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Las Vegas New Years Eve: Chilly Strip celebrates 2011 with fireworks show

Baby, it’s cold outside, but the people they came.

Hundreds of thousands of revelers without the coy reluctance Dean Martin put into his classic tune packed the Strip and downtown Las Vegas to ring in 2011. Some dressed for the weather. Others, not so much.

An hour before the Strip closed to traffic, Anthony Portillo was among dozens of people who braved dropping temperatures to walk across a highway overpass to join the party. From Los Angeles, Portillo wore a thin black shirt and no coat. He sipped from an open Corona bottle, hoping to warm up.

"I was here three times this summer but I’ve never been to Vegas in the winter," he said with a smile and a shiver. "It’s a little colder than I thought. But I’ll be okay if I just stay inside."

Portillo, who walked to the Strip from the Rio where he’s staying, was meeting friends at Caesars Palace. He said he decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vegas for the first time because his mother told him what a great time she had when she partied here five years ago.

"She came here when she was dating her ex-husband," Portillo said, adding things obviously didn’t work out. "Everyone likes to have fun here. Vegas seems to bring out the fun in everybody."

Portillo said social media websites were touting Las Vegas as THE place to be for New Year’s Eve.

"That’s what I hear so I’m here to check it out," he said.

The Metropolitan Police Department reported a quiet start to the festivities. As of 9:45 p.m., Las Vegas police reported one arrest for trespass; 14 non-fatal traffic accidents between 6:00 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.; and two arrests for misdemeanor DUI, one for drugs and one for alcohol.

Strip vendors were hawking 2011 glasses with multi-colored, flickering lights. Young men bought horns to blow at midnight. Women wearing tiaras, spiked heels and mini skirts skittered down the sidewalk, goose-pimpled but fashionable.

Authorities began closing offramps along Interstate 15 about 5 p.m. in preparation for the countdown to 2011.

Exits at Tropicana Avenue, Flamingo Road and Spring Mountain Road will remain closed until early tomorrow.

Police also closed Las Vegas Boulevard to traffic between Sahara Avenue and Russell Road, where thousands of people will assemble leading up to midnight and the fireworks show to ring in the new year.

The 8-minute, 6-second show by Fireworks by Grucci will feature music choreographed with nearly 50,000 fireworks launched from atop MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, Aria, Caesars Palace, The Venetian, Treasure Island and Stratosphere.

The aerial display will also be visible from much of the valley.

The crowds began to thicken along the south Strip about 7 p.m. Bare-legged women bundled up in short, thick coats with scarves and sparkling 2011 glasses. Vendors in front of New York-New York were already doing a steady business hawking whistles and headbands for five bucks each. A tall dude in a hairy Chewbacca mask growled at a group of girls in front of the Excalibur and rushed to open the door for them.

"You got a nice smile, baby," he said to the one who was wearing fuzzy pink bunny ears. "Happy New Year, grrr." "Shut up, Chewy," she said. "This ain’t Halloween."

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

Forecasts call for mostly clear skies, light winds and bone-chilling temperatures hovering around 30 degrees.

In fact, a weather record was set in Las Vegas on Friday as the official temperature reached a lowest high of 38 degrees, National Weather Service meteorologist Larry Jensen said. The old record of 45 degrees was set in 1975, he said.

Matt Green warded off the cold with a brown furry ear flap hat with a fuzzy mohawk on top. He was hanging out with friends inside The Cosmopolitan. He said he used to have a real mohawk until his employer made him cut it.

"I kept the job and lost the hair," Green said shrugging. "So I bought this hat. Pretty cool, huh?"

Green and several of his buddies moved from Orlando, Fla., to Las Vegas seven months ago for jobs at a marketing company here.

The group, nursing beers, hung out gawking 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. They were apparently at the new resort for the invite-only Jay-Z and Coldplay concert available to the huddled masses outside on huge marquees. Two massive speakers were set up to blast the sound across the Strip.

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

Nobody in Green’s party could think of the celebrities’ exact names, but it didn’t matter.

Aaron Chapin, another friend visiting from Tampa, observed, "I’m not good with names but I am with faces. We should have gotten our picture taken with them. ‘X-Men’ is a man’s man movie!"

Review-Journal reporters Laura Emerson, Francis McCabe and Laura Myers contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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