There has been so much talk about what is going on in downtown Las Vegas I had to take a tour. The Grand, where the old Lady Luck stood, is now open as is the Downtown Container Park a.k.a. Tin Can City. There are now many bar open or opening on East Fremont. There was little, if any, business in any of them.
We started the tour at the Downtown Container Park. This is a complex of shipping containers that, from the outside, put a ghetto to shame. It is really tacky! However, once inside, there is an very energetic parklike setting with a stage and a couple of dozen businesses in 10′ x 20′ containers – all that have interesting decor. The places I stopped in weren’t selling much of anything except odds and ends, but more power to the entrepreneur. There several of bars that were rather busy, but the complex had only been open four days when we were there so they could have been curiosity seekers like us. I was fascinated that there was a guard at the exit making sure no one took alcohol out of the park. Most of the casinos on Fremont now have outdoor bars. People have been walking around with drinks since I first came through town. But what’s in the Downtown Container Park stays in the Downtown Container Park. Most curious of all were the fast food restaurants. I can’t imagine any of them staying in business for long. Why would anyone stand in line to get a plate of ribs and beans for $14.95 when they can go down the street to Main Street Station of The Fremont for a fabulous, all you can eat buffet for less. Time will tell.
We walked across the street to the El Cortez. While Jackie Gaughan is still the spokesman, we’ve been told that the casino is under new ownership. They haven’t made many changes but they have upgraded the washrooms. I always judge anyplace by their washrooms. I love the ones at the El Cortez. They have a warm feel. The mirrors are fantastic and I would love the lighting fixtures in my living room.
We went across the street and walked through the Medical Arts Building. It is meant to be a hangout for the artsy crowd, but it is disgusting. You could feel the dirt hanging in the air. There was a little coffee bar that I believe had food. I would not eat there.
We moved on to the Grand. I was looking forward to seeing it. There has been great publicity about this new casino. Coming up to the parking lot was a delight. The old, huge, ugly white geodisic dome of the Lady Luck days was gone replaced by a new classy entrance. But that’s where the class ended.
As we stepped through the doors, I looked down expecting to see some type of grand flooring. My first thought was “I’ve seen this somewhere before. It looks like it’s salvage from another hotel” . . . but it was nice. Not great but nice. I was sure I had seen the carpeting in another casino. It too, although it was in good shape, looked like salvage. A casino is a casino is a casino. They are big barns with slot machines, bars and gaming tables. The only thing that sets one apart from another is what’s on the floor and hanging from the ceiling. What was on the floor was not impressive. The casino was brightly lit. There were a few people at the bar in the center of the room. I don’t remember seeing anyone playing the machines. There was a “yuppie bar” – haven’t used that word in years – down a hall at the back. There were several people there. We went up the escalator and I was wowed by the chandeliers. But that is because I was wowed by them when I saw them in the convention area of the Venetian. I don’t know if these were salvaged from the Venetian or new but they are beautiful – and much to big for the low ceilings at the Grand. The Grand reminded me of the failed remodel of the Gold Spike. Only time will tell how it does. It’s not a place I would go back to, especially when the coffee shop steak is $31. Come on people. This is Las Vegas. If I we’re going to pay $31 for a steak, we want atmosphere and service not a short step up from Denny’s.
It was on to the D. I like this place more every time I go in. The first thing the new owner did – before any remodel – was clean it. I didn’t know you could make old stuff shine and smell so good! After cleaning, they began with a carpet change. I love this carpet. The Stratosphere did new carpet a couple of years ago. I love it. I would like a piece in my living room. Which I like better is a toss-up between the Stratosphere and the D. I think, when it comes to casino, the D is the winner. But I wouldn’t want it in my house. And the new restrooms are well-done. If you like modern, the red and black of these rooms is “cool.” There is one problem at the D – the volume of the piped in music. The D has has a second floor, and they have done something fun. The second floor is Vintage Vegas with old machines – coin in and coin out on some of them. The music there is for the older crowd, but the volume is too high. Instead of making your sit, listen and play a machine it makes you want to get up an dance. Downstairs – heaven help them – they have chased business away with the loud, banging, distracting “music.” It’s not a nightclub. It’s a casino! I’ve been going to this property since the mob owned it decades ago. I have never seen empty tables no matter the time of day or year. However, on our tour, there were only about three people at the tables. I realize that the rap crap is now Golden Oldies, but keep it down! People don’t even know why they’re getting up and leaving, they just do. And the bimbo Go Go girls. Stop! I have no problem with Go Go Girls. I was one. Actually I was one of the first ones, but there is a place for them, and it is not distracting gamblers. They have expanded their showroom, but time will tell how that goes.
The Fremont is still the Fremont. Not elegant. Not classy. A casino where people can go and enjoy themselves while losing their money without distraction. And they have a good buffet.
The Four Queens. Same as the Fremont – except they don’t have a buffet.
The Golden Nugget – semi-upscale gambling hall. It’s THE place for entertainment downtown!
The Bayou and the Golden Goose – thank goodness they haven’t changed. ‘Nough said.
Then there is the Golden Gate. If you can do it wrong, these new owners have succeeded. The Golden Gate is the oldest property downtown, and they invented the Las Vegas Shrimp Cocktail. There was always at least a twenty minute wait in line for the shrimp cocktail or hotdog. That area is gone and has been replaced with slot machines no one was playing. The tables, which were once busy 24/7, were sparse. Again there was the loud, banging drum beat that drives people out. And the restaurant . . . it breaks my heart. This was my favorite place in town! They had a great menu. Wonderful specials. Good food. And elegant atmosphere. A couple of years ago they screwed up the ceilings. Some of that has been repaired. But it is no longer a Las Vegas Casino restaurant. It’s DuPar’s. It I want to go to an inner city coffee shop, I don’t need to come to Las Vegas. AND, they have been closed down by the health department at least twice in recent months. This is the restaurant I used to recommend to everyone coming to town. Never again.
The Plaza has to be the biggest loser of all. Once a typical casino and money maker it was beginning to become the downtown hangout when Barrack had it. But there are new owners, and you can always tell when a casino is not doing well. The highly taxed slot machines begin to come out and gaming tables go in to take up floor space . . . and then lounge areas are added to take up more space. I don’t know that the Plaza ever had many slot players, but the tables were always busy. Again, like the D and Golden Gate there were no more than a half dozen people at the tables.
It’s not even worth talking about the Las Vegas Club. Once a hangout where old time Las Vegas blackjack and craps players had been going for years it is now virtually a ghost town. There were few players. It was dark, dirty – but not nearly anything like the Medical Arts Building – and the Ogden Street side is completely closed.
Binions – Can’t figure out what is going on there. The hotel is closed. The casino had some business, but not like the days of the World Series of Poker. It’s Ogden Street side is also closed to gambling with a t-shirt shop displaying its wares in the entrance and a small, cramped Elvis Museum taking up some floor space.
The California Club caters to a clientele from Hawaii. They always seem to be busy. No entertainment. A couple of bars, restaurants and fast food places.
Last and certainly not least is Main Street Station – the jewel of downtown. I thought The Grand was going to give Main Street Station a run for it’s money. But the Grand barely compares to the older casinos. On the other hand Main Street Station has the best food, best priced and most elegant decor of any buffet in town. We usually hold business lunches at the Triple 7 Brewery. The atmosphere and menu are terrific. When it comes to what is on the floor and ceilings of a casino, Main Street Station is the winner – not just downtown but in Las Vegas.
So there was our tour. The new. The disappointing. The odd. The dirty and the prefectly beautiful.