Blatant Localism: Mai Ueda at The Cosmopolitan

Original at VegasChatter

Tea, Pandas And The Cosmopolitan’s Ever Bolder Art Projects

April 9, 2012 at 6:56 PM | by


The Cosmopolitan’sP3 art Studio is pushing the envelope of art and visitor participation with its latest installation. We’ve previously praised the virtues of Cosmo’s art devotion here and here, but a very bold new residency by artist Mai Ueda promises to be their most daring and quixotic yet. For the rest of April, Mai will be conducting traditional Japanese tea services — with a distinct twist. In the first event, we dressed and acted as pandas. Yes, we’ll get to that in a minute.


Still to come are tea ceremonies themed with a trip to the moon, a visit to a parallel universe and an unnamed surprise event. The first round was equally a surprise for the public with little to zero publicity, and we only by chance noticed the curious invite on the Cosmopolitan’s Twitter feed. It was enough to make us rush over there. You can now book in advance via this page. And it’s free. All you need is a willing and open mind.


Mai has a passion for creating temporary alternate worlds. But since everyone is self-aware of the situation, it isn’t totally immersive. You are obviously very conscious of your surroundings and, in this case, the temporary absurdity but it works. And, that nervous tension is clearly part of the process. Particularly when combined with Mai’s meditative approach and mesmerizing commitment to the ceremony. She is following a private internal script, but you have no instruction or knowledge where the journey and hour is going. So we sat on our padded mats and watched and followed.

This was our evening: We were told to remove our shoes, sign a guest parchment and put on a panda suit. Upon entering the ceremonial area, we were asked to not communicate in human voices and one-by-one were fed a small cookie and received tea ritually prepared and presented by the artist. It lasted about an hour. Curious? Here’s video of one of the performances. Future events will be much different.

After putting our vanity on hold for a personal overview by artists The Bumby’s, being watched by tourists while dressed as a panda induced no damage to our ego. And we’re rather proud to now be featured drinking tea on her website.


For all the strangeness of the evening — the gawpers at the windows, a couple of the participants goofing around — it still struck a chord with this writer who’s been puzzling over it for a few days.

Some notions did cross our mind. While this is a Japanese-themed piece, pandas aren’t native to Japan. Other than harajuku-cute kawaii!!, pandas don’t appear to resonate as Japanese iconography. Perhaps this is a nod to pan-Asian generalizations endemic among western culture. Certainly, you have gender issues at play in this performance.

While the tea ceremony tradition hints at subservience, it is also an act of precise personal control. There is a voyeuristic sub-plot to the proceedings. Mai videotapes the proceeding and the windows are open to The Cosmopolitan. The viewers outside, were less subdued or human-like than the participants dressed as wild, or zoo-kept, animals inside. With her back always to the visitors, the focus of the event shifts from the artist, to the spectators and your fellow travelers who have entered her world.

Another fascinating element was beyond basic instruction, zero context or background was given. It was a controlled happening. Which led us to thinking of precedent. It didn’t feel like traditional performance art. And, was more human than conceptual. Best we could come up with was 1960’s Fluxus work. And, after a Google search, that and another term which she may loathe, Neo-Fluxus, has been indeed been connected to Mai Ueda’s work.

So, long story short. We dressed as panda and had tea. But, this writer is still thinking about it. Thought provoked on the Las Vegas Strip is a rare commodity, so we highly commend and recommend it.

If you are the slightest bit intrigued, take a few moments to view the artist’s website. There are three more ceremonies to come. We’re not done ruminating on this project, and this writer will be returning for all three.

Mai Ueda’s Experimental Tea Ceremonies take place in the P3 Studio at The Cosmopolitan. Check this website for the most up to date times.

Tea Ceremony in a Parallel Universe
April 13 & 14

Tea Ceremony on the Moon
April 20 & 21

Surprise Tea Ceremony
April 27 & 28

Blatant Localism: Review of Raku

Original at VegasChatter

One Of The Finest Restaurants in America Is In A Vegas Strip Mall

Where: 5030 West Spring Mountain Road [map]

If we told you about a Las Vegas restaurant repeatedly voted and critiqued as one of the best in the country, we think you’d be interested. When we tell you where it is, we think you’ll be surprised.

Raku is a Japanese restaurant that specializes in charcoal grilling. NO sushi. We encountered similar cooking techniques in Tokyo, but this place takes it to whole different level. Offering mostly a specialty menu, making it a specialty destination, chefs yell out when orders are ready. It can take time for individual items to be prepared, or they come out in a rush. It’s not always predictable.

Raku is located further west of Chinatown than you might be familiar with and in a strip mall that will give you immediate pause. This is the place?

Raku is small. Real small. Reservations are a must. We saw at least a dozen people turned away. It’s also open to 3 a.m., meaning it has cult status among city chefs who go for the hours and stay for the food. Just this month, Chef Mitsuo Endo was the sole Las Vegas semi-finalist for the very prestigious James Beard Foundation awards. SOLE Vegas chef. Yes, the whole city was surprised at the lack of recognition for his peers, but few would deny the talents on display at Raku. You can opt for the chef’s tasting menu of multiple dishes, but this writer preferred to jump right in. You’ll probably be more varied in your selections, but we chose to focus on the more unusual items that caught our eye. We don’t regret it.

Pork ears started our meal. Fatty, chewy and crispy. Chilli is recommended to poke the flavor and it works.

Fresh tofu: A Raku specialty and worth it. An amazing texture. Unusual condiments, like green tea salt, are offered to further the flavor.

Beef tendon: Some pieces melted in the mouth. An example of the merits of cooking cuts of meat in this style.

Pork cheek: So tasty. The grill work was really in evidence in this dish.

Pork intestine: The most interesting sounding, least interesting dish of the night, but mustard helped amp-up the blander taste.

Fried tofu: The other Raku specialty. Excellent alone, but the small option of chilli added a little kick.

Pork belly: Melts in the mouth. We’ve noticed how this has become a favored dish among chefs in Las Vegas these days, and this is the finest example we’ve encountered.

Foie gras: The finale and a sublime choice. Truly exceptional. No need to add anything to this creation.

For an encore, we succumbed to the cheesecake dessert and were shocked at how amazing it was. As light and melty as our other dishes. Don’t pass this up. You’ll be full, but its worth saving space if you remember to think ahead.

Chatting with the busy, but very friendly staff, they encouraged us to visit both the bathrooms. Really. Both of them. One has a tree and rose petals on the floor. The other, an ocean theme with an aquarium. Really. Plus, authentic Japanese toilets. Those fully automated ones you’ve heard about. Make it part of your trip!

Raku. Full of surprises. Out of the way. Small. And, remember to reserve. This could be your new favorite Las Vegas secret.

Raku is located at 5030 W. Spring Mountain Road and is open from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. It is closed on Sunday.

Blatant Localism: The Last Nights Of The Playboy Club

The Last Nights Of The Playboy Club

original at VegasChatter


It remains one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the world yet after six years The Playboy Club at the Palms is closing. Sometime in June. When, is not quite clear. Nor is the future of the lounge or its staff.

What happens to the Bunny icon on the outside of the Palms tower? The Bunnies themselves? All under wraps. Rumors are rampant — *cough* Cosmopolitan *cough* — but who knows? (*cough* Cosmopolitan *cough*)

Recent fact-finding missions to the Palms (it was for research, people) to gently prise nuggets from the staff ended with a genuine consensus of — who knows? We did, though, discover a few surprises and were able to take a look-see at what the closing of a dynasty looks like. It’s not the fall of Rome — and we certainly believe what we heard, that another Playboy Club in Las Vegas will rise again — but, if it’s on your bucket-list to visit the only U.S. Playboy Club, time is running out.

For Palms staff, the closing felt almost inevitable. An erosion of business over the last few years, particularly early in the week, was obvious as much to visitors as workers. The final straw was the reduction in gaming tables, the removal of slots and the carefully worded Human Resource hints that other opportunities were available within the Palms casino. Our casual conversations implied that fired Bunnies had a little bit more of a heads up about the Club’s slowdown than perhaps had been shared with us.


The other consensus of opinion was “it’s time.” Time to move on. The Club needed to be re-vamped at some point so a move necessitates a kick-start. Plus, “it’s business.” A steady, reliable influx of foreign visitors visited the club, but regular and repeat patrons were disappearing. The ultra-lounges and the just plain new were proving a bigger draw. Once visited, it seemed maybe once was enough.

Located on the 52nd floor of the Palms, many patrons run out their own personal clock, waiting around to go one floor up to the Moon nightclub at 11 p.m. After that, it normally thins out again at Playboy. Gambling is only available Thursday through Sunday. That was news to us so, on one of our visits, we entered a ghost town. Really. For a while, it was one person — us. You have two bar areas, the remaining gaming tables when in use, and the lounge waiting for bottle service. Plus two bunnies. Two.

A night like that makes it to hard to raise a ruckus. We counted two unattached women in a two-hour time period. They lasted about five minutes. The other clients were mostly couples or combo-ed couples plus, how shall we put this, less than top-tier single males. Many were foreign tourists. Ladies, it wasn’t exactly the millionaire’s club. And for gentlemen, at its worst, you have potentially no single women, food or gambling. The music was also a surprise. Far more hip-hop than say, Ghost Bar, and surprisingly at a tangent to the older customers we saw enter the place.


Another issue is Palms drawing away its own customers. Downstairs in the casino, a Playboy Party Pit features blackjack from Thursday to Sunday with ladies in full Bunny uniform. Enough to sate the visual curiosity of many male visitors and un-inspire a cover-charge trip upstairs.

The visual links to Hef and his empire are surprisingly muted. It’s all about the bunny icon. The retinal burning neon is the big eye-catcher. Hef appeared three times a year at the club. Palms executives visited often and were supportive and friendly to the Club. The folks working here loved it and we even heard the word “family” a couple of times. It’s an understanding, but melancholy wind down for long-time workers. (Palms and Playboy people, the staff you have now, will be GREAT at the new place. Don’t forget them.)


As it coasts to closure on its name, a possible future became very apparent from our conversations. You combine those two with the competitor that currently most inspires: Hyde. Yep, that name came up a lot.

So, the closing isn’t a surprise. All parties are more than aware of the shift in the Vegas market and audience over the past six years. It’s all under consideration for the future. No one on-site was willing to admit any conjecture for their new home, but on the Strip we’ve repeatedly heard certain rumors. *cough* Cosmopolitan *cough* Let’s say if something were to be announced over the summer, it won’t be until next year before the Playboy ears rise again over the city. It was almost a too-perfect fit. Playboy and Las Vegas. They’ll re-think, re-group and be back.

And, note to our fourteen year old self, if you read this via the time machine we’re working on. Yeah, one time you’ll talk to a Playboy bunny at the Playboy Club about that time… she did… and then… and then after when she… and then that happened… and yeah, that was a cool story to hear. (See, the mythology will never die.)

The Playboy Club at Palms is located on 52nd Floor of The Fantasy Tower. It opens at 9 p.m. Cover charges change depending on day and event schedule.


Blatant Localism: The Chuck Jones Experience Is Open For Rabbit Season.

The Chuck Jones Experience at Circus Circus.

Part one of a trilogy of  Circus Circus related stories. The first is a visit to the Chuck Jones museum, or rather Experience. Think most people would be expecting less of Chuck and more Experience.

Here’s my review at VegasChatter:

The Chuck Jones Experience is open for rabbit season.

Blatant Localism: Mob Bar Hits Downtown Las Vegas.

Last month, Mob Bar opened on Downtown’s 3rd Street, very close to Fremont. How does the gangster gimmick stack up? The first in my series of Downtown bar reviews over at VegasChatter.

Mob Bar Offers You Cocktails (and Food) You Can’t Refuse

The Usual cocktail at Mob bar

Blatant Localism: Confessions of a Rock Star

Pat DiNizio Confessions of a Rock Star

Still a fan of The Smithereens, so news that singer Pat DiNizio has a Vegas show down the street was surprising and reason for my VegasChatter investigation.  And a little odd.

Pat DiNizio’s Confessions of  a Rock Star