Not to be outdone by the serious investigative journalism going on over at VegasInc, I'm back with another in-the-trenches look at one of the lesser written-about sides of Las Vegas: its unique odors. In particular,, I focus on five (5!) smells you might encounter on the Las Vegas Strip.
More after the jump.
In my recent creative non-fiction class, I urged my students to explore each of their five senses when writing about a place.
"Everyone uses sight, and a lot of writers use sound," I said, "But if you really want to take it to the next level, try working in some smells."
The other night I was on my way to meet Mark from Vegas 360 Podcast at the Cosmopolitan when I stepped onto a garage elevator with a guy who'd really slathered on the cologne. It actually wasn't too bad in the elevator, but when we exited (with my hospitality conditioning still active, naturally I let him leave the elevator first) I found myself, even though I was a good 5-10 feet behind him, still smelling his cologne.
"Wow--I'm trapped in a cologne wake," is what I thought, so I had the helmsman take me hard to port, where I ended up breathing in a good lungful of cigarette smoke. "Hmm. That's two things you smell a lot of in Vegas," I thought. And I kept on thinking about it, until I came up with 5 characteristic smells.
Although frankly, my main reason for writing this is to see if I can get #colognewake to trend on Twitter.
1. Cigarette smoke
This is probably the first thing most people who don't spend a lot of time in casinos notice about Vegas casinos--the cigarette smoke that is just about omnipresent. It's particularly noticeable since most major indoor spaces in the US no longer allow smoking--hard to believe that not so long ago (in geological terms at least), people even smoked on airplanes. No matter how modern the casino and how highly they tout their air purification systems, you'll still get that classic Vegas smoke reek. Just see it as another friendly reminder that this is a city with as much of a disregard for societal taboos, indoor air cleanliness, and consideration for others as federal regulations currently permit.
An honorable mention in this category goes to hammerheads who light up cigars so that even people who are out of their direct line of sight know how much they like enjoying themselves at the expense of others.
2. Cologne wakes (and other perfumed excesses)
With the cigarette smoke blocking probably deadening most casino-goers sense of smell, in some ways you can't blame guys for taking the Aqua Velva plunge before they go out for a night on the town, to the extent that, just like the cigar smokers, they can be sensed before they can be seen. After all, they want to make an impression on the ladies, don't they? Add to that we're in a desert city where back sweat is an unfortunate part of everyday life (at least in the summers), and you can see why some guys would want to mask their natural musk.
Here's a tip, fellas--you want to keep something as personal as your brand of cologne, well, personal. Masculine aromas with a hint of citrus are melee weapons, not ranged ones; you want the lady you're trying to impress to catch a tantalizing hint of something nice-smelling when you lean in close to her, not be driven away from across the room.
3. That weird Strip stench
You know what I'm talking about--that backed-up sewer smell that's particularly strong in a few places, like right outside Caesars Palace. I don't even notice it anymore, but every now and then I'll see someone grimace in disgust and say, "What's that smell?" I've got a two-part answer: A) I don't know, precisely, and B) Probably nothing good. Still, it's a Vegas institution at this point.
4. That back-of-the-house smell
I was reminiscing about this not so long ago--that smell of industrial-grade food, cooking grease, and employees hurrying to and from their jobs. For me, it brings back fond memories of getting paid to just wander around the Trump Taj Mahal waiting for something exciting to happen so I could write a report about it. Actually, that kind of describes some parts of my current job, now that I think about it. Anyway, it's an odor that seems to be exactly the same, no matter which casino you're in--the Fremont downtown, Bellagio, or anywhere in between.
5. The smells they want you to smell
Those, of course, would be the piped-in scents that casinos pay big bucks to filter through their HVAC systems. More than anything else, they can define a place. To me, the Mirage is just as much about a delicate coconutty aroma wafting through the lobby as it is the volcano. And the Venetian's signature scent--"Seduction"--is anything but subtle, and as good a reminder as any that you're in Vegas, where excess is to be expected.
I often get questions from journalists about the science behind the casino smells--they think that there is some sort of elaborate neurochemical calibration process that lets casinos tailor a scent for the specific demographic that they want to appeal to. I haven't been inside the AromaSys olfactory factory, but I strongly suspect that the design process goes something like this:
Casino CEO: We want something that smells nice, so people don't get grossed out by the smoke and leave.
AromaSys Rep: How about this one?
Casino CEO: Nah, smells too much like Mirage. Got anything a little fruitier?
AromaSys Rep: Why don't you try this one?
Casino CEO: That'll work. Give us 20 gallons by Friday.
Even though it's probably not as much of a science as most people think, you've still got to give those proprietary casino smells their due: they're so popular that they're even selling casino-scented candles in giftshops now. And people are buying them.