Dan Savage once famously decided not to answer his regular string of profane letters in his advice column, interrupting them to ramble on about his recent vacation to Las Vegas. I have every intention of doing the same.
OK, no, not really. While the magic of the internet has allowed me to fool you all into thinking I wasn’t away, I actually spent the last week in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, vacationing in America’s city of sin. While my vacations would not normally be topic du jour here at Labelscar, I found more than enough in Las Vegas to bother mentioning to all of you–even those (all?) of you who’ve been before.
“The Strip,” which runs along Las Vegas Boulevard south from downtown Las Vegas for approximately 8 miles, is perhaps America’s greatest suburban retail strip. What’s that–this isn’t suburban, you say? Actually, it is: the core of the strip itself–everything south of Sahara Avenue–is in fact located in the unincorporated town of Paradise, not in Las Vegas at all! And despite that The Strip is known for its over-the-top theme casinos and gambling, it’s also home to no less than five enclosed shopping malls–and that’s not even including some of the smaller collections of shops located in some of the hotel lobbies, or two more enclosed shopping malls currently under construction on the same stretch of road.
Of these malls, most are attached to a theme casino–there is the Shops at Desert Passage, which is part of the Aladdin (and is slated for a major makeover soon, to be turned into the LA-themed “Miracle Mile” when the Aladdin is transformed into the Planet Hollywood hotel and casino), the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace (Roman-themed), and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian (Venetian-themed, obviously). On top of that, there’s also The Showcase by MGM Grand and the massive Fashion Show Mall, the largest mall in the Las Vegas metropolitan area and a more “traditional” mall in style and design, anchored by Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Robinson’s-May, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s Home, and Dillard’s. The Fashion Show Mall’s dramatic, futuristic facade and sharp break in decor and layout mid-mall–which suggests to me that it was doubled in size at some point, though I have no proof of this–made it into a true find by any stretch.
What’s even better is that the casinos themselves offer the same kind of thrills you can pull from dead mall hunting. Because Las Vegas is a city that seems to almost have a vendetta against history, denizens are quick to implode anything showing even the slightest bit of decay. That means that Las Vegas Boulevard is a surprisingly dynamic stretch of roadway, changing frequently and offering a great many see-them-before-they’re gone sights along the way. Many of the street’s most famous hotels–the original Flamingo, The Hacienda, The Sands, The Boardwalk–are already gone, and more (Stardust is next on the block, and rumors circulate about the aging Tropicana almost constantly. Even the relatively modern Flamingo-where I stayed–is often cited as being an implosion possibility) may not be long for this world. The adventurous traveler may find some real thrills by traveling off strip–and particularly downtown–to see some of the older and shabbier casinos about town. I made a trip to both The Western and The Gold Spike, two of the most notorious joints in town, simply to soak up some color. Surprisingly, neither was as threadbare as some malls I’ve seen, though both had more “characters.” Some other divey casinos, such as the Key Largo and the Bourbon Street, have bit the dust recently. If you go, be sure to visit some of the older casinos downtown, and for a bit of vintage Vegas, you can’t do wrong with a real fan favorite–the Barbary Coast. This small, classic casino is dwarfed by the big boys in its center-strip location, but it’s well-maintained and offers cheaper tables and more vintage flavor, making it a prime stop for the modern commercial architecture enthusiast.
You can read more about the casinos in Las Vegas from CheapoVegas, which is one of my new favorite websites. They review casinos with the kind of sharp pithiniess that I wish I could only muster for malls. Similarly, check out these photos of the strip’s historic casino properties, and swing by Casino Death Watch, a site that tracks news and history surrounding casinos that die or get blown to bits.
Unlike most Vegas tourists, however, I traveled off the strip–and how could I not!?–to check out the rest of the enclosed malls in Las Vegas. There are only four others (and one of these four is an outlet mall) and only one is truly remarkable, but they’ll all be showing up here in the very near future. Without further ado, here are the on-strip malls:
Grand Canal Shoppes (Venetian)
Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace
Shops at Desert Passage (Aladdin)
Fashion Show Mall