When I first started visiting Las Vegas my trips were mostly contained to the Vegas Strip. That was the Las Vegas that my friends and I saw on TV and movies and that’s what we wanted to experience. We’d make a day trip to Old Vegas (AKA Downtown Vegas) to see what Las Vegas used to be but we always returned to the Vegas Strip. This was the Vegas vacation that we were supposed to have.
A lot has changed in Old Vegas since I first visited and especially over the past few years. Downtown Vegas still has that “Old Vegas” feel but everything from bars to restaurants to hotels and casinos is far from being old. Not only have many of the hotel-casinos been renovated over the past few years but there are more bars and restaurants than you may remember from visiting years ago. The rejuvenation of Downtown Vegas makes it a great way to flip your vacation upside down and save money on your next trip to Las Vegas.
There are many different Vegas experiences you can have. The difference from spending the majority of your time on the Vegas Strip or in Downtown Vegas is drastic. Let’s look at the prices. You will find a mid-level hotel room in Downtown Vegas for well under $100 per night during the week. That same hotel room might even be under $100 on the weekend. Good luck finding rates like that on the Vegas Strip.
Not everything in Downtown Vegas is cheaper than the Vegas Strip but a lot of things are. You can find less expensive hotel rooms, dining, drinks, casino gaming limits and more in Downtown Vegas then you will on the Strip. Using Downtown Vegas as your headquarters for a Vegas vacation is a great way to experience Vegas and save a little money.
Like every part of Las Vegas you’ll find some fun and free activities available in Downtown Vegas. Here are some of the best free things to do in Downtown Vegas that you can enjoy at all times of the year.
Visit Downtown Container Park
Downtown Container Park opened last year to a lot of fanfare. This opening is a major part of the revitalization of Downtown Vegas beyond the Fremont Street Experience. Located on 7th Street and East Fremont St., the Container Park is laid out like a small outdoor mall surrounding a park with a treehouse for children to the kids. The mall type stores are independently owned shops located inside prefabricated spaces that look like shipping containers (hence the name). There’s a variety of bars, restaurants and stores to enjoy. There’s also a park and a grassy events area for live music or just lounging in the sun.
Summer is here and we’re keeping the fun outside. We’ve recommended some places to eat outside on the Vegas Strip and people watch. We’ve also recommended a handful of places to enjoy ice cream and desserts outside on the Vegas Strip. It’s great to enjoy the heat while beating it with some sweet ice cream.
This week we want to head downtown for 13 great bars and restaurants where you can grab a drink outside. One of the best parts about some of these bars is that they’re located outside but in the shade of the Fremont Street Experience. Sitting in direct sunlight can make it feel upwards of 20 degrees hotter. That makes a world of difference when it’s 115 degrees in the shade.
Bar 46 (Golden Nugget) – Bar 46 is located right on Fremont Street and is a cut out lounge from the Golden Nugget casino. You may even get a slight breeze from the casino air conditioning if you choose the right seat. Note: there may be a 2 drink minimum on busy nights here.
Bier Garten (Plaza) – Bier Garten tries to replicate a traditional beer garden with American craft beer. The beer selection isn’t huge but it’s better than you’ll find in many bars. Sitting outside and drinking beer on fresh grass under the pergola is a nice way to enjoy a day.
Bin 702 (Downtown Container Park) – There are a few bar seats at this wine bar inside of a mock shipping container. Don’t worry about seating, there is ample seating in Downtown Container Park and a lawn nearby. A plate of cheese and meat and a couple glasses of wine are a great way to spend an evening outside in Vegas.
One of the niftiest off the radar free things to do in Las Vegas happens one day a month – and that day in June is the 6th. First Friday happens from 5pm until 11pm on the first Friday of every month (duh). Many cities have First Friday celebrations of their arts and culture areas. Las Vegas’ First Friday celebrates music, art and crafts in Downtown Vegas and it’s a Free event. You can spend all night enjoying music and art for no cost besides any food, drink or art you may purchase.
Unlike many things in Las Vegas, First Friday is family oriented event. It’s variety of artists, vendors and activities are fun for all ages. They have a Kid Zone within the event that has different themes each month. You should not be afraid to bring your kids to First Friday. There’s really no reason for them not to appreciate art while they’re young.
First Friday doesn’t take place underneath the Fremont Street Experience canopy that many people think of when they hear Downtown Vegas. First Friday is celebrated in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas. The hub of First Friday is on Casino Center Blvd in between Colorado St and California St. with an extension on 3rd St and Colorado. As Downtown Vegas has grown so has First Friday. It now includes Fremont East district where you’ll find live art activations and music in Get Back Alley behind Beauty Bar and The Griffin.
Last April Gold Spike Casino in Downtown Vegas closed its doors. A month later Gold Spike reopened under new management as a bar and restaurant and without a casino or hotel. Gold Spike is owned by Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Downtown Project. They own much of what’s new in Downtown Vegas. Gold Spike was great if you were in the mood for $5 Sexy Blackjack but not much more. Gold Spike is different but now has a lot to offer both tourists and locals alike. Here are 6 great things about Gold Spike.
The Gold Spike Grill is open 24 hours a day and offers what you’d expect from a typical casino cafe. The food may be traditional but the neon green paint color and simple white Ikea-style white furniture give this restaurant a modern feel. On the surface the concept of Gold Spike was to leave the casino vibe in the past but it’s not totally gone. It lives at this grill where you can still buy breakfast for $6. In a strange way this is kind of a nostalgic part of Gold Spike
2. Craft Beer
The real winner in the transition of Gold Spike being a casino are the beer drinkers. There are plenty of things to like about Gold Spike and the large, affordable beer menu might be on the top of that list. Craft beers can be found for as little as $5 at all times of the day. You won’t find craft beer at this price in many places unless it’s happy hour.
Downtown Vegas is also known as Old Vegas. It is old Vegas in that much hasn’t changed with the hotels in this area. The transformation into Downtown Vegas is bringing a whole new world to the old into what was once just old. One of the best way’s to understand this is in the restaurants. You can still get the world famous $1.99 shrimp cocktail at DuPar’s inside the Golden Gate hotel but now you can get some of the best pizza in all of Las Vegas in a stand alone restaurant called Pizza Rock.
Casino restaurants and stand alone restaurants are offering both new and traditional dining experiences that cover all cravings. New restaurants are opening regularly and there’s no end in sight. It’s always fun trying new restaurants but it’s even better when those restaurants are good. Not every good restaurant is band new but many are. Here are some of my favorite places to dine downtown.
Pizza Rock – Pizza Rock features 4 different ovens that produce 4 different types of pizza. Good crust is important for good pizza but having top quality sauce and fresh ingredients go a long way in making this some of the best pizza in Las Vegas. The 185 seat restaurant is a relaxed atmosphere that plays rock music at a pretty good volume and has TV’s all over for sports fans to keep an eye on the games. They even have live acoustic music on Sunday for Brunch. While pizza is the main attraction here, don’t sleep on the 100% kobe beef burgers which are delicious. Pizza Rock is located just off Fremont Street at 3rd and Ogden across the street from Downtown Grand.
Now that Treasure Island has cancelled the Sirens of TI show Viva Vision becomes one of the best free shows you can see outside anywhere in Vegas. If you’re not familiar with Viva Vision by name you may be familiar with it from previous visits to Downtown Vegas. Viva Vision is the name of the 10-15 minute long audio and visual show on the Fremont Street Experience canopy every night.
Viva Vision has started in 2004. The loud audio and stunning visuals have captivated people in Downtown Vegas for almost 10 years now. The Fremont Street Experience includes casinos, bars and restaurants over five city blocks that are covered with this canopy of over 2 million lights enhanced by 550,000 watts of sound and special effects. The LED display portion of the canopy runs along the Fremont Street Experience promenade from Main Street to Fourth Street.
There are so many new bars and restaurants opening and there new casinos and attractions bringing people to the area that things in Downtown Vegas are beginning to get out of control. Out of control isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case but between locals and tourists there are a lot of people visiting the smallish Fremont Street area.
There are safety concerns for the police between the overflow of people under the canopy on Fremont Street and new bars opening a few blocks beyond the canopy in the Fremont east area. One of the major safety concerns involves drinking. One of the things many adults enjoy about Las Vegas is that they’re allowed to walk freely with their drinks.
It may be shocking for some tourists but there are people who actually live in Las Vegas and that there are laws like any city. Sure some of the laws, like the open container law, are relaxed a bit in the tourist areas but that may be changing in the near future.
You’re not supposed to take drinks out of the Fremont Street Experience canopy area and into the residential areas. The Fremont East area is pushing those limits. If someone wants to walk to AtomicLiquors on 9th Street with a drink from a bar under the Fremont Street Experience they may be subject to walking through a residential area with an open container.
We look at different ways to save money in Las Vegas every week. There are ways to spend next to nothing but that involves a little work. If you are looking for a simple way to save money in Vegas plan a weekend downtown. Downtown Vegas may be undergoing major renovations but they’re mostly modest renovations. Downtown Grand is spending $100 million to renovate an entire 650+ room hotel. There are buffett’s on the Vegas that cost almost that much to make. Downtown Vegas is still “Old Vegas” in many ways. You and your wallet (or pocketbook) can enjoy that equally. Let’s break it down.
When: When you travel is almost as important as where you travel. Hotel rates, no matter where you stay, are less expensive traveling Sunday through Thursday.
Hotels: Most hotels in Las Vegas have accompanying resort fees which add a few dollars to your hotel room cost. Downtown Vegas has a few hotels that are a) inexpensive and b) don’t have an added resort fee. Checking weeknight rates at the Fremont Hotel between mid November and January we see a nightly room cost of $32. If you have a B-Connected card you may be able to save a few bucks more!
Las Vegas changes often. It keeps people on their toes. That’s almost always a good thing. A few years ago Flightlinez brought ziplining to the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Vegas. It was fun to zip (or at least watch people zip) across Fremont Street. During the day it was cool but at night when the Fremont Street Experience canopy was all lit up it was nothing short of magical. Well, ziplining down Fremont Street became so popular that the zipline game had to step up. The Flightlinez zipline closed earlier this year. Have no fear, ziplining across Fremont Street will return bigger and badder than ever.
Enter SlotZilla. SlotZilla will be a new zipline offering two very different zipline experiences when it opens later this year. SlotZilla will be an 11 story and 108 feet high slot machine with two different zipline rides. There will be a short ride that will be a traditional zipline that will cost $20 and there will be a longer ride that shoots you out of the giant slot machine at 35 Miles Per Hour. The latter ride will cost $30 and you can buy a combo pass for $40.
SlotZilla will operated just like it sounds – a giant slot machine with two different zipline rides. Once riders are prepared for launch the operator will press a button, the slot machine handle will come down, SlotZilla will light up and then you launch from behind different slots (literally). Traditional riders will be harnessed like a normal zipline barely clearing the Fremont Street Experience canopy by a couple of feet. High speed riders will be shot out of the slot machine laying flat as if they were Superman. SlotZilla is no joke but it sounds like fun.
SlotZilla is somewhere between awesome, WTH and obnoxious. That combination is what makes Las Vegas so great so this should make for a fun attraction. Las Vegas is famous for over the top entertainment and SlotZilla fits right in with some of the most famous Las Vegas attractions.
Ziplining has been around in the desert of Las Vegas but it’s now getting more touristy. Besides SlotZilla Rio is planning to open VooDoo Zipline. VooDoo is less of a zipline than a zip ride that will shoot you from Rio’s Masquerade Tower to the Ipenema Tower. VooDoo is almost 500 feet in the air and the ride goes over 30 Miles Per Hour.
Both SlotZilla and VooDoo Zip Line are scheduled to be open before 2013 ends. You can find the most information on SlotZilla by following Fremont Street Experience on twitter and you can find information on VooDoo Zip Line on their website.
Downtown Vegas is in the middle of a renaissance with new bars and restaurants opening regularly. That’s all been great to experience but possibly the biggest opening will be happening later this month. Downtown Grand is a new hotel-casino that is being built in the former Lady Luck space and then some. The Downtown Grand will be one of the biggest hotels downtown with over 600 rooms and will certainly be the largest casino complex occupying over 6 acres with multiple levels of indoor and outdoor entertainment. The casino itself is 35,000 square feet.
One tower (Casino Tower) will be closer to the gaming areas while the other tower (Downtown Tower) will be closer to, and include, more hospitality and dining areas. The Casino tower will be have a the casino (duh), sportsbook and hotel lobby nearby while the Downtown tower will be where you’ll find most of the dining options. One of the coolest parts of Downtown Grand is that since the owners own property across the street they will be allowed to have gaming outside – on the street! Besides a walk up sports betting window there will be blackjack tables and a cee lo style dice game. You’ll never even have to walk into the casino to gamble! This sounds awesome for a warm summer night.
Downtown Vegas has been revitalized, renovated and had a lot of additions over the past couple of years. Downtown Vegas is no longer “Old Vegas”and it’s no longer the place to go just to see what Las Vegas used to be like. The saying says “what’s old is new again” and Downtown Vegas reflects that remark. There are a lot of new bars, restaurants and even casinos popping up regularly.
A major catalyst of the changes to Downtown Vegas have been because of Zappos and the Downtown Project. Downtown Project was started by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to help change Downtown Vegas. Their altruistic mission is to transform Downtown Vegas into the most community-focused large city in the world. You can read specifics on their site but they’re bringing a new attitude and new ideas to Downtown Vegas. Zappos even moved its headquarters to Downtown Vegas bringing hundreds of people every day.
Las Vegas is a city rich in history and the city keeps it alive in many ways. There is a lot of Las Vegas history to see from the mob to pinball to casinos. Las Vegas isn’t like anywhere else in the country and you can see that in the variety of ways that you’ll find Vegas history preserved. Some history is preserved like history anywhere else while some of it can be found outside in a lot.
Downtown Vegas may be the cool place to be today with a lot of tech companies, bars, restaurants and casino renovations happening over the past couple years but it wasn’t always that way. Downtown Vegas used to be called Old Vegas and the dilapidated part of town reflected that. Old Vegas isn’t quite dead and Downtown Vegas can still be considered Old Vegas because, while there have been man renovations and additions to the area, Downtown Vegas struts its history proudly.
Tourists that visit the Vegas strip are generally looking for fine dining, big name shows, awesome nightclubs with a little gambling here and there. The downtown Vegas crowd is different. Yes, there are good places to grab a bite downtown but you’re not going to find celebrity chefs posting up at The Plaza. Think about it this way; You’ll find the best $6 pancakes in the world at DuPar’s inside the Golden Gate Casino while you’ll probably find one of the best steaks at SW at Wynn Las Vegas. The difference is that the steak will run you about $50 at SW. The choices of dining is subjective but the point isn’t. People that visit both parts of Vegas are different and that’s a great thing.
Let’s get technical for a minute. Gaming revenue still makes up the majority of income for Downtown Vegas casinos. This hasn’t been the case on the Vegas strip since 1999. If you visit a casino downtown you’ll see plenty of people gambling not waiting in line for a club. Some of those people are tourists in town to blow off steam, some of those are just playing there because they’re a little older and don’t feel comfortable being on the strip and some will be the smart gambler that knows where to find the best gambling odds.
Just about anyone can crack open a beer or throw together a Jack n Coke but creating a cocktail is not so simple. A cocktail is a little more complex. By definition a cocktail an alcoholic mixed drink that contains three or more ingredients with at least one of those ingredients being a spirit. You can get a drink at any bar but you can’t always find a cocktail. Creating a cocktail is an art – so much so that bartenders that make cocktails are often referred to as mixologists. Call the cocktail creator what you want but if they can turn a drink into more of an experience then a drink you have someone and something special.
Over the past few years downtown Vegas has undergone a facelift. It’s no longer “Old Vegas” even if it is old and in Las Vegas. Old Vegas was a place to go for a cheap time in Las Vegas and it still is in part. The recent facelift downtown has not only yielded cleaner and more modern casinos but its also added a slew of new bars and restaurants. There’s even a website, fremontstreetbars.com, to keep track of all of the new bar activity in downtown Vegas. Many of the new bars don’t just serve drinks, they cater to the cocktailer in all of us. Here are some of the best places to cocktail around Downtown Vegas.