Vegas 360 Experience
Eiffel Tower Experience View
Eiffel Tower Experience View

I’ve proudly been the editor of Gay Vegas for two years now. And yet, I only just visited Las Vegas this past March. If you’re wondering, it’s pretty typical for editors working in big markets to not be living in those same markets. There are plenty of benefits to this arrangement as well, including time zone differences and unique interview opportunities. But I would be lying if I said writing about Las Vegas every month didn’t make me want to visit. Well, early March 2017 would see it happen.

This was my experience.

Caesars Stay & Play

So, why was I in Vegas? I had traveled from Toronto, Canada to attend ClexaCon, a convention that brought together “queer women from a multitude of fandoms across TV, film, and the web to celebrate our presence in the media”. 

I obviously needed to stay pretty close to the convention floor, which happened to be located in Bally’s Las Vegas. You can’t get much closer and enjoy an equally as luxurious stay than with its connected sister property Paris Las Vegas. I made my home away from home in one of the hotel’s top floors in a newly renovated Burgundy Room with a view to die for. As for the room itself, gorgeous. A king-sized bed fit for a queen, a bathroom with a shower and separate tub, unique furniture and art pieces, plus the perfect workspace for my needs. I’ve been in enough functional but generic hotel rooms to recognize this is truly a dream experience.

But back to that view! Through my large windows, I could see the famous Caesars Palace, the Fountains of Bellagio and the Eiffel Tower Experience, the latter of which I was able to tour during my last day in Vegas. Having already seen Vegas from incredible heights on the High Roller (in a Happy Half Hour cabin after midnight, I might add – an experience I highly recommend. It’s exactly what it sounds like: bartender service for half an hour while you ride the High Roller with friends and friendly strangers), closing my visit with a 360-degree view from the top on a clear morning was the perfect way to say goodbye to Sin City. For that reason alone, I would recommend the Eiffel Tower Experience to any tourist. Did I also take advantage of Paris’ casino floor, dining options and bars while I was there? You know I did!

The Shows

With an endless amount of shows in Vegas and my stay lasting less than a week, I had to be picky with where I would spend my time. I ended up deciding on two shows that were inclusive of the LGBTQ community (the main reason I was coming to Vegas anyway): Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas at the LINQ and Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity at New York-New York.

Divas Las Vegas stars Vegas’ longest-running headliner, Frank Marino. As the name might lead you to believe, the show is an homage to our great divas, past, and present. What makes it unique? It’s a drag show on steroids! When I was in town, I was fortunate enough to see Marino impersonate the late Joan Rivers. But although Marino is quick with the jokes and spot-on with his introductions, it’s clear he wants the spotlight on his divas. And with good reason too, because they deliver. While the show is always changing, during my visit I got to see drag superstars take on the likes of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Cher, Celine Dion, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Adele and much more. An extra nice touch I appreciated was seeing Marino and his divas stick around after the show to meet fans and sign autographs. This is a classic Vegas experience I can’t recommend more.

As for Zumanity, it’s proof that while today there are more family-friendly options in Vegas, you can still find a show that is through and through for adults only. Let me tell you, this show is not for prudes! A show that sees many performers interact with several audience members, I can see how couples would enjoy Zumanity as a way to spice up date-night. While the show does feature some of the electrifying stunts that have come to define Cirque du Soleil, Zumanity’s focus is more so on intimate performances. This includes gay and lesbian acts, as well as a very queer host. The show also features an amazing house band and costumes that will blow you away. But don’t get me wrong – despite my talk of intimacy and beautiful artistic choices, this show has several comedic moments. As someone who attended the show alone, those moments helped ease me into the out-there Zumanity

Local Grub Hubs

Full disclosure: I’m not a foodie. But even non-foodies have to eat and even we can tell the difference between bad, so-so, good and really good. Luckily, with the help of some locals, I ate like royalty during most of my stay.

My first stop as a starved traveler was at Kaizen Fusion Roll and Sushi. I don’t think I’ve ever had sushi that looked that beautiful and tasted that good. I also had the chicken katsu, which was just delicious. Pro tip: review Kaizen on Yelp for a free appetizer!

Now when you’re not from Vegas, the idea of vintage Vegas is just seared into your head. The Peppermill Fireside Lounge fulfilled that image for me. Because the Peppermill is open 24 hours a day, I was able to pop by for a very late dinner. Well actually, I was in the mood for breakfast, so it was the Eggs Benedict I had. I also couldn’t resist a late-night coffee, what with the Peppermill’s rainbow-colored sugar calling to me. Loved my meal, enjoyed the quick service and couldn’t be happier with the purely Vegas setting.

As for lunch options, I had been dying to try the Bobbie at Capriotti’s on Paradise since we interviewed lesbian owner Kelly Gwinn for Gay Vegas. As someone who only eats a turkey meal once or twice a year, this Thanksgiving in a sandwich was a godsend. And because I have a sweet tooth, I also had one of their cookies and brownies. But hey, those were on separate occasions… I also lucked out and got my sandwich on a day Kelly was in and I got to meet her. Never got to thank her though for a sandwich that was so filling that it's leftover half doubled as my dinner that day too. So good!

And because I’m a sucker for Thai food, I had to go to the Lotus of Siam once I was given the recommendation. Unassuming in its Commercial Center strip mall location, this place is a true Vegas gem. Immediately hit with the smell of chili powder as I entered, I knew I had to have something spicy. I went with the spicy seafood fried rice and a side of dumplings. Delicious! After dinner, I took the time to look around the restaurant, noticing photos of various celebrities who had visited. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had heard good things.

Of course, it wasn’t all about fine dining. We don’t have White Castle and In-N-Out Burger in Toronto, so you know I couldn’t resist the temptation. I also kept things easy by eating at Yong Kang Street Dumpling & Noodle House at Paris instead of leaving the hotel, and by putting Bally’s food court to good use between ClexaCon panels as well (and, yes, I’ll have more on ClexaCon shortly). But I also got adventurous on this trip, trying Ethiopian for the first time. And what an unexpected adventure it was – dinner and a show! We showed up at Blue Nile Restaurant for the food but stayed a bit longer to take in the open mic comedy. Only in Vegas!

Random Fun

I had a lot of concrete plans while I was in Vegas, but fortunately, I was able to fit in a lot of frivolous fun too. Most of the credit for this goes to my publisher, John Lawrence, and his partner, Peter. By the time I finally met John in person, I had been working for and with him for just over two years. I already considered him a friend, and as soon as he picked me up at McCarran International that chemistry was confirmed. 

On that note, Vegas, your airport game is on point. I swear I was off my plane and outside waiting for my ride in 10 minutes, tops. That never happens in Toronto. The drive out of McCarran is also quite pretty, and you’re by the Strip in no time. Great way to get people to the casinos fast and keep them there as long as possible…

 Now, John kept me plenty busy that first day. Right from the airport, we were off to the Nevada State Museum where we met with its director, Dennis McBride, a local LGBTQ historian. I had read plenty of his interviews over the past two years, so I felt incredibly lucky to be gifted his new book, Out of the Neon Closet: Queer Community in the Silver State, and to have him sign it along with a personalized note. That book has got to be one of my favorite Vegas souvenirs.

Speaking of souvenirs, John took me next to the city’s arts district to pick up a custom Gay Vegas t-shirt. You better bet I put it on immediately and wore it for the rest of the day. It was also in this neighborhood that I saw our magazine on stands for the first time. I felt very proud in that moment.

After a late lunch and a nap back at my hotel room, John took me on our agreed upon magazine run. Only later that night did I realize he’d already hit up a vast majority of the places we visited but wanted to show me them anyway. For instance, John took me to the Wynn Hotel to show me the Singing Frog at the Lake of Dreams over cocktails. Don’t tell him, but my favorite part of that visit was discovering an Orange Is the New Black slot machine.

Later that night, John showed me Vegas’ various LGBTQ neighborhoods. I would use that information days later to go back for drinks and drag at Badlands Saloon. But it wasn't just clubbing, although we did enjoy stops at Piranha and FreeZone. Having written about The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada on several occasions, John knew how important it was for me to visit. And although we stopped by there that night just so I could catch a glimpse, he made sure I visited the next day so I could actually get a tour.

John also took me around Downtown Las Vegas, including a stop at Zappos. I was fortunate enough to see several sides of Vegas most tourists never see, like the affluent Summerlin neighborhood.

And because we did end up setting aside a day for me to help John out on that magazine run, I got to check out the best hotels and casinos Vegas has to offer. Also, maybe, just maybe, I rode the sex bike at the Erotic Heritage Museum during a stop.

By the third day of my trip, ClexaCon had started and I had to say my goodbyes to John and Peter. I hated saying farewell because we had quickly bonded and they couldn’t have been more hospitable. There really is nothing like being shown around by a local. Nonetheless, something tells me we’ll be seeing each other again.


I talk about ClexaCon last because it’s by far what has left the most lasting impression on me. 

ClexaCon gave me the excuse I needed to finally visit Vegas. I know that may be surprising to read, but I’m not big on casinos, and every top act has performed in Toronto or has plans to. I always figured it would take a bachelorette party or something big to get me to Vegas. Fortunately, ClexaCon came first.

Now, I’ve been working as a journalist specializing in covering LGBTQ issues since 2012. As of late 2014, a good chunk of my focus shifted to queer entertainment coverage. But my attention to queer women’s representation in television, film and the web goes back 12 years to my teens. So ever since I could really think for myself, this stuff has mattered to me. In many ways, it’s been my world. So when I first heard that ClexaCon was happening, I thought, “This is for me. This is me.” Next, I thought, “I’m finally going to Vegas.”

If the name is throwing you off, let me explain. ClexaCon is named after the much-loved TV couple Clarke and Lexa of The CW’s The 100. Controversy followed after Lexa was killed off on the show just over a year ago. Her death sparked discussions around queer baiting and the “Bury Your Gays” trope. It also led to large sums being raised for The Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ and questioning youth, and to many television writers signing The Lexa Pledge, a commitment to treating LGBTQ characters more inclusively.

Lexa’s death was the breaking point for many and our community’s response to it was proof that we had the numbers to warrant a convention of our own where we could discuss the nice and not so nice representations of queer women in media. ClexaCon was born.

This first edition of ClexaCon took place from March 3 to March 5. I was there for all three days, and it was magical. Over 2,000 people attended from over 20 countries, the vast majority of them queer and trans women. I’ve never been at an event with so many like-minded people, or ever felt so at home at an event of such a size. Speaking to other attendees, I know I’m not the only one who felt this way.

There was a lot to do at ClexaCon, and I feel like I did a little bit of everything. I went to most of the celebrity reunions, I listened in on several panels and I even saw a film at their film festival. What I didn’t attend sounded really cool too, like their Cocktails for Change fundraiser, their SINFUL party, and their table talk lunches. And while I didn’t pay for any photo ops or autographs, I saw a lot of happy girls that did.

I noticed a lot of people seemed to know each other, only to realize they were meeting in person for the first time at ClexaCon (many had met through the likes of Twitter and Tumblr). While I tend to keep my relationship with social media pretty professional, I found that sense of friendship with fellow lesbian film critic Lisa Tedesco, who I also met in person for the first time at ClexaCon. She quickly became my convention BFF and constant meal companion.

As for the reunions I attended, you may not have heard of all of these shows, but just know that they span my early teen years to my present. We’re talking the likes of All My Children, South of Nowhere, Lost Girl, Person of Interest and Wynonna Earp. I also went to the LGBTQ Actresses in TV & Film presentation, which featured out Canadian actress Ali Liebert, whom I had met with earlier that weekend for work reasons (but, yes, I was fangirling on the inside). Between giving South of Nowhere’s Gabrielle Christian a head nod in the hallway, playing it cool with All My Children’s Elizabeth Hendrickson in the bathroom and freezing up around Lost Girl’s Zoie Palmer like I always will, I was shocked by the access to the talent and pleasantly surprised with how super respectful of boundaries attendees were.

Really, ClexaCon surprised me across the board. Long after I was committed to going, its modest list of celebrities kept growing, as did its list of panelists. The number of attendees also more than doubled initial expectations. ClexaCon was either going to disappoint and go down as representing one unique moment in time or be a huge success that begged for follow-up editions. Fortunately, the latter is the case, and I can only hope that, if a second convention is confirmed, Vegas is once again picked as the host city. I want to go back ASAP!