JUST BACK FROM:
DONT GET ME wrong; I loved the movie The Hangover. It got a lot about Las Vegas right, like the wild nights, the camaraderie, and the, well, the hangovers. Ive gone to Sin City almost every summer for the past five years, usually with a group of friends, and weve always had a wonderfully debauched time. The writing Im most proud of -- not in this magazine, not in my career, but in my entire life -- are my trip-report e-mails. These not only prevent me from ever running for office, they also make for joyful rereading on the plane ride back to Vegas the next summer.
Oh, right! Her name was Rain. Not ¬Summer.
Some of the best memories do involve relatively standard stories that can be recounted here: my lawyer buddy trying to win back his entire several-thousand-dollar bankroll on one hand of blackjack (and then man-hugging and screaming, and then losing it all the next day), our working in as many Oceans Eleven lines as possible (you havent annoyed a cocktail waitress until youve ordered whiskey and whiskey), and my dancing in that cab that one time with that one person.
But heres what no one tells you: Sometimes, you go to Vegas and nothing happens. No wild story. No big gambling tale. No waking up married, even if youre already married. There are just hours of slowly bleeding away your money in the casino, uneventful trips through the hotel buffet line, and parties that Paris Hilton refuses to attend.
This fact should frighten you. After all, you journey to Vegas for the incredible tales with which you can regale your friends upon your return home. This is true for men and women. When nothing memorable happens -- when it seems nothing will stay in Vegas because nothing really happened in Vegas -- what do you do?
You head to 3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South and walk inside. And there, in the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, you find the guaranteed best time in Vegas, the dueling pianos at the Bar at Times Square.
Campy? Yes. Obvious? A bit. All-out fun? Every. Single. Time.
Take the trip I took recently, for example. I went on a Saturday morning to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to enter the World Series of Poker tournament, which I won a bunch of money in last year. (Entire after-party redacted.) This time, though, the trip was, in the words of Twitter users, an epic fail. The tournament was full when I arrived to register. The competing tournaments at the Venetian and Caesars Palace showed me no love. (Translation: I got bad cards, but at least I played terribly.) The few friends who were already out there were busy with their previous plans. Etcetera.
By late Sunday, the trip was proving to be the most boring Id ever been on in Vegas. It was almost midnight, and my plane was to leave in six hours.
You know what we must do? I asked my friend.
He smiled and replied, Piano bar.
We walked in at midnight. I felt miserable. Id fallen asleep in the cab. I was cranky. My friend later told me, I thought there was no way you could rally.
We walked through the crush of people and ordered a drink. The Trouble Brothers (the fantastic musicians Chris Nelson and Joey Riedel) were yelling something about playing the Canadian national anthem, begging for more money in order to play something else. Ugh. I wasnt feeling it.
Then, as if by magic, came Nelsons siren call: Shot through the heart, and youre to blame/You give love a bad name.
Riedel then kicked into the Bon Jovi guitar riff, and my heart quickened. Women squealed and jumped. High fives were exchanged. Within minutes, I was yell-singing along, with, Whoa-ohhh, were halfway there/Whoa-ohhh, livin on a prayer.
The next three hours were as much fun as Ive ever had in Vegas (and been able to write about). Thats partly because we understood how to high-roller it at the piano bar. Approach it like you do blackjack -- be prepared to lose a few hundred dollars -- and you will own the place. If you start throwing down big bucks to get songs played, something like this may happen:
Two young girls from Belfast will say, Make them play AC/DC!
Youll slap $50 on the piano, You Shook Me All Night Long will begin, and the crowd will go bananas.
Then, the two young girls from Belfast will ask, You mind if we dance with you?
An hour later, the music will still be playing on, and this may happen:
A bachelorette party will shout, Make them play Journey!
Youll slap $100 on the piano, Dont Stop Believin will begin, and the crowd will go even more bananas.
The bachelorette party will then shout, We think we love you!
At closing time at three a.m., Riedels guitar will be screaming, Nelson will be pounding the ivories, and the entire bar will be singing and dancing. As the lights come up, the bar will close as youre teaching girls from Ireland how to two-step. And the piano bar will have finally given you a tale to tell. (After-party redacted.)