Downtown Las Vegas can sometimes seem like an exotic destination away from the Vegas Strip. Truth be told, it’s only about a 15-minute car ride north into historic old Vegas. There is a mall of casinos, museums, coffee shops, art galleries and even an outdoor mall for the family. Downtown Las Vegas isn’t the Vegas Strip but it’s definitely Las Vegas.


Different Downtown Las Vegas Experiences

There are two downtown Las Vegas experiences for me. Sometimes the mood says that I need the entertainment and the proximity of casinos to visit so I’ll stay somewhere under the Fremont Street Experience. Other visits to downtown Las Vegas I just want to relax so I’ll stay away from the magnificent chaos.
El Cortez is often my choice for a crash pad when staying away from the Fremont Street Experience since the rooms are cheap and it’s part of the Fremont East section of downtown Las Vegas. This small section of downtown is only a total of six blocks. Fremont East extends from Las Vegas Boulevard East to 8th Street and from Ogden Street South to Carson.

Fremont East

The open-air section of downtown Las Vegas can sometimes feel a tad more subdued than the Fremont Street Experience. However, this doesn’t mean the area is any less fun. The Downtown Container Park is a small eating, drinking and shopping area that surrounds a park with a treehouse. While it’s fun for all ages, the adults can find solace at the bars.
The entertainment continues outside of the casinos with a variety of bars and restaurants. The Downtown Cocktail room is often in the running for best cocktail bars in Las Vegas. The new restaurant and bar, Eureka!, has one of the best beer menus in downtown Las Vegas. Evil Pie has one of the best slices of pizza you’ll find at a relative bargain price. Le Thai is across the street on Fremont and considered one of the best Thai restaurants in Las Vegas.

It All Starts At El Cortez

El Cortez is the first casino I visited in downtown Las Vegas. Its “charm” included dented cans of beer, burnt felt on the blackjack tables and cocktail waitresses walking around asking “can the El Cortez buy you a drink?” This was a different world from the Vegas Strip and I was hooked.
Times have changed and the El Cortez has new felt on the tables and no longer serves beer in a can. The property has upgraded but hasn’t lost its soul. It’s not a fancy casino-hotel but it will always hold a place close to my heart. Whether I’m visiting for the day or looking for a cheap place to crash the El Cortez is the epicenter of half of my visits to downtown Las Vegas.
Downtown Las Vegas casinos don’t have the flash of their counterparts on the Vegas Strip. Each property has to offer something that makes them special. The D has Sigma Derby upstairs and a party downstairs, Downtown Grand offers esports, Binion’s and Golden Gate have history and so on. One of the ways El Cortez separates itself from the pack is through its promotions.
Pasta for Players is has a complimentary daily pasta special for gamblers. Every Memorial Day, they serve White Castle sliders to everyone gambling. They serve tableside pie on other holidays. Gamblers get a free ice cream sandwich on certain jackpots each Wednesday. The dented cans are gone and now they’re the only casino to keep a tub of beer in the gaming pit for quick access.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s no other casino in Las Vegas offering such a random array of promotions. If nothing else, El Cortez is a unique experience. It’s also my gateway to the Fremont East part of downtown Las Vegas. Oh yeah, El Cortez is historic. It’s the longest continuously running hotel and casino in Las Vegas.


Marc Meltzer covers Las Vegas, gaming and men’s lifestyle for various outlets. Check out his blog at Edge Vegas.
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