Heading to Vegas and can’t get tickets to Britney’s show? Or maybe you’re just in search of something a little more low key and more uniquely “Vegas?” Before you panic, keep in mind that shows in Vegas are mostly over-hyped, over-priced and sometimes performers don’t even actually sing. You’re paying for backing tracks. What to do instead? Here’s my suggestion, head to the Neon Museum. It is an overlooked gem in Sin City.
During the 1990’s, Las Vegas boomed with big casinos. At that time, the Allied Arts Council came together with the City of Las Vegas and YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company) to create a non-profit association to help preserve what is synonymous with Las Vegas. Their mission was to protect and preserve many of the historic neon hotel and casino signs in danger of being lost in the constant reinvention and revitalization of casinos. In 1996 they formally organized the Neon Museum and it officially opened for visitors in 2012.
Tours begin in the historical La Concha Motel. The shell-shaped building was designed by architect Paul Revere Williams and is considered “googie architecture” — a form of exaggerated design in the 50’s with up-swept roofs, geometric shapes and at the time bold use of neon, steel and glass. It’s a perfect introduction to what the museum is about since the La Concha was saved from demolition in 2004 and moved to its current location to serve as the Neon Museum’ lobby and visitor center.
After your group is ready, a guide ushers you through the “neon boneyard.” This is where you’ll see signs from the original Vegas strip – Freemont Street. The collection currently features some classics including the Stardust sign and Binion Horseshoe.
Not familiar with Mr. Binion? Thank him, as the person responsible for putting carpet in casinos to make them nicer. Previously visitors would bring in their animals, specifically horses, and the floors were shall we say …quite dirty? Mr. Binion also came up with the idea of serving free drinks to gambling patrons. Okay. Maybe he’s not a great visionary, or inventor, but I for one enjoy the carpeted/free drink/livestock-free environment.
Tours run about an hour and are available day and night. That said, who enjoys neon in daylight? I strongly recommend a night tour so you can see the signs lit up. Because Las Vegas is in a dry, desert area and the temperature drops significantly at night, take a warm sweater and a good camera!
And unless you have a rental car, you’ll need to take a cab—all in all, expect to part with $50-$60, but unlike the slots, you’re guaranteed to walk away satisfied, with a sense of the history surrounding Las Vegas.