true romance.

coverThese Vegas stories prove love happens when — and where — you least expect it

Strip clubs. Alcohol. Adultery. Quickie weddings. Equally fast divorces. For a city that has its very own Eiffel Tower and Grand Canal, Las Vegas is rarely thought of as a city of romance. It may be heavily marketed on sin and liaisons that “stay in Vegas,” but real-life love stories do unfold here—it’s just that they don’t get told very often.

Las Vegas Wedding Facts

  • Nevada ranked fifth nationally in marriages in 2008, even though its total population was 35th. (California ranked first in marriages.) In 2009, 92,795 marriage licenses were issued by the Clark County Marriage License Bureau, a drastic decrease from a peak of 128,250 licenses in 2004.
  • The most popular days to get married in Las Vegas are Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve.
  • 7/07/07, a Saturday, proved one of the most popular days to get married ever, with 4,450 marriages performed in Las Vegas. On 08/08/08, 2,196 marriages were performed.
  • In 2008, Nevada had the highest divorce rate of any state in the nation, with 14.2 percent of the married population getting divorced that year.

Stories such as the “Cheesecake romance” of Curtis and Amber Padilla.

While the new bride has lived in Las Vegas for nearly four years, her husband was a tourist from Ohio when they had a chance encounter. “We met at the Cheesecake Factory,” says Amber, a 25-year-old aspiring recording artist. “We were both sitting outside. You know those little blinkers they give you when your table is ready? We were each waiting for that and just started talking.” Their attraction was immediate, and it unleashed a runaway train of romance. They professed their love for each other on their third date. Then, confident he had found the one, Curtis dropped everything after less than two weeks, packed up his life and moved to Las Vegas. “I was going to school back there,” he says, “and decided to come to UNLV instead. It was all because of her.” Curtis, a 20-year-old soldier in the Army National Guard, popped the question last fall and the couple tied the knot at the Little White Wedding Chapel on Jan. 26.

“We are actually planning to do a real wedding once we have some money,” he says. “But for right now we just want to be married.”

The woman who married them, Little White Wedding Chapel CEO Charolette Richards, comes across cases like the Padillas almost daily. One of her all-time favorites goes a few decades back. It involves a couple who met on a flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and got married two hours later at her chapel.

Both happened to be staying at Caesars Palace, she recalls. After arriving at the hotel, they had a lunch together and agreed that they should waste no time tying the knot. Next thing they knew they were in limo heading toward the chapel, where they picked up a marriage license and got married.

Did the romance last? For at least 13 years it did, as the couple returned to the Chapel twice to renew their vows. But Richards hasn’t seen them in about 20 years, and she often wonders if they made it.

Stories like this over Richards’ 50 years in the business have turned her into an ambassador of Las Vegas romance. “Look at all the beautiful lights—you can’t help but fall in love coming down Las Vegas Boulevard,” she says outside her chapel near the Stratosphere. “The ambience of Las Vegas, the little wedding chapels along the streets … It radiates with love.”

Even wedding planners get in on the action.

About a dozen years ago, after Tory L. Cooper finished orchestrating a wedding at the Desert Inn, she and her boyfriend—who worked for her—went to an Elton John concert. “It was Valentine’s Day night,” she recalls. “And he got down on one knee. We went to the Little Chapel of the West and were married at 11:59.”

Cooper, who had kept the fact that they were dating a secret around the office, smiles wider as she tells what happened next: “It made the newspaper, and that wasn’t so good because we worked together.” Stories like that don’t always revolve around on our chapel-lined boulevard, of course.

For example, Downtown Cocktail Room owner Michael Cornthwaite met Henri & Odette Gallery proprietor Jennifer Harrington at the turn of the last decade, when both worked at Whiskey Sky, the former lounge at Green Valley Ranch. Unlike the Padillas, their romance was of the slow-burn variety. In fact, though they were good friends, they hadn’t even started dating when Cornthwaite left his job in 2002.

They were reunited March 2008 by the city’s downtown arts and culture scene and quickly picked up their friendship again. But this time it was different because of a shared passion—not for each other right away, but the urban scene where they lived and worked. “We love downtown, Chinatown and Commercial Center,” says Cornthwaite, who will marry Harrington in March. “It’s all are very romantic with the right mindset and partner.” And for him, Harrington became the perfect partner because it had evolved from friendship.

“To me, being best friends is romantic,” he says. “And it never hurts to be thoughtful once in a while, too.”

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