Lost Vegas – When Your Favorites Are Gone Forever


The decision-makers of Vegas may want you to forget all about what “used to be”, but not me…

Everyone knows about the ever-changing face of Vegas. While the publicity machine churns out NEW! BETTER! BEST! in the hopes of grabbing your attention (and getting a fair share of your travel stash), they fail to mention that, in the process, you might be losing your favorite Vegas “whatevers”. Most times they’ll disappear, with no hope of returning and never to be mentioned again. In today’s round of “Lost Vegas”, I’ll share some of my own fond memories…and perhaps a couple of tears.

Chef Kerry Simon passed away in 2015 after battling MSA disease, a form of Parkinson’s. His death was preceded by the closing of two Vegas restaurants, Simon’s at Palms Place and KGB Burger Bar inside Harrah’s. While I was fond of Simon’s for its location and ambiance, it was the food at KGB that drew me back many times.

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My favorite item there was the Thanksgiving Turkey Burger, a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration on a bun: big juicy turkey patty, stuffing, cranberry relish and sprouts topped off with a layer of turkey gravy. That belt-buster was even better when washed down with a Captain Crunch milkshake.

My favorite KGB server, Chris, used to offer his own variation of the Crunch shake, topping it with strawberry syrup. All the better to evoke memories of morning cartoons with a bowl of Crunch Berries, the best variety of Captain Crunch.

Kerry’s legacy will live on at Carson Kitchen, his final culinary offering to Sin City. We’ll miss you, Mr. Simon…and those fond recollections of Thanksgiving and Saturday mornings in front of the TV.

From there we move to Neonopolis, the troubled downtown shopping/entertainment complex which has been mired by a history of failures. The biggest one-two punch came with the simultaneous closings of Krave Massive and Drink and Drag.

Both businesses catered primarily to the LGBTQ crowd, but Drink and Drag was much more of a progressive mix of gay and straight. This nightclub/bowling alley was the epitome of Vegas oddities, mixing lip-syncing drag queens, pool tables, tasty food and muscular shirtless bartenders into one wild ride.

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Always a blast, especially for those with an open mind, Drink and Drag quickly became a hit. The former Jillian’s location offered big entertainment–and a very unusual evening on the town…for chump change. Unfortunately, there was more behind-the-scenes drama than a truckload of divas sharing a dressing room. Management and liquor-license issues ultimately closed the doors, taking sister club Krave Massive (one level up) with it.

The final incarnation of Strip mainstay Krave never really took hold downtown, despite a temporary life at Rio, which kept the brand in circulation during the construction phase. Promising to one day become the biggest gay venue in the world (complete with a rooftop pool) Krave Massive was more like Krave Minor…it lasted only four months. Most sections of the club were never completed, and those that were accessible lacked…a lot.

The former occupant of that third-floor space didn’t fare much better. Galaxy Theaters at Neonopolis once offered mainstream movies to downtown visitors and residents. What started off as a 14-screen multiplex was later downsized to 11. The theater complex was poorly maintained and drew a frequently rough customer demographic. It even operated without air conditioning (unthinkable in the desert heat) for the last several months of its existence.

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The theater was closed abruptly on the eve of the new Star Trek reboot on May 7th, 2009. Neonopolis frontman Rohit Joshi explained that without digital projection upgrades, Galaxy Theaters would need to “maintain its competitive edge” by shutting down. With logic like that, it’s no wonder that Neonopolis continues to sit mostly empty.

Speaking of Star Trek, the former Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton continues to garner mentions at the annual Trek convention at Rio. Offering rides, character experiences, weddings, dining, a mock-up of “Quark’s Bar”, gift shops and a museum, Star Trek Experience drew visitors from all over the world. For many, it was the only reason to visit the otherwise-floundering Hilton (now a more successful Westgate Hotel Casino).

Star Trek entrance

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At one point, Rohit Joshi (him again) promised to reopen Star Trek Experience at Neonopolis, in conjunction with a new Star Trek film on May 8, 2009. Obviously that didn’t work out so well. These days, the casino portion of the Star Trek space is being used by Westgate timeshare sales people as a presentation room. A curious end to an otherwise-legendary exhibit.

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In the 1990’s, it seemed like every casino wanted to have thrill rides – IMAX simulators, roller coasters, sometimes even an entire amusement park. A few remain, but two of my favorites are long gone. The first I experienced, on my inaugural trip to Vegas, was the High Roller. No, not the observation wheel at the Linq, but a roller coaster that once wound around the top of the Stratosphere. That slow-moving train was more about the height than the dips, but I’ll never forget stepping into the car, looking over the edge and saying “I must be insane to do this”. High Roller was closed and dismantled in December of 2005.

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Sahara Hotel was home to Speed: The Ride, a fast-moving coaster that shot riders from inside the building onto the Strip. It turned them upside down, then sped up even faster for a jaw-dropping vertical climb. Once the train came to a stop, it ran backwards and returned to the station through a cool misty fog, all in a very rapid 45 seconds.

Speed was dismantled with the closure of Sahara and was slated to be rebuilt near Mandalay Bay under the shadow of a second planned giant observation wheel called SkyVue. Years later, the pylons for that stalled project remained unfinished and the property has a “For Sale” sign on the corner of the lot. Was Rohit Joshi involved in this venture? We can’t help wondering…

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Free attractions were once a popular way to lure people into the casinos…and hopefully to keep them there. Now that gambling is no longer the hot ticket, every available space seems to be destined for retailing. Hence, the removal of the white tiger pool at Mirage for a burger joint, the lions at MGM Grand for a sports pub, the Sirens and Pirates at Treasure Island for a CVS Drugstore, and on and on.

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Many others are removed due to costly maintenance and staffing expenses, like Rio‘s Show In The Sky, the Gods of the Festival Fountain (moving statues) at Caesars Palace Forum Shops, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Roman centurions that once strolled through Caesars Palace. Some attractions just yield to the times, like Merlin’s Dragon Battle at Excalibur…and the Sphinx water/laser show and Nile River Ride, both at Luxor.

What favorite attractions, features or offerings do you miss in today’s Vegas? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photos: Sammasseur, Greg C., Banner photo via Cuningham Group Architecture

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Jeffrey DeBarathy, The Ultimate “Go-To” Entertainer


“…this innovative young man is putting a very unique stamp on Las Vegas”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article previously appeared on another site in April of 2016. Jeffrey has gone on to work with many other artists and shows, including costume design for INFERNO at Paris Hotel Casino. He continues to be a featured performer at V Theater’s ZOMBIE BURLESQUE.

It’s pretty common for a performer or celebrity to be described as “chameleon-like”. Some entertainers can step into a wide variety of roles and fully command them. But a real show-biz chameleon can do just about anything, whether it be singing, dancing, acting, acrobatics…or choreography and costume design?

Yes, it’s possible. Say hello to Vegas multi-hyphenate Jeffrey DeBarathy.

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If you’ve attended any Vegas shows in the past several years, chances are that you’ve experienced the talents of Jeffrey DeBarathy. This 35-year-old Montana native has had involvement in the widest variety of productions that this writer has ever seen. It’s not unusual to encounter Jeffrey himself at least once on each of my trips to Sin City. The guy is EVERYWHERE.

Jeffrey began training in the arts when he was only three years old. He studied jazz, tap, and gymnastics in his hometown of Butte until the age of 19 when he was offered a chance to join Celebrity Cruise Lines as part of the Molyneux-Musick Entertainment Company. Those three years literally opened up a whole world of opportunities which saw DeBarathy performing in China, the Caribbean, Tahiti, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska.

From there, Jeffrey made the decision to try his luck in Las Vegas. He was only 22 at the time but dove headfirst into action by joining the cast of the notorious STORM at Mandalay Bay and Charo‘s Spanish variety show BRAVO. His unconventional good looks and wild mane no doubt made an impression on casting directors, but it was Jeffrey’s talents that brought him to the front.

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               Jeffrey (upper right) with the cast of “Alice – A Steampunk Concert Fantasy.”

It wasn’t long before Jeffrey was taking charge behind the scenes, too, as dance captain for FASHIONISTAS. That erotically-charged fantasy played at KRAVE nightclub for four years. Numerous other shows followed, most notably Rio‘s final incarnation of SHOW IN THE SKY, the iconic attraction which closed permanently in 2013.

It was during a period of modeling in special events and print ads that Jeffrey discovered a flair for costume and fashion design. His talent for blending unusual and outrageous fantasy elements into his designs has made DeBarathy the go-to designer for many shows in the city. Jeffrey eventually launched his own specialty line of costumes, clothing and accessories called Jd Fashion Design.

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                             Jeffrey’s daring designs adorn The Men Of Steele

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Jeffrey (foreground) makes adjustments to a costume during rehearsals for 53X at Chateau Nightclub

In just the past month, Jeffrey has added three new productions to his resume, as costume designer for The Men Of Steele male revue and 53X (the sexy new show at Paris) and as a performer/designer for ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy at The Linq. That wild musical interpretation of Alice In Wonderland has been drawing crowds…and critical raves…during its monthly performances at Brooklyn Bowl.

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                                    As Zombie Burlesque’s “Johnny Wifemauller.”

Jeffrey is also the dance captain and a regular performer at V Theater‘s ZOMBIE BURLESQUE, the risque comedy-horror musical that we mentioned awhile back (in a profile of costar Aaron Lucey). AND, he’s the personal stylist/dance captain/dancer for songstress Kristine W., who’s launching another tour this summer.

Check out this music video they shot together at the Las Vegas Life Cube:

As Jeffrey’s talents allow him to reach and expand, it’s easy to imagine seeing his visionary work in major motion pictures, Broadway productions, and shows throughout the world. But for the time being, this innovative young man is putting a very unique stamp on Las Vegas.

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Jeffrey with Zombie Burlesque host Enoch Augustus Scott and castmate April Leopardi…

Photos: Jeffrey DeBarathy/Shannon M. Hardin-Oteyza via Facebook, Sammasseur, Zombie Burlesque, Alice – A Steampunk Concert Fantasy