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Best of Vin Narayanan

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New Rush Tower makes an already good Golden Nugget even better

23 November 2009

On my usual trips to Vegas, I usually stay near or on the Strip and make sure I hit downtown/Fremont Street one night before I leave. But the next time I visit, I might change things up and spend a couple of nights at the Golden Nugget.

The Golden Nugget is the hidden jewel of Las Vegas. From dining to great pools and accommodations, it offers a Strip-like experience with downtown prices.

I made my first visit to the Golden Nugget earlier this month to take a look at its new Rush Tower, which opened up on Nov. 20. I didn't get a chance to go into the tower, because it was still a hard hat area. But I did get a guided tour of the exterior changes and other parts of the Golden Nugget, and what I saw was impressive.

My tour started in the Golden Nugget's VIP room, where I was waiting for Justin McVay, the Golden Nugget's PR manager, to meet me. The room itself featured extremely comfortable couches and two highly capable Golden Nugget employees working efficiently to make sure their top guests were served well. One family had just landed in Vegas to throw a surprise party at the Golden Nugget, but they needed a limo quickly to pick them up at the airport so the surprise wouldn't be ruined. That was no problem for the efficient Golden Nugget staff. After a quick phone call, a limo was diverted to the airport would arrive within 20 minutes of the SOS call. That was nicely done.

rush tower

An artist's rendering of the new 500-room Rush Tower at the Golden Nugget that opened last week. (photo courtesy of the Golden Nugget)

McVay arrived just as that crisis was being solved, and we began the tour. Our first stop was the soon to be completed entrance to the Golden Nugget's Rush Tower. And what an entrance it was.

The new porté cochere, which will serve as the main entrance the Rush Tower, is for valet parking and drop-offs/pick ups only, and the $1 million spent on landscaping -- including spectacular palm trees -- allows the entrance to rival those on the Strip.

The new Rush Tower has 500 rooms, ranging from 450 square feet to 1,300 square feet. The rooms are about 20% larger than existing Golden Nugget rooms.

The Rush Tower also has its own private check-in desk -- for Rush Tower guests only. Guests at other towers in the Golden Nugget will have to use the main, and more crowded, front desk.

A 75,000-gallon tropical aquarium fish tank serves as the backdrop for the front desk, creating the illusion that the desk is floating. The 75,000-gallon tank is similar to the 200,000 shark aquarium that the Golden Nugget also houses (more on that later).

Each room in the Rush Tower features a 42-inch plasma TV and feather-down comforters. The suites that sit on each floor have two or three televisions in the room, depending on the size of the suite. According to McVay, standard room rates for the Rush Tower will be around $79-$89 midweek and $129-$149 on the weekends.

After checking out the outside of the Rush Tower, McVay took me to see the rest of the Golden Nugget. And it quickly became clear that the new Rush Tower adds to what is already a very good Las Vegas hotel and casino.

rush tower room

Each room in the new Rush Tower has a 42-inch plasma TV. (photo courtesy of the Golden Nugget)

The main attraction at the Golden Nugget -- besides the gambling -- is the pool. And what a pool it is. You can gamble at tables near the pool. You can lounge around the pool. And by lounge I mean sit in chairs in the water, or couches next to fire pits pool side (which looks promising for nighttime activities). You can enjoy a drink at the trendy H2O bar. Or you can rent a cabana ($75 per day Monday-Thursday, $150 Saturday-Sunday) and enjoy the experience from there. And if you're feeling really adventurous, you hop on the three-story waterslide and go zipping through the 75,000-gallon shark tank. Yep, you can go sliding through the shark tank. How cool is that?

The shark tank itself is a marvel. In additional to several types of carnivorous fish, there are five different species of shark in the tank. The sharks and the fish are all exclusively meat eaters. And they all have different diets. A five-person life sciences team manages the aquarium.

Golden Nugget pool

The pool at the Golden Nugget is widely considered one of the best in Vegas. (photo courtesy of the Golden Nugget)

According to McVay, feeding time at The Tank is a sight to behold.

"The sharks are fed individually," McVay said. "The rest of the fish are given their food at the same time and they just devour it."

The rigorous attention to diet detail ensures that the fish don't eat each other, McVay added.

McVay went on to show me the new, smaller pool for Rush Tower residents. I have to admit, it looks nice. But I'd rather spend my time at the main pool. It's that good.

After seeing the pools, McVay showed where the casino floor was extending into the Rush Tower (yes, the gambling will be a mere few steps away) and pointed out the area that Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker uses to tape their shows -- very cool. That was the end of the official tour. But later that evening, Casino City's Gary Trask and I returned to the Golden Nugget on an unofficial visit to check it out at night. And it didn't disappoint.

Golden Nugget shark

The shark aquarium is one of the most popular attractions at the Golden Nugget. (photo courtesy of the Golden Nugget)

Gary and I dined at the Grotto, an authentic Italian restaurant that offers a fine-dining experience at reasonable prices. The place was hopping when we arrived around 6:30 p.m., and there was a 15 minute wait for a table. The maître d' took our name, asked us to wait at the bar, and then return in 15 minutes to ask for our table. It was an unusual procedure, but it worked well. Gary and I each had a drink, watched some sports on ESPN, and then returned to the maître d' stand. And as promised, our table was ready.

The furniture at Grotto is made of rich, polished wood. The walls had a Tuscan feel with brick accents. And the service was excellent. Chairs were pulled out for us, napkins dropped in our laps. And the waiter was able to recommend the right wines to go with our food. After a very good meal, an enormous dessert cart was wheeled to our table. But the cart didn't just have dessert samples. It had entire cakes and pies on it for us to inspect.

Gary and I both passed, but were impressed with the cart itself.

After dinner, it was time to gamble. Gary headed to the poker room, which looked plush, well lit and energetic (and much better than Binion's, which is just down the street) while I headed to the blackjack tables. I found a friendly table quite quickly. There were three mid-30ish couples and myself playing at a $10 table. The three couples were all friends from Minnesota (I had just visited there a couple of weeks earlier, so we had a lot to talk about) and were enjoying the gambling at the Golden Nugget much better than the gambling at the Bellagio. And I could understand why.

Golden Nugget Grotto

The Grotto was hopping when Gary Trask and I dined there earlier this month. (photo courtesy of the Golden Nugget)

Everybody at the Golden Nugget seemed happy. Everyone was having a good time. And those good vibes were infectious. The dealers were having fun laughing and joking with the players. The players were having fun getting to know different and new people. Even the cocktail waitresses were getting chummy with gamblers. The pit bosses felt comfortable chatting up players and getting to know them. Everyone was having a good time, and it showed.

The Golden Nugget seems to understand that the best kind of gambling is happy gambling. And they've done an incredible job of creating that happy, but hip atmosphere. I don't normally stay downtown when I visit Vegas. But the next I go, I think I'm going to make an exception -- at least for a couple of nights -- for the Golden Nugget.

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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.