Special to The Times
Shopping for that perfect G-string? Seeking the definitive NBA tipsheet — or a zebra-striped chaise longue shaped like a platform shoe? Maybe so, maybe not. But isn't it great to know there is a town where all these things can be found at the drop of a feather boa?
Ditto for the shopper whose tastes run toward the more conservative. Say you're in the market for his-and-her four-wheelers with attached gun racks, or a personal recording of Barry Manilow cover tunes featuring ... you. Or perhaps you need a high-quality Willie Nelson wig from the largest wig showroom in the world.
In this city of kitsch purchases and haute-couture sport shopping, where a diamond necklace can cost as much as a small house in Schenectady, N.Y., another retail realm exists: a surreal, alluring, gritty world where all but local shoppers and adventurous out-of-towners fear to (or don't know to) tread.
You know it's out there, though. The city's gamers, bookies, chorus girls and good-ol'-boys have to get their stuff somewhere.
On a recent visit, I decided I had to know where. Forgoing the more mainstream options, I set out on a mission, my equally curious mom, Sherman Ann McDaniels, in tow. We quickly learned that whatever is "made" in Las Vegas, or largely for Las Vegas, does not have to stay in Vegas. With the proper motivation (and ideally a rental car), sleuth shoppers can uncover an array of stores.
Gambler's Book Shop, 630 S. 11th St.; (800) 522-1777, www.gamblersbook.com.
This has to be one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, and it's certainly a household name among serious gamblers. In fact, two of Vegas' best-known bookies called the day I stopped by.
"We're mentioned in over 125 books, have helped more than 200 authors write or research books on gambling and published 134 books through our GBC Press [publishing company]. And we're known in over 100 countries," says owner Howard Schwartz.
The store remains a dingy little den tucked off 11th Street and Charleston Boulevard (east of downtown), where you can find an astonishing variety of how-to, odds, percentages and betting-line books; videos; cassettes; computer simulation programs; and laminated "cheat-sheets" cards; as well as daily and weekly tipsheets. The store even has a selection of gambler greeting cards, medical humor books, coffee-table tomes and general-interest books about Vegas, boxing, horse racing, crime bosses, the mob, casino history, casino management, you name it. What really surprised me was the selection of serious literature, including Dostoevsky's "The Gambler" and Hemingway's "The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio." (Its selection of books is available online.)
Schwartz has put the shop up for sale because of ill health, but he hopes the buyer will continue its long tradition. "We have about 60,000 regular customers," Schwartz says, adding wryly that the world has an estimated 60 million gamblers. Not a bad percentage, considering that the masses would never in a million years find the little place.
The Attic, 1018 S. Main St.; (702) 388-4088, www.atticvintage.com.
This place is so hip that you have to pay a one-time membership fee just to go in and browse ($1), but it's easily worth the buck. For vintage clothing, obscure furnishings and oddball collectibles, the Attic is a must, especially if you're a connoisseur of high-quality kitsch. Enter that zebra-print platform chaise. Enter amazing 1920s, '30s and '40s kitchen appliances, including a pristine GE icebox, circa the mid-'30s. Enter rare and vintage movie posters, early model cameras, radios, toys, trinkets and a boatload of fabulous '60s to '80s clothing. Don't forget to duck upstairs, where there's even more stuff.
The Attic calls itself the largest vintage clothing wholesaler-exporter-retailer in the world. Whether that's true, it is certainly a world apart.
Rainbow Feather Dyeing Co., 1036 S. Main St.; (702) 598-0988, www.rainbowfeatherco.com.
I initially thought the Rainbow feather company made headdresses and such; actually, it dyes the feathers for headdresses and such (fans, boas and other tickly accoutrements).
But I was not disappointed when I walked through the door of this barebones showroom and attached dyeing facility, which has been in the Girard-Favazzo family for 40 years. Rainbow Feather does the deed for a variety of folks, including Folies Bergere and Miss World Nude, and it will import, dye and wholesale virtually any type of bird feather — any legal feather, that is.
Its showroom, while not much on ambience, is chock-a-block with ostrich, rooster tail, goose, white marabou, peacock, guinea hen and other exotic feathers, many of which are in stock and can be dyed to order. Shoppers can find standard and superplush boas in the store, however, as well as giant feather fans.
Liberace Museum Gift Shop, 1775 E. Tropicana Ave.; (702) 798-5595, www.liberace.org.
Granted, the Liberace museum duplex is on every serious kitsch tourist's list. But many don't realize that rummaging through the gift shop is almost as much fun as gawking at the 200-pound gem-studded capes, Baroque costumes and fabulously gaudy cars on display.
The prices are surprisingly reasonable. Just imagine, you can take home Liberace signature golf balls, Liberace cookbooks (with such favorites as mostaccioli, beef Stroganoff and deviled eggs), wall tapestries emblazoned with pianos and candelabras, Lib beach towels, cardboard cutouts of the Glittering One (life-size and table-top size), piano-shaped pencil sharpeners, piano-shaped Christmas ornaments, piano-shaped everything.
I couldn't resist the "dancing-Liberace" beach towel and the Spandex-cotton T-shirt bearing a photo illustration of Lib in red hot-pants. Your friends and family will love you when you show up with that red-and-black Liberace Museum shopping bag. Or they'll think you've gone totally Vegas. Perhaps you have.
Serge's Showgirl Wigs Showroom and Outlet, 953 E. Sahara Ave.; (702) 732-1015, www.showgirlwigs.com.
Here's another wonderful Vegas showroom that calls itself the world's largest something. Serge's undoubtedly has one of the most extensive selections of high-quality retail, outlet and custom wigs on the continent — with 1,000 to 2,000 stocked in the 7,500-square-foot showroom and even more at the nearby factory outlet.
It was started by Steve Serge in Pennsylvania in 1965 and relocated to Sin City in '74. It now designs wigs for seemingly every major celebrity impersonator in Vegas. On the walls are signed photos of "Almost Willie" and "Robb Gannett as Neil Diamond," "Mr. Eddie Edwards as Barbra Streisand" and others who have tapped Serge's artistry.
But the showroom also provides a very serious service to those who are undergoing therapies that cause hair loss. And besides the reams of classic-to-funky styles in all imaginable colors, the showroom has an extensive styling and fitting area. It also offers a great selection of headwear and hair extensions, such as Esther Williams-style petal caps, Veronica Lake terry turbans and J.Lo-esque ringlet extensions.
Barry Manilow Store, 953 E. Sahara Ave.; (702) 732-1015, www.showgirlwigs.com.
You'll find precisely what you'd expect at this cheese-fest in the Las Vegas Hilton, where the man who Writes the Songs has an ongoing gig. A large piano centers the space with a blazing "Copacabana" sign suspended above it. But I did find the recording booth tempting. Though I didn't spend the money to record my own vocals over Manilow's instrumentals, I considered it. For a split second, I thought my own garbled version of "Mandy" would make a great Christmas gift for my husband. Then I thought again.
Elton John Store, Caesars Palace Hotel, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 866-1239.
Though John's store is a great excuse to get lost in the Forum Shops at Caesars, the boutique is actually in Caesars Palace proper in the hotel's Appian Way shops. Once that confusion is settled, you're good to go and explore EJ's limited-edition, signed red baby grand (30 available, though not in stock, for $54,000 a pop); a multitude of EJ-styled sunglasses (but of course); shot glasses with Pinball Wizard, Yellow Brick Road and other EJ motifs; watches featuring EJ's mug; and his exclusive Angel candles (based on a Botticelli painting in his home), proceeds from which benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Strings, 4970 Arville St., just south of Tropicana, across Interstate 15; (702) 873-7820.
Here is where you find that perfect G-string or that saucy French maid ensemble. Or if you're shopping for pasties, fishnets, rhinestone-clustered stilettos, platforms, false eyelashes, falsie inserts, lace thigh-highs, slinky lingerie, sexy club wear, tacky jewelry, itsy-bitsy bikinis and a surprisingly haute selection of jeans, Strings is the place to go. And it's cheap — imagine. The shop also custom designs costumes for many of the city's dancers, strippers and showgirls. This place is Vegas to the core, and it's worth seeking out.
BassPro Shops, 8200 Dean Martin Drive; (702) 730-5200, www.basspro.com.
Even if you're not into hunting, canoeing, fly-fishing, water-skiing, four-wheeling, off-roading or any other sporting activity, you'll find much to marvel at in this 165,000-square-foot colossus. Gorgeous, larger-than-life dioramas with trickling brooks, ornate rock formations, indoor "ponds" and stuffed exotic animals abound. Mounted fish "leap" from walls and ceilings. You'll either be delighted or appalled. I was both.
If I'd had a hankering to shoot a bow and arrow, I could have visited the on-site archery range. If I had needed to update my gun collection, I would have loved the Fine Gun Room, a highly atmospheric "hunting-lodge" setting with cases full of rare and limited-edition firearms.
Part of a national franchise (and despite that fact, I still had to check it out), the Vegas BassPro also includes a small climbing wall and a shooting arcade. It's attached to the Silverton Hotel and Casino, just a five-minute drive down the interstate from the Strip.