I was recently asked something similar by a Canadian magazine, though their query was “Where can we walk among the ghosts of the Rat Pack?” That particular list is getting rather short, but includes the Riviera, the Golden Steer steakhouse, the Little Chapel of the West and—albeit it’s a stretch—the SLS (built in the bones of the Sahara) and Wynn Golf Club (formerly the Desert Inn Country Club). Sure, the Flamingo and Tropicana are still around, but they’re hardly recognizable from the Rat Pack days. Additionally, the Sands (once home of the legendary “Summit at the Sands,” a nightly Rat Pack party during the filming of Ocean’s 11) gave way to the Venetian—long gone, like most of the old joints.
Now, if the question isn’t specifically about places where Frank, Sammy and Deano once roamed, but rather where you can get lost in “Old Vegas,” the list lengthens considerably. My mind immediately jumps Downtown, in particular the Golden Gate (opened in 1906, and where our city’s first telephone was installed) and El Cortez (1941, our city’s oldest continuously operating casino). Back on the Strip, the glamorous fountain-lined frontage of the main Caesars Palace building (1966) looks much the same as it does in jerky 8-millimeter vacation reels posted to YouTube (though the inside is completely different). I’d also include such vintage spots as Champagne’s Cafe, Piero’s Italian Cuisine and the Peppermill, and for Elvis fans, the Las Vegas International/Hilton/LVH/Westgate/whatever. Places like the Neon Museum and the Springs Preserve, where ghosts of Vegas Past are certainly present, deserve mention. And off-Strip haunts Frankie’s Tiki Room and Herbs & Rye may be a few short years old, but they represent like the old days.
For an online taste of Old Vegas, I’ll share one of my favorite places to get lost: the UNLV Digital Collection of classic restaurant menus. I have spent hours browsing menus of such places as the Blue Onion, El Cholo Cafe, the Sands Garden Room, Louigi’s Italian Charcoal Broiler (which describes a 60-cent appetizer of anchovies, onions and sliced tomatoes, or a Vegas classic shrimp cocktail for 80 cents), and the Hirschfeld-esque work of art that is the menu of the Dunes’ Sultan’s Table.
It’s well worth the wonky interface to find and study these gems—especially as that classic era of Las Vegas further fades into memory.