48 hours in a pandemic-era Las Vegas

*Writer’s note: My trip to Vegas happened back in November of 2020, before the recent travel restrictions and dramatic surges in COVID-19 cases.

We don’t run into anyone. No hapless tourists in baggy cargo shorts leaving their rooms to test their luck with the slot machines. No boisterous laughter echoing off the walls. Just the tock of our suitcases rolling, just the tap of our feet. At the other end of the hallway: silence. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic, which has deterred people from traveling. But maybe it’s deliberate. Maybe it’s because The Nomad, the hotel we’re staying at in Las Vegas, is just a quiet type of place. 

Tucked inside the Park MGM, The Nomad does overstated understatement well. It favors dark, moody lighting, and rich textures — velvets, leather copper and gleaming brass. It’s decidedly elegant, in a way that’s also sultry and mysterious. It might not scream “Vegas” right off the bat, but it surely harbors an element of secrecy. No matter what time of day it is outside, inside in the Nomad, it feels as though you’re staying up into the dark, wee hours of the night. But that’s just how the Nomad does things. Every iteration of the hotel nestles comfortable into the body of its host city, while keeping its essence — its soul, if you will — perfectly intact.

This was true, too, in my neck of the woods. The first time I visited a Nomad Hotel was in Los Angeles. Tucked away in the 1920s-era downtown landmark Giannini Place, the outpost’s dark and dramatic mood is uplifted by a light playfulness that feels very much of the place. I remember hunkering down at the rooftop bar with a friend, cocktail in hand and sweeping views of Downtown Los Angeles’s skyline right in front of me. Being there felt like the perfect confluence of European glamor and Los Angeles’ modern freshness. In other words, an aesthetic that I find myself gravitating toward all the time. I fell in love with Garcia’s mind right then and there. 

And that’s exactly why we came here on our first trip to Vegas on my 28th birthday. From the get-go, we knew that our experience would be far from a typical Vegas vacation. Sin City, after all, is known for its elbow-to-elbow street crowds, packed parties and bustling restaurants — types of gatherings that power a Covid-19 surge. That’s why we decided to make the hotel our main destination. This is where, after a whole year of not taking any vacation time off, we’d kick back and relax. 

The minute we check in (contactless, through the MGM app) and step into The Nomad’s grand suite, we feel the stress of the past few months — the same old, same old that’s become both of those things for too long — slip away. The sitting room is spacious, awash in shades of blue and green. A dark blue sofa sits on top of an ornate carpet and in front of a large flat-screen TV, and emerald green velvet curtains pull the eye straight out to the view of the Las Vegas strip. Original artwork, curated by Paris-based design studio de-poles, covers the walls at every turn, and a steamer trunk houses a very well-stocked minibar.

It’s hard to narrow this room down into a singular, all-encompassing style, but if I had to choose, I’d go with “timeless.” Not in a way that means boring or bland, but something so unique that it stands out in any time period and therefore belongs to none. This is the beauty of Garcia’s work. Somehow, he can design a space that’s equal parts old world and aesthetically ambiguous, but at the same time, comfortable and home-like. 

Here, every modern need is accounted for (Case in point: the hotel also made sure to leave complimentary sanitizers and wine-colored cloth masks). But on a larger scale, this applies to the room’s strategic layout, too. Are you in town with a night-owl, late-riser friend? You can wake up at your preferred time, shut the French doors and separate the “bedroom” from the living room area for a quiet breakfast. Do you want to have a movie night with the kiddos while your significant other takes a nap? Again, that door comes in handy. 

Through the door is what’s arguably the room’s most defining feature — an old-school, freestanding pedestal bathtub. There’s a caddy fitted on top, which holds your toiletries and everything from a candle to your cell phone. (I’d argue you can even slide a glass of vino there). Rounding it out is a book holder — perfect for propping up magazines, a book or your tablet. In other words, if this isn’t the perfect (and bonus, reasonably affordable) staycation spot for those of us growing a little tired of our homes, I don’t know what is. 

But after a groggy, four-hour drive, the part I’m looking forward to the most is the shower. The bathroom is how I often measure most of my hotel experiences. As I once read in T Magazine, “The bathroom is the last room where we try to impress, the most private space and the space where we are probably at our worst — sometimes at our least confident, often barely awake. These are the times when form takes a back seat to function.” At The Nomad, we’re given both form and function. I step into the walk-in Carrara marble shower, turn on the water and let the stress of everything wash away. 

Driving through the endless lights, the mega-hotel and the towering, all-consuming monuments that put France and Italy and Greece all on one crumb of land, I begin to understand it. I’d been putting off going to Vegas for the few years that I’ve been living in California, thinking, what could I possibly be missing out on? I’m the type of person who prefers a quieter genre of travel, and so, Las Vegas, as I’ve seen it through films and photographs, wasn’t the sort of place I was immediately drawn to. 

But as the trip grew closer and closer, I was becoming just a bit restless, fixed on the notion that the city of Las Vegas, where I’d come for a few days of relaxing, held some kind of mystery at its heart, somewhere between lights, waiting for me. Everyone who’s been here attested to its magic. And it’s not just the singles, the soon-to-be married, the chasers of some distilled taste of infinity. So, really, what is it about Vegas?

Despite the pandemic, the strip is crowded on this Saturday night. Electric lights filter through the charged Vegas air in a color scheme of golden yellows and neons. A splash of car lights bleed through the night. Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s a general luminosity, and it really does, for a moment, flick a certain kind of excitement inside of me awake. And the people — did I mention the people? Because there are a lot of people. They idle up and down the busy street, heads whipping around in circles and eyes dithering, also seemingly taken aback by the city’s capacity to invite everyone (including skeptics like me) into a world.

I shuffle in the passenger’s seat. Separated from Vegas by thick glass, I feel something sink in my stomach. A bit of sadness sweeps through me, and it takes me by surprise. “I wish we could walk around,” I tell Anton, exhaling profoundly. Even more than that, I wish we could see the sights, attend the shows and heck, even gamble for the first time in my life. I can imagine how, if you let it, time can shuffle by here with you being none the wiser.

But when I look closely, I’m physically alerted of the pandemic’s attempt at claiming the Strip. Posters of long-cancelled shows still remind passersby of what Vegas had to offer not too long ago. Masks, of course (though I do have to say that a lot of folks are nude-faced.) There are all these joys that feel just out of reach, just outside the limit. Even back at the hotel, it sinks in just how different everything is, especially considering that this is my first hotel stay since the start of the pandemic. Nomad’s restaurant is, for example, closed. At the NoMad Casino, clear acrylic screens divide seats at blackjack tables. Signs reminding guests of social distancing rules, sanitizers at every corner. 

Sunday brings a changed Vegas into even clearer focus. After a socially distanced horseback riding tour in the Nevada desert, in the evening, Anton and I hunker down in our room’s leather chairs and marble table overlooking the Vegas strip. We’ve set the scene for a successful epilogue to the night; We’ve ordered, as per the recommendation of the Nomad concierge, a slew of desserts from Gäbi Coffee & Bakery — a place I would’ve very much liked to experience in person. 

I am, however, comforted by the fact that I’m donning the most lounge-y of loungewear while digging my fork into the bakery’s nutella crepe, with the best possible view of the city off to my right. I mean, as far as late-night dessert snacking situations go, this, dare I say it, is the perfect example of having your cake and eating it, too. And speaking of cake, Gäbi’s milk caramel cake is quite possibly worth the trip to Vegas alone. That’s not saying anything about the croissants (which I’d originally intended to eat for breakfast the next day, but, you know, one doesn’t come to Vegas to practice self-restraint). 

There’s a moment’s pause. I sit here, a warm cup of berry tea in hand, my dog curled up on my lap and takeout boxes with only streaks of chocolate, all gone, all devoured too quickly. The Strip is now lightly, if not hardly, populated. Nothing like the crowds we witnessed yesterday. I might’ve picked a strange time to visit the city, but even seeing Vegas through the looking glass is enough to convince me of its sultry charm. And of course, I have The Nomad to thank for that, too. 

LA-based journalist and blogger sharing her deep-seated, honest love for fashion and travel. Check in every week for new stories of exploration and roundups!

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