More than 300,000 enjoy New Years Eve in Las Vegas despite chill

Bare legs and big coats.

High heels and ice cream.

Even a bare foot or two.

But what’s a few degrees below freezing? It’s New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

So despite the still-sluggish economy and the unusually frigid air, hundreds of thousands of people came to live it up and count down to 2011 in the biggest New Year’s Eve party west of the Mississippi.

Wearing a thin black shirt and no coat, Anthony Portillo from Los Angeles was among those who braved dropping temperatures to join the party.

He said social media websites were touting Las Vegas as the place to be for New Year’s Eve, replacing New York’s Times Square.

"Everyone likes to have fun here. Vegas seems to bring out the fun in everybody," he said, sipping a Corona beer for warmth.

Tourism officials predicted 320,000 visitors in town this weekend to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Yet several hours before midnight, police officers seemingly outnumbered partygoers along the Strip. Maybe the cold was to blame, as the temperature on Las Vegas Boulevard hovered around 30 degrees.

Ironically, 2,500 miles away in Times Square the thermometer registered 40 degrees as the big ball dropped.

To stay warm, people crowded into shopping malls and casinos, playing table games elbow to elbow to avoid freezing temperatures.

Outside, vendors lined the streets and pedestrian walkways selling 2011 glasses with multi-colored flickering lights. Young men carried air horns, while women wearing tiaras, spiked heels and miniskirts skittered down the sidewalk, shivering but fashionable.

Downtown at the Fremont Street Experience, where more than 20,000 revelers were expected, the showgirls outside Binion’s were bundled in fur coats that covered everything but their legs. And outside the Glitter Gulch strip club, the women wooing customers were also buttoned up. But they reassured a group of male revelers that the women inside were wearing considerably less.

In front of Excalibur, a tall dude in a hairy Chewbacca mask growled at a group of women and rushed to open the door for them.

"You got a nice smile, baby," he said to the one wearing fuzzy pink bunny ears. "Happy new year. Grrr."

"Shut up, Chewy," she said. "This ain’t Halloween."

Chewbacca aside, plenty of celebrities came to Las Vegas to ring in 2011.

Outside The Cosmopolitan, a dressed-to-the-nines crowd watched as celebrities such as Brandy, John Mayer and B.J. Novak of "The Office" worked the purple carpet before the concert by Coldplay and Jay-Z.

Inside the swank new resort, Matt Green and several of his buddies nursed beers and gawked at a few celebrities sitting at the Chandelier Bar. The stars included X-Men’s Cyclops, James Marsden, and Brian Van Holt, the rumored "Cougar Town" beau of co-star Courtney Cox, who was not among the group.

The celebs were apparently there for the invite-only concert, where last-minute tickets were going for a reported $15,000. For everyone else, the hotel planned to show the concert on its 65-foot digital sign on the Strip.

"It’s great, this place, for celebrity spotting," Green said. "I hear Beyoncé’s gonna be here and Gwyneth Paltrow. Cyclops just left before my friend came, and I’m like, ‘Dude, you just missed him.’ "

Outside The Cosmopolitan, 8-year-old Angel Guerrero couldn’t wait for the fireworks to begin.

"What time is it? What time is it?" he asked his mother five hours before midnight. "I can stay up, no problem. I’m not tired."

Veronica Guerrero and her son were looking for her husband and two daughters, whom they had lost in the crowd. It was the California family’s first New Year’s Eve in Vegas. They were on a budget of $300.

"Everybody wants to be in Vegas for New Year’s Eve. It’s the biggest party," she said, adding she had made her resolutions already.

"Save money, lose weight, work," she said. "I’m a housekeeper but not working right now. But it will get better."

With a couple of hours left until midnight, the party on Las Vegas Boulevard picked up steam as the crowds swelled into the street.

By 10 p.m. a large swath of the Strip had transformed into an impromptu dance floor, with hundreds of people bouncing to remixed club music blasting outside the New York-New York.

A group of about 30 20-somethings did a drunken line dance, and a guy in a gorilla suit performed some acrobatic breakdancing without once dropping his plastic banana.

Las Vegas couple Judy and Don enthusiastically improvised something between a square dance and a sloppy tango to "Roxanne" by The Police.

"We got no rhythm!" Judy announced joyfully. "Nobody cares!"

"That’s what New Year’s is all about!" Don said breathlessly. "Nobody’s got any pride!"

As far as the group of five Christians on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Spring Mountain Road were concerned, the revelers didn’t have any religion.

They assembled, as they do here every New Year’s Eve, in hopes of getting someone to find Jesus Christ by the end of the night.

"There are a lot of people doing things they’re going to be sorry for," said Martin Gillespie before facing the inevitable mocking from the revelers. "People die every day, and if they don’t know Christ they’re going to hell."

Earlier in the evening, the only thing Phoenix resident Aimee Lewis wanted to find was her boyfriend.

It was only 9 p.m. and already she had shed her 5-inch-high stilettos and wandered in barefoot circles near MGM Grand. The 22-year-old carried the sparkly shoes in one hand and a set of maracas in the other. She wore platinum hot pants and her missing boyfriend’s suit jacket.

"I lost him in there!" she said, shaking her maracas toward the New York-New York. "He’s got my phone!"

2010 was "a crummy year!" mainly because her boyfriend, whom she identified as "effin’ Dave!", had lost his construction job.

Lewis wasn’t holding out much hope for 2011, either. Especially for Dave.

"I’m going to ruin his effin’ year!" she said. "When I find him!"

As midnight approached, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman took the stage downtown for his 12th and final year as the city’s top executive.

"Don’t worry about it because I’ll be down there with you next year celebrating New Year’s Eve," Goodman said.

On the south Strip, people kept dancing and huddled together for warmth until midnight struck. Then the dancing all but stopped for an instant, and everybody looked up and roared as the sky exploded in color.

A man with his three young children seemed to forget them for a moment as he pumped his fists in the air and screamed, "I love Las Vegassss!"

The children shivered and stared. The instant the fireworks stopped he gathered them close.

"Let’s get the hell outta here," he said. "It’s freezing. Maybe we’ll come back next year."

Review-Journal reporters Mike Blasky, Jason Bracelin, Lynnette Curtis, Francis McCabe and Laura Myers, and Las Vegas Business Press reporter Laura Emerson contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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