A Final Toast to the Riviera

At the shuttered resort, everything must go—well, everything but a half-eaten taco, a shot of hooch and 60 years of memories

The near empty casino floor | Photo by Jon Estrada

The near empty casino floor | Photo by Jon Estrada

I arrive 10 minutes after the Riviera liquidation sale begins. Already, the line stretches past the hotel’s convention center, around a corner, up and down the loading dock, then twists back on itself. There are women pushing carts, men pushing dollies, parents pushing strollers—because a three-hour line ending in a roomful of kitchen supplies is what 2-year-olds really enjoy.

Once inside the hotel, there are still barricades to navigate and crowds to endure before we are led to the lobby, where a man shouts purchasing instructions over the din of hundreds of people rushing about while clutching lamps, lugging mattresses, balancing dishware. About 50 people dragging room-service carts precariously piled with hotel room furniture wait to cash out at the former check-in desk.

Down the corridor and past the pool, the casino is quiet, save for the occasional stray browser poking around. The roulette tables are stripped of their wheels and strewn with empty ashtrays and extension cords. At the bar, lipstick-stained glasses and crumpled cocktail napkins ring the gaping holes where video poker machines once blinked and dinged.

The long lines to enter the Riviera | Photo by  Jon Estrada

The long lines to enter the Riviera | Photo by Jon Estrada

Over in the Versailles Theatre, every brass rail and red plush seat sports an inventory number and price tag. I make my way across the dimmed stage, upstairs to a locked door, farther upstairs to an unlocked door. I find myself in a long-abandoned, faded-pink showgirls dressing room: Blush wallpaper, rose Formica dressing tables with salmon contact paper lining the drawers, a faint whiff of stale cosmetics and dried rubber lingering in the air. As I descend, I realize that the hundreds of tiny dents in the stairs are from impressions left by decades of stiletto heels tromping down the steps, balancing feathered headdresses and rushing to make the next cue.

If the Versailles is haunted by showgirls, the casino cage is haunted by … money? Or maybe it’s simply the residual feelings of joy and/or suffering inspired by the billions of dollars that changed hands over 60 years. There’s also something unsettling about the series of reinforced metal doors swinging open and the rows of empty safety deposit boxes dangling unlocked. Deposit slips, key registers, paper bands to wrap around $10,000 stacks of Ben Franklins, a stamp reading “District Attorney: Bad Check Unit”—everything is upended and scattered, as though everyone fled a surprise zombie attack or IRS audit.

On a backstage wall at Crazy Girls, the final set list is marked with cryptic notes, such as “gold is shut to spike marks” and “Tony has a magician’s assistant for dildo hat.” The dressing rooms appear ransacked: Open drawers spill boxes of Splenda and cans of WD-40 tangled up in fishnet tights with resewn toes. I walk down a dark hallway to a door that doesn’t open, double back and find myself in another abandoned hallway and more doors that don’t open. Thankfully, the one I came through still does.

The mirrors in the elevator have been covered with particle board; I ride to the 29th floor, where all the suites’ double doors are swinging into the hallway and sliding-glass doors open wide onto the Strip. Curtains billow in the breeze. Occasionally, a figure emerges from within them, struggling with a tape measure, seeing if these sheers are the right size for the foyer.

A vacant dressing room | Photo by Jon Estrada

A vacant dressing room | Photo by Jon Estrada

The presidential suite offers spectacular views, but the oak-veneer furniture and beige carpets are rack room standard. In the master bath, the empty pods from a pair of disposable contact lenses and a Styrofoam container holding the last bits of a late-night street taco sit next to the sink. (Why bother with housekeeping when no more guests are coming?) All of the bathrooms have giant Jacuzzi tubs with telephones next to them, a touch of luxury straight out of 1990.

On my way back toward the hustle and bustle of the ground-level sale, I peek into the VIP host’s office. There’s a pile of dumped-out files, a sheaf of Christmas party photos, an empty wallet and a bottle of Crown Royal with about two inches left in it. Leaning against a pillar is a whiteboard with the days of the Riviera’s final week listed, each one crossed off with a slash of red. Across the bottom is scrawled “Implosion, end of July, 0% occupancy!”

I hear a child shrieking nearby; I keep my eyes on the door as I unscrew the cap on the whiskey. When the apocalypse comes, the dregs of an abandoned bottle in a defunct casino will be cause for celebration indeed.

Here’s to you, Riviera. Here’s to you.

The haul away of purchased goods | Photo by Jon Estrada

The haul away of purchased goods | Photo by Jon Estrada