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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sayonara Sahara

Mark Evanier has a fascinating blog if you are into show biz and related subjects. Check him out at

Here, he comments on the imminent demise of the Sahara Hotel, in Vegas:

Sahara Safari

Some on Las Vegas message boards are reacting with a mixture of shock and dismay at the news that the Sahara Hotel, which first opened in 1952, will close May 16. Its owners haven't decided what to do with the place but they say " this point, the continued operation of the aging Sahara was no longer economically viable."

I don't know why this comes as a surprise to anyone. The number of people who want to go to Las Vegas and gamble is not an infinite resource. With hotel after hotel opening, there have to be ones that fail because supply exceeds demand. The Sahara has long been a likely candidate to lose out in that competition.

First of all, it's old. It's not old and beautiful. It's not even old and quaint. It's just old. It's located way down at the end of The Strip, convenient to almost nothing. It has no restaurants that have distinguished themselves and its buffet has received consistently bad reviews for decades. No big stars are show play its showroom. Its gaming is not known for better-than-other-hotels odds. It is cheap but so are a lot of hotels that don't have its negatives. Its brand name has a lot of history but so do a lot of hotels that don't have its negatives. Besides, no one pauses as they make their lodging selections to say, "I've just got to stay someplace where Sinatra hung out fifty years ago." About the only thing the Sahara has that some others do not is a stop on the Las Vegas Monorail...the one nobody rides.

In brief, I can't think of a single reason why anyone would want to go there except maybe that it's a part of Vegas history...but if that's what you crave, other parts (like the Flamingo, Caesars and even the Tropicana) are better bets. Sinatra gamboled and gambled at them, too.

It's true we are losing Old Vegas. The Desert Inn, where my parents were married sixty years ago this month, is gone, displaced by the Wynn. The Sands is gone and so are the Frontier and the Stardust and the original Aladdin and several others...but it was the same with all of them. They'd evolved into hotels that couldn't compete; that couldn't offer you anything you couldn't get down the block cheaper and/or better. But actually what we're losing in most cases are the names of these places. Everything else was gone long ago. For example, when the Desert Inn was demolished, everything from the original structure had long since been replaced, some of it many times over. It was like the story of the guy who claims to be selling George Washington's ax...but he admits that the handle had been replaced several times over the years and so had the blade. No piece of it remains that George ever touched but somehow it's still George Washington's ax.

The Sahara will be torn down...maybe not by its current owners, maybe by the next ones or the ones after. Along the way, it might be refurbished so totally that it won't bear any connection to the Sahara as it was when I played Blackjack there in the eighties, let alone when the Rat Pack played the Congo Room in the sixties. On one message board, I saw someone say, "We're losing our heritage." No, we lost that long ago. What we're losing now are some shabby businesses that couldn't keep up and which have some vague connection — sometimes in name only — to a long gone era.

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