Viva Flamingo: While lovely little new things arrive, the oldest Strip spot turns 70

Frank Sinatra greets his son Frank Sinatra Jr. backstage at Driftwood Lounge after Sinatra Jr.’s performance with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra on Aug. 8, 1963, at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.
Photo: John Cook / Las Vegas News Bureau

The Lucky Dragon is a beautiful, actually new casino with unique features and delicious Chinese food. And the W Las Vegas is certainly one of the best things to happen to the SLS, the arrival of a steady and exciting boutique hotel brand in Las Vegas that brings along a lovely lobby bar, refurbished rooms, useful and shiny event space and a nifty rooftop pool deck.

It’s nice to have new things on the Strip, but while I was exploring them, the Flamingo turned 70 years old on Monday. It’s the oldest resort on the Strip, but it doesn’t look or feel that way. Famously opened by Bugsy Siegel but made a success by Arizona bookmaker Gus Greenbaum after Bugsy’s murder—and later owned by Kirk Kerkorian and then the Hilton hotel chain before Caesars Entertainment (then Harrah’s) grabbed it 11 years ago—the Flamingo was the first luxury hotel in Las Vegas, a place once known for its tuxedo-clad staff and marquee performers like Sammy Davis Jr. and Lena Horne. Now, it’s known best for its ability to survive, pretty great hotel rooms at pretty great rates, some of the Strip’s best remaining neon signage and shows for the older set starring Donny and Marie Osmond and Olivia Newton-John.

But the older-than-old Flamingo has something those shiny new things at the north end of the Strip would kill for: location, location, heart-of-Vegas-action location. It’s a short walk from the Linq Promenade and High Roller observation wheel, Omnia and Drai’s nightclubs, Caesars Palace and the Forum Shops and the Bellagio fountains. In the ’50s and early ’60s you would only go north from the Flamingo to check out the action or see a show, at properties like the Frontier, the Sands, the Desert Inn, the Silver Slipper, the Stardust and the Riviera. Now it’s the center of the Strip, a place to stay even if you’re playing and partying everywhere else. While the W should help stabilize the fledgling SLS with new business tourist traffic, and the Lucky Dragon seems like a fascinating niche experiment—a locals’ casino within a stone’s throw of the Strip that brings something different to the northern end of the Boulevard—the needle isn’t moving yet.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's managing editor and has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years.

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