Vegas, Baby!

Fremont Street Fremont Street Fremont Street Fremont Street Fremont Street Neon Museum Neon Museum Luxor Hard Rock Cafe Las Vegas strip Formula One Vegas Sign

Chapters:   Achtung Baby Live  •  The GA Line  •  Zoo Station at the Venetian  •  Sphere Experience and Postcard from Earth  •  Vegas Legends  •  Venetian and Tao Beach  •  Vegas, Baby!  •  Acrobat

“I’m in the black, can’t see or be seen. Baby, baby, baby, light my way!”
Ultra Violet (Light My Way) from Achtung Baby, lyrics by Bono

“The more time I spend on Fremont Street, the more I appreciate its old-school charms. So much has changed on the surface, but the Vegas mindset is the same.”
Mattopia Jones
(comment made to the Times over a prime rib dinner at Magnolia’s in the Four Queens casino)

You’re So Money

Of course a dynamic city like Las Vegas is constantly changing.

  • Rumors are the classic Casino Royale on the Strip will be demolished. No specific plans or announcements.
  • The Hard Rock Hotel closed several years ago; that site’s now Virgin. But Hard Rock’s going to renovate the Mirage with a new hotel experience. The volcano will be replaced with a giant Hard Rock guitar.
  • MGM Grand is a mess of “stuff.” Long gone is the Wizard of Oz Emerald City theme. Now, there is no cohesive theme, just a jumble of shops, restaurants and venues.
  • In 2025, it’s anticipated the Tropicana will be demolished and a new Major League Baseball park will be built for the Oakland A’s new home in Vegas for the 2028 season. Ahead of that, I tipped a pint of Guinness at Robert Irvine’s Public House in the Tropicana’s honor on 29 October U2023.

U2’s Atomic City Instagram filter in action
(Shot on the iPhone 15 Pro Max)

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

The history of Las Vegas is absolutely bonkers. Forget about all the mafia madness and the fictional pioneer town stories Vegas tried to sell to its first tourists. U2 brilliantly latched onto a fascinating aspect of Vegas history with their song Atomic City.

J. Robert Oppenheimer built the first atomic bomb in the lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico. But coming out of that was interest in building a hydrogen bomb. Merely 65 miles north of Las Vegas, nuclear bomb tests were conducted in the 1950s (actually right on through to 1992).

At this point, it was no longer secretive. It was actually sold as a tourist attraction. Book a room with a view. No. Not of the Strip or of the casinos. A view of the bomb tests lighting up the sky some 100 or so miles away. Plan your festive party around the next detonation.

Off-the-chain nuts.

And maybe – just maybe – this information could shed new light for those who so quickly deride Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which features one of my mentors surviving a nuclear blast by ducking into a refrigerator. It’s humorous and yet grounded in the bizarre realities of history.

Stardust: it’s not just the illuminated sign, it’s the history

Such a shame the Stardust – with its towering neon sign and atomic-age theme – was demolished in 2006 to make way for an extravagant 5,300-room campus called Echelon. But with the market crash in 2008, that project... ummm... imploded and was never built.

The Perfect Pint?

Going from spot to spot in Vegas, I was appalled by the inability of bartenders to pour a decent – not even perfect, just decent – pint of Guinness. British pub, Irish pub, burger joint, sports bar. It doesn’t matter the format or theme.

Vegas is not the home to A-list mixologists. Nah. Not at the mainstream venues, anyway.

Persistence paid off, though. I finally found a spot where they actually know what they’re doing: Ri Ra pub in Mandalay Bay. Not only a perfect pint, but terrific hand-cut Irish chips and an Irish bartender who talks all kinds of smack. That includes a wacky story about how the Irish fought with the Nazis during World War II. There was also a story about how the name “Flynn” has a bad reputation thanks to Clan Flynn doing some not-so-nice things with sheep. Sadly, the midwestern tourists he was serving not only bought the shots and beers, they also bought his (funny) stories.

The Perfect Pint of Guinness at Ri Ra pub

The Perfect Pint of Guinness at Ri Ra

Fremont Street

How cool is it U2 returned to Fremont Street to film their awesome video for Atomic City? With Larry Mullen, Jr. on drums! So very cool. Especially when put in the context of it having been the location of their classic video for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For back in the ’80s, long before Fremont grew a roof.

Fremont Street’s still happening. Maybe even now more than ever. There are the classic casinos, of course (many still allowing – cough, hack – smoking. But there’s also ziplining and loads of live music on a few different stages spread around the street. Plenty of buskers, to boot. Including some decidedly questionable – but oh so very Vegas – performers of a lascivious nature.

It’s a crowded scene with plenty to explore. The Mob Museum and Neon Museum, among other educational activities, are in spitting distance.

The Saturday night before Halloween didn’t quite live up to my hopes for a ghoulishly splendid evening of costumes parading around, though. I was expecting – hoping for – something akin to the old Boulder Mall Crawl, which was ultimately kiboshed because of the rowdiness ages ago. But it was still fun to walk around and see quite a few costumes.

Halloween theme lights up Fremont Street roof

The Fremont Street Experience: Halloween theme

A Katy Perry theme

The Fremont Street Experience: Katy Perry theme; it’s striking how reminiscent this is of U2’s Sphere display during Even Better Than the Real Thing

Neon Museum

The Neon Musuem’s a cool surprise. It’s not just walking through the boneyard of old signs. Some restored, some not. Some glowing brilliantly, some not.

The best part is the guided tour and the colorful history that’s shared along the way.

Modern Las Vegas has a fascinating story to tell that goes far past its mob roots.

A huge statue of a mullet-wearing pool player

Part of a sign display from a pool hall chain

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