Ours is a town of impermanence. The casinos you see on the Las Vegas Strip today are not the ones your dad knew back in the day. Of course, your dad probably wasn’t here back in the day. Nearly everyone you know, in fact, came from somewhere else, and plenty of them are hanging out long enough to get their mortgages upright. Even the springs at the Springs Preserve deserted this place years ago.
But there are things about Las Vegas that remain relevant amid all the swirling change: the tried and true facts, theories and spirit of this place. There are things that have come and gone but still define us. And we’re not talking about the nonsense that out-of-towners try to put on us: “Prostitution is legal,” “The town was founded by Bugsy Siegel,” that sort of thing. No, these are the things that every Las Vegan should know to be true in his or her heart-of-hearts. The things that make this place real.
There are millions of facts about this town that are nice to know, but we’ve reduced it down to the 100 that you should know if you’re going to live here longer than a few weekends a year. Read them, internalize them, and see if they don’t make you feel a little more attached to this place than you did when you came in.
1 Reno is nearly twice as far away as Los Angeles.
2 What the inside of the Huntridge Theatre used to look like. The key features were the split-level lobby, the exposed barrel ceiling (installed after the cave-in of 1995) and the circular indentation in the ceiling that once accommodated a chandelier. You get bonus points if you remember what it looked like from the stage—the rows of battered red seats, the gently curved back wall that boosted the sound of monaural movies but made it difficult for touring bands to get a good mix.
3 Dan Tanna.
4 The one book about Las Vegas you need to read is Stanley Paher’s Las Vegas: As It Began—As It Grew. It was written in 1971, published by the author’s own company, measures 10 by 13 inches and, from the outside, looks like a coloring book. But open it up and you’ll find a treasure trove of information, classic photographs and anecdotes about the Valley’s infancy—Paiutes and pioneers, Mormon missionaries and military forts. The tale of O.D. Gass’ establishment of the Las Vegas Ranch is told in loving detail, as is the epic story of Helen Stewart. There are other great candidates—the muckraking Green Felt Jungle, Hal Rothman’s magisterial Neon Metropolis and Eugene Moehring’s yeoman history, Resort City in the Sunbelt. But Paher dug into the near-forgotten sands of Las Vegas history and produced an unassuming classic.
5 Helen Stewart saved this city before it was even a city. She took over the Las Vegas Ranch after her husband Archibald’s shooting in 1884 and ran it until selling it in 1902 to copper baron William Andrews Clark, who wanted to build a railroad (and did). Had she sold her holdings sooner, Las Vegas might not have developed as it did. After the sale, Stewart remained in town, helping to start the Mesquite Club and serving as the first woman on the school board and on a jury, giving the Southern Paiutes land for the colony they still live on Downtown, and becoming known as “The First Lady of Las Vegas.”
6 “If you have a weakness, Las Vegas will punish you.” – Hal Rothman, Neon Metropolis, 2003
7 This is an internationally respected center of activity for celebrity meltdowns, including our gossip columnist Jason Scavone’s all-time favorite: Shecky Greene made playing in the lounge a viable hot ticket at the Riviera, and he was the headliner when Elvis made his first abortive Vegas run at The Last Frontier, but it was at Caesars Palace where Greene perhaps made his most lasting impression. To hear Shecky tell it, he picked up his car after a show one night in 1966, drunk, because the parking attendants always thought it was funny to hand him the keys in those situations. He tore off down the Strip, slammed through a post, spun out across the street and wound up in the fountains in front of Caesars Palace. The apocryphal climax: When the cops rolled up on the scene, wipers running and all, Shecky is alleged to have rolled down the window and said, “No spray wax.” (Check out the rest of Scavone’s favorites.)
8 We should be in the Guinness Book of Records for having broken so many freakin’ records. A few favorites: highest thrill rides (Stratosphere), most hotel rooms at one intersection (14,762, Trop and Las Vegas Boulevard), simultaneous wine-bottle openings (308) and most simultaneous high-fives (3,504—thank you, Zappos).
9 UNLV has one of the top two hotel-administration schools in the nation. The other one is Cornell. Cornell’s in the Ivy League. So we’re, like, practically in the Ivy League.
10 Las Vegas is second in the nation in ragweed allergies (we trail Phoenix). Other Valley allergen-producing species you may enjoy: olive trees, mulberry trees, oleander and Bermuda grass. Like most of us, they are aliens.
11 You should never drive under the Charleston Underpass when it rains, and you should never go to the Strip on New Year’s Eve.
12 The 515 and the 95 and the 93 are—for a miraculous multi-numeraled stretch through the heart of the Vegas Valley—all the same road.
13 Speaking of: A person moves to town and thinks Lake Mead Parkway and Lake Mead Boulevard are connected. He or she becomes horribly lost. Finally, this person realizes that one road is in Henderson and the other is at the north end of the Valley. Years later, this person tells the next set of newbies that the two Lake Meads are completely parallel and—as parallel lines tend to be—disconnected for all eternity. This makes the former newbie feel like a wise old local. But wait! One day he or she keeps driving all the way down Lake Mead Parkway until it turns into Lakeshore Road, then turns left at Northshore Road, which, after a few short and scenic miles, links up with Lake Mead Boulevard and leads back to the city. It’s almost as if the two Lake Meads were really one long, horseshoe-shaped road. This place is full of surprises.
14 Fifth Street is not really missing; it’s Las Vegas Boulevard.
15 There are several places to get a decent breakfast at 4 a.m., and many of them aren’t in casinos. Longtime Las Vegans experienced in matters of caffeine and carbs recommend the Bootlegger, Tiffany’s Café (located in the former White Cross Drugs at Las Vegas Boulevard and Oakey), the Peppermill, Honey Pig and Home Plate Grill. Your casino options—the Henry (at the Cosmopolitan), Du-par’s (at the Golden Gate) and Grand Luxe (at the Venetian)—will also bed down your hunger, but walking the length of the casino floor may bring it back.
16 It’s impossible to fry an egg on the hood of a car in the heat of summer. Don’t ever try it. We did once and ruined our paint and our appetite.
17 We actually like our heat dry, so go roll your eyes someplace else. Try Orlando.
18 The Valley averages 300 days of sunshine per year, yet is among the 14 states with the lowest incidence of skin cancer in the U.S. In a land of 115-degree summer days, people learn how to get things done at night or in the shade.
19 You don’t need to water your lawn every day. Even in August.
20 The weather forecast actually is important here—just not our forecast. We are wholly and completely at the mercy of the annual snowpack of the Rocky Mountains, whose runoff on the western slopes flows into the Colorado River. If you could, listen to some John Denver today and say a little prayer.
21 The dark, sculpted mountain south of Frenchman Mountain—the one that looms over Lake Las Vegas like a sentry saying “Build no more!”—is called Lava Butte. Just down the west face of Lava Butte is one of the Valley’s most beautiful—and unsung—geologic features, the aptly named Rainbow Gardens.
22 There’s a genuine fallout shelter built underneath the Boulevard Mall. And in the concrete outside the mall entrance rests a time capsule placed on April 29, 1966, to be opened in 2066.
23 One leg of the Stratosphere has a kink in it—the result of overcompensation FOR what was thought to be a construction error.
24 When it’s time to leave the casino.
25 You’re not gonna get a cab if you’re leaving a hotel with a big nightlife presence between 1 and 4 a.m. It’s best to walk to a less-busy hotel.
26 The MGM Grand fire of November 1980, which killed 85 and injured 700 more, didn’t happen at the place we now know as the MGM Grand. The hotel-casino now known as Bally’s was once consumed by the second-worst hotel fire in American history.
27 You can ride local RTC buses (and the Strip-Downtown Express) for a full 24 hours for just $5. Transportation deficiencies may be blocking Las Vegas’ road to becoming a major city, but few other places offer such a sweet transit deal.
28 As great as the hiking at Red Rock and Mount Charleston may be, there are several unsung hiking areas worthy of exploration—such as Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.
29 Bicycle riders in Las Vegas are required to have headlights, rear reflectors, bells and brakes in good working order. They’re not strictly required to wear helmets, though judging by the cavalier manner in which many drivers disobey the three-foot bicycle passing rule, that’s a good idea.
30 The best place to ride a bike in the Valley is the 34-mile River Mountains Loop Trail.
31 That the overused exclamation “Vegas, baby!” came from the 1996 Doug Liman comedy Swingers, in which Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn drive all night from Los Angeles to hit the Stardust, where they lose a bundle at the tables and notably fail to get laid.
32 The Stratosphere Tower is your north star if you get lost.
33 You’ll never get lost if you know your mountain ranges. Those are the Spring Mountains to the west, home to both Mount Charleston and the Red Rock National Recreation Area. To the south is the McCullough Range; its most prominent feature, the antenna-festooned Black Mountain, is your lodestar in the southeast. The landmark in the northeast is Frenchman Mountain—which many people mistakenly call Sunrise Mountain. To the north is the Sheep Range and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.
34 The bare spot on the face of Frenchman Mountain is an old landfill—named, amusingly enough, Sunrise Mountain Landfill. The landfill closed in 1993 after becoming home to 25 million tons of waste.
36 The Las Vegas Country Club was once the center of our little universe. Where else could you play tennis on a court next to Tony Spilotro, hear Moe Dalitz paged over the intercom, then go to the lounge and sit next to Joe DiMaggio’s poker game? (For an LVCC reminiscence, read “The Realm of Kings”.)
37 Sapphire, the world’s largest strip club at 71,000 square feet, used to be an athletic club called the Sporting House. In the early 1980s, it was the place for a pickup basketball game.
38 Those are real strippers on your inbound Southwest flight on Thursday and your outbound flight on Sunday. Dancers refer to the airline as “Stripper Air.” Yes, their performing names are fake.
39 Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote our unofficial city anthem, “Viva Las Vegas,” in 1963. Elvis Presley performed it in the film of the same name in 1964, and it has since been covered by Bruce Springsteen, the Dead Kennedys, ZZ Top, Vince Neil, Nina Hagen, Dolly Parton, Wayne Newton, the Residents, Johnny Ramone, the Stray Cats and pretty much anyone else who has ever recorded sound.
40 The paint on your car will surely fade unless you park it in the shade. Red cars seem to fade faster than others. And white cars have a higher resale value here, probably because they do a better job of deflecting heat.
41 Downtown is nearly everything north of Sahara, bordered by Valley View and Eastern, and ending a bit north of Cashman Field.
42 The most underappreciated Las Vegas photo of all time is of our city’s true founder, U.S. Senator William Andrews Clark of Montana, triumphantly arriving here in 1905, amid the twilight of America’s Gilded Age.
43 Caesars Palace doesn’t have an apostrophe because Jay Sarno wanted everyone who visited the resort to feel like a Caesar. Even you, Zach Galifianakis.
44 The waitresses at Caesars Palace used to be sewn into their dresses.
45 Las Vegas figures prominently into tennis legend. The Alan King Caesars Palace Tennis Classic came to Las Vegas every year during the golden age of American men’s tennis (1972-85)—meaning we got to see Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe at their brattiest and most brilliant. The tournament was a sort of community tennis holiday—one day, a little mop-headed kid named Agassi even got to hit with Connors on center court before a match. It’s a shame the tourney didn’t last until his heyday.
46 The Paradise Crest home of Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, formerly this state’s lieutenant governor, is largely uncontested as the weirdest crib in the Valley. If you don’t know why, we won’t tell you. If he opens it up again on Nevada Day, as he has off and on for years, be sure to visit.
47 This town briefly had a horse track, the Las Vegas Park, from September 4 to October 19, 1953. It was in the space between what is now Joe W. Brown Drive and Sahara Avenue, behind the current site of the LVH. It only featured 13 days of thoroughbred racing. Ironically, LVH would go on to become the best spot in town for horse bettors.
48 We have tried professional sports no fewer than 28 times, including women’s volleyball (Vipers), two roller-hockey teams (Flash, Coyotes) and two football teams named the Aces whose leagues folded before ever kicking off. In all there have been nine football teams, seven basketball teams, five soccer teams, four hockey teams, two baseball teams and one volleyball team. Four are still active (the 51s, Wranglers, Legends and Sin).
49 Parking is actually pretty cheap here compared with other cities. Quit yer bitchin’.
50 If the monorail had gone down the center of the Strip, it would be a world attraction. Just sayin’.
51 Many “specials” aren’t listed on menus. Marc Sgrizzi’s new pizza joint on Centennial Parkway, Novecento, can bring dishes from Parma, his other restaurant, on request. One of our most unheralded Thai restaurants, Penn’s Thai House in Henderson, makes the most incredible sweet steamed buns for dessert. And perhaps our town’s greatest secret deal is the $7.77 steak, shrimp, potato and salad special at Mr. Lucky’s in the Hard Rock Hotel (although you need a players club card these days).
52 Never pay full price for a show on the Strip before asking for the locals discount.
53 Locals don’t pay to get into the club. What, are you kidding?
54 “Industry Night” really means “Locals Night.” It’s just assumed that if you live here, you must work in hospitality. So, y’know, get yourself that Nevada driver’s license so you can flash it at the door.
56 Never buy insurance in blackjack.
57 The maître d’ used to enjoy more respect and prestige, like today’s nightclub hosts. And they were tipped better back in the day, too.
59 The romantic age of the casino is over. Even when bosses are as flamboyant and nationally recognized as Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, the major casino issues (union contracts, regulatory reform, online gaming) are really decided by committee.
60 The most powerful political entity in the greater metropolitan area is the Clark County Commission. Because the Strip is entirely within Clark County and not in the City of Las Vegas, the commission deals most directly and closely with the state’s most powerful industry, which generates the state’s greatest revenues. Perhaps the greatest proof of the commission’s power is that several of its members in recent years—including Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins—left the Nevada Legislature to serve on it.
61 Our economy is still a one-horse engine, with nearly half of the region’s gross domestic product related to the hospitality industry. In 2011, tourism generated $40 billion in revenue.
62 From hotel workers to homebuilders, Las Vegas had always been a place where a working-class job could lead to a middle-class life. The boom threatened that balance by ratcheting home prices to levels unaffordable without gimmicky mortgages. And the bust threatened it more by pushing our unemployment above 15 percent in 2009 (it’s still above 10). Nevertheless, we remain a town of blue-collar dreamers. In fact, a recent study projects that the working class will grow here by more than 15 percent by 2020, second only to the growth in Washington, D.C. Whether those workers will have the same access to the American dream as their Las Vegas forebears remains to be seen.
63 Our chief contribution to the culinary world is exposing the mainstream to trends on the American culinary landscape. People from the heartland may not partake in restaurants by chefs like Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck or Joël Robuchon, but they visit Vegas in droves, and most at least take notice. In the long run, Vegas brings imagination and diversity to the national food scene—if not directly, at least by slow osmosis. After all, even buffets here have dozens of dishes that you’d never see in Des Moines.
64 Las Vegas was not better when the mob ran the town. Just smaller.
65 The Las Vegas Sun wasn’t always an insert in the Review-Journal. The newspaper had not only a purpose, but a heyday: For decades, it was this town’s aggressive little independent paper, with voices that ranged from publisher Hank Greenspun’s “Where I Stand” columns to John L. Smith’s views on sports.
66 Hank Greenspun—whose storied life included gun-running to the Haganah during Israel’s battle for statehood in 1947 (he was later pardoned by President Kennedy) and telling Senator Joseph McCarthy just where to stick it—got his start in media as Bugsy Siegel’s publicist.
67 The first Strip resort was built by Thomas Hull, not Bugsy Siegel. Hull’s El Rancho opened in 1941.
68 E. Parry Thomas is the most important Las Vegan of all time. He came here in the mid-1950s to run the Bank of Las Vegas for a group of Utah and Nevada investors. He concentrated on banking while Jerome Mack emphasized real estate. Thomas was the first banker who systematically loaned money to casino owners, whom banks usually avoided because of their mob connections, real and perceived. Thomas reasoned that they would respond to respect with respect, and he was right. He also helped a young Las Vegan named Steve Wynn on a land deal and then with obtaining control of the Golden Nugget.
69 In 1980, 8 percent of Clark County residents were Hispanic. Today, that number is nearly 30 percent.
70 The block now occupied by luxury estates on Tomiyasu Lane used to be part of Bill Tomiyasu’s sprawling farm. In the 1930s, its produce fed workers building Hoover Dam.
71 You will make many friends in Las Vegas, but many of them will also move away within a couple of years. In 2010, for example, 30,000 residents moved here; in 2011, nearly 70,000 moved out.
72 Nevada’s land is about 80 percent publicly owned/managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Clark County, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, etc. This creates both a natural boundary to excessive development—provided leaders keep these public lands intact—and unique opportunities for outdoor recreation.
73 Only 4 percent of our electricity comes from Hoover Dam.
74 Southern Nevada and the entire desert Southwest profoundly owe their growth to the federal government. “Without power from Hoover Dam and water from Lake Mead, today’s Las Vegas (not to mention today’s Phoenix and much of today’s Southern California) is unthinkable. The Strip came into existence in the 1940s because of the old Highway 91 from Los Angeles, and it boomed as a result of the Interstate Highway System, which transformed Highway 91 into Interstate 15 and allowed millions of tourists to cross the Mojave in less than five hours. In the 1950s and ’60s, when most banks wouldn’t touch Vegas, the town’s cash flow came from two decidedly non-libertarian sources: the federal government and the Teamsters Pension Fund. If you harken back to the cowboy days, things still don’t get much more libertarian: The mining industry, the rough-and-tumble source of Nevada’s frontier mythology, owed its viability to the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act signed by President Lincoln—and to the century-and-a-half of preferential tax treatment that followed.” (From “The Freedom Fighters,” November 11, 2010.)
75 All the same, many consider this Libertarian territory.
76 We’re a military town—have been since the 1940s. In Southern Nevada, there’s Nellis Air Force Base, the Thunderbirds, the Test Site and the controversial pilotless Predator and Reaper drone planes operated out of Creech Air Force Base near Indian Springs. And Henderson was “born in America’s defense” with the construction of the Basic Magnesium Plant to supply the valuable metal during World War II.
77 Although only slivers of evidence remain—NFR, Helldorado, Vegas Vic, the Benny Binion statue—this is still a cowboy town at heart. (See “Our Rodeo Soul“.)
78 UNLV’s original mascot was a Confederate wolf named Beauregard, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Goofy.
79 The 1976-77 UNLV men’s basketball team invented the modern local spirit. Those Rebels scored 107 points per game, turned the Convention Center rotunda into a giant, flying-saucer-shaped revival tent, and went all the way to the Final Four. Before that season, out-of-towners would ask, “Do you live in a hotel?” After it, they were just as likely to ask about Jerry Tarkanian and the run-and-gun. Sometimes the insinuations were just as offensive—blackjack school in the desert, etc.—but they drew us together in defense of our town and our team. Las Vegas had always been a host; the Rebels made it a home.
80 Contrary to outsider belief that this Valley is a wasteland, we do have quite an array of indigenous wildlife. Jim Johnson of the Springs Preserve shares his five favorite examples—in order: relict leopard frog, gray fox, desert cottontail, pocket gopher and Gila monster. Ours, in no particular order: roadrunner and coyote.
81 The Spearmint Rhino is not an indigenous species.
82 California fan palms are the only palms native to the Mojave Desert. The rest are imported.
83 Two Vegas kids help maintain the relevance of the increasingly irrelevant medium of broadcast television: Chaparral High grad Anthony Zuiker pretty much owns prime time with his CSI franchise, and Jimmy Kimmel, the pride of Clark High, is poised to take over late night.
84 Las Vegas is where celebrities are born, not made. Some famous Southern Nevadans (who were at least raised here) include actors Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) and Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer); star pitchers Greg Maddux and Mike Maddux; UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta, plus UFC fighter Roy Nelson and “Octagon Girl” Arianny Celeste; musicians Jenny Lewis and Ne-Yo; fashion designer Laura Dahl; aerospace visionary Robert Bigelow; adult-film star Jenna Jameson; and members of the Killers and Imagine Dragons. Check out our full list of stars in our heavens ».
85 This is actually a pretty decent town for concerts, no matter what the haters say. Elliott Smith once played a gig Downtown at the now-defunct Enigma Garden Café, circa 1993. Perry Farrell’s Lollapalooza festival made a stop at Sam Boyd Stadium in 1994 (the headliners were the Beastie Boys, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Breeders, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, the Boredoms, and Smashing Pumpkins.) And the Beatles played two shows at the Las Vegas Convention Center on August 20, 1964, for which they earned $30,000.
86 Frank Gehry’s Lou Ruvo Center isn’t the only Vegas building designed by a superstar architect. Show off your insider knowledge by also name-dropping the Las Vegas Library (Antoine Predock), Tsunami Asian Grill (Thom Mayne), Clark County Library and Performing Arts Center (Michael Graves), Aria (Cesar Pelli) and, of course, La Concha (Paul Revere Williams).
87 Many of the icons of the “family Vegas” era are the work of one architect, Veldon Simpson. He designed Luxor, Excalibur, the current MGM Grand and Circus Circus’ Adventuredome.
88 McCarran is the best damn airport in the West.
89 Departing flights out of Vegas are much more peaceful than arriving flights.
90 The Easter Island head at Sunset Park used to be in front of the Tropicana—a remnant of the hotel’s “Island of Las Vegas” phase. And one of the ornate tiki carvings that once graced the Trop’s porte cochere is now next to the door of Frankie’s Tiki Room on West Charleston Boulevard.
91 San Francisco and Las Vegas have enjoyed a weird bond for many years. Before the Sahara was built, Sahara Avenue was San Francisco Avenue, part of a long tradition of Las Vegas linking itself with the legacy of a boomtown that made it big. Later, during the themed fever dreams of the 1990s, there was a lot of talk about a San Francisco-themed megaresort. We didn’t get that, but we did get the Fog City Diner. And of course, we’ve had the Golden Gate all along—it outlasted San Francisco Street and the Sahara and the fever themes and the Fog City Diner, and it will probably still be here, serving Du-par’s hotcakes, when all the rest of us have been imploded and replaced with better people.
92 If you want to see what Las Vegas looked like 30 years ago, check out the cliffs and dunes at Charlie Frias Park at Tropicana and Decatur.
93 You may have heard the name Moe Dalitz primarily in stories about the mob, but he was also a city father instrumental in the development of the Boulevard Mall, the Las Vegas Country Club and Sunrise Hospital, which is the ninth-largest for-profit hospital in the United States. You should also know the name of his partner in these projects, Irwin Molasky, who went on to build Park Towers and help ring in the age of Manhattanization.
94 Irwin Molasky was a founder of Lorimar Productions, which was responsible for such deathless TV classics as Eight Is Enough and Dallas.
95 The hotel-casino you’re seeing in that movie is likely the Riviera. The Riv has traditionally been game about allowing film crews to set up shop for extended periods, as long as the casino is mentioned in the finished product. Films shot at the casino include Diamonds Are Forever, The Hangover, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Casino, Go, Showgirls and the original Ocean’s 11. Watch some of the casino’s Hollywood cameos ».
96 Maryland Parkway was once the place to shop in Las Vegas. Say the word “WonderWorld” to a longtime local and watch his eyes go all misty about the dime-store rocking horse out front.
97 Fremont Street used to be the best nighttime street in the world. If you’d like to see it in its prime, watch the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever or the music video for U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
98 The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign was created in 1959 by Betty Willis, who also created the iconic signs for the defunct Moulin Rouge casino and the Blue Angel Motel at Charleston and Fremont. The design was never trademarked, which is why it appears on so many of our cheaper souvenirs.
99 “Vegas is a permissive, unfashionable, commercial town.” – cultural critic and former las vegas resident Dave Hickey (in bomb magazine, 1995)
100 Reno sucks.