Rivers Casino doesn&rsquo,t need your money. Rivers casino.
Or at least it didn&rsquo,t the day after its July 17 opening party, when the new gambling mecca just east of O&rsquo,Hare Airport (3000 S River Road, Des Plaines, 888-307-0777, playrivers.com ) was so crowded officials asked people to delay visiting.
Things have calmed down since then. A bit. Though Rivers probably still doesn&rsquo,t need my business, you&rsquo,ll be hard-pressed to find a nicer spot to gamble in Illinois. That&rsquo,s why I decided to determine the best way to drop $100 during an evening there.
If you want to ensure a payoff, come hungry and spend most of your Franklin on food. A small, elegant iteration of Gold Coast mainstay Hugo&rsquo,s Frog Bar (here, basically a scaled-down Gibsons) delivers high-end steaks and seafood, ranging up to an $86 surf-and-turf with Australian rock lobster tail. You can save cash by heading next door to the Canopy Buffet (lunch $19&ndash,$21, dinner $26), which reminds me of the gold-standard buffet at the Aria in Vegas in presentation (modern, upscale), variety (especially the seafood and desserts) and execution (mmm, rare prime rib). When I share the comparison with executive chef William McIlroy, he beams. He came to Rivers from MGM Detroit, but took a buffet research trip to Vegas that included stops at Aria and Wynn.
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Except for Hugo&rsquo,s, all of the restaurants here are served primarily by the kitchen behind the buffet, and other than the pasta, all of the food is made in-house daily, down to the hand-cut fries at FLIPT, the gourmet burger joint next door. But I end up at Mian, the 16-seat noodle bar one storefront over, where I drop $19 on a giant bowl with chopped duck and a bottle of Tsingtao.
Before hitting the tables, I check out the Rivers bar scene. Craft cocktails are available at central piano bar Lotus for $11. Each has at least one offbeat ingredient&mdash,organic apricot jam, Italian maraschino cherries or a splash of Mexican Coke&mdash,but the friendly bartenders are crushed serving beer and wine to the gaming throngs and have trouble tracking down the speciality fixings. Rivers should consider moving this service to a side lounge, but even amid the bustle, the Bulleit Rye Manhattan with those cherries, so rich they taste like chocolate, is worth the wait.
After draining my glass, I head to Cube, a lounge that often features live entertainment, and check out one of the two spacious covered patios perfect for alfresco fun with friends. It&rsquo,ll be especially nice this fall when the fireplace dividing the seating areas gets fired up.
Speaking of which, I&rsquo,ve got about $60 still burning a hole in my pocket and I&rsquo,m ready to play. On my way to the table games, I get sucked into the slots area by the new machine based on the old Airplane! movies. It&rsquo,s one of those slots with multiple ways to win and a bonus game, and I have no clue how many Leslie Nielsens and Otto the autopilots I need to line up to score big, but the 20 bucks is fun while it lasts.
Down to $40, I find a seat at a table and try a variant of Texas Hold&rsquo,Em poker in which everyone plays heads-up against the dealer and you risk a minimum of $5 per hand (the blackjack tables here run at least $15, and there&rsquo,s no poker room, sadly). I quickly lose my stake, but I feel as if I&rsquo,m getting the hang of this game. As I so often do when I make a casino run, I reach for my wallet again.
I end up breaking my vow and investing $200 in chips, but my patient play pays off and I walk out a few hours later $200 ahead, more than covering my food and drink purchases. I&rsquo,m glad Rivers didn&rsquo,t need my money this visit, although I suspect it&rsquo,ll end up hanging onto some of it next time.
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