Little is known about this motel. It apparently was built in the mid-1950s and called Desert Villa. A few years later the name was changed to Empey's Desert Villa.
Empey's Desert Villa contained 72 rooms. It boasted a phone, air-conditioning, combination tub and shower, hi-fi music, and a TV in each room. The Villa contained a 24 hour switchboard, reservations arranged for resort shows, and a large swimming pool. It also offered baby sitters. Phil Empey was listed as Managing Owner.
In the early 1960's Villa stated she was adjoinging Hotel Flamingo, with the phone number REgent 5-5555. She advertised:
"Stretch o-u-t in true Western comfort. Everything at Emprey's Desert Villa has been planned to assure you a happy stay. Free ice cubes are available 'round the clock. And we'll be pleased to give you 8 hour cleaning and laundry service.
All bedrooms are tastefully and comfortably appointed with telephones, hi-fi music, television and individually controlled year-round air conditioning. Tub and shower in every spacious bath.
Bring the whole family to Las Vegas, we're happy to welcome you. Suites, attractive apartments complete with all kitchen equipment, and licensed and bonded babysitters are yours to enjoy.
We are just 5 minutes from the airport, and limousine service is available to or from Desert Villa. . . . You will find convenient and ample parking right at your door. No tipping please."
In March of 1979, Michael Gaughan, the oldest of two sons of El Cortez owner Jackie Gaughan, had a dream, and with Dad's help, took a chance on the Desert Villa located on the famous "Four Corners" of Las Vegas Boulevard with the Flamingo Hilton next door, MGM Grand Hotel and Caesars Palace across the street, and Dunes sitting diagonally.
Even though Jackie owned part of the resort, his son bought him out stating "I told him to stay off the Strip and I would stay out of downtown."
The Barbary Coast had 150 rooms and suites. With its lavish display of exquisite stained glass, magnificent chandeliers and plush decor, it successfully competed with the larger resorts surrounding it.
Gaughan and his partners had many challenges including the opposition of neighbors Dunes, MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, and Flamingo which were not particularly interested in having a pip-squeak casino under their noses and on such a valuable corner. Gaughan's success was due to a simple statement: Give people a good gamble and quality food at a god location and its hard to go wrong. Gaughan stated all costs up to the 1979 opening totaled $11.3 million.
Over a year and half later, on November 21, 1980, the Barbary Coast experienced a small electrical fire which was quickly extinguished due to the new resort being built with recent code specifications. A short time later Gaughan heard a commotion outside and as he gazed across the street, he saw flames coming from the MGM Grand Hotel. Knowing this was a tragedy forming right before his eyes, and knowing that the closest resorts to the MGM were Dunes and his own, Gaughan did something that all casino owners would never want to do, he stopped all gambling. He then ushered the patrons out and ordered his employees to move all gaming tables aside to prepare his casino to be a first aid station just in case his resort was needed. His quick thinking assisted the injured and traumatized to be comforted almost immediately.
The following day Gaughan made his Mark Twain Room available for the press conference and the Barbary employees had to call the police when they spotted a man wearing a soot-stained MGM Grand security-guard uniform playing their slot machines with blackened coins.
From 1978 to 1981, Barbary had a role in various episodes of the TV show Vegas starring Robert Urich.
In 1979, Lounge showcased Bath Tub Gin; Bobby Douglas; Finnegan's Wake; Billy Martin; Royal Dixie Jazz Band; and Wholly Smoke.
In July of 1981, the poker room was managed by Frank Totl. It had five tables, 7 card stud $1-3, $1-2, $3-6, $5-10. Beginners Table $.50.
In 1982, Barbary showcased the Royal Dixie Jazz Band.
In 1984, Barbary added "Garden of Earthly Delights", a 30'x5' stained glass mural on the casino's west wall, depicting a Victorian era fantasy. This work of art involved ten artists working more than 10,000 hours to complete.
In 1985, the Lounge showcased Sam Butera & the Wildest, and Ben Crocker.
During this year the casino contained five poker tables with Frank Toti as Manager, and sport and racing with Jerry Ludt and Robert Muniz as Managers.
In 1987, Barbary had a role in the movie Jocks.
In 1988, the Lounge showcased the Irish Showband.
In 1995, Gaughan announced that he was adding approximately 200 more rooms, a rooftop swimming pool and other amenities to be contained in a four-story addition. He stated that between the opening and 1995, Barbary spent another $10 million or so to keep up the proper level of appearances for a resort at such a prestigious corner.
In 1996, Hilton Hotel Corporation attempted to purchase the Barbary Coast but from what I can tell, they were unsuccessful and gave up.
In 1997, Coast Resorts was involved in the State Gaming Control Board when one his employees, Zacharie Franzi, circumvented the laws by providing funds for various runners. Mr. Franzi quit the Barbary Coast during this year. Coast Resorts was fined $100,000 (out of $900,000 possible fines) for shoddy internal control procedures in that Franzi was working independently, without the knowledge of Gaughan or Coast Resorts.
Barbary Coast has essentially remained the same since its opening with having just three expansions over the years which included adding 50 rooms, increasing the size of the casino, and expanded the service facilities.
Barbary Coast features a 9-story tower with 200 rooms and suites, 30,000 square-foot casino with over 550 slots and separate Race and Sports Books, and 500 space covered parking garage and valet service.
One of the restaurants contained in the resort is Michael's, which was given an "extraordinary" rating in the 1998 Zagat Survey and has been directed by Maitre d' Richard Assalone for 16 years. This intimate 50-seat Victorian-style gourmet room is furnished in plush red velvet and deep mahogany. Michael's features a 40-panel stained-glass domed ceiling, an elaborate crystal chandelier and imported Italian marble flooring. Michael's has over-sized wing-backed chairs, etched glass mirrors and Victorian-lace tablecloths complete the stunning decor and provide the ideal setting for the culinary experience of a lifetime. Head Chef Fred Bielak, who has also been at Michael's for 16 years, offers Coquille St. Jacques, Baked Escargot, Sauteed fresh Mushrooms ala Creme, and Shrimp or Australian Lobster Cocktails all served around ice sculptures.
A recent change that Barbary Coast has made was to close down the McDonald's restaurant and open Drai's On The Strip which is accessible only by a private, marble-laden elevator. Drai's is a contemporary, upscale gourmet restaurant featuring dishes from southern France with noticeable influence from lighter, healthier California cuisine. Some of Drai's entrees include sashimi of ahi tuna layered with enoke mushrooms; fresh Dover sole; Chilean sea bass glazed with soy sauce, garlic and fresh ginger; lobster-filled ravioli in its own sauce; delicious meat and poultry choices, and a dessert menu which includes gourmet cookies to creme brulee.
In February of 2004, Boyd Gaming Corp announced they had entered into an agreement to acquire Coast Casinos, Inc., in a merger, including Orleans, Barbary Coast, and Suncoast resorts. Coast will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boyd with Boyd assuming approximately $460 million on Coast's debt. A more definite announcement will be made after obtaining gaming and other approvals and customary closing conditions.
On June 17, 2004, lavish praise was given when the Nevada Gaming Commission approved Boyd Gaming Corp.'s application to buy Michael Gaughan's Coast Casinos' hotel-casino company in Clark County. Commissioner Augie Gurrola called this "one of these marriages made in heaven and it will last a long time. I know you will do a lot of good work in the future," Gurrola told the principals William Boyd and Gaughan, both members of pioneer Las Vegas gaming families. Commissioner Arthur Marshall, who abstained from voting, said he has known both families for 40 years and they are "shining examples" of the old Nevada and they represent an "American Dream." Commissioner Sue Wagner said the Boyd family "ranks high in community involvement."
The $1.3 billion merger includes the $400 million South Coast hotel-casino being built along Interstate 15 about six miles south of Tropicana Avenue. When the deal is completed, the parent firm of Boyd Gaming Corp. will have $2.3 billion in debt. When joined, the company will have gross revenue of $812.4 million in Clark County for about 10.4% of the market.
Jeff Rodefer, attorney for Boyd Gaming, said the merger will not result in any market dominance in Clark County. He said the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice did not oppose the merger on grounds it would be too dominant. The merged companies will have the Stardust and the Barbary Coast on the Las Vegas Strip; the California, Fremont and Main Street Station casinos in downtown Las Vegas; and Sam's Town, Eldorado, Jokers Wild, Gold Coast, Suncoast and The Orleans in the local market in Clark County. The South Coast being developed on a 55-acre parcel is slated to open in October or November in 2005 with 635 rooms, 6,000 parking spaces, seven restaurants, 2,400 slot machines and 60 table games. 50% of the revenue from the merged companies will come from Nevada.
On February 27, 2007, the Barbary Coast official became Bill's Gambling Hall and Saloon. So far I've learned that Bill's is advertising Bill's Race and Sports Book and Bill's Lounge.
In March, 2013, Caesars announced that Bill's would be renovated at a cost of $185 million and converted to an outpost of the New York-based Gansevoort Hotels chain of boutique luxury hotels, with 188 rooms, a 40,000 square foot casino, and a 65,000 square foot indoor/outdoor beach club/nightclub overseen by Victor Drai.
In October 2013, Caesars terminated its agreement with Gansevoort and said that it would continue the redevelopment of Bill's without the Gansevoort name. The move came after Massachusetts gambling regulators recommended denying Caesars a license for a proposed casino at the Suffolk Downs racetrack, due to alleged connections between one of the Gansevoort's investors and the Russian mafia.
Plans announced in late 2013 indicated that Giada De Laurentiis would open her first restaurant in the new hotel and that Caesars would run the hotel.
On April 21, 2014, Bill's name changed to The Cromwell with rooms being opened on May 21, 2014