For my first Halloween on the Las Vegas Strip I decided to dress up as a beatnik journalist, but at the last minute I couldn’t find my black beret. (Yes, I have a black beret. It’s a leftover prop from a short film I made a few years ago.) So I grabbed a black pinstriped sports hat from an old gangster costume to top off my “look.” With my black turtleneck, black pants, and an old film camera slung around my neck, I probably looked more like a time-shifting paparazzo than a beatnik. My wife said I looked “cute.” People on the Strip stopped me to ask for directions and buffet advice.
That disconnect between perception and reality was just one step on my long stairway to a new reality: I’m no longer a Halloween participant; I’ve become a Halloween voyeur. My thrown-together costume confirmed my new, more passive attitude towards a holiday I once relished.
For years I was a regular participant in the always outrageous Hollywood Halloween Parade. When my friends and I went as the “African Safari Gone Tragically Wrong” or as the “Interpretive Dancers from Beyond Mars” (you can imagine) we were not only photographed by hundreds of strangers, we got into some of the best after-parties in Hollywood. When I moved to Vegas, I didn’t know what to expect out on the Strip, but I had heard that all the resorts held lavish and sexy costume contests with prize pools ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, so I imagined that the hustle and bustle between the clubs would be excellent free entertainment.
There is definitely a show to be seen out on the Strip, but it’s surprisingly tame: lots of pirates, ghouls, skeletons, superheroes, stewardesses and French maids wearing fairly ordinary costumes of the type sold in stores and online. The ratio of “drones” (i.e., those not wearing a costume) to participants is high, perhaps 25 to 1 – not all that surprising considering that it takes a special breed of tourist to bring a costume along on vacation. The last time I did the Hollywood Parade, the drone-to-participant ratio was about 10 to 1, up significantly from previous years when participants actually outnumbered the drones. I was among those who lobbied for the Hollywood Parade to adopt the rules of the Greenwich Village Parade in Manhattan – i.e., no costume, no walking in the parade – and from the looks of this year’s Hollywood parade the organizers should reconsider the notion. It’s just not as much fun walking along a parade route when you’re one of the only ones wearing a costume and getting into “the spirit” of Halloween.
But looking for the outlandishness of West Hollywood or Greenwich Village on the streets of Vegas is a little like looking for Democrats in Texas. The best costumes don’t spend much time out in the open, because the real shows are inside the nightclubs. That’s where the creativity and flesh can snap your neck.
The challenge is that there are many nightclubs and most of them are centered in the big resorts, which means they are pretty far apart from one another. Local revelers generally pick a primary (favorite) destination and go straight to it, getting back in their cars and driving to a second destination only if they have to. That’s because finding parking anywhere near a resort is an exercise in misery. The Strip is pretty much a parking lot by 8:30 p.m. any Friday or Saturday night, never mind on Halloween. Plus, as usual, you can count on finding at least one redneck in an old model Chevy pickup stalled in one of the center lanes.
You can save a lot of trouble by avoiding the Flamingo exit off the freeway, unless you’re going to Caesar’s Palace or the Flamingo. Paradise and Koval Roads are excellent options if your destination is on the east side of the Strip because most of the self-parking garages open either onto them or near them. Depending on the size and budget of your core group, hiring a limo for the evening might be the best way to party-hop.
Another thing that became clear to me is that until CityCenter opens, the Strip is effectively divided in half, as the stretch between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo is long, dark and dusty. Even if you stroll along the eastern sidewalk, the luster of Planet Hollywood is lost in the shadow of the largest construction site on the planet. Plus, the tram connecting Excalibur to Mandalay Bay dramatically decreases foot traffic on the southern end of the Strip. That means the best walking along the Strip is generally on the north end, from the Bellagio to Treasure Island, or from Paris to the Wynn.
I couldn’t find any locals who wanted to go with me on my Halloween adventure this year. This told me two things. First, they had done it before and weren’t interested in doing it again. Second, and more importantly, I don’t have the same kind of friends that I used to. That’s not meant as a jab at my new friends here in Vegas. They’re great. But dressing up in a wacky alter-ego and roaming around looking for the next cocktail or in-place to chat up sexy singles is for the young, not so much the young-at-heart.
The costume contests at Ghostbar, Tao, Rain, Diablo’s Cantina, Pure and all the others were hot, sexy fun. As a former ringleader of group-costumed revelers, I have to say I was especially impressed with the Toy Soldiers at the Palms and with a couple of the convict-with-sexy-cop duos I saw walking along the Strip.
Many of the costumes I saw inspired me toward better planning and ringleading next year. But at the same time, I think I already know that it’s not likely that I’ll do either. I’m happily married. Most of my friends are happily married. For parents with costume-age children there are many options and incentives to get out and break loose for an evening. But for a DINK like me, Halloween on the Strip seems best left to the tourists and voyeurs. Next year, if I go anywhere, I’ll go to a costume contest where the models are looking for a payday and the participant-to-drone ratio is better than on the street.
Still, Halloween on the Strip is one of those things that Vegas locals should do at least once. Put it on your calendar for next year.