It actually crept up on us. Our first few minutes were spent snapping shots and tweeting observations. And, then a jovial bellhop struck up a conversation with us. He was notably cheerful even as we discussed what was to happen to all that beautiful stained glass (he hadn't heard, but had fielded many queries), how long he'd been at Bill's/Barbary Coast (25+ years) and where he would go next (he didn't know). Despite the ticking countdown toward's Bill's closure and renovation and his uncertain future, his smile and genial attitude were infectious. We parted ways with smiles and well wishes.
Ambling on, it was just a few minutes later when a bleary eyed slot player stopped us for a chat. We commiserated over the sadness of the day (hey, even though we didn't have a high regard for Bill's, we do have a heart), he told us where he hailed (New York) and informed us of his plans -- to stay at Bill's and to keep playing the Wheel of Fortune slots until the progressive jackpot hit or they kicked him out.
Soon, more picture-taking and tweeting commenced before we headed for the bar for a seat and a drink. And, our next conversation. This time, a tourist from San Diego engaged us in chatter while trying to flag down the busy bar staff. The initial subject wasn't Bill's, though, but our cell phone case. It looks like a book and is a frequent conversation starter. He scrutinized it well. From there, however, talk did turn to Bill's with just 50 minutes left on the clock.
This latest Bill's fan mentioned that he had stayed in the John Wayne Suite the night prior, that it was bigger than his house, but that staff had begun room-by-room checks. He also told us that his maid had proved to be the best source of Bill's information, relaying that many of the hotel's furnishings where headed to Laughlin and that some staff had (allegedly) helped themselves to, erm, parting gifts. By that time, his drink was successfully obtained and he soon moved on with a nod, handshake and smile in preparation of hitting the road.
And, that's when we met our next friendly Bill's patron, a tourist from Milwaukee. Seated on the bar stool next to us, he was a whirlwind of jokes, observations and laughter. He was a regular of Bill's and had flown to Vegas with friends just to shut it down. He said the closure meant he was done with The Strip and that he would now head downtown for cheap booze and friendly crowds.
Refusing to let us keep our nose buried in our smart phone, he issued regular leg slaps and arm pats when something needed to be seen, including the guy who could barely walk as he exited Drai's final bash (yes, in the 11 a.m. hour); the other drunken guy who, we were quickly informed, had already been kicked out by Bill's security but was back in the casino again; the gaudily dressed granny; the Rod Stewart impersonator who swaggered by; the group of off-duty bartenders, which he knew by name, sharing a final drink on the backside of the bar; the time stamp on the receipt for each drink he ordered, as it was given to him; the friend that he could not lure away from the roulette wheel despite repeated attempts.
It was then, as we listened, laughed, and people-watched, that we realized we had an eye-crinkling grin on our face. And, it had been there for a while. Even when we were allowed our moments of silence. We were genuinely having a good time. With no thought to all the ickiness that once crossed our mind. And, at just a few minutes to noon as last calls were filled and final hands were played, we discovered that we had fallen in love with Bill's. If only for 120 minutes. And, that maybe we had missed out on something special all these years, after all.
Bill's will now be closed for a year-long, top-to-bottom (for the most part) renovation that will bring new rooms, dining, and more, including a rooftop dayclub to the aging hotel-casino. When it reopens in early 2014, it will bear a new name.
(PHOTOS: Danial Mente, VegasChatter)