European accents flooded casinos, snazzy in matching logo racer jackets and caps.

A view of the track from outside our hotel.

We aren’t F1 fans, so it is slightly ironic we arrived when we did. Plenty of friends have asked about our F1 experience and what we were able to see and do without being ticket holders. Honestly, just being adjacent to the action was pretty thrilling. If you stepped outside during the race, you could glimpse sleek cars tearing past – loud enough, too, that we could hear them from inside our 26th floor room. We could also see the race from our room, just a glimpse of cars peeling around a bend in the track at lightning speed. Nearly every TV screen in the casino area broadcast the race live. 

Husband Joe catches the race action – from inside Planet Hollywood. 

Given potential F1-related logistical challenges, we kept our first night in Vegas casual and close to home, and headed across the footbridge over Hollywood Boulevard to the Cosmopolitan and its awesome food hall. This is a great stop for groups, cost-saving, and variety, with multiple food stalls representing some of the country’s more popular fast-casual restaurants. We dove right in with a plate of Hattie B’s Nashville Hot Chicken tenders, and sides of slaw and mac and cheese. 

Hattie B’s doesn’t disappoint!

Next stop: a speakeasy! Cosmo boasts several thematic speakeasies on its property but this was a new one for us. Called Ski Lodge, you enter through a nondescript door that’s only marking is a small bronze square with a skier emblem. Inside, you are transported to a total après ski experience – wood paneling, a roaring (fake) fire, cozy furnishings, and at this time of year, flocked wreaths, a bedecked tree, and other holiday ornaments. 

Inside Ski Lodge. 

Servers and bartenders wore accessories like goggles, and full snow suits. Revelers took shots from a shotski –a ski with several shot glasses affixed to it for a group-drinking experience. The impressive cocktail menu went all in on theme too: I had a milk and cookie martini served with a warm chocolate chip cookie; Joe ordered Slava’s Snowstorm, which was a tantalizing sensory experience with one layer of icy cool liquid topped with a hot tasty foam. 

Cheers at the Ski Lodge!

The best part, by far, was Ski Lodge’s “view.” From your bar stool, enjoy the giant window over the bar that shows a dreamy, pristine winter forest, laden in meringue snow, with flakes drifting slowly down. That’s Vegas magic for you. Ski Lodge opens daily at 5 p.m. and also serves pizza.  

The winter wonderland view at Ski Lodge. 

Also on the menu this trip was a stop at Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel and Casino. This French cafe has all the Parisian vibes, from Art Nouveau influences, stained glass accent windows, chairs with woven backrests, and the warm baguettes served in paper bags. I sipped a kir royale and enjoyed French onion soup, a true comfort classic. We also split steak frites – a perfect medium rare steak and shoestring fries.


Mon Ami Gabi 

Speaking of comfort, I invested in self care this Vegas trip. I enjoyed a 30-minute massage at a walk-in massage place in the Miracle Mile Shops, the comprehensive mall connected to Planet Hollywood. The next day, I hit up Reflections, the spa at our hotel. When you book a service (I chose a 50-minute Swedish massage), you can also enjoy the spa area, and did I ever. Between the hot tub, steam room, and dry sauna, I left that experience feeling utterly Zenned out. 

The hot tub at the Planet Hollywood spa in the women-only area.  

 The spa had an abundance of soft places to sit or recline, a slew of tea, coffee, and water, and every kind of toiletry one would need to primp and refresh after a spa day. From there, I headed to Dry Bar at Cosmopolitan for a blowout, and left feeling pampered and pretty. 

Good hair day after a trip to Dry Bar!  

Nothing completes a day of self care like an amazing burger, so we made our way that night to Gordon Ramsay Burger, also conveniently locate in Planet Hollywood. This place usually has quite the queue, for good reason. While there are plenty of options here, including food other than burgers, we stuck to the simple and delicious Backyard Burger, with American cheese, butter lettuce, red onion, tomato and pickles. 

Burger time! 

My favorite dining experience this Vegas trip was Javier’s. This modern and trendy restaurant just off Aria’s casino floor features high-end Mexican cuisine, tableside guacamole, and delicious margaritas. It was our first visit here and won’t be our last.

Joe and Jack strike a pose outside Javier’s. 

I selected the Pollo Josefina, a bone-in airline chicken breast with a creamy poblano cream sauce, teeny tiny mushrooms and fluffy white rice. Our friend Jack’s Main lobster enchiladas were buttery and decadent, topped with tomatillo sauce. The guac was possibly the best I ever had, and they were quick to replenish chips and salsa. Service, overall, was exceptional, and from our half-moon booth we had an entertaining view of the bustling bar area and the casino floor beyond. 

My delicious chicken dish at Javier’s. 

There are trips we make as travelers because there’s comfort in returning to the unchanging familiar. Vegas is the opposition to that, a dynamic city that never serves up the same vacation twice, and that’s truly one of the best things about it. 

Joe and Jack playing the night away. 

There are always new games to play, acts to watch, restaurants to try, and sights to see – F1 races, hidden speakeasies, and undiscovered delights. It really does offer something for everyone, and I look forward already to our next visit and what new experiences await. 

Striking a pose while searching for Ski Lodge.

Share this Post