Thursday, May 19, 2011 | midnight
I know what you want. You want a tour of the Strip. Am I right? No? Well, what if I told you this tour was different? See, this one doesn’t stop at CityCenter, Wynn or the Bellagio. This one stops at the other places. I’m not talking about Excalibur, Circus Circus or Imperial Palace. I’m talking about the other other places. The ones you walk past, time and time again, without ever really noticing.
Well, it’s time to take notice. It’s time to acknowledge the mom and pop snack shacks, the seedy tattoo parlors and the cheesy gift shops that most locals ignore as if they were Libertarian presidential candidates. If you’ve never stopped by these one-off businesses, you’re missing out. Not on anything profound, but on completeness. See, you can’t fully comprehend the Strip without understanding how tourists experience it. And they walk it. They walk by these odd businesses tucked in between the Strip’s marquee names every time they go out, and often they stop in and actually drop a couple bucks.
I know that because I’ve walked the Strip and seen it for myself. Yes, the whole Strip. At once. From Mandalay to Stratosphere—4.3 miles. And I want to tell you what I saw along the way. So if you’ve got a couple minutes to spare, let me take you on a tour of Las Vegas Boulevard’s forgotten haunts. It’s time to strap on a booze-filled plastic guitar, cake on the sunblock and hop aboard the double-decker tour bus. The next tour leaves now!
Stop 1: Laughing Jackalope Motel Bar & Grill
(South of Mandalay Bay)
It’s closed. The Strip-side entrance is padlocked, and the south-side entrance is guarded by a pile of dried-up vomit. Looks like the pile has been there a long while—the edges are white and dusty—and I doubt anyone’s going to clean it up anytime soon.
Through the tinted, partially boarded-up windows, I can make out a gutted bar, a dozen blackjack chairs and a painting of a Jackalope. He’s wearing a white tuxedo, smiling and saying, “From now on, you will have absolute good luck.”
Guess “you” didn’t include the Laughing Jackalope owners.
On to the next stop!
Stop 2: Motel 8
(North of the Laughing Jackalope)
Is this is a real hotel or a 1970s porn set? The circular pool, the teal gate, the (painted) red rocks, the “PLUNGE” sign—it could go either way.
“How much are rooms?” I ask Lowell, the man (porn actor?) working the front desk.
“$38.90-$52.90, depending on the night,” he says.
That’s higher than I would have guessed—no offense to Motel 8. All I’m saying is, for that kind of cash, I could buy two drinks at the Mandarin Oriental.
Lowell tells me he’s spent the past week watching a construction crew bulldoze the area by the neighboring Happi Inn. “It’s for that theme park they’re putting in.”
At the time of this writing, the Happi Inn marquee is still standing and still advertising “Direct Dial Phone.”
Anyone know what a direct dial phone is?
Stop 3: Grand Canyon Experience
(North of MGM Grand)
Blending the “Worlds Largest Gift Shop” on Sahara with Disney’s Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Grand Canyon Experience boasts two floors of Las Vegas shot glasses, Las Vegas ashtrays and Las Vegas mugs.
Well, technically they’re Chinese shot glasses, Chinese ashtrays and Chinese mugs that say “Las Vegas” on them, but you already knew that. Even the “Native American art” is made in China; the dreamcatchers not only say “Made in China” but also have tags that read, “This is not Indian made or Indian Products under 25 U.S.C. & 305 E.T. SEQ.”
If you want an authentic Vegas souvenir, marry a stripper and take her home.
Stop 4: Generic Food Court
(North of the Grand Canyon Experience)
The main attraction here isn’t the food. It’s not the Sbarro or the Del Taco or the Wendys or even the Panda Express. It’s David. He’s been sculpting caricature-style souvenir heads for 40 years. Thirty-nine dollars will get you a small, $69 a medium and $119 a large.
David sits in a chair and wears rubber gloves. He works with clay and pottery tools, holding the clay head in one hand and cutting away at it with the other.
“It takes me about 10 minutes,” David says, as he puts some finishing touches on his sculpture of one of two Canadian guys sitting before us.
“We came in here to use the bathroom,” one says, “but then we saw this, and we need something for our living room, so we went for it.”
They got off cheap; what if they’d stopped to use the bathroom at Crystals?
Stop 5: Hawaiian Marketplace
(Across from CityCenter)
… and speaking of Crystals: Right across the Boulevard, you’ll find the Hawaiian Marketplace. King Kamehameha presides over this bizarre bazaar of college logo wind chimes, paint-on pasties and sexist and racist T-shirts. Prominent display is given to the shirt featuring the Mexican stereotype (sombrero, moustache) saying “No Beer, No F**king Work!”, and the shirt saying, “I support single moms, one dollar at a time.”
Get it?! The guy wearing the shirt goes to strip clubs! He doesn’t give to charity at all!
On the north side of Marketplace, you’ll find the XTC Boutique, a store zoned in one of those areas that criminalized dresses that extend more than 3 inches below the butt (see also: Desert Inn and Industrial, the southwest corner of Twain and Valley View, Jet). These zoning regulations were implemented during Mayor Goodman’s “Let a drunk, horny tourist be mayor for a day” program.
The XTC Boutique is empty, but the rest of the Marketplace is scattered with tourists. Some were even buying. How many sales did I see? More than I’ve ever seen at Crystals.
Stop 6: City Tattoo
(South of Planet Hollywood)
This place can’t compete with Starlight or King Ink in the tattoo department, but when it comes to novelty T-shirts, it’s a contender. They’ve got three on display out front, including the aforementioned single mom supporter shirt—these things are everywhere; they must account for 6 percent of our city’s economy—and also the slightly more refined “I [Heart] to Fart” shirt.
“Does anyone actually buy the fart shirt?” I ask the girl behind the counter, assuming she’ll reply, “Not really, but it gives people a laugh and brings them into the shop.”
But I’m wrong.
“That’s our no. 1 bestseller,” she says. Then she shows me to the “I [Heart] to Fart” underwear rack.
“We sell a ton of these, too.”
Stop 7: Big Hurt’s Snack Shack
(Back of Carnival Court)
Me: “Why’s it called Big Hurt?”
Guy Behind The Counter: “That’s the last name of the owner.”
Me: “And just how big is Hurt?”
Me: “What’s the funniest thing that happens here?”
GBTC: “Every few weeks, somebody will pass out before we can get him his food. He’ll make his order, take three steps to the back window there and just pass out along the way.”
Me: “So you serve a lot of drunk people here?”
GBTC: (Rolling his eyes) “Uh, ya think?”
Stop 8: Guardian Angel Catholic Church
(North of Encore)
I’ve always thought the koi pond at Wynn was the biggest, quietest room on the Strip, but this place is.
Technically, the Guardian Angel Church is on Cathedral Road, but it’s just one-tenth of a mile off the Strip, so we’ll count it. It’s big (seats 1,000); it’s quiet (except for the seven weekend masses); and its stained glass windows are as pretty as anything you’ll find at CityCenter.
“The casinos know about us,” the gift shop worker says. “When you go to the front desk of whichever hotel you’re staying at, and you ask for a church, they send you here. We fill the house every week.”
Funny, I always thought people came to Vegas to get away from church.
Stop 9: Mystery Black Building
The marquee reads “All Inquiries.” And that’s the end of that sentence.
It also says, “Broker Participation Required” and “Parking in Rear,” but there’s nothing indicating what the property used to be.
The building has red awnings, chipped paint and sparse rooms filled with piles of papers and empty McDonalds cups.
Somebody needs to turn this building into a strip club, stat!
Last stop ahead!
Stop 10: Aztec Inn Casino
(South of Stratosphere)
This place is the size of my condo, but it has everything: slots, a buffet, a business center (complete with printer!) and a stage show. Yes, the stage show is just a big TV sitting on a stage, but it’s free, so don’t complain. And don’t complain about the dry carrots in the buffet, either. It’s $5.99, what’d you expect?
Well, folks, that concludes our tour of Las Vegas Boulevard’s D-list. Next time you’re walking to the Cosmopolitan or Venetian, why not stop to take in the view? The Strip moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and buy a fart shirt or two, you could miss it.
Now get off the bus. We’ve got another group waiting.