VIDEO VAULT | The stories behind the tavern signs at the Neon Museum
LAS VEGAS (KSNV) —
Every exhibit maintained by the Neon Museum has a story behind it. Thirty-five years ago, News 3 stopped by a couple of popular taverns that are long gone, but with signs that keep the memories alive.
"This is one of those small bars that are often overlooked," began reporter Marla Martin in January of 1984. "The 5th Street Liquor Store on Las Vegas Boulevard."
What we now know as Las Vegas Boulevard in the downtown area had started as 5th Street, hence the name of the bar. The road was renamed in the late 1960s.
"It's well lit," continued Martin. "The bar stools don't hold many patrons. But it has a drawing card that keeps them coming back. You can buy your drinks by the bottle—any kind of bottle—and either take it home or sample it right there."
"Right there" was the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard at Gass Avenue. It's where you find Pawn Stars Plaza today.
"You don't have to miss your favorite television show either," said Martin, continuing the tour. "Or you can play a game of pool with a couple of friends. 5th Street Liquor is one of those quiet places that most people don't know about. and the people at the bar like it that way."
It was quiet enough that eventually it could no longer compete, and went out of business in 1988. The sign was later restored and placed at the Neonopolis on Fremont Street. Today it's located at a bus shelter near the Regional Transportation Commission's Bonneville Transit Center.
"This is another bar far off the beaten track," said Martin, switching locations to stand in front of a now iconic sign. "But with a rich tradition and a history all its own. Club Rouge, here at the Moulin Rouge on the west side of Las Vegas. Great entertainers of years gone by haunt the place."
The sign—now housed in the Neon Museum—had been designed by Betty Willis, who is also responsible for the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.
"Part of the club has been remodeled, like the up-to-date dance floor," demonstrated Martin. "The owners have kept the character and flavor of the original, as you can see in the wall murals.
"The Club Rouge was patterned after a black night club in France," continued Martin. "And in the 1940s, the hotel hosted guests like entertainer Nat King Cole, because he couldn't stay at the Strip hotels where he was performing."
Martin's basic story was accurate, but the timeline was off. The Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino opened in Spring of 1955 and then closed five and a half months later because of financial problems likely exacerbated by the institutional racism of the time.
"Black entertainers would also hold impromptu jam sessions in the club's showroom, which is now old and run down from lack of use," said Martin as the video showed a deteriorated stage. "Music is still an important part of the club. You can hear original jazz or rhythm and blues. C.J. Jenkins, one of the supervisors here, says first-time customers will be in for a treat."
The casino had never re-opened since 1955, but in the 1980s was doing business as a cocktail lounge with music and dancing.
"Wowwwww....that's what they would say," Jenkins told Martin with a broad smile. "Because it's nice. They would leave here with a good feeling, and have had like one of the best parties that they could have at any club in the United States, especially Las Vegas."
Club Rouge folded in the early '90s. The property carried on a few more years as a residential hotel but finally closed near the end of the decade. There were numerous fires on the property, and the last building that was part of the Moulin Rouge was demolished last year. Today, it is a vacant lot.