Monday, September 20, 2010

Six places to visit in Vegas

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Guy trips to Las Vegas are legendary. From Fear and Loathing… to The Hangover, no one expects a trip to sin city to be ordinary. But getting the mix right and hitting the best spots before the bright lights and spinning wheels clean you out of money and good sense is easier said than done though. So here are GQ's tips for a Vegas adventure you’ll remember for the right reasons .

Casino and hotel: Aria Don’t bother packing your pajamas because you’re not going to sleep a wink. Aria, the latest addition to the glamorous strip, is a visual treat. It is surrounded by upscale stores that feature the world's most elite brands like Dior, Hermes and Fendi. In addition to the 4000 plus guest rooms, it has some 500 suites with an exhilarating casino floor. The high rollers have access to the swankiest private space where nothing is off limits. When you want to catch a breather from all the gambling, you can head on over to one of the 16 restaurants by celebrity chefs like Michael Mina or hang out by one of the 10 bars.
Nightclub: XS at Encore Vegas is a clubber's market and quite a saturated one at that. XS at Encore is amongst the few new additions worthy of a taste. It’s popular in the celebrity circuit so men have to pay a good cover charge and wait in long lines. But can you really put a price to partying aside Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian? Dress to impress if you want in and just don't rule out bribing the bouncer (You didn't hear that from us). The drinks sure are expensive but how many clubs do you know with a pool area and day beds?
Pool party: Rehab at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Rehab is a massive all-day pool party, one of the wildest you’ll find in sin city. But women in skimpy bikinis aren’t the only incentive to visit this place. If ever there was a land of plenty, Rehab would have to be it. With alcohol galore, renowned DJs, relaxing cabanas, slides and sexy vibes – it's a brilliant playground for adults. Rehab only opens every Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm and unless you're with a group of super hot babes or a hotel guest, access may not be easy. But making reservations for one of the cabanas by the pool will guarantee you a piece of the action. Be prepared though because you might need a day of rehab after Rehab.
Show: Le Rêve at Wynn This 75-minute show takes place at the gorgeous aqua theatre inside Wynn. 'Le Rêve' literally means 'The Dream' in French and the show is a collection of stunning dream sequences. It’s incredibly imaginative and shows off some pretty crazy stunts in a backdrop of rain, fire and dancing lights. Just don't get a seat in the first row unless you love getting splashed on.
Exhibit: Ferrari display at Wynn When you’ve had enough of the boozing, gambling and pretty women, head on over to the Penske Wynn Ferrari display. This part-car dealership, part-exhibit features some of the most exotic automobiles ever built. Our personal favourite is Wynn's own Enzo Ferrari that’s worth over $1.6 million. Hands off though because this beauty isn’t for sale.
Restaurant: Mix at Mandalay Bay Located on the 64th floor of Mandalay Bay, the setting at Mix is just as much an experience as the cuisine. Thousands of glass spheres hanging from the ceiling and an all-white room set the stage for elegant dining. Add a spectacular view and futuristic "pods", capsule-type booths, and you've got an intimate dining experience to woo the ladies. It's one of the most romantic restaurants you'll find anywhere. The trick is to remember to eat.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

A shout-out to stalkers

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During my short period of fascination with LA tabloids, I was introduced to stalking stories which intrigued me to an embarrassing extent. It’s a phenomenon I attribute entirely to then President, George W. Bush. His bloopers, his cartoons and his public speeches loaded with ‘Bushisms’ lost fizz after a while pushing me away from conventional media into the world of yellow journalism. Restraining orders being issued to stalkers against celebs are often splashed all across tabloids. It gives me the comfort that all's well with the world.

It's not unusual for crazies to drive around the distinguished 90210 zip code and try to jump over the sky high fences to peek at their favorite celeb or hang from fragile branches to get shots of Jennifer Anniston sunbathing topless in the privacy of her backyard. Not so private after all is it. Then there would be the occasional dimwit peeing at a celebrity doorstep and getting arrested because he'd forgotten all about security cameras. Britney Spears, I concur just from the myriad stories, must be the queen of stalker land. In fact I’m willing to bet good money that stalkers-in-the-making practice with a full blown cardboard cut out of hers. They must hate her at the LA Superior Court given the work load she adds by getting countless restraining orders issued.

Come 2010 and everyone can have the esteemed privilege of having a stalker. All one has to do is activate 'Facebook places' or 'Twitter locations' or get an app like Foursquare and you're on your way to giving Britney a run for her money. With these apps, you can tell friends your location and track where you have been in real time. The 'check-in' points you earn and the lure of becoming a 'mayor' while earning discounts is sure appealing and if you aren’t a female supermodel, why fret right?

Here’s the catch. Everyone Google-searches themselves when they’re bored. It’s no surprise that the public information available about you is often frightening. If you live in the US, it’s too late to undo any damage. UK has more stringent privacy laws but it still be a significant bit. India will be there in a few years as Nilekani’s Unique Identification Card project picks up speed. As the technology world moves towards a single integrated identity across social networking platforms, combining information across your accounts and profiles, they also end up making you more vulnerable each step of the way.

As with everything else, common sense and knowledge about options and settings on these apps will save you from becoming a target. But if you're building a fan club, it's all yours to play with. Next time you make a killer presentation at work or conclude a crowd-maddening speech at the college social or win a polo match and feel like a superstar, go on a Foursquare usage spree and wait for the stalkers to roll in. Of course, a cool profile pic will help too. Enjoy the limelight.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My (brief) Italian Romance

I might have chanced upon the ultimate romantic hotspot by the bay. It ain’t an exotic restaurant or a sizzling nightclub or an island in the pacific but a majestic castle on a vineyard tucked away in Napa Valley that’s eminent for producing some of the world’s finest wines. It’s not called the seductive land that is both cosmopolitan and quaint for nothing.

As I drove past several dozen gorgeous wineries a few weeks back that savor the bounty of this vinous enclave, I hit upon metal studded enormous gates of this castle that seemed to beckon me. Castello di Amorosa. The name alone has a magical ring to it and the place has the power to transport you in a blink into the Tuscany landscapes and regardless of the company, make you fall in love. You may not buy this but in the unbearably bright sun, I even saw a rainbow. Told ya, love.

Over five unique and evocative red wine tastings accompanied by some seriously delectable breadsticks and tinted cheese that looked like art, I learnt an awful lot about wines from my very chatty server. The winery primarily produced Italian style wines. All the juicy red grapes which can pass for blueberries, albeit longer, are grown in the valley around the Castle. Vineyards are typically on hillsides since hillside quality is usually far superior to valley floor grapes. Oh and those grapes are all hand-farmed. If you happen to ask them how they set themselves apart from others, you might hear “with delicious, classically structured, intensely flavored, well-balanced and elegant wines”. Who knew they were all adjectives for expensive drinks. Swirl, sniff, sip, repeat.

Winery tours are a must do but not the kinds that chauffer you around in a stretch limo serving sparkling liquids inside. Those are no fun. I mean the real deal where you get down and dirty. The ones where you can follow the course of the grape from the vineyard through the cellar to the finished product and learn about the many aromas and the basic components of a balanced wine. As a bonus, you might just spot a few owls and hawks who ‘work’ in official capacity as predators so your wine doesn’t smell of rodent poisons.

Now only if I got to attend a fashion show or a live auction full of ridiculous treasures or some equally outlandish event in this marvelous setting wearing a designer hat, it’d be amazing. Or perhaps I’ll get to photograph an over the top Indian destination wedding at this locale. Imagine the grandeur of jellewery and exquisite costumes against the backdrop of a royal castle and home grown wines to go with every dish. I may finally learn what wines compliment Indian cuisine. Dionysus, are you listening? Wait, is Bacchus the god of wine? I forget.

I bet you knew that drinking wine does give you superpowers; the superpowers to live healthier and longer. Cheers.

Identity crisis in a new jacket

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Using shorter versions of ones name is cool but it’s no fun when one has to resort to coffee aliases (using Americanized version of one’s name at coffee shops) just because the server doesn’t have time for you to explain to her why your parents/relatives/neighbors chose an extraordinarily long and complex name for you and how you had no say in it.

It’s almost been a decade since I moved to US and I've noticed the gradual shift in the qualities often associated with immigrated Indians. Back in the day they were the same set of boring questions. It was all about the irreplaceable nerdy image ("Ours doctors and engineers have a multitude of skills. We don't need a third profession."), the explicit red dot on the forehead ("It is for the little boys to practice archery"), curried spicy food that could kill ("If our armed forces are overworked, then that is how we destroy our enemies"), the HQ of arranged marriages ("Try it. My aunt can set you up.") and our supernatural skill of making snakes dance (I'd vary my answer on this one).Fast forward a few years and Shilpa Shetty's yoga DVDs have replaced those of Baba Ramdev’s on Amazon's yoga section, Frieda Pinto's sizzling sex appeal has replaced Tabu's docile image on movie screens in the US, Anita Nair's memoir about dating has replaced Arundhati Roy's prismatic literature on book shelves across the nation and Anil Kapoor's cameo on ‘24’ has replaced the typical Indian-doc-with-funny-accent on most shows.

It's not just media that is projecting these new improved versions. We’ve ourselves undergone bit of a transformation. Luxury cars have replaced our loyalty towards Hondas and Toyotas. Co-workers no longer shy away from inviting us to go bungee jumping or jet skiing since we’ve finally evolved past playing cricket in neighborhood parks. We don't just order diet coke without ice at restaurants anymore and resist the temptation to cover 15 countries on a first time trip to Europe in 15 days.

A few things will never change though. Like our nerds will never cease to be nerds. And I say that lovingly. The technology world needs them. Like our men's undying love for white tennis shoes for every occasion. Slick blazer, gap jeans, hot babe and white tennis shoes. Is it a sacred thing? I don't get it. Like our kids averaging 5 rides an hour at Disneyland when others can only average about 2. Eating from home packed lunch boxes sure beats standing in hour long pizza lines. We’ve morphed all we could. The rest, the world will just have to deal with.