Friday, October 2, 2009

More Controversy on Old Vegas v. New Vegas

It seems like the controversy that exploded in the comments on the latest "Ask Mr. Sun" piece on theme casinos, and really the value of tacky "Old Vegas", has just kept raging on. Steve Friess weighed in with his take on Vegas' latest cultural setbacks/throwbacks. But possibly even more controversial, Mr. ELV joked about demolishing Fremont Street altogether over its seedy casinos and criminally awful food offerings.

Just like Wednesday, I feel like I'm caught in the middle of this struggle between the sophisticated critics and the "unwashed masses" all over again. While I actually agree with John Curtas and Steve Friess that much of the “Old Vegas” nostalgia, as embodied Downtown, is overrated tackiness, it seems that the hoi polloi prefer their Vegas old and tacky. And really, is it wrong that they like their Vegas experience cheap and trashy?

Honestly, I must admit that I liked my last visit to Fremont Street Downtown. Sometimes it just feels good to let my hair down and enjoy the simpler things in life, like walking by stripper clubs and actually putting nickels into a 5 cent slot machine. While I always have fun dressing up to go out to dinner at Ago or enjoy a bite or three at Society after seeing Le Reve, sometimes it’s nice to shake up the old routine (and save some dinero) with a good ol’ video show and footlong margarita at Fremont Street.

And besides, it’s isn’t a complete cultural wasteland Downtown. Fremont East does have some hip indie clubs, and there are a handful of culinary diamonds in the rough. Firefly's a great tapas bar at The Plaza, and Grotto is an underrated gem of an Italian spot at The Golden Nugget.

So shouldn't folks have the choice of going to gamble somewhere tacky Downtown if that's what they want to do? Contrary to what some may think, a lot of folks would probably be furious if Fremont Street bites the dust. And as I suggested earlier this week, I do think there’s a “happy medium” balance between the old Kitschy Vegas and the new Haute Vegas to be found. I like the new glamour of The Strip, but Downtown will never be like The Strip so Fremont might as well keep its kitsch and hokeyness going for all the old timers and cheapo gamblers who appreciate it.

I think one of the biggest mistakes the casinos made was in oversaturating the high-end market. It’s good for discerning travelers to have such a glut of 4 and 5-star hotel rooms available here for $100-200 per night (or even LESS if you know where to look), but it doesn't help the casino giants’ bottom lines and it’s still too costly for those traveling on limited budgets.

Same goes for food. I appreciate gourmet dining. I appreciate quality ingredients, great technique, and beautiful presentation. However, there really are tourists and locals out there that just see the restaurants as pit stops for “cheap fuel”. Believe it or not, there are people out there that like those 99 cent shrimp cocktails.

I think that’s the key here. We need variety. While we may not like the tacky offerings downtown, I do think there’s a role for Downtown as the “Old Vegas” alternative for visitors that don’t like the “New Vegas” offerings on The Strip.

Come on, this town is big enough to handle both the discerning gourmands and the cheapo fanny-packers. Let them enjoy that $7.77 buffet special and Rat Pack tribute show at The Plaza while I take in a dinner at Border Grill or Sinatra before I see Bette Midler or the new Cirque show.

Variety is the spice of life, so there's no reason why Old Vegas can't coexist with New Vegas. There's enough room to keep the kitschy themes and cheapo experience alive Downtown as The Strip keeps it classy with a continual upscale transformation. So can we all just get along and be free to experience whatever Vegas fantasies we want? ;-)

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