Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bright Light City: Top 10 Vegas Neon Experiences

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.
the las vegas sign

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.

Flamingo Vegas neon

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.
stardust vegas neon

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.

Margaritas by the yard vegas neon

Riviera Splash Vegas10. 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.

1. Its all Americana! Its the West's Broadway Lights!

Treina at 8:16PM on Sep 1st 2007

2. I think its awful to think of vegas with out neon. won't be the same

sue at 8:26PM on Sep 1st 2007

3. Sooner or later, we all must bow to progress. But I cannot imagine anyone, I mean ANYONE living in the United States of America who has not been enchanted by a NEON sign, at some time in their life. I AM SORRY THAT IT HAS TO GO.

DONALD at 8:38PM on Sep 1st 2007

4. Damn you Vegas for taking away my soul and selling it to Corporate America with everything else. I guess it's time to leave this damn country.

Bryan at 8:39PM on Sep 1st 2007

5. The Vegas neon is greatness. You can see it for miles by car or by air. Vegas won't be the same without all the neon.

Kathy at 8:41PM on Sep 1st 2007

6. I miss the old Vegas -- the one with the small, dingy casinoes; the one that wasn't "family-friendly" and didn't look like Disneyland; the one without the mega-monstrosities.

Among the things I patricularly miss are:

The Peppermill casino on the strip with its 45-cent breakfasts, free daiquiries and automatic entries into their every half-hour drawings.

The Pioneer Club, the casino where the legendary neon cowboy stood, and its all-you-can eat $3.20 buffets.

"Vegas World", the idiosyncratic hotel at the end of the Strip, with its dark atmosphere, free casino chips and on-the-roof pool, along with the old-time comedy team of Allen & Rossi.

The $4.50 all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink champagne buffet (I'm not kidding!) at the Fitzgerald.

The Sands, Oasis, Hacienda, etc.

Things have certainly changed their in the past two decades!

Harry at 8:52PM on Sep 1st 2007

7. That's just wrong.

Ginger c. at 8:52PM on Sep 1st 2007

8. Yes with no neon Vegas will be just another atlantic city.

llcrabbe at 8:53PM on Sep 1st 2007

9. Why does everything good have to go ? Change isn't alway's for the better.Oh well nothing we can do about it.All we can do is hope and pray,that if they get rid of the neon lights,they will be replacing it with something better....not crappier. Vegas is the bomb! It's a candy shop for the eyes.

Vicky in Va at 8:53PM on Sep 1st 2007

10. I can understand why Vegas has changed. Neon bending is a dying art. I myself have been in the Sign industry for more then 15 years and things come and go and unfortunately Neon is going. A lot of it has to do with price. Product for making a Neon sign has become very expensive due to what is used for the making, the new UL rules for Transformers etc.

However with that said, the Neon look does NOT need to go. There are LED companies out there who are making material that looks like neon and in some cases could be even brighter then neon, available in more colors and less expensive to have installed and maintain.

So do not fear it is up to the public to say what they like and the sign shops to go out and let people know what is available at this time.

Cindy at 9:03PM on Sep 1st 2007

11. I have not had the pleasure of seeing Vegas yet.....unfortunately part of what I dream of seeing will be gone......shame.

Dawn at 9:07PM on Sep 1st 2007

12. I've been making neon for 20 years. It went from a good living to a side line in the last ten. It's a shame. Progress is the way of life I guess. One thing that has been a bane to good neon sign people are the bozos that try to do neon; and wind up burning a business down. That has happened in my area, and it scares people who otherwise might buy a sign from me to try some new LED thing. Then the LED manufactures also will spread false claims how LEDs are the future. I have yet to see a LED sign hold up like a neon sign, or look as 'sexy' as one.

Chris at 9:07PM on Sep 1st 2007

13. neon is what keeps this 'different' than anything else in the great 'USA'. i think we will have a couple of casinos stick with what works. if there are no more 'oohs' and 'aahs' when arriving, maybe the excitement will come to and end?? doubtful, but what the heck....

Bo at 9:10PM on Sep 1st 2007

14. What do you mean Bryan? Vegas IS part of corporate America. One day people will be lamenting the demise of of the digital screens there. It's the tragedy of progress.

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