When its owners boast about the 'new El Cortez', don't get nervous. Yes, they've pumped $20 million into the old place, replacing smoke-saturated carpeting, widening the casino aisles, installing new table games, adding a wine cellar, revamping the valet entrance and remodelling the rooms. But the historic building's Spanish-style architecture is still intact, and so is another relic: Jackie Gaughan, who bought the property way back in 1963, still walks the floors daily, single-handedly keeping the spirit of post-war Downtown alive. Gaughan's mission statement - 'Give the customer a good deal and he'll come back' - is nice to hear in the age of resorts run by corporations. And they do come back, for low-stakes slots in the city's oldest operating casino, cheap rooms, bargain meals and nine-buck haircuts in the barbers.
The rooms are spartan to say the least (what do you expect for 30 bucks?), but those in the main hotel have been freshened up a little, and remodelling is under way on the 100 rooms across the street in the Ogden House portion of the property. The 'suites' are just slightly larger rooms.
You make your own fun here, though there are at least a number of new style bars just across the road.
Eating & drinking
If you fancy yourself as a character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you're in luck. The circular booths and kelly-green/hot-pink decor at The Flame scream Tarantino; the porterhouse steak special here is a local favourite. Careful Kitty's, a 24-hour coffeeshop, provides both local colour and myriad late-night specials.
The El Cortez is the place to go if you're short on cash and high on hope: there are plenty of penny and nickel video poker machines, and some of the few remaining $3 blackjack tables in town. Crap minimums go as low as $3, but 10x odds are continuous. Roulette often has a 25¢ minimum; like the 40¢ keno, it's good for cheap entertainment. The casino hosts a twice-yearly social security number lottery: if your nine-digit number is drawn, you win $50,000.