May 03, 2020

Binion's Gambling Hall Brings Hotel Apache Back to Fremont Street, Vegas

In April of last year, we were in Vegas for our first "Home+History Weekend" sponsored by Nevada Preservation Foundation. It's kind of a less hectic version of Palm Springs Modernism Week, but in an entirely different desert city.

We had such a good time that we were supposed to return in April of this year for another round of walking tours and behind-the-scenes adventures—but the coronavirus pandemic put the kibosh on that.

I'd planned on writing about last year's "backstage tour" of Binion's on Fremont Street once I was able to return and document the post-renovation results. But although Home+History 2020 has been rescheduled for September this year, I'm not sure it's actually going to happen. And patience is not one of my virtues.

Every year, Home+History puts together a nighttime cocktail party that provides "backstage access" to some private home or unusual venue that's normally inaccessible by the general public. The year before I attended for the first time, it was at the "Underground House" a.k.a. the Vegas bomb shelter mansion. I'm still kicking myself for missing out on that one.

Last year, it was at Binion's Gambling Hall, which had operated as only a casino since 2009—when the recession closed the hotel tower that been acquired as part of Binion's previous iteration, Binion's Horseshoe (a.k.a The Horseshoe Club).

But it wasn't always Binion's, either. Renamed by convicted moonshiner, murderer, and gangster Benny Binion, it had begun its life on Fremont Street (known for a time as "Glitter Gulch") as the Hotel Apache and Casino. Binion took over in 1951 (when the downstairs casino was called Eldorado Club) and, in 1988, added the neighboring property of The Mint—all under his eponymous operation.

Binion's family was more or less forced out of the business in 2004 in the wake of labor disputes and the discovery of insufficient funds in the casino cage. But by then, the Binion's brand had become instantly recognizable because of its association with the World Series of Poker, which had taken place there since 1970 and had made poker a casino floor staple.

So, the name stuck—even as new owners attempted to rebrand the hotel and its rooms with something of a gothic Victorian glam look, the word "Binion's" seamlessly integrated into a black damask patten on silver wallpaper.

During last year's party in April, we got to see one of the "show" rooms, left untouched from the proposed changes that were never actually instituted.

We also got to walk the hallways of the old—and essentially abandoned—Hotel Apache, which was slated to reopen later that year and bring the hotel business back to Binion's. (It did, in fact, open 81 of the 350+ rooms in July 2019.)

We were led through hallways, breezeways, loading docks, and other areas normally reserved only for casino staff.

And we paused for a moment at the Binion's gift shop/sundries shop, which apparently was one of the few public spaces that was left over from those old hotel operations.

After all, the Hotel Apache's original opening date was all the way back in 1932. Its brick fa├žade is hiding behind all that neon and LED you see at the corner of Fremont and N. Casino Center Boulevard (formerly 2nd Street).

After a decade of dormancy, the current Binion's owners (TLC Casino Enterprises, also of the Four Queens) made good on their promise to reactivate the Hotel Apache.

I was looking forward to seeing what they'd done with it, knowing only that they were hoping to retain its vintage flair.

When we peeked inside a yet-to-be-restored room, it was in pretty rough shape—with windows that had been adorned with decals made to look like stained glass.

A new cocktail lounge was supposed to open up on the second floor of the space formerly occupied by The Mint, too—which I think is the Whiskey Licker Up at Binion's. It apparently rotates! I look forward to checking it out in September—or whenever I get back to Vegas.

I'll surely report back, as I originally intended to do.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Fremont Street Experience, Vegas (Updated for 2019)
Photo Essay: Waking Up in Vegas (On Fremont Street)

1 comment:

  1. I have some wonderful memories of Binion’s back in the day. It certainly belonged to another era of Vegas. I recommend reading Positively Fifth Street by James McManus if you haven’t already. He played in the World Series of Poker at the same time as the Ted Binion murder trial was taking place. It captures the collapse of Binion’s heartbreakingly well. I hope we’ll all be able to see the renovations one day soon.