Anna Stothard, The Guardian, November 16, 2011
The Flamingo may not be the most luxurious hotel in the world, as it was billed when Bugsy Siegel first opened its doors in 1946, and it's certainly not the classiest – but this pink emblazoned establishment has retro charm and a whole lot of history. Legend has it that the hotel's name was inspired by Bugsy's admiration for his girlfriend Virginia Hill's enviably long legs, which reminded him of a Flamingo. The faint smell of coconut in the corridors, coupled with black and candy-pink decor, might make you think of an X-rated Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but in Vegas you just have to embrace the bizarre. The 'GO WING' has been recently renovated.
• 3555 Las Vegas Boulevard, +1 702 733 3111, flamingolasvegas.com, 'GO' Rooms from $65
The El Cortez is vintage Las Vegas at its best. Once owned by mobster Bugsy Siegel, this intimate 1940s casino has retained all its gangster style while recent renovations have brought the hotel up to date. Don't expect porn-star pool parties and tequila fountains, but this is the only casino in Vegas where you play slot machines with real quarters, and one of the few casinos never to have changed its exterior facade. In the main building guest rooms are unspectacular, except for their reasonable price, but in the powder-blue Cabana Suites building across the road rooms are designed in the style of Miami beach houses with white-slatted shutters on the windows.
• 600 E Fremont Street, +1 702 385 5200, elcortezhotelcasino.com, doubles from $31, Cabana Suites from $53
For old-Vegas ambience but with the scale and luxury associated with modern Vegas, this is your place. No longer the world's largest casino, as it was on opening in 1946, it's still the swankiest place to gamble downtown. The lagoon-like swimming pool circles a three-story shark tank, with a water slide running right through it, and the casino houses what is said to be the largest single golden nugget in the world, a boxing-glove shaped rock weighing 61lb and 11oz. The Rush Tower rooms are the most comfortable, sporting great views of the strip and tucked safely away from the bustle and noise of Fremont Street.
• 129 East Fremont Street, +1 702 385 7111, goldennugget.com, Rush Tower King from $79
Main Street Station
This antique cluttered hotel in downtown Vegas is charmingly surreal. You'll find carved-oak fireplaces looted from Scottish castles, play blackjack under chandeliers from a Parisian Opera House and a Texan Coca-Cola building, then saunter through a pair of bronze doors that originally adorned the Kuwait National Bank. To top it all off, why not take a leak on a piece of world history? The men's urinals in the casino are built into a graffiti-covered portion of the Berlin Wall. The rooms in the 17-floor guestroom tower are bright and clean with a more modern vibe than the rest of the hotel.
• 200 North Main Street,+1 702 387 1896, mainstreetcasino.com, doubles from $36
Despite being named after the state of California, Hawaiian tourists have made this laidback downtown hotel their home away from home. One block from the Fremont Street Experience, The Cal' has a mellow atmosphere with dealers in colourful shirts and guests sipping tropical cocktails. The food is almost worryingly inexpensive, but the "graveyard specials" menu at the Market Street Cafe is famously tasty, with revellers queuing for steaming bowls of oxtail soup long late into the night. The rooftop pool is a great place to cool off, although not a comfortable place to while away whole days. The rooms are simple, but bright and reasonably priced.
• 12 East Odgen Avenue, +1 702 385 1222, thecal.com, doubles from $36
"I see Sam's Town/Holds my hand and lets my hair down/Rolls that world right off my shoulder," sung Vegas band the Killers on their second album, also called Sam's Town. This wild-west themed hotel on Boulder Highway, a couple of miles from the strip, is full of Vegas locals and regulars letting their hair down. Visit the hotel's 18-Screen movie theatre, or its 24-hour Bowling Center, but definitely don't miss its surreal indoor "park" called Mystic Falls, which has a laser light and water show three times a night. Las Vegas local, and award-winning author, Alissa Nutting, believes this to be one of the best people-watching spots in town. Rooms are well-priced and spacious; great for families – and there are free shuttles to the strip and downtown.
• 5111 Boulder Highway, +1 702 456 7777, samstownlv.com, doubles from $33.99
Artisan Hotel Boutique
The Artisan would be the perfect lair for an urbane yet sinister vampire, as imagined by a B-movie set designer. You wouldn't know it from the off-strip boxy white exterior, but through the inconspicuous doors is a gothic underworld of gilded statues, candlelight and marble. Reproductions of Cezannes, Chagalls, Rembrandts, and Van Goghs tile the walls and ceilings at worrying angles, while tipsy locals wind their way around velvet-furniture carrying martinis and caipirinhas. With its opulently sinister decor, no-children policy, "European" style pool (code word for topless) and all night parties, this isn't a place for R&R. If rest isn't on the agenda, though, the Artisan patio is the perfect place to watch the Vegas sunrise.
• 1501 West Sahara Avenue, +1 702 214 4000, artisanhotel.com, doubles from $49
This no-frills hotel is an old-Vegas classic with friendly service and small, clean rooms in a great location. It's bang in the middle of the Fremont Street Experience, where low-rolling locals, clued-in tourists, Elvis impersonators, Flamingo girls and street performers all congregate long into the evening. Further down and across the road from the Fremont, a giant neon cowboy named Vegas Vic has been tipping his hat over this cluster of casinos and other retro neon since 1951. The Fremont Hotel isn't glitzy but has a loyal following among downtown-lovers.
• 200 Fremont Street, +1 702 385 3232, fremontcasino.com, doubles from $36
This non-gaming hotel is a refuge from the chaos of the Strip, while being conveniently located walking distance from the action. All of the rooms have kitchens and many have balconies with spectacular views. Casino hotel windows don't open more than a few inches, which can create a cloying, claustrophobic atmosphere. ("It makes suicide more difficult," a taxi driver told me). So, the Platinum Hotel and Spa – with its smokeless air, balconies, and unpretentious swimming pool – is literally a breath of fresh air in the Vegas hotel scene.
• 211 East Flamingo Road, +1 702 365 5000, theplatinumhotel.com, doubles from £139
The Ravella Resort is a tranquil Mediterranean-style hotel couched in the middle of the desert, overlooking a 320-acre manmade lake. The hotel forms a horseshoe around a Tuscan-style garden, which leads you out towards a slightly eerie "village" of ice-cream parlours, chocolate shops and restaurants. With its Zen Gardens, Spa and the encircling calm of hot desert air, Ravella would be a great place to recuperate from the bright lights, late nights and all you can eat buffets of the city. While most of the hotel appeared almost deserted on my visit, the high-tech gym was packed with beautiful women in spandex. This may just be where Vegas finds the energy to be Vegas.
• 1610 Lake Las Vegas Parkway, Henderson, +1 702 567 4700, ravellavegas.com, doubles from $80