LAUGHLIN — Laughlin loses a part of its history with the announcement of the Colorado Belle’s “indefinite” closure. The Belle is the latest casualty of this nasty pandemic and it saddens me to think of what this grand lady meant to me personally and as a member of the Laughlin entertainer staff for more than 20 years.
I am filled with rich memories of media nights and music, of giant cinnamon rolls and blues artists, and of all the people over the years who made this riverboat queen the “belle of the ball.”
She stood out on the Laughlin landscape since the 1980s, this six-deck replica of a 19th century Mississippi River paddle steamer, with her opulent décor of velvet-flocked wall coverings, massive brass chandeliers, and commanding staircases reminiscent of that time period. Walking up the wooden planks to the entrances, we were greeted by large schools of colorful koi fish.
Her poker room with its vivid wall mural depicting a riverboat gambling scene mirrored the busy spot for avid regular players at the Belle. As five-card stud was dealt at the tables and slot machines were kept busy, the Riverboat Ramblers, a small group of musicians, would meander throughout the “boat” with trumpets and banjos in fine Dixieland form, entertaining players on a regular basis.
Gone are the Mississippi Lounge, Mark Twain’s Chicken and Ribs and the Paddleboat Restaurants.
Whenever new menu items were unveiled, or before new restaurants opened to the public, members of the media were invited to taste all of it — always a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. An example, the Belle’s Boiler Room Brew Pub was innovative for the time with its industrial tanker ship theme. It was one of my favorite restaurants, no matter how many menu changes. It was the town’s first microbrewery and going behind the scenes to see how the various homemade beers were made was a treat.
I met Herschel Walker when the former professional football player came through town promoting his line of barbecue sauces used in some of the Boiler Room’s entrees.
Being a judge for the employee chili cook-offs introduced me to the best damn cornbread ever. Who knew it could melt in your mouth like that?
I learned to love the blues because of the Belle and their Blues & Brews Festivals, organized every year by John Earl (of the BoogieMan Band) and his wife, Shirley Williams. A revolving door of talented artists in addition to those favorites who journeyed here on a regular basis, the front parking lot became the Center Circle, and a blues tradition was born.
Experiencing the soulful, emotional guitar riffs of great bluesmen like Michael Burks and Preston Shannon, who now hold musical court in that smoky blues club in the great beyond, makes me blessed to have been in their company.
One particular event comes to mind when thunderstorms threatened to cancel the evening’s entertainment. The show was halted for a bit, but a break in the weather, and Earl, Burks, Chris Hiatt and Brad Wilson took advantage, took to the stage and never looked back. I’m pretty sure these guys were personally responsible for keeping the skies clear and the storm at bay. Turned out to be a beautiful night for the blues.
So, if this is farewell to the Belle I offer a toast — here’s Colorado River mud in your eye as the sun sets on your journey. May the wind be forever at your back. You will be missed, dear lady.