The Las Vegas Club in downtown Las Vegas was a smelly armpit of a casino, coated in a mix of disgusting bodily fluids and cheap booze, the dingy carpets dusted in cigarette ash. And I adored every sick square sentimental inch of all that rotten residue and loved blowing every dumb dollar I wasted there.
The outer skeleton of the Las Vegas Club is crumbling, barely standing now because the building’s torso keeps getting pummeled by the constant blows from a wrecking ball swinging from a big crane. Like a bruised boxer in the 12th round hanging on the ropes, what remains might soon be a giant pile of dust by the time you’re reading this. And so, the Las Vegas Club is destined to decay into an antiquity that eventually disappears, except for what retreats into the deepest recesses of our memory alongside the bygone Dunes, Stardust, Riviera, Castaways, and so many other once-thriving monuments to a city’s past.
Even with all its plentiful scars and blemishes, I have fond memories of the Las Vegas Club. I recall the unusually large $22/night hotel rooms, many with a window alcove overlooking noisy Fremont Street. I recall the spooky-dark steakhouse ringed with red-leather booths with a smell of the old criminal underworld that sat empty most of the time, but the Maitre’d still always insisted on having a reservation (they once turned away a party of three — which included Mike Sexton, Stu Ungar, and myself).
Sure, the Las Vegas Club was a dump. Everyone agreed. I went back and read some of the old reviews posted on Yelp. Many are as comical as they are cringeworthy. Reviewers complained about everything — from the dank smell of cigarette smoke to the loud noise. They bitched about the parade of hookers in high heels ramping up and down hallways that echoed like a wind tunnel piercing through the hopelessly outdated decor that hadn’t seen renovation since the mid-1970’s. Sorry for my lacking any sympathy. What the hell did anyone expect for $22-a-night? A hooker holding a sixpack, I guess.
Opened in 1949, the Las Vegas Club went through as many different owners as blackjack shoes. They tried various gimmicks and new branding campaigns most of which failed, but all the crusty old joint really ever ended up being was a great place to gamble, get a stiff drink, and perhaps end up crashing in a bed bug infested hotel room, provided you still had $22 left in your pocket. The hotel was so notorious towards its ending days, they wouldn’t rent to locals.
Sometime around 1990, the Las Vegas Club decided to adopt a sports theme. Walls were knocked out and replaced. The sportsbook tripled in size. A huge aluminum grandstand like you’d see at a high school football game was installed for gambling fans. For a buck you could get a beer and a hot dog. The walls were tackily decorated with sports memorabilia, probably 95 percent of it fakes and forgeries, but nobody gave a fuck. So, that’s the baseball bat Mickey Mantle used when he hit his 500th career home run? Yeah, right. Step right up, folks. We also got the loosest slots in town. All that was missing was the cheap carnival barker in a striped coat chomping on a cheap cigar while swinging a cane.
During the poker boom which happened about a decade ago, the Las Vegas Club opened a new poker room. The first day I showed up, all eight tables were filled to capacity and there was even a waiting list. A few months later, the empty room closed down for good. I think half the dealers who worked in that room are dead now.
When I was working as Public Relations Director of the old Binion’s Horseshoe across the street, the Las Vegas Club might as well have been my break room. Both on the clock and off it and plenty of days and nights before work and after — I bet plenty of sports there, had a few drinks there, made a few friends there, made a few enemies there, got into some fights there, and most of the time had the blast of my life. It was the kind of place where you walked up to the bar and the barkeep asked the simple two-word question, “the usual?”
The Las Vegas Club even had its own karaoke spot. Upstairs on weekends right atop the sportsbook, a melting pot of human gumbo cracked plenty of eardrums, all in good fun. One night when I showed up late, the karaoke bar was closed. So, tagging along with Dan and Sharon Goldman (and her mom), we were later joined in the casino by two of Britain’s finest — Simon “Aces” Trumper and “Mad Marty” Wilson (yes, those are their real names). This motley crew decided to perform our own version of karaoke at the casino bar, sans the musical accompaniment. Half the casino looked at us like terrorists. The much drunker half laughed and some even joined in the singing. The bartender let us get away with it all because we tipped like crazy. “Mad Marty” talked me into playing a trivia contest for $100 a question. I finally left broke after maxing out my hits on the ATM machine. Some advice: Never engage in trivia on classic English literature with “Mad Marty.” He’s a hustler. [PROOF: WATCH THIS VIDEO]
I have no idea if the Las Vegas Club a pool. I never checked. But I doubt it would have been safe to dive into the water, anyway. It would be like swimming next to the drain pipe from a lead smelter.
There wasn’t any fancy showroom either. No headliners. No celebrities. No paid entertainment. Hell, the gamblers and the hustlers and the hookers and the hustlers were the show. And it was free at the Las Vegas Club, all the time.
The last few years of the Las Vegas Club were not kind to its memory. The deterioration was gradual. Burned-out light bulbs weren’t changed. Sticky floors got mopped less and less often. Stained carpets rarely felt the tickle of a vacuum. Felts on the worn out gambling tables faded. The steakhouse closed. Valet service was discontinued. The hotel shut down. But amidst the decline and fall, as so so often we see when times aren’t so good, the people turn out to be so very good indeed and they even surprise you. Those loyal employees who worked there towards the end stayed cheerful. They almost always smiled. They were good people. They were hard-working people. And sadly, they were the last voyagers on the teetering deck of a sinking ship. Like the band that played on during the frigid night when the mighty Titanic plunged to the depths of the Atlantic, the people who gave the Las Vegas Club its memories despite all its defects kept their pride and worked until the fateful final hour. The casino closed in 2015.
The Las Vegas Club didn’t try to be nice. Carnivals aren’t nice either. Neither are amusement parks nor state fairs nor sports stadiums. Hell, a sleazy strip club called “Girls of Glitter Gulch” was just 25 feet from the main entrance, front door to the right.
The Las Vegas Club never pretended to be Paris or New York or Venice or a Mirage. It was exactly what it advertised. It was Las Vegas.