Tuesday, March 13, 2007

R.I.P. Stardust

Another piece of old Las Vegas disappeared this morning with the implosion of the fabulous Stardust Resort & Casino.

Back in the day the Stardust was BIG, baby: biggest hotel in Las Vegas, biggest pool, a huge drive in movie screen...no fancy lawns or sweeping circular drives like other casino hotels at the time--no. Just a big-ass parking lot full of cars with tail fins. In 1960 the Aku Aku Polynesian restaurant and tiki bar opened, and the space-age Stardust was graced by a big stone tiki head out front.

Siegfried and Roy started at the Dust. Wayne Newton played the showroom in the declining years but bailed and let George Carlin take over toward the end.

The Stardust was a famously mobbed-up casino, run by Frank Rosenthal and Tony "The Ant" Spilotro. While it was referred to in the movie Casino as "The Tangiers", the Stardust appeared in all its glory, as itself, in the classic "Showgirls". It also appears in "Swingers".

MizBubs and I have only one Stardust story. On our last trip, in August 2006, we stopped in one afternoon after visiting Elvisarama, and had a drink while a karaoke competition was going in the lounge. There we saw one of the coolest old men we'd ever seen doing the most hep version of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." This guy wore a sky blue baseball cap and some high-waisted jeans, and when he was done he sat down at a table with a couple of boozed-up young pretties. What a guy.

Two months later, in October 2006, the place was closed. And now I'm sad, even though I never stayed there or gambled a dime in the casino. I just liked knowing it was there, a bit of old-school class, surrounded by vacant lots, porn slappers and tacky souvenir shops, in what my brothers referred to as the "bitch end" of the Strip. It was a good place to catch a cab after leaving the Peppermill Fireside Lounge (which is perhaps the swankiest place in all of America.)

I've only been going to Las Vegas since 1998, and I'm amazed at how many places have been torn down and replaced in 9 short years:

The Aladdin was torn down and replaced by...The Aladdin. Which is now Planet Hollywood.

The Desert Inn (the first place I ever stayed in LV, and the best-smelling hotel lobby ever) is now the site of the Wynn.

The Boardwalk, formerly home of Purple Reign, and one of the most horrible clown facades in history, is gone.

The Westward Ho, where I was frequently mistaken for security, is about to become luxury condos for rich assholes from California.

Mandalay Bay, The Aladdin, Bellagio, Paris, The Venetian, and Wynn have all come online since my first visit. The San Remo is now Hooters. The Treasure Island, which used to have the coolest sign in the world, is now "TI", with the pirate show replaced by some buccaneering showgirl atrocity. I know I'm forgetting stuff, but you get the picture. Imagine how this all looks to someone who pulled up at the Stardust back in 1959, eager to check in to his $6 room.

You can read about the final days of the Stardust, with some really cool pictures, here. You can find a good chronology of Las Vegas implosions here at Vegas Today and Tomorrow.


Johnny Yen said...

Oh man-- that sucks! When you posted on my blog about Tom Jones, that was the hotel Kim and I had in mind for our "old Vegas" trip.

Johnny Yen said...

BTW, I liked "Casino" better than Goodfellas. The Special Edition of Casino has the History Channel's "True Crime Author's" piece, with Nick Pileggi, about Lefty Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro.

I read the retired FBI guy William Roemer's book on Spilotro, "The Enforcer." While Roemer had begrudging respect for some of the old mob guys, who had some sort of code they lived by, he did not include Spilotro in this category. He clearly considered Spilotro a two-bit punk.

Tenacious S said...

I went to Vegas for the first time in 1987. All of the old casinos were still there. I didn't go back again until about 1998. It had changed so much in ten years that I barely recognized the place. I've got some great stories from the first trip.

Mob said...

I've still never been to Vegas in my life...the wife is convinced that I'd have a blast...it might be worth it for the blogging material alone.

Kate said...

Man. It feels like I was JUST THERE.


Bubs said...

Kate, doesn't it? I'm getting Vegas nerves already for my May trip, and I won't even be boozing or gambling then.

Mob, you gotta go. You'll enjoy it, and all its wretched excess. Did you know they have a really cool film festival there?

Ten, I'll bet. One of my minor regrets in life is that I didn't go there in my mid-20's. It took me about 8 years to talk MizBubs into it, but she was glad I did. We'll have to swap Las Vegas stories next time we get together.

Johnny, Spilotro was a psycho. Speaking of outfit trivia, I met Irwin Weiner, a "bail bondsman" who used to be associated with Spilotro (and who drove Allen Dorfman to his last lunch date in 1983) a few times before he died.

You were planning an "old Vegas" trip? Good luck--there's not much "old" left that's not kind of depressing. I suppose you could hit the Gold Nugget downtown, or the El Cortez if you were slumming a bit. On the strip now you'd be left with the Flamingo or Caesars Palace (and CP is pretty pricey.) Have you been out there? If not, and you need some ideas, I'm your man.