Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bright Light City: Top 10 Vegas Neon Experiences


Bright Light City: Top 10 Vegas Neon Experiences
Posted Aug 28th 2007 by Fletch
Filed under: Casinos, Dry Heat, Rants & Raves

On return flights into Vegas during the day, I've often heard some first-time visitors peeking out of the airplane window question, "That's it?" -- as if the Eiffel Tower in the desert wasn't a clue. They can't really be blamed. On similar flights at night, the plane is buzzing with excitement and there is no doubt that collection of fantasy buildings neatly along The Strip is Las Vegas.

The difference is neon. Elvis sang it best when he said "Bright light city gonna set my soul on fire." Neon fuels our dreams and adds some sort of visual evidence to our hopes and expectations. Neon hit the desert in the late '20s, but the first major sign wasn't erected until the '50s and since then, neon has been more important to Vegas than oxygen. Well, scientifically it's not, but there is oxygen in New York City and Paris even sparkles their Eiffel Tower, but the excitement of flying into those cities at night pales in comparison.

The dark side (literally) of it all is that neon will be close to extinction in Vegas by 2012. With the new neon-less casinos going up and the old casinos being imploded between now and then, visitors will only be able to find these tubes in places like the Neon Museum, Downtown and other nostalgic venues. That's not to say Vegas will be back in the dark ages. Casinos will still be lighting the night sky, but using smarter big-screen technology instead of glass tubes filled with gas that can show only one image. There's something organically sexy in the sight and sound of flickering, flashing neon -- like an electric campfire. But hey, who are we to stand in the way of progress?

So let's celebrate neon in Vegas with the Top 10 neon experiences. If you want to get weepy and share your love of Vegas neon, you can leave a comment below.

1. The Vegas Sign -- This certainly isn't the most complex of the neon signs but it tops the list because of its iconic status throughout the world. Every year thousands of tourists risk the speeding cars at the southern end of the Strip to reach the median where this Sin City landmark rests.

2. Neon Museum -- The Neon Museum is dedicated to preserving the neon history of Vegas. Many of the signs are supplied by their The Boneyard where old neon signs created by famed Young Electric Sign Company go to retire. You've no doubt seen the Boneyard in movies like 'Vegas Vacation.' The Silver Slipper sign seen here was taken down a the request of Howard Hughes. It was too bright for him when he stayed across the street so he bought the Silver Slipper casino and had the shoe removed.

Be sure and check out the Neon Museum for Boneyard tours.

3. Peppermill -- Some of my best meals in Vegas have been enjoyed at the Peppermill restaurant in the vintage futuristic glow of the pink and red neon snaking throug the interior. The plastic trees and colored sugar crystals at the table add to the festivities. Drunk or sober, the food is good with huge portions.

If you're looking for that "Vegas Baby, Vegas" feel, step into the adjoining Fireside Lounge which combines 20th-century neon technology with old-school fire for a sexy, sophisticated anything-can-happen night.

4. Flamingo -- With the old champagne tower days, the Flamingo has always been a trend-setter in the visual department. I like to stand under this sign and just watch it flicker.

5. Vegas Vic -- Neon cowboy Vegas Vic has been watching over downtown Vegas since 1951. This shot here shows the past and the future of Vegas lighting technology with the massive, neon-free Fremont Street Experience.

6. Circus Circus -- The details of this neon, known as Lucky the Clown, are fairly intricate. Swirling tubes of glass color in the hair, lollipop and costume. In a mix of old Vegas and new Vegas, a giant television-style screen is in his belly that flashes dinner and gaming specials.

7. Binion's Casino -- Even with the Fremont Street Experience and all of the other old-school casinos' neon blazing, I always have to stop for a few seconds and take in the giant aqua wall of neon at Binion's.

8. Stardust (gone but not forgotten) -- So this is one neon experience no longer available, but it's in the list because it represented everything pure and good about casino neon. The garish purple and red neon outlining the floors of the hotel and the classic flashing Stardust sign played a beautiful light symphony.

9. Margaritas By the Yard - Big drinks are famous in Vegas and anyone, in this case the Luxor, that invests in a neon sign to drive the yard-long cocktail business is OK by me. It's not like a chalkboard that lists specials at other places.

10. Riviera Splash - This is Vegas neon at it's craziest and perhaps, most glorious. The neon is essentially a billboard for the long-running Splash at the Riviera. Facing the Strip, it beckons pedestrians with wavy water-like tubes, bright bulbs and starry, starry neons. This sign could easily be one of the 28 modern wonders of the world.

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