Lost Vegas: The Fall of Neon’s Reign


Greg C. brings us another photo essay, this time on sadly-departed classic neon…

When you hear the words “Classic Vegas” or “Old Vegas,” your mind probably tends to gravitate towards Rat Pack shows or tales of the Mafia. For my photographer friend Greg C., the classics are spelled out in miles of glowing neon. Glorious, painstakingly-created works of art…

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There’s nothing like memories from past visits…arriving in the city under a blanket of darkness, turning onto the Strip and seeing the dazzling light show that stretched out for miles ahead of you.

Driving past the dual ivory and gold towers of Tropicana, gawking at the multi-colored rings of Bally’s futuristic entry, basking in the flickering of Bill’s Gambling Hall…eventually reaching the ultimate Vegas throwback…Sahara Hotel Casino.

For me, the colors of the Sahara will always hold a special place in the hall of memories. It was the second place that I stayed in the city. I vividly remember getting out of the taxi and listening to the buzzing of the neon tubes and on-off clicking of the bulbs around the porte -cochere.

It was chilly that night, but the signage and blinking lights gave off their own warmth, inviting me inside for an adventure not to be forgotten.

After my scathing analysis of current Vegas trends was published, Greg suggested taking a more visual approach to what we’ve recently lost around the Strip:

I am assembling photos of all the neon signage and cool structures that have vanished in Vegas since 2010. When the photos are seen all together, it creates a vivid idea of how much has been lost in only the last six years.

Greg is absolutely fascinated with Sin City architecture. His photo essays of Westgate Sky Villashidden structural oddities and recent implosions speak for themselves. Now he’s ready to turn his lens towards the demise of long-loved neon signage and very familiar landmarks.

The beautiful neon and bulbs from the Barbary Coast were kept by Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall….. but scrapped when they transformed the simple old-school place into the bland Cromwell….

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O’Shea’s gave its life so that Project Linq could live. The new version is a pale ghost of the original…a raucous, cheap, easy-access place for casual fun lovers to get plastered and grab some basic eats. Naturally, it had to be wiped out as it runs counter to the modern corporate ideal of high-end, high-budget fun. The old façade was awesome — lots of neon and flashing bulbs. Yep….get it outta here! No place for that in Vegas.

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Imperial Palace: Yeah…it had really gone downhill. Still, it was a cheap place to hang if you wanted to be on the central Strip and were on a budget.

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The entrance of Bally’s being destroyed to create the wonderful ghost town of retail shops — the “Not-so-Grand Bazaar”. And the cool purple-glowing section of Casino Royale, destroyed for the modern blah Walgreens and White Castle additions. Gotta have retail now, don’t we?

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And out on Flamingo and Paradise, the familiar neon outline of Mr. T (of Terrible’s) was replaced by Silver 7’s. Adios to $9.99 Baby Back Ribs….

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Tropicana is still there (well, most of it) but the old-school signage with neon and flashing bulbs is gone…as is the Folies Bergere, which was the resort’s trademark entertainment for most of its pre-renovation life.

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One of the older wings of the property was demolished in 2010 (the 300-wing)……half of it by a little-known implosion. Today’s look is much more bland without the alternating dark/white stripes and the gold-accent glass on the tower tops that was whited out during the refit. The tower along the Strip also had a cool electric-blue waterfall going down the end (which they turned dark — bad decision). We need all the neon we can get…..

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Convention Center Drive:  Greek Isles was not a big name for sure…..it was actually a dump–in bad repair. The hotel has the dubious distinction of being the most renamed joint in Vegas….Debbie Reynolds before Greek Isles…. and the Paddlewheel before that……..and the Royal Americana before that……and finally the Royal Inn (its original name when opened in 1970)…. it was bought by Clarion in 2010 and imploded wearing that name.

The elderly Somerset House Motel across the street dated to the early 60’s. It was leveled in 2011. Nothing but empty lots where both stood (seems to be a recurring trend in that area).

It’s hard to get excited by the new trends of “office-building chic”, multi-toned beige and monochromatic blah. Even some room renovations have stripped out colors in favor of hospital-room white (see Delano‘s clinical decor at Mandalay Bay, which feels like being in a padded cell). When Sahara became SLS, the cans of white paint must have numbered in the thousands.

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The north end of the Strip has clearly been hit the hardest. Not only have historic properties like New Frontier and the legendary Stardust been turned into rubble, but ballyhooed projects meant to rise from the debris have fallen into their own decay. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen where Riviera once stood.

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Can’t begin to say enough on this one–it’s already been talked about enough…. but it has to be mentioned as it was probably the greatest loss of neon glory in recent years…..

These days, visitors are greeted by huge LED screens that rival those in Times Square. Sure, they’re eye-catching, but also cold and clinical.

Fremont Street is the best remaining place to see authentic neon artworks in all their splendor. But they, too, are falling out of favor as hotels get purchased and modernized (think The D and Golden Gate).

If you love neon like Greg and I do, be sure to visit your favorites and snap some photos while you still can. The pile of carcasses at Neon Museum will most likely grow higher as Sin City continues to rip out its own electric heart.

Photos and quotes by Greg C

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

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Alex O’Connor – Sin City Superman


Getting to know the hardest-working bartender in Las Vegas…

Much like the beacon atop the Luxor, the lights and excitement of Las Vegas are known to draw the ambitious and hopeful. There are limitless opportunities for a person with skill, drive, and personality to make a name for themselves. That’s what brought mixologist Alex O’Connor here four years ago. And this Sin City Superman has never slowed down.

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I first met Alex O’Connor three summers ago under the misters at O’Shea’s Casino outdoor bar. Despite the stifling heat, the handsome bodybuilder was all smiles and charisma, serving out cold beers with a healthy dose of anecdotes and advice for Vegas newbies. It was his multi-tasking abilities and respectful attitude toward the customers that made me sit up and take note…not that a six-foot-three behemoth is likely to go unnoticed.

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Jump ahead to last winter, and I spot Alex behind the bar at Share, a now-shuttered gay nightclub on Wynn Road. Clad only in boxer briefs and a smile (sigh….), he was once more gathering crowds while serving drinks in a fast-and-furious fashion. That’s exactly what makes Alex O’Connor the happiest – heightening the customer’s experience however possible.

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It turns out that Alex works in LOTS of places on and around the Strip. In addition to O’Shea’s, he’s been on the payroll for Drai’s Beachclub /Nightclub, the Center Bar at Hard Rock HotelJewel Nightclub at Aria Resort, the pool bar at Treasure Island and private functions on the side.

With a schedule like that, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could get proper sleep, let alone keep up a physique like his.

“During the week I try for at least 3-4 hours.  On the weekends, I’m lucky to get an hour nap here or there between doubles.  I pretty much plan my days around my work schedules and going to the gym as well. I love to put my headphones on and hit the LVAC. My size is dictated by my work schedule. If I have leftover time, rarely, I leave it for errands”.

When I asked Alex how he got to be so disciplined, he told me it was self-taught. Family difficulties motivated him to move out on his own while he was a junior in high school. He worked full time and supported himself in his North Haven Connecticut hometown while still going to high school. But he’d already been working at a country club since the age of thirteen, a job he kept and expanded on for several years.

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Alex’s first experiences behind the bar were as a bar-back, helping keep things stocked and neat. Eventually, he became a full-fledged bartender and attributes his organizational skills as a secret to fast service. He likes to arrive far in advance of a shift, making sure everything is “just right” and where he wants it.

Alex says that some bars are much more stringent than others when it comes to monitoring the less-significant health code requirements, like the positioning of the ice scoop or keeping a bottle opener in the back pocket. While he recognized the importance of health department regulations, some are harder to adjust to…and it tends to be the minor ones that slow down his ability to keep the drinks flowing:

“We’re charging premium prices in the places I work. The customers deserve premium service to go along with it. It’s my job to give them what they want with a minimum of wait time…so they can get back to having fun”.

Nobody wants to give or receive slow service but think back to the number of times you’ve stood at the bar, seemingly ignored and passed over time and time again. Sure, it happens inadvertently, but Alex has some tips:

“Having your order and money ready will get the quickest service.  Especially in the high volume venues, this is imperative. I like to make what the customer will enjoy.  If they don’t know, I ask what spirit they enjoy and go from there. Generous tipping doesn’t hurt, either”.

Lightning-fast service is what got Alex hired for his first gig at Hard Rock Hotel’s infamous Rehab Pool Parties. He sent in an audition video of himself, rapidly slinging drinks during a peak period, to Rehab’s manager. One fortuitous plane flight later and O’Connor was trading a longtime gig in New Haven for the Las Vegas party scene. He enjoys working at all types of establishments, including LGBTQ clubs like Gotham Citi in New Haven and the former Krave of Vegas.

“I’ve worked in gay clubs for over ten years. I love the busy seasons, whether it be the holidays or convention time.  The busier the better”.

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With his name currently on at least three payrolls, Alex doesn’t get back home to Connecticut very often. But when he does, he picks up shifts at his old stomping grounds in New Haven. He literally works seven days a week, 365 days a year, making this young man the hardest-working bartender in Las Vegas. He clearly loves what he does and refuses to slow his pace.

When asked what form of Kryptonite can bring down this Sin City Superman, Alex quipped “Stealing my protein bars will ruin my day.”

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This article previously appeared in a different form on another website.

Photos: Sammasseur, Alex O’Connor