This reminds me of the first time I was enjoying a Manhattan outside my native state. Just as I was getting into a rhythm, someone started loudly tapping the rim of a highball with a knife. I looked about, worrying I had inadvertently wandered into a wedding reception. Thankfully, it was merely the barkeep, announcing last call. I actually had to ask what “last call” meant.
Vegas was a night-owl city for much of its history, rivaling cities such as Paris and New York when it came to after-hours entertainment and eats. Leaf through any vintage Vegas newspaper or Fabulous Las Vegas magazine and you’ll find ad after ad announcing midnight buffets and late-night frolics. In the 1960s, showroom productions (C’est La Femme at the Thunderbird) and headliners (Liza Minnelli) typically presented two shows per night, commonly at 8:15 and midnight. Comedy and lounge acts started even later, with one 1963 ad announcing Don Rickles at the Sahara at midnight, 2:30 a.m. and 5:10 a.m. Add longtime Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell and Brooklyn-born bawdy cabaret singer Ruth Wallis, and the Sahara staged eight live shows nightly between midnight and 5:10 a.m. And despite no last call, in 2012 most nightclubbers have hooked up or given up by 4 a.m.
When and why did it all start to end? Blame two things: the ongoing mining of the shopping and high-end dining dollar, and Vegas’ semi-failed family-friendly experiment of the 1990s. Back then, casinos began staging nipple-free versions of Jubilee! and other extravaganzas, while new, inherently family-friendly shows (Mystére in 1993) offered ridiculously square starting times as early as 7 p.m. (!!). Implicit was that even if the kids could be left with a reputable sitting service, by the time Mom and Dad finished with Cirque (or the MGM Grand’s theme park) they had little energy left for late-night shenanigans.
They still don’t. Most of today’s showroom headliners hit the stage around 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (with Cirque still at 7). Comedians start between 9 and 10:30, but that’s still not midnight. Even shows that target adults, such as Absinthe and Peepshow, get going around 8. Don’t expect it to change anytime soon. Vegas is busy maximizing your spending potential. You gotta be up early, after all, for that pricey gourmet breakfast and a day flashing the platinum card at the boutiques.