It seems that low-rent casinos are going the way of the dodo bird, at least as far as The Strip goes.
After the closing of O'Shea's a mere six months ago and the continued metamorphosis of Imperial Palace into The Quad, Caesars Entertainment has just confirmed plans to shutter their other mid-Strip Casino-equivalent of a dive bar, Bill's Gamblin' Hall. The home of $3 buckets of beer and obscenely low stakes gaming tables, Bill's will close in February 2013 in order to undergo a $185 million face-lift that will turn it into a hip nightlife mecca. After the place is shut down for about a year, Bill's will be reborn as a beautiful butterfly with as yet undisclosed new name that will sport such new features as a upgraded hotel rooms, a glass balcony hanging over The Strip, and three new stories designed to house a 59,000 square foot nightclub and pool deck managed by the good people who run Drai's After Hours. While Caesars has been mum about the new name of the renovated property, a popular rumor amongst Vegas-watchers is that the entire property will be actually re-branded as a Drai's Resort, which would a greater emphasis on the nightlife aspect than any other resort in town (which is saying a lot, considering the trend in Sin City over the last decade).
This makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose. Drai's is such a popular and well-loved brand that they opened a second location on the top of The W Hotel in Hollywood (something I've never understood since Drai's Las Vegas made its name as an "After Hours" spot to head to after all of the other clubs start to empty out, an irrelevant feature in a city where its illegal to serve alcohol after 2:00 AM. I'd begin a rant against this stupidly outdated law if it wasn't so severely off-topic, but seriously... what are we, living in the middle ages?). Nightclubs continue to bring in tons of revenue for Las Vegas resorts, even as the recession has driven down their gambling profits. It's a good, smart play for Caesars. So why does the shuttering of an admittedly pretty grungy casino give me a case of the so-sads?
It's certainly possible that I'm only feeling melancholy because today is one of the 10 or so un-sunny days we get in Los Angeles every year and I've been listening to Radiohead and The Smiths on Spotify all day, but the imminent demise of Bill's has got me feeling a little blue.
The place is the last of a dying breed of truly cheap spots on The Strip. While Downtown, despite the many hip additions opening there seemingly every month, still has plenty of Bill's-like spots that feature really cheap booze and even cheaper table limits, The Strip is starting to run dry similar spots. I'm not saying that Bill's is the only type of Casino that should be on The Strip... but I am saying that it is a type of casino that should be represented somewhere along Las Vegas Boulevard. While nightclubs filled with attractive people trying to look disaffected enough to get past the most discerning doormen are certainly part of a balanced Las Vegas vacation experience, so too should slumming it at a place like Bill's to enjoy hot-tub sized buckets of beer and a roulette table where it takes you an hour and a half to lose $15.
Don't get me wrong... there's nothing "nice" about Bill's. The carpets were ugly, the place smelled like stale beer and cigarettes, the rooms were adequate at best, and it was often more crowded with scum and villainy than the Mos Eisley Cantina. The staff is mostly old-timers who took their time pouring decidedly non-fancy yet stiff (and cheap! so cheap!) cocktails. But that was the charm of the place; it had character. It's one of the spots that felt like it was actually connected to old Las Vegas (even though the name Bill's Gamblin' Hall was something of a reinvention itself, as the casino was once known as The Barbary Coast).
The texture of the place will soon be replaced by something new and slick, designed to appeal to the young hip taste-makers who won't have nostalgia for the charmingly ugly place it replaced. But I have to wonder... are we not near a saturation point in terms of nightclubs in Las Vegas? Yes, it's been the most reliable money maker for resort owners in the last decade, but the emphasis on nightlife is starting to make everything on The Strip feel a little too homogenous. I know, I know... it's The Strip. It's the main tourist drag in Las Vegas, but do we really need an entire resort (if rumors of The Drai's re-branding are to be believed) built wholey around the nightclub experience?