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Downtown area guide

Get to know Las Vegas district by district—the best local restaurants and bars, arts and entertainment and things to do in Downtown

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Fremont East is a taste of the old Old Las Vegas

North of the Strip, Downtown Las Vegas is another world. Sure, there’s been a splash of paint here and an outrageously uninteresting electronic canopy there, but Downtown hadn’t changed much in spirit for decades. 

In the 1930s and ’40s, hotels and casinos dotted Fremont Street, then the city’s main commercial drag. But the rise of the Strip and suburban expansion drew trade away from Downtown. The construction of the Fremont Street Experience in 1995, which turned a five-block section of the road into a pedestrian-friendly gambling mall and covered it with a canopy that screens light and sound shows, succeeded in luring some tourists back to Glitter Gulch. Then a 21st-century Downtown began to sprout in 2006. Huge cranes and land-movers arrived, bringing steel beams, glass panes and concrete. With them came entrepreneurs armed with small-scale business plans and modest amounts of capital. 

Now there’s never been a better time to discover Downtown, an amorphous amalgamation of things gone right and wrong. By turns sleazy and chic, downcast and upmarket, desperate and enthusiastic, it’s a section of town in which constant and concerted efforts to make something incredible have failed only in specificity. Something wonderful is emerging, just not quite as originally intended.

Downtown restaurants and bars

Atomic Liquors

Critics' pick

The oldest surviving freestanding bar according to local lore, Atomic Liquors reopened under new ownership after a two-year hiatus. Once a restaurant and later, in the 1950s, a viewing point for the bomb tests conducted in the desert, Atomic toughed it out for many years while Downtown faded away. This stretch of Fremont has greatly improved, so here’s to drinking at the Atomic again! 

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Downtown

Eat.

Critics' pick

Despite naming her restaurant in a manner guaranteed to be overlooked by anyone searching for food on the internet, owner/chef Natalie Young (who did previous stints at Mr Lucky’s among others) has one thing going for her: she produces damn good comfort food at reasonable prices. Choices like a truffled egg sandwich (breakfast) or a shrimp po’boy (lunch) ensure that the place won’t be mistaken for a old greasy spoon. And that’s a good thing.

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Downtown

Griffin

Critics' pick

This putatively Brit-styled joint is the place to go medieval. Windowless, with an eerie but romantic glow fed by candlelight and fireplaces, the Griffin doubles as an after-work beer pub and a late-night indie-rockin’ haunt. Tattooed hotties pull Stellas while a dollar stirs T-Rex and the Smiths from the juke.

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Downtown
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Things to do Downtown

Las Vegas Natural History Museum

This small, enthusiastically run museum doesn't offer much in the way of bells and whistles. The Marine Life Room features small sharks in a large tank, the Wild Nevada Room has exhibits on the flora and fauna of Nevada and the Young Scientist Center has some interactive displays. However, the big draw is five roaring, robotic dinosaurs, among them a vast T-rex. Combine a visit with a trip to the nearby Lied Discovery Children's Museum.

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Downtown

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort Historic Park

Built by a group of Mormon missionaries in 1855 and then left to become part of the Las Vegas Ranch, this is Vegas's pioneer settlement site, the oldest Euro-American structure in the state and an example of what Vegas was like before the railroad arrived. Though only remnants of the original structure remain, restoration and reconstruction have brought the compound back to life, and guides are on hand to answer any questions you may have.

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Downtown
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Casino highlights in Downtown

Golden Nugget casino

Critics' pick

The Nugget’s elegant marble lobby may seem out of place on Fremont Street, and the high minimums (mostly $10 for craps and blackjack) in the nicely renovated casino are unusual for Downtown. There’s a segregated pit for players with larger bankrolls who want to play baccarat and blackjack without the hoi polloi; it’s the only high-limit pit Downtown. However, there are also good selections of slot and video-poker machines from low to high denominations.

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Downtown

El Cortez casino

Critics' pick

Boasting slots "41%" looser than the Strip, El Cortez is the place to go if you’re short on cash and high on hope. Here you can also still find coin-operated slots, an all-but-extinct animal everywhere else in Las Vegas. Craps minimums go as low as $3, but 10x odds are continuous. Test your luck at roulette for a measly 25 cents. The poker room also has one of the last seven-card stud games you’ll find in Vegas outside tournaments. Games: Blackjack ($3–$500); craps (10x; from $3); keno; mini baccarat ($5–$1,000); poker (3 tables); roulette (double zero).

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Downtown
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Hotels and resorts in Downtown

Downtown Grand

Critics' pick

Downtown Las Vegas has seen numerous improvements over the last several years, but attractive lodging options have lagged behind. Yes, there is the affordable and somewhat upgraded El Cortez as well as the Golden Nugget, but these are a small percentage of rooms when measured against all the hotel options on the Strip and elsewhere. Enter the Downtown Grand, formerly the Lady Luck Hotel & Casino, which opened in late 2013.

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Downtown

El Cortez

Critics' pick

While not particularly amazing, the rooms have been remodeled and are considerably nicer than they were a few years back. The Ogden House, across the street, has been renovated in an attractive modern design and renamed the Cabana Suites. Recommended if you’re staying Downtown.

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Downtown

Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino

This hotel and casino is 20 minutes’ walk from Fashion Show Mall on the Las Vegas Strip. The hotel offers a full-service spa and 9 on-site restaurants.Planet Hollywood features 2 outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs that overlook the Strip. Guests can use the fitness center or browse the on-site shops. Evening entertainment is also available.

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West Las Vegas
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Downtown music and nightlife

Beat Coffeehouse & Records

Critics' pick

Part coffeehouse, eaterie, bar, vinyl record store and music venue, the Beat is Las Vegas’s epicentre for all (anti-establishment) things Downtown. Local musicians play on the stage-less floor at the front of the store, while their fans and friends spill out on to the sidewalk of Fremont Street. Cheap food and strong coffee is available during the day; after 7pm even cheaper beer is served.

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Downtown

Bunkhouse Saloon

This former country bar closed in the summer of 2013 for a makeover. While that wasn’t welcome news to Bunkhouse fans, who liked the taxidermy-and-cowboy decor, the management promised the redo wouldn’t sacrifice BH’s charm. It’s still too early to tell, but as long as the Bunkhouse keeps up the steady diet of fabulous music nightly, we’ll be OK with it.

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Downtown
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Downtown Shopping

Gamblers General Store

Critics' pick

This well-stocked shop is packed with gift ideas for that special gambler in your life. There’s gambling-related merchandise here to suit all budgets, from a single casino chip costing a couple of coins to vintage video poker machines. Along with the collectibles are pretty much everything you need to play any of the casino games, including a library of "how to" gaming books.

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Downtown

The Arts Factory

Located smack in the centre of the 18b Arts District, the cavernous Arts Factory – a former warehouse – is home to more than 20 commercial-art tenants. Inside you’ll find the 25-year-old Contemporary Arts Center (382 3886, www.lasvegascac.org), which showcases exhibitions of working artists, as well as studios, a bar and eaterie, and a store (with items created by co-owner Debra Heiser’s design company, www.heiserdesign.com). Exhibitions change monthly, and if you want a sneak peek at what’s coming up, visit on Preview Thursday, which, of course, falls on the day before each month’s First Friday.

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Downtown

Retro Vegas

What happens in Vegas doesn’t have to stay in Vegas—especially if you take a piece of it home with you. This offbeat little shop traffics in Sin City’s ephemera, stocking everything from furniture to curios to vintage ashtrays.

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Downtown
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