Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sahara's Short, Humdrum, Dry-Eyed Goodbye

On Friday night, I emailed my Las Vegas Weekly editors my idea for my next column, which I proposed to be a look at how little emotion has been stirred up by Monday's closure of the venerable Sahara.

Then, today as I read the Sun and Review-Journal's somewhat perfunctory coverage in the newspaper of this seemingly momentous event, I realized that's not really going to be much of an original thought by Thursday when the next issue of the magazine comes out. In fact, it's a measure of how little anyone seems to really care that it won't even worthwhile to meditate on why very few people seem to really care.

I do have a theory though: Old Vegas nostalgia is mostly just talk.

In fact, I suspect the last great moment for the Sahara already happened on Friday when they handed out free tickets and then drew from a drum the names of 63 people who each received $500 that was left over in the casino's progressive slot jackpot. Well, the 63rd winner actually got $507, but whatever. Here's my losing ticket:

...and the drum...

...and the last time this casino will be quite this packed, including on Monday afternoon.

There were very few nostalgists there, just lots of people who heard they had a shot at some free money and better-than-usual odds. Even our waitress at the NASCAR Cafe seemed dispassionate, although she also has a job at the Pink Taco at the Hard Rock waiting for her at least through the summer.

The newspapers felt similarly on auto-pilot, with Norm Clarke documenting the usual recollections of famous Sahara guests and performers and Howard Stutz giving voice to the obligatory longtime employee. But then there also was Stutz visiting with ex-owner Paul Lowden who isn't sorry to see it close and Mike Weatherford being uncharacteristically tart and snarky with this:

If the 860 seats from that theater are put up for sale, I recommend those from the balcony, which have never been touched by a butt.

Ouch. Over at the Sun, all we got in print on this Closing Eve Sunday was publisher Brian Greenspun offering some choice memories and then bemoaning the place's decline. He concluded:

I have missed the Sahara for a very long time.

What strikes me here, though, is how often I hear people whine about missing the Old Vegas and the classic haunts, blah blah blah. Here we have a pretty gen-u-ine Old Vegas article, and it's going bye-bye with a great big collective shrug. Not a single podcast listener or blog reader said they were making a special trip for one last drop-in, as many did for the Stardust and a few did for the Frontier.

What's more, unlike other demises -- the Aladdin, Stardust, Frontier, Dunes and Sands among them -- there's no actual plan for replacing the place. Very few take Sam Nazarian's recent blather that something new will replace it by 2014 seriously. Both Greenspun and Lowden reference this closure as a necessary passage to some sort of "progress," but nobody actually thinks that there's anything to rise in its place before, say, Lake Mead runs out of water.

On Friday night, we went over to see this weird cash giveaway thing. Just before that was over, Twitter follower Kara70 asked me: "Will you stick around after the drawings? Do you think there'll be a stampede out the doors afterwards?"

If there was any sincere regret over the Sahara's demise, people would've stuck around after the drawing ended around 7:30 pm. They would have soaked in the lore, appreciated the waning hours. And yet...

...they didn't.


Michael said...

I'll speak up on the issue. I do miss the old Sahara. I don't miss the crap version of the Sahara that's been on display since it was sold.

There's nothing about that to miss. Think of it like a relative/friend who has been sick for a long time, by the time they pass, are you upset at the event, or rather a bit happy that the misery has finally ended for them. While maybe not the most appropriate analogy, it's the way I feel about the current Sahara.

Jeff in OKC said...

I think a battered Las Vegas can tell very quickly who is all hat and no cattle. Nazarian is completely unsympathetic and has destroyed the property through incompetence and intentionally ignoring the Sahara's real place in the market. He is as unbelievable as Rohit Joshi (the Nonolopis manager) and the residents and visitors are savvy enough to see through him.
I think there are always people who will pay money be in the casino business in Las Vegas, and the Tropicana, Riviera, Hooters and even the Plaza reflect that. But I think that once a property closes the chances of reopening are greatly diminished. I think the dry eyed reaction you describe is a reflection of that.

Anonymous said...

While you were careful to only list what the writers in the print editions were reporting when it comes to the Sahara, let's give credit where credit's due: John Katsilimetes in his Kats Report online blog for the Sun has done quite a few interesting articles about the end of the Sahara, all from his onsite reporting.

And while I think Michael above has nailed the situation in his comment, let me add that there might be more interest if they were actually planning on imploding the building. Somehow that would make it seem all the more final!

Anonymous said...

I think the Sahara long ago lost any mystique or connection to glory days. People considered it dead a long time ago. There's plenty of Vegas nostalgia out there and people eat it up.