The first thing you see walking into McFadden’s at the Rio is William Shatner in his full late-1960s Technicolor glory on one of the wide-screens that’s usually devoted to SportsCenter. Even with the sound off, you can tell in a second that this is the climax of “Balance of Terror,” when his Romulan nemesis tells him he has one last duty, and that in a different reality they might have been friends.
You know that everyone else here knows it, too. You’re in the right place.
If that scenario doesn’t make you nod your head, you might assume that Star Trek fans and Vegas mix as well as Andorians and Tellarites. But, thanks to the way Las Vegas has restructured itself, diehard Star Trek fans are just as happy in Sin City as nightclubbers, package tourists and rodeo fans. As is usual for the city, it only takes a big-money event—last weekend’s Official Star Trek Convention—to put it all into context.
Whether they were wearing Klingon body armor or just the gold wristbands that gave them access to a weekend’s worth of panels, entertainment and meet-and-greets, Trek fans spent much of their time immersed in the lore of the past 45 years of science-fiction adventures. But that wasn’t all they did in Las Vegas. After a long day of searching for the perfect replica Starfleet uniform and seeing their heroes in panels, there was plenty of time left over.
So for a few days, at least, after-hours Jell-O wrestling at McFadden’s is Trekkie central. And that’s no accident.
Most groups of any size staying at the Rio get the same treatment, according to Julie Twidwell, McFadden’s marketing director. Months in advance, she and her staff research the convention bookings and reach out to event organizers. What would attendees like to see? What would make them feel at home? During the National Finals Rodeo in December, that means a mechanical bull pushes the beer pong tables out of the way. When the W.I.N. conference, specializing in inspiring women worldwide, comes to town, they get a menu of Cosmos and daiquiri specials. And when missions from the starship Enterprise start beaming down, the bar turns Trek-friendly.
That means bringing in Star Trek history maven Larry Nemecek to run trivia contests and swapping out the usual menu for the old drink list at the Las Vegas Hilton’s late, lamented Quark’s Bar. For a few days, Cardassian Coolers, Tranyas, and served-in-a-fishbowl Warp Core Breaches make a Vegas comeback.
“Last night proved that they like to drink,” Twidwell says of Star Trek fans.
Trekkies bring something that Vegas thrives on: passion. Megan Martin, a Dallas-area resident in her 20s, is in town for the first time. It took two professional makeup artists four hours to apply the prosthetics and makeup that transform her into a Cardassian, Starfleet’s foils from Deep Space Nine. Before, she associated Las Vegas with CSI and Showgirls. Now, it’s all about Trek.
“Where else could you get away with this?” she asks. “It’s the biggest [Star Trek] convention in the world. It’s perfect for Vegas.”
Doing the town Trek-style takes a bit of adjustment, but underneath the Vulcan ears it’s not that different from your everyday Vegas night. Much of the crowd at McFadden’s could be any set of conventioneers blowing off steam: solid and respectable back home but having some fun in the desert. A few twenty-somethings could swap their science-division blue tunics for stripy club shirts and fit right in at Tryst. Sure, there’s a guy in full Klingon makeup and a Tommy Bahama shirt weaving his way to the bar, but, hey …
One smiling, middle-aged brunette has a Starfleet insignia tattooed on her chest. She sometimes wears her Enterprise pendant necklace and earrings at home, but it’s only in Vegas, at this convention, where she feels comfortable enough to really show herself.
She’s among friends here, even in a bar full of strangers. There’s no judgment.
And that’s the key to making sure Vegas stays Vegas. The second visitors start thinking they need to leave their Starfleet rank insignia at home instead of their inhibitions, we’ll know that Las Vegas needs to get a life.