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Goodbye Forever, Sahara

Last edit: saharalv on Thursday, 28th August 2014 7:00 pm
Last response by motoman 15th January 11:35pm

For some reason, the opening of the SLS was like a punch in the gut for me. For one, I never thought it was going to happen, two, that property is hallowed ground to me. Almost like Graceland and the La Cocina Mexican Restaurant in Ramona, CA.

An old casino has soul. It has the roaming spirits of jackpots won, jackpots lost. Spirits who just came back from the Sinatra show at the Sands. Old casinos carry wrinkles, but with wrinkles comes wisdom. Underneath the wrinkles might be a little grime, but that it always part of the charm. I wasn't old enough to gamble in some of the other casino before they were destroyed, but I still have vivid memories of the chocolate eclairs at the Dunes buffet and hanging out with my grandfather and Bernie Williams at the Hacienda. But the Sahara is where my true love affair with Las Vegas began.
My first trip was with a few friends before we were 21. I remember sitting at the pool (in the grass!), oldies playing gently through the sound system. My friend got caught drawing a women at the pool. "Are you drawing my sisters bum?" she asked.
I don't know how I got my name on the list, but once I turned 21 I began to get comps in the mail. I probably stayed at the Sahara 15 times. I once had my brand new used car broken into in their garage. I had laughing fits with friends at 5am while watching America's Funniest Home Videos. I ate countless times at the Caravan and played keno during my late night/early morning meals. I had terrible food at Paco's and had water spilled upon me by a waiter at the House Of Lords.
I know that it's cliche as one gets older to pine for the glory days, but these new casinos have no soul. Their character isn't unique and seems almost dated 6 months after they open.
I wanted to write this because I had a sense memory a few days ago that brought me right back to the Sahara. I was practically there, holding a gin and tonic in both hands on my way to the bathroom near the entrance to the pool.
But that is all there is now. Memories. I'm glad that I took photos before the place was closed, but looking at them today just makes me realize that I don't have as much fun in Vegas as I used to.
I would give years of memories of the Cosmo, Aria, PHo, etc. COMBINED to again wake up at the crack of noon to the sound of that Sahara roller coaster beckoning me to begin my day and play some $2 blackjack while gulping down some Salty Dogs.
Goodbye forever, Sahara. I'll miss you, you wrinkly old thing you.

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 Okie21 responded on Friday, 29th August 2014

*tear falls*

I was only able to go to Sahara one time, being a young 'un. It was the May before they closed. We were cabbing by, three college buddies and I, from downtown back to the strip when I said, "Hey, we better stop here and see it before it closes in a month." They all agreed even though it was 3:00 am to stay for an hour. We all started playing low limit ($3 I think) BJ and craps while guzzling drinks with great CW service.

Great memories include a gay 50 yo man hitting on my friend, who went along with it as this man kept giving him chips to stay at the roulette table and play with him. All told it was $125. Unfortunately for the gay man, the return on investment was 0.

I particularly enjoyed talking with the pit critters over what had happened, had gone wrong, and what their plans were after their jobs were gone.

Next thing I know it is 9:00am and we are heading to Paris buffet for breakfast.

 NeverJustJ replied on Friday, 29th August 2014


 jinx73 responded on Friday, 29th August 2014

Nice write up. I had the opportunity to stay at the Sahara once, it was towards the end though and things were a bit rough, I still miss it though.

 socalduck responded on Friday, 29th August 2014

For me, it is the Desert Inn where many of my earliest and fondest Vegas memories originated. Not a trace left today, and at least they replaced it with something that (at least for me) is pretty awesome in its own right.

With the SLS, enough of it is still left where you can easily associate various parts of the resort with how you remember the Sahara. I would say that makes it even tougher to let go.

If it makes you feel better, there are probably still some bones (and perhaps an associated ghost or two) buried in the foundation. Literally.

 Chuckmonster responded on Friday, 29th August 2014

Thank you for crafting such a lovely remembrance of the Sahara.

My early memories of Sahara exist as glimpses. The casino was bright, gleaming and full of Moroccan class, a live band in the Casbah rocked hits as patrons playing table games bobbed their heads, got drunk and screamed at the turn of a card. The Sahara was the desirable milf of strip casinos... a sassy gorgeous lady from another time, still charming, witty, cute and adorable... the kind of joint you want to take home and fall in love with.

After the Bennett family sold, things changed. New owners (stockbridge + sbe) turned the lights off on the casino floor, the Congo Room became a desperate karaoke joint, dining languished (giant burritos!) and its Sufi-inspired beauty melted into a den of dark and dirty depression.

Nostalgia is the emotional expression of subconscious fear of death. We dwell on remembering the past because the present and future are bleak. This is why we're remembering Sahara... we miss the good old days, and think the present and future are bleak. The Sahara itself presented itself as a nostalgia play, with walls festooned with Rat Pack photos - something I'm convinced is a casino curse.

Strangely, for a brand new hotel with new attitude and target clientele, SLS' current "be legendary" advertising campaign (wtf does that mean?) contains photos of the great Sammy Davis Jr. (probably not sanctioned by Sammy's estate.) At age 44, I'm roughly the age of SLS' target market's Dad. It is a stretch to market a hotel to ME based on Sammy, do you think woo girls even know who Sammy Davis Jr. is? I have vague memories of Sammy on Carson as well as my mother singing "Candyman" to me when I was a toddler in the early 1970's.

Why not use photos of Vince, Turtle and the boys from Entourage? Or Kardashian adjacent Brody Jenner? Or the gals from The Hills? Isn't that SLS' target audience, or is that crew already past their prime? How exactly do you get a 21 year old to buy an $18 impersonation of a Manhattan?

 saharalv replied on Friday, 29th August 2014

I agree that once SBE came in things went down the tubes. By that time I had moved to the other side of the strip but I would always visit.

Your assessment of nostalgia is spot on, at least for me. I have a Woody Allen-esque fear of death.

And as far as Sammy and SLS goes, I am a little confused about their approach and not just with their advertising. I can start with the casino ceilings, and go to the now-infamous bathroom/sink/bed situation, but I'll just wait until dust settles. So far, the only reason that I would visit would be to search for Sahara remnants.

 adztheman replied on Tuesday, 2nd September 2014

I ventured into the Sahara once the monorail was completed, and instantly liked the place..

It was, along with the Stardust, the only casino on the Strip that celebrated its past..and as I remember, the casino was a jumping, happening place, with every age, color, shape and size having a good time.

I remember walking past what had been the Congo Room one night, after, as Chuck relates, it became a shell of what it once was...hell, Dean and Sammy and Frank played that room...and this is what they do with it?

I remember making a point to head there once to get a $1 hot dog and a shot glass...which I still have, proudly displayed, on what I refer to as my Vegas table...

I made it through the Sahara buffet one night, had some decent fried chicken and some pizza, and thinking that if the guys from ''Vegas Vacation'' wandered in here, they had plenty of green and yellow stuff for them..

I stayed at the Sahara four months before it closed, just to add it to the list of places I've stayed, weeks after this site published an interesting review of the rooms, when there were no places to eat, save for the Seattle Coffee place, and the slot booth girls were no longer taking new memberships, cause the clock was ticking.

I spent 20 minutes trying to check in, while a German family haggled over why their favorite tower was not open--only the Tangiers was at that point--and they all wanted smoking rooms together on the same floor.

I have the room keys from that night...with the photo of Dean and Jerry from the MDA part of my collection.

The woman who checked me in handed me a boatload of coupons for the place..and who could forget the small pile of pizza place flyers that greeted you in the room.

I so wanted to grab the camel lamp in the room, and part of me kicks myself for not doing it...but when the announcement was made as to the place closing, my mind went back to excellent staff members I met there, who tended bar, who checked people in and kept the place running....they were the people I thought of, and tried to send good karma to, when the announcement of its closure was made...

 skyyontherocks responded on Friday, 5th September 2014

Outstanding article; thanks for sharing. I will never forget the Desert Inn as the property I went to when I wanted to feel like a high roller. In the early 80's, it was still a big deal to play 5.00 per hand. They had 5.00 chips with silver imbedded in the center. When I reminisce, that's what I think of. I need a hug right now.

 motoman responded on Thursday, 15th January 2015

That... was the most beautiful writeup. Just had to come back here and comment on it. Almost a MikeE-esque quality to the prose.

My first Vegas stay was CircusCircus, so... yeah....