You’ve got the Vegas in you
March 8, 2018
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine insightfully noted that, when it comes to Las Vegas, a person either falls madly in love with the city or they develop a strong, reliable hatred for it. Now, that only gives two extremes, and there's certainly a spectrum, but what he said does hold truth to it. Vegas is an animal unlike any other. Those who love it will always feel that way. Those who don't may learn to tolerate it, they may even look forward to a weekend trip there, but they will never have a genuine appreciation for it.
If you haven't guessed it yet, I'm one of those people who falls into the former category. I adore fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. However, this rather peculiar love affair did not happen at first sight. The first time I went there was Memorial Day weekend 2016. My boyfriend, who grew up performing magic, was eager to take me to see some of his favorite magicians — Penn and Teller, David Copperfield and Mac King, to name a few. The shows were incredible, but the scene on the strip was overwhelming. Sidewalks were so thick with people that it was hard to move. Luckily, the temperatures were so high that the sweat from our bare bodies acted as a natural lubricant, making it easy to slide among each other. By day two, I'd had nearly enough of Vegas and was ready to return to a colder, less congested place.
After that trip, I could take or leave Las Vegas. But then we went back several months later and stayed with my boyfriend's good friend. He's lived there for more than a decade and works as a consultant to magicians. He lives off the strip several miles and only goes there occasionally for a show. From off the beaten path, it's possible to see that there's more to the town than the flashing lights, the clinking of coins (though that's pretty much gone now with the installment of receipts for slot machines) and the allure of strip clubs. The city has a history, it has culture, and it has people who are honored to call it home.
Since my time in Vegas in May 2016 to present, I've visited the desert oasis seven times. That number is a bit embarrassing, but at least three of those visits I was tagging along for my boyfriend's work projects. And the last time I was there was for a reunion trip with college friends. What I'm trying to say is I'm not a Vegas addict, I'm more of a Vegas opportunist. If a trip to the area presents itself, I have no choice but to go.
The last time we were there was a few weeks ago for the college friend reunion. There were seven of us total, and we stayed in two suites at the Venetian, a conveniently located hotel with plush, clean accommodations. Only a few of us in the group had spent much time in Vegas, so we often acted as tour guides. At times, I felt like I was showing good friends around my hometown, suggesting places to go, shows to see, food to eat, and libations to drink.
From Sin City's birth, the town always had a liberal-leaning agenda. Las Vegas officially became a city in 1905. Only five years later, Nevada was the last Western state to outlaw gaming, though they did so reluctantly. Despite the national laws, a small underground gambling industry flourished. Finally, in 1931, the state Legislature legalized gambling on a local level. Back then, most of the casinos that got licensed were on Fremont Street, roughly five miles from where the bright Las Vegas Strip sits today. Fremont was the first paved street in the city in 1931. It's this area that houses many of the wedding chapels that the city is also known for. These came to exist because the state has historically made it so easy and cheap to get marriage licenses (and also to get divorced). As far as speedier types of love are concerned, prostitution isn't technically legal in Clark County (where Las Vegas is), but the act is permitted in other more rural parts of the state. Nevada is the only state in the country that allows certain counties to have legal brothels.
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So, in a way, Las Vegas (and all of Nevada) has always been a product of what it is today: sinful. I don't say that in a bad way. In fact, I say it with great admiration. Las Vegas, often deemed Sin City, is unabashedly itself. It's not pretentious or exclusive, and it doesn't even attempt to hide what it is. In this city, anything goes, and that in itself is extremely comforting.
People who visit Vegas really either love it or hate it. Assuming you go to Vegas at some point, here are a few of my suggestions that may help you love it as I do. If you do nothing else while there, spend some time on Fremont Street. Walk down the main few blocks, and you get a slight idea of what Vegas was at its start. Nearby to Fremont is Atomic Liquors, an old, slightly grungy bar where patrons used to grab a drink and watch the government's nuclear testing in the 1950s. For a bite to eat, check out the Park on Fremont. The funky decorations and creative drinks are classic Vegas, but something you will never see on the strip. Downtown is also home to the Arts District, which has galleries, bars and restaurants worth exploring, such as Artifice and The Cube. The Mob Museum gives a much more thorough and entertaining history of the city than you will get from reading this column or even doing further research on Google. The Neon Museum is also a good walk down memory lane with a vast collection of old Vegas casino signs that still light up. On the strip, make sure to check out the High Roller, the world's tallest observation wheel. I recommend paying for the Open Bar In the Sky Happy Half Hour, which gives you and your friends 30 minutes on the wheel and all the booze you can consume. For brunch, Bouchon has amazing French savory and sweet options. Late night eats are best had at Peppermill, a locale consisting of a diner and late-night lounge that many Vegas stars have frequented over the years. My current favorite shows are Absinthe, Penn & Teller, and The Beatles Love. Gambling isn't as much my thing (unless I'm winning, of course), but there's plenty of it just about anywhere you look if that's what you want to do. Wherever you go, try and strike up a conversation with a local. They always have hilarious stories to share and often know some of the city's best kept secrets (and may even be willing to share them).
But, no matter the planned adventure, make sure to bring some good friends to enjoy it with. Las Vegas is always at its best with good company.
Barbara Platts has no current plans to go to Vegas. But, since it's less than 10 hours to drive there, an opportunity could present itself at any moment. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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