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Dealer Has 21

Bill and Jacqueline in Las Vegas: March 28-April 4, 2001

By Bill Walsh

DAY 6 (Monday): Kicking It Up a Notch (Make That 'Bam!')

We wake up a little sad, in that our departure from the Golden Nugget is the beginning of the end of our vacation.

Today we'll be checking in at the Venetian, where I found a nice price. (That nice price was $20 lower the day after I booked our room, but whatever.)

Somehow we still haven't hit the Golden Gate's Bay City Diner, one of our favorite breakfast spots, so that's our morning destination. As usual I get the "1906" -- two eggs any style (over easy) with bacon or sausage (bacon, crisp), hash browns and toast (sourdough). As usual it's very good. Jacqueline is a little restauranted-out by now and gets some cereal -- plus that great sourdough toast. Our luck of the draw on jelly isn't any better than it's been at blackjack, as we're left with the horrid "mixed fruit," the suitable-only-for-peanut-butter grape, and the dull and overcooked regular-issue strawberry.

On the way back to the room I place two more bets at the Nugget sports book: $20 at 12-to-1 on the Washington Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, and $20 at 18-to-1 on Prince Naseem Hamed to knock out Marco Antonio Barrera in the sixth round.

After we gather up our stuff I try to decide whether I can pay for part of the bill using points from Private Arrangement, the Nugget's excellent frequent-guest program. I call the Private Arrangement people and learn I have enough points, but then I remember that they make you use the points starting with your last night and working backward -- and that the Sunday rate was the most reasonable of the whole stay. So I save those points for later, and save us the trouble of checking out in person to redeem those points. Video checkout is one of the greatest inventions of the past decade or so.

Down at the South Tower taxi stand we're perfectly capable of getting into a cab ourselves (we've had enough damn practice on this trip), but the bellhop is persistent and he earns his lousy dollar tip as he hustles our luggage into the trunk and barks our destination -- "Venetian. Venetian. Venetian. Vuh-nee-SHUN!" -- in the driver's ear an inordinate number of times. So we're more than a little surprised several minutes into our ride when the driver casually says, "I assume you're going to the airport . . ." Jacqueline isn't shy about telling the driver just how many times he's been informed of our actual destination. "I thought he was saying 'Attention,'" the driver mumbles. He doesn't deserve the usual tip, but I fork it over anyway.

The Venetian's check-in area is very nice -- and we have plenty of time to take it in, as this is the only check-in line we encounter among our many hotels on this trip. It's not as big as it looks on TV, though, and while I note the fine details I sense a lack of the depth and grandeur of the Bellagio lobby. And I'm not even a Dale Chihuly fan.

The check-in agent is nice and relatively quick, though I'm reasonably sure I'll never hear anyone else utter the question "Jacqueline with a 'J'?" The Venetian takes the "Must walk guests through casino" thing a little far, but once you see the room you'll forgive all that. Much has been made of the biggest-in-the-world size of the Venetian's standard rooms. While these rooms (they're not "suites," no matter what the Venetian folks say) are big, it's probably the detail that is the most striking. The appointments are breathtaking. The living area is a step down from the sleeping area -- nice tough, though that doesn't make it a suite. The entry foyer is an actual entry foyer. The bathroom includes a separate toilet room and separate tub and shower. There are two sinks. Marble is everywhere. There's a minibar. A minibar, in Vegas! There's a free, easy-to-use, laptop-compatible safe. There's plenty of free reading material. There are two TVs.

Our room overlooks a construction site (the Venetian is working on becoming the world's largest hotel), the Casino Royale's motel-style rooms and the Imperial Palace parking garage, among other sites. We check out the pools, which have drawn a goodly number of sunbathers despite a sudden cool snap. The pool area is short on a well-defined layout and long on wasted space; the two pools don't form a harmonious whole like Bellagio's six pools; it's more like two hotels merged and each already had a pool. The more prominent of the two pools features floating garbage accumulating near the filter. Nice.

We also walk into the Canyon Ranch spa. We don't belong there, and we scurry out.

We make a lap around the Grand Canal Shoppes. Most interesting is an art gallery that has devoted an inordinate amount of space to "The Lockhorns." We drop by Delmonico to make sure my memory of a 9:30 p.m. reservation is correct. I could have looked this up, but I also remember hearing about some sort of mandatory "confirmation" policy and I decide this would be a good way to cover that base, just in case. You'd think the hostess could open up that big leather book and simply check, but instead this becomes a 15-minute operation involving a conference call of some sort with the folks upstairs. Finally, we're told that the reservation is indeed for 9:30.

We notice that the Venetian has decided for some reason to make things mighty toasty inside. I decide I'd like a frosty beverage, and we set our long-term sights on the expensive but exquisite frozen bellinis they serve in those wonderful bars on the edges of Bellagio's casino. First -- and on the way -- is the obligatory run-through at the Forum Shops. On the way we notice that the cool snap doesn't seem to be as cool as forecast, and we bravely resist the loudspeaker offering free daiquiris at Casino Royale (I used to love daiquiris, but I'm not 12 anymore). There must be something to my faulty-forecast theory: It's hot as hell inside Caesars, even worse than at the Venetian. Is temperature decided by a board meeting? Don't these places have therm-o-stats? My thirst can't wait, and I decide that Bertolini's might just serve a bellini or two. But wait: On the way to Bertolini's we spy Spago. Certainly they know how to make a bellini. We grab seats at the bar and learn that this bartender does indeed have some opinions on the bellini. He goes on to present a 15-minute lecture on misconceptions about the bellini -- only he happens to be talking not about the bellini but about the kir royale. Only when I puzzledly mention the peach issue does he snap out of it. His bellinis are pretty good, though, even if they aren't frozen.

As we leave the Forum Shops we decide to try our luck at the scene of Jacqueline's greatest blackjack triumph. The table is empty, but before we can buy in a couple of young men sit down and pull out smoking paraphernalia. Boy, does it make them look grown up! Jacqueline considers leaving, but we endure a few hands. "They hit everything -- maybe you can teach them," the dealer says as they hit their 15s and 16s against the dealer's 6 and, of course, take her bust card, allowing her to draw to an improbable 21. What was I saying about other people's bonehead play being irrelevant?

We pick up our chips. Down the way there's a non-smoking table, and we try our luck there. We can breathe but we still can't win, and we each lose $40.

Back to Bellagio. Ahh. Again, the calm, the feeling of well-being. Those red signs on the blackjack tables mean $50, not $5, and so my artificial aura of wealth never has a chance to be pierced by a dealer drawing to 21. This time, when we walk to the wedding chapels, we're able to go in. We haven't spent that much time in these rooms, but they sure do feel intensely familiar. The ballrooms where we held our reception are outfitted for a viewing of the NCAA final. Arizona plays Duke, so my Wildcat bet has a fighting chance.

Jacqueline isn't sure she can hold out till our 9:30 Delmonico reservation, so we duck into Palio, the Bellagio's pastry shop. She gets a muffin and a Diet Coke; I can't resist the British-pub-style meat pies, and I choose veal rather than pork, just to be different. I also get a frozen cafe-mocha concoction. The pie is too salty, but that's one heck of a beverage.

We stop at Tutto, Bellagio's great gift-and-sundries shop, to shop for a memento for the mother of the bride. Jacqueline is ready to buy a change purse and some chocolates when we spy the Bellagio snow globe. This is no little snow globe; it's a music box with a big bubble on top depicting the hotel and the lake. Sold! Jacqueline also sees my anniversary gift and orders me away from the counter as she negotiates shipping. Finally she calls me back and shows me a beautiful framed black-and-white photograph titled "Bellagio at Night." I think we can fit it, and the snow globe, in our luggage, so we have them bubble-wrap the print and I carry it as we make the long walk back to the Venetian.

Back in our palatial room, we relax and luxuriate in it. I soak in the bathtub, which is similar to the ones in Bellagio's standard rooms but lacks the amazing turbo-fill faucet. Because the thing fills so slowly I'm able to gradually raise the water temperature until this is a tub of hotness, though it's still not a hot tub. The towels are pretty darn good.

Jacqueline takes her turn in the thermal bath ("Ouch!"), and then we nap and watch TV ("Judge Judy," "Cops" and other classics, as well as the 17 channels devoted to the various wonders of the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada) until it's time for the basketball game. I'm feeling flush as Arizona gets off to a fast start. Then, suddenly, the officials start to award Duke three points for every basket while Arizona is still getting only two. This hardly seems fair, and it's too much of an obstacle for the boys from Tucson to overcome. As they're going down in flames, the phone rings and Jacqueline answers. Delmonico is having "kitchen difficulties," she's told, and our reservation will have to be canceled. They say they can squeeze us in tomorrow at 6:30. I'm furious, and as we try to figure out whether to go for that 6:30 time slot (that's rather early, we won't be at the Venetian anymore by then, and we're seeing De La Guarda at 9), I finally say, "Take it. We can always screw them the way they screwed us."

Not that I'm a huge basketball fan or all that big on school spirit or out all that much money on my bet, but Arizona's defeat coupled with this mysterious snub from Emeril has pushed me over the edge. I'm in a very foul mood. We decide that Taqueria Canonita, the Mexican place downstairs on the "Grand Canal," might be the path of least resistance, and we're able to get seated there right away. The hostess gives us a great seat overlooking the gondolas, and we have plenty of time to ponder that view as we're then ignored.

Twenty minutes later we're about ready to leave when a waitress appears. We each order taco "platters," which means you get rice and beans for an extra $4 so you don't feel so guilty spending only $6.50 on the tacos. Jacqueline is asked if she wants lettuce, tomatoes and cheese with her tacos al carbon. Of course she does, but that will be an additional 99 cents. "You charge extra for lettuce and tomatoes?" Yeah, sure, whatever. When I'm all ready to acquiesce for some trimmings on my fish tacos, I'm told that won't really be necessary, because of the accompanying pineapple salsa. OK, sorry, whatever. And bring us some of them there margaritas.

The margaritas don't come for a while, but we do get chips and salsa, amazingly, for no additional charge. I'm not sure what it is about these chips that makes them look store-bought, but I've eaten tortilla chips out of a cellophane bag labeled "Tostitos" that had less of a store-bought feel than these do. There's no excuse for a place pretending to be a serious Mexican restaurant to be serving this crap. On the other hand, the accompanying hot sauce packs a surprisingly satisfying wallop.

The margaritas arrive, mine the traditional lime and Jacqueline's strawberry. They sure are big. Are they good? Well, let me say this about that: They sure are big!

Jacqueline's carbon -- uh, beef -- tacos and my fish tacos are dry and tasteless. The $4 beans (black beans, surprisingly) and rice are fine, but I was expecting something a little more rapturous, something along the lines of the $5 milkshake from "Pulp Fiction."

After this unsatisfying experience, it's no surprise that Jacqueline wants dessert. I had mentioned that the Venetian's Grand Lux Cafe was in the Cheesecake Factory family, and so that was the place to go. She had the Oreo cheesecake, an old favorite, while I tried the baked apple in pastry crust. Both were way too big, and I couldn't make much of a dent in the apple concoction. Maybe if the coffee had been better.

Bad coffee in such a good-coffee-looking place only deepened my funk, and so I guess you could call me a glutton for punishment for insisting that we stroll over to Delmonico and see whether there really was some sort of emergency or whether we were just being jerked around.

The lights are on, the doors are open, and there are bodies milling about. Hmm.

"Just you two?" the hostess asks as we approach. I swear she did. I keep calm, having been warned to do so by the missus beforehand, and simply ask, "Are you open?"

"Uh, no. No, we're not. Yeah, that's it." Maybe not the last part, but her reply went something like that. I don't press the issue, but now I'm highly suspicious.

And even more depressed. I don't even remember the payout schedule of the video-poker machines we decided to play near the Venetian's sports book. Whatever the payouts, I didn't collect any, and I retreated to the room. Jacqueline played for another hour or so with modest success.

Enough of this day.

NEXT: Shakedown 1979