The Forum Shops “Phase III Expansion” opened on October 22, but somehow I didn’t get there until a couple of days ago. Until then, I had to wonder how in the world somebody could engineer a triple-decker spiral escalator. Of course, I also had to wonder about the awesome new tenant improvements and over-the-top pseudo-Roman décor. The exterior of the new expansion, which faces the Strip and includes massive black shiny columns with gold-covered Corinthian capitals, had already whetted my interest. Even so, it was the spiral escalator that actually got me to park in the Caesars “self park” garage and hike through the casino to the most “wonderous” shopping venue in the Western world. The masterminds behind it can’t spell, but they sure can make you want to buy stuff.
As a former student of the classics, I can’t help asking myself, “What would Julius think?” every time I darken the door of Caesars Palace. Without a time machine, I’ll never know for sure, but I’ve come to believe he wouldn’t merely like the resort that has glitterized his name. I think he’d love it.
Okay, maybe that’s just me. I can’t help smiling at the clever blend of things old and new at Caesars. The result is such a hilarious new product that is so quintessentially Las Vegas. Julius Caesar probably wouldn’t understand that unless he hung around a while and met people like Oscar Goodman and Wayne Newton. But even without them, wouldn’t he just have to be a tiny bit delighted by a spiral escalator?
It really does give the impression of being a helix when you look at it from afar. The housing was designed to enhance the illusion, but when you actually ride the thing, the truth is immediately apparent. There’s no such thing as a spiral escalator. What does exist is a series of curved escalators, separated by landings that let you get off at three separate levels. But that’s okay! It’s still “wonderous!”
So are all the new shops, and the restaurants are impressive, too. I had brunch at the Stage Deli, which isn’t one of the fancy new ones, but I’m mentioning it because it’s good. If it isn’t quite a real New York delicatessen, it comes close, and the prices are quite reasonable for the Strip — about ten bucks for a huge breakfast and coffee. People near me were having amazing-looking Dagwood sandwiches that made me make a mental note to try the corned beef the next time I’m there.
The names above the shop doorways are what we’ve all come to expect at high-end Vegas shopping destinations: Coach, Bulgari, Gucci, Dior, Versace, St. John. Some of the holiday decorations make for odd juxtapositions with the multi-story caryatids, open-mouthed griffins, and gods in varying stages of undress. How does a break-dancing reindeer fit in, or a Brooks Brothers Christmas tree built out of neckties? Quite nicely, actually, as long as you remember where you are. It’s Vegas, baby! Pagan in every century!
One store I was curious about was FAO Schwarz. Long a tenant of the Forum Shops, the venerable toy store had sadly deteriorated into a second-rate Toys “R” Us in recent years. New owners, however, had promised a big change.
The signature Trojan Horse (or is it a hobby horse?) still looms over the entrance, but a new paint job has freshened it up considerably. Inside, the store has been upgraded to feature the kinds of toys kids don’t even know about but adult relatives spend lots of money on to assuage guilt feelings. There’s a whole room full of pricy Madame Alexander dolls, for example, and a wall of collectible ($60 and up) GI Joes. I saw a little girl at the wheel of a tiny BMW convertible, and a boy eyeing a foosball game good enough to be in a real arcade. The store’s still a work in progress, but it’s a hundred per cent better than the old one.
A long-standing feature of the Caesars Forum Shops is the creepy “Sinking of Atlantis” robot show. I am a big fan of most of the effects and features at Caesars, but this is one creation I had hoped might be replaced. No such luck. Poseidon’s evil glow-in-the-dark clone still rises from the chlorinated waters in front of the Cheesecake Factory every hour. Whoever wrote his dialogue used LSD for inspiration instead of ancient sources, but the crowd that gathered to watch the spectacle was as huge as ever. I like to tell myself that it’s not because the show is good. It’s because the show is free.
Back in the new arm of the shops, I rode the escalator a few more times before heading back through the casino to the parking garage. The new improved Caesars Forum Shops mall is a definite winner, and perhaps my tastes aren’t sophisticated enough (or I’ve never been stoned enough) to properly appreciate the “Sinking of Atlantis.” There’s no argument, however, that the fancy stores, the top-drawer restaurants, and that wicked spiral escalator make it a true shopping wonder of the modern world.