Yesterday I took my two eldest kids downtown Chicago to meet my husband’s family and my mom for a pre-holiday lunch at the old Marshall Field department store, now Macy’s. On the way home, we waited twenty minutes for a bus.
An elderly woman commented on the kids and then said she was was headed to Chinatown to board the casino bus.
“The casino is so beautiful,” she told me. “Free food, too.”
She spoke in great detail of the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars her friends had lost in these Indiana casinos. She’d stopped gambling, she insisted, but was going back for one more time.
That got me thinking about all the great hotel casinos from yesteryear. I’ve probably gambled $20 my entire life (including the lottery), but there’s something about those old-school hotels in Las Vegas, Macau, and Havana that brings a sentimental tear to my eye.
Take the Riviera in Havana.
When I visited Cuba six years ago, I stayed at the Melia Cohiba, next to the Riviera. One night we walked over to the Riviera and wandered around the deserted lobby, peeking into the listless Copa Cabaret. I swear it hadn’t changed a drop since opening in 1957. Ginger Rogers sang on the inaugural night of the hotel’s Copa Cabaret and Esther Williams (whose second husband lived in the house where I grew up) swam in the hotel’s famed outdoor pool (also featured in the riveting film, I am Cuba.)
But almost as soon as gangsta Mayer Lansky’s Riviera opened, Fidelito held a press conference in the Copa Cabaret in early 1959 about the future of Cuba. Soon thereafter, all casinos and hotels were nationalized, including the Riviera.