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The Lounge Evolution

Trends are fickle in Vegas. Take lounges: once the hub of the hip, they plummeted to the dregs of popular culture, then resurged with a vengeance, even spawning upscale spin-offs. Now the word lounge encompasses both the old cliché—an open casino hangout where a trio in matching sequined vests warbles Top 40 covers—and the newer meaning of a trendy spot where everyone lines up to pay $8 (or $15) per drink and rubberneck for a glimpse of a celebrity.

The lounge came into its own as an all-night party in the early 1950s, when stars like Louis Prima, the Treniers, and the Mary Kaye Trio kept gamblers energized until dawn. Casino employees—showgirls, pit bosses—wired from their late-night shifts joined the mix, packing out the 5 am shows. The hot ticket was Chinese food at the Sands, a far cry from the chic nightclubs and busy sports bars lining the Strip today.

The '70s were a rough time for lounge lovers. On the casino front, slot machines became all the rage, and casino managers cut down the size of the free lounges in order to create more floor space for the lucrative machines. Pop culture turned to rock and roll, and suddenly the Vegas music scene, former home to legends like the Rat Pack, was the punch line of the music industry. "Lounge singer" became synonymous with Bill Murray's cheesy character, Nick the Lounge Lizard, who crooned the theme to Star Wars on Saturday Night Live.

But Vegas is a town that reinvents itself, and lounges are no exception. Movies like Swingers spun the city back around to its '50s cool image, and for people in the know, lounges became hip spots to hang out. Even that derided lounge music made a comeback on the Strip as tribal casinos and legalized pockets of gaming around the country made casino gambling by itself less unique. People missed the tinselly Vegas. Once again, as in the old days, hipsters are wisely descending on places like Peppermill's Fireside Lounge, Paymon's Hookah Lounge, and the Artisan Lounge, which adds candles and chill music and fine art to class up the cheesy vibe.

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