A perfect evening alone in Las Vegas
Manhattans in Las Vegas
Some people do not care about Las Vegas. Some people hate Las Vegas. Some people like Las Vegas ironically. And then some people love Las Vegas.
I love Las Vegas.
So I’m happy to find myself at the El Cortez Hotel and Casino for one night, by myself, before my sister Katharine comes to meet me tomorrow. The El Cortez is the oldest continuously-running hotel and casino in the city. They still have their old slot machines that take quarters, and it smells of cigarette smoke and air freshener.
Siegel’s 1941 is the hotel’s main restaurant, which is located in the casino, not far from the check-in desk. It is known for its $10.95 prime rib special. I’m sitting at a table by the wall, so I have a good vantage point on the room. Only about five tables are occupied. Everyone is having the prime rib special.
My waiter hands me a menu, and I order a Manhattan. It’s 10:30 p.m., but this seems like a fine time for dinner and a drink, as casinos have a way of defeating time. Unlike the bigger casinos on the Strip, where you’re lost deep in a timeless world, the El Cortez has some windowed doors, so you can see outside, but you would still have to make an effort to do this.
My waiter brings my Manhattan, and I order the prime rib special. The drink is only okay, but that is right for a casino cocktail. There is a big picture of Bugsy Siegel behind the hostess station, facing the dining room, and the movie Bugsy plays on a TV behind me and is reflected in the mirrored pillar across from my table. Warren Beatty is standing in silhouette against a sunset, saying, “I got it.” I know he’s saying this not because I can hear it but because the subtitles are on, and I’m reading them backwards in the mirror.
I love being alone in Las Vegas, maybe because it feels strange. There must be lots of people who are alone in Las Vegas, but it seems like a place of couples and friends and groups. Tomorrow, I will sit down in at the bar at Oscar’s Steakhouse, just before Katharine arrives, and the bartender will ask, “Are we alone?” and when I say yes, he’ll place a candle in a votive in front of me and said, “Well, here’s some romance for you, even if you’re all by yourself.”
The dinging of the slot machines is muffled. A man stops to look at the menu by the hostess stand. His t-shirt reads: WHY CAN’T ALL MY GIRLFRIENDS GET ALONG? On the table next to me is a half-finished Coke with lemon, a crumpled white cloth napkin, a straw still in its wrapper, and a knife. In the back of the restaurant, a waiter folds napkins at a table. I eat my prime rib and sip my drink and feel happy and sad in the way you only can in Las Vegas.
After I pay my bill, I head over to the bar across from the restaurant and order another Manhattan. The casino holds the desert air at bay. There are red roses on the carpet.
Las Vegas reminds you that the things you love, you have to really love. You can’t love them with distance or irony because that kind of loving is not real, and Las Vegas tricks you because with all its myths, it is real, and it knows it.
El Cortez Hotel and Casino
600 E. Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101