Vintage Vegas

The ever-changing city still holds old-time charm

By: By Anne Burke

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Welcoming visitors for 49 years
In the original “Ocean’s 11,” Frank Sinatra’s Danny Ocean and his swingin’ band of war buddies staged a daring, New Year’s Eve heist at five Las Vegas casinos—the Desert Inn, Sands, Flamingo, Sahara and Riviera. In the nearly half-century since the movie’s release, most of those properties have been dynamited into oblivion, as has much else of Las Vegas’ storied past.

But visitors who know where to look can still find remnants of vintage Vegas, from the hotel room where the King canoodled with a certain Viva Las Vegas co-star to the original neon of Glitter Gulch. For clients interested in a glimpse of old Vegas, we’ve created a sight-seeing checklist that starts where else—at the sign that says it all.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign:
Most visitors come and go without ever seeing the landmark that has been beckoning fun-seekers and their wallets since 1959. Look for the sign in the center island on the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard South (“The Strip”) between Russell and Sunset roads. There’s no legal parking here so clients may want to hop on a double-decker Deuce bus.

Little Church of the West:
This rustic chapel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been popular with celebrities ever since actress Betty Grable said “I do” to bandleader Harry James in 1943. The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is located just down the boulevard, resulting in a steady stream of brides in white gowns and flowing veils darting between traffic for a quickie photo shoot. 4617 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
Commission: $35-$75

Folies Bergere:
One of Las Vegas’ original “feather shows,” this classic revue at the Tropicana celebrated 50 years of bringing va-va-voom to the Strip. Those who blush easily may prefer the 7:30 p.m. show. Otherwise, send clients to the 10 p.m. show, one of the longest-running topless revues anywhere. Be sure to check out the vintage pool, which offers swim-up blackjack between Memorial and Labor days.
3801 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

Imperial Palace:
Now part of the Harrah’s empire, this Asia- and South Pacific-themed hotel started life in 1959 as a small motel called the Flamingo Capri. Today it’s mostly known for its classic car showroom and long-running celebrity impersonator show.
3535 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

Battista’s Hole in the Wall:
Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin dined at this throwback of Italian eatery, a fun antidote to the overpriced, chi-chi dining scene on the Strip. Gordy, the strolling accordionist, and the low prices ($18.95 buys a full dinner with house wine) make up for the cheesy decor and mediocre food. Look for Battista’s behind the Flamingo.
4041 Audrie St.

The intense pink-and-blue neon and mirrored ceiling of this original ultra lounge, featured in a scene in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” will take clients back to their disco days. The comfy sofas around the sunken fire pit, where flames leap from a bubbling pool, are a good place to stoke love’s embers or start up a new romance. Keep an eye out for magician Penn Jillette (the tall one who talks), a regular in the restaurant.
2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South.


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Cary Grant at the Sahara Hotel
Sahara Hotel:
A heartbreak hotel this was not for Elvis, who reportedly got better acquainted with his Viva Las Vegas co-star Ann-Margret in Room 2542 ($750-$1,500) during filming in 1963. The following year, the Beatles rested their mop tops in Room 2344 ($350-$750) before playing two 30-minute shows at the Las Vegas Convention Center (their only Vegas date ever). The Moroccan-themed Sahara, famous for its onion-dome minaret, opened in 1952 and is the last of the so-called “Rat Pack” hotels. It’s worth a visit if only to check out the vintage photos of celebrities who stayed and played here over the decades, among them Elvis, Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
2535 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
Commission: 10 percent

Golden Steer Steak House:
The big, yellow cow in front and the strip-mall location belie the five-star dining, popular in the day with John Wayne, Elvis, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, who slipped over after a little ring-a-ding-ding at the Copa Room at the Sands. Little has changed since the Rat Pack days: The vibe is manly, the steaks juicy and the lights low.
308 W. Sahara Ave.

Las Vegas Hilton:
The big, bronze statue out front pays homage to Elvis, who rocked the house (then called the International) for 837 consecutive, sold-out shows starting in 1969. The King’s final performance here was Dec. 12, 1976, eight months before his death.
3000 Paradise Rd.
Commission: 10 percent


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Neon reigns at Glitter Gulch.
Neon Museum:
The high-voltage neon that defined early Las Vegas is quickly being replaced by more austere signage. Fortunately, the staff at the Neon Museum has been hard at work rescuing, restoring and preserving Las Vegas’ neon history. Clients can take a self-guided walking tour of restored signs dating to the 1940s at the Neon Museum’s outdoor “galleries” on Fremont Street downtown.

Golden Gate Hotel:
Las Vegas’ oldest lodging establishment opened as the Hotel Nevada in 1906 and was renamed the Sal Sagev (Las Vegas backwards) in 1931. A grieving Clark Gable holed up here after a plane slammed into a nearby mountain in 1942, killing wife Carole Lombard. Today, visitors come for the 99-cent shrimp cocktail and to check out Sin City’s first telephone, on display in the lobby. (The phone number was simply 1.)
One Fremont St.

Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel:
The original home of the World Series of Poker started life as Binion’s Horseshoe, and was the first casino to offer high-stakes gambling and free liquor. Located in “Glitter Gulch,” now known as Fremont Street, the hotel’s 24th-floor steakhouse is a good place to spot your favorite NASCAR driver or rodeo cowboy.
128 E. Fremont St.