The Iconic Las Vegas Tropicana Is Going Out with a Bang Soon

An implosion will help tear down the Strip staple to make way for the Oakland Athletics.

Tropicana Las Vegas
The exterior of the Tropicana Las Vegas is seen on April 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images News
The exterior of the Tropicana Las Vegas is seen on April 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images News

Goodbye, Tropicana Las Vegas. It was nice knowing you. If all goes according to plan, the site of the 66-year-old Strip resort will become a Major League Baseball stadium, sealing the deal to relocate the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. That means every piece of the hotel has to go.

"For us to build a ballpark on it, the entire site needs to be clean," Oakland Athletics President Dave Kaval told Thrillist. "There will be some type of implosion … Part of it will be taken down manually, but part of it will be imploded. That will be a big celebration. That will be a moment when people realize how big this is becoming."

Architecture giants Gensler and Bjarke Ingels Group/HNTB are drafting competing designs for the stadium, with a winner to be selected in just a few weeks. An early rendering by A's Director of Design Brad Schrock offered a hint of things to come: a temperature-controlled venue of around 30,000 seats, which is relatively small by big-league standards, with the possibility of adjustable open-air features.

"We want it to be intimate and ensure all the seats are close to the action," Kaval said. "That's an important part of creating a unique experience. You're competing against television. It has to feel different. People don't want to sit in the nosebleeds."

Oakland Athletics Las Vegas ballpark rendering
An initial exterior rendering of the A's ballpark in Las Vegas. | Rendering courtesy of Oakland Athletics

The A's have been in touch with the Neon Museum about incorporating vintage signs and marquees into the design, perhaps as part of the scoreboard, as an homage to Las Vegas history. "You could even tour the actual stadium on a non-game day and see the different signs," Kaval said. "It could almost double as a mini-museum."

The one thing the stadium won't have is gaming. That will be part of a new hotel and casino built around the stadium by Bally's Corporation, the current operators of the Tropicana. An internal memo says the Tropicana will close between late 2024 and mid-2025 and strongly suggests the new resort will be given the Bally's name, which is convenient since the last hotel on the Strip, known as Bally's, was recently rebranded as the Horseshoe.

So, as long as MLB approves the A's move to Las Vegas, everything we know about the Tropicana is going away for good. It will be the end of an era. 

Rendering courtesy of Oakland Athletics
An initial interior rendering of the A's ballpark in Las Vegas. | Rendering courtesy of Oakland Athletics

Crime, entertainment, and swim-up blackjack

The Tropicana opened in 1957, which makes it the third-oldest hotel on the Strip today, following the Sahara in 1952 and Flamingo in 1946. None of the latter's original structure, however, remains in place. Initially, the Tropicana had a theme that evoked Havana with accommodations considered luxurious for the time. Ben Jaffe of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach was the main investor and public face of the project, but true to the era, the property had underlying criminal connections.

"The Tropicana was certainly state-of-the-art, but it was a mob operation," according to Michael Green, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "About three weeks after it opened, [crime boss] Frank Costello was shot in New York City. They checked his pockets and found a paper with numbers on it. It was the take from the Tropicana."

The Tropicana straightened itself out when Jaffe sold his interest to J. Kell Housells a few years later. It became a family business with son John Kell “J.K.” Houssels Jr. credited for bringing in Les Folies Bergère from Paris as an in-house production. The topless cabaret act helped define the era of the classic Las Vegas showgirl and entertainment as a casino loss leader, becoming the longest-running show in Sin City history with 49 years of performances.

"The way executives judged entertainment back then was, 'Did you bring in the gamblers?'" Green said. "Being a production show, there wasn't one star. You didn't have to cater to the whims of one big name."

Tropicana Las Vegas 1960
Entertainment at the Tropicana in 1960. | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

A second showroom, the Blue Room, brought in jazz greats of the '60s, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, and Benny Goodman. Over the years, the Tropicana would become the first resort to host Siegfried and Roy, welcomed a Gladys Knight residency, and was the final home of Legends in Concert. This celebrity impersonator revue had an impressive run in its own right with 39 years on the Strip.

Today, the biggest shows at the Tropicana follow in those not-quite-the-real-thing footsteps with Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show and MJ Live: The Michael Jackson Tribute Concert in the main 1,200-seat theater. Both shows feature a tight live band and rotating performers in the lead roles. Otherwise, the Laugh Factory comedy club is the main draw for entertainment, with Rich Little as the top headliner. As long as you don't find Richard Nixon impressions dated, the comic still carries plenty of charm at 84 years old. Stick around for a few minutes after the performance, and you may get to say hello in person. The intimate venue also hosts regular shows by local favorite and America's Got Talent alum Murray the Magician and sporadic dates by Jon Lovitz and other touring comics.

The Tropicana has been shy about bringing in new entertainment since a ballyhooed production of Mamma Mia!, the musical based on ABBA hits, survived for just a few months in 2014. The last big, high-profile opening at the resort wasn't a show. It was Robert Irvine's Public House in 2017, preceded by an announcement that included the celebrity chef repelling down the side of the Tropicana's 22-story hotel tower in a publicity stunt.

Las Vegas Tropicana showgirls 1979
Showgirls in 1979 at the Tropicana. | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Six years later, the restaurant still feels oddly contemporary in a worn-in resort. It's the Tropicana's top spot for lunch and happy hour, running daily from 3 to 6 pm and 8 to 10 pm with discounted pizza and $6 drafts. You'll find the best food stuffed inside a bun, whether it's the Wagyu sliders served in portions of two, four, or six; the house burger, which is a juicy blend of brisket, short rib, chuck, and black Angus; or the pastrami sandwich, a favorite since day one. A 10-ounce New York Strip with chimichurri and a side of fries is $44—not a bad price for Strip standards.

However, Public House leaves the heavy lifting to Oakville Tuscan Grill when it comes to steaks, with prices between $53 and $68 for a lineup of Creekstone Farm cuts. The $69 prix fixe menu with a 12-ounce prime rib, choice of soup or salad, and a petit fours dessert seems like a modest value at best. The steakhouse is the closest thing on the property to fine dining, featuring a smartly designed dining room with white tablecloths and heavy drapes that doesn't overextend itself but still feels like an experience. Across the hallway, Bacio has been closed for years, with the Tropicana clearly in no rush to replace it. (Founding chef Carla Pellegrino currently serves her take on Italian cuisine off the Strip at the charming Limoncello.) Unsurprisingly, the buffet didn't survive the pandemic, but you can still order potstickers, sweet and sour chicken, and other Americanized takes on Chinese food at Red Lotus Asian Kitchen.

The casino is 50,000 square feet, relatively small compared to ones at larger Strip resorts. An arched stained-glass ceiling is the most distinctive feature of the gaming space, stretching over a series of table games and rumored to cost a million dollars when installed in 1979. Roam the casino floor and have a boozy slushie at Chill'm Bar or a stiff cocktail at Trago, a stylish lounge with comfortable sofas, $6 drafts or house wine, and karaoke at 9 pm on Thursdays. Look beyond the textured ceiling, and you'll spot traces of the Tropicana's old woodwork.

Tropicana Las Vegas pool 1964
The Tropicana's pool in 1964. | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

The best drink options, however, are by the pool, which introduced a "Tequilas in the Desert" menu in time for summer, featuring some of the better big-name brands. Order Teremana Reposado for $15, Patron Anejo for $17, or coveted Don Julio 1942 for $32 if you want to splurge.

The pool deck, open to locals for free during the week (and $10 on weekends), is the most engaging part of the Tropicana with a walkable courtyard, palm trees, and something you don't often see in Vegas these days: real grass. Decades ago, the pool built its reputation on swim-up blackjack and tiki-style cocktails. In recent years, attempts to rebrand the pool's party zone as Nikki Beach (with parties hosted by celebs like Rihanna) and later Sky Beach Club failed to catch on, but the outdoor space works better as a tranquil retreat with daybeds and cabanas. The original hotel building surrounds the tropical backyard environment, just three stories tall with balconies (a rarity with contemporary Strip hotels), harkening back to the deluxe motor lodge format of the original Tropicana in the '50s and '60s.

Tropicana Las Vegas 1977
The Tropicana, including the pool, in 1977. | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

The pressure to hit a home run

The Tropicana has been through a lot over nearly seven decades. Parts were torn down, towers were built, and its identity aimed to be more South Beach and less Havana. A country club with an 18-hole golf course across the street was sold and eventually became part of the MGM Grand. Ownership changed hands frequently, the mob influence returned for a while, and dramatic property revamps were announced, then dropped, including plans for a $100 million corner shopping plaza in 2013. At one point, the Tropicana was under the Ramada Inn umbrella. Today, it operates as a DoubleTree by Hilton with 1,470 guest rooms.

The property has been treading water for years, never seizing the right moment to reinvent itself in a way that resonates with successive generations. Now, it's starting over with a blank canvas, capitalizing on the one thing it has left–location. Though it's sad that the Tropicana will no longer sit along the avenue named after it, meeting Las Vegas Boulevard at one of the busiest intersections in Nevada.

Tropicana Las Vegas
An early image of the Tropicana. | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Nine acres of the property, which Bally's leases from Gaming & Leisure Properties, Inc. (GLPI), are committed to the A's stadium, leaving about 26 acres for not only the new hotel and casino but also shops, restaurants, bars, and maybe even a public gathering space similar to Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena. A game is more than just a game these days. It's an experience that begins before the players take the field and continues after the final score is announced.

Parking is always a question when new Strip projects are announced, and true to form, surrounding casino garages will shoulder the burden. Kaval anticipates the stadium will have at least 2,500 parking spaces of its own and wouldn't be surprised if Bally's designs its new hotel garage with overflow traffic in mind. By building from the ground up, the ballpark can effectively accommodate and integrate rideshare service bays and will have a station for Elon Musk's Boring Company network of underground EV taxis. The stadium should be ready by the 2028 baseball season when it's all said and done.

The A's follow the success of the Golden Knights, Raiders, and Aces, who have collectively turned Las Vegas into a major-league sports town–an idea once thought incompatible with a community built on gambling.

"I think it's an incredible chapter in the history of Las Vegas," Kaval said. "Sports can bring so many positive things like economic development and tax revenue to the local community. And it's fun. It brings people together."

Tropicana Las Vegas
An early image of the Tropicana. | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

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Rob Kachelriess is a full-time freelance writer who covers travel, dining, entertainment, and other fun stuff for Thrillist. He's based in Las Vegas but enjoys exploring destinations throughout the world, especially in the Southwest United States. Otherwise, he's happy to hang out at home with his wife Mary and their family of doggies. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.