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For Two Hours, We Fell In Love With Bill's

February 5, 2013 at 5:13 PM | by | ()

We are not fans of Bill's.

This writer in particular had never (seriously, never) stepped foot in it until just after 10 a.m. PST Monday morning. And, that was because we were chronicling its final hours of business for work.

Before crossing its threshold, we'd prepared ourselves for grunge, grime, possible smells and had already slipped a bottle of Purell into our clutch. And, hit the restroom at Bellagio. No way were were chancing the possibility of having to go at the dive hotel-casino. But, what we didn't anticipate was that we would have a blast. And, for two hours, fall in love with Bill's.

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.

New York guy.

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.

Hard-working bartender guy.

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.

Milwaukee guy.

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)

Archived Comments:


I really really enjoyed this place too. It really was a little bit of downtown on the strip.  

Loved Bill's and the John Wayne Suite

Stayed there and in the JW Suite the last two March Madnesses. Found Bill's after the Plaza closed for remodeling and never wanted to go back to the Plaza. The John Wayne suite had to be the biggest room in Vegas for under $200 a night.  Just a great vibe, that will be replaced by new and shiny.  It won't be the same, and I won't be able to afford whatever they call the suite that takes the place of the J.W. Suite.

Another one bites the dust

While I didn't play much at Bill's, I definitely enjoyed staying there, eating at the Victorian Room, taking advantage of their easy-access garage when seeing Absinthe or shows at Flamingo, etc.  The lovely furnishings will be sadly missed, as will be the simplicity and friendliness.  

Will Miss The Parking!

Always loved the Barbary Coast, and spent countless hours in it over the years. I'd use their garage to park and begin my Strip adventures.

I'm going to miss the garage (and hope it is still intact when they re-open). It was literally the best kept secret on The Strip. You had to wind your way up about four levels, but you could always find a spot. Because the property is so small, you were on The Strip in no time.


The John Wayne Suite was on my Vegas bucket list but I never had the opportunity to stay there.  Getting that particular room for MM is especially difficult I would imagine (though I never actually tried).

Now that it doesn't matter, how exactly did you get that reservation?  Do you have a host and get it based on your play?  Do you make a reservation for the following year while you are there? or how far in advance do they take reservations?

It wasn't really under $200 for MM was it?  I've inquired on other random weekends and recall it being close to $400; which is still reasonable for the size but at $200 it would be one of the best deals ever.

I swear it was under $200. It only took a call.

The year the Plaza closed for remodeling I was scrambling a bit, kinda like this year with Bill's closing, looking for a 2 bedroom suite and happened to call Bill's.  They said they had a couple 2 bdrm suites, one was already booked that one had a king and two queen bed configuration, but the one with a 2 king bed configuration was available.  That turned out to be the JWS, but they never called it  that when I called.  It was also referred to as the penthouse later, but not on this call either.  It was actually cheaper than the other room, so I took it.  The rate both years, and was to be this year was $194 for Wed/Thur and $259 Fri/Sat.  I do not have a host.  As a matter of fact I was very paranoid about losing this room at the last minute as the Plaza had bumped me two years running from a Derby Suite at the last minute to give to high rollers.  I was told at Bill's that the casino and hotel were separate entities, in that the casino did not get to bump guests from paid rooms, and I never was.  

I make my reservations for March early, very early, and I would always make sure to see when those dates were offered, and as soon as they posted I pounced and booked the room.  

It was the best deal ever, my group never wanted to go anywhere else.  It was a bit run down, but it had a full kitchen and a breakfast nook, no furniture in the nook.  It had a full dining room table, two TVs in the party room.  Free porn in the party room too if one was so inclined, we weren't but it made for a few laughs.  The party room had 22 chairs in it and they were not crowded in there.  Fifty people could be in that area and not be over crowded.  When you look at the back of Bill's it takes up the entire top floor's back end.  One side of the suite had a view of Ballys, the other side the Flamingo.  If you can still see a stained glass window near the back top of Bill's, that is in the JWS.  I never wrote about it much online because I never wanted any competition to book the room during March Madness.  It was pure greatness.  We will miss it.  We are a lucky group or we jinx hotels.  We have been the last to stay in cabana suites at the Stardust for MM, and now we were the last to use the John Wayne Suite for the tourney.

Oh Billy!

Gonna miss Bill's! My favorite slot machine on the whole strip was there. Margaritas - even when they went up to $2, still an amazing deal. First place I played Craps...


Thanks Keith

Yes, I have a few Vegas secrets that I keep quiet about as well for the same reason so I totally understand where you are coming from but I appreciate hearing all the details now.