Sunday, April 26, 2015

Goodbye Riviera

I don't have a lot of great memories of the Riviera, or a lot of insight into how the iconic strip property evolved, and devolved, over the decades, but I do have a few memories of my time there.

My first trip to Vegas was in January 1997. I was on a charter package, and they were selling show tickets during the flight. My buddy and I bought two tickets to "Crazy Girls." It sounded like a lot of fun for a couple of 20-something guys. 

I don't remember much about the show all these years later, but I do remember that I wasn't blown away by the craziness, or the number of girls dancing up a storm. Was it topless? Hell if I remember. It was a small cast, that danced and did routines to music. It didn't leave me wanting to come back for more. 

Back in the days when there was pedestrian traffic at the north end of the strip, the Riviera had an area, almost separate from the casino if I recall correctly, for nickel slots and other low-rolling gamblers. It seemed to be a busy place, and it had a concession stand with cheap eats. I'm pretty sure the quality of the eats was in line with the price, but it seemed to be a good draw. I can't figure out why that wasn't worth maintaining during the Riv's declining years. 

When poker became all the rage about a decade ago there was a "poker room" in every casino. I played in a weekday morning tournament at the Riv several years ago. It drew but a few tables of players, at the most. I think it was 2007. It wasn't a bad draw for a weekday morning in January, all things considered. I didn't win any money. I might have foolishly folded a hand I should have called with. 

I stayed for two nights at the Riv about five years ago. I was planning a trip to Vegas and had two nights booked at Orleans. I wasn't sure where I was staying the rest of my trip. I ended up staying a third night at Orleans and then spending my final two nights at the Riv because I had learned of some online promotion offering two free nights, simply by signing up for them via the Riv's website. It was that simple. I booked those two nights about two weeks before my trip. That worked out nicely. 

My room wasn't bad, but it did show signs of its age. I don't remember what tower I was in, and I didn't ask for any special accommodations. Based upon that stay, I wasn't anxious to pay for a room at the Riv again any time soon, and I wasn't going to be comped a room by them, I was certain. I don't think I ended up gambling in their casino during my stay. 

I have visited the Riv a few times in recent years solely for the purpose of playing pinball. I loved having 24-hour access to pinball at the Riv, courtesy of the Pinball Hall of Fame. I didn't exploit that benefit enough, unfortunately. 

I ate a meal at the Riv's food court during a solo trip a few years ago. Damn depressing. Eating in a mostly empty food court is a depressing feeling. I wondered how any of those little restaurants made enough to pay the monthly bills. My theory was that their rent was free, as it was the only way the Riv could keep a food court open. 

Speaking of paying the rent, during that hotel stay about five years ago I walked around the back of the property and saw there were a few shops back there. A souvenir stand with sunscreen and other products you might need for an afternoon at the pool, that made sense. There was also a tattoo parlor, which claimed it is "world famous." Sure, they all are. 

Honestly, who seeks out a tattoo parlor in the back of the Riviera? How did they build enough of a business in such a lousy location to pay the rent? The economics of it made no sense to me.

A year or two ago I was in the Riv for an hour prior to heading home. It was a weekday afternoon, I think, but damn, the casino was quiet. There were but a few blackjack tables open, and they had $10 minimums. That seemed rather odd to me. 

The Riv has a lot of history, an old school vibe and once was an entertainment and vacation mecca. In recent years it became a cheap alternative for people who really wanted to stay on the strip or needed relatively easy access to the convention center. 

When word of its impending doom came earlier this year, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone who has been inside the joint in recent years. The writing was on the wall. 

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