The first time I walked into the Riviera sometime around 1992 it was a hustling bustling beehive of activity, packed to the gills _ the little casino that could surrounded by old school casinos it was destined to outlive with names like Syardust and Westward Ho. Everybody who was anybody played at the little casino that could at one time or another. The Riv was old school and made no apologies. It wasn’t a giant work of abstract art, a pirate theme park or a shopping mall with slot machines. The Riv was a casino..It was old school and offered no apologies.
Signs are a part of the Sin City landscape. This one sits on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd directing gamblers to various useful things like parking – photo Royal Hopper
My mother worked at the Riviera briefly some 24 or so years ago for reasons that are best left to another day when we are both a little more tolerant of drama and tears. I went there when I was bored and didn’t have a date. To show you what nerd I was I went to play video games and eat at the all night Burger King and drop a roll of quarters on the Quarter mania machine.
I saw my first and only burlesque show there. I was heckled for the first time by a sarcastic comedian at The Riviera Comedy Club. I have never been to another comedy club or female impersonator show and likely never will. Old school shows are not my thing but I will never forget those dates..
There was something about the little casino that could back then. It had been punching above it weight for years. It was packed every night, a fun place to go to even if it was just to drop a few quarters in the Terminator video game or take a chance at Quarter Mania slots. Twenty years later I was working there and the four years I spent are something I will never forget.
The good old days are going fast
By Royal Hopper
Crazy Girls – Royal Hopper
When I first walked into the employee entrance of the Riviera as an employee 20 years after my first visit as a customer the first thing I noticed was the old Faux Southwest design on the walls of the narrow cinder block back hallways. The design looked like it had been pulled right out of a 1950s design catalogue for dyslexic alcoholic art students.
There were layers of white paint in these back hallways a were seemingly a quarter inch thick in spots. The paint no doubt intended to cover the smell of 56 years of cigarette smoke _ layers on layers of cigarette smoke, and something else that tickled the nose and made you pause. As a native of the Texas Gulf coast I knew that smell. It was mold.
Mold takes a long time to grow in the desert but when it sets in it is hard to get rid of and never completely leaves. It was glorious in a way _ the place was battle scarred like the moldy smell of your favorite ancient aunt who baked you cookies while she told you about her days as a flower child or your least favorite battle scarred uncle who told war stories to anyone who would listen with the kind of honesty lacking in today’s fairy tale world.
Inside the Riv – Royal Hopper
As you walk into the casino you notice the low ceilings creating a sense of intimacy and showing off the acoustic tiles lining the ceiling _ the same acoustic tiles once a common feature of Junior High libraries all over the world and the usual assortment of feaux gold and brass fittings.
Don’t get me wrong I loved this place but much like that old aunt who hung bright red curtains and pots of lavender on the windows to keep away the moldy smell of their ancient house from your youthful nose somebody had forgotten to put make up on the little casino that could and it showed. Somebody had forgotten to hang the curtains and restock the lavender for a long time and brother it showed.
I used to walk through the Versaille Theater while on patrol there as a security guard as part of my patrol through the casino. It had been closed for years and was full of dust _ books left open where they had been set, performers lunches half eaten, props from the last show that played there packed up and left on the counters where they were stored a roll of toilet paper on a table for so long that it had turned bright red from the paint that had leaked from the ceiling. I used to write dates on the dust on the tables in the theater every time I walked through the old showroom _ until I ran out of table space because all the tables were covered with dust bunny graffiti. The buffet was closed, the coffee shop closed, entire sections of the casino walled off.
There was hope for awhile. The Versaille was renovated and two hot new shows booked for it. The old cheesy paint jobs in the back hallways was replaced with bright red and white, the old girl was packed with fans raving about the glories of the old girls charm and there were plans upon plans made to save the old place. The Riv was back in the green there were big plans for the little casino that could but it was to late.
In retrospect we should have seen the end coming. When an offer was made to turn the old school little casino that could into convention space it was just too tempting I guess.
The Riv smelled like age, stubborn Sin City pride, a glorious past and an air of desperation the vintage photos of its glorious past covering the lack of repairs and upgrades that had been needed for years.
In April of 1955 a long line of badly dressed men with dubious connections to dubious people in Chicago and New York posed for cameras at their brand new 9 story casino and hotel their house star Liberache standing nearby.
Monday May 4, 2015 the Riviera Hotel/Casino officially closed its doors perhaps, probably for good.
It will be missed for awhile but like the city they live in Sinners are sentimental to a point and they will move on shortly after the little casino that could is a memory.
So long old girl you will be missed.
That’s life in the City of Sin fellow Sinners
And you know it is