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April 2016 marked the 60th anniversary of Elvis' first Vegas residency
The city found its identity among gangster history and gambling
Today Las Vegas is an entirely different beast as MailOnline discovered
Now, the city caters to every demographic looking for a good time
At the end of April 60 years ago, Elvis Presley was performing his very first residency in Las Vegas, the city that would one day be nearly synonymous with his name.
Ironically, he utterly bombed during those first concerts at the New Frontier Hotel in 1956. The middle-aged audience sat in stunned silence throughout the young hip-shaker's set,
creating an atmosphere so uncomfortable that a Newsweek magazine review from one of the shows described the budding King as 'a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party'.
Though he shot films there, visited on occasion and even wedded Priscilla there in 1967, it would not be until 13 years after that disastrous first residency that Elvis would return to
a Vegas stage. But, from there, a strong cultural link was formed.
It’s an association that has evolved from classy to kitschy to caricature – almost in line with the character of the city itself. But today, Sin City is plenty more than gambling and
stage shows. In fact, it’s not even the pure destination for debauchery it had shifted into during the later days of The King.
Among the neon and plastic there has emerged real elegance. Hotels now cater for everyone from families in search of a PG getaway to the gaggle of girls on a bachelorette
weekend. The 89 cent shrimp cocktails are shoved aside for haute cuisine from around the world, discount drinks at the slots are traded in for tipples infused with botanicals in
glamorous settings. The mythologized mob den is dead, long live the pleasuredome.
In fact, even gambling - the thing that had been a key component of its tourism identity since the state passed legalized gambling in 1931 during the Great Depression to generate
taxable income for the state - has proven less important to visitors than ever.
Today, some may still have an internal vision of the purpose and experience of Vegas, but I can guarantee you, it can actually be whatever you want it to be. Want the full Elvis
experience? You can get that. But equally, if not more so, if you want anything else, you can almost certainly have that too.
This is what I discovered on my first visit to Vegas, arriving on a late evening flight and whisked into the thick of the lights in a flash by a cab to the hotel.
My first three nights’ stay were at The Venetian which, along with The Palazzo it is attached to, is one of the largest hotels in the world – and therefore incredibly grand. I spent
three hours walking around it on the first day.
Technically, like many hotels in Vegas, you do not need to leave the complex to have a full experience. The Venetian offers a shopping mall, including a canal with gondolas driven
by operatically-inclined gondoliers in striped shirts, as well as multiple pools, restaurants, bars and of course a massive gambling floor. Not to mention stately multi-level rooms with
lofty views of the Strip.
Neil Miller, the Executive Director of entertainment at The Venetian and Palazzo, told me that the hotel is one of the famous Vegas themed hotels that has truly endured.
'If you go back to the 50s and 60s, rat pack golden age, it was all about having a big room – a big theater, nightclub would have 500 seats – so that dynamic has changed usually,
but also in those days it was not about fine dining and it was not about top of the line world-class retail,' he said.
'It was about the Chuck Wagon buffet and the 89 cent shrimp cocktail. It was a very, very different profile of what attracted people here. '
Neil himself saw Elvis Presley perform in Vegas back during his long run at The International, but today recognizes a changing need for the man and his legacy in the current
entertainment landscape of the city.
But while the modern amenities seem to be taking over, there are plenty of establishments doing their utmost to preserve the kitschy Vegas of yore.
Vegas insider and expert Jennifer Whitehair told me me: 'I think sometimes people think that Vegas doesn’t have a history – and we certainly have a reputation for imploding our
history – but at the same time there are lots of people who are fighting to save parts of Vegas.'
For one, there is the Neon Museum, a sprawling graveyard packed with neon signs dating back right to the 1930s - included one from the New Frontier, the hotel of Elvis' failed first
residency, which was closed and demolished in 2007.
For slightly more recent Vegas history you can even still visit the remnants of the Sigfried and Roy legacy at the entertainers' Secret Garden in the Mirage - a spot for petting
dolphins and watching giant white cats laze about in the sun.
Then there is the Golden Steer, a fabled steak house in the city that was not only a favorite of Elvis back in his Vegas years, but also a hang out for the Rat Pack and a few of the
more shady members of the entertainment community.
|LAS VEGAS 60 YEARS AFTER ELVIS FIRST GRACED ITS STAGES
October 07, 2016 - The Mail Online / Elvis Express Radio
But aside from those old reminders, I saw not one Elvis impersonator roaming the streets, not a single peanut butter and banana sandwich on a menu, nor a note of his music
blasting from any bars I passed by. These things are all out there I am sure, but it is clear his presence has dwindled - not least confirmed by the fact that an exhibit about the man
staged at Westgate Las Vegas, formerly the International, recently closed less than a year into a 10-year contract.
However, Jennifer explains that while 'the man' may not be here in such a way that he once was, 'the philosophy and the star power of Elvis' still is in the form of the blockbuster
shows that have come to the town in the decades since.
'Once someone would say "Oh when you go to Vegas you have to see Elvis", now it's "when you go to Vegas, you have to see Celine",' Whitehair said.
She added: 'The great thing about Vegas is that it’s a city of reinvention. Vegas is this Fantasyland that is always looking for the next big thing. It's like a choose-your-own-
As I was collecting my bags from the holding area from the gracious staff at the Cosmo before hopping in my cab to the airport home, it suddenly dawned on me: I hadn’t even
gambled on this, my first time in Vegas. I took out 40 dollars from an ATM, sat down at a machine and lost it all in less than 10 minutes on slots - as if to confirm what I had already
been feeling: Viva the New Vegas.