Las Vegas seems to just get larger and larger every year. The biggest hotels and casino on the strip are replaced by even larger casino and hotels the next time you visit. That is part of the attraction of the city. It is so NOT like where you live, unless you live in Vegas in which case you probably don't live near the strip but in someplace where you can't even see the strip like Henderson. But, for most the huge casino are like a giant adult Disneyland: food, drink, shows, gambling, all inside gargantuan theme park like casinos. I have to admit that for all it's gaudy show and excess I actually like a giant 1/2 size Eiffel Tower and a fake Venetian canal flowing through the middle of a casino. And there is nothing in the world like the neon nightscape of Vegas. Like I said, it is adult Disneyland.

But, as someone who has been going to Vegas for over 20 years, I also miss some of the nostalgic old places like the Dunes and the Sands. These were icons of the strip; they were some of the first modern luxury casinos and hotels in the city and they were all storied. The Sands, for me in particular held a place in my heart just because of the Rat Pack history and it was the hotel I stayed at the first time I went to Las Vegas in the late 1980s. Yes, the Sands was till around then, but not for much longer after that. They are all gone now; Bellagio's lake and fountains sit where the Dunes used to be. The Venetian complex sits atop the hollowed ground that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis consecrated night after night to a packed crowd at the Sands. Virtually all the smaller casinos have now been replaced with the mega-casinos.

But, not all of them.

Generally we like to stay at the Venetian since we have family that works for the Las Vegas Sands company. And, with a healthy discount, it works out to be less to stay there than almost anywhere else on the strip. It is a beautiful hotel and casino although we tend not to actually game there much since it tends to be for higher rollers than we are. But, for our most recent trip we decided to try something different and decided to stay at the Barbary Coast, one of the last of the small old hotels left on the center part of the strip. It has recently changed names to Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon after being acquired by Harrahs. The name is a tribute to Bill Harrah.

This little nugget is about 4 stories with 200 or so rooms right between Bally's and the Flamingo and across the street from Caesars Palace and Bellagio. In other words... right smack in the middle of things! Built in the late 1970s, I am amazed that this casino is still standing with the monster casinos all around it. But, I am glad that it is and with the current downturn in the economy, and double-downturn in the Vegas travel business, I doubt that it will be going anywhere soon. Virtually all new construction on the strip has ceased except for City Center (what an alien monstrosity) and most of the big players (Boyd, LVS, MGM, Wynn) are tied up with other projects, debt, and commitments in places like Macau and Singapore. However, Bill's Gamblin' Hall is definitely sitting on a prime piece of property and things will eventually turn around for Las Vegas and the Vegas tourism.

So, the little Bill's Gamblin' Hall is safe for now and probably safe for a few years to come which is a good thing. The casino is tiny with about 3 craps tables, a handful of tables for blackjack, and about 100 slot machines (my estimate). It is little smokier than some of the larger casinos with their massive air filtering systems, so that is a mark against it, but the casino harkens back to an earlier, smaller time in Las Vegas history. There is just something about the size and the smokiness that is nostalgic for even though I despise the smell of cigarette smoke in general.

We spent a fair amount of time gaming in the evenings there since we could just hop the elevator and be in the room. I'm not sure whether we came out ahead, but probably not. We use our tried and true system of each having $100 to spend each day and when that is gone, you are done gambling. Inevitably, I am done gambling hour before my sweetie and her slot machines. So, I just watch her and wander around watching other folks.

We ate twice at the Victoria Room restaurant which is the less fussy of the the hotel's 2 main restaurants. The Victoria Room is not fancy, but the food there was very good for the price; good steaks and even better Chinese food. Yes, I said Chinese. Most of the menu is good 'ol American fare, but they specialize in a few Chinese dishes as well and the Kung Pou chicken was one of the best I have ever had. Amazing, especially since I am really a Chinese food snob after having good Chinese food readily available for years.

The beds were very comfortable, the rooms a bit small, but that goes along with the whole place being relatively small. They had a big flat screen LCD TV and a cute little bathroom with good bath products and a window that actually OPENED in the shower and which had a view of the Eiffel Tower at Paris. Very cool. Service was good when we needed to call and have ice & towels brought up.

All in all, we very much liked the Barbary Coast (now Bills) and we will be staying there again if we get the chance instead of the Venetian if only because I just know that it will eventually disappear - gobbled up by one of the new giants. You should too.