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Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Politics | 3 comments

A Wine Dinner Worth Remembering




Take a look at this photo (above).  Tell me where you think it’s from.  No cheating.  I’ll provide the answer at the conclusion of the column.


Earlier tonight, Marieta and I had the great pleasure of attending a special four-course wine dinner at a local restaurant here in Las Vegas.  But this wasn’t a wine dinner like all the rest.  We were seated with a couple, aged in their late 60s.

The gentleman and I got to chatting.  Somehow, the topic of the Vietnam War came up.  We engaged in a spirited conversation about the masterful Vietnam War television series, produced by Ken Burns, on PBS.  By the way, this is must-see television for anyone who has not seen it yet.

During the course of our friendly conversation, the man revealed that he served two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He was stationed at Da Nang in 1968 and returned again in 1971.  He was assigned to a U.S. Air Force unit that provided routine maintenance on fighter jets.

Initially, the man was somewhat reluctant to talk about his memories of the war. But inquisitive (nosy) as I am, I was riveted by this moment — what amounted to a front-row, first-person account of one of the most transformative events in all of American history.  How fortunate I was to have this rare opportunity.  I wasn’t about to let this chance to learn more pass me by.  And so, I pressed on.

The man stated that he arrived in Da Nang in early 1968 at the tender age of 18.  He had lied about his age and joined the Air Force at age 17.  His very first night in Vietnam was the Tet Offensive.  For those unfamiliar with Vietnam War history, the Tet Offensive was a surprise attack that caught the American military totally off-guard and was arguably the shocking turning point of the war.

I listened intently over the next two hours, privileged to be given this, such a rare gift.  As we talked, or I should say — as he talked and I listened — the man became increasingly more open and willing to talk about the many experiences that had haunted him for nearly half a century.  It will take me some time to digest all the perspectives he shared with me, some of which were very troubling to hear.  Perhaps I shall write about them later, if appropriate.  I don’t know.  Perhaps some things are best left unsaid.

But what really struck me at one point during our conversation was when I sought to give the man an “out,” allowing him to escape my inquisitive and perhaps annoying curiosity and enjoy the evening with the rest of the 30 or people assembled in the room sipping on Pinot, Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Sangiovese.  Indeed, I casually tried to change the subject at this point, thinking my captive might leap at the chance to leave those painful memories of Vietnam behind.  But instead of taking the easy bait, the man wanted to talk — more.

I have a tear in my eye and a tremble in my wrists as I write this now, a few hours later thinking about the next thing the man revealed to me.

“No one ever asks me about my time over there.  It feels good to talk about it.”

Wow.  Just, fucking wow.

Here I was, thinking I was blessed to be able to gain a new perspective from his insight, and yet he was on the opposite side of the table, convinced that my empathy was in some small manner — therapeutic.  He thought I was doing him the favor.  I’m having trouble writing now.

For another 90 minutes or so, I heard stories and memories and events and perspectives that opened my eyes and broadened my knowledge about what thousands of good men (and women) went through — both over there then and back here later.

I won’t give the man’s name because he insists he’s a private person.  But I suspect there are many, many more veterans like him harboring memories that deserve and must and demand to be shared, real pain and emotional conflict that merits the soothing salve of a kindly ear, a gentle nod at the right instant, and a genuine but simple expression of gratitude.

I wonder how many others are out there now, tight-lipped, sitting in silence.  How many others of this war and that war and all the wars we’ve fought and continue to fight didn’t get the chance to sit down at a wine dinner and speak about what they saw and what they endured and how they survived the madness.  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  Why don’t we ask questions and why aren’t we listening?

Yes, the wine dinner was exceptional, but then most of my wine dinners are great.  But this one was of Grand Cru of an exceptional vintage, two souls de-cantered into one.

How blessed I was to have the opportunity to share a dinner with a Vietnam vet, and listen and learn.


Finally, the answer to the question posed in the opening paragraph is — the photograph shows Da Nang, Vietnam.  This is a photograph of Da Nang, formally one of the largest American military installations in South Vietnam, as it looks today.

Times do change.  Places change also.  What should not and must not ever change is our curiosity for history and insatiable compassion for others, even strangers.

This was an evening I shall not soon forget.


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Posted by on Oct 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal | 6 comments

The $300 Lemon



Marieta screamed in the backyard this morning.

That’s the first thing I remember from the haze of my mental fog after crashing at 4 am last night and slumbering for five unsatisfying crusty-eyed hours.

Startled by her scream (or screams — perhaps I slept through the first few), I did seriously contemplate rolling over and going back into my slumber because — truth be told — we aren’t nice human beings when wmindlessly wrapped in a blanket tucked into the fetal position.  Somehow selfless humanity prevailed over selfish instinct, and I mustered up enough manhood to slink out of a cozy bed and wobble downstairs in response to the echo of alarm.

Huh?  What was that?  Where was she?  What happened?  Did the dumb cat finally get run over?  Who am I?  Why am I here?

There before me was the sight of ecstasy.  Marieta was standing out in the backyard on a perfectly glorious 78-degree blue skied Saturday morning gazing at our tiny lemon tree like Johnny Pitt and Brad Depp had morphed into a single love lust and had entered our home confessing some deep seeded passion; only the subject that leering wasn’t a person but rather a plant, or make that — a tree.  Our tiny adorable worthless fucking lemon tree, that scattercluck of a useless vine that had cost me $17.95 at the plant nursery a distant 13 years ago, that I non-producing fake-ass fruit tree I wanted to chop down with a sledgehammer 900 times since then, had finally….GIVEN BIRTH.

Look!  A lemon!

Well, screw me silly.  It was a lemon!  Or so it seemed.  I wasn’t so sure.

This stupid stick of a sick angst-instilling plant hasn’t grown an inch since we first bought her when we moved into this house back in 2004.  No one damn inch.  No lemons.  No fruit.  It has produced nothing, this despite regular multi-weekly watering which I estimate has probably cost well over a couple of hundred dollars (4x per week multiplied by 660 weeks, which is like 2,500 waterings, plus an $18 bag of fertilizer every few years, plus the irrigation system being serviced annually, plus all the personal wear and tear of standing outside with a water hose in my hand quenching the thirst of this worthless cocksucker of a plant or tree that’s sapping me of my money and my sanity.

When I see that stupid plant, I don’t see a lemon tree.  I see a middle finger.

But — it’s a lemon!!!

So.  Persistence paid off.  Yeah, you may not be able to get blood from a stone.  But you can get a lemon in the Las Vegas desert.  Provided you’re willing to invest $300 or so and wait 13 fucking years.

Wait.  Something’s wrong with this picture.  Aren’t lemons yellow?  Why is the fruit green?

Did we buy a lime tree instead and get taken?

I’d go back to the store and demand my money back.  But the plant nursery that sold us this “lemon tree” went out of business in the Great Recession of 2008 and is now a proctologist’s office.

When life deals you a lemon, make limeade.



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Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 5 comments

Living Las Vegas: Last Night at the Golden Steer



Walking into the Golden Steer is like visiting the ghosts of Las Vegas pasts.

If these walls could talk, just imagine the stories they could tell.

Last night’s motley crew guest list included Andy Rich (Golden Nugget Poker Manager), Todd Anderson (Creator of television show Poker Night in America), Vin Narayanan (who’s doing some lucrative deal in Hong Kong that’s succeeding despite making no logical sense whatsoever) and yours truly.  Our frightening foursome plopped down in a red-leather booth.  Almost instantly, we had appetizer cocktails in one hand and dinner menus in the other.

Now, that’s service.

The Golden Steer has been in business for like — forever.  It’s a really weird location, helplessly bookended into a seedy strip mall right off Las Vegas Blvd., on Sahara.  A few doors down there’s a busy cigar bar that you can smell from a block away.  The restaurant, in the shadow of the new Lucky Dragon casino, is bordered by ghetto apartments.  Fortunately, there’s a spindle of rusted barbed wire atop a cinder block wall separating the slums from the Golden Steer.  That way, we can all feel safe while feasting on dead animals.

If these directions don’t make any sense, then try this:  Look for the giant sign with the fat cow out in front.  Everyone in town knows the fat cow.  Err, steer — whatever.

Years ago, the Golden Steer was the favorite hangout of the Rat Pack.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and company used to dine here regularly.  The trio of crooners even had their own private booths (each still in place and memorialized with plaques).

The Golden Steer has undergone a sparkling facelift since my last visit a few years ago when it seemed the old cow’s best days were way behind her.  While the inner decor has been updated, it still screams “Old Las Vegas.”  You don’t see places like this around anymore because they’ve all been bulldozed and paved over by an all-too-crowded kitchen of celebrity chefs.

Now that you know a little something about the Golden Steer, here’s where the story really gets good.

While Andy, Todd, Vin, and I were solving the world’s problems last night while trying to get away from our own, the scene across from us in the opposite red leather booth caught our attention and kept us captivated nearly to the point of becoming a distraction.  About 15 feet away, a scruffy bearded man wearing a brown western hat dined with a young lady.  The man’s coat looked disgustingly filthy.  His hat was bent out of shape and wouldn’t fetch $2 at a garage sale.  If you examined this scene for no more than five seconds, you’d have made a reasonable guess the man was homeless.

No big deal, really.  This is Las Vegas.  You see a lot of weirdness in Las Vegas.

At some point, the scruffy man asked the waiter to remove a portrait from the restaurant wall (yes, I’m serious).  Then, he requested the portrait be positioned next to him and his lady friend, in the booth.  If the scruffy man wasn’t a curious sideshow to watch before based on appearances, well now he had our full attention — at least as much attention you could muster without turning into a gawker.

So, the large framed portrait of a movie star was nestled into the booth while the scruffy man feasted on supper.  It was hard to tell who this was exactly in the picture, but after some artful eye-dodging, someone in our party finally recognized the portrait was of the late actor Charles Bronson.

The scruffy man, the lady friend, and Charles Bronson’s portrait all seemed to be quietly enjoying themselves, although Bronson didn’t say much.  Bronson also didn’t eat or drink anything.  Those delicious delights were left to the other two, who emptied at least one bottle of expensive wine followed by a bottle of champagne.  I tried to catch a glimpse of the labels to see what they were drinking, but I didn’t want to seem too nosy.  One can only gawk so much without causing a scene.

Of course, we had to play the whispering game of speculation.  Who in the hell is this guy?  He sure looks like a pauper, but he’s dining in a fancy restaurant, guzzling down wine and champagne.  Who could make such a wild request to have a portrait removed from the wall — and then have that request honored by the staff?  And the woman really seems to dig him!

An eccentric billionaire?

The owner of the restaurant?

A perverted Charles Bronson fanatic?

Who was he?

Just as we were preparing to leave, the scruffy man and his friend got up also.  They made a swift bee-line for the front door, hopefully not leaving stoic and speechless Charles Bronson to pay the bill.

Consumed by curiosity, we stopped the waiter in mid-stride cold in his tracks.

“Who in the hell was that scruffy guy in the hat?  Do you know him?” we asked.

“Oh, that was Nicolas Cage.  He’s a regular here.  He comes in all the time.”



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Posted by on Oct 2, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments

We Don’t Need More Prayers, We Need Tougher Gun Laws



Another mass shooting.  More bloodshed.  More death.  More agony.

And, of course, more thoughts and prayers.


Tragedy and suffering have become a national epidemic.  During the past month, America has endured three terrible storms which created mass destruction and many deaths.

But this tragedy was something very different.  The killings which took place at a country-music concert in Las Vegas were concocted and carried out by a human being.  The disaster wasn’t a natural act.  It was man-made.  Hence, the tragedy was preventable.

The current debate about man-made climate change notwithstanding, there’s not much we can do to stop forces of nature.  Storms happen.  But we can and we must do everything we can to prevent massacres initiated by one human being upon others.  We must try and stop it.  A civil society, particularly America which is such a statistical outlier when it comes to gun violence, not only faces a decision to act now, it has an obligation to do so.  This is assuming that we really do value human life, which is very much an open question.  Question:  Do we really possess the moral and political courage to stand up to powerful forces who are de facto co-conspirators in this pandemic of mass death?

I’m not so sure.

Instead, and in place of action, there are relentless empty words.  Thoughts and prayers are nothing more than a sweet-sounding Hallmark card, only they’re cheaper and not nearly as sentimental.  At least sending a Hallmark card to someone suffering inconsolable pain is a tangible act.  By contrast, thoughts and prayers ring hollow.  Thoughts and prayers are a cowardly abdication of greater responsibility if not linked to something more meaningful.  It’s like offering to help your pal move out of his apartment but secretly hoping he’s already hired a moving company.

If prayers really worked, some nutjob wouldn’t have hammered out the windows on the 32nd floor of a luxury hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and then starting shooting upon a crowd in the first place.  If prayers were effective, no benevolent celestial divinity overseeing the vast universe would have remained asleep at the wheel, emotionally isolated and criminally idle for ten full minutes, all while bullets rained down onto a defenseless cluster of terrified innocents.  Expressing “thoughts and prayers” to some imaginary do-nothing sky wizard in the aftermath of such tragedy isn’t just pointless.  It’s offensive.

Thoughts and prayers are offensive because they detract us, some by intention, from the very relevant discussion and debate we should all be having, instead.  Thoughts and prayers are a smokescreen.  Yes, perhaps there is a time for thoughts and prayers — later.  At funerals.  Do the prayers there.  There will be at least 59 funerals happening in the next week or so.  So, pray there.  Pray at remembrances intended to give comfort to relatives and survivors.  Pray there, if you want — all you want.  But the terrible aftermath of preventable tragedies aren’t assuaged by empty words tweeted and posted on public forums, even if well-intended.  Evil is eradicated, or at least diminished, by acts of courage and specific action.

Gun-fellating ostriches will protest “politicising the tragedy,” an all-too-convenient reflex I’ve already read dozens of times this morning posted all over social media.  But if this — the deadliest mass shooting in American history — doesn’t motivate us to do something now, then what will?  A hundred deaths?  A thousand?  Twenty more mass shootings?  What if your relative or friend was caught in the crossfire of some wacko blasting a high-powered assault weapon armed with thousands of rounds of ammunition?  Pray tell, — what will it take?

Quoting Sarah Q. Queen from Facebook, who said it best:

“Saying not to politicize this is the single most political thing you can do.  Anyone who has lost family or friends to an assault rifle wants nothing more than to prevent subsequent murders, and the only way to do that is to stop allowing access.  Now is the second best time, the best time being quite a few years ago.  So stop politicizing and get out of the way of doing what’s best.”

Want to honor the victims of this tragedy, or one of the innumerable tragedies which have taken place before?  Better yet, want to try and prevent another tragedy which is otherwise sure to come?  How about this:  Let’s update our gun laws.  Let’s start with gun registration.  Hell, let’s start with restricting guns getting into the hands of mentally disturbed people.  Yeah, that would be a good place to start.  But we can’t even agree on something this simple.  The last time federal legislation was proposed to restrict gun purchases to mentally ill people, the National Rifle Association and its faithful foot soldiers stepped in and killed the bill.  What kind of sick perverted society allows this?  What sicko wants to allow someone with mental problems to, gulp!, buy guns?

Apparently, there are about 4 million sickos.  That’s the number of active NRA members.

Note that I don’t propose getting rid of all guns, even though that’s pretty much what the rest of the civilized world has done where mass shootings simply do not happen.  People can keep a gun in the house for self-protection or perhaps even carry a weapon.  It’s a very valid point that people should have the right to protect themselves, and that right extends to legally buying a gun.

But if we’re going to sell guns to tens of millions of people from all walks of life, shouldn’t there be some minimal level of scrutiny as to who buys them?  Should anyone out there be legally able to buy a dozen potentially deadly high-powered assault rifles plus thousands of rounds of ammunition?  For what purpose?  Shouldn’t this be a red flag?  Sure, many private gun collectors who are good people and there are valid reasons for some citizens to own many guns.  Indeed, we can live in a reasonably peaceful society where we have both — tougher gun laws along with maintaining the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment.

We require licenses and insurance for people to drive cars, and there are plenty of good reasons for this.  No sane person would argue against requiring drivers to show competency before getting behind the wheel of a car.  We also require restaurants to obtain licenses and adhere to safety inspections.  Again, no sane person would argue against requiring food servers to demonstrate clean and safe practices.  Our government even requires many professions — doctors, dentists, insurance salesmen, financial planners, and so forth to be licensed.  Even hair stylists must obtain a license before they can cut hair.  If we demand the person who does haircuts for a living have a license, shouldn’t we require someone who walks into a gun store and purchases a deadly assault weapon to not only to meet some standard of mental competency but also attend a basic training course on gun safety?  Bartenders in many states are required to attend courses on alcohol safety.  Is anyone really shocked that a nation with much stronger laws restricting who gives haircuts and serves beer than buys a deadly rifle has a rampant problem with gun violence?


Most gun owners are responsible people and good citizens.  However, 33,000 gun deaths per year, on average in the United States, plus another 100,000 or so non-fatal accidents is a collective scream for immediate action.  That’s not acceptable breakage for any sane society that values human life.  That’s re-fighting the Vietnam War every two years.  Think of that.  Based on the number gun deaths and accidents in America, we are re-fighting the Vietnam War every 24 months.  Now as then, we are losing another costly and preventable war. 

Anyone who seriously believes last night’s Las Vegas Mandalay Bay tragedy is the final mass shooting is hopelessly naive.  No doubt, there will be more shootings in the future.  More shootings will take place given that gun laws are unlikely to change anytime soon.  And so, we are destined to endure far more preventable deaths, that is, so long as this nation remains foolishly wielded to outdated gun policies that were written when the most deadly weapon in the world was an infantryman’s musket.

Since the Second Amendment was written into the United States Constitution, technology has changed.  America has changed.  So too, our laws much change also.

And if you still want to pray — then please go ahead and pray.  But while you’re remembering the innocent victims, also pray for some sensible gun laws in America.  That’s a prayer where I’d willingly bow my head in complete agreement.


Postscript:  I would be terribly remiss were I not to add that we need to spend far more and do far more for mental health in this country.  But instead, we are cutting services to agencies which deal with mental health problems.  We will never know if mass murders like this terribly disturbed individual might have cried for help and not been given the treatment which could have prevented another senseless tragedy.



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Posted by on Sep 27, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Travel | 3 comments

Memories of the Las Vegas Club



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.




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