Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vegas Days Gone By: The Sahara

I have a deep and compelling interest in abandoned casinos, but one whose loss hit me especially hard is the Sahara, an institution on the northern end of the Strip that closed its doors a few years ago. For starters, it was one of the grand casinos from Vegas's Gilded Age, alongside legendary names like the Sands, the Dunes, and the Desert Inn, frequented by the likes of Elvis and the Beatles, Marilyn and the Rat Pack.  For another thing, I went there many times over the years and, even if the carpeting was a little threadbare, I loved its vaguely delapidated charms. The circular driveway with its minarets was a Moorish marvel. I vividly recall one of our local friends dropping us off there early one morning and watching a casino as its day started, having pastries in the coffee shop and watching other folks have their breakfast, read their paper, or take their morning constitutional around the palm-lined pool area.

It was a fun place, where you could play real $1 blackjack, and play a bonus bet that spun a wheel whenever you hit a blackjack to find out how much you would win, up to fifty bucks! You could scan your player's card and win something, like a free buffet. I walked in once and checked out their lounge, where a rocking band with a fiery redhead singer was running through "Break Out," and she waved me in to join them.  The daughter of Louis Prima and Keely Smith played there, too.

It's being rebuilt as the SLS Casino, which didn't implode or demolish the structure but gutted it and is remodeling it, and adding what look like gigantic glass-and-steel hotel towers, emulating the likes of the Cosmopolitcan and City Center no doubt. While I'm always glad to have a new player's club to join and (hopefully) get some free stuff, I miss you, Sahara. The Strip will never be the same, but then, it never is.

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