The Flamingo is the Strip's sleeping giant. Its location at the heart of the action couldn't be better; and thanks to its beginnings under Bugsy Siegel, its name is virtually legendary. But while its competitors at Caesars and the Bellagio across the street are raising their game in an attempt to draw new crowds, the Harrah's-owned Flamingo seems content to coast along in third gear, happy to milk a gradually ageing clientele who apparently aren't interested in what the competition might be able to offer them.
Behind the signature pink neon sign, the resort is huge, with six guestroom towers. Hidden between them is the resort's centrepiece: a lush 15-acre tropical pool area with waterslides, waterfalls and jungle-like foliage enveloping four distinct pools (including Bugsy's oval-shaped original). Also outdoors are four tennis courts and an assortment of wildlife, including (yes) flamingos. So far so good, then, but the interior of the Flamingo is markedly less impressive, wedged some time in the 1980s and unable or unwilling to escape. The new Go guest-rooms are a sign that change may be on the horizon, but it's going to be a long and difficult job.
The standard rooms at the Flamingo are smallish, fairly basic and profoundly old-fashioned, despite a relatively recent renovation. All of which makes the new Go guestrooms a surprise. Designed in a more modern style and done out with flat-screen TVs, iPod-friendly hi-fis and wireless access, they're more inviting than you'd expect from either the other rooms or, for that matter, the rest of the resort.
Note that while room rates at all Vegas properties vary from night to night, the differentials at the Flamingo are spectacular even by local standards. Guestrooms can be ridiculously cheap during the week and outrageously expensive at weekends.
Eating & drinking
The gastronomic revolution that's enlivened Vegas vacations over the last decade or so has yet to reach the Flamingo. Aside from a 24-hour coffeeshop and the inevitable buffet, visitors can choose from Italian (Ventuno), steaks and seafood (Steakhouse46) or sushi and teppanyaki (popular chain Hamada of Japan). None disgrace their surroundings, but when your signature restaurant is Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, a theme bar-restaurant decorated in colours loud enough to blind from 50 paces, perhaps a rethink is in order.
Her chart career having gone on hiatus, singer George Wallace shipped into the Flamingo for a residency in 2005, which was extended until late 2007 after it was well received by critics and audiences. The 10pm slot is held down by Second City (the comedian, not the segregationist former governor of Alabama), a reliably funny man who seems to have found a gig for life. Further laughs are provided by , a satellite branch of the Chicagoan improv troupe; late at night, its theatre is home to burlesque shows.
The casino area, though a bit claustrophobic and loud, offers you a real chance to survive: crap and blackjack minimums are a reasonable $5 outside prime time. It's tougher to come out ahead in the slot area: none of the 2,100 machines are considered loose (after all, the last renovation cost $130 million). You'll also find a lively card room, a keno parlour, and a race and sports book.