The mechanical bull and bikini riders with leather chaps return to The Strip today with the official opening of Gilley’s Saloon, Dance Hall and Bar-B-Que at Treasure Island.
Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin spent close to $10 million to recreate the original Gilley’s (of Urban Cowboy fame) with a decidedly Vegas touch — neon and a big, open-air dining room with adjoining patio overseeing the Sirens of T.I. show.
Simulated cannon fire from the nightly show ensures that dinners feature blasts of sound and light.
When the smoke clears, the famed “Gilley’s Girls” arrive wearing black bikinis, black cowboy hats, black cowgirl boots and black leather chaps to kick off mechanical bull riding.
After watching numerous men fall off the beast last night, then seeing “the Girl’s” cool ride, it’s obvious there’s going to be competition at this “World Famous Bikini Bull Riding,” as a white neon sign boasts inside the bar.
“Gilley’s Girls are very sexy cocktail waitresses who get things started,” said Michelle Knoll, senior vice-president of advertising and public relations at Treasure Island.
“They’re tall and beautiful and very long-legged,” said someone close to the pre-opening auditions.
Gilley’s Girls were a hallmark of the saloon at The New Frontier, Ruffin’s old western-themed casino that closed in 2007, and was later imploded.
The mechanical bull made popular in the 1980 Urban Cowboy film (John Travolta, Debra Winger) has been much-copied in Vegas since then.
But only “Gilley’s has brand equity — it originated the mechanical bull,” Knoll said.
The original Gilley’s, named for country singer Mickey Gilley, was billed as “the world’s largest honky-tonk bar” when it opened in Pasadena in 1971. It closed after a business dispute in 1989, then was demolished in a 2006 fire, but the place featured a mechanical bull made famous by Urban Cowboy.
Gilley’s doesn’t have the 6,000-patron capacity of its Texas namesake.
But it does have three bars, with a wooden dance floor. Real saddles will be installed as bar seats.
Starting tonight, Gilley’s will feature a house band playing everything from country and western to rock and folk. Locals’ nights and “sage hen” (ladies’) nights are planned weekly.
Line dance lessons will start soon, Knoll said.
Gilley’s is the first restaurant on The Strip with retractable windows, bringing diners within a few feet of pedestrian traffic and the famed Treasure Island moat. Diners can see the water from window seats.
From the patio, they get closer to the Sirens show than anyone standing on the boardwalk.
Inside, diners can watch the crowd packing the sidewalk for the pirate show. There were hundreds last night, prompting several observers to wonder aloud how T.I. will handle the crowds once traditional tourist season starts next month.
The menu is mostly barbecued meat, with some of the most affordable prices at a Strip hotel.
(See separate review.)
Bull rides are $5 for eight seconds. Riders last night usually paid for two rides to start, then bought more rides after the “Gilley’s Girl” was the only one to stay on the bull — all the men fell within a few seconds.
More info: Gilley’s Saloon, Dance Hall and Bar-B-Que, Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702.894.7111 (main); gilleyslasvegas.com; treasureisland.com.
There’s more: Treasure Island is home base this weekend for the 2010 Professional Bull Riders’ World Cup. Reigning champions are Americans, who will compete against teams from Brazil (2007 champions) Canada, Mexico, and Australia (pbr.com). After-parties, cowboy hat sightings, and maybe even a few turns on the mechanical bull by real riders are expected.
Organizers promise 50 rides a night on real bulls by “22 of the world’s best riders” at the World Cup at the Thomas and Mack Center, starting Friday at 8 p.m., through to Sunday. (Tickets: unlvtickets.com.)