A return to glamour at the historic Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas

By Las Vegas standards, the scope of the expansion project going on at the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino in downtown is small. But to the owners of the property, which was built in 1906 and opened as the Hotel Nevada, it’s one of epic proportions.

Not only is a five-story tower housing 16 luxury suites, a new lobby and a porte cochère for valet parking being constructed, but the casino floor is being enlarged, a new high-limit gaming area is being introduced, and several other elements from the bathrooms to the exterior lighting accents are being updated.

Golden Gate rendering

A rendering of the Golden Gate's new 35,000-square-foot hotel tower and exterior with pinstripe lighting accents

Refurbishing a landmark like this is no easy task. Great care had to be taken to maintain its Roaring ’20s and art deco essence, while carrying that essence into the 21st century.

“The whole theme is important to us because of its heritage,” said Mark Brandenburg, one of the owners of the Golden Gate. His partners are Derek and Greg Stevens, who, late last year, bought the former Fitzgeralds and are currently modernizing and rebranding it as The D Las Vegas.

The roots of the Golden Gate date back to the birth of the city. The land – with the address of 1 Fremont Street – was purchased at an auction on May 15, 1905 for $1,750. Back then Las Vegas was a rowdy railroad boom town. But the Las Vegas Age, the local newspaper, proclaimed the Hotel Nevada was “first-class.”

“We wanted to expand in a way that was true to the past while still reflecting the contemporary, cutting-edge and high-energy traits of Las Vegas,” said Brandenburg. “People will walk in here and know they are in Las Vegas. It’s a fun place.”

Gensler, the global architecture and design company that served as the lead firm for the incredible CityCenter urban complex on the Strip, has been at the helm of this project too. They have aptly combined the Golden Gate’s rich culture with the new vibe of downtown, and the results have been the epitome of elegance.

For example, the Golden Gate’s high-limit gaming pit debuted over the weekend. It consists of three blackjack tables in a nook set off from the casino floor. The décor has art deco flourishes, such as wallpaper that suggests the era of flappers – yet there are three big flat-screen TVs visible overhead.

The new lobby at the Golden Gate

The new lobby pays tribute to the Golden Gate's notable past (Photo by Leila Navidi/Las Vegas Sun)

“People who sit here will also have a great view of the casino,” said Brandenburg.

Among the sights are the Golden Gate’s signature “dancing dealers,” reminiscent of the flamboyant, flirtatious women from the Jazz Age – just given a modern reinterpretation. The Main Bar, once frequented by legends like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., is also visible and looks like it came straight from a speakeasy. Nearby, silhouettes of gangsters and flappers identify the entrances to the restrooms. Outside on Fremont Street, beneath the famous Viva Vision light canopy, are two more bars. The One Bar features bartenders in bikinis who can often be found dancing on the countertop, and the Flair Bar boasts bartenders who enthrall passers-by with their drink mixing artistry.

By mid- summer, the Golden Gate will unveil its five-story, 35,000-square-foot tower. There will be 16 spacious, finely appointed suites, including two penthouses that will cover the entire fifth floor. All of them will blend a vintage Vegas ambiance with contemporary amenities – like pillow-top mattresses, wireless internet access, iPod docking stations and 32-inch flat-screen TVs. These new accommodations will bring the Golden Gate’s room total to 122.

“We are truly a boutique hotel and are able to offer more personalized service,” said Brandenburg, comparing his property to others that call themselves “boutique hotels” but have more than 1,000 rooms. “We have a more intimate feel and are absolutely unique because of our history.”

That history is on exhibit in the striking new lobby. Its décor encompasses wooden flooring, antique fixtures and a gold-colored, tin-like ceiling. On one of the walls is a collage of images from nearly every decade designed to pay homage to the hotel’s past. The earliest photo shows a horse-drawn carriage on an unpaved and dusty Fremont Street.

Hotel Nevada in 1906

A photograph of the newly opened Hotel Nevada, which would become the Golden Gate, in 1906

“It’s hard to look at that dirt street and envision it would become one of the most famous neon streets in the world,” said Brandenburg.

As a matter of fact, the Golden Gate welcomed one of the city’s first neon signs in 1927, and a piece of it now hangs behind the front desk. Other artifacts can be found in display cases in the lobby. The Golden Gate was home to the city’s first telephone, installed in 1907. The phone number was “1.” You can see a telephone of that same model in the lobby, along with ledgers, guest books and glass liquor bottles.

And there is one living artifact that will always be part of the Golden Gate: the shrimp cocktail, served in a tulip sundae glass. Although the deli where it was sold has closed, plans are in the works to remodel and open it later this year. In the meantime, you can purchase the beloved shrimp cocktail, which debuted at the hotel in 1959 for a mere 50 cents, in Du-par’s Restaurant and Bakery for the still-low price of $2.99.

In its spirit and style – all evident in its rooms, bars, casino and restaurant, the Golden Gate celebrates its historic home in downtown Las Vegas, where revitalization is being championed.

“We’re proud to be part of that renaissance,” said Bradenburg, “and you can’t have that rebirth of the classics without the original.”


I’m a Las Vegas native. By profession, I write at Vegas.com. Mostly about the city’s hotels, but on other topics – gaming and transportation – too. I really love staying at hotels. And the ones here are among the biggest and best in the world. Some key things I’ve learned: Resort fees are inescapable (frustrating but true), a friendly attitude at the front desk may score you a great view and over-the-top room amenities – bath butlers, Japanese tea service, menus with “intimate” items – do exist. What else should you know about me? Well, I’m comfortable at a blackjack table. And I like eating late-night pancakes in hotel coffee shops. A lot. Follow Renee on Google+.