Vegas 2015: The Death of Cool

 

1Robert-Venturi-in-LV-

Just got back from a four-day convention in Las Vegas. It was a microcosm of what Vegas has become. Like Las Vegas Boulevard, one block to the West, the entire LV Convention Center was filled with suits and multimillion-dollar booths blasting how great they were, numbing your senses.

I once lived there, from ’93 to ’97, as the city’s population grew from 800,000 to 1.2 million. As the city increased in size by 50 percent over four years, it was a grand time to have been in Vegas. Everything was fresh and new, and everyone was from somewhere else. I opened a business there, and eventually met my future ex-wife. I went to new restaurants and saw many of the greatest heavyweight fighters ringside–when boxing was also cool.

From my second-story patio, about one mile west of the Strip, my poker buddies and I would watch the Dunes, Sands, Hacienda, Landmark, and other hotels implode to make way for junk-bond financed billion-dollar monstrosities. The philosophy was “bigger is better.” Within a few years of the mid-nineties, it became clear that Vegas, once a sleepy hideaway for SoCals to escape and be adults for a weekend, had become the antithesis of what made it cool.

When I was twelve, my father took me to the Desert Inn (now the Wynn/Encore), gave me a $40 allowance to play the midway at Circus Circus, and after taking me to see Neil Sedaka or Bill Cosby, he allowed me to order room service while I sneaked the fleshy pre-Jubilee “Hallelujah Hollywood” on a new cable station called HBO.

To call it the greatest thing to ever happen to this 12-year-old would be an understatement. But what I remember more was hanging out with Dad at the restaurants and pool. It wasn’t just fun, it was cool. Adults were dressed to the nines. The crooked-nosed casino host (right out of Goodfellas central casting) called me ‘Sir.’ There was respect. By the way: My Ricochet profile pic is from that trip.

Almost two decades later, when I lived there, there was a sense things were changing. MGM went “family” before realizing visitors couldn’t carry their kids around and gamble. Mirage, still a fun spot, was clearly a corporate-run casino.

So we got our fix of old Vegas by heading to Binions, The Golden Gate, or Vegas Club downtown, but then that started to change. Boardroom marketing hacks decided to put a light-bulbed roof over Fremont Street. We locals howled in disgust (“local” meant you had lived there at least one year). They were taking away the last of the fedora days!

Twenty years later, Vegas is marketed as “cool.” But it is just a conveyor belt of masses shuffled from overpriced buffets to overpriced shows to similar casinos to overpriced shopping. There are about 40 million visitors to Vegas each year. Thats 110,000 new visitors each day who are assaulted with “corporate cool.”

City Center (the once almost-bankrupt collection of new high-rise glass hotels) reeks of the bland, depersonalized ubiquity that Vegas is now. The hotel designers must have worked on Hollywood’s recent spate of dystopian futuristic movies. The only thing missing from Aria (a City Center hotel) are teenage malcontents who will ultimately rise up against their corporate overlords. The building sorely needs John McClane’s “Nakatomi treatment.”

Some entrepreneurs apparently feel the same way. They’ve taken the initiative and tried to bring back classic Vegas and the Rat-Pack theme. The SLS Hotel, which sits on the former site of the Sahara, wants you to know they are bringing back the cool, with fedoras on their billboards. The marketing of cool feels artificial and desperate. A good friend told me the hotel won’t make it.

When a person keeps telling you they are cool, you know they are trying too hard to impress you. And that really isn’t cool.

There are 29 comments.

  1. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    When my buddy was getting married we took him to Vegas for a weekend.

    The trip required a stop in Montreal to go through US Customs.

    The American Homeland Security man very seriously asked us our business in the United States. We told him we were going to Vegas for our buddy’s bachelor party.

    At this point he broke from the “tough guy” character to say to us, “you’re idiots. Guys from Las Vegas come to Montreal for their bachelor parties!”

    • #1
    • May 21, 2015, at 5:58 PM PDT
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  2. Jim Kearney Contributor

    Yup. And don’t even think about going there in July.

    A couple of years back we attended the big libertarian FreedomFest. Between gasps in the lobby-wide nicotine chamber it was fun to say hello to luminaries like Steve Forbes and Charles Murray. But step outside and say hello to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

    No more FreedomSchvitz for us, and no more Vegas.

    • #2
    • May 21, 2015, at 7:22 PM PDT
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  3. Jordan Inactive

    We replaced the mob with Wall Street. I’m not sure who’s better.

    • #3
    • May 21, 2015, at 8:18 PM PDT
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  4. EThompson Inactive

    To call it the greatest thing to ever happen to this 12 year old was an understatement.

    This made me laugh and reminded me of my first business trip to LV as a 24 yr-old nocturnal. I was terribly impressed that one could eat dinner at any hour and no restaurant ever said “We’re closed.”

    • #4
    • May 21, 2015, at 9:15 PM PDT
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    Evocative and sad, DS…Thanks for it!

    • #5
    • May 21, 2015, at 10:10 PM PDT
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  6. EJHill Podcaster

    Vegas was a company town and the company was SIN, INC. It was where you went to do things the rest of America frowned upon.

    Now, America doesn’t frown on too much. Liberty has given way to Libertine. Casinos are like weeds growing up in the cracks of every run-down inner city in the country. Tax-desperate “lawmakers” are willing to engage in and indulge in anything if they think they can raise revenue from it – lotteries first, then casinos, and now drugs. On to hookers and sports betting!

    Why visit the corruption and decay of Nevada when the corruption and decay will come to you?

    • #6
    • May 22, 2015, at 5:47 AM PDT
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  7. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    EThompson:

    To call it the greatest thing to ever happen to this 12 year old was an understatement.

    This made me laugh and reminded me of my first business trip to LV as a 24 yr-old nocturnal. I was terribly impressed that one could eat dinner at any hour and no restaurant ever said “We’re closed.”

    I liked being able to leave one establishment, drink in hand, walk down the sidewalk, and enter another establishment, without being hassled by anybody. The fact that establishments let you walk in with beverages purchased elsewhere really blew my mind.

    • #7
    • May 22, 2015, at 6:33 AM PDT
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  8. Basil Fawlty Member

    Want to appreciate Las Vegas? Visit Atlantic City.

    • #8
    • May 22, 2015, at 7:59 AM PDT
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  9. Taras Bulbous Inactive

    I went for the first time as an adult recently for a bachelor party. We all wore suits thinking we’d look like the Rat Pack or something. I felt more like a kid playing at being a gangster, while surrounded by normal people in Big Johnson t-shirts and cargo shorts. I found the strip disagreeable, and, not being a big gambler, was bored pretty early. The pools were all closed also, because it was very early Spring.

    Honestly the most fun I had was at some of the little off-strip bars/casinos. Ellis Island one block off the strip has blackjack dealers that deal as celebrity impersonators (the Michael Jackson is so dedicated he has undergone skin-lightening treatments and has had many nose jobs.) Stage Door across the street from my casino offered $2 shot-and-a-beer combos, and was full of locals. Freemont Street was far more interesting and north Freemont was where we discovered there were *actual bars* for actual local hipster kids where you could get a reasonably priced drink and not have video poker in your face.

    Maybe I’d go back if I had a lot of dough, but I just…it feels like a very sad place.

    • #9
    • May 22, 2015, at 8:57 AM PDT
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  10. Ed G. Member

    I was in Vegas for the first time two years ago on business. I wasn’t impressed. It’s not even a museum-feel; more like the museum was demolished in favor of a mall complex. Seriously, do all hotels on the strip really have a built in mall?

    I stayed at Southpoint, and I suppose I liked the stay there along with the in house movie theater, bowling alley, sushi bar, and Steak N Shake. I did ok at the craps table and video poker. The views from my hotel room window were amazingly beautiful. I could smoke my cigar in my room and anywhere, really. All that is good, but it isn’t “Vegas, baby!” and it surely isn’t enough to draw me into spending my own money. As EJ says, nothing is frowned upon anymore and I can do most of that (with the exception of smoking in my hotel room) right where I live and with far less expenditure.

    • #10
    • May 22, 2015, at 9:14 AM PDT
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  11. Ed G. Member

    It’s not just cool that can evaporate either. My hometown of Chicago was once characterized by ambition, restlessness, aspiration, innovation, accomplishment, industry. Now it’s safe to say that words like decline, receding, stagnant, tottering, stifling, complacent are better descriptors. That same story has played in so many once great cities. None of this is intentionally forged; it can’t be done with intent. It’s an organic result. Unstable too. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not the frontier, certainly not ascendancy. Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold – and all that.

    • #11
    • May 22, 2015, at 9:14 AM PDT
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  12. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    Las Vegas: The only city in the world where everything is either “World Famous” or “World’s Largest!”

    • #12
    • May 22, 2015, at 9:19 AM PDT
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  13. EThompson Inactive

    I liked being able to leave one establishment, drink in hand, walk down the sidewalk, and enter another establishment, without being hassled by anybody.

    Always a plus!

    • #13
    • May 22, 2015, at 10:37 AM PDT
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  14. mezzrow Member

    Still, there’s Lotus of Siam.

    You just have to know where to go, and when to go there. Learning where and when is the hard part. If I’ve helped anyone with this small post, go forth and order the panang short rib and the northern larb.

    Trust me on this. It also has the West’s best collection of German wines.

    Who knew?

    • #14
    • May 22, 2015, at 12:07 PM PDT
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  15. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    EThompson:

    To call it the greatest thing to ever happen to this 12 year old was an understatement.

    This made me laugh and reminded me of my first business trip to LV as a 24 yr-old nocturnal. I was terribly impressed that one could eat dinner at any hour and no restaurant ever said “We’re closed.”

    Peppertree on the Strip was our favorite… definitely old school

    • #15
    • May 22, 2015, at 12:14 PM PDT
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  16. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Taras Bulbous:I went for the first time as an adult recently for a bachelor party. We all wore suits thinking we’d look like the Rat Pack or something. I felt more like a kid playing at being a gangster, while surrounded by normal people in Big Johnson t-shirts and cargo shorts. I found the strip disagreeable, and, not being a big gambler, was bored pretty early. The pools were all closed also, because it was very early Spring.

    Honestly the most fun I had was at some of the little off-strip bars/casinos. Ellis Island one block off the strip has blackjack dealers that deal as celebrity impersonators (the Michael Jackson is so dedicated he has undergone skin-lightening treatments and has had many nose jobs.) Stage Door across the street from my casino offered $2 shot-and-a-beer combos, and was full of locals. Freemont Street was far more interesting and north Freemont was where we discovered there were *actual bars* for actual local hipster kids where you could get a reasonably priced drink and not have video poker in your face.

    Maybe I’d go back if I had a lot of dough, but I just…it feels like a very sad place.

    Taras, when I lived there I hardly ever went to the Strip. The ‘local’ casinos had bowling, movie theatres and decent poker rooms with players who knew what they were doing. Wasn’t Ellis Island a Comfort Inn or something?

    • #16
    • May 22, 2015, at 12:18 PM PDT
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  17. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Ed G.:It’s not just cool that can evaporate either. My hometown of Chicago was once characterized by ambition, restlessness, aspiration, innovation, accomplishment, industry. Now it’s safe to say that words like decline, receding, stagnant, tottering, stifling, complacent are better descriptors. That same story has played in so many once great cities. None of this is intentionally forged; it can’t be done with intent. It’s an organic result. Unstable too. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not the frontier, certainly not ascendancy. Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold – and all that.

    Ed, you could interchange Chicago with Detroit, Cleveland, and other deep blue cities.

    • #17
    • May 22, 2015, at 12:19 PM PDT
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  18. EThompson Inactive

    Addiction Is A Choice:Las Vegas: The only city in the world where everything is either “World Famous” or “World’s Largest!”

    I’ve always referred to LV as uniquely representative of the very best and the very worst of America. We all know about the latter, yet I’ve always harbored an admiration for the relentless competition to be the biggest and the best.

    I remember when the Mirage, Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Treasure Island were the places but were soon replaced by the uber-extravagant Bellagio and Venetian.

    And the restaurants: Picasso, Sage, Gordon Ramsay Steak, Mon Ami Gabi, Twist and Burger Bar – to name but a few – offer such a variety of cuisine I am always happy when I’m eating in Vegas!

    • #18
    • May 22, 2015, at 12:28 PM PDT
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  19. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    Addiction Is A Choice:Las Vegas: The only city in the world where everything is either “World Famous” or “World’s Largest!”

    Well, Las Vegas, Mecca, and Darwin Minnesota:

    baff131f-a335-44eb-ad66-03c52c5c2213-620x372

    8720396688_ef8d1506fa_o-974x620

    • #19
    • May 22, 2015, at 12:53 PM PDT
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  20. malwords Member

    Burger Bar. Outstanding. mal

    • #20
    • May 22, 2015, at 1:09 PM PDT
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  21. Daphnesdad Inactive

    A San Diego friend in the early 1970s was a cashier in Vegas while attending UNLV. His behind the scenes stories were eye openers for me. One phrase of his I still hear when I remember him, “Las Vegas is a fur-lined sewer.”

    • #21
    • May 22, 2015, at 1:28 PM PDT
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  22. CuriousKevmo Member

    Was just there a couple months ago and the food was amazing. The Beef Wellington at Ramsay Steak is sublime.

    Other than that, I’d say E hits it on the head. The competition is impressive but after an hour of trying to get around that place I’m left with the impression that Americans are just a bunch of inconsiderate, out of shape, drunks that aren’t using enough sun screen.

    It’s about two hours of “hey, that’s kinda sorta cool in an odd way” followed by 2 days of “good grief I can’t wait to get out of here”.

    • #22
    • May 22, 2015, at 1:50 PM PDT
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  23. EThompson Inactive

    CuriousKevmo:Was just there a couple months ago and the food was amazing. The Beef Wellington at Ramsay Steak is sublime.

    Other than that, I’d say E hits it on the head. The competition is impressive but after an hour of trying to get around that place I’m left with the impression that Americans are just a bunch of inconsiderate, out of shape, drunks that aren’t using enough sun screen.

    It’s about two hours of “hey, that’s kinda sorta cool in an odd way” followed by 2 days of “good grief I can’t wait to get out of here”.

    My secret? I stay at the Paris which is relatively low key and is home to two of my favorite restaurants on the list. The issue has always been that the conventions I attend are at the LV Hilton and one can spend an hour waiting for cabs to get back and forth.

    I always request that the key companies I do business with provide me with a car service and I’ll split the dinner tab.

    • #23
    • May 22, 2015, at 2:08 PM PDT
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  24. Debra Inactive

    I think The Strip is kind of creepy really. I’ve been down down there just a few times in the 2 years that we’ve lived here. We live about 8 miles west of The Strip and it’s a whole world away. Beautiful community with people from everywhere. Great shopping and restaurants. Scenic. We moved from Phoenix and the weather is definitely more moderate here. We very quickly felt right at home.

    Just my two cents about life beyond that famous 4 miles of Las Vegas Blvd!

    • #24
    • May 22, 2015, at 3:13 PM PDT
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  25. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Debra:I think The Strip is kind of creepy really.I’ve been down down there just a few times in the 2 years that we’ve lived here.We live about 8 miles west of The Strip and it’s a whole world away.Beautiful community with people from everywhere.Great shopping and restaurants.Scenic.We moved from Phoenix and the weather is definitely more moderate here.We very quickly felt right at home.

    Just my two cents about life beyond that famous 4 miles of Las Vegas Blvd!

    Debra, I ended up living in Summerlin right after it was just dirt roads. My Sundays always took me to hiking Red Rocks and Mt. Charleston. A few years back I stayed at Red Rock Casino and was mortified how close the housing tracts came up to my beloved escape. When I moved to Vegas in 93 Rainbow was the outskirts of town.

    • #25
    • May 22, 2015, at 4:01 PM PDT
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  26. Debra Inactive

    David, I appreciate your reply. I understand your position ~The Strip is the opposite of cool and Summerlin is mortifying~ you really don’t like Las Vegas. I shall say no more in its defense. To each his own as they say.

    • #26
    • May 22, 2015, at 4:47 PM PDT
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  27. Larry3435 Member

    I recently escaped from Los Angeles, and set down my new roots in Las Vegas. As a resident, this town is nothing like what the tourists see. Don’t get me wrong – having the Strip 10 minutes away is great. I like the restaurants, the shows, and perhaps a poker tournament now and then. But as a place to live, that Las Vegas is beside the point.

    Day to day, this town is great. Clean. Friendly. And inexpensive; everything costs about a third less than it did in LA (except our house, which cost a quarter of what it would have cost in LA). Not to mention the absence of state income tax. And I get to vote on someone to replace Harry Reid in 2016. In Los Angeles I hadn’t had a real chance to vote for a Republican (Arnold notwithstanding) for 20 years. Oh, and did I mention that driving five miles takes ten minutes instead of the hour it took hour in LA?

    All things considered, I love it here. I suppose there will always be people who bemoan the glitz, just as there will always be New Yorkers who claim to miss the supposed “gritty realism” of Times Square in the 1970’s. From where I sit, though, Vegas has just gotten better, even as I have watched Los Angeles swirl ever lower in the toilet bowl that is California.

    • #27
    • May 22, 2015, at 4:58 PM PDT
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  28. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Larry and Debra. I agree with you both. The Strip is what the post was about. I liked living in Vegas for the reasons you both mention. But when I now come back I see it through the eyes of a former local focusing on the part of town you probably only go to when you have visitors.

    And yes, I am very jealous of the price my buddy paid for his shang-ri-la in Green Valley!

    • #28
    • May 22, 2015, at 6:35 PM PDT
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  29. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    I was in LV recently. I was annoyed that Uber is banned (since the mob runs the town and expects the taxi revenue). And my meeting was not near the Strip, so I did an AirBnB far away from the excitement.

    Much better that way. LV is depressing.

    • #29
    • May 25, 2015, at 8:43 PM PDT
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