TIME photo essay

The Last Nights at The Western

The Western was the gambler's version of Cheers, but there was no place for it in a supersized Las Vegas. This week, the hotel, seen in photographs by Brenda Ann Kenneally, closed its doors for the last time.

In the world of casinos, you don’t think of Mom & Pop joints, but of mega-sized names like Wynn, Trump and Caesar. Jackie Gaughn and the Western Hotel & Casino don’t usually come to mind. But for gamblers living along Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, the Western was an institution, and a cheap one at that: $1 shots, $1 Coors Draft, $1 craps, $2 blackjack.

A Week at The Western Hotel – Las Vegas, NV. from Facing Change on Vimeo.

When it was built in 1970, the Western was the country’s largest bingo parlor. It soon became the kind of place where all the regulars knew each other, like the gambler’s version of Cheers. But as Las Vegas became supersized, the Western slowly lost ground. Gaughn, who owned the Western since it opened, sold it in 2004. And as the rest of downtown Las Vegas was reinventing itself, the Western stuck out like a desert artifact—the same reason it remained popular among the hotel and casino’s loyalists.

In November 2010, photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally spent 10 days shooting the Western, capturing the colorful and eclectic characters within the hotel. “I felt as though I knew every one immediately though I had never been there before,” she says. But by Monday, the Western had closed its doors, its rooms boarded up and its casino floor silent. The closing will make way for further redevelopment of the Fremont East District. But it’s unlikely that Las Vegas will see the likes of the Western again. “I cried when I heard that it was closing,” Kenneally says. “It was a place that you were just happy knowing existed—like the world that could sustain a place like The Western was a better world.”

Brenda Ann Kenneally is a Brooklyn-based photographer and founder of The Raw File. See more of her work here.

Josh Sanburn is a reporter-producer at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @joshsanburn.

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