Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

August 25, 2011

Follow your nose: 5 Strip smells

Posted by daveschwartz

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.


Read archived comments (7 so far)
August 26, 2011 8:08 AM Posted by scotsman

got to agree with the Caesars palace smell, right at the bottom of the bridge from Buffalo bills, that smell has been there for years, crazy they havent dealt with it, when they built that cheap ass roman plaza & valet parking garage

August 26, 2011 9:13 AM Posted by jinx

A very fun article Dr. Dave and right on in your picks for the Top 5.

August 26, 2011 2:58 PM Posted by parchedearth

1. smoke smell on your clothing the next morning. Actually, I find the smoke is not much of a problem anymore; at least at the newer properties. Improved circulation and fewer smokers make it bearable. I can remember how bad smoking rooms were just a few years ago.
2. "cologne wakes" is certainly catchy. I think you might be on to something. I know profuse cologne upsets the strippers.
3. There are 3 or 4 spots on the strip with the sewage stench. Also, most outdoor foliage is watered with semi-treated wastewater that still smells like piss when you walk by.
5. I like the casino smells. Cosmo is my new favorite. It's definitely different from the others.

August 27, 2011 2:58 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Please don't give women a pass on bathing in perfume. It can be just as bad as the cologne, and sometimes worse. Now that I am 53, I think I'm becoming afflicted with the comdition aging men get where some perfume scents can be exteremly bothersome. I occasionly get a whiff of one of those scents and have to move away ASAP.
My favorite casino scent is El Cortez. I'm sure I've said that a zillion times on the internet, but I just get all happy inside when we're across 6th street (in front of The Beat Coffee House) and the scent comes blasting out of the El Cortez side door and greets us. I'm serious when I say that I want to get that scent and put it in the little battery powered air freshener pumps I have in the office at my shop. Can't think of anything better than smelling like the El Cortez all day!
Good post Dr. Dave. Thanks.

August 29, 2011 9:22 AM Posted by Javi

The smell/stench in downtown Vegas. It's not a strip smell... it's pretty similar to what's in New Orleans @ the French Quarter - reeks of spilled daiquiris, beer and other alcohol from days past.

Here's an interesting observation, I don't really recall any food smells in Vegas. You know, like the minute you drive or pass by a BBQ joint, you can smell the smokiness or when you smell the fried oils when whizzing by your favorite fried chicken place...

As for the casino smells, I find that Bellagio, Aria, and Venetian being the most memorable. I can't seem to recall what the Cosmo smells like.

August 29, 2011 12:07 PM Posted by David McKee

One of the worst-smelling spots on the Strip has to be the north flank of Treasure Island, where Spring Mountain crosses LV Boulevard. It's peculiarly sulfuric, like passing the service entrance to Hell. Another place that'll wrinkle your nostrils is the parking garage underneath Fashion Show Mall. My wife and I were on our way to a cooking class upstairs when our nostrils were assailed with the unmistakable smell of human feces. Now that's the first thing I remember whenever Fashion Show Mall is mentioned.

August 31, 2011 9:23 AM Posted by Phil

In Caesars Palace there is an escalator you take down into the bowels (literally) of the casino floor where there are restrooms. Its located between Brady Ogden and the Colossium showroom. Its been there since the late 70's when that expansion was done. Well its been open and closed throughout the years for whatever reason and was reopened recently. Well nothing has changed, I made the mistake of going down that escalator recently and that familiar smell hit me half way down. 30 years since it opened and the smell remains the same. The problem is no air gets down there. I remember when all the bathrooms at Caesars had attendants to give you towels and of course you had your choice of colognes and the famous comb in the green liquid and I just felt so sorry for that guy. 8 hours a day of smelling crap.

Another place you want to stay away from is the garage at the Horseshoe downtown. Once you self park if you look over the edge of the garage's concrete walls you will see an alley. I think this alley separated the Horseshoe from the original Mint and was and still is used for service vehicles. Well its also the service exit for garbage collection. Just imagine the combo of 110 degree heat and trash.