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Las Vegas: Kitsch Spoken Here

Posted by Anne Burke on June 02, 2011
  • snow globes at Bonanza Gift Shop in Las Vegas picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Anne Burke
    Photo caption
    Welcome to Las Vegas starter kits.
  • Lost Vegas Antiques in Las Vegas picture
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    Photo: Anne Burke
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    Lost Vegas Antiques.
  • I heart Donny t-shirt at Donny and Marie Gift Shop at Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas
    Photo credit
    Photo: Anne Burke
    Photo caption
    I heart Donny.
  • Bonanza Gift Shop after dark in Las Vegas picture
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    Photo: Anne Burke
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    Bonanza Gift.

Road Journals Blog—When I was growing up, birthdays and holidays were always special times for getting together with loved ones and gathering around the table for a special meal.

Mostly though, they were excuses to exchange tacky, tasteless and totally useless gifts—fright wigs, plastic cockroaches, unrippable toilet paper, Elvis kitsch, fake ice cubes with flies inside, old man masks and (as my siblings and I grew older and more worldly) animal-sex coffee mugs. Nothing was off limits except for whoopee cushions, which we deemed clichéd for our sophisticated tastes.

Fortunately for all involved, my gift buying has matured over the decades. Still, every once in a while I’ll drive past a souvenir shop and feel a nostalgic tug. This happens frequently in Las Vegas, which is to tacky gifts what Rodeo Drive is to high-end shopping.

The first stop on any tour of Las Vegas tasteless gifts is the Bonanza Gifts, the block-sized building on the north end of the Strip at Sahara Avenue. You’ll know it by the red neon sign and gigantic marquee that shouts, “World’s Largest Gift Store.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s certainly a motherlode of the tacky and tasteless. This is your one-stop shop for “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas”-branded merchandise—snow globes, cooking mitts, dog bowls. There is simply no end to it.

You can also rest easy, because your search for road rage megaphones, Vegas crime scene tape, and girls-gone-bad T-shirts ends here.

The Bonanza has a  “Naughty Town” annex next door, but compared to most of the fare on tap in Sin City, it’s as racy as a “Little House on the Prairie” rerun.

Keep driving north toward downtown and hit the brakes at Lost Vegas Antiques, which you’ll know by the Blues Brothers, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe statues outside.

Antiques in this instance is loosely defined, but the shop is nevertheless a lot of fun. It’s a crowded clutter of casino memorabilia, collectibles from the ’50s and ’60s, and gag gifts. If you’re looking for drink tokens from Nevada’s infamous Mustang Ranch or a vintage movie theater popcorn machine, you’ve come to the right place.

Some of the best places for tacky gift shopping in Las Vegas are the merchandise shops adjoining the big entertainment venues. At Aria Resort & Casino, home to Cirque du Soleil’s Elvis-themed stage show, you can buy a limited-edition giant Elvis Pez dispenser. Hurry, while supplies last.

In the 1950s, with the advent of atomic testing northwest of Las Vegas, popular culture began to reflect the dawning of a new age—nowhere more so than Vegas. At the Atomic Testing Museum, you can find reminders of that strange era. The gift shop sells mushroom cloud mouse pads, Miss Atomic Bomb poker chips, and Albert Einstein finger puppets.

Let no tacky tour of Las Vegas omit the Donny and Marie gift shop at the Flamingo. Even for those who aren’t necessarily fans of the singing siblings, the abundance of Osmond water bottles, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts and dolls is a fitting motif in this glitziest of cities.

This blog post was first published in June 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.