[The Incidental Tourist]

Debating the Stratosphere’s Strip-ness is like trying to define Las Vegas

The Stratosphere Tower looms large in tourist perception of Vegas.

Las Vegas belongs to everybody. That might sound a little hokey but it’s the truth. Perception defines this place, or at least makes up the biggest chunk of the Vegas identity. And everyone gets to create their own impressions of this place, locals and visitors alike.

That’s the truth, but that doesn’t stop some of us—people who have lived here for a long time, or people who play a tangible role in shaping those perceptions—from trying to create actual definitions for this place. For example, consider a couple of guys who both moved to Las Vegas with their families as young kids and have lived here for decades. Both attended Garside Junior High School. Both have spent a lot of time in off-Strip casinos and video-poker bars. But one has built and operated businesses that have contributed to the greater Vegas perception, while the other guy has only talked about and written about this place.

The other guy is me. The first guy is Blake Sartini, chairman and CEO of Golden Entertainment, the company behind the largest tavern group in the state (PT’s Pubs and its associated bar brands) and which now owns the Stratosphere. When Golden acquired the Strat and other American Casino & Entertainment properties last year, Sartini noted how excited he was to finally get a casino on the Strip.

That grabbed my attention. I recently argued with someone about the Stratosphere and how its location on Las Vegas Boulevard north of Sahara Avenue is not on the Strip, according to the widely held definition of Las Vegas Strip boundaries, as created by me. I’ve been writing about this place for nearly 20 years, and I walk around and eat food on Las Vegas Boulevard all the time, therefore I am best-suited to determine the exact geographic delineation of one of the most famous destinations in the world.

That last part is crap. The Strip includes whatever you think it includes. And as discussed in a Review-Journal article last month, Sartini has come to the completely logical conclusion that most people consider the Stratosphere to be on the Strip, even though it’s within City of Las Vegas limits and not part of unincorporated Clark County like the other resorts on the Boulevard. That article also has a county spokesman doing what I’ve been doing all these years: defining something that doesn’t want or need demarcation, asserting that a casino must be within Clark County boundaries to be “on the Las Vegas Strip.” This, too, is crap.

The Stratosphere is in a central neighborhood sometimes referred to as Naked City, which we can all agree is an awesome place name. The mythology behind the name says that cocktail waitresses and dancers who lived in this area in the ’50s and ’60s would regularly sunbathe nude at their apartment building pools—a very Vegas legend, indeed. The neighborhood has changed quite a bit over the years, but in modern times it has always been referenced as the area that separates the Strip (county) from Downtown (city).

Municipal officials have a long tradition of taking ownership of the resort corridor when it suits their needs. The Mayors Goodman are inextricably tied to Vegas tourism, even though the Strip is outside their jurisdiction. Clark County awards entertainers and dignitaries keys to the Strip because it doesn’t have keys to the city, even though the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is planted securely on its land.

I’ve always (pretentiously) maintained that the Strip starts at Sahara and ends at Russell, but if you constructed a new casino on the Boulevard south of Mandalay Bay, it would most certainly be “on the Strip.” The Stratosphere, less than a block from Sahara, is one of the most recognizable structures in the history of Las Vegas—not the city of Las Vegas, the entire destination. The one we promote to the world. The one that’s bigger and more important than just the Strip, yet still relies on visual iconography—and those Vegas perceptions—to pull people like the Death Star tractor beam from all over the world. And besides, all those little Vegas skyline stock images incorporate the Stratosphere. There’s no debate.

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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 18 years. He currently serves as editor-at-large covering the ...

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