A Slice of Classic Casino Culture: The Historic Hotel, Ely, NV

In the town of Ely, Nevada, at the junction of Highways 6, 93 and 50 (the loneliest road in America), stands a once flashy showgirl. Although she’s a little long in the tooth, the old gal is still a sweet tease.

The ground in front of her is splayed with the stars of Jimmy Stewart and Stephen King. A two-story neon miner wielding a pick ax guards her side and a painted, Paul Bunyan-sized burro, complete with six-guns, and chaps watches her rear. Inside the Hotel Nevada, the check-in counter is tucked between stuffed mountain lions and albino elk head trophies. The air is thick with smoke and pierced by the incessant bells of 24-hour slots.

My room is the Ken Maynard, “the first singing cowboy in the movies.” Maynard, says the door plaque, was born in 1895 and was a trick rider with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The walls are plastered with movie posters of him and his horse, Tarzan. The plaque says he died “poor and miserable, alone in a trailer, alcoholic and the victim of serious malnutrition.” A hero in flicks like Death Rides the Range and Trailing Trouble, Maynard’s end was ironically tragic. I snuggle under the floral comforter and muse on the stories this hotel could tell.

Built in 1929, it opened its doors offering bootleg booze and $1.50-a-night rooms. At six stories high, it was the tallest building in the state until the 1940s. A precocious 16-year-old named Wayne Newton learned to handle a crowd here. The guestbook includes names such as Ingrid Bergman, Evil Knievel and Mickey Rooney. In my bathroom, the donkey motive is repeated. In a hand-drawn sign, he’s looking out of the shower, expletives issuing from buck teeth. It reads, “We loved the shower! Hot or Cold or whatever.” On another, smaller posting is written, “Due to the age of this hotel, the shower fluctuates from hot to cold without warning.”

The hotel’s hallways are painted with bucolic murals by cowboy artist Larry Bute, and the casino floor is dotted with collections of carved wooden Indians, Harley Davidsons, and stuffed rattlesnakes. There’s a long bar with 24-hour, 99-cent Margaritas. The restaurant features a 24-hour $1.49 hot breakfast special.

The slots weren’t too good to me. But, for my money, the Hotel Nevada hits the jackpot as a casino classic. Ding ding ding ding.

Rooms offer the “Casino Rate” of just $29/night. For more info, visit www.hotelnevada.com.

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