The legendary Las Vegas Sahara Resort celebrates its seventieth anniversary

For many years, Las Vegas’ attitude towards its casino hotels has been “Take out the old, get in the new!” But everything old is new again at the rejuvenated Sahara on the Strip, which turns 70e birthday on October 7. The renovated hotel offers many 70e anniversary promotionswith the slogan “Seventy has never been so beautiful!”

Much of the Sahara is new, but the past also has power.

Artists like Elvis, Don Rickles, Tony Bennett and a TV host named Johnny Carson all played the Sahara, as seen in framed photos on the walls of the hotel today. Celebrities like Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Marlena Dietrich and Frank Sinatra have come to stay, play or perform.

Back then, there was a high diving board and epic card games like pan poker. The Beatles stayed there on their only visit to Las Vegas, but due to demand their Sahara show was moved to the Convention Center.

But unlike imploded contemporaries like the Sands, Stardust, Dunes and the Desert Inn, the Sahara is alive and well today. The resort is an oasis on the northern end of the Strip, with its soothing earth tones, cool marble, and inviting pool and lounge areas. It has one of the newest poker rooms on the Strip, open in 2020. And unlike today’s megaresorts, walking through the Sahara from check-in to lounges to cafe, rooms, casino and pool is a simple stroll.

The Sahara is in front of the Festival grounds used for large outdoor concerts, attracting younger audiences. The pool has one of the largest outdoor TV screens, loud pop music, an outdoor bar, and seating ranging from lounge chairs to luxury cabanas.

It is easy to get in or out of the hotel by car, taxi, carpool or Monorail. For example, the Sahara accommodates around 100 airline pilots and crew per night. No doubt they get a good rate. But coming from the airport, crews pass at least 50 hotels, including all the resorts on the South Strip. Easy access and a hard night’s sleep have their own value.

The Sahara hardly looks its age, with lots of light, marble finishes, an updated pool and cabana, and nicely renovated rooms. Much of that has to do with a $150 million upgrade by its current owner, who bought Sahara and reclaimed its name from the SLS (the less said about this disco incarnation, the better) there is four years old.

Petit(er) is beautiful in the Sahara. The hotel has 1600 rooms. That’s substantial by most measures, but not in Las Vegas, where it doesn’t even top 10. The largest is the MGM Grand, with over 5,000 rooms. Mandalay Bay, number 11 on the list, has 3,209 rooms, twice as many as Sahara.

But from a business perspective, fewer rooms means fewer rooms to fill. And while the Sahara lacks an exhibition hall like Caesar’s 4,000-seat Coliseum, or a huge 1.8 million square foot conference/lounge center at Mandalay Bay, the hotel is a good one. choice for vacationers and business travelers.

“It’s hard to call a 1,600-room resort a boutique hotel,” said Paul Hobson, president of Sahara Las Vegas. Yet this is the feeling that the Sahara seeks. On the meeting side, Hobson said, groups of 100 to 500 people receive the hotel’s full attention. “Groups like this might feel lost at one of the megaresorts,” he noted.

The Sahara also has an efficient SMS application for customers. It offered quick answers to mundane questions like where is the gym, can I have a late check out, etc.

The Sahara’s smaller size and somewhat less desirable location in the northern strip likely contributed to its survival. There was no need to demolish the property, which could be effectively managed without a multi-billion dollar demolition and reconstruction. When billionaire Phil Ruffin bought the nearby 3,800-room Circus Circus (admittedly in scratched condition), he paid just $825 million. On the other hand, 3500 rooms Resorts World Las Vegasnot far from the Sahara, opened in 2021 at a cost of $4.3 billion.

Why did Sahara survive seventy years, when others barely reached middle age? The Sands, for example, one of the best hotels in Vegas, has barely lasted 44 years.

“The Sahara [North Strip] the location had a lot to do with it. The south strip is where most of the action takes place,” says Dr. Michael Green, associate professor of history at UNLV.

“Yet the Sahara is an important historical place for the band. It starts with entertainment. The Beatles stayed in the Sahara, Elvis Presley played there,” says Green. “Bill Miller, the director of entertainment, brought in a discouraged guy, Louis Prima and Keeley Smithwhich ended up packing the place for years.

Green notes that the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon was held for 20 years in the Sahara, “with celebrities who hooked up the hotel.”

When I visited in September, I heard a lounge act playing tunes from the 1970s. Today’s big Sahara show is Magic Mike Live, based on the hit film and partly backed by actor Channing Tatum. The largely female crowd seemed to love the cast of handsome, underdressed men and the Cinderella story of a would-be dancer. In a different venue, comedian Eddin Griffin (Undercover Brother) delivered a steamy set.

Dr. Green notes that in the 1950s, showrooms were just as intimate. “The 600-seat Sands was the biggest. When Sinatra first performed at the Desert Inn, he said, “You got filet mignon and I.”

The Sahara was known for its cuisine when Las Vegas was “a food desert,” according to Dr. Green. Restaurants like the House of Lords and Don the Beachcomber have given way to the famous Meat from the Bazaar By José Andrés, one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas for shameless meat eaters. Then there’s the Noodle Den, a sophisticated Chinese restaurant, and what ESPN calls the #1 sports bar in North America, Chickie’s & Pete.

The Sahara was one of the first themed hotels, with buildings like the Casbah and camels guarding the entrance for years, Green says. “The old properties on the Strip have imploded. They can’t compete with the modern megaresort. I am grateful that the Sahara is interested in its history. Above all, in Las Vegas, we blew our story. (Late at night, you can still see Vegas electric signs at neon museum.)

Dr. Green recalled that “My parents got married and stayed in the Sahara”. Some things haven’t changed much. In September, I saw a bachelor with a belt. A wedding party escorted a bride in an off-white dress with a cummerbund. A father nodded to a security guard and told his young son to “Say hello to Big Mike!”

“In today’s Sahara, it doesn’t feel like it was built in 1952. No one comes to Las Vegas to stay somewhere that reminds them of the 50s,” says Dr Green . “They deliver what they deliver – relaxation, entertainment, games, chef names – without overwhelming you.”

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