Hunter S. Thompson went here on his “savage journey into the heart of the American dream.” And why not? Bob Hope made it a high-class refuge for big spenders, Frank and Sammy and Deano’s presence defined Rat Pack cool, and Elvis made it the King of Kitch. When words fail to define a place, you simply must redefine.
Las Vegas was incorporated in 1905, but that hardly matters. Nevada legalized casino gambling in 1931, swinging open the saloon doors of the Pair-o-Dice casino. In that dusty gambler’s den lay the seed of something else entirely. Ten years later the first “Resort” casino, El Rancho Vegas, made it a place to see. But it was Bugsy Siegal’s 1946 vision of the best food, drink and entertainment in his art deco folly, the Flamingo, where “Vegas” was born. This wild and wooly desert oasis quickly became the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Existing vocabulary has always come up short here, so it reinvents itself. Now the high-end joints are now luxury defined, and as always, it’s hip. And never understated – there aren’t many rules out here, but that’s one of them. Newer resorts like the Venetian and its canals; the Bellagio and its dazzling fountain shows; and the Wynn’s shows and master classes all push that improbable vision of ‘only the best’ to flashing heights with the shopping, the fine dining, the art galleries and the shows.
There is more to life than gambling, though, even here. Head down to Caesar’s LINQ Promenade– an outdoor venue of retail, restaurants and music venues. There you can ride the 550-foot observation wheel – currently the tallest in the world – for a breath-taking view that takes in all of the Las Vegas Valley.
If on your descent, you find that the lights the bells and the money – the slick magic that has made Vegas what it is - is too much, take the 17 mile drive out to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for an unspoiled, neon-free stretch of beautiful solitude in the Mojave Desert.
Las Vegas is both experimental and historic – a town that never plays the hand it was dealt last night. If it seems out of place remember the words of the good Dr. Thompson about his spirited, iconic assignment here: “It was a gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country -- but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that!”