|A sad good-bye to the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.|
When the Sahara Hotel and Casino was first built at the corner of Sahara Ave. and Las Vegas Blvd. in 1952, it was one of only six casinos on The Strip. As with all of the casinos of the day, it was a garden property with only 240 rooms, featuring lush grounds on the 55 acre site. Over time towers were added to bring the room total to 1,750.
Entertainment is what drove traffic to the resort in its early days. Louis Prima and his then wife Keely Smith along with sax player Sam Butera made the Sahara one of the hottest late night spots on The Strip. Its Casbar Lounge and Conga Room hosted Johnny Carson, Tina Turner and Don Rickles and were favorite stomping grounds of the Rat Pack.
Over the years, money moved south on The Strip as Steve Wynn first opened the Mirage in November of 1989. A new standard was set and it was hard for the properties at the north end of The Strip to compete.
A good friend of mine was the Marketing Director for the Sahara in the early 2000's. She told me that their target audience was a value customer who wanted an inexpensive room and easy access to The Strip. Going after a blue collar audience during a recession was too much for the Sahara to take. Middle America couldn't afford to GET to Vegas, let alone STAY in Vegas, even if the rooms were cheap.
In 1997, I had the good fortune of working a week as a stand-up comic in the fabled Congo Room. I opened for former VH1 sensation, Bobby Collins.
The Congo Room was a classic Vegas showroom. Up front were the VIP booths. In the old days in Vegas, there were no assigned seats. You were seated based on the amount of greenbacks you had in your hand when you shook the maitre d's hand. If the bill was big or the wad thick, you were escorted to the best seats in the house. That was old Vegas. Obviously, based on that system, the stars and high-rollers were all seated up front. Newbies to Vegas that didn't understand the concept sat in the back.
When I worked that week at the Congo Room, I showed up 90 minutes before showtime. I got such a thrill out of seeing the door with the star on it and ROGER BLAZIC underneath it. The same door that had names like Abbott and Costello, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Paul Anka, George Carlin, Liza Minnelli, Violetta Vilas, Shirley Bassey, Imogene Coca, Connie Francis, Bill Cosby, Jeanette MacDonald, Ann-Margaret, Bobby Darin and many more.
I would just sit in the dressing room that had those mirrored wall squares with the jagged gold lines running across them. The green carpet, chairs and couches, fit the "Green Room" atmosphere. Nothing looked like it had changed since the early 1960's. I feel so privileged to have been in that room and on that stage as a performer. It's a memory I'll never forget.
I also liked chatting with the maitre d. He was a typical old Vegas guy. Despite his obvious advanced age, he had a cola dark tan and jet black dyed hair, slicked back and was always dressed in a tuxedo.
He told me, "Vegas ain't what it used to be. It was a town of big shots, stars, gorgeous broads and lots of money. Now, every idiot that can buy a bus ticket here thinks they're somebody. Plus, everybody dressed to the 9's in the old days. Men wore suits or tuxes, women had on fabulous gowns, gloves, dazzling jewelry and they were hot. Now, you get these trailer trash idiots that think dressing up is a clean tank top. Vegas ain't what it used to be. I miss the old days. It was a classy town with classy people.
All this "make Vegas a family destination" they tried in the 1990's was pure shit. It brought in the wrong crowd and killed the mood here. Cheapskates and nobodies that wanted to be treated like VIP's were crawling all over The Strip. Hell, you didn't have to tell someone you were a VIP, money talked. You want a good seat, you grease me enough and I'll get you in the show. Not any more. Assigned seating has turned me into an usher for the classless shit that parades around here with their fanny packs. Gimme the gorgeous broads, movie stars and high-rollers any day."
The north end of The Strip saw money slowly shift south. All the big action is around Las Vegas Blvd. and Tropicana these days. Although, City Center, directly across from Planet Hollywood at center strip is drawing visitors to a new high-end gaming, living and lodging experience.
Ah, the old days of Vegas. Unfortunately, Vegas has a habit of blowing up its history and moving on. Real Estate values are too high on The Strip to be wasted by aging properties and large gardens. Golf courses were also a part of most old Vegas properties. Huge towers and gigantic parking garages have swallowed up the golf courses where only the stars could afford to play.
Vegas is still the playground for the rich and famous, but the heyday era of resorts like the Sahara, Riviera, Frontier, Westward Ho and the original Caesars Palace are only memories. The rest have been blown up.
Today, I feel sad as I say, R.I.P. to the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. We'll miss you.
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