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.


  1. What a heartfelt and accurate account of the final morning, Mike. Thanks for including me in your article. I went to the liquidation sale and have several days worth of photos from the "catacombs" that I will eventually upload. BTW, I was present when the woman jumped to her death. She landed in the northwest corner of the main ground-level pool. It was very traumatic for all of us who were present.

    1. Some day I'll get around to editing and cleaning this up. Thanks for your feedback Sam, and the link to your photos. Lots of great stuff, and I didn't get through all of them yesterday.

  2. Your blog post really resonated with me. My husband and I stayed at the Riv in the late 1980's and still have exceedingly fond memories of it. We had heard stories of the supposed secret pool, but could not find it during our stay. The Riv will be sorely missed.

    Marci Deegan @ Twin Pine

    1. I had read about the pool years earlier, but never made it a point to see it. It's a funny story about Vegas excess, although not that amazing to see, yet I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by on the final day. It's not like I saw anything magical, yet I'm so glad I made it to the pool deck, and into the pool, before it all came crumbling down.

  3. It's truly unfortunate that they removed the Crazy girls bronze sculpture from the Riviera. The Las Vegas Strip ordinarily exudes such bright, tacky and electronic energy- the bronze sculpture reflected timelessness in both style and material composition. Vegas is quick to change themes, certain landmarks should be preserved- the Crazy Girls Riviera Statue was one of them.

    Nelson Myers @ Aquanetic Pools

    1. Although I haven't seen it for myself, the sculpture was moved to Planet Hollywood, where the show now resides. So it has been preserved. And even if the show had been shuttered with the closure of the Riv, somebody would have bought and preserved the sculpture, I am sure.

      But yeah, there aren't many places left with the character and design of the Riv. I miss the old girl, even if I rarely spent time there.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for this post, I truly enjoyed it. I love the history and nostalgia of the old casinos, and while I've only been there oncertainly back in 2011, I am so glad that I visited the Riviera. If I had known then that it would be my only chance to go there, I definitely would have explored more. Thanks again for this great post!
    Lisa from South Dakota

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Lisa.

      There was nothing spectacular about the Riv in its final decades. It was big, it had the old school look on the casino floor and it was fledgling in its last decade.

      What was once a vibrant, grand property had been reduced to a shell of its former self. Yes, they had shows, but their shows weren't spectacular in the final years. Yes, it had food, but nobody went out of their way to eat there. The buffet had closed years prior to the casino's shuttering, and they had a sad, depressing food court. There were one or two restaurants there that held their own at the end, but overall the casino wasn't much of a destination. The rooms were used because it was cheap and/or near the convention center.

      I'm glad you were able to see it once. You should have seen it circa 2000, when there was still atmosphere in the casino.