Lost Vegas – Remembering Mermaids Casino


A look back on a Fremont Street favorite that’s gone forever…

Lately, downtown enthusiasts have been crowing about Circa, the under-construction hotel casino that’s rising above Fremont Street Experience. They’re thrilled at the prospect of something shiny, new and modern. But for some of us, “Old Vegas” has lost as much as it’s gaining. Maybe even more…

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Back when I first started visiting Vegas, it was a must-do to leave the Strip for downtown at least once. We’d hop on the double-decker Deuce bus to take in the grit and grunge of Fremont Street casinos. That four-block stretch had everything you could want. Loose slots, looser clothing, a multi-screen Galaxy Cinema, crazy characters and cheap drinks.

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                                                                    August 2008

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The 24-hour Original Coffee Shop in Binion’s basement was another must. I always had fun introducing friends to Alicia, the server that made every visit a special one. Alicia had a knack for handling our rowdy behavior and bad jokes while slinging a few of her own. And she served their signature chili (“with about an inch of grease”) with a great big smile. That bowl of oily goodness was a great way to start sobering up after an hour or two at the legendary Mermaid’s Casino.

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                                           Alicia is still part of the Binion’s family…

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Mermaids began life as the Silver Palace Casino back in 1956. The first two-level club in Vegas, it also boasted the very first escalator in southern Nevada. That escalator took visitors to a lower-level restaurant. Fans of the movie Pay It Forward may remember Helen Hunt’s character as a blue-haired waitress in Mermaid’s fictitious basement nightclub.

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Silver Palace underwent many name changes, from Carousel to Gambler’s Hall of Fame to Sundance West and Sassy Sally’s. In 1980 the building became Mermaid’s Casino and remained so until its closure on June 27th, 2016.

These days, Binion’s Coffee Shop is gone and so is Mermaids Casino. That colorful dump was the most bang you could get for your buck in the entire city…an absolute blast. You knew you were in for a good time the moment you headed for the entrance. Two ladies in absurdly-loud costumes would converge on you and your group, drape Mardi Gras beads over your heads and hand you tickets to their hourly slot-pull drawing.

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Once inside, you’d be swarmed by cocktail servers, one of whom would take half of that ticket and your cocktail order. They’d often remember your order from previous visits, would suggest a slot machine that was “running hot” and find you at your chosen game when that cocktail was ready. They’d usually hand you more entries for the slot pull, too. The generosity here was off the hook.

 

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Wandering through the small casino, you couldn’t escape the distinctive odors of Las Vegas excess…years of cigarette smoke, french fries, 99-cent hot dogs and of course the famous Deep-Fried Twinkies. There was often a lengthy line to the snack bar for those revoltingly-delicious delicacies. Plopped onto a paper plate and coated with a thick dust of powdered sugar and chocolate sprinkles, Deep-Fried Twinkies were to Mermaids what 99-cent shrimp cocktails were to Golden Gate‘s deli bar (both of which are long gone, too).

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Off to one side of Mermaid’s slots-only gaming floor was a full-service bar that specialized in 99-cent frozen daiquiris. Much like sister location La Bayou (right across the sidewalk), you could purchase monster-sized varieties to take on your stroll to various other Fremont properties.

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La Bayou, despite similarities in theme and offerings, lacked that intangible something that made Mermaids such a blast. Then again, La Bayou didn’t have Gabriella and Ling Ling, the two superstars of Mermaids. Always smiling, rapid-fire on the drink refills and genuinely happy to see you. these wonderful women were nearly always mentioned by guests on TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. They were that awesome.

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Both Mermaids and La Bayou closed in 2016. They, along with the Glitter Gulch Gentlemen’s Club, were flattened to make way for progress. The owners of Circa Hotel Casino promise nods to Mermaids and other landmarks that they took away from us. But we’ve heard that before (see the disappointing current iteration of O’Shea’s Casino on the Strip for reference).

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These days I rarely go to Fremont Street despite so-called improvements. Visitation there continues to rise and the once-forgotten eastern extension has been revitalized with hip new restaurants and clubs. But for some of us, Fremont Street is now a sad imitation of its former self. And those dusty Deep-Fried Twinkies that are poised for a comeback will never taste the same.

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Photos: Sam Novak, Vital Vegas, UNLV Archives, Fremont Street Experience/La Bayou/Mermaids via Facebook

 

 

 

 

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Dance With The Devil at SATANGO


New musical comedy in the Arts District is one Hell of a great time…

Despite my promises to do otherwise, it’s been way too long since this writer has visited a community theater performance. My last was the outstanding KRAMPUS by Majestic Repertory Theater during the 2018/2019 holiday season. It’s a good thing that dancer/choreographer Alejandro Domingo reached out to me this week and invited me to his latest production. Otherwise I might have missed the brilliantly entertaining SATANGO at downtown’s adorable Cockroach Theatre Company.

I’ll admit a certain weakness to the prospect of seeing Alejandro back in action after the abrupt closure of BAZ in 2018. Despite having kept busy since then, the abs-tastic dancer has been keeping a relatively low profile here in Sin City. Now it’s clear as to why…Domingo has created the choreography and supplies a supporting role in one of the cleverest and most wonderfully naughty new musicals in ages.

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The premise of SATANGO is delightful and delicious. Toby Allen‘s “Old Scratch” is contemplating his eternity of loneliness (Welcome To My Neighborhood, I Was Once An Angel) while fearing that he may have lost his dance grooves. You see, it’s the eve of the All-Souls Ball, a once-in-a-millenium party. On that special night, the barrier between Heaven and Hell dissolves, giving souls the opportunity to lure each other to the opposite side. How? By using tango, the “Dance of Seduction”, of course. Will Lucifer’s dancing impress the other guests…and will he find an eternal companion?

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Fortunately for Satan, a lost innocent named Sofia (played by Savannah Smith) happens to pass through the gates to his fiery lair. She also just happens to be a dance instructor from Pahrump! Using his persuasive charms (“Everyone loves Luci!”, he boasts), Satan manages to strike a deal with Sofia to give him three tango lessons. She asks for one thing in return, which she’ll reveal after the party. What ensues is an amusing and steamy tug of war between the temptations of naughtiness and the rewards of being pure.

 

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Pop-culture references and topical humor fly as fast as the nimble feet in a wild assortment of comical and sexy dance numbers. Vegas locals will enjoy a shout-out to downtown pizza favorite Evel Pie and jabs at parking fees, the High Roller observation wheel and the ill-fated Fontainebleau tower. Supported by a solid five-piece band led by Music Director Keith Thompson, the cast belts out fifteen original songs (music by Stewart D’ Arrietta, book and lyrics by Justin Fleming) that keep the plot moving at just the right pace.

 

Toby Allen absolutely shines in the lead role. Despite his towering physical presence, Allen tends to be the lowest-profile member of Venetian’s long-running Human Nature Jukebox. In SATANGO, he unleashes a maelstrom of emotions and energy coupled with a scathing slice of wit. He’s clearly great at improv, too. An opening-weekend mishap with a prop was splendidly blended into the proceedings by Allen. As luck would have it, a second occurrence of the same gaffe occurred perfectly in sync with lyrics being sung at that moment. Clearly, the Devil had an angel on his shoulder last night.

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Speaking of angels, Savannah Smith (Vegas! The Show) is sheer nirvana as “Sofia”. Whether singing the praises of Pahrump from atop a ladder (My Favorite Place To Eat) or bringing the audience to its feet with her dazzling steps, the popular singer/actress/dancer is clearly having the time of her life.

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Alejandro Domingo, Kate Farrow and Socorro Jones round out the wonderful cast. They portray Satan’s minions along with a variety of other characters including Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and even a lusty delivery boy. And yes, Domingo doffs his shirt once more to display the legendary abs that earned him a place on my list of the hottest guys in Vegas five years ago.

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Despite the tiny size of Cockroach Theatre Company, every inch of the venue is utilized in this production. Set design and costumes are spot-on, and director Wayne Harrison (ABSINTHE) achieves a polish that belies the indie nature of this production.

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SATANGO is one dance with the Devil that you won’t want to miss. You’ll forget your humble surroundings and be immediately drawn into this den of temptation. That’s the magic of live theater, and SATANGO pulls it off with aplomb.

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Cockroach Theatre Company is located at 1025 South First Street #110 in the Arts District. SATANGO performs Friday through Sunday at 8pm through June 23rd with matinee performances at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $35 ($20 for public servants) and can be ordered here

 

 

 

 

Satisfy Your Inner Foodie at “Vegas Unstripped”


Outdoor festival gathers on-the-rise Chefs for a new take on Sin City dining…

After an extremely unusual winter of snowstorms, downpours and chilly temps, the visitors and citizens of Las Vegas are taking to the streets. What better way to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine than an outdoor food festival?

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In recent years, Downtown Las Vegas and the valley’s surrounding areas have become a hotbed of culinary talent. Places like EDO Gastro, Flock & Fowl, Patrage and Esther’s Kitchen have allowed innovative chefs the opportunity for more daring ventures. They’re able to stretch their creative muscles, free from the confines of mega-resorts and brand names. While those celebrity chefs have done wonders to bring attention to the culinary landscape of Sin City,  at “Vegas Unstripped”, it’s simply all about making and serving great food.

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After a successful inaugural run, “Vegas Unstripped 2019: Second Helping” will again fill the sidewalks of Downtown’s Arts District with a tempting array of dishes, drinks and fun. “Second Helping” boasts nineteen chefs and teams that have been challenged to “create unique dishes for the night reflecting their culinary passions”.

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To enhance an independent spirit, all participants and organizers volunteer their time and efforts. In addition, the announced chefs and restaurateurs have their expenses covered by the event’s ticket sales. The goal is to make Vegas Unstripped as affordable as it is fun. Any remaining proceeds will then be donated to charities that assist the local homeless population.

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Last year’s launch gathered ten culinary teams to strut their stuff. “Second Helping” ups the ante by nearly doubling that number and adding a collaboration from six beloved local bars. Expect unique cocktails from the famed Golden Tiki Lounge, Velveteen Rabbit and Herbs & Rye. Beers will be provided by CraftHaus and Trumer Pils, wines by Bin 702 of Downtown Container Park.

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With all of the activities being planned, Master of Ceremonies Chef Gary Lamorte (founder of Honest Hospitality) will have his talented hands full keeping things flowing smoothly. He’ll be joined onstage by a number of live bands including Super Lemon, Johnny Hazard Trio and The Rhyolite Sound. Socio-political artist Recycled Propaganda will be on hand to present a “live activation” of his intriguing and often controversial work.

The line-up of Vegas Unstripped 2019 chefs is a veritable who’s who of culinary wizards:

  • Oscar Amador (EDO Gastro Tapas & Wine)

  • Brian Howard (Sparrow + Wolf)

  • Chris Decker (Metro Pizza/Lulus Bread & Breakfast)

  • Johnny Church (Cookfast LLC)

  • Geno Bernardo (The Summit Club)

  • Gina Marinelli (La Strega)

  • James Trees (Esther’s Kitchen)

  • Ralph Perrazzo (BBDs)

  • Justin Kingsley Hall (Main St. Provisions)

  • Khai Vu & Tony Nguyen (District One/Le Pho/Mordeo Boutique Wine Bar)

  • Sonia El-Nawal (Rooster Boy Cafe)

  • Marc Marrone (Graffiti Italian, Graffiti Bao)

  • Sheridan Su (Flock & Fowl/Fat Choy)

  • Jamie Tran (The Black Sheep)

  • Michael Stamm & Emily Brubaker (Cured & Whey/MGP)

  • Saipin Chutima (Lotus of Siam)

  • Shaun King (ex-Momofuku Las Vegas)

  • Yuri Szarzewski (Partage/Eatt)

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Click HERE to continue reading…

 

Photos provided by The Feast of Friends

 

 

 

 

 

DTLV Art Walk Hits The Pavement


Guided tour of Downtown’s street murals is anything but “pedestrian”…

As the outrageous heat of this summer has dropped below the boiling point and pool season starts to wind down, Vegas visitors will be looking for other outdoor activities to fill their vacation slate. Downtown has a new option with the DTLV Art Walk.

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Rikka Logan (above) finds beauty in every corner of the world…                

Art enthusiast Rikka Logan is the creator of DTLV Art Walk. A devout lover of animals and nature, Logan relishes the wonder that surrounds us in our everyday life. From lush rain forests to city skylines to the rugged Red Rock Canyon, this Las Vegas resident excels at sharing her unique eye for beauty.

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Now Rikka has turned her passion for art into guided tours of the murals and graffiti that have cropped up along and around the Fremont East District. These gorgeous, ever-changing paintings have become a rage in the Downtown area such the emergence of the annual Life Is Beautiful music festival.

DTLV Art Walk

DTLV Art Walk

I first took note of these works four years ago while staying at El Cortez Cabana Suites. Artists were scurrying around vacant buildings and unused spaces, adding color, wit and attitude to a neighborhood that was ripe for revitalization.

DTLV Art Walk

DTLV Art Walk

The Life Is Beautiful fest was soon to begin and the flurry of activity was infectious. So I grabbed my DSLR camera and went exploring. As much as I enjoyed discovering these urban treasures on my own, my pics would have benefited from a little insight and background on the artists.

DTLV Art Walk

DTLV Art Walk

A lot has changed since 2013…including the artwork in and around Downtown. Now you can keep up with the newest paintings and learn more about them with the Downtown Las Vegas Art Walk. Rikka takes groups on a 90-minute stroll throughout the city in a fun-loaded and informative tour.

DTLV Art Walk

DTLV Art Walk

Tours are scheduled every Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 6:30pm. There are daytime tours as well on Saturdays and Sundays (10am and 1:30pm). The cost is $25 per person and can be scheduled by clicking here. A group discount is offered for parties of ten or more.

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Of course, it is recommended that you wear comfortable shoes and clothing for the weather, bring a bottle of water and a well-charged camera and/or smartphone. Sunblock and sunglasses aren’t a bad idea, either.

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No matter how many times you’ve been to Vegas, there’s always something new around the next corner. So grab and friend and take the DTLV Art Walk.

For more information or to schedule, contact DTLV Art Walk by clicking here. You may also reach Rikka Logan by calling (702) 879-8875.

Photos: Sammasseur, DTLV Art Walk