Downtown Las Vegas, often overshadowed by the Strip, is an ideal place to visit when you’re looking to experience a funkier, edgier side of Sin City. Whereas the Strip is the Queen of Grandiosity (think musical fountains and building-sized roller coasters), DTLV is like everyone’s favorite kid sister—a little weird, sure, but unapologetically “real.” The three-mile stretch north of the Stratosphere recently underwent a massive makeover—courtesy of billionaire Tony Hsieh. But despite the crop of new coffee houses, hipster bars, and art galleries, a smudge of the Vegas of yesteryear still remains. You see it in the drive-thru wedding chapels around the neighborhood, serving as a reminder that, no matter how many tech start-ups downtown may attract, this is still Vegas, baby. And thank goodness for that! Here’s how to spend the perfect day downtown.
Walking into Eat for the first time can be intimidating. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant is tucked under an old apartment complex in a way that suggests you may have wandered a bit too far off the tourist path. But that feeling immediately disappears as soon as you step inside. Natalie Young, the restaurant’s owner and chef, greets you as you enter, all tattoos, bouncy curls, and wide smiles. Though the restaurant is small, the decor—with its art mural and vertical garden wall—is hip and modern. The huevos motuleños—two eggs over-easy with red and green chilies, black beans, and sautéed bananas on a corn tortilla—tastes even better than you expected. Since you’re already overloading on calories, you decide to go for broke and try the cinnamon biscuits—fluffy dough swimming in strawberry sauce. It’s worth the splurge.
The Neon Museum
The Neon Museum, made up of 150 vintage neon signs donated from now defunct casinos, is not your typical museum. You realize this about five minutes into your hour-long tour, as you follow your guide outside into the dusty heat, sweat dripping into your eyes. Nicknamed the “Neon Boneyard” and marketed as the place “where signs go to die,” the nonprofit gallery is situated mostly outdoors, in a two-acre, sandy dirt lot. If you go in the summertime, be sure to bring an umbrella, as the signs, which lie baking in the sun, offer little shade. The tour provides an interesting history of Las Vegas, however, and some of the coolest photo ops in town.
The Las Vegas North Premium Outlets
After trekking through the heat at the Neon Museum, you’re dying for a glass of water. Luckily, the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets, a 150-store outdoor plaza in downtown Las Vegas, has plenty of places to grab a cold drink, like Amorino Gelato, where you snag an iced coffee, and then spend the next few hours window shopping at Dooney & Bourke, Kipling, and Tommy Hilfiger.
As you approach the front door of Chicago Joes, you have to resist the urge to knock before entering. The 30-year-old Italian restaurant is located inside a two-room brick house. The inside is cluttered with black and white photos and Christmas lights, making you feel as though you’ve wandered into the home of someone’s Italian grandmother. The waiters dressed in black and white suits look like giants as they maneuver carefully around the cramped space. Though the spaghetti with meat sauce is tasty, the creamy garlic salad dressing drizzled on crisp fresh lettuce is the highlight of the meal.
Although there are dozens of trendy bars to choose from on East Fremont Street, because you fancy your brew with a side of history, you decide to grab a pint at the 63-year-old dive bar Atomic Liquors. Back in its heyday, the popular watering hole was frequented by the Rat Pack, and still brings the cool.
Next, you wander over to Gold Spike—a lounge that’s part adult playground and part casual Cheers-like neighborhood hangout. Millenials in evening wear engage in a grown-up version of recess, competing in games of giant Jenga, cornhole, and hopscotch. Exhausted, you collapse onto the bar’s king-sized bed. It’s been a long yet interesting day. Though you have only seen a small portion of downtown, what you have seen feels like it could fill a novel. As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: “A little bit of this town goes a very long way.”