The Horse-Aound Bar at Circus Circus was deeply weird, even for Las Vegas standards.
Located in a rotating Carousal in the middle of the perpetually scummy (yet family friendly!) resort, Hunter S. Thompson wrote about the place in a memorably surreal passage from his landmark work of "Gonzo Journalism," Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Terry Gilliam's audacious filmic version, starring Johnny Depp as the hallucinogenic drug addled madman, adapted the sequence into one of the movie's flat-out freakiest sequences, one powerful enough to put "The Fear" into your soul.
The place is not the only Carousal-like bar in the country. New Orleans boasts a similarly named Carousel Bar at the elegant Hotel Hotel Monteleone in The French Quarter, but that place is sophisticated and classy (and serves a damn fine Sazerac). The Horse-Around was a different matter entirely.
Maybe I was under Thompson's influence, but the first time I drank there I could swear that The Horse-Around revolved at a much faster pace than the glacial rotation of the ostensibly similar New Orleans bar. And Nola's Carousal Bar is soundtracked by classy piano and light jazz, while the Circus Circus version featured... well, circus music. Freaky, off putting circus music. And bright flashing lights. And scary painted horses. You get the idea. The place was not "classy."
But it was weird, different, strange and kinda messed up. Despite being built into a Carousel, The Horse-Around was not kid-friendly, but that's as it should be because it was a bar for drinking alcohol after all.
Now Hunter S. Thompson is gone, dead by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Terry Giliam can't get his films financed these days, and one of his last movies was a dumb as bricks tale that turned the Grimm Brothers into monster hunters gallivanting around a sub-Tim Burton fairy tale back lot. As for Johnny Depp? He's spent the last decade playing a cartoon version of a Pirate in Disney movies. The less said about Johny Depp the better.
And The Horse-Around Bar is gone, replaced by a Gelato stand where parents can appease their kiddies with sugary frozen treats.
I'd heard that the place was shuttering, but could hardly believe it wouldn't be there anymore. It was just something that I'd taken for granted as a ghost of Las Vegas past that couldn't be gotten rid of very easily. But like The Stardust and Sands before it, Las Vegas has a way of irradiating its wild past in the name of corporatized progress. And thus it was with a heavy heart on my most recent pilgrimage to Sin City that I discovered rumors of the Horse-Around's deamise had not been greatly exaggerated.
Is the loss of such a strange, kind of wrong place a tragedy? Circus Circus is kind of a ratty dump in general anyway, an excessive mess of over the top fear inducing spectacle meant to rob people of their hard earned money, and The Horse-Around was an excessive example of this (which was one of Thompson's main points in the first place). But the weirder fringes of America, even in the capitalistic centers of the nation, are disappearing, and the stranger edges of the nation are dulling into commercialized homogeneity.
Johnny Depp's likeness now appears in a Disneyland attraction and you can buy Italian Ice Cream at the site of one of the most bizarre freakouts in the middle of Hunter Thompson's Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream. Las Vegas is less filled with mobsters, weirdos, and sweaty Mescalin users than it used to be. And there's something sad about that, at least a little.
Goodbye, Horse-Around Bar. Can I get two scoops Pistachio?