Sunday, May 15, 2011 | 10:15 p.m.
It was a collision of sensibilities, and on Sunday afternoon, it could only happen at the Sahara. At 3 Lions Tattoo, specifically, the hotel’s body-ink emporium.
Tattoo artist Chris Sands was bent closely over the left leg of Holly Thomas, who also is a tattoo artist. Except for this moment, when she is a tattoo subject. Sands was putting the final ink spots on a Sahara hotel-casino logo, which Thomas wanted applied to commemorate the closing of the hotel Monday afternoon.
As Sands worked gingerly across Thomas’ limb, a man in a navy blue suit and white dress shirt appeared through the entrance. He leaned over the high partition and asked, “Is that a nice tattoo?”
Yep, pretty cool, he was told. It’s the Sahara logo.
At that, Sam Nazarian grinned. He knows that ode-to-Morocco logo well. Nazarian is chief executive officer of SBE Entertainment Group, which owns the Sahara.
Nazarian doesn’t seem the type to frequent tattoo parlors, and his stop at 3 Lions — which has recently been turning quite a tidy profit, says owner Nick Elliott — was brief.
Moments later, Nazarian spoke of the closing of the hotel and what might be next. At his side was hotel President Arash Azarbarzin, and the dual show of administrative force caused a late-in-the-game stir near the registration desk of the old hotel.
“Obviously, this is a sad day,” said Nazarian, who in March announced the closing of the 59-year-old resort. “But this is the day that will mark the ultimate rebirth of the north end of the Strip.”
Nazarian said the final day of operation should be spent celebrating the hotel’s history, and employees have been instructed not to talk to the media who have arrived onsite to record the hotel’s closing. There have been murmurs about the timing and reasons given for the closing, and what might come of the structure itself.
One rumor circulating around the hotel is that SBE is closing the doors and releasing the employees in an attempt to turn the hotel into a non-union property.
“Absolutely not,” Nazarian said. “We will always be a union house.”
Some guests and employees have wondered if the hotel might be the next to be imploded, to make room for an entirely new resort or event to make space for some sort of arena project. But the hotel structure itself will remain, Nazarian says.
“The bones and history of the Sahara are worth preserving,” he said. “What we want to create is a resort that is as charming as it is elegant, that reflects the new era of Las Vegas while honoring its history.”
There is a plan for the furniture and design elements left behind after the Sahara closes. As Azarbarzin said, within two weeks, there will be an announcement issued by SBE specifying how the items will be auctioned. The big sale will be held at the property within the month.
That should be the final opportunity to see the interior of the hotel that, in its final days, is commonly referred to with such descriptions as “once-regal” and “once-proud.” But waning in relevance and about to close, the Sahara’s final moments are being marked almost casually, even emptily. A total of 1,200 rooms were made available for booking in the final weekend, but guests were required to purchase a four-night minimum. No reservations were accepted after Thursday, and the number of rooms booked was fewer than 200.
House of Lords, running out of food, closed after serving its final dinner Saturday night. Casbar Lounge, the iconic venue where Louis Prima and Keely Smith made lounge performances a Las Vegas hallmark, closed three weeks ago. Speed, the short and swirling roller coaster, closed this month, as did the sports book. Sahara Theater was locked after magician Rick Thomas sold out Friday’s show before an audience of 572. The casino floor halts action Monday morning at 10. Marshall-Rousso was to close tonight at 8, and the Oasis bar outside House of Lords, too, is no longer serving guests.
That’s where Nazarian and Azarbarzin chose to sit and confer after making a quick jaunt through the casino. As the men made their way around the hotel, an employee at the front desk called out to the two execs. They stopped, and the staffer hustled over for a quick photo.
For that moment, it was all smiles at the Sahara, a hotel that is going away quietly. No fireworks, little fanfare, just memories.