Observations, comments and questions from the first 24 hours of Aria

Aria at CityCenter opened to VIPs and media on Dec. 16, 2009, then to the public shortly before midnight.
Photo: Tom Donoghue/www.donoghuephotography.com

At midnight on December 17, CityCenter's Aria hotel-casino turned one day old. Here are a few ponderings on its first 24 hours on the Strip.

Jenny Holzer's "VEGAS" scrolls through some of her "Truisms." "You gotta know when to fold them" didn't make the list.

• More than one visitor to Aria on its first morning of operations stopped to ponder Jenny Holzer's contribution to the fine art collection, simply titled "VEGAS." Made up of LED panels that span 226 feet, the work scrolls through words of wisdom selected by Holzer for the piece. The short phrases range from truly thought-provoking to fortune-cookie-type filler. Waiting for your car at North Valet just got deep, man.

• Speaking of cars, I've officially found my go-to City Center parking spot: the Monte Carlo. Not only are there ample spaces in the casino's self-parking, but the Monte Carlo is actually connected to Aria via its shopping corridor dubbed the Street of Dreams. The only potential problem with the route will be avoiding a stop at SoD's new Cupcakery location opening soon.

Aria opens its doors to the public

• What's the deal with those Christopher Walken photographs behind The Deuce Lounge?

• Even after a few hours of watching people dressed for the occasion at Aria's VIP grand opening party, I don't know what "city chic" means.

• Trees are the new black. At least four different venues at Aria created by four different design groups feature trees in their motifs. At Julian Serrano restaurant, shiny black trees welcome diners, and barflies at Michael Mina's American Fish will gaze on a display featuring real birch trees that look like they're extending endlessly into the distance. Sadly absent: any homage to my favorite tree, the willow.

• Love = the almost-life-sized horse lamp right inside the door of the Light Group and Cirque du Soleil's Gold Lounge. Elvis had one in his living room.

• There are literally 15 places to eat at Aria, including Chicago chef Shawn McClain's debut Vegas restaurant, Sage, and Picasso chef Julian Serrano's first professional venture into his native Spanish cuisine. Can't wait to try the beef tripe stew with chorizo, bacon, chick peas and tomato-based sofrito.

• Like = the airy space that houses chef Masa Takayam's Japanese restaurant Bar Masa. The super high black ceiling almost disappears, letting you imagine you're eating under the open sky. With enough sake, you might even look up and see stars.

• Not feeling it = the absence of natural light on the casino floor. Sleek, hip and overwhelmingly dark, even at sunny noon it feels like midnight in here.

• One more question: Who wants to grab dinner? This place is making me hungry.

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