Where? South Strip
When visited? Sunday mid-afternoon
Whose? Mandalay Resorts

Ostensible theme? Mandalay is a town in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. According to Mr. Rand and Mr. McNally, there is no bay anywhere near Mandalay. So, Mandalay Bay must be a fantasyland that conveys the exotic atmosphere of the rainforests of southeast Asia, but with air conditioning and plenty of seating.

Clientele: There were hordes of young gawkers strolling the property. I didn't spot much gambling action, mind you, but there was oodles of ogling.

Employee costumes: Brevity is the soul of the cocktail waitress costumes here, but there's really no attempt to continue the Asian theme. Not a single example of ornate headgear anywhere, and there's not an inch of brocade or silk. And, have you ever seen any Burmese women wear bustiers with ruffles? I will concede that the colors of this jaunty ensemble do conveniently match the carpet. Dealers are exotically costumed as casino employees with white shirts and teal and gold vests.

Carpet and other decor: Most of the casino decor is pretty standard for Vegas nowadays- the carpet with floral mandalas in acid greens, yellows, and reds, the fancy marble floors, the omnipresent faux palms. One small but intriguing touch, however, is the life-size painting of Yul Brynner in "The King and I". Siam, Burma, same difference. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The area between the eating area and the shopping area is the closest thing to a hippie hideaway that Las Vegas has. This psychedelic freak-out features lots of wicker, a waterfall, and ominous frog statues playing musical instruments. There's also a large aquarium guarded by more runty frog statues and earless unicorns.

The restrooms are decorated in beige batik-style wallpaper, dark marble, and stained wood. Patrons can find more towels and facial tissue than is available in a whole third world country. Tinted photos of Asia and palm frond etchings hang on the walls; however, according to my sources, the men's restroom already has supplemental decoration in the form of graffitti from a certain "BSL Tokes" fellow.

The background music is like a "Flashback Weekend" for the young and restless- Culture Club, the Motels, Stray Cats. Mandalay Bay seems to be experimenting with olfactory decor, as well. One of the things nearly everyone in my group noticed right off the bat was the enigmatic scent floating through the air. Some in my party thought it was burning meat, but to me, it smelled like coconut sun oil.

Food: Continuing the mixed-up geography theme of Mandalay Bay, Shanghai Lilly's serves Cantonese cuisine; never mind that Shanghai is not in Canton Province. The Bayside Buffet refers to the aformentioned nonexistent bay. The "Raffles Cafe" sports a batik-style sign, and The Noodle Shop provides a vaguely Asian culinary experience.

Mandalay Bay also seems to have cornered the market in conceptual eateries. Hungry for a giant headless statue of Lenin, torches behind waterfalls, fake palms? Aren't we all?

Games: Dragon-like critters guard many of the video poker and slot machines. "Golden Lotus" dollar slots are topped by a large lotus lantern. The slot club is "Club Mandalay", a name reminiscent of either a singles resort or a movie about the horrors of the Vietnam War.

Entertainment: Unlike the real Mandalay, this Mandalay Bay does have a body of water with a beach and wave pool. And this body of water is chlorinated and relatively free of human sewage. Bar names such as Island Lounge and Coral Reef Lounge simply reek of tropical ambience. However, the bayou-spooky House of Blues and the performances of "Chicago: The Musical" might symbolize American cultural imperialism in Asia, if nothing else.

Services: Future Tram 2000 whisks you to this jungle wonderland from Excalibur with a degree of coziness associated with the crowded markets of Singapore or Jakarta. You can also have shinier shoes than anyone in all of southeastern Asia, thanks to the handful of shoeshine stations in the area.

Did it work? This seemed less like a tropical paradise than a plastic plant sale at Hobby Lobby. Fake palms can only do so much to liven a place up.

Where? Mid-Strip
When visited? 4 pm on a Sunday
Whose? Shel Adelson

Ostensible theme? The romantic streets and the smelly canals of Venice, are reproduced for your enjoyment and gambling needs.

Clientele: Couples out for a flashy time and guys in hard hats seemed to comprise the crowd at this joint when I visited.

Mascot: A surly griffin resembling Ron Perlman appears as a logo on signs and placards.

Employee costumes: Not only do the gondoliers dress like Venetian gondoliers, the folks who greet you at the entrance dress like gondoliers, too. I half expected to see all the employees dressed as gondoliers; maybe the casino could get a discount on large numbers of big-brimmed hats and striped shirts.

Dealers wear collarless shirts with flowing sleeves in sea green, gold, and carnelian. Cocktail waitresses wear a red and gold number with spaghetti straps and a short chiffon skirt. Even security guards are costumed as Italian policia, complete with little redsashes; if you were a criminal, would you take them seriously?

Carpet and other decor: Actually, the rococo lobby of the Venetian bears a strong resemblance to my living room- the parquet floors, the sparkly chandeliers, the enormous map of Venice, the giant fountain shaped like some obscure navigational tool. If you like gilt, you'll do fine here.

The frescos on the ceiling feature plenty of half-naked ladies, chubby cupids, and mythological subjects in vibrant Crayola colors. You don't see much art like that anymore, but evidently, the folks in Venice just used to eat that stuff up.

The focus for much of the decor is the architecture of Venice. The front facade features Gothic and Rennaissance landmarks, such as St. Mark's Cathedral and the Doge's Palace. I didn't know Venice was famous for its pigeons, but there's a flock of those, too. This facade is the latest example of that mini-city trend seen at New York, New York. Wedding cake-like facades line the canals inside the building as well. The carpet design uses architectural ornamental details in warm colors.

Of course, the canals will be the main attraction. The gondolas look pretty darn comfy, and the water is an intense, unnatural blue. My grandfather once fell in the canals of Venice when he was a young man, and let me tell you, the canals were certainly not that clean!

Restrooms are clean and spacious, with gold patterned wallpaper, beige tile, brass fixtures, and bevelled mirrors. But, I bet that folks in Venice would just ache for automatic flushing.

The background music featured more bland pop hits from the early 1980s. Somehow, all this baroque and Renaissance finery just doesn't go with the languid mewlings of Christopher Cross.

Food: Italy's finest culinary exports are well represented- pizza, gelato, and espresso. For a ritzier meal, there's the Grand Lux cafe or the Pinot Brasserie. I dare you to go into either one of these places and order Spaghetti-Os.

Entertainment: Beware the roving commedia dell'arte actors! They might poke you with their long prosthetic noses or kick you in the butt. I've seen them do that to other patrons. The worst part is that they attempt an accent as thick as congealed pesto. Live music is also performed nightly at La Scena, but none of the featured performers were even familiar to me in a washed-up, has-been way. Who in the hell are Silard and Friends?

Services: If all those Venetian traders were alive today, you could bet your sweet cannoli that they'd be meeting at convention centers constantly, so why not have one here. And for those who didn't get enough opportunities for extravagant consumption at Caesar's or Bellagio, the Grand Canal Shoppes will feature dozens of varieties of uppity crap.

Did it work? When I visited, there were still lots of construction barriers up and hardly anything was open. From what I saw, however, the Venetian seems to reside on the formaggio scale somewhere in the middle between Bellagio and Caesar's. I will admit, however, that I am very, very in favor of boat rides. I'll just have to make friends with a gondolier, because the ten bucks admission is way too rich for my blood.

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