Everyone knows that there are dozens of casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, but which casino was the first casino on the Vegas Strip?
That distinction belongs to the Red Rooster Casino, which is no longer there.
But it has an interesting story that can help you understand some of the nuances of Las Vegas history and why it is the way it is today.
The Red Rooster Was Originally a Nightclub
The Red Rooster wasn’t always a casino. At first, it just was just a famous nightclub. The gambling came later.
As far as United States cities go, Vegas was more forgiving of both illegal drinking and illegal gambling than anywhere else.
At the time, the Strip was just a handful of nightclubs west of downtown. These clubs were located there specifically to attract business from people driving in from California.
But you could get an entire chicken dinner at the Red Rooster for just a dollar.
Some History of the Red Rooster
The Red Rooster was originally owned and operated by Alice Wilson Morris. In 1931, visitors to the Red Rooster found a one-story nightclub with singing, dancing, and dining available.
They also served alcohol – almost from the start.
In February of 1931, the Justice Department sent agents in to demand that they stop selling alcohol. And the Red Rooster DID stop selling alcohol… temporarily.
In March 1931, Nevada legalized casinos, and the Red Rooster was one of the first companies to get a casino license from Clark County.
It took them almost no time at all to set up the gambling there, limited at it was – a single blackjack table and three slot machine games.
It only took them four months to lose their gambling license. It turns out that selling booze illegally is grounds for taking away a gaming license.
The Dance Hall License and Beer Drinking
In 1933, a club like the Red Rooster could (and did) get a dance hall license. This was after Prohibition ended, and it enabled them to sell beer (but nothing harder). It caught fire and was destroyed later that year but was rebuilt and re-opened by the end of the year.
It continued to be a thriving business throughout the 1930s and the 1940s.
The Grace Hayes Lodge
Grace Hayes was an actress and vaudeville performer in the 1920s and 1930s, but in the 1940s, she decided to try her hand at owning a nightclub. She bought the Red Rooster and re-named it, calling it the Grace Hayes Lodge.
At this point, the Red Rooster was more than a nightclub. It also included a motel, the Sans Souci.
What’s the difference between a motel and a hotel, by the way?
I learned this relatively late in life, and most people don’t know this fact:
A motel has doors which open to the outside, while a hotel has doors which open into a hallway. The “m” in motel refers to “motorcar.”
But she didn’t call it the Grace Hayes Lodge for long. She changed the name back to the Red Rooster. She also sold it and bought it back within the space of 12 months. By 1953, she’d sold the place for good.
Hi-Ho Club, Patio Club, San Souci Hotel
By the mid-1950s, the Las Vegas Strip was starting to grow and become a thing. The former Red Rooster grew with it, installing a huge showroom and operating under the following names:
- The Hi-Ho Club
- The Patio Club
- The Rendezvous
- San Souci Hotel
In those days, the showroom at San Souci was home mostly to burlesque acts and B- and C-list celebrities.
Eventually, it became known as San Souci, which had 100 modern rooms and a chicken and pancake house.
After years of on-again, off-again financial troubles, the place was torn down and replaced with a new property – The Castaways.
The Castaways managed to hang in there for over a quarter of a century.
It’s also famous as one of the properties in Las Vegas that Howard Hughes owned. He bought it for $3 million in 1970.
The Castaways was in operation from 1963 until 1987.
The Castaways would be considered a tiny casino today; it only had 8 table games and 70 slot machines. It also had an aquarium in the bar, which was special because of the three-times-a-day nude showgirls performing in the aquarium.
The Castaways was torn down and replaced with The Mirage. This took some time, as the Mirage was a huge property, comparatively.
The Castaways closed in 1987.
The Mirage opened in 1989.
When it opened, it was one of the biggest resorts in town, with over 3000 rooms. Steve Wynn was the original owner, but MGM Resorts owns it now. The Mirage cost over $630 million to build – that’s a lot of money for a hotel and casino on the site of the Red Rooster nightclub and casino.
The Mirage is right next door to and has a tram to and from Treasure Island, which is the best place to play blackjack on the Strip.
The sign for the Mirage is one of the biggest in the world – it’s over 160 feet tall. Like The Castaways, it has a huge aquarium, but this aquarium is 20 times the size of the original.
It also lacks the nude showgirls swimming through it.
You’ll find plenty of interesting casino stories in Las Vegas. This is just one of them. The Red Rooster was there first, and it was located where the Mirage is now. Wouldn’t it have been something to have been able to hang out there?