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The 2000 Year Itch

Six cities where New Year's Eve will be an affair to remember

When it comes to deciding how you'll greet the new millennium, you have a lot of choices. You can tread in the ambitious footsteps of the hikers who plan to walk from the North Pole to the South Pole, arriving at the International Date Line in time for New Year's Eve. You can beat drums and hold hands with some of the One Million Pagans who'll be gathering in Death Valley. You can hunker down in the island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific and be among the first to see the sun on January 1, or head for the Cook Islands and be among the last. Or you can decide to have some fun. The six cities that follow are throwing parties so big they just might live up to all the Y2K hype. In fact, New Year's Eve is just a warm-up--the celebrating will continue all year long. We've compiled a run-down on plans for the last hours of 1999 and listed some key events for 2000. We've also picked restaurants that capture each city's zeitgeist. After all, one of the best things about taking an urban holiday is that you'll have a few more dining options than at the South Pole.

Sydney
Why go? No city is getting more millennial hype than Sydney, which style watchers are touting as the New York City of the 21st century. The main event of 2000, of course, will be the summer Olympic Games. From September 15 through October 1, the world's eyes will be trained on the brand-new Olympic Stadium at Homebush Bay.

New Year's Eve A million people are expected to watch as a barrage of fireworks is launched over Sydney Harbour from seven synchronized firing platforms. The best vantage point is a Park Hyatt suite. Just one problem: every room was booked three years ago. Plan B? Rent a boat to watch from the water.

Zeitgeist dining For a taste of cosmopolitan Sydney, head to the ultrahip International (277 Victoria St.; 011-61-2-9360-9080), which features a retro-chic decor (inherited from the previous tenant, a Seventies-era Korean restaurant) and a modern Australian menu.

London
Why go? Forget British reserve; there's nothing understated about London's plans for 2000. The most grandiose project is the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, the London suburb that gave the world Mean Time. This controversial exhibition space is outsize in every way, from the circumference of the roof (nearly one mile) to the price tag ($1.25 billion).

New Year's Eve At midnight Tony Blair will open the dome to the public. The 14 zones within are supposed to illustrate nothing less than the history of the human race. There will also be a live multimedia show devised by pop star Peter Gabriel and impresario Mark Fisher, who describes it as "a cross between a musical comedy, a Caribbean carnival and a soccer game."

Zeitgeist dining Who would have predicted that one day London would be home to something billed as the Disneyland of Wine? Slated to open next month, Vinopolis (1 Bank End; 011-44-71-645-3700) will be a sprawling complex on the Thames with a multimedia wine exhibition, tasting halls and four restaurants offering more wines by the glass than anywhere else in London.

Las Vegas
Why go? The home of the $2.99 steak dinner clearly intends to be the culinary capital of the world. At least two more high-rollers are coming to town: Commander's Palace, in the reinvented Aladdin Hotel, and Nobu, in the expanded Hard Rock Las Vegas Hotel.

New Year's Eve It's tough to say which will be most impressive: the fireworks that will blast off from every casino on the Strip; the four-block-long light show that will take place over Fremont Street; or the $15-million check that Barbra Streisand is said to be cashing for her MGM Grand appearance.

Zeitgeist dining Restaurants at the hotel Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) are competing to put on the most sumptuous New Year's Eve feast. At Aqua (888-987-7111), chef Mark Lo Russo's theme is the best of the 20th century--1908 Cockburn port, 1966 Bollinger Champagne--you get the idea. Not to be outdone, Julian Serrano, formerly the chef at Masa's in San Francisco and now at the Picasso (888-987-7111), has his sommelier scouring the world for even loftier wines that can justify a millennial ($2,000 a head) dinner tab.

Rio de Janeiro
Why go? If you've never seen the week-long, samba-filled frenzy of carnival, you're running out of excuses. Rio recently embarked on a radical mission of self-improvement--installing floodlights on Copacabana beach, for instance, a move that virtually eliminated crime overnight. As a result, Carnaval 2000 (March 3 through 7) promises to be the best-attended ever.

New Year's Eve Two and a half million revelers are expected to gather on Copacabana to light candles for Iemanja (goddess of the sea), dance to bossa novas and watch the ocean mirror the fireworks. The Copacabana Palace Hotel has a superb view; all the rooms are taken, but you can still make reservations for the New Year's Eve ball.

Zeitgeist dining When in Rio, do as the Cariocas do: eat at Cipriani. Yes, Cipriani (1702 Avenida Atlântica; 011-55-21-548-7070): the haute Venetian chain's branch here is the cafeteria of the jet set. If you're determined to sample an indigenous churrascaria, Mariu's (96 Rua Francisco Otaviano; 011-55-21-521-0500) is the best of many.

Jerusalem
Why go? Here's where the millennium clock started ticking and--if you believe the apocalyptic cults that plan to converge here--where it will ultimately stop. A massive government initiative is now under way to help the city accommodate the four million Christian, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims expected to journey to such sacred sites as the Dome of the Rock.

New Year's Eve The real action is just outside Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, which plans a procession of 10,000 torches as well as a star-studded Concert of Hope. Book your hotel now unless you want to end up sleeping in a stable.

Zeitgeist dining Visitors should make a pilgrimage to Eucalyptus (7 Hyrcanus St.; 011-972-2-624-4331), where owner Moshe Basson performs miracles with vegetables.

Bologna
Why go? This beautiful medieval city is the site of one of Europe's oldest universities; appropriately enough, its cultural institutions are getting a $100-million face-lift for the millennium. The most anticipated project is the conversion of the former stock exchange into a state-of-the-art library, Italy's largest. A yearlong series of arts exhibitions will include a summer dance festival curated by choreographer Pina Bausch.

New Year's Eve Piazza Maggiore, the main square, is gearing up for its biggest celebration ever, with a gala version of its annual life-size-puppet show. Travel advisory: Keep an eye out for flying furniture. On New Year's Eve, residents take the expression "out with the old" literally and toss unwanted items out their windows.

Zeitgeist dining The city that invented spaghetti bologneseis full of gastronomic lore. It's customary to ring in the New Year with a meal of zampone (stuffed pig's trotters) and lentils (said to represent coins and thus to bring prosperity). To follow suit, go to I Carracci (Grand Hotel Baglioni, 2 Via Manzoni; 011-39-051-225-445), where the frescoes date from the 16th century.

Dirk Standen is a restaurant reviewer and senior editor at New York Sidewalk.

Published May 1999
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