Celebrating Chinese New Year in Las Vegas
Celebrate the Year of the Monkey in the city that knows how to play.
I high-five Lucky Cat, a nine-foot-tall silver sculpture in the Cosmopolitan, and the maneki-neko—both larger-than-life Vegas flamboyance and beloved Asian talisman—spits out my fortune, telling me to meander. Given that I’m in fast-paced and luck-obsessed Sin City, I take it as a sign to explore another side of the Strip during Chinese New Year amidst crimson paper lanterns, dancing dragons, symbolic menus and inventive cocktails. Las Vegas celebrates this holiday, known simply as CNY, like nowhere else in North America, pulling out the red carpet, quite literally.
After checking in at the lantern-festooned lobby of the Aria, my weekend starts with a gung hay fat choy greeting at Blossom, where embroidered cherry-blossom wallcoverings and hanzi-adorned banners set the CNY scene. Here, 80 to 90 percent of the VIP guests are from China. I sample Peking duck, lotus root, sea cucumber, mango sago—just some of the 100 dishes served at this Epicurean Award winner for Best Chinese Restaurant in Las Vegas. And between all those bites, there’s plenty of baijiu (a funky Chinese spirit that’s pronounced “bye-joe,” to the merriment of anyone familiar with its potent punch). Gan bei!
After dinner, I head to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where a team of 140 horticulturists creates a Year-of-the-Monkey extravaganza. Overwhelmed by the 20,000-plus flowers, 600-plus trees and 80,000-litre koi pond, I have a nightcap in the hotel’s Petrossian Bar. Despite there being 399 cocktails to choose from at the Bellagio alone, I opt for a simple gin and tonic, although with kaffir lime leaves and a diamond-shaped ice cube, it’s anything but.
As one of Vegas’s busiest times of year, with Asian visitors and shoppers jamming the city, the retailers get in on the CNY spirit. At the Forum Shops at Caesars, the Roman theme is glitzed up even more (if possible), with decorations like a glowing 22-foot dragon. Amidst a killer group of luxury brands ranging from Longchamp to Tom Ford (and, um, a spiral escalator), I watch local school kids put on a Chinese cultural show before switching my shopping appetite for lunch at Beijing Noodle No. 9, where I get a deft demo in the hand-pulling of this symbol of longevity (think dancing with noodles).
Feeling like I’ve gained an extra life in noodle consumption, I decide I need some wellness at the oasis of the Cosmopolitan’s Sahra Spa and Hammam, where natural-stone walls mimic the slot canyons of the surrounding desert. Post-restoration (via the Moonflower Ritual, which erases some of Sin City’s effects with a jasmine rose clay wrap and fragrant moonflower oil massage for a new-year-new-you glow), I feel free to fuel up with another CNY meal at China Poblano, a mash-up of Chinese and Mexican fare. CNY specialties include Leaping Over the Dragon’s Gate (red snapper that’s a nod to the myth of a koi turning into a dragon), xiao long bao (soup dumplings garnished with edible gold flakes) and the tasty Lu Yang cocktail (bourbon, orange liqueur, ginger star anise syrup and green tea foam).
After much revelry, dragons, cats and monkeys, a New Year’s cleansing of sorts is in order. I make like a flying monkey into the Grand Canyon via Sundance Helicopters. As the chopper rises, the city becomes a diorama of flashy excess that fades fast against the contrast of the Mojave Desert. There’s the now-miniature-looking Hoover Dam, Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead, Colorado River and then just billons of years of geological majesty. As the helicopter descends into the canyon (to the dramatic notes of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”), I feel like faraway Sin City might be a CNY mirage. And then I’m greeted with a glass of Champagne, Vegas-style. Now that’s how you celebrate a new beginning.