BAR EXAM: Starlight Dimming

Take in the majesty of the Stardust lounge before it’s gone

Lissa Townsend Rodgers

Prepare to say farewell to another Las Vegas landmark. While we all knew the Stardust would one day suffer the inevitable implosion, we are now assured that 2006 will be the last year of its existence: Earlier this week, plans were announced for a new $4 billion "resort complex" on the site.

Ah, the Stardust. Where the events that inspired Casino took place, where Showgirls and Swingers and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were filmed. Site of the first sports book and the first Modern Drunkard convention. I could spend pages drooling all the reasons why the Stardust will be missed. Obviously, the first is the Stardust sign, of course, that shimmering cascade of pink and blue that symbolizes Las Vegas as much as the "Welcome to" one out at the end of the Strip.

Following close after the neon, though, is the Starlight Lounge, perhaps the last existing example of the Las Vegas casino lounge in its slickest disco-era state. The décor challenges the neighboring Peppermill Fireside for swingers-hideaway chic, as well as plum-velour yardage. Amazingly, the room is even dimmer, the better to highlight the star-lit ceiling, tube lighting and the strange corner fixtures—ceiling-height, faux-quartz prisms lit from within. The Starlight is walled off from the rest of the casino, creating plenty of dark, isolated corners. Large plate-glass windows offer a view of passing gamblers, but signs along the brass-railed stairs remind us that the "price of drinks may increase once entertainment starts." So what? They're still cheap.

And once the entertainment starts, you know it. When the evening's lounge act is ready to start the show, the little "Now Appearing" sign beside the stage lights up with their name and a 180-degree silver lamé balloon curtain behind the horseshoe bar rises to reveal—well, the entrance evokes Tempest Storm or Shirley Bassey, a promise no weeknight cover band can fulfill. Still, it's surprising how a genuine platform and proscenium with fancy draperies, not to mention an adequate sound system, can improve the 300th rendition of "Celebration." The entertainment largely runs to quartets of LA refugees fronted by either a woman in rhinestone-embellished jeans singing "Black Velvet" or a man in leather pants doing "La Vida Loca." Alternately, expect fiftysomething guys in print shirts snapping through "Mack the Knife." Naturally, there's also a karaoke night (every bar in Las Vegas must offer either karaoke or bottle service but never both), and the long-running Tuesday After-Work Mix & Mingle features more R&B-oriented bands who handle the Earth, Wind & Fire tributes with more grace than usual.

Crowd-wise, the Stardust tends toward cut-rate tourists and conventioneers, a blend of accents from Dallas and Dublin chattering around the silver curtain. At the bar, a man sporting a baseball cap and Deadwood-style facial hair turns to the cowboy-hatted fellow on the next stool and the two commiserate over their mutual enjoyment of giant beers and synth-heavy versions of Elvis' "American Trilogy." Toward the back, a guy spins on one of the chairs as he waits for his shift to start and the purple shirt to go on, as one of the gaudily attired cigarette girls strolls in with her tray of toys and smokes and twirls across the tiny dance floor.

But who knows how much longer all this historic majesty will linger—and where else on the Strip will we be able to find hotel rooms with vertical blinds? Reports indicate the Stardust will keep on until fall, but that's no excuse to dawdle. I was told we had another year or two before the Bond-Aire Club gave way to massive development, yet the bar already sits shuttered and forlorn amid the vacant lots that used to be trailer parks and the eminently covetable sign for the Tropicana Mobile Estates already lies in the neon boneyard. Somehow I still can't believe that soon the Stardust starburst will join it.

Starlight Lounge, Stardust Hotel & Casino 3000 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 732-6111

Lissa Townsend Rodgers learned to make a martini at age 6. E-mail her at
[email protected].

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