Imagine you are in Las Vegas for the first time. You land in the evening to find an airport that should be bigger and an immigration line that should be smaller.
You’ve already read advice about a taxi from the airport, making sure they don’t take the more expensive freeway route. You’ve seen the place in pictures. You know the names of the hotels and the concept of The Strip.
Then you see it.
Neon reflecting off glass, lights hanging in shapes you can’t quite make out, The Strip is real. It’s alive and pulsing with cars and people and noise.
The scale is incredible. On paper, the buildings were close neighbours. In real life, each hotel looks like a self-contained town, it’s own territory.
And like a fairytale come to life, your hotel is a castle, with flags and turrets topped by blue or red roofs. From the inside, the childlike wonder is quickly eroded. Smoke plumes left and right, bells from machines punch the air and patrons stagger from one device to the other.
Stand still for too long, and you will be offered the chance to buy a room at the hotel, and you aren’t sure if you want to even spend the night.
It’s not the venues fault. After the initial excitement wears off, it dawns on you that this is Disneyland for adults. Particular kinds of adults who like drinking, smoking, gambling and eating. No description fits the place better.
After dropping your bag in the entirely adequate room, you walk through the hotel and find a walkway to the next. You find yourself inside a pyramid. Only this one has the rear end of the Titanic next to a food court. Why wouldn’t it?
The pace changes once again, taking the short trip to Mandalay Bay, with its shockingly white tiles floor and open walkways.
Out of nowhere, the sports bar is on your right. You nearly passed by. Now you see, hear and smell it; you know you’re in the right place.
To a tourist, this looks like America. A generous, polished bar offering beer after beer. Screens on every wall and in each booth showing basketball and football. Waiters and waitresses clad in black buzz from table to table.
Once seated, the menu is a laminated paper equivalent to the bar. So much to choose, so little time. The premise is simple; pick a ready-made burger or get creative and build your own. It has to be the latter.
Start with the meat. The Kobe beef is enticing, but you’re here on business. You can’t expense that. Especially when the ‘back up’ is Certified Angus, cooked medium (which comes out nicely pink in this establishment). Decision made.
Next up is the bun. When did you last get to choose the type of bread for your burger? Have you ever? Pretzel intrigues you but is that crazy? You pick sesame. You’re a traditionalist. At least in the bun department.
Toppings. The combinations are dizzying, like seeing the strip all over again. Only this isn’t amateur night, you consider yourself a pro when it comes to burger.
Pepper jack cheese & peppered bacon. Let’s make it sing. Guac will offer balance and contrasting texture. Then a fried egg. That’s right. A freakin’ fried egg on top.
With a side of sweet potato fries (settle down, we’re all friends here) your order is almost complete. Because you haven’t ordered a drink. You were so busy with your food you neglected the vast array of liquid refreshment.
There is always a way out in these situations.
‘What do you recommend?’ You ask the waiter.
‘I highly recommend the Dogfish Head IPA.’
‘Great, I’ll have that.’ Order complete.
The beer arrives first, served ice cold in a goblet. The first sip kicks you in the mouth, smooth on the tongue at first, but the bite is hard. The next sip is less of a surprise, you get the sweeter notes this time. Somehow the beer is hearty and refreshing at the same time.
The food eventually getS to you, highlights of a recent NFL playoff have kept you company. It’s a strange game, but you could get into it.
The burger is significant, requiring both hands around it. Gripping it gently in place, the first bite pops the egg yolk, and gastronomic chaos ensues. A beautiful mess.
The bun and meat are strong in flavour and density. The toppings play together well, crunchy bacon, lumpy, creamy guacamole and hot moist egg white. The taste of the yolk jumps in and out, combining best with the peppery beats. No two bites are the same, it’s a dynamic workout for your mouth. Adding the egg wasn’t ego, It wasn’t folly, it was divine. Your perfect creation doesn’t last long.
The sweet potato fries are okay. Ranch dressing makes them all taste like slaty garlic mayo anyway.
You’re quickly full up and more than satisfied. Two unknown teams are playing basketball on the TV next to you.
You order another beer. This is adult Disneyland after all…