A&E

Finding cheap fun at every casino on the Las Vegas Strip

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The Linq is pretty much the champion of cheap fun on the Strip these days, crowned by its colorful and free pool.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Rocking the Las Vegas Strip these days requires strategy. Sure, it’s bigger and better than ever, but so is the price tag. That huge concert, mind-blowing stage show, memorable night in the megaclub or spectacular restaurant meal is going to cost hundreds of dollars, and though it will be worth it, you’ll need to cushion your Vegas budget with more affordable fun during non-baller hours.

Lucky for your wallet, there actually is more affordable fun—even free stuff—to be enjoyed up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. I’ve scoured the Strip to find at least one inexpensive, worthwhile pursuit at every casino property, from happy hour deals to sunny swimming pools to easy entertainment. So spread out, make the most of your Vegas, and perhaps even save some money for actual gambling.

Le Steakburger with a Chartreuse and Tonic drink from Bardot Brasserie inside the ARIA in Las Vegas, Nev. on July 21, 2017.

ARIA

It’s no surprise that one of the best restaurants on the Strip has one of the best happy hours. Bardot Brasserie does $3 oysters, $8 steak tartare, $8 boeuf bourguignon tartine and the best, brightest Sidecar you’ve ever tasted for $7 among its special menu of drinks and bites every day from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

BALLY’S

The Strip-side Grand Bazaar Shops complex is exactly what you think it is—a cool-mistered maze of tourist trinketry. In addition to the obligatory super-cheap flip-flops, sunglasses, tees and costume jewelry, there are $5 shots and $7 pints at Sin City Brewing Co., $2.25 wings at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, $5 PBRs at Redneck Riviera and $5 scoops of creamy Turkish ice cream at Marash. If locals dare to brave the Bazaar, they can find a supreme selection of Golden Knights ballcaps at Pro Image Sports.

BELLAGIO

Hyde Bellagio is one of the most energetic, intimate nightclubs in the city, but only after 10 p.m. When it opens at 5, it’s a relaxing indoor-outdoor lounge with no cover, craft cocktails, half-price bottles and glasses of wine on Wednesdays, and nifty views of both the fountain shows and the tourists on the other side of the lake who don’t have it quite as good as you right now.

CAESARS PALACE

I’ve been trying to eat at every restaurant on the Strip for more than 10 years—still haven’t finished, either—and one of the most memorably perfect dinners I’ve had was at Payard Bistro, an overlooked eatery at Caesars and a tiny, unsung jewel of the Strip. Oh my, the mac and cheese. Sadly, it’s open only for breakfast and lunch these days, but the prices are still great for classics like Croque Monsieur ($18), French onion soup ($10), Niçoise salad ($16) and a decadent apple tatin crepe ($15).

Foot Long Hot Dogs from Casino Royale Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. on July 19, 2017.

CASINO ROYALE

Yeah, there’s a White Castle, but cheaper still—and almost always without lines—is the $2.49 foot-long hot dog stand in the food court at the back of the casino. If you’re inside the CR, you better be gambling, and this is the official gambling snack in this building. No limit on mustard.

CIRCUS CIRCUS

The El Loco roller coaster in the Adventuredome theme park is the scariest thing you can do in Las Vegas for $12.

COSMOPOLITAN

It’s time to move beyond taking a selfie with that huge high-heel shoe. Stroll to the second floor, go past Marquee and China Poblano, and discover the Cosmopolitan’s elegant art collection. You’re heading in the right direction when you’ve passed the Do Not Disturb | Please Enter collection of hotel-room door hangers and vintage Vegas black-and-white photos.

Earth Warrior by Cheryl Ekstrom at the Cosmopolitan

Earth Warrior by Cheryl Ekstrom at the Cosmopolitan

You’d usually only come back here to go to the buffet or the Chelsea, but there are three floors of stimulating sights to explore. Zammy Migdal’s “Cosmo Wave” splashes red motion on the wall. Charles Clary’s “Paradiddle Didditosis Movement” uses layers of paper to create something that defies description. Tomokazu Matsuya’s “It’s All in Between” is an emotional fairy tale. James Corbett’s “Barn Owl” will ask you questions—other than “who?”—if you stare into its shiny eyes long enough. And Cheryl Ekstrom’s Earth Warrior collection might drop you to your knees in worship. It’s all enough to make you wonder what other curious finds await in the Strip’s quiet places.

THE CROMWELL

This is truly a boutique hotel, meaning it doesn’t have a ton of entertainment options like the big boys of the Strip. But the Cromwell is adding stuff, like the new Eatwell counter (legit sandwiches) and a sportsbook and update to the Interlude lounge coming soon. For now, chill out at Bound during “social hour” (9 p.m.-1 a.m.) with a $10 Don Julio, Crown Royal or Cîroc cocktail and take in the lobby bar’s interesting new take on Vegas lounge music—jazzy, sometimes funny covers of current pop and rock hits.

ENCORE

Not sure if the Encore Beach Club crowd knows about this one, but the ideal dish for soaking up a day-long pool party’s worth of booze is shortrib fries: shredded beef piled on hand-cut potatoes with pickled onions, Gruyere cheese and horseradish cream. It’s $13 at the Encore Lobby Bar & Cafe.

EXCALIBUR

If the Fun Dungeon arcade isn’t exactly your style, consider playing cards at the castle. Excalibur’s Poker Room near the sportsbook offers free Texas Hold ‘Em lessons daily at noon, a $40 buy-in tourney at 9 a.m. and $45 buy-ins at 1, 5 and 8 p.m.

FLAMINGO

The Go Pool is an easy favorite for its relaxed, no-nonsense take on dayclubbing, but things get super-chill for Swimdustry Wednesdays when there’s no cover and loads of drink specials like half-off bottles of bubbly and $5 off buckets of beer.

HARRAH’S

Tickets start at just $35 for Tenors of Rock, a full-on 8 p.m. production show starring five powerful British vocalists (one in a kilt!) dropping bombs on classic rock hits from every era, from “Whole Lotta Love” to “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

LINQ

Turning the aged and unloved Imperial Palace into an endless Spring Break for all ages was a genius move. The invigorated Linq is pretty much the champion of cheap fun on the Strip these days, buoyed by its outdoor promenade lined with affordable bars and restaurants. Hit the O’Sheas Casino for an $8 shot and $7 beer in a refillable souvenir cup, then head to the Pool at the Linq—always free for everyone—for some swim time with more cheap booze, music and games.

LUXOR

Celebrate the Strip’s most oddly shaped casino with the mini-Luxor, a $25 booze-slushie pyramid container complete with an extremely bright light on top, available at Evening Call near hotel registration. Refill it with Hurricane or Passion Berry-flavored goodness for just $14.

Chicken and waffles from House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. on July 20, 2017.

MANDALAY BAY

The Gospel Brunch may be an institution, but on every second Saturday you can spend less at the lesser-known No Regrets Brunch at the House of Blues restaurant. All-you-can-drink bloodys, screwdrivers or mimosas are $20, but the real value is the shocking deliciousness of the Morning After ($8), stuffed with eggs, cilantro rice, black beans, pico de gallo and pepper jack. You also have to get the chicken and waffles (also $8) with bacon, spicy butter and bourbon maple syrup. This brunch is such a well-kept secret, you better call first (702-632-7600) to make sure it’s happening.

MGM GRAND

MGM recruited Studio 21 Tattoo shop owner and artist Austin Spencer to help curate a collection of street mural-style artwork for Level Up, the bar-cade concept that took the space of Rainforest Cafe. He brought in local artists Mike Biggs, Casey Weldon, Travis Jackson, Kristina Collantes, Spencer Olsen, Das Frank, Earl Funk, Jay Swarm, Snipt, Kiwi Burt, Tyson Taumaoe, JW Caldwell and KD Matheson to bring some real Vegas flavor to the Strip, completing 16 murals in just 10 days all over the 12,000-square-foot venue. Keep that in mind when you’re scoping out the cool visuals and playing giant Pac-Man.

MIRAGE

Create your own tropical tour at the resort that changed the game way back in 1989. Cruise by the 20,000-gallon lobby aquarium (with 85 different species of fish!) and through the indoor rainforest on your way to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, still just $22 for adults and $17 for kiddos. No kiddos? Bare Pool Lounge is a true hideaway and one of the more affordable dayclub options on the Strip at $20 for men and $10 for women. Finish up with a $5 Cruzan rum punch at Rhumbar (available from 2 to 6 p.m.) and check out the waterfall across the walkway—that’s the model of the famous volcano Steve Wynn built when he was readying the Mirage way back when.

MONTE CARLO

It’s tough to recommend anything at the MC because it’s barely the MC anymore; the place is in full renovation mode, set to become Park MGM and the Nomad Hotel in the coming months. Spaces are turning over as you read this. One of its most relaxing and affordable current amenities is the Strip-side location of local coffee powerhouse Sambalatte, where you can sit on the patio and watch tourists go by or observe these experts doing their expert thing in the Coffee Lab while sipping a superb Nutella latte ($5.75), creamy Cortado ($4) or simple flat white ($4.75). If you’re a visitor or a local who’s made this Samba spot your own personal Strip mainstay, get it while you can—it’s unlikely to survive the transition, at least not at this perfect location.

Pork Belly Banh Mi tacos from Tom's Urban in Las Vegas, Nev. on July 24, 2017.

NEW YORK-NEW YORK

For a long time, the faux cityscape inside this casino offered the closest thing to a Vegas version of street food, at relatively low prices. But the primo deal is now at Tom’s Urban, where the “Beat the Clock” happy hour includes $4-$7 food and drink specials from 4 to 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. The earlier the hour, the better the deal, such as vindaloo chicken or pork belly banh mi street tacos for $4 from 4-5 p.m. or 1-2 a.m. All draft beers are included, which is a pretty impressive list at Tom’s, in addition to wells, select wines and specialty cocktails.

PALAZZO

The Grand Canal Shoppes takes the edge when it comes to Strip window-shopping, and the store that makes all the difference is Barneys New York at Palazzo—three pristine floors of high fashion and design, usually empty, fancy and fabulous and ready for your fantasy shopping trip.

PARIS

It’s comically listed as an appetizer on Martorano’s menu, but the famous meatball & salad ($20) is a meal that’ll feed two people. The red wine vinaigrette and Parmigiano-Reggiano-laced salad will make you feel better about devouring that rich, delicious meatball, one of the best in the city.

Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood.

Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood.

PLANET HOLLYWOOD

The P-Ho houses the most shows on the Strip thanks to the high volume of reasonably priced productions at the Saxe Theater and V Theater inside the Miracle Mile Shops. At those venues, your second show ticket is half-off, so go see Marc Savard Comedy Hypnosis for about $50 or the afternoon Popovich Comedy Pet Theater for $45, and score a Zombie Burlesque ticket for $40.

SLS

Go get your fortune told by the newest resident headliner at SLS, Booker Glam. He works out of the gender-neutral water closets in the Living Room lounge; he offers both marriage and prenup advice; he’s always at least a little bit offensive; and his services are free—just get a token from the W’s hotel check-in desk.

TREASURE ISLAND

Even without a free pirate battle in the front yard, the whole point of TI in the Phil Ruffin era is cheap fun. Parking is still free, and it’s the home of the least expensive Cirque du Soleil show, as Mystére starts at around $50. But the most power per hour can be found at Gilley’s, the country saloon, barbecue joint and dance hall that packs loads of free entertainment (live music Wednesday-Saturday, line dancing Monday-Friday and bikini bull riding on Sunday) around $5 beers, $6 shots, and a $14.99 weekday lunch deal serving up some pretty tasty grub.

Tropicana Pool

Tropicana Pool

TROPICANA

The Trop boasts one of the rarest species on the Strip: a hotel pool that non-hotel guests can use. It’s only $5 to take a dip where swim-up blackjack was invented.

VENETIAN

If the tables are hot, you don’t wanna waste time refueling. Grab the $15 Poker Express lunch from B&B Burger & Beer and take down a mortadella, prosciutto and salami sub with chips or chicharrones. If you’re down, soothe your soul and your wallet with a $13 bowl of Hong Kong wonton soup at Noodle Asia, and if you feel better, maybe work on a new hot streak at the $5 video baccarat just outside the noodle shop.

WYNN

Is it possible to find a satisfying slice of Wynn-style luxury without going all-in? I think so, but I get a lot from just hanging out in these sumptuous surroundings. And I’m not the only one; so many people were lingering in the beautiful registration area that Wynn turned it into the new Terrace Lounge, open for cocktails from noon to midnight and afternoon tea from noon until 4 p.m. Of course you can spend big here, but loose-leaf tea selections run around $8, beers are $8-$9, and snacks like pretzel bites, burrata cheese with peach compote and Gruyere cheese puffs are $12. Not that you need anything to appreciate the patio views of the Lake of Dreams and inherent feeling of fancy.

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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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