Fans of El Cortez’s floral carpet can now own a square of Vegas history


But fans needn’t cry over carpeting that has soaked up countless spilled drinks and tears. On Jan. 1, the hotel gift shop will start selling squares of the beloved fabric.

“I love that carpet,” said Gypsy Wood, an Australian comedian and burlesque performer who before the pandemic appeared in the “Opium” show at the Cosmopolitan. “I told them to please save me some.”

The woven Axminster carpet was made by Brintons, a British carpet maker founded in 1783, nearly 160 years before El Cortez appeared on the glitzy Vegas scene. For 13 years, the flowery carpet covered most of the 42,000-square-foot casino floor. Imagine a corsage-littered auditorium after prom.

“It is perfect kitsch — gaudy, beautiful and floral,” said Holly Vaughn, a Vegas native and El Cortez regular. “It’s hip now, like a Coogi sweater, and it has a little big of nostalgia.”

Vaughn grew up with El Cortez. As a high-schooler, she could glimpse the structure from her arts school, and the casino on Sixth Street and Fremont was often the first stop on night crawls with pals. “It had easy parking and cheap drinks,” she said. “It was an old staple for me and my friends.”

New developments pave over historic structures, with notable buildings disappearing like props in a David Copperfield magic show. In October, the city’s oldest wedding chapel, the Wee Kirk o’the Heather, was demolished, the site of thousands of holy and drunken matrimonies.

“If you love something,” said Vaughn, “you have to appreciate it, because it’s going to change.”

El Cortez keeps a toe in the past and present. Though the property is undergoing a $25 million renovation of its public spaces and nearly 250 rooms, the pink neon sign still shines bright and the Jackie Gaughan Suite remains frozen in time. (That time was 1980 to 2014, when El Cortez’s owner and his wife, Bertie, resided in the 15th-floor penthouse until his death.) Gamblers can spend their pocket change at more than 100 coin-operated slot machines, and diners can order a Meyer Lansky burger or Moe Green veggie sandwich at Siegel’s 1941, which bears the name of the Chicago mobster who briefly co-owned the place. El Cortez maintains its status as the only casino-hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (The casino-hotel reopened in early June with such safety precautions as reduced capacity, acrylic dividers and fewer slot machines.)

“We want to maintain that historic feel,” said general manager Adam Wiesberg. “The old-timers know staff from 30, 40, 50 years ago, and the millennials come because it’s the last holdout of authenticity in Las Vegas.”

Though the carpet does not share the same lore as the property, it does have an ardent fan base. Alex Meschi, a 20-year resident, integrated the pattern into his art projects. “I made it a point to spotlight the carpet in various forms of print and digital, paying homage to our second home,” he said. “So many stickers slapped around our city.” Last last year, Vaughn started photographing the carpet, a forbidden activity that led to her expulsion from the property. However, she had snapped enough pictures to create 100 pins of the carpet design. The entire collection, which she sells through her company, Battle Born, sold out.

After hearing an outcry from carpet enthusiasts, Wiesberg decided to set aside some remnants. The gift shop will offer 16-by-16-inch sections for about $19 each. The 100 pieces are “old new stock,” or backup fabric for repairs. Wood plans to acquire a square and pair it with her other vintage piece, an original leather couch from the Golden Nugget. “I will use it as an area rug,” she said.

Wiesberg hopes visitors will grow to accept — if not love — the new carpet, which was made by the same company and also resembles a botanical garden after a tropical storm. “The new carpet is gorgeous,” he said. “Give it a chance.” Wood approves, calling it “brilliant.” But Vaughn feels a sense of loyalty to the oldies, which in Vegas can mean artifacts from the early aughts.

“I’ve seen the new carpet,” she said, “but I think I might stick to the classics.”

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