Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Can we have a jazz funeral for La Bayou?

It's not quite as big of a deal as the closing of Riviera, or even the Las Vegas Club, yet somehow it feels like it to me.

I hadn't planned to take a four-month sabattical from this blog – and I have no shortage of ideas I'd like to write about – but here I am, shortly before 1 a.m. here in Minnesota typing my first entry in months, and it's about the closing of three insignificant properties under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience.

I just stumbled upon the news moments ago, courtesy of Vital Vegas, one of my regular go-to sources for Vegas information. Within the past hour the Vital Vegas guru, who by day works for the Fremont Street Experience, reported that Derek Stevens, the face of The D and Golden Gate casinos, has purchased three downtown businesses, and presumably the property upon which they sit. Stevens and his brother, who seems to shun the limelight, are the owners of Mermaids and La Bayou, two slots only game rooms, and Glitter Gulch, the downtown strip club.

As Vital Vegas nicely explains, these businesses – which I presume have been under the same ownership prior to Stevens' purchase – are strategically beneficial to the growing Stevens empire. La Bayou is adjacent to Golden Gate, the smaller casino owned by the brothers Stevens, and Mermaids and Glitter Gulch are next to the shuttered Las Vegas Club, which the Stevens own and plan to redevelop.

The Stevens boys run excellent casinos, and their acquisition of the sickly Vegas Club ensures they'll turn the tired old property into a successful downtown hotspot when all is said and done. The acquisition of the small casinos and the strip club will help them grow the Golden Gate and presumably create a much larger frontage for the new Vegas Club development.

And yet I'm saddened by this.

There was nothing extraordinary about La Bayou or Mermaids. I'm pretty sure both have been re-imagined since my first visit downtown more than 19 years ago. La Bayou is smaller than some of the gift shops on Fremont Street, and I don't go there to gamble. But it has a fun, colorful theme and sells all those fancy daiquiris that people covet when in New Orleans.

Mermaids has a larger gaming floor, comparable to the larger gift shops on Fremont, and its quirky draw is it weird, cheap food.

Years ago I could find all sorts of odd, cheap eats along the strip. The days of the half-pound hot dog and cheap strawberry shortcake seem to be over. Mermaids offered a few wacky, relatively cheap eats that were fun to indulge in when you were in Vegas. And I enjoyed its colorful facade.

According to Vital Vegas it is expected both of those game rooms, and the strip club, will be out of business in about two months.

I've wondered why there's a strip club on Fremont, and only one. I suspect that its existence is a result of some quirky legal manuever in the past that grandfathered it in, but I've never asked. I won't miss it, but I always appreciated the "Golden Goose" and "Glitter Gulch" neon signs above the building.

Change is constant in Vegas, and I've seen plenty of it in the Fremont area over the years. A lot of it has been for the better, no doubt. But losing a few unique, small businesses saddens me. I liked the colorful diversity of those little businesses. Yeah, there are a million slot machines in the greater Vegas area, and plenty downtown, but when the property acquired by the Stevens' is absorbed by their larger holdings, we'll likely never see cute little game rooms juxtaposed with big downtown casinos ever again.

We bemoan the loss of local, independent, mom-and-pop businesses in towns across America. When Walmart moves into an area, there's a certain amount of dread that comes with it, because the mighty retailer will put nails in the coffins of at least a few local businesses.

Nobody would compare the Stevens to the Waltons, but the Stevens empire is having a similar affect upon the Fremont district, even if the Stevens are building Targets instead of Walmarts.

The three shuttering businesses may not evoke the same emotion as the Riviera's closing did a year ago, but their existence were the last connections we had to the smaller, simpler casinos of yesteryear.

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