Turning around downtown Las Vegas

The resorts in downtown Las Vegas are all racing to break ground on or put the finishing touches to various renovation projects. Once struggling and recession-battered, the area has become something of a boomtown, with everyone rallying to revitalize it. The benefits have been innumerable: New construction. New jobs. New outlook.

It’s hard to imagine a period – apart from the city’s birth in 1905 or the flourishing years through the mid 1900s – when downtown was so interesting, vibrant or exploding with growth.

“It’s absolutely terrific to be part of all the changes happening in downtown Las Vegas this year,” said Derek Stevens, co-owner and CEO of The D Las Vegas, which, until March, had been an Irish-themed resort with a leprechaun mascot called the Fitzgeralds. Now, in addition to a new name, it’s getting a contemporary makeover to embrace downtown’s hip, high-energy attitude.

A rendering of the Golden Gate expansion project

A rendering of the Golden Gate's exterior after expansion

Stevens and his brother Greg also share ownership with Mark Brandenburg of the Golden Gate, the city’s most historic hotel and casino. Its roots date back to 1906. The property is currently in the middle of an expansion – the first in more than 50 years – that will add a five-story tower with 16 luxurious hotel suites.

“One thing that I think we should do – not just our properties, but throughout downtown – is provide guests with an opportunity to come outside, go from casino to casino, and then stay in a really nice room,” said Stevens. “I think that’s what the Golden Nugget did with their Rush Tower, and that’s what some other properties have done. That’s what we’re doing at the Golden Gate and now at The D. We’re going to have some really nice room products in downtown.”

Stevens explained that while walking on the Strip is fun, sometimes making the decision to go from one property to another can present transportation challenges. For example, if you’re at Caesars Palace and want to get to the MGM Grand, do you walk or take a cab? On a busy weekend, visitors could spend a half hour or more in transit. But in downtown, that’s not the case. Everything is easily accessible – no matter where the party’s at!

Much of downtown is linked by Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian zone with several stages that is covered by the prominent Viva Vision canopy. The resorts situated here have been finding innovative ways to attract and serve visitors. In fact, many have assembled portable outdoor walk-up bars – or are building permanent ones – to take advantage of the crowds that gather each night for the free light and sound shows.

A rendering of the D Bar at The D Las Vegas

A depiction of the planned outdoor D Bar at The D Las Vegas

“All my buddies up and down the street, they’re adding a lot. Binion’s just opened a bar out on Fremont Street a couple of weeks ago. Our property is going to add to the environment and the great experience you get when you go out downtown,” said Stevens, while discussing The D Las Vegas’ eagerly anticipated D Bar, which will feature flair bartenders, specialty cocktails and frozen drinks. “The D Bar will elevate the energy of Fremont Street and immerse our guests in a fun and friendly party atmosphere.”

Downtown Las Vegas has certainly resurrected its pioneer spirit and is forging a new future. Here are some properties to keep an eye on – because they are creating the blueprints for a renaissance.

Five downtown hotels to watch

The D Las Vegas
The giant “F” for Fitzgeralds has been taken down. The D Las Vegas now sports a sensuous and striking building wrap. A full remodel of the resort’s 638 rooms and suites is about to begin. The project will encompass new carpeting, fixtures and paint as well as locally crafted furnishings. Upgraded amenities will include pillow-top mattresses, flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations. The Longbar, a chic gathering spot that spans the casino floor and has 15 flat-screen TVs placed side by side, was already unveiled. Plans are in the works for the D Bar, a permanent outdoor watering hole with flair bartenders serving specialty cocktails and frozen drinks. The first floor of the casino has also been getting a modern-day makeover – along with sultry dancing dealers. The showroom will undergo a small expansion in coming months, while the entertainment lineup was recently beefed up with the arrival of a new late-night act: “Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show.”

Golden Gate
With a history that dates back to 1906, the Golden Gate is Las Vegas’ oldest hotel/casino. A brand new five-story tower is currently under construction. It will add 16 elegantly appointed suites (two of them are breathtaking 1,600-square-foot penthouse suites on the fifth floor) to the 106 existing rooms, which were recently revamped. A new lobby will soon be made public with displays of memorabilia, such as gaming ledgers dating back to 1907. The interior of the Golden Gate has also been undergoing a facelift. At the end of last year, the casino shut down for a few days so that a charming tin ceiling could be installed. Plus, the building’s exterior is being redone to include valet parking through a porte cochère. Much of the expansion project will be finished by summer. And don’t worry, the  Golden Gate’s famous shrimp cocktail is still available for a nominal cost in Du-par’s Restaurant.

A rendering of Bar 46 at Golden Nugget

A rendition of the proposed indoor/outdoor Bar 46 at the Golden Nugget

Golden Nugget
In recent years the Golden Nugget has debuted its elegant $150 million Rush Tower, adding nearly 500 upscale rooms and suites to the property’s offerings, as well as its  a one-of-a-kind outdoor pool experience. Dubbed The Tank, a three-story water slide seemingly descends into the center of  a 200,000-gallon aquarium filled with sharks (note: only four inches of acrylic separate you from their razor-sharp jaws!). Owned by Landry’s Inc., the Golden Nugget is currently drafting plans for a new bar and gaming pit that will open out onto Fremont Street. Scheduled to launch this summer, it will be called Bar 46.

Plaza Las Vegas
The Plaza Las Vegas, which serves as the anchor to Fremont Street Experience, opened in 1971. An iconic hotel, it has undergone extensive renovations and now features stylish rooms and a host of new amenities – including the Swingers Club, a sleek bar combined with a nine-hole mini golf course. Oscar’s, former mayor Oscar Goodman’s classically cool steakhouse, presides in the dome overlooking Fremont Street. Cantor Gaming, an industry leader in betting operations, took over the race and sports book. But lately it’s entertainment that reigns at the Plaza. At the end of March, curtains rose in the main showroom for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”  This Broadway musical is not the only theater-going experience for guests to enjoy here – as the Plaza also boasts a local repertory company, Insurgo Theater. “Cannibal the Musical” by “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker is currently being staged, with another avant garde production, “Reefer Madness: The Musical,” scheduled to appear April 20 through May 12.

Last month the resort opened a new walk-up bar called Whiskey Licker. Cowgirl-themed with dark wood, it sits out on Fremont Street by the First Street stage. Whiskey Licker is the first outdoor bar that also has a patio, so guests can kick back and take in the sights and sounds of the attraction. Binion’s has been owned by TLC Casino Enterprises since 2008. In recent years the company has remodeled its beloved 24th-floor steakhouse. A new poker room, a race and sports book, and the laid-back Benny’s Bullpen Sports Bar & Cigar Lounge have been unveiled as well. The hotel tower at Binion’s has been closed for some time while extensive room renovations are underway. No date has been set for its completion.


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+.