Oscar's Neon Martini Glass on Fremont Street in old downtown Las Vegas

POTW: Oscar’s Neon Martini Glass-Las Vegas

Anyone who ever visited Las Vegas before about 1990 will forever associate that City of Glitter with neon. I hope this photo of Oscar’s Neon Martini Glass will take you back to that time when neon was the very symbol of Las Vegas—flashing, glittering, dancing neon, lighting up the fronts of buildings, illuminating the sky, and enticing passers-by to come on in. It’s fun in here. It’s exciting. Join us! And bring your money!

Oscar's Neon Martini Glass on Fremont Street in old downtown Las Vegas

Oscar’s Neon Martini Glass glows against a deep blue desert twilight sky, beckoning visitors to old downtown Las Vegas.

Neon Comes to Las Vegas

Though neon was first shown off to the world at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it wasn’t until 1929 that the first-ever neon to greet visitors to Sin City appeared at the Oasis Café on Fremont Street. But then it took off, limited only by the over-the-top imagination of Las Vegas entrepreneurs. Oscar’s Neon Martini Glass, though not old, recalls that treasured Vegas “look” and atmosphere.

When I was a kid growing up in southern California, my mom loved Las Vegas. We always took a family road-trip vacation every summer—to Grand Canyon, Idaho, Vancouver, and/or points beyond, but it seemed like wherever we headed, north, south or east, Las Vegas was always “on the way” and was always where we spent our first night. I remember the excitement of seeing the city on the horizon, rising from the dust of the long road from Los Angeles, telling us we could soon get out of our Mercury station wagon “woody” and stretch our cramped legs.

From all those family trips in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, I remember most clearly the façade of the old Mint Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas on Fremont Street. It featured a huge marquee-type “wave” all lit up in, of course, mint green neon. I can see it flashing across the top of the building in my mind’s eye to this day. But neon, with its need for very specialized gas-filled tubes, was expensive and hard to maintain. When viable alternatives began to appear, casino, hotel and other business owners pounced. Gradually the neon lights of Vegas were replaced by LED lights and giant LCD screens. The neon all but disappeared.

Neon Re-Born in Las Vegas

Fortunately, The Neon Museum, near downtown, has collected dozens of classic pieces of old Vegas neon. Most have not been restored (and probably won’t be) but can be visited in the area called The Boneyard, a sort of graveyard for these eclectic electric fossils piled up higgledy-piggledy. They will make your camera cry out and your shutter finger itch to capture them.

Some of the best neon has, in fact, been restored and remounted along a Neon Gallery on Fremont Street and Las Vegas Blvd. downtown. These can be seen at any time, but are best viewed at night, when the pure neon colors still glow rich against a deep blue desert sky. Look for a good collection on East Fremont, just past the end of the enormous LED ceiling screen of the Fremont Street Experience.

Oscar’s Neon Martini Glass shown here, though it is mounted on East Fremont along with many of the other renovated signs in the “gallery,” is not actually a restored vintage sign. It was created new a few years ago. It was named for the long-time mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman.

Some of the other neon signs you can see in the open-air gallery include the golden magical lamp from the old Aladdin Hotel and Casino, all a-sparkle in yellow, and a prancing horse and rider from the long-gone Hacienda Hotel. That one is mounted on a pole at the intersection of Fremont St. and Las Vegas Blvd.

A visit to downtown Las Vegas is always fun, fanciful and full of light. The massive overhead light show that flickers across the giant LCD screen “ceiling” of The Fremont Street Experience is something everyone should see once. Then wander a couple of blocks further and check out some of the beautiful new and restored neon, like this Neon Martini Glass, that brings a bit of old Vegas back to life.

And a Bit of Personal Nostalgia

Imogene Meyer seated at a slot machine in 1959.

Imogene Meyer, who loved to play the “slots,” playing at
The Mint in Las Vegas in 1959.

Just for an extra bit of fun and Vegas nostalgia, I’ve added a second photo. This is my mom, seated at one of her beloved slot machines, in 1959. It was likely taken at The Mint or the Golden Nugget. The casinos used to send “camera girls” around to take pictures of the players. I don’t recall if you had to pay for a copy of if they were given out as souvenirs to entice you to come back. In any case, I have quite a collection of my pretty mom with this same big smile on her face. You can pretty much track the years by her changing hairstyles!

I imagine more than a few of us mature Nomad Women remember back in the day when you actually had to put a coin in the slot and pull the handle of the “one-armed bandit.” My mom would end the evening with her fingers black from the nickels and dimes and her right arm sore! But with a huge grin on her face.

While you’re in the downtown area, be sure to make a stop at Luv-It Frozen Custard for a sweet frozen treat you won’t soon forget, especially if it is a hot day or evening. Open till 10 pm Sunday through Thursday, till 11 on Friday and Saturday.

For more information on the Neon Museum, including how and when you can visit The Boneyard, check The Neon Museum website.

Prague's upside-down horse hangs with King Wenceslaus riding his belly.

POTW: Prague’s Upside-Down Horse

An upside-down horse is likely not what you came to Prague expecting to see. But then Czech artist David Černý likes to do things differently. The horse and the beautiful Lucerna Passage it hangs in, should not be missed.

On any trip to Prague, you’re certainly going to visit Wenceslaus Square. This is where things happen in Prague… revolutions, celebrations, demonstrations. And all this feverish activity is watched over by the country’s patron saint, Vaclav, who we in the West tend to know as Good King Wenceslaus. He was the Christian ruler of the country in the 10th century and was murdered by his ambitious brother Boleslav the Cruel.

There he sits at the top of the square, astride a majestic prancing horse, in front of the domed National Museum. The statue was begun by sculptor Josef Vaclav Myslbek in 1887 and finally put into place in 1912, a testament to Czech honor, patriotism, and all that good stuff.

But not so far away, near the other end of the square, is another King Vaclav and his horse… but with a twist of classic Czech irony.

Prague's upside-down horse hangs with King Wenceslaus riding his belly.

Do you think King Wenceslaus is oblivious to the fact that his steed is not only an upside-down horse
that’s sticking its tongue out but is also dead?

Inside the Lucerna Passage—an elegant and decorative Art Nouveau shopping and entertainment area built in 1920—you’ll find yourself confronting another horse that, while perhaps not of a different color is certainly of a different condition. He’s dead, you see, and hanging by his feet, his poor head lolling down and his tongue sticking out. But apparently King Vaclav still needed a mount, dead or alive, and so he mounted the upside down steed, riding astride the dead horse’s belly.

This upside-down horse, a perfect depiction of the Czech penchant for black humor, was created in 1999 by the post-modern Czech artist David Černý. The same David Černý who once painted a Russian tank that was gracing the square pink. And the same one who designed those odd babies you might have noticed crawling up the sides of the Czech TV tower.

The poor dead horse and his oblivious king seem yet more bizarre surrounded by the elaborate marble work and stained glass and general Art-Nouveau kitschy loveliness of the atrium where they hang. You can’t help but wonder how that fragile and lovely ceiling can support the weight of such a large piece. But although it looks like bronze, the horse and rider are actually sculpted of foam.

A Presidential Connection

The building was built by Vaclav Havel, grandfather of the famous poet/playwright/dissident of the same name who became the first president of the nation after the fall of Communism (which he helped bring about). Havels are still part owners of the property and in fact, one of the stories I heard about the Upside-Down Horse involves the family. Word is that an aunt of the presidential Vaclav was a firm Royalist and ordered the statue as a statement of persistence and faith. She decreed that the king should ride on an upended dead horse until the monarchy is restored to Czech. Probably an apocryphal tale but if not, our Vaclav here is likely to have a long dead ride.

Like most of Černý’s work, this bizarre, controversial but ultimately enjoyable piece of art is certainly a worthy addition to the Czech tradition of Theater of the Absurd.

Note: There’s a nice cafe on the upper level of the atrium, the Cafe Kino. Just go up the amber-rose colored marble steps across from our guy here. If you can get a seat by the window looking down into the atrium, you can get a nice angle for a photo. I had coffee with whipped cream and a pastry. A bit pricey for Prague, but not out of reach and a pleasant spot.

Butter Crunch Sundae at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

The Best Thing I Ate in Las Vegas – Frozen Custard!

Luv-It Frozen Custard

Frozen custard? I went to Las Vegas and the best thing I ate there was… frozen custard? Yes. The best. Come on. I’ll take you there, and you’ll see for yourself.

Luv-It Frozen Custard sign, Las Vegas

Luv-It Frozen Custard – the BEST thing
I ate in Las Vegas

Of course, when it comes to good food in Las Vegas, there’s no shortage of yummy. Gambling, booze and sex aren’t the town’s only sinful delights. And those of us who’ve reached a certain age know that sometimes great food has an even stronger siren call than Vegas’ other sinful specialties—although you’d never think that if you’d watched my mom, who was still a mean slots player in her 90s.

But of good food in Las Vegas there is an abundance, and I’ve sampled more than my share. When I was a professional Tour Director, many of my tours started or ended in Vegas, so I had many chances to check out the culinary scene.

I’ve tested the prime rib at Caesar’s Palace, enjoyed a meal at Gordon Ramsey’s “Steak.” I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to finish off THIS mountain of chicken, and waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go and I easily polished off a plate of the best hummus I’ve ever eaten at Paymon’s Lebanese Restaurant on Maryland Avenue.

Chicken with waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go

Yes, that is a tree of fresh rosemary growing out of the top of the Chicken and Waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go in Las Vegas.

They were all good; some were great. But the jewel in the glitzy, over-tinseled crown of Las Vegas dining was mined at an innocuous little hut in a parking lot at the far north end of the Vegas Strip. There’s a reason that Luv-It Frozen Custard has been an institution for generations of Las Vegas families. And it’s certainly not the location. Or the service. It’s the custard. The rich, creamy, eggy, velvety, sweet, not-too-hard-not-too-soft frozen custard.

Come On, Let’s Go Try Some

Although we’ll find Luv-It Frozen Custard just one building off Las Vegas Blvd, this is NOT “The Strip,” at least not the glitzy part. Nor is it far enough north to be called downtown. It’s that in-between no-man’s land called “The Naked City”—not the most scenic or savory part of town, to be sure. But that hasn’t seemed to hurt its business in the 40+ years it’s been dishing up the good stuff here. We’ll very likely have to wait in line for our frozen treats. The mayor or some performer from the Strip might be waiting next to us.

Luv-it Frozen Custard Building

Located in a parking lot next to a strip club, Luv-It Frozen Custard is not quite what you expect… but it’s worth it!

Located at 505 East Oakey, Luv-It Frozen Custard is one light past the Stratosphere Hotel. If carless, we can hop on the double-decker bus known as The Deuce, get off at the Stratosphere, and walk.

You’re likely going to be surprised, maybe even disappointed, by this nondescript little blue-and-white shack dumped on a parking lot next to a strip club. Just pretend you’re back in the ‘50s, because it looks like something off an old calendar.

We can’t even go inside; there’s only a walk-up window, not even a bench or a table. Most people eat in their cars or lean against the building in the shade of the wide awning while listening to the squeals of panic and delight wafting down from the wild carnival rides waaayyyy up there on top of the Strat nearby.

List of available flavors at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Only 4–sometimes 5–flavors are available each day… because they are made fresh every morning.

Don’t let the lack of amenities stop you. Don’t even let the homeless folks who tend to hang around the parking lot pan-handling for change stop you. It’s not about them. It’s all about the custard.

It’s been about the custard since 1973 when “Grandma” arrived from Wisconsin, where frozen custard is traditional, and brought a load of dairy machinery with her. Today, her great-grandchildren are dishing up the scoops at Luv-It, in the same location, still made fresh every morning, with dozens of hand-cracked eggs and other real ingredients, using Grandma’s original recipes.

And it’s good. This frozen custard is very, very good. Luv-It regularly makes the “Best in Vegas” lists of local newspapers, websites and going-out guides. As one Yelp reviewer said, “It was howl-at-the-moon kind of good. It was ‘holy hell, all ice cream will taste watery from this day forward’ kind of good.” Another reviewer said, “Am I considering living down the road so I can stop here three times a day? I would be lying if I said no.”

Luv-it special sundae-with frozen strawberries and toasted pecans

The Luv-It Special – Vanilla frozen custard with frozen strawberries, salted pecans and a cherry.

If you’ve never had frozen custard, it’s like more-solid soft-serve ice cream but with egg yolks added. It needs less churning than ice cream, so it’s denser, with fewer air pockets where ice can crystallize. That also makes it smoother. You can taste the egginess, but it’s not, well, flanny. It’s just flat good.

Don’t be misled by the long list of delectable sounding flavors listed on the board. They won’t have most of them. In fact, they’ll only have a couple. Since the custard is made fresh daily, they can’t handle a Baskin-Robbins trick. They make vanilla and chocolate daily then add two other flavors. It’s the luck of the draw. You can check their website, where they list each day’s special flavors weeks in advance. If you discover they’re serving up maple custard, cash in your chips NOW and get moving. It’s better than the best poker hand.

I’ve also tried the peanut butter, the pineapple (with chunks of fruit) and the lemon. Once I mixed orange custard with vanilla, swirled it all around in the cup and felt like I was a kid again licking a creamsicle from the ice cream man on a hot summer day.

Butter Crunch Sundae at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Butter Crunch Sundae – Butterscotch topping and crushed candy that tastes like Butterfingers. Yum!

My personal favorite? The Butter Crunch Sundae. Thick butterscotch (the real deal) topped with crunch, which tastes like you took the inside of a Butterfinger candy bar and crushed it fine with a rolling pin. But maybe you’d prefer the Cherry Yum Yum, with black cherries and chocolate cookie crumble. Or chocolate malt. Or sprinkles. Or hot apples and walnuts. Or….

Are you getting the picture here? You’re going to find something to love. Believe me on this point.

Luv-It Frozen Custard is open every day from 1-10 pm, and till 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. Important note: It’s a CASH ONLY business and they don’t take bills over $20. There’s an ATM machine in the gas station next door, but the fees are killer. Bring money. For flavors of the day and any other questions, you can visit the Luv-It Frozen Custard website.

Photo of the Week:
The Colegio de Sales in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

For this week’s Photo of the Week, I decided to post the picture that got the most likes on my new Instagram feed.

Taken in San Miguel de Allende, it is a picture I shot a couple of years ago, but the view hasn’t changed a bit. It could have been taken yesterday. Or a hundred years ago if they’d had really good color film back then. It shows the roof line of the Colegio de San Francisco de Sales, located on the Plaza Cívica, next to the church of Nuestra Señora de la Salud. The building and the pleasant plaza in front of it are about three minutes’ walk from the Jardín, San Miguel’s main square.

Roofline of the Colegio de Sales, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Since we Nomad Women tend to have a few years on us and therefore understand the importance of history, we often like to know a bit about the past of what we’re seeing. We like to know the stories behind the buildings. So….

The Colegio de Sales was built in the early 18th century by the priests of the order of San Felipe Neri, who also built the church next door. This area of San Miguel de Allende was the heart of the town almost 200 years ago. The main market was here, the main churches were all here, and the college topped it off. This was the principal crossroads for business, religion, leisure and commerce in this important and wealthy colonial city.

The Colegio de San Francisco de Sales catered to the criollos, sons of the rich Spaniards, as well as to deserving poor students. The price of enrollment was on a sliding scale and cost between 12 and 300 pesos a year–at a time when a common laborer earned about one peso a day. The courses of study included Theology, Rhetoric, Grammar and Philosophy.

San Miguel’s namesake, Ignacio Allende, studied here, as did another Hero of Independence, Juan Aldama. I like to imagine them running across the central patio on the way to a Latin class, maybe cutting up a bit and earning a frown from one of the priest-tutors. Or perhaps racing out to the nearby market for a pan dulce between classes. Did they have any idea that not so many years later they would change the entire course of Mexican history? And that they would pay for that change with their very lives?

Today, the building is little changed from their time. In fact, it once again serves as a center of education. Today it houses a branch campus of the University of León.

Gray Skies & Ferris Wheel-Dam Square in Amsterdam

Dam Square in Amsterdam is Beautiful No Matter the Weather

This was taken on an overcast day in October, when this huge ferris wheel was set up in front of the Royal Palace on Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam. There were a few other midway-style rides in the square, but none had this dramatic look.

The rain started a few minutes after I took the picture and I had to run for cover. I never did find out what the reason for the fair was. But hey, who needs a reason to celebrate a day in October in Amsterdam?

Gray skies and ferris wheel in front of the Royal Palace in Dam Square in Amsterdam

Dam Square in Amsterdam is always beautiful.