Friday, March 25, 2011

Las Vegas: Historic Sahara Hotel Shutters

Talk about biting the dust: The 59-year-old Sahara Hotel, the oldest surviving resort on the Las Vegas Strip—outliving heritage properties the Sands, Landmark, Frontier, Stardust and Desert Inn—is shuttering May 16, thanks to the city's flagging economy.

Sure, the 1,720-room joint was a dump, positioned at the northern-most tip of the Strip (ironically, flanked by the incomplete Fontainebleau debacle). Even half-hearted renovations that took place in the late 1990s looked second rate. But the place was inexpensive and had reached a point of nostalgic kitsch not found in newer, brassier destinations. Oh, sigh.

I stayed at the Sahara a number of times covering various conferences in Vegas for Radio World and Billboard. My pal Teddy once had a huge bi-level terrace suite that looked like a surreal mesh of 1950s white metal railings meeting the mauve 1980s. The whole place smelled a little funny and the carpets looked like they'd been raked instead of vacuumed, but I've nothing but the fondest recollections.

Obviously, I'm not alone. The Las Vegas Sun published a sentimental story with reader reminiscences. And The Los Angeles Times recalls, "The Sahara was an exotic desert locale where Frank Sinatra could enjoy a cocktail and bathing beauties froliced in the Garden of Allah pool. In recent years, the hotel-casino sunk to touting $1 blackjack and a NASCAR Cafe known for its 6-pound burrito. Now the icon is yet another victim of a deep recession that has squelched the city's tourism for more than three years."

So long, sweetheart. The Venetian, Caesar's Palace, Paris and Bellagio are loads of fun, but you'll always be a grand dame. R.I.P. Sahara.Sahara resort rooms through the decades: top: 1950s, 1960s, bottom: the groovy 1970s and oh so sadly, today..."Artistically created residences for gracious living are luxuriously furnished in excellent taste. Rooms have private baths & individual thermostatic temperature controls. Interiors appeal to the most discerning in a sumptuous single or elaborate suite."
"Set like a royal jewel amid 20 acres of velvet lawn & blossoms, Las Vegas' largest temperature controlled pools provide endless moments of relaxation & fun beneath the healthful Nevada sun. A new high in resort living. 600 air-conditioned rooms, all with TV and radio."