[The Incidental Tourist]

CityCenter is a walkable, drinkable art museum

Nancy Rubins’ “Big Edge” at CityCenter

The Vdara hotel updates its lobby bar and lounge, and I come running. The new thing is called Vice Versa. It has dueling cocktail menus—classics vs. “twisted” concoctions—and a quiet, pleasant patio. It might seem like a typical renovation to you, certainly not the most exciting news from the Las Vegas Strip, but to me, it’s important.

That’s because I like CityCenter. A lot. And I think I’m using it for its best possible purpose.

CityCenter has been around for five years now. Its debut was deeply wounded by the recession, its plans to be the pinnacle of luxury residential development on the Strip battered by the struggling economy. The Harmon, which never opened and was the subject of much infamous litigation, is being torn down and will cease to exist by the end of the year. MGM Resorts has rebranded the complex with the dynamic Aria resort as the center of attention, and most speculators will tell you the Shops at Crystals are for sale. A lot has happened here in five years.

But I’m still wandering around regularly, drinking at the fancy bars, snacking at fantastic restaurants, and absorbing the wonder of all the incredible pieces of art. I consider CityCenter my own personal (sometimes boozed-up) art museum, and I recommend you do the same. Take this tour and enjoy the splendor:

Park at Cosmopolitan or at Aria’s valet and make your way into Crystals. Grab a coffee at Starbucks and then slide into the elevator, going up to level three for James Turrell’s “Shards of Color.” These shapes of space and light are even better when you’re inside them.

Take the escalator up and ride the tram to the Bellagio/Vdara station, where the hypnotic forest of Doze Green’s “Crossroads of Humanity” is hiding, a blue-green collection of figures that might make you hate on tourist crowds a little less.

A Frank Stella piece at Vdara

It’s time for a drink at Vice Versa, so walk from the station down the bridge-corridor to Vdara. I recommend the New Fashion, with strawberries and Bulleit bourbon, and maybe some lobster tacos if you need a snack, but not as much as I recommend peering at Frank Stella’s “Damascus Gate Variation I” behind Vdara’s check-in desk and the colorful twins “Day for Night, Night for Day,” by Peter Wegner in the lobby. These two pieces make me want to live at Vdara.

Get an eyeful of Nancy Rubins’ “Big Edge,” perhaps CityCenter’s most famous installation, as you saunter to Aria’s north entrance. Step inside and head immediately down the escalator to your left to get some ethereal wisdom from Jenny Holzer’s 18-foot LED installation. My most recent lesson: “You must know where you stop and the world begins.”

Inside Aria’s casino, it’s easy to find Maya Lin’s 84-foot “Silver River” in the lobby. But do a little more exploring. Find Tim Bavington’s hazy color-dream in the high-limit slots and Andy Warhol’s “Camouflage” series at the entrance to the Sky Suites. Munch chips and salsa with a Bikini Martini at Javier’s and try not to be creeped out by the 3,000-pound, intricately chainsaw-carved wood panels hanging at the end of the dining room.

Before you decide on a restaurant for dinner, cap things off with a walk toward the Strip to check out the quirky, whimsical, giant typewriter eraser by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, a pop-art monument that just doesn’t make sense out here. Some people think CityCenter doesn’t make sense out here, either, all sleek and thoughtful on our flashy, gaudy drag.

But it was never supposed to be like everything else on the Strip, and it isn’t. You just have to look at it differently, and maybe have a drink.

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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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