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By now you know that I'm mad about Mandalay Bay and bonkers over Bellagio . . . but as good as the restaurants are at these icons of excess, it's the Hard Rock Hotel that has smittened me these days. Don't get me wrong, I'm not turning a third blind eye to the cherry poppin' palaces of serious gastronomy, but for the hippest and hoppinest restaurants in town, there's no doubt that the Hard Rock is a jewel. Not that any of the performers or the guests here would appreciate the stylistic cool which pervades this place. I put the average age of the patrons and the performers here at barely out of college, which makes every mother's son over the age of 35 feel like a grandfather. Those youngsters would be hard put to groove on the retro-rat-pack-cool of AJ's Steakhouse, although a few viewings of swingers has certainly helped them locate the early '60's mojo of the place . . . I mean AJ's is so swingin' baby that you expect Bobby Darin to be draggin' on a fag at the neo-hip lounge, or Sammy D. to be be-boppin the night away with the in-house pianist.

If you long for a bygone sense of cool . . . then tuck into a martini that's straight from the days of tail fins, bullet bras and strong cocktails. Follow that with a super tender filet smothered in a real béarnaise sauce or a superb strip, and tell those calories to be damned . . . it's a cholesterol fest of the highest order. The best part is that it's a real slice of Vegas, and not cloned from New York or Chicago or some dreamed-up corporate franchise.

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We old-timers know that this town practically invented the Rat Pack, and those wondering what all the fuss was about need look no farther than AJ's, from the piano bar to the velour seats and cool paintings of Old Vegas, AJ's is a cut above virtually every other steakhouse in town, and best of all, it's a steakhouse we can finally call our own.

AJ's Steakhouse is located inside the Hard Rock Hotel.

This is John Curtas.

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