When the alarm rings at 7:00am on January 11, I leap out of bed. The 6 hours of restless sleep I got last night don’t phase me; I’m going to Las Vegas!
Since I’ve got a 3pm flight, I don’t have to be to Omaha until 1pm. Which means I don’t have to leave until about 11:45. Which means I’ve got just over 4 painstakingly long hours to experience Einstein’s theory of relativity in action.
I shower and head to work, where I will accomplish just one thing: setting my out of office email.
After what feels like 4 years, it’s 11:30, and Melissa rolls up right on time to drive me to OMA.
We stop at Arby’s on the way, where I opt for a regular roast beef and mozzarella sticks. The lunch of champions. Or, at the very least, a good base for all of the drinking that I will be doing before the plane touches down.
Arriving a full two hours before my plane is scheduled to board, I’ve done my part to ensure that my flight is on time and that there is literally no line at the TSA.
I don’t mean to brag, but I made it through the security theater without getting yelled at for forgetting to take out my computer or toiletries. The TSA agents were even surprisingly friendly for working a shitty job without pay thanks to the government shutdown.
I’m feeling pretty cocky until I realize that my Birthday Boy button was missing! I go back and ask a lady if it had fallen off in the x-ray machine, and she returns it to me expressionlessly. Oh well, not everyone can handle me in all of my glory.
Not wanting to pay $9 for an overpriced domestic tap at the airport when the free drinks of Vegas are mere hours away, I jump on the free WiFi and make the last sober edits to Viva Las Value for a while.
As I board the flight, I give my bag of candy to the flight attendant standing in the galley. She is taken aback, and thanks me profusely. I scan the plane and am relieved to see lots of aisle seats.
Having secured my aisle seat in the front half of the plane, the waiting game to find my seatmate begins. I watch nervously as the B group parades past, until finally a small blonde girl smiles and makes eye contact. She makes the “is that seat open?” gesture, and I complete the Southwest Airlines courtship dance by standing up to invite her in. After exchanging pleasantries, she puts her headphones in, so I refrain from talking her ear off with my Vegas excitement.
Once we’re at a comfortable cruising altitude, I bust out my laptop to channel my excitement into a blog post. I order a Lagunitas Sumpin’ Easy. It’s quite underwhelming, but as the first beer of the day, still delicious!
My neighbor, Jordanne, orders a margarita. As the amazing powers of alcohol begin to kick in, we both remove our headphones and start talking. It turns out it’s her first trip to Las Vegas, and that she’s going solo. We’ll spend the rest of the flight talking, trading stories, and getting excited.
By this point, my excessive hydration has caught up with me, and I have to pee. I head to the bathroom, and as soon as I start peeing, the cabin chimes and the flight attendants come over the intercom with the dreaded words: “ladies and gentlemen, the captain has put on the fasten seatbelt sign.”
Expecting some turbulence, I brace myself against the wall. Which, given the miniscule size of airplane bathrooms, looks more like me not actively trying to avoid touching the low ceiling with my shoulder. Regardless, there was no turbulence, so my rendezvous with god knows how many germs was for naught.
I return to my seat just in time to order a second beer, opting for a Miller Lite. When the flight attendant returns with round two of drinks, I ask if I’ll have time for a third before they quit serving.
She looks at me sorrowfully and says, “I’m sorry, sir, but the captain will ask us to quit serving in 15-20 minutes.”
What does she think this is, amateur hour? It’s my 25th birthday, damn it!
I crush my Miller Lite and order a third the next time she comes around, much to her surprise.
Now, as anyone who knows me knows, I’m a gambling man. And slamming back this much beer with 40 minutes left until landing having already broken the seal was my first gamble of the trip.
I decide to hedge my bet, and ask Jordanne to hold my beer while I dart off to the bathroom in the hopes I can beat the captain’s orders to remained seated for the duration of the flight.
I make it to the bathroom just in time; as soon as I finish locking the door, I can hear the captain over the intercom.
This time we hit a slight bump, so it was worth introducing billions of bacteria to my forearm. I carefully return to my seat, claim my beer, and finish it just as the flight attendants are coming around to collect trash.
After an smooth landing, we taxi to the gate for what feels like an eternity. The glitz and glam of the Las Vegas Strip taunts me outside the window as we crawl at a glacial pace towards our gate. I trade numbers with Jordanne and give her the first Viva Las Value koozie.
In my excitement to get off the plane, I forget my jacket in the overhead compartment.
I excitedly call Costas, who is already at the Cosmopolitan. He’s been there for 30 minutes, but they won’t let him check in without me. It’s with this opportune timing that I realize my jacket is still on the plane. I head back to the gate, where the agent tells me that I have to wait for everyone to get off the plane. After the last passengers trickle out, he disappears, only to reemerge with my coat!
I haul ass to baggage claim, taking a brief detour at the Liquor Library. Yes, you read that right: there’s a liquor store. At the airport. Only in Las Vegas.
There’s a demo lady from New Amsterdam sampling shitty flavored vodka. I feign interest enough to get a taste of each of the 4 flavors, then buy my customary tallboy.
I get a Heineken in honor of my mom, and because it’s green and will match my koozie. By this point, the bags have already began dropping from Baggage Claim 7.
I’m normally impatient waiting for my bags, but something about having 24oz of beer in your hand really takes the edge off. I’m not even halfway through my beer by the time my bags come.
I call for a Lyft line, tipping back the rest of my beer on the way, but not without stopping for a gloating Snapchat to my friends.
The Lyft driver comes and picks me and two guys up. They were out to Vegas for an “investment group” which I’m still not convinced wasn’t some ponzi scheme. Either way, they’re from Minnesota, so they’re cool in my book. They ask the Lyft driver to stop at a liquor store, and he pulls off at the next strip mall with no protest.
I pick up a 6 pack of Smirnoff Ices as ammunition against Costas and Eugene, as well as a tallboy of some underwhelming cherry beer I’ve never had before. The Lyft driver says I’m good to crack it in the car, so I gladly oblige.
We drop off the two guys at an off-strip property, and then head to the Cosmopolitan. Costas is waiting for me right by the valet entrance, so we head to the check in desk together.
As we check in, I drunkenly gush to the concierge about how excited I am to be back and how it’s my 25th birthday. He gives me the key to room 5615 in the Chelsea tower – the highest floor I’ve ever got! My drunken charm must be good for something, I hope as we head up the elevator.
The second we enter Room 5615, I know that I’m out of my low-roller comfort zone. I go to turn on the lights, and am met with a button.
The Cosmopolitan being the Cosmo, they have designated buttons that loosely translate to “turn on all the lights that you turned on,” “dim lighting for sex” (which was not used or explored), and “turn all lights off.” I’m not a fan of these types of lights while sharing a room with friends, since it makes it harder to sneak back into the room after a late night of gambling.
Anyways, now that we have some semblance of light, we continue our journey through the room. Immediately to our left is the bathroom, which far more spacious than any reasonable person could ever need to shit, shower, shave, and get ready.
I’m pretty sure this bathroom alone could rent for $2000 in New York City.
I’m not joking, pretty sure there’s more open floor space in this bathroom than my entire freshman year dorm room in college.
The bathroom is separate from the double vanity, which is handy while getting ready. However, the glass shower door negates a lot of this value, since it makes it hard for two people to be getting ready at the same time (at least without giving a free show).
As we continue into the room, we’re greeted by our beds and a seating area, as well as a glimpse of the amazing view from the balcony.
When I booked this room, I specifically sprang for the two queen option that Costas, Eugene, and I could all sleep comfortably. Eugene is a trooper, so he volunteered to take the couch.
From his report, it was comfortable enough.
Holy shit, the view. I still dream of this view. I normally buy into the “pictures don’t do it justice, so I won’t waste your time showing you blurry iPhone photos of something that professionals have done much better” mentality. But not this time.
The view from Cosmopolitan fountain terraces is so incredible, even a drunk schmuck like me can take a good looking photo from his phone.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m already well over my quota (and your patience), so I won’t even try to describe how amazing it is when the Bellagio fountains go off, other than to say it’s ten times better than you can imagine.
Being a social media/image obsessed millennial, I naturally force Costas to take a shameless selfie with me to promote Viva Las Value. The only thing that would make it any better would be some beer in those koozies and Eugene. But Eugene is always last-minute, so rather than getting impatient, Costas orders some room service, and I decide to lay some Ice traps.
Costas orders up some lemonade, lobster roll, and onion rings. Whether or not it’s worth the exorbitant $56 pricetag is up to him to decide, since the prices were enough to scare me off. And besides, I was busy hiding Ices.
Question: What better way is there to welcome a friend you haven’t seen in a year than to set a trap with 4.6% malt liquor for him to chug before he can even give you a hug?
Answer: There isn’t one.
So, as soon as Eugene texts that he’s on his way from McCarran, I set out to hide some Ices.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Icing,” allow me to explain. It’s a running joke that started between me and my friends in college, and the rules are simple: if you find a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, you must immediately twist the top off, drop down on one knee, and chug it. Regardless of the timing, regardless of the location. Something that should be a dumb gag even for college students, yet here I am the night before I turn 25, hurriedly running around the room hiding bottles of Smirnoff Ice.
I put one on a box right in front of the door, so it would be the first thing Eugene would see upon entering.
I put another under the pillow on the couch Eugene would be sleeping on.
I put one more inside the toilet and closed the lid.
Eugene texts that his Lyft just dropped him off. A good friend would be excited to see him, but I’m a sick freak, so I’m excited to see him take a knee. I prop the door with the lock and tell him it’s open.
I hear his footsteps approaching in the hallway and fumbling with the door, and then a “GOD DAMN IT.”
Eugene, a man of great honor, takes it in stride, channels his inner Kaepernick, takes a knee, and downs his premium malt beverage with surprisingly good form.
Eugene settles into the room, and goes to the bathroom to freshen up, only to discover the second Ice I’d hidden in the toilet. At this point he’s shirtless, so lest I inadvertently rile up any readers, I’ll keep this one (and his timeless “NOO. NOOOOOOO!”) for my private collection.
Most people would be content with two Ices, but I didn’t come to Vegas to take it easy. Once Eugene is dressed up for dinner, he makes a pitstop in the bathroom. Costas and I place another Ice on the vanity, which he discovers the second he goes to wash his hands. This time, his “NOOOO” is followed by “I’m gonna be hungover tomorrow!”
Payback for the 4 Ices I drank within an hour of landing last year has never tasted so sweet.
I normally try to spend as little as possible on food when I’m in Las Vegas.
Costas, on the other hand, is a man of sophistication and refined tastes.
So my offers to go to In N Out or walk 40 minutes to a place where I’ve got an ACG/LVA BOGO coupon usually fall on deaf ears. Fortunately, after 4 years of celebrating my Annual Destination Birthday in Las Vegas together, we’ve reached a compromise; I’ll go where he wants if he pays for it.
In other words: while I normally drink cheap beer on a plastic-handle-vodka budget, on birthday trips with Costas, I get to drink champagne on a free beer budget.
Tonight, Costas was on a kick for the Duck Ssam at Momofuku. Apparently he’d seen it on some show on the Food Network, and he was fixated on it.
So to Momofuku we went.
We’re all hangry (and Eugene is fading fast from his Ice massacre), so “we’ve got a table available now” has never been so well received. The ambience in Momofuku isn’t quite what I’d expect for a restaurant this pricy. It has almost a casual vibe with the high top tables and close proximity to other diners.
The prices are also STEEP – definitely something I wouldn’t pay if I weren’t along for the ride.
I order my first drink – the Toki Thyme, which is underwhelming at best. It’s very mild. The whiskey flavor is diluted, and the garnish and other flavors do little to add any flavor. The only note I can distinguish is a touch of honey. The coolest part is the ice cube, which is a single, clear ice cube that fills the glass. Cool? Obviously, it’s ice. Worth $18? No way.
As per usual, Costas is in charge of ordering, and I’m along for the culinary journey. But, being hungry, I do insist on getting some pork belly buns. We get a double order, for a total of 4.
These bad boys are delicious. They come out with some Ssam sauce, which is incredible. The perfect mix of spices and heat. The crunchiness and lightness of the cucumber provides a needed and refreshing contrast to the soft richness of the pork belly. Yummy!
The waiters are very attentive, and are staying on top of topping off my water. I recognize that I’m a pain in the ass with my excessive hydration habits, however the servers are so prompt and friendly that I never have an empty glass or a glass-half-empty vibe.
Soon, it is time for the duck. There’s no mistaking this magical moment, because the server brings a designated cart to your table. And prepares the duck two ways. In front of you. While explaining the process and parts of the duck.
By this point, I’m too hungry and buzzed to fully focus on what he’s saying. All I get is that there’s a dark meat confit (that he’s arranging in the photo) and white meat, that he’s just meticulously carved before our eyes, and I want to be eating it.
After a mesmerizing production, the duck is plated and on our table.
Let me tell you: this is an experience. And HOLY DUCK is it amazing (for once, autocorrect was correct in assuming I meant duck.)
And ducking delicious.
My palate isn’t refined enough to comment on the ginger glaze, juicy meat, contrast between all of the flavors, and medley of garnishes. But I enjoy every bite of it.
The ginger crepe adds a unique flavor and balances everything out nicely. I’m sure there’s a fancy name for it, but I quite enjoy my asian fusion duck taco.
I order another cocktail, the Peruvian Sour, as we wait for our final preparation of duck.
This one is much better than the Toki Thyme. It has a nice flavor, and the aromatics from the lavender are incredible. I even give the lavender a nibble when Eugene puts me up to it – and am pleasantly surprised that it tastes pretty good, albeit floral. Worth $18? Probably not. Would I drink it again free? You had me at free. But it is also pretty good, and definitely my favorite of the two.
As our fullness sets in, our server is back with the third and final preparation of duck: a breaded and fried carcass.
While it sounds gross, it tastes delicious. The breading is nice and crunchy, with the perfect mix of saltiness and spice. Costas, Eugene, and I are already full, but we still fight over who gets the last piece while trying not to burn ourselves on the hot grease.
We settle our $350 tab and head next door to Milk Bar, where Costas gets some softserve.
Eugene and I split the crack pie, which proves a bit too rich and buttery after such a big meal.
The employee sees my birthday boy button and gives me some free B’Day Truffles! As I discover when I finally get around to eating them two days later, these are some of the best cake pops I’ve had.
The combination of a heavy meal and the three hour delay of east coast time prove to be insurmountable for Costas and Eugene, so they succumb to an early (by Vegas standards) bedtime at 11pm.
Of course, I’m just getting started and I’ve got some degenerate itches that need to be scratched. So I head down to the Cosmopolitan casino with my my allotted daily bankroll of $200.
Usually cocktail service is strong and speedy at the Cosmo, but I find myself waiting a while for a drink or even moving to another machine without getting a drink. This works in my favor since I don’t want to wake up hungover on my birthday, nonetheless before skydiving, but it’s still a let down. Waking up the next day, it will prove to be a blessing.
The slow cocktail service doesn’t stop me from blowing through my bankroll, playing a bit of Video Poker before drunkenly donking off most of it at slots.
I get 4 hours of good play at various machines before finally hitting my expected return of $0 and sneaking back to the room at 3am to rest up for skydiving tomorrow.