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Totally Tubular!

A Vegas casino makes liquor quicker.

Illustration Graham Roumieu

Las Vegas

WHEN YOU VISIT the newly opened ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, order a drink and ask the person on the next bar stool to guess how far he thinks the libation will travel from the bottle to your glass. If he gets it right, you’ll buy the next round.

The answer: between 1,000 and 10,000 feet, or up to two miles.

The ARIA, which is part of the stunning new CityCenter, has been constructed with a first-of-its-kind, computer-driven liquor transportation system. Deep in the bowels of the hotel reside six so-called “pump rooms” containing 32 brands of booze. In each room, 1,344 bottles stacked six deep are placed upside down in specialized holders controlled by a computer. Some 26 miles of tubing—or just under a marathon’s worth—zip the liquor around the facility.

Say you’re in the blackjack pit and you feel a little thirsty. You place your order with a server, and she sashays over to a bartender, who punches a code into one of his three liquor guns, sending a signal to the central computer. Precisely measured jiggers of hooch are dispatched through a network of quarter-inch-thick plastic arteries winding behind the casino’s walls. Et voilà: Your Long Island iced tea, sir.

While this set-up helps the casino to monitor its liquor inventory and prevents bartenders from being egregiously generous, it also ensures that customers get their cocktails promptly. “Our liquor guns are pretty intelligent,” explains Heidi Hinkle, beverage director at ARIA. In a casino, every second lost to a bartender fumbling with a bottle of Absolut is time a customer isn’t gambling—and the house isn’t profiting. To make sure nothing goes wrong, ARIA does what casinos usually do: It watches things, very closely. “We have employees monitoring the pump rooms twenty-four hours a day,” Hinkle says. “Just in case.”—MICHAEL KAPLAN

Buenos Aires
DRIVE, SHE SAID

Layne Mosler, a 35-year-old Californian, has no idea where her next meal is coming from, and she likes it that way. Her cult blog, Taxi Gourmet, records the adventures that ensue from the order she gives every time she climbs into a cab in the evening: “Take me to your favorite restaurant.”

Mosler began the practice in 2007, a year after moving to Buenos Aires. “I was dancing tango and taking cabs regularly,” she says. “After a few months of chatting with drivers, I realized they were teaching me more about their city than anyone else. So I decided to combine my interest in them with my obsession for finding restaurants off the radar.”

And find them she does. The resultant vignettes read like a tourist guidebook written by Anthony Bourdain under the influence of early Kerouac. Homemade pasta in gas station cafés, chitterlings in tumbledown steakhouses, homely empanada joints, melancholy pizza parlors… Buenos Aires’ “underbelly” has rarely been evoked so well, and never so literally.

But it’s the vivid literary portraits of her drivers that make Mosler’s work remarkable. Meet, for example, sixtysomething Roque, an evangelical pastor whose love of a specific empanada verges on religious. Or Fernando, who croons a tango while spiriting her to the “best sausage-sandwich stall in town.” Mosler has a degree in anthropology and a decade and a half of experience in the restaurant trade—and it’s not always clear which skill set is more useful to her current endeavor.

Not everything goes according to recipe, as illustrated by some strange-tasting bits in an otherwise excellent feijoada. But Mosler’s adventurous appetite is undimmed. After recently moving back to the states to develop a TV series and get a cab license of her own, she hopes to extend her serendipitous adventures to more cities, including Beirut, Naples, Istanbul and even Tehran.

She also plans to expand her website to accommodate the stories of fellow food pilgrims from around the globe. Her advice to wannabe taxi gourmets? “Let go of the map.” —MATT CHESTERTON

Stockholm
ENTER THE DRAGON

A group of 40 booklovers gather around petite Pia Hallberg, the Stockholm City Museum tour guide. It’s an unseasonably warm autumn day in this Scandinavian capital, so no one’s in any hurry. Hallberg points to the top floor of a handsome building overlooking Riddarfjaerden Canal in the Södermalm district.

“This is Mikael Blomkvist’s home,” Hallberg says.

Of course, it’s not really, because Blomkvist is a fictional character, an invention of the late Swedish mystery author Stieg Larsson. But no matter. Where New York has its Sex and the City tour, New Jersey its Sopranos tour and Paris its Da Vinci Code tour, the tour du jour in Stockholm is based on the runaway international hit novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Another tour covers the first sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire.)

Dragon Tattoo tells the story of Blomkvist, a journalist who unravels a 40-year-old murder mystery while trying to clear his name. The book and its two sequels have sold 12 million copies worldwide. (In Sweden, a population of only nine million has devoured 3.5 million copies.) The tours are offered in eight languages and have long waiting lists on weekends.

In August, Jose Luis Zapatero, the prime minister of Spain and a Dragon Tattoo fanatic, took the tour with his wife and daughters.

Participants are invited to see with their own eyes the building where computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (who happens to have a large tattoo of a dragon on her back) bought her 21-room apartment with stolen money; the Mellqvist Coffee Bar, where Blomkvist bought his java; and the offices of his magazine, Millennium. (They won’t, however, get a look at the prison where Blomkvist spends three months.)

At the Mellqvist, Hallberg points out that Larsson wrote much of the series here. The author died of a heart attack in 2004, a year before Dragon Tattoo was published, but, says Hallberg, “I bet he’d have enjoyed the tour.”—MARKUS WILHELMSON

Los Angeles
CONDUCTING ELECTRICITY

Hoots and whistles fill a packed stadium of 17,000, as a charismatic young Venezuelan rallies the crowd with his emotional proclamations. Soon they’re chanting his name: “Gu-stavo! Gu-sta-vo!”

Much as it might feel like a political rally, the event is actually a concert, a four-and-a-half-hour lovefest in honor of Gustavo Dudamel, new director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “Who knew there were this many classical music fans in L.A.?” marvels local rock musician Marc Monroe Johnson, sitting in the stands. “It’s like a reception for Dear Leader.”

At just 28, the fresh-faced It-boy of the symphony set is only the second youngest conductor in the L.A. orchestra’s history to fill the director’s position, and many hope he’ll make classical music accessible to a new generation of fans.

He seems off to a good start: The curly-maned prodigy—dubbed “The Dude” by twentysomethings in the audience—makes his first stage appearance in true SoCal style, clad in a T-shirt. Jack Black and Andy Garcia are on hand to sing his praises, along with Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones. And bassist Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, performs with kids from the Silver Lake Conservatory of Music, a school the rocker founded. Later Dudamel himself conducts the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra.

Accordingly, the mood at the concert is playful, especially toward the end of the evening, when elaborate fireworks explode around the proscenium and the smoke lifts to reveal a brightly colored marquee that simply reads “¡Bienvenido Gustavo!” “Look out, Arnold,” says one onlooker, noting that Governor Schwarzenegger will be wrapping up his final term next year.—SHANA TING LIPTON

Istanbul
BUSY WORK

Behind a pair of semicircular beige display counters, four workers unfold shirts from one pile and then, for no apparent reason, refold and deposit them in another. The work isn’t particularly challenging, but that’s precisely the point of this retail purgatory: They’re laboring in the name of art.

A potent reminder that the economic downturn is global in scope, “Unemployed Employees—I Found You a New Job!” by Turkish artists Aydan Murtezaoglu and Bülent Sangar, is an odd yet topical performance piece on view at Antrepo No. 3, a waterfront warehouse in Istanbul’s Tophane district.

For their humorous if pointed contribution to the Istanbul Biennial, the artists have hired local university graduates to perform needless tasks before a live audience and for an online video feed. It’s like the myth of Sisyphus set in a Turkish outlet mall. “I focus on the irony of it,” says one participant, Ozgen Kaybaki, who, despite a masters in marketing, has been unable to find work— except as part of an art installation, of course, folding clothes and talking with passersby about her adventures in the global economy. “Millions work like this doing the silliest jobs,” she adds. “Go to any shop in Istanbul. The people are like machines!”

One of her colleagues, Mehtap Pamukci, a 32-year-old philosophy graduate, notes that the financial crisis began far from Turkey. “Why do we suffer here?” he wonders.

At least these ersatz retail workers could count on paid employment through the Biennial’s conclusion. “I was lucky to find this job after only three months of looking,” says Kaybaki, “not everyone is so lucky these days.” —RICHARD CARRIERO

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