Reannon Muth 2018-02-06 10:50:22
A City Like No Other Las Vegas is a city that celebrates its stereotypes. Mobile billboards advertising yard-long cocktails and topless pool parties roam up and down the streets. Casinos shaped like castles, pyramids and Roman palaces—each more unapologetically gaudy than the next—stretch as far as the eye can see. Then there are the slot machines, which perpetually ping from hotel lobbies, gas stations and grocery stores to remind you that no matter where you are in Vegas, a sinfully good time is only a whisper away. Even the city’s former mayor, Oscar Goodman, has embraced Vegas’s glitzy image, appearing at events flanked by clusters of feathered, sequined showgirls. But look closer and you’ll find that there’s much more to this desert resort town than one might first expect. While Vegas may be best known as the Entertainment Capital of the World, 100 years ago, Las Vegas—which means “The Meadows” in Spanish—was not much more than a dusty, railroad pit stop. Remnants of the city’s wild west roots can be found today in the wild burros and horses that roam the hillsides of Summerlin, and in the Bighorn sheep that can often be found grazing in the neighborhood parks near Lake Mead. Several ghost towns exist within driving distance from Vegas, including Clark County’s oldest bar, the 105-year-old Pioneer Saloon. Las Vegas turned 112 this year—which is young by most city standards—and it shows. Las Vegas’s population has increased from 260,561 people in 1990 to 632,912 in 2016, making it the third fastest growing city in America. This has caused a boom in neighborhood redevelopment, which has lead to the creation of a flashy yet authentic Chinatown, a promising arts district, and a hip downtown bar scene. People now travel to Las Vegas not just to play cards and swill cocktails, but to attend music festivals, dine in celebrity chef-owned restaurants and explore Nevada’s state and national parks. With several national parks a half-day’s drive away, such as Zion and the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas has become a launching point for nature-loving tourists looking to explore the American Southwest. As for the locals (yes, people really do live in Las Vegas), they hail from every corner of the planet. In fact, it’s so rare to hear someone say “I was born in Vegas” that it frequently elicits a double take. People may relocate to the Silver State for different reasons—some for the low cost of living, others for a chance at fame and fortune (a casino valet is rumored to pull in six figures), but the common thread that binds Las Vegans together is their thirst for adventure. Las Vegas attracts a greater-than-average number of open-minded and creative risk-takers, who are also, perhaps surprisingly, relatively unpretentious and easygoing. Las Vegans won’t judge you for that tequila-fueled night you danced on the bar or for singing bad Jimmy Buffet karaoke because they’ve seen it all before—and chances are good they’ve done it all before, too. Just don’t make the mistake of mispronouncing their state’s name—it’s pronounced Nev-AD-a, not Nev-AH-da. The best time to admire the view of the Las Vegas city skyline is at sunset, when the sky flames orange and the brown desert mountains are blanketed in a velvety coal blue. At dusk, the casinos light up like giant, neon Christmas trees, making it easy to understand why Las Vegas was featured on US Today’s list of the world’s “best city skylines.” Watch the sun dip behind the mountains from atop the 1,149-foot Stratosphere (the tallest freestanding observation tower in the country) or enjoy it through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the ultra-chick Mandarin Oriental bar. Las Vegas may lack the overt charm of San Francisco or the fabled history of New York, but that is part of what makes the city unique. Like a skilled poker player, Vegas doesn’t show you all its cards at once; it holds its most prized gems close to its heart. In order to see beyond the strip joints and the strip malls to the “Real Vegas,” you’ve got to approach the city like a curious explorer. If you do, you may just discover a city rich in beauty, culture, and its own brand of cheeky, quirky, sophistication. 8 UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN LAS VEGAS: There is much to see and do in this 24-hour town, but the best, most unique sights and activities are the ones many Vegas visitors often overlook. Here are eight Vegas hidden gems and best-kept secrets worth considering. Hike Red Rock Canyon Those who think the scenery in Vegas is ugly will rethink that sentiment after visiting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The white sandstone cliffs and red rock formations are breathtaking, especially at sunset when the iron-rich hillside appears to glow like a red-hot ember. As you snap a selfie next to one of the car-sized boulders or jog alongside a stampede of wild horses, you’ll find it difficult to believe that this quiet, tranquil canyon is only a 30-minute drive from The Strip. Those who left their hiking boots at home can enjoy a visit too, thanks to the Conservation Area’s paved 13-mile Scenic Drive. Take an afternoon boat ride on Lake Mead Las Vegas may not be the place you would expect to find the largest reservoir in the United States, but cratered in the middle of the Mojave Desert is a 120-mile long stretch of royal blue water so large it can be seen from outer space. Dotted with shell-covered islands and surrounded by a haze of jagged mountains, the lake is certainly picturesque, but what makes Lake Mead most impressive is the sheer size of it. It is the 16th largest manmade lake in the world. For a personal introduction and a unique view of the Hoover Dam, climb aboard the Desert Princess—a Mississippi-style paddlewheeler. The 90-minute cruise departs from nearby Boulder City seven days a week, and is a satisfying way to spend a sunny afternoon on the water. Tour the Neon Museum When most people think “art museums”, they probably don’t think Vegas, but the city has a surprising number of free public art installations and a few high-end art museums and galleries as well. By far the most original, however, is the Neon Museum (also called the Neon Boneyard), which is where “Las Vegas signs go to die.” Located in a dusty vacant lot in the shadows of a freeway overpass, the Neon Museum may not seem impressive at first. The small outdoor space is crammed with hundreds of vintage casino signs that jut out of the sand like tombstones and loom over visitors like the ghosts of Vegas Past. It’s eerie. The oldest neon sign in the exhibit is a chicken shack ad from the 1930s, and the largest is the 188-foot-tall sign that once welcomed visitors to the Stardust Casino. What makes this museum worth the visit, however, is the guided tour, which details the history behind where each neon sign originated and how it came to be laid to rest in this backyard desert warehouse. You don’t have to be particularly interested in neon signs to enjoy the tour, as the stories the guides tell are less about the signs and more about the insights into Vegas’s overlooked past. In a city that has embraced an “out with the old, in with the new” mentality—most of the city’s historic casinos have been torn down and replaced with more modern versions—it’s a gift that nonprofits like the Neon Museum exist to preserve a piece of Vegas history. Bar-Hop along East Fremont Street Located just south of the Neon Museum is East Fremont Street—an area of Downtown Las Vegas that has seen a major revitalization effort in the past few years. The bail bonds, pawn shops and pay-by-the-hour motels have largely been replaced by a string of hipster bars, vegan restaurants and “Container Park”—a shopping and restaurant plaza built entirely out of up-cycled shipping containers. East Fremont Street is where the locals go when they want to enjoy a night out on the town and it’s a great option for those looking for a low-key alternative to the decadent night clubs of The Strip. A great place to start an evening in Downtown Las Vegas (DTLV, for short) is happy hour at The Griffin. With its brick walls, fire pits, and shadowed interior, this cozy hipster hangout feels more like the inside of a British medieval castle than anything you would find in Las Vegas, which is part of its appeal. Next, wander over to the dive Atomic Liquors, the city’s oldest freestanding bar and another long-time neighborhood favorite. When Atomic first opened in 1945, it became known as a popular place for “atomic bomb viewings.” No joke. Patrons would clamber onto the roof to swig “Atomic Cocktails” and ooh and ahh at the giant mushroom clouds forming over the horizon—just 65 miles away at the government’s atomic testing site. More recently, Atomic Liquors has become a popular filming location for iconic Vegas films like “Casino” and “Hangover.” Other Fremont faves include the newly-opened rock bar Corduroy (a great place to go for people watching) and the restaurant Pizza Rock, which serves arguably the tastiest margherita pizza in town (Seriously—It’s won awards in Naples, Italy). Photograph Seven Magic Mountains Located 10 miles outside of Las Vegas, alongside a lonely stretch of I-15, is probably one of the oddest attractions you’ll see in Las Vegas: An art installation known as Seven Magic Mountains. The Flintstone-esque art display consists of seven 30-foot towers of colorful, florescent-painted boulders, stacked atop one another in a seemingly haphazard fashion. The project was pioneered by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone as a symbolic critique of the artificial aesthetic of cities like Las Vegas. Love it or hate it, you can’t argue that Seven Magic Mountains is certainly unique. Embrace Your Inner Cowboy at the Pioneer Saloon Just past Seven Magic Mountains in the town of Goodsprings, Nevada, is the valley’s oldest bar, the 105-year-old Pioneer Saloon. Though many have visited the tin-walled watering hole over the years, one of the most well known was actor Clark Gable, who once wallowed away several sorrowful days at the Pioneer while grieving the death of his wife, actress Carole Lombard, after her plane crashed in nearby Mt. Potosi. You can learn more about Clark Gable’s tragic tale as well as other local lore (like why one of the saloon’s walls is riddled with bullet holes) in the bar’s museum/dining room. Drink in a Speakeasy Hidden undetected behind a wall in the popular downtown bar Commonwealth is one of the city’s hippest places to take a date, work colleague or anyone else you’re hoping to impress: The Laundry Room. Part speakeasy and part old-timey whisky bar, the place gets its name from its former incarnation—it was once an actual functioning laundry room, a fact evident by the bar’s industrial brick walls and narrow shape. Ask for a business card and the bartender will hand you a clothespin with the bar’s name and number etched on the side. It’s clever touches like this one that make the speakeasy worth the hassle—reservations are required and must be made via text. There is no need for menus in this bar, as the Laundry Room’s resident mixologist—fittingly outfitted in a bow tie and handlebar mustache—will whip up a custom cocktail for you based on your personal taste profile. Take a free backstage tour of a Cirque du Soleil show It’s no secret that a Cirque du Soleil show is cool. The mesmerizing set pieces and spellbinding acrobatics have made these Vegas mainstays with the odd-sounding names (Think: “Ka” and “O”) a spectacular hit with visitors from around the world. But it would be a stretch to claim that watching one is necessarily “unique.” After all, a reported 9,000 people attend a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas each and every night. Taking a backstage tour of a Cirque Show, however, is a different story. While it used to be that you had to “know someone” to get a behind-the-curtain look at the inner workings of a Cirque Show, now you can do so every Saturday for free on the set of Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed show “Love” at the Mirage. Cleverly named the “Magical Technical Tour,” the 30-minute tour features a look at the technology used to help the cast fly and catapult across the stage as well as a special performance of the show’s opening number “Get Out.” The 5 Most Unique Restaurants in Las Vegas Long gone are the days when “dining out in Vegas” was synonymous with $1.99 all-you-can-eat buffets. Today, Las Vegas has become well known as one of the world’s top foodie destinations, thanks in part to celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Guy Savoy and others who have elevated the food scene in Vegas with the launch of a slew of lavish eating options. Las Vegas now has more master sommeliers than Los Angeles and New York and more 3-Michellin star chefs than any other city in the US. From classically vintage restaurants like the Golden Steer—the famed steak house where Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin regularly dined—to the deliciously decadent Joël Robuchon—where an 18-course tasting menu clocks in at $425—when it comes to fine dining, few cities do it better. The following are several one-of-a-kind and under-the-radar diners and eateries for Vegas visitors looking to enjoy their meals with a heaping side of kitsch and quirk. BEST HIDDEN GEM: THE Steak House at Circus Circus Hotel and Casino Don’t let the Barbie-pink slushie drinks, two-story shot machine merry-go-round and the giant neon clown in the entrance way deter you: Hidden inside the campy casino hotel Circus Circus is one of Vegas’s best steak houses, simply named THE Steak House. The large portions, reasonable prices and old-school Vegas atmosphere may be what set this steakhouse apart from the rest, but the reason this Sin City gem has been on the “Best of Las Vegas” list for over 30 years is, quite simply, THE steak—Soft, tender, and not overly seasoned, the filets and ribeyes at THE Steakhouse are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. MOST UNIQUE BREAKFAST RESTAURANT: The Peppermill With neon pink lighting, mirrored ceilings and a forest of fake purple trees (yes, you read that right), it is safe to say that The Peppermill has embraced the wackier, tackier side of Las Vegas—but that’s A-OK with its fans and regulars. This 24-hour diner has been serving sleepy casino shift workers and hungover partygoers 10-egg omelets and plate-sized chicken fried steak (the portions at The Peppermill are enormous) since 1972. It was even once a favorite hangout for the mafia, who would crowd around the fire pits for late-night cocktails in the restaurant’s fireside lounge. Fun fact: The fireside lounge was in the Martin Scorsese film “Casino” and the film “Showgirls.” MOST UNIQUE LOCATION: Chicago Joes You wouldn’t be blamed for not noticing Chicago Joes if you walked past it. That’s because this 43-year-old Italian restaurant is located in a converted, two-roomed brick house. Step onto the porch and through the front door (no need to knock, just walk right in) and you’ll immediately feel at home. The white-lace curtained windows and old family photos give the place a warm, intimate vibe. Though the food is more ‘grandma’ than glam fine dining—all the restaurant’s dishes are traditional Italian and made with simple ingredients—it would appear that the owners’ decision to forgo fusion and remain true to its ‘classic Italian’ roots has paid off. The restaurant has been popular since it opened in 1975. Though the restaurant’s original owner, a man from Chicago known as “Little Joe,” has passed away, the restaurant has remained a family-run operation and is now managed by Little Joe’s son, who is also named Joe. Eighty percent of the items on the menu are made using grandma’s secret recipes. MOST UNIQUE VIEW: Dinner at the Top of the World Restaurant Las Vegas has no shortage of upscale restaurants, but for a 360-degree view of the entire Las Vegas Valley, there’s only one choice: The Top of the World Restaurant. This New American restaurant, which is located 800 feet above the Las Vegas Strip in the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, slowly rotates in a circle, providing diners with spectacular city views through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. A word of advice, however: Be mindful of the bungee jumpers! Though posted signs warn guests about the SkyJump (a ride that sends people catapulting off the Stratosphere’s roof at 40 miles per hour), there never ceases to be at least one person who is startled mid-way through their meal by the sight of a person free-falling Superman-style toward the ground below. While the Top of the World Restaurant can be pricey for budget-minded visitors—dinner will set you back US$100 per person and that’s before drinks—if you go to the restaurant’s 107 Lounge for happy hour, you’ll be treated to little-known bargain deal: two-for-one appetizers and half-off cocktails. LOCAL FAVORITE: Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar When Vegas locals dine out, they often do so in restaurants far from the congested tourist corridor of Las Vegas Boulevard (many locals take great delight in saying that they can’t remember the last time they visited The Strip). As a result, thousands of restaurants have cropped up across the Valley over the last few decades. From The Italian American Club—which many have said has the best Italian food in Las Vegas—to Honey Salt, with farm-to-table inspired cuisine, it’s a great pick for organic-food fans—to the famed Firefly Tapas Kitchen and Bar; the best restaurant for Sangria and Spanish-inspired small plates and one of the top-10 ‘local favorites’ in Vegas. The menu features both hot and cold tapas, the most popular being the tuna tartare and the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, but everything on this menu is exquisitely prepared and “too good to share” yummy.
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