If you’ve been around the Tahoe area long enough, you may know a thing or two about the storied history of the Tahoe Biltmore Casino and Hotel and its neighboring casinos just steps away — all of them lining the Nevada side of the California/Nevada border in North Lake Tahoe.
You may know all the stories about “Mary” and other ghosts in the haunted areas of the building, and the nature of their demise. (Mary was at one time a performer in the Aspen Cabaret Showroom, now known as the Breeze Bar, and legend has it she appears in ghostly form throughout the Biltmore wearing a 1960s-style mini skirt and having no facial features.) The ghost tales are so well-known, in fact, that two ladies recently stopped into the bar with their ghost energy detecting devices, as Biltmore bar manager Grace Rainwater, shared with Moonshine Ink.
You’ve probably heard the tales about the mob and JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and the Rat Pack, and the underground tunnels made for them that run among these Stateline casinos. Perhaps you know of the many times that Cupid shot his arrow there, and all the weddings and personal life celebrations the Biltmore has hosted. You might even be familiar with the Biltmore’s revelry, music, secrets, and characters of all sorts, from local partiers and families to jetsetters and international celebrities.
Most likely of all, however, is that you’ve seen the iconic sign, built in 1962 as a nod to both flying saucers and the Seattle Space Needle, which was presented at the Seattle World’s Fair that year. Maybe you’ve even had some surreal inebriated moments beneath it! The Biltmore’s casino floor supervisor (and longtime Tahoe-area casinos employee), Lucinda Giovanni, calls the tripod-shaped sign the “Vortex of Strange,” and says it offers an explanation for the especially high frequency of unusual happenings at the “Bilty” — as it’s affectionately known to some — over the years. Tales of the Biltmore’s at-times colorful past can be found online, in print newspapers, and even on television in the evening news and on shows about ghosts and hauntings.
If you hang around long enough in these waning days of the Biltmore — as this reporter did — you might meet people who are there getting the last of Tahoe’s daily affordable happy hours, or are just swinging by for a last look and goodbye before it closes this month. Holding a lifetime of memories, they might just have a bit (sometimes a lot!) to say.
At a recent happy hour, patron Odara Amasiani talked about how he frequented the Biltmore about twice per week for the first month when he arrived in Tahoe two years ago from Detroit. After a two-year hiatus, Amasiani was there recently for the second consecutive evening. “[I’m] kinda sad to see it go … especially … me not coming here for so long, and then actually finally coming, and finding out it’s about to close,” Amasiani told Moonshine Ink. As if describing a dying language or culture of people, he continued, “The people and deals here are like nowhere else in Tahoe. You can’t go to a happy hour and get a cocktail for $2. That’s unheard of.”
The historic casino and hotel survived through various ownerships over the decades since its 1946 opening and has fostered great memories for people of all ages — Tahoe locals and tourists or passersby.
Guest Charlie Bettencourt was walking by the Biltmore one recent evening when he stopped to look at the building and reminisced about days of his youth spent inside. “I just remember the concerts that were here, and the vitality that used to be in between these three places. It had … gravity. It was a really, really good time in the late ’80s/early ’90s,” Bettencourt recalled, his voice barely cracking as he gets a bit choked up. “It was just such a big part of that time of your life when you’re growing up.”
Bettencourt recalled the bands of various genres like funk and folk, and cover bands that played crowd favorites. “We’d get off work on the West Shore, drive over here and stay here all night, and wake up the next morning and go back to work,” he said. “Spend everything you made … You’d work all day, make like $50 bussing tables, come here and blow it all, wake up three hours later and go back and do it again.”
Despite the sentimental factor, Bettencourt said it’s not going to break his heart to see the site fixed up.
“If it was the way it was 20 years ago, then, yeah I’d probably shed a bigger tear, but it needs some work now. [It] sucks to go in there and not see any dealers, no bars, no food, no nothing. But, you look up at this stuff,” he said, gesturing overhead at the marquee and the iconic sign, “and it’s pretty cool. It’s an end of an era, for sure.”
A years-long effort to preserve the Biltmore on historic designation grounds was lost because several remodels over the years left it lacking enough historical features for such designation. The property was purchased by an entity called EKN Development Group in 2021 for $56.8 million, with plans unveiled at the beginning of this year to eventually reopen as a luxury “branded marquee destination.” Originally approved as Boulder Bay, it has since been tentatively renamed Tahoe Luxury Resort and Residences, according to a recent EKN press release.
And, so, the Biltmore fades, its doors set to close for good at 5 a.m. on April 30. Until then, however, if you hang out around the Biltmore and talk to the staff who’s been there (some of them for decades), or current and former guests, you will witness a sense of gleeful reminiscence. There is acceptance of what is coming coupled with appreciation of what has been.
The Biltmore’s “last hurrah” — as declared on the marquee thanking the community for 76 years of a good run — is April 23 and will include a performance by Biltmore staple Chris Costa from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m., cash prizes and drawings from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., and guests coming by for last goodbyes and sharing tales of days gone by.
Longtime cage manager Kristi Freeto has been curating and designing a memory wall on the casino floor, posting a collection of notes and photographs in a tree mural recently painted by Bilty fan Nicole Stirling. Guests are welcome to bring in photos, notes, or any other keepsakes to share their own recollections of the Biltmore from throughout the decades.