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The beloved neon at Davy’s Locker is in danger—again

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And this is the good side … The iconic sign at Davy’s Locker has burned out before, but the bar staff has a plan to fix the glow and keep it going.
Photo: Sam Morris

The giant fish on the Davy’s Locker sign always looks jolly, but his grin is tough to see after sunset, as are the waves, minnows and stylized letters that once blazed in glorious neon.

“It’s so sad. It’s sad for me as a native; I mean my grandfather went to that bar. And it’s sad for me as the bar owner, because we don’t even look open at night,” says Cindy Slight, who started managing Davy’s in 2006 and worked her way into partnership and finally ownership. But she doesn’t own the property or the sign, a relic she says draws all kinds of people to stop and snap photos. At night, though, when bars make most of their money, the almost entirely burned-out banner has the opposite effect. “The sign kind of went the way of the economy at the time,” Slight says, “and so it’s just been an uphill battle ever since.”

There was a victory in that uphill battle, albeit brief. “Davy” has gone dark before, and in 2011 the neon was restored with the help of a generous bar patron. But when the lights started flickering again about five months later, Slight discovered that the $3,100 they’d paid didn’t cover any kind of maintenance. Davy’s Locker is ’60s-era, complete with Rat Pack lore, but Slight says the property owners aren’t local and favor replacing the classic sign with something generic. “So much of old Vegas is gone. You have to really look hard to find the little pieces that aren’t. That’s one of the things I love about Davy, and to see that go …”

Slight’s love also ties to her degree from UNLV, where Davy’s Locker founder Davey Pearl once worked in the athletic department. The story goes that he had a major hand in convincing celebrated basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian to sign on, and Pearl was a celebrated boxing ref in his own right (look him up in the World Boxing Hall of Fame). Slight tried to track down his relatives in her quest to save Davy. She sent a Facebook message to former Mayor Oscar Goodman and has been canvassing the block hoping surrounding businesses might see the benefit of helping restore a piece of history that would showcase the whole corner. She doesn’t own the sign and says the survival of the bar itself has been shaky in the recession’s wake, but she and her devoted crew are "trying all avenues" to keep the fish glowing where he has for so many decades.

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In late February, they launched a GoFundMe campaign, asking for help raising $6,100 to cover an overhaul of Davy’s neon and wiring as well as the first year of that crucial maintenance contract. Over $2,100 has come in exchange for perks like bumper stickers, drinks and “undying love.” Slight jokes that for $10, you can peek under the T-shirt on the bar’s mannequin, and she marvels at the size of the dent made by shots dedicated to saving Davy—one dollar at a time. A fundraiser party in the parking lot this weekend will have the Davy's Locker staff washing cars for donations. A message attached to one for $20 on the GoFundMe page suggests that the dive's patrons are just as dedicated:

As a Davy’s regular for 3 years and now living in Korea, I’m proud to support my favorite Vegas bar yet I would get little use out of my bumper sticker. Please accept my small donation and then donate my bumper sticker to a current Davy’s customer (particularly a beautiful, single woman on my behalf). Good luck!

—Matthew Thorn

Slight says the regulars have been valiant in coming to Davy’s aid, but if the sign is likely to burn out again, how does she expect to handle ongoing repair costs? “I think I can bring in that extra $200 a month just by looking open,” she says with a laugh, referring to the maintenance contract that would ensure any dead minnows came quickly back to life. Slight connects to neon in a way only a native can, through memories of being 4 years old on Fremont Street and thinking night was day.

“Nowhere had that much light, that much energy. It made you feel alive no matter what you were doing just walking down the street,” she says, adding that she understands the appeal of the Strip’s increasing collection of slick digital signage. “I’m okay with out with the old and in with the new, to a point. … There might be more, but I can only think of maybe four or five [neon signs] at their original locations that aren’t in the Museum, completely gone or maybe at Lonnie Hammargren’s backyard. … I just would hate to see it all go.”

The GoFundMe campaign to spare Davy ends after May, so if you haven’t made the pilgrimage to see the grinning fish or have never communed with the bar’s ceramic pirate mascot over a pint of the “second-coldest beer in town,” swing by. The walls are covered with Save Davy! fliers, and the old bell is waiting to ring when you “buy a round for all the rest.” Even with just a few lines of neon working, the old place has a special Vegas glow.

Save Davy Car Wash May 3, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., $10. 1149 E. Desert Inn Road, 735-0001.

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