Stripping The Sahara

A casino sells its soul

The National Content Liquidators Sale at the Sahara Hotel and Casino was bittersweet—part voyeuristic garage sale, part retro encounter group.

From its founding in 1952 to its closing in 2011, the Sahara—its improbable onion-dome minarets cheerfully bobbing beneath the aqua sky—promised not only Moorish lanterns and tasseled leather poufs, but the wholesale cultural displacement that came to be synonymous with the city itself.

Clutching power tools and Hasselblad cameras, sale-goers had the run of the 1700+ room resort, from the most exclusive suites to the hotel kitchens, coupled with the ability to haul away any thing that tickled our fancy, provided we could 1) pay for it and 2) move it. An acute what-next vibe permeated the air. Was this Frank Sinatra’s table? Is there any way I can dismantle the mosaic columns propping up the casino ceiling?

After I swooped up a camel print and an art deco mirror, I stopped cold in the Presidential penthouse where everyone from The Beatles to Bill Cosby stayed: the spacious, glassed-in room with unrivaled view was nearly empty, save for a lavish marble bathtub poised regally upon a triple-tiered dais. Next to the tub was an over-turned nightstand, one of its drawers protruding like a forlorn tongue. I felt as if I were looking on the fallen ruins of Ozymandias while the Spring Mountains, majestic upon the horizon, proclaimed all that is truly mighty.

A team of wiry men intent on dismantling the mini-fridge console ruptured the moment and I resumed my systematic hunt for a twining-lotus floor lamp. Until I found myself alone in the Alexandrian Tower on the 11th floor. The combination of sixty or so empty hotel rooms, no air-conditioning, and a rising creep factor reminiscent of The Shining overrode both cupidity and historic gravitas.

On my way out of the lobby, a bewildered woman in a rhinestone baseball call stopped me. “Is this the Sahara?” I explained that the hotel was closed. “Is there a buffet?” she persisted, while the chandeliers and cafe tables, Sultanate China and arabesque door handles were carted away on all sides, with many a damp eye reflected in the brass filigree.

The last I saw him, Clyde, the life-size wooden camel and Sahara mascot, was wistfully still looking for a home.


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