Las Vegas has long had a reputation as the quintessential adult’s playground. “Sin City” is the place you come to gamble, to drink, to party, to do everything in excess until it’s time to go home and leave your debaucherous doings behind. It’s a reputation the city has leaned into heavily over the years, save for that decade or so when it tried the “family-friendly destination” thing on for size. People that aren’t from Las Vegas think you can get away with just about anything here and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but that isn’t entirely the case. You can’t do cocaine off the craps tables, you can’t walk around naked, you can’t marry a goat, and you can’t legally get a prostitute within the Las Vegas city limits.
That last one wasn’t always true. When Las Vegas was little more than a watering hole for weary railroad workers and cowboys, there was a place they could forget about all their troubles and feel good about who they were as men.
I’m probably making it sound like an enchanted fairytale land or something, but it wasn’t. It was just a city block where you could blow off steam with some liquor and some loose women.
It was called Block 16. Block 16 is little more than a parking lot downtown these days, but in the early days of Las Vegas, it was the place that travelers and locals alike came to unwind with lots of liquor and loose women. Initially, Block 16 was one of the only places outside a hotel that liquor could be sold, but by 1910, the saloons in the block started making the big push into prostitution. About a decade later, the Block would also become notorious for its flagrant disregard of the 18th Amendment.
The most popular spot in the Block had to be The Arizona Club, also known as “The Queen of Block 16”. The Arizona was known for her slow gin fizz and her 40-foot mahogany bar, and she ended up being one of the last structures of the Block that stayed standing after the law came through and put a stop to the party.
Most of the locals here didn’t care for what went on down at Block 16, but for a long time no one did anything about it. Sheriff Sam Gay took the position that if they weren’t bothering anyone or harming anyone, he would let sleeping dogs lie. It wasn’t until the military came to town in the 1940s, when the Block’s heyday came to an end. They didn’t approve of the activities going on in the block and told city officials that the city would be off limits to all its personnel if said activities continued. Las Vegas wanted the military contracts, so they decided they no longer could turn a blind eye to the Block.
The police raids that followed forced the brothels onto Boulder Highway, but they didn’t survive long. By the 50s, a lack of revenue and legal liquor licenses had dried up their businesses and eventually the structures in Block 16 were demolished. Block 16 a little piece of history that’s often looked over by most, but it’s one of the many things that have made Vegas the city that it’s been.