Sign up for our newswire newsletter


How to Leverage the Atomic History of Las Vegas at Events

View of A-bomb Test From Fremont Street June 24, 1957. Photo Credit: LVCVA Archive

Written by U2 to promote their recent residency at the Sphere, “Atomic City” refers to Vegas’ atomic tourism era. Between 1951 and 1992, the U.S. government conducted 1,021 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. With daytime mushroom clouds, nighttime detonations lighting up the horizon, and seismic shaking, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce promoted the blasts as a unique Vegas attraction. 

According to A-Bombs Over Nevada from the Smithsonian Channel, the tests, amplifying explosive casino growth, contributed to local population growth from 25,000 to some 3 million people between 1951 and 1960. Following the last atmospheric test in 1962, the trend faded away, but from vintage establishments to new ventures, the legacy endures.  

Vegas' Early Atomic History 

A-bomb Mushroom Cloud Seen From Old Frontier Village, May 1953 Photo Credit LVCVA Archive
A-bomb Mushroom Cloud Seen From Old Frontier Village, May 1953. Photo Credit: LVCVA Archive

From the Wild West mythology of the 1930s and 1940s to the iconic 2003 “What Happens Here, Stays Here” campaign, Las Vegas offers a perennial masterful class in tourism marketing. Image-making in the atomic era was positively radioactive as the Chamber of Commerce, nascent Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (founded in 1955), casinos and local operators blew up every opportunity to snag tourist dollars.

Guests viewed tests from their hotels. Casinos hosted atomic watch parties at their pools and rooftops. Hot spots included the Sky Room at the Dunes (now Bellagio), atomic cocktails included. For $3, tourists rode buses to the outskirts of the testing range to watch the detonations and were advised to “take a shower” to deal with any contamination. Using promotional slogans including “Up and Atom City” and “Atomic City USA,” the Chamber published a regular calendar of scheduled blast-related activities and venues.

In 1952, a group of journalists formed the “Ancient and Honorable Society of Atom Bomb Watchers” at the Flamingo. Using the password “cimota” (“atomic” backwards), they swore to forever guard the A-bomb’s secrets along with their nighttime exploits. The Flamingo’s beauty parlor offered mushroom cloud hairstyles. 

[Related: The Mirage Hotel & Casino to Close This Summer; Begin Transformation into Hard Rock Hotel & Casino]

Elvis made his Vegas debut in 1956 at the New Frontier as “The Atomic-Powered Singer,” while the era produced four atomic-themed beauty queens. It was hot while it lasted.

Atomic Offerings For Groups

Atomic Liquors Sign. Photo Credit: Jeff Heilman
Atomic Liquors Sign. Photo Credit: Jeff Heilman

After the atomic ardor faded, marketing shifted to the seductive side of Vegas, setting the stage for what became one of the world’s most recognizable destination brands. Along the way, much of the past was imploded and cratered, making vintage venues like Atomic Liquors more relevant than ever amid the perpetual reinvention. 

[Related: Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Reveals $100M Renovation]

Atomic Golf Interior. Photo Credit: LVCVA
Atomic Golf Interior. Photo Credit: LVCVA

Originally Virginia’s Cafe from 1945, this 1952 Downtown Vegas heirloom is the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas, with the city’s first package liquor license. Customers once drank Atomic Cocktails while watching blasts from the roof. Regulars included The Rat Pack and Barbara Streisand. Featuring the attached Kitchen at Atomic, it’s now a blast for events.

Neon has been a Vegas brand signature since 1928. Retired signs galore, including the atomic-lettered Stardust sign, bring the past to light at the celebrated event-capable Neon Museum Las Vegas, which incorporates the lobby of the historic La Concha Motel, a striking example of Atomic- and Space Age architecture, as its visitor center. Groups can also view rare artifacts and other exhibits at the event-capable, Smithsonian-affiliated Atomic Museum.

Swing into action at the new Atomic Golf Las Vegas, which opened this March adjacent to STRAT Las Vegas. This sprawling four-level, 100,000-square-foot facility combines next-generation golf technology and immersive game play with flexible space for large-scale events and curated food and beverage menus. 

Atomic Saloon Show is a “rootin’-tootin’ irreverently adult wild west show” at The Venetian Las Vegas from local circus-meets-theater company Spiegelworld.

Read this next: Iconic Tropicana Las Vegas Closes for Good. See Photos Throughout the Years

Profile picture for user Jeff Heilman
About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.