The Las Vegas Strip looks hazy and half-asleep on Friday morning. The Los Angelenos on I-15 haven’t made their way to the city yet. It is already 97 degrees, and soon it will be much hotter and the crowds will be much drunker.
“What are you doing on the Strip today?” my Lyft driver asks.
“I’m doing a crawl where I try a bunch of different milkshakes with alcohol in them,” I explain.
“Oh,” he says, glancing at the time. It is 10:30 a.m. “It’s early.”
The thing is, in Vegas it’s never really too early. The Las Vegas Strip exists in a perpetual state of timelessness where it’s possible to shop at Chanel around midnight, eat prime rib at 4 a.m., or if you’re a total masochist like me, try nine different spiked milkshakes over the course of five hours. The plan is to start at Black Tap Craft Burger & Beer at the Venetian, head over to Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken at the Grand Bazaar Shops, Holsteins at the Cosmopolitan, Bobby’s Burger Palace at Mandarin Oriental, and then finish with Cafe Hollywood inside Planet Hollywood Resort.
“Well, I hope you at least had a big breakfast to soak up all that alcohol,” the driver says, pulling up to the entrance of the Venetian. Ornate fresco paintings on the ceiling hover over the entrance to the casino.
“Nope,” I say.
Dairy. Hard liquor. A forecast of 107 degrees. What could go wrong?
Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Eater Vegas photographer Amelinda B. Lee and I are the first ones seated on the patio at Black Tap. The outdoor dining area overlooks the Venetian’s canals, which are just like the real thing in Italy — that is, if the real thing also featured gondoliers singing over a thumping Calvin Harris track from a nearby nightclub.
We order one of Black Tap’s signature CrazyShakes. The aptly named Cake Shake arrives in all of its cake batter glory. The concoction features cake batter ice cream, a vanilla frosted rim and an entire slice of funfetti cake. The shake can be ordered with or without booze, but let’s be honest, if you’re going to have a milkshake for breakfast that is garnished with a slice of cake, you might as well just go for it and add hard liquor to the mix.
The combination of the shaded waterfront (OK, faux waterfront) patio and the milkshake is heaven. The ice cream isn’t too sweet and the cake itself proves to be more than just a decoration; it’s moist and not overly rich. I feel a little bit giddy after the final slurp of the milkshake. Surely, there are worse ways to start your day.
Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken
Grand Bazaar Shops, 3623 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Our next stop is Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken at the Grand Bazaar Shops outside of Bally’s. It is noon and officially over 100 degrees. The sun beating down on the open-air shopping area is relentless. Once again, I find myself wondering why there are so many outdoor shopping malls in a city as hot as Las Vegas. We step into Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken — a busy, counter service spot known for its juicy fried chicken and accompanying wildflower, chipotle, and wasabi honey pairings — and select two milkshakes.
The first is the Hazelberry, a creamy blend of Chambord and Nutella. It’s sort of like a frozen, boozy take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The second is the Shakedown Street, which is made with Baileys, bourbon, and chocolate sauce. Both milkshakes are strong — the kind of strong that sneaks up on you when you’re dancing around at a Vegas pool party and the next thing you know, you need to go take a nap in your hotel room. They’re also the kind of milkshakes that are sweet enough to make you crave something savory, but alas, we have no time for fried chicken.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Holsteins was the first place I ever had a boozy milkshake, and I’ve always looked back on the memory with a mix of fondness and confusion over just how good of an idea it is to combine liquor and ice cream. Clearly, the jury is still out on that debate.
Two things about the milkshakes at Holsteins: 1) They are exceedingly decadent and covered with some of the most elaborate toppings on the Strip and 2) because of the sheer number and size of said toppings, you will never be sure how to properly consume one.
We start with the Campfire S’mores, a towering mix of marshmallow vodka, ice cream, and chocolate sauce that is topped with an oversized toasted marshmallow, S’mores chocolate balls, candy sticks, and chocolate-covered graham crackers. I developed a weakness for marshmallow vodka during college winters in New Hampshire, and drinking it in the summer feels wrong, but also kind of right. The second milkshake is a true work of art. The Donutella is a Patron XO Café and Nutella-based milkshake that is topped with hazelnut croquant, pirouette cookies, chocolate coffee beans, and a Nutella glazed doughnut. It tastes like doughnuts and coffee in a glass, which isn’t a convenience the world was asking for, but lo and behold, Holsteins has blessed us with it. I have been on a liquid diet for several hours now. Desperate for solid food, I eat the doughnut.
Bobby’s Burger Palace
Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, 3750 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
I can feel the heat rising up from the pavement as we make the trek from the Cosmopolitan to Bobby’s Burger Palace. Girls in bikinis carry yardstick-long margaritas past promoters who try to herd them into dayclubs.
“I can’t believe we have two more stops on this crawl,” I say. I am tipsy and filled with ice cream; it is the weirdest kind of buzz.
We slide into the cool expanse of Bobby’s Burger Palace, which is decked out in an orange, red, and green color scheme and photos of namesake chef Bobby Flay. The boozy milkshake concept here is much simpler than our past stops. Diners can choose from seven classic milkshake flavors and add vodka, rum, or bourbon if they so desire. There are no crazy toppings; just ice cream, milk, and alcohol. I order a mint chocolate chip milkshake with vodka. The bartender explains that it is made with real mint extract and topped with housemade whipped cream. The milkshake is a thinner consistency and is — dare I say? — refreshing. I take it to go and it melts the moment we step outside — another hazard of boozy milkshakes in the summer in Vegas.
Planet Hollywood Resort, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
There’s a scene in Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel Matilda in which a character named Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to eat an entire cake as punishment for allegedly stealing a single slice. After six milkshakes, I can relate. I am the kind of person who eats a very healthy diet and only dreams about milkshakes, but today I am having them all.
We arrive at Cafe Hollywood, a charming white and blue 24-hour spot inside Planet Hollywood Resort, and are presented with the final milkshakes of the day — and they are a sight to behold. There’s This Shake is Bananas, which is made with vanilla ice cream, Nutella, and mango sauce and garnished with a banana and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. There’s the Las Vegas Shake, which features chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, chocolate poker chips, and a cronut. Last, we’re presented with the All American Shake, a red-white-and-blue blend of vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce that’s decorated with candy buttons. Like many of the shakes on this list, these are available with optional shots of alcohol (in this case, vodka, or rum).
The milkshakes at Cafe Hollywood are as creative as the ones at Black Tap and Holsteins, and ordering one — or in our case three — in a bright, Americana-inspired diner deep within a casino feels perfect. There’s a strange comfort in knowing that you could treat yourself to one of these monstrous milkshakes at 5 a.m. if you so desired and no one would judge you, because after all, you’re in Las Vegas.
When we finish the milkshakes — or at least attempt to — they are mercifully taken away. I leave the restaurant and wander around the casino, wondering how many laps around the poker tables it will take to burn off the calories I’ve just consumed. Even though I’ve walked the casino floor a million times, I still get lost, find my way again and eventually crave something salty. And Las Vegas, land of infinite and strange culinary possibilities, provides.