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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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.

DTLV Art Walk

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.

DTLV Art Walk

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.

DTLV Art Walk

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.

DTLV Art Walk

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

 

 

 

Looking Down on Fremont’s “Ground Zero”

Downtown demolition zone signals changes that aren’t necessarily improvements…

A familiar phrase regarding Las Vegas is “The only constant is change”. That observation has traditionally applied to the Strip, but historic Downtown is undergoing its own cycle of reinvention…at the cost of what made it unique.

While revitalization of the Fremont East zone has brought a welcome influx of new ideas (cool restaurants, hip bars and Downtown Container Park), that same influence has resulted in dramatic differences to the Fremont Street Experience corridor that aren’t necessarily welcome.

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Demolition and construction on and around Fremont Street now faces the same scrutiny that took place when it was closed to vehicular traffic and topped with the current video canopy. Purists lamented losing the ability to drive their cars down Fremont Street to bask in historic hotel architecture and glorious neon.

In 2017, that same area is now choked with outdoor bars/patios, vendor kiosks, street performers, homeless beggars and a hideous eyesore known as SlotZilla. That thrill ride re-purposed the Viva Vision screen as a tunnel for the zip-line attraction.

For this writer, one of the saddest developments on Fremont was the closure of longtime favorites Mermaids Casino, sister operation La Bayou and the Las Vegas Club Casino Hotel. All were sentimental go-to’s that represented value, history and a true vintage-Vegas feel.

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Now two of them, along with “gentlemen’s club” Glitter Gulch, are being leveled along with nearby structures for construction of a brand-new casino/hotel. La Bayou‘s demo resulted in the soon-to-open expansion of adjacent Golden Gate Hotel, the oldest remaining building on Fremont Street. That one-time favorite had already gotten a major modernization and expansion a few years back that resulted in removal of wonderful Bay City Diner and the beloved 99-cent shrimp-cocktail counter.

It seems that whenever I fall for a business or landmark in Las Vegas, my affection guarantees it’ll wind up in the demolition cross-hairs. Sure, renovation brings new visitors and attention to an area, but for some of us, “progress” feels like a slap in the face.

Mermaids was an absolute must on my Fremont Street stops. Cocktail waitresses Gabriella and Ling Ling were bright spots each and every time. They took care of me like nobody on the Strip ever would.

Now, 99-cent hot dogs and the endless supply of free drinks have been taken away. Those friendly ladies who once recognized me from trip to trip have literally disappeared.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

The grungy smell of Las Vegas Club hotel, along with its creaky elevators and humble rooms, was a minor but tolerable drawback of staying there. LVC was a serviceable option whenever I needed clean, simple budget lodging. Just a few years back I was able to stay there for only $14 a night…with no resort fee, free parking and gloriously-easy in/out access.

The newer North Tower, which I got upgraded to on that particular stay, was easily on par with the rooms at 4 Queens and Fremont Hotel. Plus, they were absolutely massive by Downtown standards and a had recently been modernized. Both towers of Las Vegas Club were fortunate enough to get refreshed up with the same carpeting and furniture that Plaza Hotel had obtained from the failed Fontainebleau project.

This summer, the Las Vegas Club is being brought down by the same ambitious innovators who added $20 resort fees and intensely-loud music to their Downtown hotels. While many view Derek and Greg Stevens as saviors, to myself and many other historic Downtown fans, they’ve become mixed blessings.

Nobody enjoys seeing the places they fall in love with being torn down for the sake of progress. No matter what rises in those locations, it won’t be the same. They’ll be expensive, more Strip-like and less of what made Fremont Street an alternative.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

So say goodbye to Vegas Vickie and other glorious pieces of neon art that once shone down on visitors. No matter when or where they end up, they won’t be in their original home.

As for the structures that will eventually rise from the footprint of Las Vegas Club and Mermaids…they’ll only be “lip-service improvements”. New hotels can never fill the void left by long-lost favorites that were just fine back in the day.

Photos: [A friend]