Blatant Localism: The un-death of the Sahara.

Twenty five years ago I walked into the Plaza Hotel. Fresh off the Greyhound.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in my pocket. Pre-internet this was all I understood of Vegas. Downtown. The strip was for swells. I paid for my room partially in coins. It was that kind of place. My room had a carpet so thick, so deep, I’ve never encountered its likes again.

They re-modeled recently. Lots of attention. But a disappointment. The Tropicana new mod is far nicer visually. But they’ve been battered by bad press from ham-fisted tweaks. The Plaza buzz sounded uniformly polite. It still has a ground floor that feels like it should be three times bigger than the outside suggests. The new Swingers Club makes no sense. Hash House is nicer at M Resort. And Oscar’s and the Exposed Salon are gimmicks that will no doubt be turned upside down within a year. Upgrades are a surprsing art.

In June I attended the first day closing of the Sahara Hotel, a.k.a. the Bataan Death March for casino tchotchke hunters. Standing online with the inestimable 702Becca from Vegas Chatter, she tweeted, blogged and cataloged her five hours of Hell. It had heroes:  Norm Clarke brought water to the thirsty masses- hurrah! And villains: Rumour of a super double secret sale to invited guests the night before-boo!

I had the greatest day. Nowhere was off limits. Backstage. On the stage. Every kitchen. Offices. The penthouse balcony. You just had to know how to jimmy the door. And leave it so if you returned a week later and if you happened to use the service elevator in the main kitchen rather than the closed main elevator, you might spend some quality time with the ghosts of Elvis and Sinatra.

Back in June the chatter on the line was fairly uniform. When will they blow up the Sahara and when do we start to line up for the sale of the Riviera? Five months later the Riviera ticks along and Riviera Holdings publicly front a willingness to kick start the property. And the Sahara may actually rise from the dead.

The first press cuttings noting County approval for a Sahara renovation were more concerned about the removal of the roller caster and the curious addition of a beer garden. Overlooked, and still grossly overlooked, is the news that Phillipe Starck maybe, probably, could be attached to the project. This is astonishing news. Starck’s hotel work may not fit the assumed demo of the the North Strip, but anyone who truly appreciates this city should be patiently ecstatic. Always worth quoting Robert Venturi on such matters. “Less is a bore” Learning from Las Vegas.

Twenty five years ago I walked into the Paramount  Hotel in New York. Fresh off the greyhound. Memory Babe, a Keroauc biography in my bag. Pre-internet this was all I knew of New York. Times Square. It was a dying dump. Fourteen years later Phillipe Starck redesigned the place and made it fantastic. The surprising art of upgrades. The Plaza should have been so lucky. The Sahara could be.

Some of my images from the closed Sahara Hotel and Casino.

The kitchen looking like The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel.

The amazing penthouse suite control panels. 2011 control panels.

And cultural fossils left in a hurry. Cue sheet for the Rick Thomas magic show.

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