Living Las Vegas: Tribute to Vintage Vegas

Published on: August 14, 2022, 10:00 am.

Last update: 13 August 2022, 04:18.

Part of this Las Vegas attraction is its ties to a bygone era—movie stars, mobsters, the Rat Pack. Of course, Vegas has changed a lot since then. But you can still pay homage to vintage Las Vegas.

Miss Atomic
Last Miss Atomic, Lee A. Merlin poses in a cloud bikini. In the 1950s, women competed in Miss Atomic pageants. The contests aimed to celebrate modernity and the Vegas atomic test sites. (Picture: Bloomberg)

There is no shortage of modern, “immersive” experiences in Vegas. AREA15’s giant ‘Omega Mart’ leads the pack and ‘dining experiences’ like Superfrico at Cosmopolitan – where you can eat ‘Psychedelic American Italian’ entrees in a stunning stage-lit environment and join your sexy, surreal dining. performers from the adjacent show, Opium.

But there are several potentially lesser-known gems in Vegas that pay homage to yesteryear. There is no other place in the world that can claim to have a National Atomic Testing Museum (kaboom!) and a Burlesque Hall of Fame (va-va-voom!). These lesser-known stops bring back a different Las Vegas.

The atomic love affair

The National Atomic Testing Museum highlights the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site in the desert, 65 miles northwest of Vegas. It’s crazy to think that watching the atomic bomb explosions in Nevada was promoted as a Vegas tourist attraction in the 1950s and early 1960s when Vegas was known as “Atomic City, USA.”

A display advertises Atomic Vegas. (Picture: (Mitch Schneider)

There were all-night rooftop parties at various north-facing hotels where guests could see the pre-dawn detonations; the city also held “Miss Atom Bomb” beauty pageants and served “atomic cocktails”.

While those blasts boosted Vegas tourism and the local economy—downtown bar Atomic Liquors opened in 1952 on East Fremont Street and is still booming—downwinders who lived near the blasts years later developed cancer from the radiation and died. Serious killing, I know.

The Russians created their atomic bomb in 1949, four years after we dropped two of them on Japan in 1945 to end World War II. Visiting the museum will expand your awareness of this who-can-build-a-better-bomb craze. And as I wound my way through the exhibits and saw a creepy “B 53 Thermo Weapon,” Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” played non-stop in my head.

It’s a drive, but it’s worth seeing this unique stop. Allow three hours to tour the museum, which includes a recreation of a bomb shelter (with a very well-dressed American family) and watch the films. Don’t miss the museum shop, which includes books such as Countdown to 1945 and “atomic culture” memorabilia. You may or may not want to buy the “Radiation Hat”.

Burlesque’s Ode to Feminism

The Burlesque Hall of Fame is located in the ever-growing Arts District, just south of the Strip.

The museum is small but rich with original burlesque costumes including one by Tempest Storm, show posters, news and of course a huge collection of colorful striptease pastes. There’s a lot of history to soak up here, as burlesque dates back to the 1860s.

In particular, the museum aims to shed light on how “feminist principles are found throughout the history of burlesque”. One of the news items shown shows members of the harassed League of Exotic Dancers standing before the LA Herald Examiner in 1959, arguing for their rights to be treated like other cabaret performers.

The world of burlesque took a big hit in the 90s with the rise of the neo-burlesque scene, which incorporated vintage cool, punk rock bravado and empowering femininity.

One of the heroes of this movement is Dita Von Teese, and the museum has Dita’s “Giant Martini Glass”—her now iconic singing prop—as part of its collection. (I was once lucky enough to see her with a martini glass when Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne renewed their vows at their 20th anniversary celebration at the Beverly Hills Hotel.)

The Wild West of Burlesque

Spiegelworld’s Atomic Saloon Show at The Venetian highlights burlesque in a creatively designed funhouse that resembles an Old West brothel.

Anything goes in this show with indecent pride, with audience interaction: near nudity in the face, dirty (and timely) skits mocking religious conservatives and virtuoso acrobatic dancers hanging from ropes without a net. There is also a contortionist who looks you straight in the eye while upside down.

A woman applauds a contortionist on stage at the Atomic Saloon Show. (Image: Mitch Schneider)

The music at the “Atomic Saloon” – country, rock and dance – pumps hard, drinks are spilled and monologues are peppered with deliberately corny lines. With its campy flair, non-stop energy and celebration of all-inclusive sexuality, the 75-minute show (Friday to Tuesday, 7.30pm and 9.30pm) brings to mind The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The folks at Spiegelworld (“Absinthe,” “Opium”) are experts at sensory overload, and “Atomic Saloon” is exhausting in all the right ways.

More to check

If you’re headed to the Burlesque Hall of Fame, pop into celebrity chef/restaurateur Todd English’s gorgeous Pepper Club.

It’s a stone’s throw from the museum – located in new boutique hotspot The English Hotel – and the lighting is sexy and blessedly cute. Try the “Happiest Hours” menu, where appetizers and drinks are $8 daily from 3 to 6 p.m. The eclectic and tasty cuisine is billed as an “Ocean Asian Fusion and Sushi Bar.”

There’s always a new show to see here and I recently checked out Reckless In Vegas’ residency at Sahara’s historic showroom (Thurs & Fri at 8:30pm). The show is based on 60s Las Vegas gems/Rat Pack standards, and a power trio led by Vegas-raised staffer Michael Shapiro pairs them with two backing vocalists.

There’s plenty of vintage Vegas footage and photos interspersed throughout, with a pair of showgirls providing the glitz. It will be interesting to see if the show finds an audience that wants to see classic Vegas tunes by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Sonny & Cher, Frankie Valli and others given the rock treatment (“Think The Rat Pack meets Green Day’, to borrow the show’s bold tagline)

And if you’re seeing Reckless In Vegas, it’s worth dining at the moderately priced The Noodle Den at The Sahara. When I stopped by recently, their slippery, lovingly folded dumplings, Dan Dan chicken cut noodles, and refried beans reigned supreme.

Each month, Mitch Schneider explores some of Vegas’ most unique offerings. Schneider has a decades-long career working with some of the music industry’s biggest stars. moved to Vegas from LA with his wife during the pandemic in March 2020. He has loved the city ever since.

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