Thursday, June 18, 2015

Monday night at The Linq

Hours after the Riviera closed its doors last month I was making my first visit to the retail and entertainment mecca known as The Linq.

I don't spend a lot of time on the strip these days. I went to see "La Reve – The Dream" at Wynn last November, and we stayed two nights at the Stratosphere (which I'll never do again), which included a viewing of "Pin Up" (which was better than I expected). Thanks to my girlfriend I've found my way to the strip a few times the past couple of years for things I wouldn't do if I were traveling solo.

The Linq had never been on my "must see" list, and despite my girlfriend's fear of heights, she was fascinated by the High Roller last November, so we made a pilgrimage to the big wheel.

But first we stopped off at Brooklyn Bowl. OK, that was at least second. We stopped off at some fun, interesting retail store, the name of which I don't remember. It had cool stuff, and it had a book I was interested in, but I wasn't going to carry it around all night, so I didn't buy it.

We went to Brooklyn Bowl because my girlfriend wanted to see something resembling live entertainment on this trip, and we didn't make it a priority in May given we went to three shows during three nights last November. (The third being Gordie Brown at the Golden Nugget. Not good. The tickets were comps and I still wanted my money back.)

Our compromise was to go to a show at Brooklyn Bowl. On Monday night, the night before Cinco de Mayo, we went to see Mariachi El Bronx.

It's what you think it is. It's mariachi music.

This seems like an odd fit for a live music venue that sells itself as a punk music haven. Why a bowling alley is attractive to the punk music lovers of America I don't know, but that's what they're going for.

Brooklyn Bowl is a second floor venue, featuring 10 or so bowling lanes and a big open floor in front of a stage. If you bowl during a concert your back is to the music, but they have live video of it on big screens above the pins. It seems like a fun way to bowl. I'm guessing they play music videos on those screens during the daytime hours.

From what I could tell, the bowling ain't exactly cheap at Brooklyn Bowl. You rent a lane by the hour, and I think the range was $20-25 per hour, depending upon when you're bowling. Live music in the house, it costs more to bowl, evidently. Perhaps the rate is no worse than four individual games at a premium price, I don't know, I'm not a bowler.

Overall I still find the merger of bowling and punk music to be odd.

As for the non-punk band playing that night, it turns out that Mariachi El Bronx is a band that developed from a punk band called The Bronx, so says Wikipedia. From what I can tell, it's basically an alter ego of the punk band, and it seems like the mariachi version of The Bronx is doing pretty well, and keeping pretty busy. MEB has performed on "The Late Show with David Letterman," and the lead singer spoke about having recently toured somewhere overseas.

Now that I know that MEB is an alter ego of a punk band, (I didn't that night,) the lead singer's comment made sense. He said something about people calling them posers, and scoffed at it. Other than the fact much of the band is white guys (and a white woman), I didn't think it was fraudulent. They seemed to do a good job playing mariachi music, although what do I know about that?

They played for a little over an hour, and the small crowd there that night seemed to be into it. Some folks looked like they were there for a punk rock concert. And there were some elders in the audience. Plenty of people were younger than me, but I didn't look like an old guy trying to fit in with youngsters. It was quite a mix of people. I'd estimate the crowd at somewhere south of 300.

The show ended and it was time to go to the High Roller. The giant Ferris wheel takes you 550 feet in the air. Unlike a Ferris wheel, however, you're not in an open-air cabin. It's enclosed, and they have a video narration playing inside as you make your revolution.

This giant wheel is set at the back side of The Linq. It offers views up and down the strip, although they're not the best views. At night the wheel lights up and changes colors.

The High Roller is a major attraction, but it's not doing the numbers that the Caesar's empire envisioned. Since opening more than a year ago they've run countless deals trying to pack up to 40 people in the cabins. (They claim the capacity is 40, but there's no way 40 people can stand around inside a cabin and enjoy the rotation.)

Among the deals have been ticket discounts through the daily deal sites, and I procured a pair of tickets that way. Two nighttime tickets were less than $60. (Nighttime tickets are more expensive.) And our tickets were for the booze cruise.

After the High Roller showed signs of underperforming, the geniuses running it decided to start offering cocktails on a portion of the cabins. There's a bar with a limited selection of canned beverages and a bartender that will mix drinks with the limited inventory of available liquors. You can drink as many as you can get your hands on during your 30-minute loop through the sky.

We had about a dozen people in our cabin, and once everybody had a drink, you didn't have to wait long for your next one. Our bartender was sharp, she would remember each person's drink of choice. I knocked off six or seven mixed drinks, mostly Malibu sunrise, during the rotation. I think I took a can of beer for the road.

Booze and a 30-minute spin 550 feet into the sky for less than $30 per person, I have no complaints. That's not something you can do many places. I won't make it a priority to return during my next trip, but if there's a discounted ticket to be had....

As for The Linq, I didn't hit up any of bars, restaurants or other gimmicky places. Most of our time was spent at Brooklyn Bowl and at the High Roller. I should have set foot in O'Sheas to see what they're passing off in the name of the former low-roller casino that was closed down three years earlier to make way for The Linq.

I'm not in a hurry to return to The Linq, but you never know who will be rocking the maracas the next time I'm in Vegas.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

One last morning at the Riviera

Count me among those who was there when the celebrated Riviera casino and hotel closed its doors at noon Monday, May 4.

I showed up about 10 a.m. that morning, which was later than I wanted to arrive. Breakfast was too important to skip before heading over.

I parked in the ramp once again and noticed several people lined up to check out. I guess some people still do that.

It appeared that the main restaurant(s) in the casino were serving that morning. I was quite surprised, however, to find that the table games were all closed. I wanted to play a little blackjack that morning, but it wasn't in the cards. As a result, the automated craps machine was seeing more action than any weekday morning in years.

My first order of business was to connect with Sam. Sam stayed at the Riv during its final night. He does not live in Nevada, but he visits Vegas regularly, more so than I realized. I had only known him through his photos and, more recently, writing. He has shared a variety of great photos over the years, and now pens a few stories for Vegas Chatter. I had corresponded with him a bit prior to May 4, and he suggested contacting him when I arrived that morning.

As we were talking near the bar a few people he knew passed by and stopped to greet him, both local and out-of-towners, if I recall correctly. After a few minutes the group was ready to move on, as they planned to visit the "secret pool" above the casino. It was my mission to visit this pool area, and I mentioned to Sam I was going to tag along with the group. He agreed not only to join us, but took us up by the elevator that dumps you out right on the pool deck.

The secret pool was a separate pool area designed in the 1980s, but never used as a pool, as it had a structural flaw that resulted in it leaking into the casino when they attempted to fill it. Why they were unable to correct this flaw is unclear, but Sam knows a lot about the pool's history, and he shared it not so long ago on Vegas Chatter.

We took pictures of each other in the empty pool and talked for 15-20 minutes while standing around in the pleasant Vegas air. A few of us picked up a loose pool tile from the empty pool to take home as a souvenir. I had to have one. It's an odd Riviera souvenir, and one not many people own, I suspect.

I wish I had taken pictures of the pool from different angles. Sam's article shows the pool from several angles. Why I didn't take similar pictures I can't explain.

Eventually our group disbanded and Sam headed back to his room to pack up. I went back to the casino floor and walked around, waiting far too long for a $2 bottle of whatever beer they had left at the bar.

Outside the casino a crew was removing the "Crazy Girls" bronze sculpture prior to the casino closing. A bunch of people, as well as local TV crews, took photos and video of its removal from the casino wall. It was said this bronze sculpture weighed hundreds of pounds. I don't doubt it, as it took several men to transfer the sculpture to a trailer.

I watched TV reporters interview folks gathered outside the Riv that morning, or do live reports for their midday newscasts. I would have made a great interview, I'm sure, but nobody asked me for an interview. Their loss.

Inside the casino the food court was quiet. None of the restaurants were open that morning. I walked by the main pool and workers were putting up a fence around its perimeter. My theory is that they didn't want a group of protestors jumping in at noon when they were told the casino was closed. For some reason there were several $1 bills on the bottom of the pool in the 9-feet-deep end. Remember the glory days of hotel pools, when you could dive into a deep end. The old Frontier had a pool that was 12 feet deep on one end, if I recall correctly. There might still be one of those old, deep pools around, but I wouldn't know where.

A couple of the shops in the back of the Riv had merchandise on sale, but they weren't really trying to liquidate the inventory. I'm guessing the inventory was going to be packed up and sold elsewhere.

I'm not a very bold person, but I did venture up an escalator in the back of the property. The escalator was not running, and clearly it hadn't run in quite some time, as there was visible dust on the steps. Up at the top I found myself looking at the Riv's old buffet. I knew it had a buffet, and from what I had heard in recent years, it wasn't very good.

I stood at the front counter and surveyed the area. It looked like it had only been recently shut down. Chairs were sitting upside down on top of tables, the buffet stations looked clean and ready to be put to use and there were a few empty pans sitting in a stack. I'm pretty sure the buffet had been closed for a few years, but you'd think they had just shut it down a month before closing the casino. Had I been adventurous I would have walked back into the kitchen. I wouldn't have seen anything fascinating, I'm sure, I've been inside commercial kitchens. But I probably would have found  a lot of kitchen equipment still inside. I'm guessing the pots, pans, plates, utensils, as well as stoves, blenders and refrigerators were all still sitting there. I'll never know for sure.

I wouldn't be surprised, either, if the phone at the front counter was still operational.

I returned to the main casino for the closing, and the first announcement that the casino would close came five minutes before noon. Then another came at noon. Some folks, clearly longtime and former employees, had gathered together. There were a few cheers and hugs at noon.

Since the table games were closed, people decided to stand inside the pit and pose for a picture, as if they were the dealer. The craps machine was full of players, and a few minutes after noon a casino manager told the players that they had to cash out when the game "sevened out." I didn't stick around to see the game end.

As I slowly made my way toward the back of the property I watched as maintenance personnel began shutting off slot and video poker machines, and I passed a few people still feeding credits into operating machines. It was 10 or 12 minutes past noon as I was finally exiting the casino area, and there were a handful of players who had not yet been chased off their machine. I get not wanting to give up a hot machine, or knowing that your machine is just about to finally pay off, but to sit there trying to feed the machines minutes after the casino is closing seems a bit ridiculous.

Security personnel were locking the front doors at noon. They flushed everyone out the back of the building, where there was a long line waiting for cabs. I guess nobody planned for a mass exodus at noon, as there was a shortage of cabs to meet the demand.

Before I left I picked up some $1 and $5 casino chips from the cage. I needed just one $1 chip, but my friends wanted a $20 mix of chips, so I walked out with $21 of unredeemed chips.

I was a bit disappointed overall by the final morning at the Riv. I had been at the closing of O'Sheas three years earlier and it was quite a festive atmosphere. In discussing my observations with one of Sam's acquaintances a plausible theory emerged. When O'Sheas closed, it was with the intention of recreating it as part of the Linq development, and the casino was part of the Caesar's portfolio, a major, albeit debt-ridden, casino conglomerate. The Riv, conversely, wasn't part of a major chain, and its ownership was merely cashing out. Although it could have wrung several thousands of dollars out of the casino prior to closing, all that extra revenue was merely drops on the $190 million bucket, and therefore not worth a lot of effort.

Since the Riv was a bit isolated from the rest of the strip, it didn't have the same volume of traffic walking by its doors on closing day. O'Sheas, however, had plenty of foot traffic at center strip when it closed.

Although a bit disappointed by the overall party atmosphere, and the lack thereof, I still enjoyed my time, and am glad I planned a trip that allowed me to be there for the final hours of the Riv.

A few parting shots:

• The Riviera's once-active Twitter account is locked and dormant. Not really a surprise.

• About 10 days after it closed, a liquidator started selling off the contents of the Riv. Most reports are that the stuff is priced too high, although plenty of stuff has been sold. I wouldn't have expected the sale to last into June, but last I heard, it's still open.

The sale has provided access to all sorts of areas the common man never sees, from penthouse rooms to behind-the-scenes areas. Photos posted online show all sorts of interesting areas of the casino. Some, such as offices, looked like they had been abandoned in haste. Stacks of old documentation appear to be left sitting anywhere and everywhere.

While it was fun to be there for the Riv's closing, at this point I think I'd trade the experience for a chance to walk the hallways of the old building today.

If you're interested in some great pics of the abandoned Riv, check out the Twitter feed of @_Lucky45.

• As has been reported, a 48-year-old woman took advantage of the liquidation sale to commit suicide by jumping off of one of the towers. She landed near a pool, although it's not clear to me which pool it was. And it doesn't matter. It's always sad to hear stories like that, and it's an unfortunate footnote to the closing of the Riv.

• I tweeted several pics that morning, and some day I'll upload them to some online platform. I wasn't sure how many people would notice, or care, but it was nice to know that my work was followed/appreciated by a few people, particularly @VertigoDragon, who retweeted many of my pics. Thanks for sharing my labor of love.