Downtown Las Vegas: the Other Vegas Strip

When the sun goes down on the Las Vegas Strip the city seems to flip a switch. Nowhere is this neon transition more stunning than Downtown Las Vegas along Fremont Street.

Las Vegas sprang into action at a time when electricity was cheap. It flowed from Colorado like candy at a carnival. The sizzling blues, reds, greens, and golds of Las Vegas Strip frontage still sparkle through the Las Vegas nightlife to bring back Old Las Vegas in a hip-to-the-scene section of Downtown called Fremont Street East.

Las Vegas History with a Twist

For all its ultra-lounge glamour, VIP club cachet, and Bachelor Guy attitude Vegas also has a place where mellow scenesters can grab a drink and also have a conversation in the shadows of the city’s past. Fremont Street East opened in August as an intensive two blocks of clubs, where vintage ambiance and Boho mojo mark the street from Las Vegas Blvd. to Seventh Street.

The area saw streetscape changes, to the tune of $5.5 million that included wider sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly touches; lighted gateways and the Neon Museum, a living landscape of vintage neon signs from the Vegas of another time. Neon originals such as the golden lightbulb high heel shoe that once rotated in front of the Silver Slipper — practically all the old icons but the Las Vegas Sign (that is on the other side of town) — add to new bars and nightclub experiences pumping some extra pomp into Downtown.

Three primary clubs lend new luster to Glitter Gulch: The Beauty Bar, the Griffin, and the Downtown Cocktail Room.

Las Vegas Night Life

At the Beauty Bar, it’s martinis and manicures amid the mayhem and energy of a throbbing Gen Y club. At the Griffin, a pub and eatery with a medieval motif, Goths, fashionistas, and artists mix in dark corners, weakly illuminated by candle sconces and a central fireplace. The Downtown Cocktail Room offers a quieter, more upscale, and contemporary mélange of comfort for those who can find the door. (The entry blends into the outside wall). Other architectural puzzles await those who eventually find the bathroom.

Nearby on Third Street, Coyote Ugly has opened Hogs and Heifers, where rowdiness is considered de rigueur –Harleys parked asunder on the sidewalk. Atomic Liquors’ cocktail lounge offers a distant allusion to Las Vegas’s inglorious past as a city that beckoned tourists to view, up close and personal, the nation’s ‘50s-era above-ground-nuclear tests. And there are other clubs to explore: Triple George for classic Cosmos and fine cigars; and Hennessey’s Tavern for the tallest mug of Bass in Vegas (85 feet above Fremont Street). Down the block at the Four Queens, House of Blues-rock mogul Lance Sterling opened the Canyon Club with all the Indo-Asian design props and a packed roster of heady performers.

The Golden Nugget’s Pool and Aquarium

The hotels and casinos that line Fremont Street including the Golden Nugget, Fremont Hotel and Casino, 4 Queens, and Binion’s, just to name a few are more run-down to be sure, but they also have a sense of history that the newer buildings lack, and some of the older attractions have been beautifully refurbished. At the Golden Nugget hotel and casino, the pool has become a spectacle within itself, having been transformed three years ago into a sprawling oasis complete with a water slide, a private pool and bar for adults, and an enormous aquarium filled with exotic fish and sharks (through which the water slide winds).

Cheap Drinks and Gambling, Free Entertainment

Venturing outside the Golden Nugget, the atmosphere is more relaxed and intimate than on the Strip. The casinos are closer together, so there is less walking involved when going from place to place. There is also free entertainment every nighteverything from live bands playing to saxophone soloists, to show girls wandering up and down the street. Another great benefit that is sorely lacking on the Strip is the cheaper prices. For example, a vodka cranberry at the Bellagio is a staggering $8.50, while the same drink at Binion’s in downtown Las Vegas is a much more reasonable $5.00. All of the casinos in downtown Vegas have much cheaper buy-ins for their table games, including blackjack and poker. The average price to buy into a table at a casino on Fremont street is about $5.00, while the same tables on the Strip can average up to $10.00.

The Fremont Street Experience: A Must-See

In addition to the cheaper drinks and gambling, there is also a unique spectacle that occurs every night, appropriately called the Fremont Street Experience. A large screen extends 90 feet overhead for five blocks on Fremont Street and plays free shows every hour from dusk until midnight. The screen looks like a giant canopy has been turned into a plasma T.V., and the lighting and sound are excellent. Currently, there is a 70s-music theme, with the screen displaying images and music from that era. Many of the live bands playing on Fremont Street also have the 70s, disco vibe.

For a change of pace from the usual high prices, long walks, and slick modernity of the Strip, downtown Las Vegas, and particularly the Fremont Street Experience is an excellent alternative.

Cigars and Shrimp Cocktails

The homeless and ladies of the evening still keep the territory in character. And some of Vegas’s best cigars: hand-rolled Cuban-style Coronas for the cost of a Coke at Don Yeyo’s Cigar Factory can be found right down the street from the bar that sells the city’s legendary $1 shrimp cocktails.

If the Strip is Vegas on steroids, Fremont Street and Fremont Street East is Vegas on Vitamin C powder packets. Visitors can still expect a jolt of insanity, but also a hassle-free, seriously good time.

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