Vegas Goes Dark – The Beginning of the End…or a New Beginning?


The day we never could have imagined is upon us. Can ‘Sin City’ rise from the ashes and learn from its mistakes?

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This evening, Governor Steve Sisolak shut down the City of Las Vegas, along with the rest of the state, for a minimum of thirty days. In order to slow the rampant spread of COVID-19 aka “Corona Virus”, all non-essential businesses have been ordered to shutter. This includes bars, hotels, casinos, indoor-dining restaurants, gyms, spas, salons, movie theaters, shows, most stores, parks, recreational attractions and much more.

                                Caesars Palace Forum Shops and Bellagio….both empty…

Thousands upon thousands of people are currently out of work (myself included). Very few are receiving compensation from their employers during this dark period, leaving homes and families at risk for multiple hardships. Can a town that’s already endured major drops in tourism due to 9/11, 2008’s economic collapse and the 10/1/17 massacre rebound from yet another cataclysm?

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                  The party is over on Fremont Street…at least for the time being…

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             An insider source requesting anonymity sent these astonishing photos…

Will the stuffed suits in powerful boardrooms learn from their own mistakes…ones that were already dragging our tourist industry downward? What can be done to lure people back…and will we see a return to the perception of Las Vegas as a value destination? One can only hope.

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                  A darkened Wynn/Encore offers hope to the remaining few passers-by…

The days leading up to the Governor’s declaration were filled with unbearable tension. Grocery store shelves were plundered as major Strip productions shuttered one by one. Next came the closing of buffets and restaurants, then entire hotels and casinos.  Working parents suddenly had to figure out what to do with their children when all schools closed down this week.

                                 Town Square near McCarran Airport is a ghost town…

As in other cities around the world, mundane activities like getting a haircut or meeting friends for lunch are no longer part of our lives. Everything has changed in just a matter of days. Once it became clear that this was our new normal, a friend and I entered “survival mode”. I was just laid off from two regular writing gigs (supposedly temporarily, but who knows?) and he needed a place to live, so now I have someone to share expenses with…and lean on at the same time.

Having resided for 14 years in hurricane-prone South Florida, this writer was used to disaster preparation as a routine activity. Stock the pantry, refill prescriptions, get extra pet food and litter, withdraw cash from the ATM, gas up the vehicles and charge everything that uses a battery. Then comes more drastic steps like buying plywood to board up the windows, checking/replacing fire extinguishers and having weapons on hand in case violence ensues.

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All of this may sound drastic or even dramatic, but let’s face it…if people trample each other for a TV on Black Friday, what will they do when food and supplies run out? The answer isn’t an easy one and becomes especially scary if you consider the possibility that basic utilities could eventually get cut off. But if anarchy raises its ugly head, this former Boy Scout will be ready.

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Despite the seriousness of the situation, many have been working hard to maintain hope…and a sense of humor. Facebook has been a great outlet for people to offer assistance, share their talents and keep each others’ spirits high. Cirque du Soleil performer Alberto Del Campo (read about him HERE) is hosting free online pole fitness classes.

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           Sing along with Mak and the Cheese – You Can’t Spell ‘Virus’ Without ‘Us’

Talented spouses MaKenzie Fly (Sex Tips) and Colin Cahill (Atomic Saloon Show) have created “Mak and The Cheese” a Facebook page featuring witty songs and skits inspired by the “virus hiatus.” And yours truly hosted a “Sexy Apocalypse Party” at Palms Place, where shirts were optional (this is Sin City, after all).

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As we locals ride out the long month ahead in our own unique ways, it’s clear that we’ll come out on the other side as very changed people. Thousands will undoubtedly remain unemployed. Homes will be lost and crime rates will rise. Many businesses will most certainly close for good.

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                    The Bronx Wanderers toast their final performance…for now…

Entertainment offerings may no longer be the flashy, expensive productions (like Cirque du Soleil’s R.U.N) that have recently racked up millions in losses. Virgin Hotel (the former Hard Rock) and Allegiant Stadium completion dates will be pushed back. And you can forget about Resorts World and Fontainebleu/The Drew opening any time soon….yet again.

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The Governor’s announcement was like licking the stamp on a death notice that was waiting to be mailed. Las Vegas has been struggling for quite some time, mostly due to poor decisions that have turned an inexpensive, beloved retreat into a tourist-gouging cesspool of greed. The bigger the city has grown, the less forward-thinking it has become. What we as citizens saw and heard tonight will forever be embedded in our minds. But can we say the same about the big-company execs who are directing the city’s future?

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After the news conference, my new roomie and I gathered our wits and headed to the Strip to absorb the shocking reality of it all. What we witnessed were empty sidewalks, abandoned massive resorts, and shuttered storefronts. The world-famous Bellagio Fountains were dark, as was the Mirage volcano and the boardwalk along Treasure Island. Gone were the endless lines of taxis waiting to pick up tourists.

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Overhead, pedestrian walkways were void of people, and the outdoor escalators at each major intersection went silently up and down with nary a soul to ride them. Amusingly, they all seemed to be working for a change, now that there was nobody to use them. If you were looking for the company of others, all you had to do was head for the nearest dispensary, where people encircled the buildings, hoping to get their stash before mandatory shutdowns went into effect.

                  Lines at marijuana dispensaries stretched around the block…

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         “Visit Las Vegas” is airing nationwide TV promising a bigger, better Vegas…

Now that we’ve witnessed that fall of Las Vegas, where do we go from here? As I said, it will most likely be a very different place…but will it be better? Maybe the “new normal” will yield smaller-scale ideas, where charming lounge-style acts push multi-million-dollar headliner residencies out of the way.

                         Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport 3/18/20, 10am

Perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in gaming, bolstered by better odds than visitors can get at their local casinos. And if we’re lucky, quality service by smiling human beings will shove out main offender MGM Resort‘s move toward automation and self-service. If I’m paying $50 for a buffet, is it too much to ask for an actual person to refill my iced tea?

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                                                    Found on my Facebook feed…

What Las Vegas REALLY needs is to learn a hard, definitive lesson from this punch to the stomach. Hotels must send parking charges out into the desert, never to return. People are sick of looking at their restaurant/bar tab and finding a laundry list of bogus service charges and taxes added onto their already-expensive bill. And when a hotel advertisement says “Stay here for $___”, that better be the actual rate. We’re done with $45 resort fees. Stop it…right now!

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There are only so many times that a city built on tourism can bounce back from major disasters. Las Vegas has survived at least three of them in the past two decades. If the corporations that run this city don’t push the “restart” button and bring back what made this city successful for decades, then maybe it doesn’t deserve to recover at all.

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Click HERE to read this article’s companion piece: “Is Sin City Determined to Drive You Away?”

Photos: Sam Novak, Bobby Watson, Kevin Janison, Marianne LeMoine Phoenix, Greg C., Bill Chenowith, Vin A., Andrew Hill. Special thanks to Richard Lindblom. Banner photo from ABC News 

Las Vegas Drive-in Theater is a Virus-Safe Cure for Cabin Fever


Retro-cool outdoor movie theater provides box-office hits without the need for human contact…

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UPDATE: Even though a statewide quarantine is currently in effect, Las Vegas West Wind Drive-in is being allowed to operate under strict conditions. See below for details. 

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Located just a little northwest of downtown near Texas Station and  Fiesta Rancho casinos, West Wind Las Vegas 6 is riding a sudden wave of popularity. While many drive-ins are long gone, West Wind continues to be an entertainment success. The modern digital picture is sharper, brighter, and is easily a match for their indoor counterparts. Sound is broadcast through high-quality FM onto your own car speakers, so you can control the volume and “oomph”.

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What makes drive-in theaters especially popular right now is that their unique concept (watching movies under the stars) fits right into the coronavirus outbreak’s “social distancing” guidelines. Once you slide your payment through a crack in the car window, you can avoid being in close proximity to other human beings. The only folks you’ll encounter are the ones inside their concession stand building (or if you need to use the restroom).

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While indoor theaters charge upwards of $12.00 for a single movie, adult admission to West Wind 6 Drive-in is only $7.75. The titles change every week, with a combination of brand-new releases and holdover hits. Certain screens offer a double-feature of two recent films for the same low price. Children ages 5-11 get in for $1.75, and kids under 5 are free. Tuesdays are even cheaper, with adult tickets costing $5.50. The website offers a newsletter with Internet coupon offers, too.

When global pandemics aren’t the biggest worry of your day, you’ll want to return on a regular basis. An expansion of the outdoor dining and playground areas has added to the drive-in’s appeal. The snack bar offers typical movie-going fare but at noticeably lower prices. And, they’ve upped the fun factor with seasonal activities. During Halloween, the snack bar gets turned into a mini haunted house, complete with staff members in costume. Several times a year, West Wind hosts a Customer Appreciation Night with absolutely free admission, fun, and games.

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The main concession building is located in the center of the property. It has a playground and outdoor picnic tables so you can stuff yourself on hot dogs and nachos without missing the movie. Of course, if you want to sneak a peek at one of the other five screens, I won’t tell. They often host special events with pony rides, live entertainment, and a petting zoo.

So, if the quarantine has you suffering from cabin fever, West Wind Drive-in Theater has the cure. Step back in time, look for the lighted arches and classic neon signage. Bring a pillow, wear your pajamas and bunny slippers if you like, and it’s even okay to smoke. And, nobody will scold you if you chat or decide to make out in the back seat.

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West Wind Las Vegas Drive-in Theater is open year-round, rain or shine. It’s located at 4150 West Carey Avenue, northwest of downtown. Click HERE for their current movie titles/showtimes or call  (702) 646-3565 OR (702) 647-1379 for more information.

Photos: West Wind, Sam Novak, Yelp!

‘EXTRAVAGANZA- THE LAS VEGAS SPECTACULAR’ EMBRACES SIN CITY’S SHOWGIRL LEGACY


Click HERE to read this article via the awesome BestOfVegas.com site and save $27 on tickets to EXTRAVAGANZA.

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The famed Bally’s Showroom on the Strip is often referred to as the birthplace of the iconic Las Vegas showgirl. Whether that’s true or not can be debated, but the classic Donn Arden production JUBILEE! performed there for an incredible 35 years. Now, the spirit of that famed revue and the showgirls themselves are set to return in a new variety show called EXTRAVAGANZA – The Vegas Spectacular.

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Set to premiere on March 14th, EXTRAVAGANZA – The Vegas Spectacular will feature an international cast of more than 30 artists and performers. It’s directed by Hanoch Rosènn, the creative force behind WOW – The Vegas Spectacular at Rio Hotel Casino. And while the two share similar DNA, EXTRAVAGANZA will lean a little less towards “family-friendly” and a bit more towards the sensual and passionate.

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Advance buzz on EXTRAVAGANZA has centered around an extremely sexy cast of athletic and graceful performers. Guests can expect to be mesmerized by thrill-inducing acts that feature aerialists, acrobats, comedians, ventriloquists, and dancers. Some of the most astonishing feats of Sin City’s entertainment heyday will return, too, including the infamous “Globe of Death”.

Fans of Downtown’s Fremont Street Experience will surely remember the terrifying “Globe of Death”, a gasp-worthy stunt in which several high-speed motorcyclists roar around at top speeds while inside a spherical cage. The “Globe of Death” ranks with CELESTIA‘s “Wheel of Death” as one of the most popular and frightening daredevil acts ever to be performed in the city on a regular basis.

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EXTRAVAGANZA will also include a salute to Vegas icons like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, this time via state-of-the-art hologram technology. LED video screen backdrops, elaborate costumes, and large-scale sets will transport guests through several decades of songs, dances, and variety acts that laid the foundation for contemporary epic productions like Le Reve – The Dream and Michael Jackson ONE.

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Director Rosènn was inspired by the success of WOW – The Vegas Spectacular (two years, over 1,000 performances and counting) to create EXTRAVAGANZA as a tribute to Las Vegas and its legacy of entertainment.  “The show is my homage to this amazing city – bringing not only tremendous and unique performers from all over the world – but, also, some of the most iconic and thrilling acts, as well as, the return of the classic showgirls, who made the Jubilee Theatre home for so many decades.”

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EXTRAVAGANZA – The Vegas Spectacular premieres March 14th. It will perform Thursday through Tuesday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show on Saturday. Click HERE to purchase tickets starting at only $48 (plus taxes/fees).

Photos: Caprio Media Design for EXTRAVAGANZA – The Las Vegas Spectacular

 

 

5 Reasons To Revisit ‘VEGAS! The Show’


Epic production revisits decades of legendary Sin City superstars…

Click HERE to read this article and purchase discounted tickets through the awesome BestOfVegas site.BestOfVegas

Las Vegas earned its title as the City of Entertainment through years of world-class headliners. From Tom Jones and Tina Turner to Dean Martin and Gladys Knight…they all paved the way for the stars of today. And you can revisit every one of these legendary performances in VEGAS! The Show.

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The long-running VEGAS! The Show (at Saxe Theater inside Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops) is as fresh as the day it opened nearly a decade ago. It’s a large-scale treat with massive sets, superb choreography, an outstanding setlist and much, much more. Whether you’re new to Vegas entertainment or a longtime devotee, VEGAS! The Show is a journey through the decades that’s not to be missed. Here are five reasons why:

THE PRODUCTION DESIGN IS UNRIVALED – The sets, costumes, and props for VEGAS! The Show have a wonderfully authentic feel. From the glamorous showgirl headdresses, tuxedos and top hats to the retro-cool chic of a 50’s soda shop, you’ll believe that you’re actually experiencing a trip through time.

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Various segments take you to the groovy days of Sonny and Cher, the gritty streets of Sinatra’s New York City, a naughty can-can at the Moulin Rouge and a visit to the candy store with Sammy Davis Jr. There are even a two-level bandstand and a mock-up of the Neon Boneyard, downtown’s final resting place for those iconic neon signs.

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A WHIRLWIND OF VARIETY ACTS – Following JUBILEE‘s well-established format, the larger sequences in VTS are punctuated by a collection of specialty acts. You’ll never know who will step out from behind the curtain, from acrobat Yasu Yoshikawa and juggler Michael Holly to the troupe of riotous physical comedians known as The Quiddlers. Each one is guaranteed to amaze, amuse and keep the show moving at a breakneck pace.

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LIVE BAND and SINGERS – Many of today’s productions have recently eliminated live musicians as a cost-saving measure. Not so at Vegas! The Show, where audiences are treated to a crackerjack eleven-piece band. Piano, horns, drums, and guitars bring you a musical experience that no pre-recorded track could ever emulate. VTS‘s amazing singers do double-duty, offering authentic recreations of familiar stars while delivering stunning vocalizations in their own style. Which brings us to…

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AN ALL-STAR CAST – Since the very beginning, Vegas! The Show has been a whos-who of Sin City stars, both current and in-the-making. Ballroom dancers Alejandro and Sarah Domingo became featured performers in Palazzo’s BAZ. Broadway star Josh Strickland (Disney’s Tarzan) was a lead singer for many years. Eric Jordan Young and Jaclyn McSpadden have gone on to outstanding musical productions like Cocktail Cabaret, BAZ and Postmodern Jukebox.

Today’s line-up is just as impressive. America’s Got Talent alumnus Samantha Johnson delivers stunning renditions of the hits of Gladys Knight, Lena Horne, and Tina Turner. Vocalist JT Seumalu belts out Wayne Newton‘s “Danke Schoen” then smoothly shifts gears to an Elvis gospel tune. Elijah Rock is wonderful as host “Ernie”, who takes you through the years while crooning Sammy’s “Candyman” and “Once In A Lifetime”. He and many more are accompanied by over a dozen stunning dancers.

NONSTOP HITS – Get ready for a rousing parade of timeless favorites. “Midnight Train To Georgia”, “I’ve Got You Babe”, “What’s New Pussycat”, “If I Can Dream” and “Shining Star”…they’re all here. Disco, funk, jazz, lounge standards and the big-band era get the VTS treatment in epic style. Seumalu brings the show to an emotional climax with “Rocketman” as videos of hotel implosions return us to present-day Sin City.

The Golden Era of Entertainment may have come and gone, but thanks to Vegas! The Show, the legacy will live on for a long time to come.

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VEGAS! The Show performs nightly at 7pm (dark Sunday) with an additional 9pm performance on select evenings. Tickets start at only $54 via BestOfVegas and can be purchased by clicking HERE

Photos: Sam Novak, Vegas! The Show, JT Seumalu/The Quiddlers via Facebook

Whitney Phoenix Strikes a Chord at Bellagio Las Vegas


Iconic pianist celebrates 21 years of entertaining resort’s guests….

There are those who lament the golden era of Vegas….a time when tuxedos, gowns and roses were the norm. Visitors sipped champagne while enjoying the lush entertainment of glamorous singers and musicians. While times have changed, the timeless elegance of Whitney Phoenix and his music remain.

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For more than two decades. Mr. Phoenix has been creating memories at Petrossian Bar and Lounge. Situated just off Bellagio‘s main lobby near the famed Fiori di Como ceiling, this refined gathering spot welcomes new arrivals and serves as a gateway to the gaming floor. And with Whitney on the stunning one-of-a-kind Steinway grand, atmospheric music is elevated to world-class entertainment.

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You might think that fans of Pitbull and Calvin Harris might not have an appreciation for the stylings of a piano maestro, but that is far from the case. Whenever Mr. Phoenix plays, young and old alike gather to listen. Crowds form all around the circular lounge, often lining up six deep. Even bustling travelers stop to relish what they’re hearing, applauding after each song, medley and concerto.

With his silver hair and custom tuxedo jackets, Mr. Phoenix presents a striking figure. His poised elegance and gentle smile are even more intriguing when you learn of his military background in the Marines. He also served as an instructor in the Armed Forces School of Music. Expressive and engaging, the maestro inhabits each piece, giving it life and heart in a way that few artists can.

Much like fellow prodigy Elton John, Phoenix began formal instruction at the age of eight. Four years later he was performing solo concerts on his way to a lifetime of success and noteworthy achievements. He became popular in Las Vegas through regular appearances at Imperial Palace (now Linq Hotel), Caesars Palace and MGM Grand.

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Marianne LeMoine Phoenix has been Whitney’s wife and collaborator for 24 years. The two met in 1993 when she hired him to do vocal arrangements. “I ran out of money to pay him so we made other arrangements” she jokes. An accomplished vocalist and comedienne, Marianne’s current production 50 Pounds From Stardom is a labor of love for which Whitney serves as musical director.

A former back-up singer for Dolly PartonDebbie Reynolds…and one very special night with Diana Ross, Mrs. Phoenix laughs about the days when she hung out with Wayne Newton and his entourage, raising cane in places like the New Frontier and Stardust. She’s proud that her husband continues the quality of classy, elegant entertainment that Vegas was founded on.

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As Whitney drew applause for a stunning full-length rendition of Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody, Mrs. Phoenix recounted how her husband began playing here “not on the very first day, but the day before.” The pair had arrived, elegantly dressed for his initial shift and expecting him to play at the grand opening gala. Instead, workers were still laying mosaic tiles on the lobby floor and the lounge’s staff was organizing glassware and bottles.

Click HERE to continue reading…

Photos: Sam Novak

 

 

 

The SAHARA Is Back – But Is It Too Late?


The iconic hotel gets yet another chance after the SLS debacle…

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The Sahara Hotel was one of the first casino resorts I stayed at when the Vegas love affair began. This was back in 2005, just when the landmark property was about to plummet to its lowest depths. Once a legendary destination, Sahara had become a place of despair. That being said, it still had its purpose as a value destination for those on a budget.

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In 2007, Sam Nazarian and Stockbridge Real Estate Group purchased the Sahara…and quickly ran it into the ground. My final stay in the summer of 2009 was so awful that I vowed it would be my last. Exposed electrical wiring, broken lamps, cigarette burns in the carpeting and furniture, golf ball-sized hole in the shower stall, broken bed frame, filthy casino restrooms….well, you get the idea.

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Nazarian locked the Sahara’s doors on May 16th, 2011, taping up a handwritten sign as his final farewell. To those of us who knew what he’d done to the place, this served more as a threat than a beacon of hope:

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When the property’s liquidation sale was announced, I flew in from Oregon to attend. We bargain-hunters and nostalgia-seekers were escorted onto the property in controlled groups, required to listen to a presentation before being unleashed to go exploring. Our guide told us that the hotel would eventually be re-opening under the name “SLS”. The fellow next to me said “S.O.S.? What kind of name is that for a hotel?”. If he only knew how prescient his question was…

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SLS Las Vegas opened three years and three months later. I was one of the first guests to check in on opening day….and just about everything went awry. No elevators in the parking garage, malfunctioning elevators in the hotel towers, being assigned a room that was already occupied, problems with the TV and more. Of course, all of these things were growing pains and could be easily forgiven for a newly-opened establishment.

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What couldn’t be overlooked was that the concept of turning a rundown north-Strip relic into an expensive knockoff of a Los Angeles hit was a fool’s errand. Nazarian and team had entertained the idea that LA residents would come to Vegas to experience what they already had at home. They packed the SLS with not one but SEVEN Hollywood-based Fred Segal shops, taking up every retail outlet within the resort. Within a year, they were all gone.

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Some things vanished even quicker that the Segal stores. An excellent new second-floor buffet was shuttered after only three months. LA-based Griddle Cafe lasted an entire five months before pulling out. Foxtail Nightclub was quickly shut down and LIFE Nightclub was gutted/converted into The Foundation Room (allowing for Foxtail’s pool club to reopen at night).

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The musical chairs within the building were shuffled as frequently as the execs in the boardroom. SLS Las Vegas was, without a doubt, a resounding flop from every perspective. All because it tried to be something it wasn’t and deliver something the city never needed.

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What Sahara really needed was another chance to be the Sahara again. Refreshed, revitalized, reborn as “The New Sahara”, perhaps….but NOT re-branded into an expensive luxury destination built on a rickety old foundation. The little nods to Sahara’s past had been peppered into the SLS decor, but this was essentially lip service to people like me…those who continue to embrace Sin City’s past.

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But the Sahara’s soul had been ripped out along with the theme, camels and that unforgettable neon porte cochere. It was replaced by bare concrete and a nearly-colorless, white/grey/black palette with bare ceilings, exposed duct work and a bar that looked like a boardroom full of monkeys. An artistic representation of reality, perhaps?

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Last week’s announcement that current owners Meruelo Group would be restoring the Sahara name was met with great fanfare (Scott Roeben’s VitalVegas.com readers knew quite awhile ago that this was in the works). It’s the hottest topic on Vegas message boards, Facebook pages and blogs like mine right now, so there’s interest in the old property after all.

Mostly everyone seems to like what’s been happening at the old/new Sahara. Meruelo has re-acquired a tower that had been taken over by W Hotels. They’ve restored full in-house operations and are putting a reported $100 million or more into additional renovations, much of them to address the despised flaws in the SLS room redesigns. Even the Casbar Lounge is back in a modern incarnation!

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             Sahara owner Alex Meruelo and wife Liset and name-reveal gala…

The company’s founder Alex Meruelo had this to say last week about the property’s future:

The SAHARA played an important role in the evolution of the destination. And, we are now responsible for shaping a new narrative. We are writing the next chapter in the city’s evolution, for the love of Vegas.
We are committed to delivering an intimate, unexpected and memorable visit for our guests. We want people who stay with us to say, ‘My God what an experience!’ because experience leads to memories. And, that’s what we want to create, memories and experiences you won’t forget.
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                                               Casbar Lounge then…
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                           …and now…(photo by Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas)
You can watch a video of the announcement by clicking here. The press release went on to say:
Alex Meruelo’s debut comes at a time when there are few sole proprietors left along the Las Vegas Strip. As a life-long entrepreneur with a track record of business success, Meruelo expressed his commitment to continual improvement and investment in SAHARA Las Vegas ensuring the resort remains both timeless yet modern so that guests will want to return time and time again.

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So yes, there’s plenty to be excited about The Sahara’s return. All signs point towards things being done correctly this time. But is it too late to matter? That depends on the final product and where it fits into the 2019 market.

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    World Tower room at SLS. Super-boring, oddly arranged, claustrophobic…

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                               New color scheme on current Story Tower room…

I have no problem in admitting that, just because of the name, I’m much more inclined to book or recommend a hotel called “Sahara” than “SLS”. After all, there is a major road and several current businesses in the area that are named after it. Sahara IS Vegas…it evokes the desert, a rich history and promises of an experience that “SLS” (that nonsensical clump of letters) never could.

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Many of us have complained about the removal of themes from Strip resorts. Then we lost our cool when office-bland City Center bleached out any hope of their restoration in the future. So if Sahara dares to restore its past Moroccan motif, even just a little, we owe it to Meruelo Group to support their audacity and daring.

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It’s reassuring to know that the new owners have already done a great job of returning Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort to relevancy. They’ve wisely appealed to a variety of guests from the frugal to the elite, managing to modernize that hotel/casino while acknowledging its rich 41-year history. That’s exactly what The Sahara needed to do all along.

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There are plenty of reasons to give the new Sahara a try. Resorts World and The Strat are drawing much-needed attention to those few blocks of the Strip. Sahara has its own monorail station, tying with Westgate for the most accessible of any stop on the line. Vital Vegas broke the news that foodie-favorite Bazaar Meats will remain and get expanded. He also reported they’re gaining an established resident production (the nauseating-yet-inexplicably-popular Magic Mike Live) that is sure to draw traffic back into the resort.

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So let’s hope that Meruelo Group continues their current audacious path for The Sahara. They’ve been running reduced booking rates, “No Resort Fee” and “Half-off Resort Fee” specials since taking over, have maintained free parking, attracted a variety of hip comedians and made the casino layout more appealing.

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With the right mixture of value, service and dining/entertainment/gaming offerings, The Sahara could become a standout destination that the current Las Vegas is sorely lacking…a fun affordable Sin City resort worth returning to over and over.

Photo By Denise Truscello

Sahara fans are invited to witness its rebirth and transformation via a newly-launched website. Follow the excitement and sign up for updates by clicking here

Photos: Sam Novak, Greg C., SLS/Sahara, Vital Vegas, KVVU-TV, Pinterest, The Publicity Lab, Denise Truscello

 

 

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