Out with the new, in with the newer

Or, on the other hand, how about a golden oldie?

Living it up on Cleopatra’s Barge

In case you didn’t notice from the dozens of enormous cranes littering the skyline, Las Vegas is a city obsessed with the new. Where once there was nothing, there must now be something, and where once there was something, there must now be something new. The old must be redesigned, reinvented and rebuilt. In some cities, places become more precious with age. They become antiques. In Las Vegas, they just become antiquated.

This is never truer than in nightlife. Last weekend I visited a new club called Christian Audigier at Treasure Island. It seems like only yesterday that it was Tangerine, and it was a busy place, but in a town where a nightclub is considered a senior citizen by its fifth birthday, it wasn’t busy enough. From the Strip-side patio, I could still view the Sirens of T.I. show, but I remember when it was the Pirates show—a relic from Sin City’s less sinful and more gimmicky past. And sure, gimmicks tend to age like cheese less often than they get cheesy with age, but part of me is nostalgic for Vegas’ theme-heavy history. At least a casino molded as a castle or pyramid is unique. What’s the Bellagio’s theme? Elegance, I suppose. What’s the Wynn’s theme? Um … more elegance, I suppose.

But if you dig in the right places, remnants of a bygone era still remain. I was recently told of an ancient (by Vegas standards) Egyptian nightlife artifact housed deep within Caesars Palace: Cleopatra’s Barge. So without donning my trusty pith helmet (I don’t have one), I began a private archaeological expedition.

First (and Last) Day of Expedition Log:

Finding the barge proves easy enough. No digging involved—just walking down hallways. It’s hard to miss, as the bow of the ship points directly into the hallway. Raised slightly above the heads of passersby is the figurehead—an Egyptian woman, Cleopatra, with golden breasts, polished by hand to a perfect sheen. Like the boxing glove of Caesars’ Joe Lewis statue, the figurehead’s nipples are frequently rubbed for luck and have been for 38 years. And yet her breasts haven’t sagged an inch.

The barge, which has a dance floor occupying half its deck, is surrounded by water and used to rock gently back and forth, courtesy of hidden hydraulics. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, the machinery broke down and was never repaired, due to complaints from seasick dancers. This is a shame, because I suspect that seasickness had less to do with rough seas than with overindulgence at the bar.

To back up my suspicion, the bartender pours me an impressively generous glass of wine. With a steady hand, he allows the liquid to reach higher than the rim of the glass, without spilling a drop. I lean forward to sip from the stationary glass, before taking it with me to board the vessel. The shipside tour is brief. The bow is reserved for a DJ or live band, and the aft section consists of a canopy shading two small VIP tables from the glare of the disco ball above. In between is the dance floor. It’s early, so there aren’t many dancers yet, but one by one or two by two, patrons dance to a single song just to experience the novelty of dancing on a boat. Amusingly, whenever the dance floor is vacant, someone comes to quickly mop up. How many casinos actually have to employ a deck swab?

By 9, the bar has filled, and people begin laying claim to tables in the lounge surrounding the rear portion of the boat. It’s a raised area with a clear view of the dance floor, decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian sculptures.

By 10:30, the lounge has filled up, and the live cover band, Jonathan and MusicMagic, has taken the barge’s helm with Rob Thomas’ “Lonely No More.” By the time they begin to belt out their version of John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” the ship is filled to capacity with dancers of all ages.

Amongst the bar staff, there are murmurs of eventual renovation and expansion, but I wonder if there’s a need for it. I’d hate to see this rare archaeological find reinvented as another modern, dark room. You can find a building housing a dark room with a dance floor lit by disco lights anywhere in the country. But this is Vegas. Where else can you find a building housing a boat with a dance floor and a mast lit by disco lights? This is unique, and it has been for almost 40 years. Everyone seems to be having fun. If there’s any change, it should just be to get the boat rockin’ again—more literally than it already is.


Matthew Scott Hunter

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