Loving Old Las VegasSaturday, March 05, 2016
It wasn't my first trip to Las Vegas but somehow this time it felt new. Ironically, it might have had to do with our fascination with finding relics of Vegas past. Away from the strip, we found some of what made the Vegas of old so spectacular, intriguing and glamorous.
We spent a warm February afternoon exploring the Neon Museum, a boneyard and final resting place of sorts for the retired glittering lights of the Strip. The clam-shaped lobby itself is a relic, once the lobby of the 1961 La Concha Motel before it was taken apart and rebuilt where it stands today. The boneyard holds towering remnants of old Las Vegas: the Stardust, the Moulin Rouge, the Riviera, the Golden Nugget, the Stardust, the Sahara and the Aladdin — some peeling, some shattered, but all somehow retaining some of the pomp and pageantry they once imparted. Visitors can visit the boneyard on guided tours and hear about all the stories behind these once flashing lights.
We also visited the Mob Museum, which recounts the history of the mafia throughout the US and specifically in Las Vegas. The story begins with the mass migration of large groups of Europeans fleeing war and famine to the US, back when the Five Points was contested ground among the gangs of New York. It goes on to the Prohibition Era, which turned "nobody's into wiseguys." Artifacts displayed include tommy guns and bags with false bottoms used to smuggle alcohol flasks. The rise of gambling and the mob's role in it is also delved into, of course, as this is Vegas after all. It was interesting to see how Sin City sprung up following the construction of Hoover Dam, which brought scores of men to the area who needed to unwind with booze, gambling and women during their downtime. The exhibit also goes into how the law eventually caught up with the mob, as well as how the public remains transfixed by this underworld. It was fascinating to explore every floor and look back on this bloody yet completely intriguing era.
To celebrate a special night, we paid a visit to the Golden Steer, which is not a museum but a veritable Las Vegas institution. In a city where you can't throw a poker chip without hitting a steakhouse and where something old is constantly being torn down for something new, the Golden Steer has managed to stand strong since 1958. Its tufted read leather banquet seats have seated the most famous figures in recent history: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali. The steakhouse's late owner, Joe Kludjian, would tell stories of how mobster Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and FBI chief Joe Yablonsky used to glare at each other from across the room. On the Thursday night of our visit, we were all mere mortals in the room but to me at least, the air felt thick with history. We ordered a bottle of beautiful Shiraz and started with the Caesar salad for two prepared tableside in the style of a bygone era. For our entrees, we ordered filet mignons, which were cooked to perfection. We had planned on ordering one of the spectacular flambéed desserts but the Golden Steer had other plans for us. They surprised us with a sparkler-lit slice of chocolate cake, which we enjoyed tremendously. For that night at least, with me clad in diamonds and fur and he dapper in his suit, we felt some of that old Las Vegas glamour and magic, and we will always remember it fondly.