07/11/2001 11:00PM

Boo-yah - it's en fuego!


Everything ends up in Las Vegas eventually, whether it's a restaurant chain or a replica of a famous city.

The latest addition - the ESPN Zone bar/grill/entertainment complex at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino - is a combination of pop culture and Vegas irreverence. It's primarily a playground for adults, especially those who get a kick out of ESPN catch-phrases such as "boo-yah" and "en fuego."

There will be a VIP pre-opening party on July 19, with the official opening on July 20.

The 33,000-square-foot complex is wall-to-wall sports. There are 165 television monitors. The press materials say there are a dozen in the restrooms - I didn't have the authorization nor the inclination to verify their figures - so guests don't miss any of the action. ESPN programming is obviously given preference, though every sporting event available on any network will be shown.

This is the seventh ESPN Zone; there are also branches in Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Anaheim (a Denver branch is expected to open before the end of the year). But this new one has a definite Vegas flavor and will appeal to tourists and locals alike.

Here's a brief tour:

The ESPN Zone is on the north end of the New York-New York resort and can be entered either from Las Vegas Boulevard (you can't miss the entrance) or from inside the casino.

Entering from the casino, you first see a sculpture, "Marvelous vs. The Hitman," in which Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns are depicted as Rock'em Sock'em Robots. ESPN boxing analyst Al Bernstein, who lives in Vegas, called their 1985 fight the most thrilling he has ever seen.

To the right is the gift shop. In front is an oversized Operation game with Evel Knievel as the patient with descriptions of his many injuries, many of which took place when he tried to jump the fountains at Caesars Palace. Behind the hostess desk is a statue of boxer Oscar De La Hoya as an Oscar Award.

Up a winding staircase is the Sports Arena, site of a host of sports games, from virtual boxing to miniature bowling. The virtual ride choices include bicycles, super bikes, motorcycles, skateboards, alpine surfboards, wave runners, jet skis, and river rafting. There's also a bank of horse-race riding simulators. As you move up the rock climbing wall, it rotates to provide a perpetual mountain to climb, and the operator can vary the angle of the ascent.

There is also a bar upstairs (as if the rides weren't dizzying enough) with a lounge that overlooks the casino and the area that will house the new race and sports book (scheduled to open by Aug. 22). Lining the walls are pictures of Bernstein's top 10 favorite bouts.

The Studio Grill is a casual dining area. On one wall is "Vegas Andre," the famous "Vegas Vic" sign from downtown with the face of tennis star/Vegas native Andre Agassi. On another wall is a painted re-creation of the famous Rat Pack photo outside the Sands, but with four members of the UNLV basketball team that won the 1989-90 NCAA title (Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Anderson Hunt, and Greg Anthony) and coach Jerry Tarkanian in the poses originally struck by Frank, Dean, Sammy, Joey, and Peter.

Beyond the Studio Grill is the Screening Room, which is something like a typical sports bar on steroids. There are two 14-foot TV's and a dozen 36-inch monitors. In addition, the booths have flat-screen TV's on each table with surround-sound speakers.

There are also two private dining areas for VIP's or companies: the Bristol Suite can hold groups of up to 70 and the ESPY Room seats nine in luxury.

But the best seats in the house are the dozen Zone Thrones, leather reclining chairs with speakers in the headrests, right in front of the big-screen TV's in the Screening Room.

The last piece of Vegas-inspired artwork is a painting called "The Line." It shows the odds on great upsets throughout history, starting with David vs. Goliath (no line, David was given no shot) and including Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson at 42-1, the Jets beating the Colts as 17 1/2-point underdogs, and Rocky Balboa beating Apollo Creed at 50-1.

It's just one of the many ways ESPN takes a light-hearted view of sports, and is appropriate for Vegas, which takes a light-hearted view of everything.