Downtown Vegas, reborn

Downtown Vegas

Just back from a boys’ trip to Vegas, where I had a lot of fun with the same group of guys I’ve been hitting town with for nearly a decade now. But before the boys arrived, I spent a day on my own downtown. And that was a pleasant surprise on many levels.

For decades, downtown Vegas has been riding on a grindingly slow downhill slope. The Fremont Street Experience didn’t stop the slide, although it probably slowed it a great deal; the harebrained Neonopolis development didn’t work out as planned, although things are getting better there; and two joints on Fremont proper closed their hotels while leaving open their casinos. At least three other hotel/casinos near Fremont closed completely. And the area’s character seemed to be ever slipping from the, um, colorful to the seedy.

But that’s changed. Probably thanks to the infusion of Zappos into the neighborhood and the work of a surprisingly dedicated and cool arts community, there are signs of life all over downtown.

The crowds are larger. There’s live music every night everywhere. Head east on Fremont away from the canopy and you’ll run into a whole string of bars and restaurants that would be at home on U Street in Washington. The Golden Nugget opened a new tower and the Plaza and Golden Gate have undergone major renovations. And when I walked into the El Cortez last week — a place I visited in the past to mingle with a fine collection of crusty old gamblers and the carefully medicated — I ran into a giant pile of hipsters in their 20s, playing craps. One of them was even wearing a shirt that said “Mr. Papagiorgio” on it. (Now, they were next to a stooped-over old guy who was drawing page after page of mysterious symbols in a wire-wound notebook, but some things just do not change that easily).

This was beautiful to see. I’ve always loved downtown, even more so as the Strip became more about the Beautiful People and club culture. It deserves to thrive and it looks like it finally is.


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