Long before the iconic Strip turned on its first light, the gambling and entertainment in Las Vegas happened downtown along Fremont Street. Affectionately known as Glitter Gulch due to the intensity of the neon bouncing off its narrow streets, Downtown is where the city’s very first hotels and casinos were built. Many of them are still open, providing an alternative vision of Las Vegas entertainment.
Downtown Las Vegas officially runs from 9th Street to Main Street, with Fremont Street serving as the centre of activity. Just a few years ago this part of Vegas was run down, dirty and dangerous. Having steadily lost all of its appeal to the glamorous Strip just a few blocks away, Glitter Gulch fell into ruin. But in 2006 the city and its developers turned their eye back to the root of Las Vegas with an ambitious new entertainment project called the Fremont Street Experience.
Today, the Downtown district offers visitors a look at the way Las Vegas used to be. The atmosphere is noticeably calmer, kinder and less crowded than the Strip. There’s plenty of neon and flashing lights but nothing even remotely on the scale common along the Strip. Downtown is a subdued version of all that hoo-hah, and lots of people like it that way.
There are plenty of advantages to spending your time Downtown as opposed to the Strip. The first is economics. The hotels Downtown are cheaper but still comfortable. You lose most of the flashy amenities found in the Strip resorts, but if those fancy things aren’t important to you then you can save big by staying Downtown. There are around a dozen hotels within this six-block area.
Some of the casino names may be familiar, such as the Golden Nugget and the Main Street Station. The casinos here range from the modest Gold Spike to the slightly more upscale Plaza. But rest assured, there’s little pretension here. Visitors can expect a friendlier level of service from staff and a more relaxed mood.
If mobility is an issue, the proximity of the Downtown casinos and hotels to each other will be a real advantage. Instead of being strung out in a linear fashion, the casinos are clustered within a few square blocks for easy access. With very few crowds to speak of, walking between destinations is surprisingly pleasant.
Of course, the Strip is just five minutes away by taxi or car. The public bus route also runs between the Downtown area, the convention centre and the Strip. Another appealing factor of Downtown casinos is their low minimum bets at the tables. Most of the casinos on the Strip have pretty high minimums that can make your session at the blackjack table painfully brief.
There isn’t much in the way of mind-blowing entertainment in the Downtown district, but the recently created Fremont Street Experience is definitely worth a look. Through the use of overhead canopies and a massive light and sound system, the outside areas around several casinos have been connected to create a kind of indoor-outdoor social area. A free multisensory show called Viva Vision is put on every night and the whole scene encourages mingling and casino-hopping.
Just to the east of the Experience is a cluster of cool, local-style bars where you’re as likely to sit next to a local resident as a tourist. The vibe here is laid-back and welcoming, a nice change from the faceless service and overwhelming girth of bars and casinos on the Strip. Even if you just venture over for an evening, Vegas’ Downtown district is well worth a look.