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July 29, 2014

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The Strip:

From Barbary to Bill’s: Sun sets today on Las Vegas relic

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Barbary Coast, on the Northeast corner of Flamingo and the Strip, 1984. In 2007, the hotel and casino was renamed Bills Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. SUN ARCHIVES

Barbary Coast

Barbary Coast as seen from the top of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Launch slideshow »

Sometime just before 8 a.m. today, the Victorian Cafe will have served its last $6.99 plate of steak and eggs at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon.

The after-midnight breakfast specials took top billing on the marquee of the casino, which closes at noon today on the corner of Flamingo Road and the Las Vegas Strip. Bill's had survived a name change, three owners, a landscape shifting to luxury resorts and five recessions. Its doors will shut about one month shy of its 34th birthday.

Craps tables were crowded as the last weekend began Friday afternoon, with cheers of winning rolls echoing under glass globes of the big chandeliers hanging from arched wood ceilings. People sat to have a final drink at the neo-Gothic-style bar with the stained glass back and etched glass cabinet doors.

When Bill's reopens next year, what had become a Strip antique will be a boutique hotel with new hotel rooms, a refurbished casino, a second-story restaurant, and a rooftop pool and nightclub. It will have yet another name.

Michael Gaughan and Kenny Epstein opened the casino as the Barbary Coast on March 2, 1979. They built it for $11 million — less than the land underneath it was worth in 2005. It shared an intersection with MGM Grand, Dunes and Caesars Palace. The Flamingo next door was still a single tower. The Barbary lounge opened with live entertainment from the Royal Dixieland Jazz Band, Bobby Douglas and the band Holy Smoke. Jimmy Vaccaro ran the sports book.

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Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon.

The old MGM Grand building survived a fire a year later, then became Bally's. The Bellagio replaced the Dunes. Four more towers went up at the Flamingo.

Harrah's Entertainment took over the Barbary on March 2, 2007, renaming it after its company founder, William "Bill" Harrah. It became part of a company expansion that would later grow into ownership with most of the casinos on the east side of the Strip, as well as Caesars Palace. Boyd Gaming, which three years before had bought out Gaughan and his franchise of Coast Casinos, traded the Barbary for 27 acres of land adjacent to the Stardust. That became part of Boyd's Echelon project, which remains unfinished.

Casino manager Ed Crispell said at the time he didn't know how long Bill’s, or the aging Imperial Palace, would stay open. Harrah's is now Caesars Entertainment, and the Imperial Palace has become the Quad, with its own renovation under way. A $500 million Linq retail and entertainment corridor, with its massive High Roller observation wheel, is rising in a back lot.

The look of Bill's, meanwhile, has changed little since it was the Barbary, although it has grown from 150 to 197 hotel rooms, its casino from 20,000 to 30,000 square feet. Still, it's one of the smallest on the Strip. By the time it closed, carpet decorated with roses was worn and the casino was clouded by the musty smell of cigarettes and cheap beer. Cook E. Jarr, another throwback to a previous era, played the lounge in the final weeks.

Visitors romanticized the Gamblin' Hall, as they had O'Sheas before, as a gritty reminder of a bygone Vegas. Within a year's time, both were gone.

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  1. I too will miss this place, although it has needed a face lift for a long time. I am not thrilled with it becoming another "boutique" hotel. The room's locations are poorly situation too --- as the windows overlook traffic. I remember staying there eons ago and being kept awake all night by hearing people yelling on the boardwalk below and cars honking. Not good and hopefully they remedy that situation.

  2. @Moved2Vegas: When Harrah's (now Caesars) was taken private several years ago, one of the buyers was Texas Pacific Group. When the Maloof family lost ownership of the Palms a couple years ago, one of the buyers was Texas Pacific Group. There is a question about how how much overlap of ownership there is between Caesars & the Palms, but it is usually speculated to be over 50%. Barbary Coast and Imperial Palace were two properties that were brought into the Caesars group relatively late in the process (I think Barbary Coast/Bill's was never brought into Total Rewards) and it is speculated that all outliers within the group are eventually sucked up into "the Borg", as Caesars has been called.
    It is pretty clear through the last decade that Ceasars eventually brings management idilogy into a pretty tight package at each acquired property. It seems like the Palms is being changed to fit within those parameters. Almost all the food and nightlife appear to have been changed from the locals midweek/"LA beautiful people" weekends focus to a touristy, Caesars approach.
    I think that may be what spurred the comment from @SinCityChauffer

  3. I can remember staying at Barbary coast for 40 bucks a night if you booked through the weekend!

    It was my first trip to Vegas and I will never forget those victorian rooms with the brass beds.