The Price of Progress

KlondikeAccording to, another bit of Vegas history is about to become history. After forty-five years, the Klondike Hotel and Casino, is likely to succumb to the bulldozer of progress.

The Klondike is a dump, but like many dumps (I'm looking in your direction, Freemont Street) it is a charming and glorious dump, and an integral part of the character of Las Vegas.

I will never forget my one and only experience at the Klondike: About a decade ago, my friends and I stopped there for breakfast on our way out of town, to "soak up some local color and flavor."

We pulled into a mostly-empty parking lot, and walked into a dark, smoky casino. We made our way past ancient slots and video poker machines with burned-in monitors, and took a seat at the back of the cramped coffee shop.

Right after we placed our order, a man and a woman sat down at the table next to us. I forget what she looked like, but he was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, and was a smelly, unshaven mess. From their conversation, it was unclear whether he'd been released, or escaped. Either way, the waitress (who was so drunk at eleven in the morning, we were concerned about open flames) didn't seem to care. Because we were all in our very early twenties, neither did we. The as-yet-unawakened writer in me furiously scribbled down every possible detail of what was clearly a moment in time we'd never want to forget.

We ate a traditional Vegas steak(?)-n-eggs breakfast, while half expecting federal marshalls to burst into the joint, and wondered if any of us would qualify as hostages or not. It never happened, though we all jumped a little bit when a scream errupted from the casino as an octogenarian hit a jackpot on the nickel slot. When we finished, we left a twenty on the table (which worked out to about a ten dollar tip) and raced down Interstate 15 toward Bat Country.

Years later, none of us could tell you anything about the games we played, where we stayed, or whether we left winners or losers, but we could all tell you, in exacting detail, about breakfast at The Klondike. In fact, it remains one of the enduring highlights of any Vegas run we've ever made.

The cookie-cutter megaresorts that now line the Strip are certainly comfortable, and even the worst of them is still fairly elegant. But the closing of the Klondike, and the destruction of the Glass Pool Inn and the Tropicana (which is also slated for implosion and will not take reservations past April of this year) seriously endangers the ephemeral mystique which makes the city of Las Vegas as much of a character as any of its legendary mobsters, gamblers, or entertainers.

Hopefully, someone like Steve Wynn, who has made a fortune reinventing Las Vegas, will find a way to preserve some of the history that's beneath the foundations of his hotels.

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