The Missing Tikis
Today, Las Vegas has Frankie’s Tiki Room and the Golden Tiki, both places of masks and carvings and mai tais. But for many years, all of Las Vegas’ tikis seemed destined to disappear. The Tropicana’s original design was Havana mid-mod, but in 1991, it got a tiki-fied remake, with the addition of carved wooden heads, a Polynesian longhouse and a carved mask of Kalanui, the Hawaiian god of money. Rumor has it that the mask was haunted and would cause those who rubbed it to break out into a rash—but, like every other spooky Las Vegas story, you can never find someone it happened to, just someone who knows someone who has an aunt who had a friend…
Regardless, the Tropicana’s tiki moment passed and the tikis with it. The retro Venus Lounge briefly occupied an outside corner of The Venetian, where its elaborately carved tiki theme was carried out to every table and chair—all of which disappeared as soon as the Venus did, likely to some casino executive’s patio.
But one vintage tiki can still be found, if you know where to look. Back in the day, the Stardust’s Aku Aku was the spot to sip a Tonga Tabu Swizzle and dine on Steak Genghis Khan amid statues and palm fronds. Out front, two giant stone heads carved by legendary tiki artist Eli Hedley stood sentry, a touch of Easter Island on the Las Vegas Strip. The Aku Aku closed in 1980 and one of the heads was moved to an island in Sunset Park, where it reigns serenely over pigeons and picnickers. As to where the other head went? No one knows, of course.
The Many Lives of the Bonanza Gift Shop
The self-contained strip mall that is the Bonanza Gift Shop has led many lives over the past 50-odd years. Initially, it was a number of smaller shops—a butcher shop, a liquor store, a jewelry boutique, an adult bookstore. At one end was the Money Tree casino, which had a lovely curling marquee and an actual (sort of) tree inside.
Eventually, the liquor store became Honest John’s casino and the butcher shop became Centerfolds and then the Jolly Trolley Casino, known for cheeseburgers, strippers and a meat locker in the casino—which was as menacing as it was amusing, considering that the joint was reportedly mobbed up. Porn star Marilyn Chambers even performed a one-woman (naked) show there before the whole place became a gift shop, albeit one that occasionally sold vibrators and blow-up dolls.
The Bonanza has been sold again, and it’s only a matter of time before it gives way to a high-rise casino or luxury condos. But, until then, amid the airbrushed T-shirts and bedazzled keychains, you can find evidence of the Bonanza’s swingin’ past: In the center of the space is a patch of worn parquet flooring, surrounded by mirrored pillars below an enormous stained-glass light fixture. Today, it holds racks of neck pillows and tote bags, but once it was full of women with Farrah Fawcett hair doing the topless hustle.
The Last Traces of the United Federation of Planets
The Star Trek Experience combined a show museum, space-themed rides and an Enterprise bridge photo op to draw Trekkies from around the globe. The theme extended to Quark’s bar/restaurant, where a cosplaying staff served blue cocktails, as well as a gaming area. All were designed to look like a spaceship: lots of octagonal doorways, blue lowlights and silver-plastic everything.
The Experience and Quark’s were closed in 2008, but the space-styled gaming area lingered for a few years. All traces of Trek have disappeared within the renovations of the Westgate, or so it would seem. But if you look a little closer at the gift shop and the liquor store, you’ll notice those pod bay doors are open to souvenir magnets and plastic-bottle vodka, while some of the blue neon and shiny chrome of the bar can still be glimpsed through the door of the timeshare center. But perhaps the most poignant reminder of the Starfleet’s glory days is at the monorail stop, where an old Star Trek logo still flashes on the wall as you glide into the station.
Main Street Station’s Mysterious Treasures
Downtown Las Vegas may be embracing nostalgia, but no one throws it back as far as Main Street Station, where the Victorian theme is a by a collection of antiques. These include Winston Churchill’s elaborately carved snooker table, intricate stained glass from Lillian Russell’s mansion, a gilded chandelier from the Figaro Opera House in Paris—allegedly.
The treasures were acquired by owner, Bob Snow, who opened the property as Main Street Station in 1991—only to close it about a year later. Boyd Gaming bought it and remodeled before reopening in 1996. “We have a lot of interesting and unique stuff at Main Street Station, but saying definitively where that stuff came from, that’s a little bit trickier,” says David Strow vice president of corporate communications for Boyd Gaming. “Because it went through that process of bankruptcy, there’s not a whole lot of documentation on a lot of the items. So the best we can say is we think we know what they are.”
However, Main Street Station’s most famous piece of history is authentic: the graffiti-scrawled chunk of the Berlin Wall in the men’s room. “That’s probably the most unique item we have on the property,” says Strow, who notes that the Wall’s location does not necessarily make it inaccessible. “It is in the men’s restroom, but if women want to see it, all they have to do is find a security officer,” who will escort them in once the room is cleared. After all, you’re here to see history, not short stories.