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VegasChatter's 2012 Guide To Downtown Las Vegas

Where: Fremont Street [map], 89101
April 3, 2012 at 5:56 PM | by | Comments (10)

Hard to believe a full year has gone by since the inaugural VegasChatter Guide To Downtown Las Vegas was published. When we set sight on downtown to highlight our Fremont area favorites, we hoped to remind readers of another side of Vegas. Over the past year, Downtown Vegas has seen a resurgence of activity that's injected it with new energy and turned it into a destination over afterthought. If there was a Like button right here, we'd click it.

Downtown Las Vegas continues to evolve and expose itself (in the most acceptable of ways) to new visitors as a result. In fact, DT is reinventing itself so quickly this very guide may need a mid-2012 update. Makeovers are underway at Golden Gate and the hotel formerly known as Fitzgeralds's, new family owned restaurants and cafes with international flavor have opened as we type, and the fine arts have taken center stage.

Our Downtown Guide has even been approved for expansion, adding a category for 2012:

WHERE TO STAY:
Not much has changed in our first category as one Fremont Street hotel still claims the gold with the rest battling for position.
· Golden Nugget
· El Cortez
· Gold Spike / Plaza

WHERE TO DRINK:
Downtown continues to quench our thirst for alcohol. Hand crafted-cocktails, beers, and yards of frozen booze are all just steps apart making Downtown our favorite drinking destination.
· Downtown Cocktail Room
· The Griffin
· Mob Bar

WHERE TO EAT:
Celebrity chefs might not be flocking to Fremont, but there are excellent dishes to be had if you know where to look. We break it down into two categories, upscale and casual.
· Vic & Anthony's
· Oscar's
· Hugo's Cellar
· Du-Par's
· Le Thai
· The Honorable Mentions

WHERE TO HAVE FUN:
Wandering around downtown without an agenda suits some just fine. But if you need to plan fun, here's where to find some outside the casinos.
· Zipline
· Insert Coin(s)
· Emergency Arts Building: The Beat, Burlesque Hall of Fame, First Friday, Vegas StrEATS

WHAT NOT TO MISS:
Don't kick yourself for missing these downtown gems, both small and large.
· Smith Center for Performing Arts
· Mob Museum
· Berlin Wall

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:
Everything. But, if we have to name names, there are a few openings on the horizon we have our eyes on.
· Neon Museum
· Discovery Children's Museum
· New Rooms

WHERE TO STAY:

Several highly anticipated new additions are on the way, but until new rooms from Golden Gate, Binion's, and Fitz The D come online later this year not a lot has changed in this category. Our top choices still include one runaway winner for guests wanting to be right on Fremont Street, a selection of suite pads for those who opt to be further away from the action, and a smaller, budget conscious option that won't cramp your style. One new (re)entry, The Plaza, initially underwhelmed us due to some early kinks, but held enough promise in its shiny new interior to keep us interested. Main Street Station continues to receive solid reviews but we haven't stayed there ourselves, something we plan to change soon (and report to you, of course).

Summarizing hotels at the simplest level:
· Location, Location, Location: Golden Nugget
· Off The Beaten Path: El Cortez Cabana Suites
· Budget: Gold Spike or The Plaza
If prices are similar, the nod in the budget category likely goes to the Plaza. For nights there is a significant price difference, head to the Spike if a Fremont footprint isn't critical.

GOLDEN NUGGET:
The Golden Nugget has it all: AAA Four Diamond hotel rating, prime location, multiple classes of rooms, broad selection of restaurants for all tastes, fantastic pool and waterslide, shows, spa, and, of course, gaming.

The Carson Tower may be the Nugget's entry level rooms but we found them comfortable and bottom tier in name only:

At the top end is the Golden Nugget's Rush Tower. Video below is for a larger Corner Junior Suite, but the deluxe rooms have the same luxurious feel and, at 20% larger than the Carson and Gold Tower rooms, are more than comfortable.

Carson Tower rooms start as low as $89 on weekends, $47 mid-week. Gold Tower rooms start at $99 (weekends) and $59 (mid-week) while Rush Tower rooms go for $109 and up (weekends) or $79 and up (mid-week). For reservations, call 800.634.3454 or book online.

EL CORTEZ:
Guests at El Cortez can choose to ignore the Fremont Street crowds but are still close enough to enjoy the sights and sounds by walking a block or two. El Cortez doesn't have quite as many amenities as Golden Nugget, but boasts of its Bugsy Siegel connection, loose slots, dining and drinks, offers promotions on several classes of rooms, and isn't afraid to admit there's things to do outside in the neighborhood.

Where El Cortez truly excels is in its suite offerings. In the main casino and hotel building, the Jacuzzi and Design A Suite accommodations we previewed here are now available for booking.

The Big Sleep, aka the big winner in the Design A Suite competition

Across the street are three levels of Cabana Suites decorated in black and white leathers surrounded by a shade of mint. While this separate building doesn't have any of the dining or gaming conveniences found across the street, the rooms, lobby, and fitness center are well worth the short walk to eat and gamble. Don't blame us if you never leave the suite to do either, though.

GOLD SPIKE:
The smaller Gold Spike one block from Fremont is basic, but functional. We called it not too fancy yet not too shabby. Amenities are pretty much limited to the pool, 24-hour dining, and fast WiFi, but the cost falls into the budget category for a reason. Upstairs, rooms served the basic needs without tempting anyone to settle in outside sleeping hours. Downstairs, the inexpensive, but satiable food was a draw while the cozy casino (read: small) could make one feel like they own the joint. The dealers don't even mind if you Facebook them.

With the Mob Museum and Downtown 3rd now open steps away and more changes coming, Gold Spike's location may soon be one of its biggest benefits. Rooms generally start from $40 (weeknights) and from $80 (weekends) while suites are available from around $170.

PLAZA LAS VEGAS
The Plaza's re-opening generated a lot of excitement for itself and the future of downtown. While our opening night stay didn't wow us, we made our own fun and liked enough about the re-done joint from the lobby to the growing list of restaurants located outside the food court. If the early room issues can be sorted out and maintained while restaurant service is improved, the new, vintage Plaza is worth a look.

WHERE TO DRINK:

Is there anywhere better to drink in Vegas than Downtown? Sure you can opt for fountain spray in your glass or views that match a sophisticated cocktail. And, one casino bar usually isn't far from the next on The Strip. But, for walkability, variety, price, and people-watching, we long for downtown. One Fremont Street casino is so proud of their good whiskey they put it in their theme song. That's commitment.

DOWNTOWN COCKTAIL ROOM


Anyone who hasn't ventured downtown in awhile may have difficulty placing D.C.R. there. It's a self-described lounge meets speakeasy where cocktails are not made, but crafted. Seriously, order a drink from the ever-changing menu then watch the extremely knowledgeable and skilled bartenders engulf themselves in their public chemistry experiment. Find out why we said D.C.R. sets the standard for downtown Vegas bars.

THE GRIFFIN


Don't dismiss The Griffin by mistaking it for an Irish bar due to the sign or a nightclub because of the bouncer. It's the indie hipster middle child sandwiched between a sophisticated brother in DCR and a quirky younger sister in Beauty Bar. The Griffin is a bar so don't look for the cocktail or food menu. Drinks are served straight up and Pabst Blue Ribbon might the fanciest beer you see all night. But, this place has character. Maybe it's the dark corners where one can hide for the evening amongst off-beat artwork, the fireplaces that burn year round, the jukebox as varied as the clientele, or the live music beyond. Read why the Griffin is a must-see enough that we even take (Vegas) virgins there.

MOB BAR


In anticipation of the Mob Museum's heralded opening, the former Sidebar next to Triple George Grill transformed itself into a 1920s speakeasy complete with bow-tied bartenders rolling up their sleeves and waitresses in red, fringed flapper outfits. The Mob Bar's theme first grabbed our attention, but the classic cocktails weighted toward gin and bourbon, excellent selection of small bites under $10, and live music make the Mob Bar an offer you shouldn't refuse.

WHERE TO EAT:

Narrowing down last year's dining list was so difficult we loosely split our selections in two. New restaurants are coming onto the downtown scene so quickly foodies have a reason to rejoice. Diners are even having heart attacks over the array of options. Don't be surprised if there are new contenders open for business before we hit publish. +Like.

UPSCALE DINING:

VIC AND ANTHONY'S:

Golden Nugget is placed so high on our downtown hotel pedestal it wouldn't be right not to start off with their finest restaurant. But, which to choose: Chart House for seafood, Red Sushi for.. ummmm.. sushi, or one of its several other eating options? Why not one that specializes in more than one category? Vic & Anthony's proudly displays its nightly selection of fresh meats and seafood just inside the entrance.

Start with Maple Glazed Quail ($16.95), Petrossian Caviar (MP), or choose from a menu of salads so plenty you'll need two hands to count. Steaks range from $37.95 for the 8oz Filet to a Bone-In Ribeye for $52.95. Alaskan King Crab Legs and Live Mainer Lobster are, of course, at market price. We won't lie -- the bill adds up quickly. But, that's why we like the secretive three-course Distinctive Dining Deal for $49.95:
· Lobster Bisque, Beefsteak Tomato and Onion Salad, or Iceberg Wedge Salad
· 8oz Filet Mignon, Sea Bass A La Nage w/ Baby Lump Crab, or Alaskan King Crab Pappardelle
· Choice of side: Au Gratin Potatoes, Haricot Vert, Creamed Spinach
· Croissant Bread Pudding, Creme Brulee, or Chocolate Cake

OSCAR'S BEEF * BOOZE * BROADS

Former Mayor Goodman is so proud of hizz place he even has a working office behind the bar. A three-piece jazz band and blackjack tables were a nice touch for diners waiting for their tables, but the bar inside Oscar's received a jaw-dropping wow with its fresh yet classic and luxurious feel.

Vinnie's Lobster Bisque with cream and brandy flambé ($8) and the Spilotro-Style Skirt Steak ($26) may very well become our usual. But, if you yearn for bigger beef, as much as we hate to, we recommend adding the Oscar sauce of Lump crab, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce for $9 to any steak. Some bites of the unlisted, but always available Lobster Smashed Potatoes ($15) were better than others, but the smashed lobster combination was enough to go back for more.

Oscar's best feature that will beg your return is that amazing view of Fremont Street. Weekend reservations are definitely recommended -- learn from our experience and also find out why Oscar's Steakhouse is more about beef than booze and broads.

HUGO'S CELLAR
It was tempting to ride the glass elevator high atop Binion's for excellent views of all Las Vegas, but we chose not to alienate steak haters with a third steakhouse. Instead of going up, we went down under the Four Queens.

Hugo's Cellar wasn't built new with a vintage feel. The brick restaurant with low-level lighting and top-notch service has been a classic for years. Romance is in the air nightly for women who all receive a rose before being seated. Chilean Sea Bass ($42), Salmon ($38), and Ahi Tuna ($40) are each prepared three ways, but the real flair is in the house specialty duck roasted with licorice spices and herbs and flambeed tableside ($38). Don't worry beef lovers, steak options include a 16 oz. Ribeye ($49) and 10 oz Filet wrapped with bacon and served on a bed of lump crab with bernaise ($56).

The most memorable part of the meal just may end up coming at the hands of Hugo's Tableside Salad, included with each entree. A cart is wheeled tableside by your server who will toss a salad on the spot with up to 15 ingredients and dressings of your choice. Dessert options include Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee, you guessed it, flambeed tableside ($8 per person, minimum two), but complimentary white and dark chocolate-covered strawberries, apricots, and baby figs were more than enough to satisfy our sweet tooth.

At first glance, Hugo's menu appears pricey until you start to factor in the little extras and the big salad. Reservations are recommended, even mid-week.

CASUAL DINING:

DU-PAR'S


Breakfast served 24 hours a day. Need we say more? Lunch and dinner items at Du-Par's inside Golden Gate are worth the trip, too, but an internal debate rages on within VegasChatter: Is the dish most worthy of our repeat attention the pancakes or the French toast, both light and buttery born from the same recipe? Short stacks (three pancakes) are plentiful at $7.75, but a buck more upgrades hungry diners to the full. Blueberry or boysenberry compote ($2.25) is optional on the F-toast according to the menu, but don't skip it. Trust us. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner don't forget to save room for pie: countless kinds are baked on-site.

LE THAI


VegasChatter described downtown's Le Thai as the area's first destination restaurant due to the quick popularity its gained through word of mouth around the locals scene. It's a small, but focused restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating that's attracted a stream of steady regulars.

Dishes are ordered by specifying spiciness on a scale of one to five. Be warned that a five is not watered down for Western tastes. It's Thai spicy. Everything here is authentic, from the Mekhong whiskey native to Thailand to the delicious dishes. Pork Jerky with an addicting waterfall sauce won us over while the Pad Thai is a popular usual for regulars. So far, it seems one can't go wrong here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
As casual, laid back, cheap, however-you-want-to-label-it as Downtown has traditionally been, one would think rounding out a trio of casual eats would be easier than finding free parking. Therein lies the problem, however. How do we choose just one last downtown dining highlight? Instead we reflect on the remaining restaurants as a collection that make up the faces of Fremont. No one necessarily better than the next, but each one collectively contributing to the downtown experience. The only bite before Smith Center. The one we missed, but have repeatedly returned to make up for lost time. The farmer's diet. The one to find the best deep-fried decadence. The midnight run. Where are your favorite downtown dishes that have captured your fondness for Fremont? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

WHERE TO HAVE FUN:

Asking for downtown recommendations in the past likely would have been received with "Stick to Fremont Street. No, seriously do not stray from Fremont." While Fremont proper is still fun, it doesn't own exclusive rights anymore. +Like

FREMONT STREET ZIPLINE:
Virgins can bust their zipline cherry soaring under the Fremont Experience as we did (drinks first help), but veterans will enjoy this unique experience also. Daytime flights are cheaper, but try and get lucky by soaring over Fremont when the overhead Experience is blasting its sights and sounds at night. Better yet, buy an unlimited pass to practice your zip-smile during the day before returning at night.

INSERT COIN(S)


For those not yet familiar with Insert Coin(s), it's the perfect spot for every adult to find their inner child, a chance to recapture one's youth, and just an outright cool concept. Videolounge game bar. An arcade meets bar meets lounge club. Insert Coin(s) combines music, high concept game-themed drinks, HDTVs for gaming or sports viewing and girls with a wide selection of video games from the 80s up through to the very latest releases for Xbox and PS3. Yep, every teenage fantasy under one roof.

The popular nightspot can fill up quickly so even with an arcade concept at its core, reservations are recommended. Read all about our coin-operated wet dream before Inserting your own Coin(s).

EMERGENCY ARTS BUILDING


Located on a corner across from El Cortez, this somewhat unassuming building labeled Emergency Arts has a lot going on in and around it. It starts in the morning with coffee and records at The Beat. In addition to great joe and free WiFi, coffee sippers are likely to bump into CEOs mingling amongst the vinyl and other Vegas visionaries, all building out the foundation for downtown's future.

At night, wine and beer freely flows as the backdrop to comedy, live music, an open mic night, or a tech meetup. In other words, stop in for a drink or a jolt, but you may just stumble into the pulse of downtown Vegas in the form of a nightly event or the next big deal being negotiated in a corner.

Adjacent to the Beat is the Burlesque Hall of Fame where visitors can Peek A View into the industry at the hands of a fitting collection of costumes, g-strings, photos, and otherwise appropriate artifacts. Once a month, First Friday's art, music, and food festival takes over parts of downtown, including the Emergency Arts Building. And, every second Saturday, the Vegas StrEATS street food and culture festival takes place in the nearby Jackie Gaughan Plaza at the El Cortez.

While perhaps not all for everyone, the Emergency Arts Building finds itself in the center of a wide variety of fun.

WHAT NOT TO MISS:

Two spots that may initially be passed over and one spot many might not even be aware of. Do not pass go over any of them.

THE SMITH CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS


There's a reason the Smith Center is listed first in this category. If downtown's newest focal point had hotel rooms we just might have listed it in every category. That's how enamored we are with the venue itself and what it represents for the future of downtown.

A building that is beautiful inside and out, acoustics that are an audiophile's dream and an events calendar that spells world-class in any language catapults the Smith Center to the top of our Must-See list. Do take in a Broadway show, ballet, or concert. The Smith Center's performances are ready for prime time and you'll be glad to say you were there.

MOB MUSEUM


Anyone with just a passing interest in mob history will want to visit the old federal courthouse that's been transformed into three-story Mob Museum. Three hour visits aren't unheard of. Don't say we didn't warn you. Just don't confuse it with the Strip's Mob Attraction which may also be worth your mob money.

BERLIN WALL:


The fact that a piece of the Berlin Wall is on display in Downtown Las Vegas may come as a surprise. The fact that history acts as the backsplash behind the urinals at Main Street Casino may be shocking. But, there it is for men to admire or take aim at. Women can request a security guided tour although most we've seen just ask for assistance from a relieved male exiting the restroom.

Main Street is actually a museum of sorts within a casino that offers a walking tour of artifacts, antiques, and art. Swing in for champagne brunch then pickup a brochure at the hotel's front desk that walks guests through the history of Buffalo Bill’s private rail car, 1870 street lamps from Brussels, Victorian-stained glass, 1800-era chandeliers, and more.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Mostly we are simply looking forward to enjoying the journey that downtown's rebirth will take us on. It's a unique experience we may not have the opportunity to witness twice in our lifetimes and one we expect to look back on years from now asking questions like Remember when The Fitz was on Fremont or Can you imagine life before the Smith Center?

NEON MUSEUM
A frequent backdrop for photographers, the Neon Museum will finally take its proper place in connecting the city's neon past to its present. The Neon Museum is scheduled to open its gates to paying customers sometime this year.

DISCOVERY CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
A $55 million dollar, three-story, 58,000-square-feet children's museum complete with slide opens this November. That's not only exciting for the kids, but its location next to the Smith Center adds more definition to an area we already see loads of potential.

NEW ROOMS
The hotel geek in us and sister site HotelChatter are giddy at the influx of new rooms coming downtown. We look forward to answering whether rooms at Binion’s are getting a makeover: are they or aren't they? Golden Gate will unveil a new lobby, tower, gaming pit, suites, and triple-sized rooms this year. The Fitz will fully become The D while Lady Luck eventually, maybe, turns Grand, too.

Comments (10)

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TRIPLE 7 RESTAURANT AND MICROBREWERY!

I see Main Street Station vaguely mentioned, but no specific mention of Triple 7!  My favorite place to eat downtown by far, and it has nothing to do with their beers, as I don't drink beer.  Extensive menu, but you haven't lived until you've had one of their 1/2-pound hot dogs!  It's about the size of the Oscar Meyer wienermobile and costs only about 6 bucks. Tasty, too.

griffin

Your PBR joke about the griffin is way off. They have several craft beers on draught including abbot ale, moosedrool, and dogfish IPA.

Triple 7 and Griffin

Wanted to squeeze Triple 7 in somewhere for the beers - so glad you mentioned it.  Haven't tried the 1/2 pound hot dog but have it stored in my drunk memory now - thanks for tip!

Griffin always seems to be "featuring" PBR everytime we go in.  They have other stuff but the place is so cool, it doesn't really matter what we're drinking as we get lost in the vibe and hanging out/socializing is all we is saying. Thanks for pointing out the other offerings too!

Mr. P

This is one of my fav downtown references for the year.

What about Triple Georges?

Always had good meals there.

triple 7

Also glad to see mentions of triple 7!! Great place, and as for the half pound hotdog , I'll have a hefeweizen to wash it down.  The flame steakhouse at el cortez is also a can't miss for me .

Flame

@stepkatie: The huge sides at the Flame are my favorite part.  For those alone, the Flame was tough not to find room for - thanks!

Flame

So Mr.P my buddy and I are pretty much steak guys and we need a recommendation on a Steakhouse in downtown other then the flame. What would you suggest Top of Binions or Oscars .

Binions or Oscars

Oscar's is much nicer and the view down Fremont is pretty unique.

Service has been more consistent at Binion's in my experience.

Prices are pretty similar on the steaks - Binion's may be slightly less since sauces aren't extra.  And I've never seen Chicken Fried Lobster anywhere but Binion's.

If you've never been to either, I'd say take the glass elevator (if it's working) up to Binion's steakhouse.

If the views aren't important, just solid steaks, Vic and Anthony's at Golden Nugget is excellent, but pricier than both.

If only we could take a little bit from each restaurant including the Flame!

The glass elevator

Chicken fried lobster ....interesting. well thanks for the info hopefully I will have time to try all three but I will definately be having dinner at binions. Thanks again and ill drop you a note after I try it. Cheers!!

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