Video: Sahara Las Vegas landmark closes

  1. Closed captioning of: Sahara Las Vegas landmark closes

    >>> the ira is coming to an end in las vegas as an icon of the strip is closing its doors after 59 years because after all, time marches on. elvis, the beatles, john wayne sta stayed there, and the rat pack hung out there. the sahara hotel and casino , first guy to play the ballroom back in the day was ray bulger. rickles and carson and dozens of others follows. as one guest put it, it's kind of like visiting the past. that was the problem, so the sahara a faded star, goes the way of the stardust.

updated 5/16/2011 8:32:20 PM ET 2011-05-17T00:32:20

The Sahara made its name over six decades in Sin City as a playground and stage for some of the biggest names in showbiz — including the Rat Pack, Don Rickles, Johnny Carson, and Sonny & Cher. Elvis Presley played slots here as he filmed "Viva Las Vegas," and the Beatles stayed while in town to perform a concert.

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On Monday, the famed hotel and casino's towering, Moroccan-themed marquis sent a final message to patrons: "Thanks for the memories." Padlocks and chains were wrapped around the Sahara's S-shaped handles on the glass doors.

The Sahara's closure came after its owners earlier this year decided it was no longer economically viable to keep it open. It had operated for nearly 59 years on the north side of the Strip, an area that has struggled to keep visitors since the onset of the Great Recession three years ago.

"It's almost like you're at a wake for an old friend," SBE Entertainment's chief executive Sam Nazarian said as he walked the casino floor. "Everyone gets together and really reminisces, so there's a little sentimental value for me."

Before officials shut the doors, visitors snapped pictures, drank morning cocktails and gambled for the final time in the casino. Employees inside hugged, swapped stories and wondered might come next for themselves and the casino.

Casino officials gave away the last of the Sahara's progressive jackpot cash Friday, awarding 63 winners about $500 each. The free drawings started a weekend of people taking one last stroll through the casino.

"It's sentimental to see it close," said Ron Michl, 72, who worked as a light operator and electrician for the Sahara's shows from 1964 to 1980.

"I feel truly bad for these employees," Michl said as he ate an omelet at the casino's NASCAR Cafe.

The casinos owners, SBE Entertainment, have not said what they plan to do with the hotel.

Slideshow: Viva Las Vegas! (on this page)

End of an era
The Sahara is remembered as one of the Rat Pack's favorite haunts — where an emphasis of lounge acts set standards for other joints that followed. The first performance at the casino came from Ray Bolger, who played the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz," while Johnny Carson promoted his live appearances at the Sahara on his TV show and Don Rickles and Louis Prima were regular acts.

"That revolutionized their careers but it also marked the first time the lounge received that kind of attention," said Michael Green, a College of Southern Nevada professor who co-wrote the book "Las Vegas: A Centennial History."

He added that the Beatles also were scheduled to perform at the Sahara but the demand for tickets was so great that the hotel management "graciously" moved the show to the convention center.

Both Green and Michl said the Sahara was popular with Hollywood stars like John Wayne, Fred MacMurray and Judy Garland.

Story: Liberace Museum closing marks end of an era

In its final years, the Sahara advertised round-the-clock $1 blackjack and a 2-pound burrito eating challenge and added a NASCAR theme, doing little to keep up with the times and the newer bigger casinos, like the Bellagio, CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

A replica of Dale Earnhardt's race car sat inside the Sahara on Monday with a flat tire, dents in its hood and coins thrown inside.

Visitor Misty Davis of Las Vegas came to the Sahara one last time Monday because she had such fond memories of the place: It was the first casino she visited when she was 21, with her husband and mother to celebrate her one-year wedding anniversary.

She became teary as she remembered the casino's friendly atmosphere, she said, and she talked with a dealer who she remembered from years ago.

"It's kind of visiting the past," said Davis, 35, who made sure to buy four decks of souvenir playing cards from the Sahara on its final day.

An uncertain future
Unlike other casino closings in Sin City that make way for newer projects, it's not clear what the future of the site will be. Past hotels, including the Stardust, Landmark and Boardwalk, were razed to make way for new developments. SBE Entertainment has not announced its plans.

Nazarian said SBE's development plans have been delayed by the economy, though he remains optimistic for future years.

The Sahara sits near the site of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a project that was 70 percent done before it fell into bankruptcy. Nearby, Boyd Gaming Corp.'s Echelon project has been delayed indefinitely.

"It has not kept up with the Joneses and this is a problem for a Las Vegas casino, and frankly, for our community's history," said Green, who said his parents honeymooned at the Sahara in 1964.

"Las Vegas blows up its history," but only part of it," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Welcome to Vegas

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Explainer: Splurge in Sin City as if money is no object

  • Image: XS Nightclub
    Barbara Kraft  /  Courtesy Encore
    High rollers can take a seat at the main table at XS in the Encore Casino.

    Remember that euphoric bicycle ride to the ice cream stand after you found that dollar bill blowing across the parking lot? You flew the whole way knowing you’d soon be enjoying not one, but two scoops of your favorite treat, and mom would never know.

    Take that recollection and turn that tiny rumpled buck into a million of ‘em. Dress it up in a tux and escort it onto a private jet.

    Your idea of a really dandy splurge is all grown up and now it wants to go to Las Vegas.

    Here are some of the over-the-top ways to enjoy Las Vegas IMINO (If Money Is No Object).

  • Private jet

    Luxury Air Jets will wing you and a buddy direct from New York to McCarran International aboard a Gulfstream IV for $60,000, round trip.

  • Hotel

    Image: The Kingpin Suite
    Courtesy Palms Casino Resort
    The Kingpin Suite at The Palms Hotel in Las Vegas features two regulation-size lanes.

    Make no mistake: Every single hotel in Las Vegas has high roller suites so lavish they’ll knock the pins right out from under you. But only The Palms Hotel has a suite that’ll let you return the favor. The bowling-themed Kingpin Suite features two regulation-size lanes that let you become your very own Big Lebowski. Cost: $15,000 per night.

  • Rent your own paparazzi

    What good is being a big shot if you look like just another plumbing fixtures salesman from Dubuque, Iowa? Terry O’Connor, director of sales for Vegas hosting experts Red Carpet VIP, says he arranges this $5,000 stunt maybe twice a year. “It’s great fun,” he says. “Everyone stares, wonders who you are and then adds to the frenzy by taking your picture to show people back home.”

  • Steaks

    Some toddlers already proficient with TV remotes aren’t as aged as long or lovingly as the steaks at Carnevino, Mario Batali’s steak house. It’s where John Curtas, author of “Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants,” goes to enjoy enjoys steaks aged 14 months. “The ribeye is so dense and delicious it’s almost ham-like.” The price is $100 — that’s $100 per inch thickness.

  • Own an ocean

    Image: Mandalay Bay Beach
    Darrin Bush  /  Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau
    At Mandalay Bay Beach, big spenders can rent a private cabana for between $500 to $2,000 a day.

    Mandalay Bay Beach has private cabanas spacious enough to accommodate up to 16 people with private pools and convenient access to the resort’s faux-cean fun. Cabanans range from $500 to $2,000 per day.

  • Hamburgers

    Sure, you can have it your way at Fleur, but these days you can afford to have it Chef Hubert Keller’s way. That means the FleurBurger 5000. The Wagyu beef burger comes with foie gras and black truffle and a bottle of 1995 Chateau Petrus to wash it down, and costs $5,000. And, no, you’re not allowed to substitute the rarified vintage with, say, a Big Gulp Dr. Pepper.

  • A really smokin’ shopping place

    Image: The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
    Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau

    The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace is America’s most successful mall, attracting 15 million yearly visitors and earning nearly $1,000 per square foot (national average is $250). “This is perfect for couples,” Curtas says. “There's high end shopping, and the guys can grab a good smoke at Casa Fuente, an outstanding cigar bar.”

  • Exotic eats

    The old you might have collapsed at the idea of paying $300 for mostly uncooked food you didn’t even order. But that’s the fabled fare at Shaboo, Bar Masa’s exclusive restaurant-within-a-restaurant. It’s where master chef Masa Takayama creates edible art served omakase-style, loosely translated to, “Chef, you decide.” Curtas says entrusting dining decisions to Takayama in Vegas is no gamble.

  • Cocktail

    It’s unlikely many convivial adults have spent a sum total of $3,000 on liquor in all the years since they departed puberty. You can now afford to spend that much on one drink. The playfully named “Menage a Trois” at Tryst in the Wynn Hotel is a sexy threesome of gold embellished grand liquors. The straw is gold and studded with a glittering 9-point diamond.

  • Nightclub

    Image: XS Nightclub
    Barbara Kraft  /  Courtesy Encore
    High rollers can take a seat at the main table at XS in the Encore Casino.

    Your jackpot now enables you to vaporize in one night what it used to take you six or seven years to earn. “We’ll get you right at the main table at XS in the Encore Casino,” says host O’Connor. “You’ll look like you own the place. From there you order the $100,000, 3-foot, 100-pound Midas bottle of Ace of Spades champagne and treat the whole club.” A night like that will cost you about $250,000 and will likely attract genuine paparazzi.

  • Bauble

    Simon Ku-designed “Hello Kitty Pendant” with pink diamonds for bow, as worn by Britney Spears: $50,000, at Ice Jewelry;

  • Buffet

    Gluttony never craps out at the magnificent Sterling Sunday Brunch Buffet at The Steakhouse at Bally’s. For $62, you get unlimited champagne, caviar, lobster, sushi and, yeah, scrambled eggs. It’s every Sunday from 9:30 to 2:30 p.m.

  • Entertainment

    Image: "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil"
    Ethan Miller  /  Getty Images
    Performers ride a Volkswagen Beetle across the stage during a preview of "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil" at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in 2006 in Las Vegas.

    What says Vegas entertainment better than a night at Cirque du Soleil? How about a night with Cirque du Soleil? For $260 per person, a limited number of guests at LOVE or Mystere receive choice seats, gift bags and intimate backstage tours.

  • Dinner

    Image: Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand
    Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau
    Enjoy a 16-course dinner at Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

    You might want to snag an Early Bird reservation at Joël Robuchon at The Mansion, not because you’ll get a senior saver discount on the $385 per person bill, but at 16 scrumptious courses, you’ll want a head start on a dinner that deserves to be savored. There are constellations magnified through the Hubble Telescope with fewer sparkling stars (and diamonds) than Robuchon’s illustrious restaurants have earned.

  • The ultimate souvenir

    Image: Penske-Wynn Ferrari Maserati dealership
    Courtesy Wynn
    For $299,000, you can buy a 2009 Ferrari F430 Scuderi Red at The Wynn Hotel.

    The Wynn Hotel has a Penske Ferrari-Maserati dealer that’ll be happy to sell you a 2009 Ferrari F430 Scuderi Red for $299,000. That ought to make a better impression than a kitschy hip-shaking Elvis clock you brought home last visit.

  • Ice cream

    Image: Serendipity III Restaurant
    Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau
    Try a sundae at Serendipity 3 at Caesar’s Palace, complete with a 23-karat edible gold leaf.

    Feeling nostalgic for the days when two scoops was still a splurge? Celebrate the innocent recollection and order the $3,000 Golden Opulence Sundae from Serendipity 3 at Caesar’s Palace. Made with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, rare Venezuelan cocoa beans and chocolates, exotic fruits and a 23-karat edible gold leaf. Requires a 48-hour advance order so better get on the phone now. Your jet is waiting.

  • The bill

    Estimated total cost for this entire splurge, 1 person/1 night . . . $693,407.*

    * Does not include tips.


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