Downtown Vegas is ‘old Vegas’ and it shows. The hotels are all relatively run-down (with the possible exception of the Nugget) and they cater to a much older clientele. Even the Nugget, which has one of the coolest pool scenes (with a heated waterfall and an aquarium built into the center of the pool) I’ve ever seen, still feels old. The ‘old feel’ started in The Plaza parking garage. It’s terribly laid out and can’t fit more than one car in a lane. Still, it had spots open and I left my car on the fourth level and took an antiquated elevator to the casino floor. The Plaza poker room was empty when I got there. It had only 6 tables in the room, two of which where dedicated to a game called Kondition. I asked the room manager for the rules and he handed me a sheet filled with strange ‘melds’ and other combinatorial rules that would have given Einstein a headache. “If you don’t know how to play,” he said, “this game isn’t for you”. I once had a dealer tell me exactly the same thing about Pai-Gow Tiles. Actually, the Pai-Gow dealer told me the game was only for Asians. Racist bastard.
So I bought two chips from the Plaza, booking it as an official visit, and went off to find an actual running game at the Golden Nugget. Just an aside, I know I’ve already stated that an official ‘visit’ to a poker room would consist of a rotation of the button at a raked game, but I’ve amended my own rules due to recent experience. So, henceforth, a visit will consist of either a tournament entry, a rotation of the button at a raked game, or the purchase of a casino chip. The last item will only count if there are no seats available at the time and it looks like it might take a while, or if the room is closed and/or empty with no games running.
The Nugget is the nicest poker room in the Downtown area. It is very elegant, like the casino itself. I use the word elegant because that hopefully conveys something about age. The Nugget is old and while it has aged gracefully, it is still old. It’s tasteful though. The ten tables at the Nugget are crammed into a small room but everything is nicely done and all ten tables were hopping when I got there. I got onto a 4-8 table and did well for a few hours before deciding to hit the other rooms. I made a quick trip to El Cortez, but I didn’t stay long because the one table (out of 3) that they had going was full. And they were only playing 2-4. This is a really bad room. So I made my way over to Fitzgeralds, which was the last poker room downtown I hadn’t been at. The casino is on Fremont Street and I walked past a stage where they were setting up live music for the evening’s festivities. Some musicians were on stage in heavy coats doing a sound check and I looked at the drum kit and Holy Shit it was the Doobie Brothers! I watched them for a few minutes, warming up and checking mic levels. They are old, by the way, but they’re great musicians. Walking another two blocks down, I saw another stage where The Bangles were also warming up. Let me tell you, they have aged REALLY well. Susanna Hoffs is still a hottie. I was about 10 feet away from them as they played a few chords and checked their instruments, warming up their pretty hands by blowing into them. I wanted to shout out “Susanna, I love you!” or “More Ming Tea” (obscure reference, look it up), but I kept quiet because I’m a New Yorker and we don’t indulge in celebrity worship (on the outside). I finally got to Fitzgeralds where I played for a bit and chatted with some of the locals. It was about 4:30 when I asked about the bands and someone mentioned that you have to have a ticket to get out onto Fremont Street that night. Really? Whoops. I ran out to find the ticket booth and dropped sixty bucks to get a wristband that would allow me to get in and out of Fremont street at my leisure. Good thing too, because I heard that at 6:00, the cops came and barricaded the entrances to all the casinos and cleared Fremont Street. If you wanted to leave or enter the casinos, you had to do it from the back entrance. Some hardcore players told me they spent the sixty bucks just so they could go casino hopping without taking the long way around! At around 8:30, I cashed out and went outside to gather in front of The Bangles stage for their 9:00PM appearance.
At 9:00 PM, all of the casino lights went out, and the Fremont Street Experience began! The overhead show was spectacular and then the lights came up with a flash as The Bangles opened up the show with “Hazy Shade of Winter”. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder and screaming with excitement, alcohol induced hazes adding to the psychedelic Paul Simon lyrics. They followed up with a few other hits, including “Manic Monday” before closing out the show with “Walk Like and Egyptian”. The girls were in great form and they seemed to be having a lot of fun, despite being dressed up like they were in Russia. It was cold in the desert, my friends. Then the crowd moved over to the Doobie Brothers stage where they started belting out the tunes as well. Right around the first strains of “Black Water”, I started to get chilly and I found refuge inside of Binions. It was 10:00 PM and it was time to ring in the New Year where I belonged, at a poker table. Binions was spreading a few games with and I played 4-8. The staff was into the spirit of the moment at they gave out New Year’s hats to all of the players along with complimentary champagne. I was up 90 mobneys after taking a few pots off an old fellow from Georgia who had wanted to play 8-16, but could only find 4-8, so he decided to raise every PF hand blind! Lol! I took a nice picture of my chips with a new card protector I bought and the glass of champagne (I’ll provide links later). The card protector I’m really happy with. It’s a lighter shaped like the “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that light up when you flick the lighter. It’s gooot! At 11:55pm, I cashed out and ran outside to make sure I was on Fremont Street for the stroke of midnight. The clock counted down on the Fremont ceiling all the way down to zero and everyone shouted and kissed and a rain of confetti came down on the crowd. It was at this time that I felt very very lonely. Seeing the crowds of drunken tourists groping each other for a midnight kiss made me miss E very much. It also reminded me that this was now the second year in a row that I hadn’t been kissed on midnight at New Year’s, after a proud 16 year streak. Never again, I vowed, and I put it behind me. I was busy documenting the whole experience with camera shots when the confetti stopped and everybody started to either file back into the casinos or listen to the great cover band that was playing. I walked into a little casino, a New Year’s hat on my head, to kill twenty minutes rolling the dice at craps. I rolled 3 points in a row! Woohoo!!! At 12:30, I go back out for the best show of the night, the 12:30 fireworks show at The Plaza rooftop. The fireworks were synchronized to music that was blasting out of the speakers on Fremont and it was great. The whole crowd was pumped up, despite freezing our asses off and it was a great time I won’t soon forget. As the fireworks exploded overhead, it made me think of all the great memories of the year and how much more there is to experience in this world.
I aim to see it all.