‘City fell off a cliff’ after 9/11 attacks

Las Vegas was a city on edge in the early aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ten years later, here are some of the memories of a city shaken by the terrorist attacks:

For thousands of visitors stranded by grounded flights, and rattled by rumors that Las Vegas might be a terrorist target, it was all about getting out of town in a hurry.

Casinos were deserted. Car rental and limousine companies were overwhelmed.

One of the most unsettling sights: Bellagio quickly closed off the north parking garage over concerns of a car bomb. It remains closed.

Within hours, it seemed, several of the largest hotels, including The Venetian and Bellagio, had security personnel stopping cars before entering the valet area and parking garages for a visual inspection of passengers.

Fox Limousines had two runs to New York City for $10,000 each. Other tourists booked limo rides to Tijuana, Mexico, only to find flights backed up for days.

By then Osama bin Laden was taking credit for the hijacked plane attacks.

After receiving a tip, I reported that members of the bin Laden family were in Las Vegas a few days after Sept. 11.

(The New York Times confirmed my report in 2005, citing FBI documents that indicated that bin Laden family members took three flights from Las Vegas between Sept. 19 and Sept. 24 despite a no-fly edict in the U.S. One was bin Laden’s estranged sister).

Within days, there were rumors of a 50 percent crash in hotel occupancy.

“The city fell off a cliff,” recalled George Maloof, who had just started hiring 2,000 employees for the upcoming opening of the Palms, a $260 million gamble based on a celebrity-driven business plan.

Mass layoffs hit the nightclub industry when business collapsed at least 50 percent.

Sean Christie, who joined The Light Group shortly after 9/11, recalls conversations about delaying the New Year’s opening of Light.

“Nightclubs are pretty resilient but it took four months for business to come back and longer than that for the city,” said Christie, who now operates Steve Wynn’s Encore Beach Club.

Days after the attacks, I quoted a longtime entertainment publicist, who said, “I think Las Vegas is heading for its biggest recession in history. Then I think it will rebound, because Las Vegas has always been the place to get away from what’s going on.”


The closing of Blush Boutique nightclub at Wynn on Saturday adds credence to those lingering rumors that Steve Wynn plans to turn the former Alex restaurant space into a nightclub. Word is Blush will be transformed into a high-stakes gambling salon. …

TV host Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t the only one who turned crimson when Ashton Kutcher bared all during a robe-dropping backstage skit last week. The taping was being shown live at Whitney Elementary School because principal Sherrie Gahn was on the show. Pride turned to shock when a large gathering of students and teachers saw Kutcher in his birthday suit, pre-pixalation. …

The Palazzo, known for its patriotic tributes to the troops, added red, white and blue lights to its north-facing hotel name for 9/11 weekend. …

Nobody adds the latest topical issues to his act like Luxor headliner Carrot Top, the master of prop comedy. “I made a helmet for Kerry Collins to wear in the (Indianapolis) Colts huddle so the offense has confidence in him.” Attached to the helmet face mask is the face of Peyton Manning. His streak of 208 consecutive regular-season games ends today because of a neck injury .


ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, at Rao’s (Caesars Palace) on Saturday night. … At Surrender nightclub (Encore) on Friday for celebrity blogger Robin Leach’s party to celebrate his 70th birthday and 50 years in journalism: former MTV VJ “Downtown” Julie Brown, Planet Hollywood co-founder Robert Earl, actress Joan Severance, Teller of Penn & Teller, Carrot Top, Vince Neil, KUNV-FM radio personality George Lyons, Playboy Playmate Jessa Hinton of Las Vegas, Miss Nevada Sarah Chapman, and cast members of “Fantasy.” Leach told reporters he has no plans to retire. … Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone, dropping in the I Love Yogurt shop in Summerlin on Friday.


“So he (GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry) wrote the book called ‘Fed Up’… and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also wrote a book. … It’s called ‘Overfed.’ ” — David Letterman

Norm Clarke can be reached at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find additional sightings and more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke.

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