You've probably already experienced the glitzy Las Vegas Strip—with its jaw-dropping mega casinos, truffle-studded restaurants, massive pool parties, and over-the-top accommodations. But the Strip can also feel staged, played out, a bit of a con. Tired of the same old Sin City scene, savvy Vegas visitors are heading downtown, to the old part of the city that was once best known as a haven for the homeless and cracked out. But nowadays, downtown Vegas is where you'll find the coolest restaurants and bars, low cost gambling in an unintentionally retro setting, and, perhaps best of all, a giant praying mantis that breathes fire. Here, a downtown Vegas to-do list:
STAY: Take a gamble on the Golden Gate, the very first casino to open downtown. A recent renovation created loft-like suites with comfy beds, large-screen TVs, and vintage Vegas photos on the walls. Just remember to splurge on a suite, as standard rooms can feel a bit cramped.
EAT: Newly opened Itsy Bitsy has righteous ramen and a solid selection of Japanese whiskey. Carson Kitchen serves shared plates seemingly designed for drunk dining: crispy chicken skins, bacon jam on a melted slab of brie, and the gyro tacos pictured above are all mandatory. La Comida specializes in upgraded Mexican classics, outlandish décor (check out the pink neon monkey outside), and a killer tequila selection.
DRINK: The Commonwealth offers stiff cocktails , a frisky crowd, and a bustling roof deck. For a cozier vibe, slip inside its craft-cocktail hideaway, the Laundry Room. As its name implies, Downtown Cocktail Room specializes in superior mixed drinks. Bartenders here get points for having refused to make a Penicillin when they were out of ginger syrup (other bars would have ruined the drink with ginger ale). Find the rec room of your dreams at Velveteen Rabbit ,where a pair of cool sisters serve equally cool cocktails—including the Crucifix in a Deathhand, named after a Charles Bukowski book.
PLAY: In a town where blackjack has have been loaded with rules that make the game increasingly disadvantageous for players, El Cortez deals a deep, single-deck game in which blackjacks pay 3-to-2 (take our word for it, those are good things). After you’ve won a few bucks, check out vintage photos adorning the casino's walls: El Cortez owner Jackie Gaughan with a definitive shit-eating grin, downtown neon at night, Rat Packy guys in suits shooting dice.
SEE: Walk a few blocks south to the fire-breathing preying mantis (salvaged from Burning Man), and you’ll know that you’ve reached Downtown Container Park. Sip beer or wine at one of several nearby cafes (literally built into shipping containers), or browse a chic array of shops. And know that this flaming insect is considerably more interesting than those dancing water fountains on the Strip.
Photos by Getty