Sean Connery’s Bond scaled up the façade in Diamonds are Forever; he met Plenty O’ Toole at the craps table.
The hotel, called The Whyte House in the movie but in real life the Las Vegas Hilton, was in its prime then, in 1971. It was the biggest hotel in the world with its 30 floors and 3,000 rooms; to this day, it has the biggest sports book in Vegas.
Elvis performed at the Hilton year after year, eking out the last of his credibility. It was at the Hilton, too, that Muhammad Ali lost his heavyweight title in 1978, and Mike Tyson won his seven years later.
But nothing stays fresh for long in Las Vegas.
The LVH, as it was known when I stayed there, had long been overshadowed by the theme hotels. It is a block from the Strip, which in Vegas might be a hundred miles. But it had its own stop on the monorail and still looked impressive, if dated.
I was only there because I had got a mid-week deal with a double room for the price of a bed in a hostel. But as I stood in line in the cavernous lobby, with its marble floor and abundant staff, behind guests with designer luggage and look-how-rich-I-am watches, I felt out of place with my scruffy old backpack and started to worry that I had made a mistake and was going to be hit with a bill I could not afford.
There was no mistake, though: I had not overlooked a nought when I booked the room. More or less everything was extra and the extras were ambitiously priced, but they gave me a free credit line to try to entice me to the tables.
Sin City. An agglomeration of modern-day temples of Bacchus. What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas. You can – you are strongly encouraged to – leave all restraints at the city limits, do everything to unashamed excess, indulge your favourite vices, do what you like, so long as it looks somewhere near legal.
You can get luminous cocktails in four-foot long glasses, a family-sized bottle of Jim Bean or jeroboams and upwards of Champagne. The bars stay open all night and you can drink round the clock, if you want. I saw a woman in her fifties whom I imagined to be something like a partner in a big firm of accountants walking down the Strip with a glass of red wine in the middle of the day, and a girl in her twenties so hammered she could do nothing but slump in a doorway and sway.
You can lose your shirt, in circumstances forgotten halfway down a four-foot long cocktail or at any of the 197,000 slot machines, the 231 blackjack tables and goodness-knows-how-many roulette wheels.
You can splurge at celebrity chef restaurants – three Ramsays, two Robuchons, a Guy Savoy, a Pierre Gagnaire and half a dozen Wolfgang Pucks – or go to a buffet and pile your plate as high as the Stratosphere Tower.
But none of that appealed half as much as a big hotel room with a bath and a sumptuous bed. For the best part of six months, I had slept in a succession of Asian guesthouses, overnight trains, Australasian hostels, sailing boats, and a notorious budget hotel in LA. The LVH might as well have been the seven star Burj Al Arab, for me. I had not seen a bath since I left London, and looked forward to seeing one again.
I was in bed by nine, without so much as a beer or a symbolic $1 bet, and very happy about it.
© Richard Senior 2015