Wednesday, April 29, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Along the bejeweled Strip, casinos have always been a model’s runway of sorts, each newcomer sleeker and more glamorous than the last.
But pity those growing old in this place with a neurosis for reinvention. Start showing your age — a sag here or there, a few crow’s feet around the eyes — and in comes the wrecking ball, the dynamite and the inevitable implosion.
So it will be for one of the oldest dames of the bunch, the Riviera, now 60. This once-top-strutting casino opened April 20, 1955, with Joan Crawford as master of ceremonies and Liberace making an unthinkable $50,000 a week.
For decades, it hosted the Rat Pack and a signature line of stellar entertainers that included Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Woody Allen, Jonathan Winters, Orson Welles, Barbra Streisand and the Smothers Brothers.
The Riviera will close Monday, its demise another nail in the coffin of old Vegas. The casino will be imploded to make way for a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority complex.
But Saturday night, a group of entertainers threw the old girl, and themselves, one last bash. Singer George Buggati led an ensemble that reprised the music that will soon fall silent here. If you blinked, you’d be back in the day when Herb Alpert and Diana Ross worked the microphone.
Bugatti, who has been likened to a cross between Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr., worked his way through several Sinatra covers, stopping to tell the tale of a song — when it was played here, the back story to the music.
The band moved through numbers by Burt Bacharach, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tony Bennett. Barry Manilow. Judy Garland. The Righteous Brothers. More Sinatra.
People of a certain age made up the audience. Some of them looked old enough to have attended the Riveria’s first show.
Even the bar prices were old school. The tab for two bottles of beer and a Crown Royal whiskey was eight bucks — the price of a Coke at the newer, trendier places.
A few luminaries returned to say goodbye. There was comedian Marty Allen, now 93, who once played here as part of the comedy duo of Allen and Rossi. From his front-row seat, Allen contributed a few jokes, including one that alluded to the new Las Vegas and this weekend’s mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
“My driver made a mistake,” Allen said. “He took me to the wrong hotel. I’m supposed to be at the MGM taking pictures with Floyd Mayweather.”
Singer Nelson Sardelli was there.
So was tenor saxophonist Sam Arlen, whose father, Harold, wrote the classic song “Over the Rainbow.”
Arlen told the story of how the makers of “The Wizard of Oz” wanted to take the song out of the movie because it slowed the action.
Late in the evening, singer Denise Rose took the stage. Elegant and petite, she belted out a few Garland standards as Arlen played saxophone backup — including the song his father wrote and loved.
Rose took her bows to a rousing ovation, and for a moment it felt like the Riviera of old.
Outside the cabaret now called Le Bistro Lounge, however, the Riviera looked seedy, its decor suggesting that Jimmy Carter was still in the White House: pinball machines, worn carpet, old men in wheelchairs and oxygen masks joylessly playing the slot machines.
“It’s tough to see this place go,” drummer Gary Olds said during a break. “There’s no longer any place on the Strip for this kind of music. We’re losing our collective memory.”
Olds, who is in his 50s, lamented that 11 Vegas hotels where he has played have been imploded. The Riviera will be the latest, he said, but not the last.
Actor Adrian Zmed sang the blues about the Riviera’s downfall. He told the crowd he recently used the hotel to shoot several episodes of a TV pilot about four gamblers who live in a suite at the Riviera.
“I guess I’m going to have to find a new casino,” he said.
One audience member suggested taking the long view. “This town just keeps reinventing itself,” he said over a martini. “It’s funny to think that one day we’ll be having the last night at the Bellagio. That night will come.”
With its glass, star-lit exterior, visitors can't miss the Riviera when driving down the Strip. As the first high-rise to open on the Las Vegas Strip, featuring a nine-story hotel, the Riviera has seen more than 50 years as an entertainment destination in Las Vegas. Top bill acts like Liberace, Dean Martin and the long-running Splash revue (closed in 2006) have graced its showrooms over time.
The Riviera still offers its share of entertainment options with topless revue "Crazy Girls," a comedy club and "Illusions," starring Jan Rouven.
The 100,000-square foot casino has been featured in many films like "Casino," "Austin Powers" and "21." Although the hotel has passed through a long list of owners over the years it has always held on to it's unique theme (for Las Vegas) in that it lacks any particular theme. It also features a William Hill Race & Sports Book walk-up betting window right off the sidewalk on the Strip.
The Riviera has dining options well covered, from seafood and steaks at R Steak and Seafood, a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare at Banana Leaf Café to an international cuisine at the R Buffet.