A Taste of Vegas at the MGM National Harbor

MGM National Harbor

My husband and I decided to play hooky last week and spent an afternoon and evening at the new MGM National Harbor. With so many high-end restaurants, craft cocktail bars, entertainment options, and a gorgeous Asian-inspired aesthetic, we could have been there longer, could have eeked out a few more hours enjoying a atmosphere that reminded us of our favorite casino resorts in Las Vegas.

While the mind and body were willing, the wallet was weak.

MGM National Harbor, with its silver tower glittering over the Potomac and viewable from Alexandria, is not a cheap place to spend the evening. But if you're looking for a bit of the service, sophistication, and unapologetic adult decadence that Vegas offers without the plane flight, MGM National Harbor is an worthy substitute.

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High-end eats

The MGM National Harbor has called upon some of the D.C.-area's most-loved chefs to create high-end dining experiences that lure those -- like us -- who don't gamble. Fish by José Andrés and the Voltaggio Brothers Steak House are evening-only restaurants. Marcus, by Marcus Samuelsson, is an all-day restaurant that also provides the room service menu. 

Voltaggio Brothers Steak House

During our dinner at the Steak House, we enjoyed some of the best and most personable wait staff we've had in the D.C. area. The Voltaggio brothers have designed the place with the homey feel of your mom's house -- if your mom was the coolest, most sophisticated hostess on the East Coast. There's a dining room and a family room and a bar in the study. You drink out of finely etched glass. There's an echo of Vegas in the design theatrics of the place, that surreal sense that you're not in "normal" adult land anymore, and it was a satisfying part of the evening. Do I really need to mention the steaks? Of course they were outstanding. And the rolls -- amazing.

My husband, wisely, steered us away from the expensive lunch I wanted and toward the food court, where we had some truly kickass Shake Shack burgers. But the National Market offers a lot more variety than your average food court. I could have also gone for the crab cakes, banh mis, chicken and doughnuts, or the ice cream. Oh wait. I did go for the ice cream.

Craft cocktail bars

Drinks are not free in the casino -- you will pay that lovely strolling cocktail waitress for what you order. And while the Old Fashioned I had at the casino bar was good, the Old Fashioned from The Lobby Bar was outstanding. 

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There are many places to get a delicious cocktail at the MGM National Harbor -- in all the restaurants, at the Tap Sports Bars, in the upscale Felt and and Blossom cocktail lounges inside the casino -- but The Lobby Bar might be my new favorite bar in the D.C. area. I know, that's saying a lot about a hotel bar. But in the back, they've got barrels of your favorite liquor specifically barreled for their bar. They've got smooth sipping tequilas that only cost you an arm; that will cost you an additional leg anywhere else. They've got bartenders that flame up the orange peel before rimming the glass, making that Old Fashioned one of the best of the many I've tasted. And they've got bartenders who will be as sweet as pie or give you all of the sass that you sit at the bar to get.

I'm not kidding. Don't miss The Lobby Bar.

Entertainment

Did I mention that we don't gamble? We don't. Because we're bad at it. 

Unfortunately, we forgot that we don't gamble at the MGM National Harbor's casino, so we lost money. Fast. Quarter slot machines were the cheapest ones we could find -- yes, there were penny machines, but those machines required a minimum of 50-cent bets. The cheapest tables were $25 bets. Perhaps there are cheaper tables hiding in the casino's hinterlands, but we couldn't find them. 

 I won $15. This is when I should have walked away.

I won $15. This is when I should have walked away.

If you go to MGM National Harbor to gamble, I hope you're better at it than we are.

The 3,000-seat theater will be probably be a better entertainment option for us the next time we visit. The day we were there, the resort was thronged with emo kids and their parents waiting for the Panic at the Disco show. Sting plays at the theater on Sunday, and Cher is currently in residence, playing several nights in March and then back again in September.

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