Downtown Vegas' Major Facelift

Long before The Strip had even been built, downtown—especially Fremont Street—was the center of Las Vegas, known as "Glitter Gulch." Fast forward to 2007, and a huge surge of renovations and new developments—both publicly and privately funded—have revitalized the area, which has become a compelling alternative to The Strip. The Fremont Street Experience Light Show on Viva Vision

In addition to the recently completed $100 million renovation of the historic Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino (702-385-1906), the expansion of the Las Vegas Premium Outlets mall and the completion of the first two phases of the 12-million-square-foot World Market Center trade show facility, there are a host of new developments on the horizon.

The biggest project is the 61-acre Union Park, which Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman calls "the jewel of the desert." The downtown development will include the 2,200-seat Smith Center for the Performing Arts (Vegas' first and only), office, retail and residential space, 1,750 hotel rooms and the 55,000-square-foot Keep Memory Alive, the Foundation for the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, designed by architect Frank Gehry, his first Las Vegas project. Infrastructure work is slated to begin soon, and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2008.

The Fremont Street Experience attracts 17 million visitors annually with its 10 casinos, more than 60 restaurants, street performers, retail shopping kiosks and two permanent performance stages for free concerts and special events. The centerpiece is the Fremont Street Experience Light Show on Viva Vision, a 550,000-watt sound system and a gigantic canopy LED screen with 12.5 million lights, which is elevated 90 feet above the walking mall and touted as "the biggest big screen on the planet."

Freemont East Is on the Rise

Currently under construction is the Fremont East Entertainment District, which stretches the three blocks from

Las Vegas Boulevard
8th Street
. In early 2008, after the dramatic redesign is complete, it will have neon-lighted gateways, neon elements placed in new median islands, decorative signage, expanded sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, banners and historical bronze medallions embedded into the sidewalks to commemorate significant Las Vegas milestones. Several of the casinos in this area, including El Cortez and Lady Luck, are in the process of significant upgrades.

More than a dozen new nightclubs, bars and restaurants have opened in and around Fremont East, providing some top-notch non-gaming venues. Hennessey's Tavern (702-382-4421) is a huge neighborhood bar that originated in southern California; it is next to Mickie Finnz Fish House & Bar. The Griffin Bar & Lounge (702-382-0577) is a new tavern with a movie-set feel, vaulted ceilings and two fire pits, as well as a great selection of beers on tap and specialty cocktails. Downtown Cocktail Room (702-300-6268) is a chic, cozy locals' lounge that wouldn't seem out of place in New York City. Two actual imports from Manhattan are the Beauty Bar (702-598-1965), the sixth location of Paul Devitt's franchise, and Hogs & Heifers Saloon (702-676-1457), the inspiration for the movie Coyote Ugly. The recently opened 10,000-square-foot Canyon Club is accessible through the Four Queens Hotel & Casino lobby, with a dinner menu and live entertainment nightly from dance bands, comedians and nationally known acts.

Downtown has many options for high-end steak-and-seafood American dining. Vic & Anthony's at the Golden Nugget is the newest location of the popular Houston steakhouse. Binion's Ranch Steakhouse (702-382-1600) has spectacular views of downtown Las Vegas from the 24th floor. The newest addition to the area is Triple George Grill (702-384-2761), known as a power-lunch spot.