In Memory of the Fish Bar

In Memory of the Fish Bar


We called it the “Fish Bar.” It was tucked into the back of the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. I don’t know who came up with the name “Fish Bar.” We called it that because of the fake aquarium with ceramic fish that was hanging on the wall behind the bar.

The bartenders used to tell us about the customers who would ask if it was a real aquarium. The fish never moving should give it away.

“It’s amazing how still they are.”

“Yeah, no more for you…You’ve had enough to drink.”

This was our meeting place after our shows.

“I’m going to get changed and I’ll meet you at the Fish Bar.”

We didn’t even have to say it after a while. It was just common knowledge of where we would be. My friend Wayne from Pittsburgh still goes to Vegas a few times a year. He didn’t even have to tell me he was coming. He would just be sitting at the Fish Bar playing poker machines at the time he knew I would be coming by.

I became friends with all of the bartenders, so it didn’t bother me to hang there by myself. There are some acts that are just too weird or annoying to be around.

There was one guy in particular who had to one up everybody. No matter what you did or had, he did or had something better. If you bought a new car, he said he had the next model up. It got to the point one week I was putting drops in my eyes.

“What are you, putting drops in your eyes?”

“Yeah, I wear contacts and the desert air dries them out.”

“Yeah well, I have glaucoma.”

How do you compete when you weren’t even in a competition?

“Ok, you win. My eyes are dry and you’re going blind.”

One of the bartenders was a Canadian gentleman named Gilles. And I do mean gentleman. He was always pleasant with a smile on his face and rarely had a bad word to say about anyone.

It was NASCAR week in Vegas and the crowd was ugly. It was like a bunch of Cousin Eddie’s from the movie, “Vegas Vacation.” Guys walking around the Casino drinking Bush tall boys even though the Casino didn’t sell Bush tall boys.

Most of them weren’t even staying in the hotel. They had campers in the parking lot or just slept in their trucks. The ones that did get rooms had eight or ten people sharing. Gilles was looking at me kind of disturbed.

“John, we get the Rodeo and the Spring Breakers and they’re nice…but, these people…”

I just looked at him and said,

“They’re fucking pigs!”

He smiled and shook my hand.

“I did not want to say that.”

Yeah, but it didn’t bother me.

One night we were sitting there and a woman came over to inform us,

“There’s a guy masturbating in the woman’s rest room.”

Jerry was the bartender who called security. I should tell you the Tropicana was an old hotel with good unions. The security guys were in their eighties.

The woman came back about ten minutes later.

“He’s still in there going at it. When is security coming?”

Ten minutes later she returned again.

“Well, he left now. You can tell security not to bother.

“I guess he was finished.”

She didn’t find the humor. The rest of us did.

We had some great times sitting there. We just didn’t realize we were reaching the end of an era. All around us, Vegas was erecting huge corporate boxes with sterile atmospheres.

The club was gone when word came out the Tropicana had been sold and they were going to expand. I was working at a theater in the mall at Planet Hollywood…Yes, the mall in the Casino…Anyway, I wanted to visit my old friends at the Fish Bar.

The fish were gone. Replaced by a wall of big screen televisions.

“What happened to the fish?”

Phil, the bartender that night looked at me.

“Do you want some?”

“Some what?”

“Fish…they’re still hanging behind the screens. How many do you want?”

“Give me three.”

Two for me and one for my friend Wayne.

So the Fish Bar is no more but I have some memories on my mantle in the downstairs game room. It’s not the same. My wife won’t let me smoke cigars in the house. On the bright side, I don’t have to put up with the NASCAR crowd or bathroom masturbators. Also, my eyes don’t get dry from the desert air. Although I have to wonder if that asshole ever went blind from his glaucoma.

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