Head of State

Legend has it that Mexican muralist Diego Rivera infuriated wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller earlier this century by working Vladimir Lenin's face into a Rockefeller Center mural. So it could be capitalistic karma that's behind the headless, bird-drop-spattered statue of Lenin now gracing the latest megaresort to sprout in Las Vegas, the capital of capitalism gone amok.

When the $950 million, 3,700-room Mandalay Bay opened in Sin City last month, the faux, 20-foot-tall, gypsum-and-plaster Lenin icon had the head commie's head attached. One of Vlady's hands reached out, and the other held a worker's cap as the bald-headed Bolshevik stood proudly outside a restaurant called-appropriately enough-Red Square.

The Soviet-style vodka-and-caviar restaurant (brought to you by Miami, Florida-based China Grill) apparently thought the Lenin statue would draw patrons. Once inside, noshers would find a chandelier from the Polish embassy in Moscow, a sheet of ice for a bar and ice-topped tables. Straight vodka is the house drink. Those who find the environs too chilly are offered sable hats and coats imported from Russia.

Officials with Circus Circus Enterprises-whose Mandalay Bay is their fourth Vegas resort, the sixth-largest hotel in town and one of the 20 biggest in the world-were initially bullish on Lenin. It seemed to fit into the whole garish nature of today's "family-friendly" gambling mecca. (Mandalay Bay is just south of Circus Circus' pyramid-shaped Luxor resort; the Big Apple re-creation known as New York, New York is nearby; and opening soon are resorts featuring replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Venetian channels.)

Even without the founder of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Mandalay Bay is unique. The main lobby features a 14-foot aquarium with 12,200 gallons of salt water. The 11-acre aquatic area has a surf-and-sand beach, a swim-up shark tank, a 3?4-mile lazy-river ride and four pools-one of which generates surfable waves up to 6 feet high. Within the complex is a 424-room Four Seasons hotel and a House of Blues nightclub.

Mandalay Bay's "restaurant row" is equally opulent. To get into Rumjungle, a restaurant that includes an authentic rum distillery, you must pass through a wall of fire. Robots serve Dim Sum in the China Grill, whose "bathroom huts" are small, unisex, single-seat johns with translucent doors. The four-story wine tower in the Aureole Restaurant is accessible not by ladder, but by a "Wine Angel," a trained acrobat in a black body suit who uses cables, pulleys and high-tech mountain-climbing gear to retrieve bottles.

Given all that, the Lenin statue wasn't a big deal during the resort's grand opening. Many tourists posed for pictures next to the Labor Movement Hall of Famer. "Looks good," Lorissa Forbes, who moved to Vegas from Winnipeg, Canada, reportedly told the Las Vegas Sun. "We're Russians; we love it."

But at least one man, a Southern Californian conscious of recent headlines, was wary. "I don't think it was a good idea," Al Steed was quoted by the Sun. "We've got problems . . . right now with a guy putting up pictures of Ho Chi Minh."

In Vegas-unlike Little Saigon-no one assaulted the business owners, staged street-clogging demonstrations or demanded a city councilman leave town over the affair. But enough people-mostly U.S. servicepersons, some of whom reportedly compared Lenin to Hitler-complained that Circus Circus officials listened.

A company spokeswoman told the Reuters news service that after much research into how icons in the Eastern Bloc were dealt with after the fall of Communism, management sent goons in late one recent night to chop off the Lenin statue's 250-pound head. The headless sculpture was also spattered with white paint to resemble bird droppings.

And the severed head? Plans are afoot to turn it into a table inside Red Square. Somewhere, Lenin and Rockefeller are sharing shots and smiling.


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