Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Farewell to the Riviera

Today the Riviera Hotel and Casino closed forever.

Workers began boarding up the doors. A couple of guys stood at the end of the desolate pit, talking quietly. The pit was completely empty of people, chips, cards, and dice. Only dirty felt and worn seats remained behind.

I carefully approached the two suits and told them I was sorry about the news. One fellow engaged me quietly but the other, could not bring himself to talk to me, or to look my way. He turned slightly and the loss was still plain to see in his face. I couldn't blame him.

I asked if there were any cards to be had but no, they were all gone from the pit. Feeling like I had invaded a family's death vigil I once again expressed my regrets and left them be to their memories, and the duties at hand.

There were a few gamblers here and there on this, the last Monday morning of the Riviera's existence as a storied and historic Las Vegas icon. But not many. Some held court at the last remaining bar open in the old girl, while the bartender managed to remain cheerful.

The pool and other public areas were deserted and desolate, save for a couple of entrepreneurs taking advantage of the situation to film a low-to-no budget rap video in front of the pool.

I've been quite sad about this closing. 

It’s funny, the years went by and I barely set foot in the place. I must have stopped in four or five times. I ate once at KayDee’s cafe. I ate once at the World’s Fare Buffet, which led to a wonderful piece (wonderful by my own self-aggrandizing standards that is) based on their informative Buffet Instruction Placard.

The Riv always had the scent of decline around it, a feeling of desperation, that it knew it wasn’t in the limelight anymore. Like that $40 of slot play for $20 promo that ran for years and years, like a carny gimmick, the gimmick being that the ‘slot play’ was on ‘special’ machines that might net you a mug or a Riviera fly swatter or some other such swag.

The decline of the neighborhood with the eradication of the New Frontier, the Stardust, and the Westward Ho put the Riviera on life support. Circus Circus is left nearby and thrives in its own way I suppose, but it is like having four neighbors and everyone except Cletus, Bobbie Ray Ann and their 9 kids move out.

The failure of the Fontainbleu was the final nail in the coffin. Actually, it was more like a partially hammered nail, leading to a long drawn out multi-year funeral.

The thing is, though, you always sort of expected the Riv would be there, like when you were a kid and your grandparents could be counted on to be there at holidays, and remember every birthday. You know they are different somehow, but you never really believe they are going to leave you.

How could the casino that provided the set for so many wonderful scenes in the movie Casino go away? How could we lose the Riviera of the 50s and 60s, that hosted so many great, great, entertainers… the place of so much lore and legend, like the secret ‘lost’ rooftop pool.

(It’s not really lost, it makes its whereabouts known every time it rains because it leaks through to the casino. Thus its failure to be utilized in the manner originally intended and its ultimate abandonment.)

The Riviera represents so much. It’s one of the last remaining 50s strip ladies. The others are either razed (like the Dunes, the Sands, the Desert Inn, Aladdin) or have transmogrified into modern behemoths, lacking charm, but sprawling in stature (I’m lookin’ at you Flamingo and Caesars Palace).

Hell, the Riv was one of the five casinos robbed the 1960 Rat Pack classic Ocean’s Eleven. And there’s more. Lots more. With its roots in mob money and covert ownership, the Riviera sprouted in 1955 and gave Las Vegas her first high rise. Dean Martin performed in the showroom and became part owner. Frank Sinatra and Liberace played here. And ICE, the Russian skating spectacular dazzled a number of people. Probably.

And what about Crazy Girls, and more particularly, the brass (with the emphasis on the second syllable in brass, which is ‘ass’) statue which so many crafty male visitors to the city have brazenly ‘felt up’, to the extent that the buttocks of the girls in the statue are permanently buffed to an eye blistering sheen? Where will the statue end up?

I made a trip to the cage, empty except for two staff members. I bought five dollar chips.

Back near the pit, I played a $20 bill on double double bonus video poker, right by the front doors. As if to say, she still had life, the casino recognized my years-old slot card, and granted me the requisite points for my play. She was still going through the motions even as she lay on deaths door. 

Las Vegas constantly re-invents itself, razing old history to make way for new adventures. It's always been that way but still... part of me always wants to go back, back to the past I knew, and back to the past that I never knew. Historic places like the Riv made that possible, in some fashion.

But now, that kind of fanciful time travel into our collective Vegas past is no longer possible, at least at the Riviera.

There is usually optimism when one establishment closes, because it means that a new venture is underway. Something bigger, something better. In this case... it's a convention center, and that fact rankles.

It's no coincidence that another mega-casino has a break-ground ceremony scheduled for tomorrow. Resorts World will rise and potentially amaze us in a Lazarus like rebirth of the old Stardust, another of the classic generation of casinos. So in a way, at least the ghosts of the Stardust have hope for some sort of resurrection, some sort of rebirth, in the form of a new place, where new loves and memories will be formed, where new exaltations of wins and exhaustions of losing will take place.

For the Riviera, there is no such redemption. The only sign of hope to be found on this sad day were the wishes floated skyward to the gambling Gods by those who threw dollar bills into the never to be used again swimming pool.

Goodbye Riviera. We'll miss you.

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  1. What a great piece on such a sad event.

  2. celebrated our 40th anniversary at the Riv......sad to see it go