Off-The-Beaten Vegas

Originally Published August 2006, Successful Meetings


Note to planners: Nightclubs, art museums, and hotel ballrooms make elegant event space in almost any destination. But this is Las Vegas, after all, and what's defined as glitz, excess, and odd elsewhere could easily prove run-of-the-mill here. That said, one-of-a-kind gems described here offer attendees the chance to nosh, network, and in the process, discover yet another side of this 24/7 town.

REALITY CHECK

Can't foot the bill for an All-Star Vegas soiree? Consider a tour and dinner at Madame Tussaud's interactive museum instead. Granted, attendees won't be hobnobbing with the real Elton or Celine. But they can still wine, dine, and indulge themselves in endless photo ops with extremely lifelike wax figures of pop culture's A-list icons—and better yet, minus the attitude and seven-figure price tag.

"We try to theme our museums to be city-specific," says event sales manager Barbara Bennett. "One of the biggest trends here is celebrity poker, so you could have a professional come in and teach Texas hold 'em while Ben Affleck's figure sits in." NASCAR fans can don racing gear and a checkered flag while cheering on the legendary Dale Earnhardt, while height-challenged and couch potato attendees could go one-on-one with Shaquille O'Neal. Oscar- winning bachelor George Clooney stands in as well, giving suitors the rare chance to slip into a wedding gown and, with a preacher in hand, tie the knot with him. The museum accommodates 100 for dinners and up to 800 for receptions, and offers interactive teambuilding events within the exhibits.

Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas, 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. South (at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino)
(702) 862-7805;
www.mtvegas.com


DUCK AND COVER

Back when the Cold War was a hot topic, Nevada often found itself at the epicenter of nuclear conversations—ground zero, literally, in terms of stateside weapons testing. The new Atomic Testing Museum explores that bizarre slice of Las Vegas history in a sometimes kitschy, often riveting, and endlessly fascinating journey through the nuclear age.

"The crown jewel is our Ground Zero Theater," says museum special events coordinator Maggie Smith. "It's made of stainless steel and cement construction so that you feel like you're at a bunker awaiting a detonation." Indeed, the museum's simulation leaves behind an eery, realistic impression of what actually went down. "There's a flash of light, a blast of air, and butt-kickers under the seats that deliver a great effect," she says. Historical tidbits abound, especially within the nifty nuclear time line (1940s-1990s). There's a cool video about post-detonation soil subsidence (collapsing earth), and no shortage of irony and black humor, from the atomic energy Christmas ornaments to a Kix cereal box sporting a ring with—you guessed it—a mini-A-bomb.

There's also plenty of event space: a first-floor lobby and auditorium for receptions and meetings of 150, plus the museum itself, which can hold up to 300 for a docent-led tour and reception.

Atomic Testing Museum, 755 East Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, (702) 794-5147; www.atomictestingmuseum.org


SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED

Some might think that The Museum of the American Cocktail exists simply as a venue for trendy Vegas bashes and VIP receptions. And they'd be right, at least in part. Founded by mixologist Dale DeGroff a scant two years ago, Vegas' newest museum seems a perfect fit, given its "five o'clock somewhere in the world" philosophy and the manner in which it arrived: from out of town (like so many other Las Vegans), a post-Katrina New Orleans transplant.

But there's more to this mini-museum than private space for dinners of 35 and receptions for up to 50. DeGroff, who honed his bar craft at Manhattan's swank Rainbow Room, obviously has a deep affection for tasty concoctions—one of his stated goals is to "preserve a truly rich aspect of our culture: the American cocktail." Thus, exhibits range from the practical (drink menus and bar stools) to historical nuggets such as vintage cocktail shakers and Prohibition-era music and literature. The nonprofit also runs seminars (for instance, Classic Cocktails at Home) and plans both an upcoming awards show and bartending competition. If nothing else, attendees will walk away with a better appreciation of the creativity and hard work that goes on behind their favorite Friday bar.

The Museum of the American Cocktail, Commander's Palace Las Vegas, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. South (Desert Passage at Aladdin), (702) 892-8272


BRIGHT CITY, BIG LIGHTS

At first glance it may seem odd, even for Las Vegas, to find people preserving in-your-face lighting. But this town's core message of gaming, entertainment, and fun after-dark pursuits has best been served by its brightest medium: neon signs. Thus, the Neon Museum, a work in progress, provides visitors a charming diversion as well as an interesting perspective on Las Vegas' meteoric history.

While there's no actual facility yet (plans call for groundbreaking on a building sometime early in 2007), groups can still tour the affectionately dubbed Boneyard, a three-acre repository for some 200 signs relating to various points in the city's growth. Icons are everywhere: the giant (two tons, 15 feet high) silver slipper from the late resort of the same name; a lamp saved from the original Aladdin; and a number of signs culled from the smaller hotels and businesses long since replaced in the move to mega-resorts. The museum accommodates up to 25 for docent-led tours that run 45 to 60 minutes, by appointment only.

The Neon Museum, Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont St., downtown Las Vegas, (702) 387-6366


ALL THAT GLITTERS

While Liberace departed earth physically almost two decades ago, his music, collectibles, and spirit remain alive and well at both the Liberace Museum and the entertainer's former Las Vegas Villa.

Founded to support the Liberace Foundation for the Performing Arts, the museum has distributed over $4.5 million in grants since 1976, and offers a smorgasbord of Mr. Showmanship's memorabilia, from costumes and jewelry to cars and (no surprise) pianos. His most famous glitters with more than 300,000 encrusted rhinestones. The museum accommodates 100 for banquets and up to 140 for receptions, with tribute artists available for entertainment.

Beyond performing, Liberace also knew how to throw a great party. His Las Vegas Villa attests to that, accommodating up to 1,200 for opulent events. Groups can also combine the two venues, starting with an afternoon museum tour and moving on to cocktails and dinner at the villa.

Liberace Museum, 1775 East Tropicana Ave., Las Vegas, (702) 798-5595; www.liberace.org

The Las Vegas Villa, 4982 Shirley St., Las Vegas, (877) 588-4552; www.lasvegasvilla.com


VIVA LAS VEGAS

No Sin City meeting would seem complete without a visit from the King. And no place shouts "Elvis in the house!" like the Elvis-A-Rama Museum. The sign over the entrance—quarter notes, a huge guitar, and gold records—sets an appropriately finger-snapping mood at this museum/shrine of many things Elvis. Among the 2,000-plus items on display: four cars (including Elvis' 1960 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II—a bargain back then at $23,000); clothing, legal documents, movies, and Army memorabilia, karate collectibles, and a series of honorary police badges Presley received from sheriff's departments around the country.

The museum's marquee exhibit, the Elvis-A-Rama Experience, is a 10-by-85-foot interactive audiovisual mural, a montage of Presley's concerts, TV appearances, and movies set to music by more than a few familiar chart-toppers. However, the real thrill of holding an event here is the chance to relive the King's glory days with two of his former costars: Darlene Tompkins ("Patsy Simon") from 1961's Blue Hawaii and TV Guide cover girl Cynthia Pepper, who played Cpl. Midge Riley in 1964's Kissin' Cousins.

Groups can do sit-down meals for 60 and receptions for about 100. Elvis impersonators are also available as meet-and-greeters and to swivel their hips with the crowd. The showroom, home to tribute revues and impersonator shows, seats 65.

Elvis-A-Rama Museum, 3401 Industrial Road, Las Vegas, (702) 309-7200; www.elvisarama.com