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The Strip

Home sweet Strip: Highs and lows of life on Las Vegas Boulevard

What is it like to live in the world’s most unusual neighborhood?

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Photo: Sam Morris

Henry lives at Veer Towers in CityCenter. He wakes up at 8 a.m., or, if he forgets to shut his blinds, whenever the sun rises over the casinos. He works as a graphic designer and doesn’t leave his apartment until 4 or 5 p.m., unless he’s out of food. His favorite place to eat is Cafe Rio near UNLV. Geographically, it’s close. Temporally, not so much. See, when Henry moved onto the Strip, nobody warned him about how hard it’d be to get out …

The Las Vegas Strip: The ultimate escape—for everyone but locals. I’m not talking about the ones who live in Henderson or Summerlin and work on the Strip. I’m not talking about the ones who live nearby or a block off the Strip; I’m talking about Nevadans like Henry—people whose addresses include the actual words Las Vegas Boulevard. And south of Mandalay Bay or north of the old Sahara doesn’t count.

Strip residents are surrounded by amplified sound and flashing ads 24/7, and you pay a pretty penny for the privilege of calling the Bellagio and Venetian your neighbors.

On Craigslist, Veer apartments lease for $1,400-$2,000 per month. A one-bedroom at Vdara runs $2,850 a month. Condos at Signature at MGM Grand sell for

$150,000-$600,000; a condo at the Cosmopolitan just sold for $1,126 per square foot, and certain places at Sky Las Vegas and Mandarin Oriental top the $5 million mark.

The expenses, obviously, don’t stop there. For breakfast, you head to the Cafe at Mandalay Bay and order the omelet: $17. Plus $4.25 for coffee. For lunch, it’s BLT Burger at the Mirage. The Classic is just $12, but it doesn’t include cheese ($1) or bacon ($1.50) and definitely not fries ($5). Another $5 for a bottle of Bud, plus tip. And dinner, well, you know how that goes. Unless you want to drive off the Strip.

The traffic, the noise, the glaring lights, the never-ending construction—that’s the price you pay to live in the dead center of the nightlife and entertainment capital of the world. Is it worth it?

A decade ago, everyone had money and was making more of it. The city’s unofficial bird was the yellow construction crane. Hotel/condo hybrids on the Strip seemed like a sure bet. Rich travelers with multiple vacation homes, young Wall Streeters, hospitality industry heavyweights, heirs and heiresses—who wouldn’t want to live in the middle of it all?

Build it and they will come.

Home Sweet Strip

In 2004, Jim Murren, the CEO of MGM Mirage, told board members, “If we created something with expert urban planners and put world-class architects into the mix, we’re going to stretch the boundaries of our knowledge and create something that would be a gift, a resource to the community that we could make a lot of money on.”

Murren promised a new Vegas—not just casinos and tourists, but a true urban community. The Manhattanization of Las Vegas. Sleek financial district-looking buildings, buffed up with shrubs, trees, gyms and spas, with the Strip as the background. And he wasn’t the only one thinking that way.

Between 2005 and 2008 four towers broke the Vegas skyline—Allure on the corner of Sahara, the 58-story Palms Place, the 52-story PH Towers by Westgate and the 1,728-room Signature at MGM Grand. The building continued with CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan in 2009 and 2010, shiny glass harbingers of Murren’s promised future.

By the time the bubble burst, most of the buildings had been completed. When the condos didn’t sell, managers turned many of the spaces into apartments. MGM got into the leasing business, and individual condo owners started renting. Suddenly, people like me started considering life on the Strip.

I imagined reading the morning paper at the Cup, the coffee shop at Crystals. I imagined my short walk from the Aria poker room to bed. I imagined having a couple of drinks at Marquee without worrying about how I’d get home.

Two years ago, my parents and I took the Veer apartment tour. Beautiful, 37-story leaning glass towers. Clean, sleek, minimalist spaces. A great gym and an infinity pool on the top floor. Pool table, spa—all at a reasonable price. It seemed too good to be true, and I probably would have signed the one-year lease if I hadn’t discovered the also-too-good-to-be-true Meridian condos on Flamingo and Koval, a block off the Strip. My friend Henry (I’m calling him Henry, though that’s not really his name) took the Veer plunge. He’s been there for about two years.

“What do you like about living on the Strip?” I ask him. After a long pause, he finally says, “That’s a good question.”

Henry is 24. Before moving into CityCenter, he lived with his parents. He’s been dating his girlfriend for three years, and she lives with him now, at Veer. They plan to move out soon.

He thinks on my question some more. “I guess the best thing about my place is the view. It makes me feel alive. The mountains, the airport and the planes, the roller coaster at New York-New York, the construction. I can see the town evolving.”

An Inside Look at Veer Towers

Sometimes Henry takes in the view from a more detailed perspective. “This is going to sound creepy, but I have a pair of binoculars, and sometimes it’s fun to watch people. I had one friend over, and he spent three hours looking out the window at the people in Aria.”

If Henry’s favorite thing about living on the Strip has been the view, his least favorite has been the wind. More specifically, the noise the wind made against the Veer towers: “a high-pitched humming noise—like a tuning fork.”

Henry lives about halfway up the west tower, and even on days when the ground was calm, the wind would sometimes howl in his apartment. “This sound is so loud and annoying I can’t hear myself think. … I tried putting on earphones and listening to music, but the sound cuts through that.”

Years back, Veer put a plan in place to deal with the noise: relocation.

“When it happened,” Henry explains, “you called down to concierge.” If something was available at Vdara, you could move to the hotel for the night. If not, you’d have to stay put.

Henry experienced about 15-20 wind incidents over the past two years, but recently it hasn’t been a problem. MGM Resorts spokesman Gordon Absher explains why: “Adjustments to sunshades at Veer have addressed the previous acoustical issue during strong winds. Field and computer-aided models allowed us to analyze and reduce the wind’s interaction with the shades, which are both part of the building’s aesthetic look, as well as a sustainability feature.”

One of Henry’s neighbors at Veer is ER doctor Christopher Nevarez, who’s also lived there for about two years. He’s happy there—happy at CityCenter, happy on the Strip.

“There’s not much off the Strip to entice me away,” Christopher says. “I haven’t really cooked a meal in the two years I’ve lived here. Nothing I make could compare to the dining options just an elevator ride away.”

Living on the Strip also jells perfectly with Christopher’s work demands. “Vegas in general—but the Strip in particular—is conducive to life as an ER doctor. We’re a 24/7 culture. Our sleep and wake cycle is screwed up to begin with, so we need things open and available to us at all hours. In that sense, Strip life is perfect.”

I ask Christopher whether the noise, the fast pace or the tourists ever bother him.

“I see every stumbling drunk on a pair of 6-inch stilettos as a potential patient.”

In September 2012, Planet Hollywood announced that reality star Coco Austin would take over for reality star Holly Madison in Peepshow. Coco moved to Vegas shortly after the announcement and immediately settled into a suite at the hotel, where she performs six nights a week.

“Ice was still in New York filming Law & Order: SVU when I first came to do the show,” Coco says of her husband, rapper/actor Ice-T. “He would come out and stay in the hotel with me on days off, or I would try to go home and enjoy time with him.”

Living at Planet Hollywood was a choice of convenience—she’d never be too far away from the theater. But it didn’t take long before the convenience became inconvenient. “It could take me 30 minutes to get out,” Coco says. “I’d have to take 20 pictures with people. Everybody’s checking in, and everybody wants a photo. And when I say yes to one person, I have to say yes to all of them. Then I had to wait to get my car from valet—more pictures there.”

Once Coco finally hit the Strip, traffic. Most of us can avoid Las Vegas Boulevard’s gridlock during rush hour and weekends, but if you live on the Strip, avoidance, obviously, isn’t an option.

Luckily for Coco, Planet Hollywood made it easy for her to stay put. “Room service was my grocery store. A lot of places close at night, but room service was always popping. I think I tried everything on the menu by the time I moved out. And the hotel had fresh meals prepared for me. I’d get a bunch of them and put them in the fridge. Then I’d just pop ’em in the microwave.”

For Coco, the microwave was the only cooking option. “They set me up in a suite. Grand living room, fancy dining room … and no kitchen. Just a bar. So I had to turn it into a mini-kitchen. It didn’t have a stove, of course.”

Coco found ways to compensate, but eventually the compensation became too much. She decided to move out of the hotel and try for a semblance of a normal life. “I’m much better off the Strip,” Coco says. “We got a place in Summerlin, and now, the only time I go to the Strip is when I work. Off the Strip, I have more opportunities to do whatever I want. I spend a lot of time at Shine Fitness—that’s where the Cirque people teach. I never would have found out about places like this if I didn’t get off the Strip.”

Al Powers is a local photographer. You’ve probably seen his pictures in this publication, in nightclub advertising and on ESPN.com. Many of his clients are clubs on the Strip, who pay him to photograph their parties, crowds and celebrity guests.

“I had a house in Centennial Hills, and I was driving back at 3:30 or 4 every night. I decided to get a place on the Strip … so I wouldn’t die on the way home.”

First, Al lived at Veer, which a lot of other nightclub industry people also call home. He rented a studio for less than $1,000 from its owner. When that lease expired, he moved north, to the 41-story Allure on Sahara. He rented from an owner again, paying $1,550 for a large two-bedroom, two-bathroom layout.

“The beauty of that place was that I had my own parking spot. Fewer industry people there, more business people, older people, time-share people.”

Still, Al says he couldn’t relax. “I couldn’t get away from it. I don’t like to go out that often, but when people would ask me, I didn’t have an excuse to say no.”

According to Nightclub & Bar, the nightlife-focused trade publication, seven of the world’s top 10 grossing nightclubs are on the Strip. Great for Al’s business; awful for his relaxation.

“Living on the Strip is great … for a couple years. It’s great for young people, because the majority of young adults in Las Vegas work on the Strip or party on the Strip. It’s nice to party close to home, whether it’s a quick cab ride or a walk that gets you back. Living in a high rise is also great when friends come to visit—they don’t have to stay in a hotel; they can just crash with you and they’re right in the middle of the action.”

Eventually, though, the novelty wears off. “Sooner or later you’re going to need some space. Crowds are dense on the Strip, because that’s where all the action is. Few people come here to see the Valley of Fire, Mount Charleston or Red Rock [Canyon]; they come for the Strip.”

If you’re looking to eat at fancy restaurants every evening and go clubbing every night, maybe it does make sense to live on the Strip.

“The key thing is the convenience of being in the middle of everything,” says Tony Dennis, executive vice president of CityCenter Residential Division. “Time is so precious—time’s the real luxury today—and living on the Strip puts you closest to the venues and the events. Everything is in walking distance.”

But what happens when you want a break and you’re stuck in an apartment where you can hear Marquee’s bumping beats? What happens when you want to see a tree—one that isn’t jammed into a casino botanical garden with 300 tourists surrounding it, snapping photos?

The Strip is a wonderful, magical escape, but maybe the tourists have it right. Maybe it’s best enjoyed as a place to visit, a place you can leave when you’re ready to go home.

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Rick Lax

Rick wrote the books Fool Me Once: Hustlers, Hookers, Headliners, and How Not to Get Screwed in Vegas and Lawyer ...

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