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July 31, 2014

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Sahara isn’t so much closing as ebbing away

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John Katsilometes

A decommissioned video poker machine at Sahara’s Oasis bar tells the story.

The vibe is summarily strange at the Sahara as we take the hotel’s final Saturday night into dawn. That’s the best way to term it. A very strange, and not at all celebratory, send-off. Obligatory, yes. But nothing rousing, or ebullient, to be reported as the 59-year-old hotel limps toward Monday’s shooing of the customers. Just a lot of sadness and grim resignation.

Sahara's Final Saturday Night

The final drink order, in all its boozy glory (except for the Shirley Temples) at Oasis bar. Launch slideshow »

Sahara's Last Weekend

At the front desk of the Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas Thursday, May 12, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Earlier today, two valet attendants were caught in conversation, one telling another, “I’m not gonna cry. Not today.”

“I’ve been crying all week” was the response, then the two soon-to-be unemployed staffers hugged.

As the employees worked through their final shifts, curious visitors have treated the closing with bemusement. Around the hotel, you heard guests ambling around the casino floor saying, “We’re paying our last respects.” There is a hint of sarcasm there, as the Sahara has been largely comatose for years. When Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “There is no there there,” she could well have been speaking of the latter-day Sahara.

Saturday marked a couple early closings across the hotel, a couple in fact and another more symbolic. House of Lords finally shut down, running out of inventory, or what diners commonly refer to as “food.” Many members of the wait staff have found jobs elsewhere. A couple eagerly talk of working at Waverly’s Steak House at the Cannery. Another is happy about his position at the Steak House at Camelot at Excalibur, which benefits from a far higher volume of tourists on the corner of the Strip and Tropicana than the fairly marginalized Sahara.

It seems that logging a long tenure at the famed House of Lords does give your resume some restaurant industry credibility.

The bar outside House of Lords, too, shut down Saturday night. For the first time, I learned that bar has a name -- Oasis. It was here that a group of friends and a smattering of bemused tourists made something of a carnival of the final order of the evening, distributed at 1:45 a.m. It was a host of Heineken bottles, Shirley Temples, three Johnny Walker Black Label neat shots and a couple of Bacardi and Cokes. Credit the esteemed George Lyons of KUNV 91.5-FM with organizing this order, making the excited announcement and also paying for the drinks.

In essence, the party was a remote and goofy installment of "The Lyons Den."

Those joining the group toast were Las Vegans, friends, who gravitated to one another through a mix of fraternal instinct and Twitter updates. Among them were local entertainment manger and nightlife developer Seth Yudof; freelance spokesman and actor Brian Thomas (who is best known, probably, as Lucky the Leprechaun at O’Shea’s); my co-host on “Kats With the Dish,” Tricia McCrone; Sun photog Leila Navidi; freelance photogg Erik Kabik; and the R-J’s John Locher.

Just before that final drink order was placed and served, hotel security yanked shut the curtains at Casbar Lounge. A few of us wandered inside to pose for, and take, photos from the famous spot -- and I remembered seeing the Checkmates play the room a few years ago and spending time with the great Sonny Charles and Marvin “Sweet Louie” Smith. This was just a few months before Smith, who was indeed a sweet man and dazzling entertainer, died of a heart attack while on a cruise gig.

The last show I saw at the Casbar was an all-female AC/DC tribute act. They were great fun, but a far cry from the greatest moments of Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

The lounge has long been dark, and the final entertainment of any sort was Friday night when magician Rick Thomas closed his 7 p.m. show at Sahara Theater. Thomas is said to be moving his consistently dependable magic-and-white-tigers act to the Riviera, a few paces south.

The hotel will continue to ebb away over the next two days before its official closing at 2 p.m. Monday. The pool shuts at 10 a.m. Monday.

The Marshall-Rousso women’s apparel story, where items already marked for sale are going for 50 percent off, closes at 8 p.m. today.

The hotel’s tattoo studio, 3 Lions, closes for business at 2 a.m. Monday, though I understand the proprietor will come in at the end to be the final subject to be inked.

NASCAR Cafe takes its final order at 12:30 a.m. Monday. Seattle’s Best Coffee closes at 2 p.m. Monday, just as the hotel shuts down.

At 10 a.m. Monday, the casino floor finally closes down, forever, and certainly players will be pocketing Sahara-stamped chips for posterity. I hope to be on a table at the end. Maybe I’ll hit a hard 17 to the dealer’s 6, just to add some drama, because this is one Vegas resort closing that can use it.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow "Kats With the Dish" at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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