Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2018

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Columnist Susan Snyder: Key Largo cashes in its chips

Terry Hallett held up a pint-bottle of vodka for the guy sitting on the other side of the bar to see.

The bottle was empty.

"You drank this much since you came in," Hallett said in a tone that joked, but with words that did not. "You've gotta pace yourself. There's 12 more hours."

In 12 hours the Key Largo Casino and its neighborhood bar would close forever -- the latest small, off-Strip hangout to fall prey to a seemingly voracious appetite for posh, high-rise condominiums.

"I started here 7 1/2 years ago, when it first opened as Key Largo," Hallett said. "This was a great place. We had great customers and worked with great people.

"It's a 'Cheers' bar," he said. "Everybody knows you."

Part wake, part celebration, laughter was the order of Key Largo's last day. They laughed about the two missing buttons on Hallett's Hawaiian-print uniform shirt. Obviously, the casino wasn't going to issue a new one.

They laughed louder when Hallett ran around the outside of the bar showing off the T-shirt he wears at his new bartending job. Some vowed to follow him there.

"Hey Larry! You're fired!" a customer shouted to a slot mechanic who showed up to check a bar-top poker machine.

The Key Largo is, or was, on Flamingo Road, just east of Koval Lane. In November, Clark County Planning Commission members approved a proposal to build a 196-foot condominium tower with 905 units there, along with a hotel's 70-foot tower and 344 rooms.

Other suite-type hotels in the area are converting to condominiums, too. And those seated at Key Largo's bar Tuesday afternoon wondered whether the older, lower-cost apartments along Koval are next.

If the condo trend continues, they said, the waiters, porters, bartenders and landscapers who keep Strip area properties looking good and working right won't be able to afford to live near work -- hard for the many who walk or ride buses.

They already have lost one of their favorite bars.

"All the service people came over here when they got out of work," Hallett said. "There'd be a full bar every night, two people deep."

The barfly Hallett kidded earlier about the vodka finished his screwdriver and said he was going out for a while.

"But I'll be back," he shouted from the doorway of the Key Largo casino.

Outside in the parking lot, Kim Nielson held out a digital camera.

"Would you mind taking a picture of me?" he asked, moving into position in front of the neon Key Largo sign.

"I just wanted to come down here because this is one of the last old ones, I guess," the 7-year Las Vegas resident said. "I wanted to get a little piece of old Vegas."

He jingled a pocketful of the casino's dollar tokens, then pulled one out and showed the jumping marlin logo emblazoned on one side. He planned to send one to his mom up in Oregon.

"It's kind of sad, in a way," said Nielson, who just opened a mortgage broker's business. "But that's progress."