Downtown Las Vegas is almost too big for this guide. Only 10 years ago, there were many more Downtown proposals than places you could actually visit. Sure, the Arts District had some strong cultural momentum—the First Friday art walk and Wes Isbutt’s Arts Factory complex were both well-established by 2008—but it had few bars, restaurants or performance venues. And Fremont East, which did have some solid bars and venues by then—Downtown Cocktail Room, the Griffin and Beauty Bar, among others—was on the cusp of a Tony Hsieh/Downtown Project-funded renaissance that would reshape the area through projects like Downtown Container Park, the revamped Bunkhouse and the Life Is Beautiful festival.
But today, Downtown is more real than idea. Private development in the Arts District has organically caught up to Fremont East’s Downtown Project-fueled frenzy. High-density housing is proliferating. And even adjacent areas, like the Huntridge tract and portions of the North Strip, are beginning to come alive. This guide covers an area roughly bordered by Oakey Boulevard, Interstate 15, Washington Avenue and Eastern Avenue. Let’s look at Downtown today, because at the rate it’s growing, we’ll soon need far more than one magazine’s worth of pages to do it.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
START THE DAY
In September 2012, Natalie Young’s Eat (707 Carson St.), a charming “breakfast and lunch joint,” opened with a full house and stayed that way. Since then, breakfast has become a Downtown specialty at coffee-forward spots like the Latin-flavored Makers & Finders (1120 S. Main St. #110), sustainability-first bistro PublicUs (1126 Fremont St.) and comfy Arts District hang Vesta Coffee Roasters (1114 S. Casino Center Blvd. #1); in the hearty menus of diner MTO Café (500 S. Main St.) and soul food stalwart M&M (2211 Las Vegas Blvd. S.); and at Donut Bar (124 S. 6th St. #140), whose namesake sells out early.
GRAB AND GO
Hungry and in a pinch? There’s no shortage of legit Mexican and Latin food options in Downtown Vegas. Pac-Man your way through the area’s south-of-the-border offerings, starting on Las Vegas Boulevard. Bajamar Seafood & Tacos (1615 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) is the place for fresh tacos de pulpo, and continuing on to Viva Las Arepas (1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #120) for authentic wood-fired meats and street-style Venezuelan food. Head to Puerto Rico Express (1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), the stand outside Dino’s Lounge, for some comforting mofongo and carne frita, then move north to the corner of Main and Charleston for a savory breakfast any time of day at Tacos Huevos (107 E. Charleston Blvd. #150). Chef Robert Solano’s Bomb Tacos (616 E. Carson Ave. #140) offers 15 different styles of taco like cauliflower and beef brisket, or switch things up with some pollo mole at Pinches Tacos (707 Fremont St. #5) inside Downtown Container Park.
Stay there for some finger-licking barbecue at Big Ern’s BBQ, a loaded hot dog at Cheffini’s or some healthy vegan grub at Simply Pure. And if you’re still on that BBQ kick, Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke (725 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) inside Pawn Plaza cooks up heavenly beef ribs, brisket sandwiches and lots more. More meat? American Coney Island (301 Fremont St.), a Michigan essential inside the D, serves up hot dogs and its secret Coney Island Chili Sauce 24 hours a day. And speaking of Midwest transplants, after a night on the town you should definitely hit up White Castle (107 N. 4th St.) for a case of sliders.
In the daytime, Flippin’ Good (505 Fremont St.) satisfies a hankering for burgers and more (they’ve got a vegan fried “chicken” burg, too). For a different kind of sandwich, get yourself to the Goodwich (900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #120) for a Reuben-ish or Cold Brown turkey ’wich, or Bronze Cafe inside the Market (611 Fremont St.), specializing in vegetarian sandwiches, plus lattes and pastries.
On a colder day, check out Laos Market (629 Las Vegas Blvd. N.) for some homestyle pho or spicy larb. Of course, nothing says grab-and-go like pizza, so make sure you stop by Pop-Up Pizza (1 S. Main St.), Good Pie (725 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) and Evel Pie (508 Fremont St.). And if you’ve still got room for dessert, head to Luv-It Frozen Custard (505 E. Oakey Blvd.), in business since 1973. You’ll fall for the Western, a sundae loaded with fudge, caramel and pecans. Calories mean nothing when it’s this good.
THE TACOS OF EAST FREMONT
Virtually any taco you order from a restaurant or truck on East Charleston Boulevard will be worthwhile. But we especially like the fish tacos at Marsicos Playa Escondida (1203 E. Charleston Blvd.), the carnitas tacos at Los Tacos (1710 E. Charleston Blvd.) and everything Tacos El Gordo (1724 E Charleston Blvd.) makes, but especially its al pastor. Seriously, it’s hard to go wrong on East Charleston, taco-wise.
Over the past five years, Downtown has become a food lover’s dream, with a smorgasbord of options in a conveniently small radius. One of the biggest game changers arrived last year—the Kitchen at Atomic (927 Fremont St.). Enjoy some elote hush puppies with your craft brew, and don’t miss brunch, either. Make your way to Seventh and Fremont and you’ll hit Turmeric Flavors of India (700 Fremont St.) which boasts staples like chicken tikka masala along with veg-friendly dishes. One block further you’ll stumble on bone marrow burgers at Eureka! (520 E. Fremont) and three-color curry at Le Thai (523 Fremont St.).
Impress visitors from across the pond with deviled eggs and fish and chips from the Smashed Pig (509 Fremont St.), relax on the patio with quality bar food and a cocktail at Park on Fremont (506 Fremont St.) or hoover some American classics at Siegel’s 1941 inside Downtown’s oldest surviving casino, El Cortez (600 Fremont St.).
Late-night bites? Devour heaping mounds of tortilla chips at Nacho Daddy (113 N. 4th St.), or some of the best pizza in town—not to mention the widest crust selection—at Pizza Rock (201 N. 3rd St.). Other musts in the area include Flock & Fowl (150 Las Vegas Blvd. N. #100) inside the Ogden, where Chef Sheridan Su serves up authentic Hainan chicken; Le Pho (353 E. Bonneville Ave.) for modern Vietnamese food; the 24-hour Freedom Beat inside the Downtown Grand (206 N. 3rd St.); Market Street Cafe inside the California Hotel (12 E. Ogden Ave.), famous for its oxtail soup; and vegan hot spot Vegenation (616 Carson Ave. #120). For Mexican food, you can’t beat the Downtown trifecta—Doña Maria (910 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) for homestyle tamales, El Sombrero (807 S. Main St.) for enchiladas de mole and Arts District favorite Casa Don Juan (1204 S. Main St.), which serves comforting staples like whole fried fish, fajitas and of course, margaritas.
The Arts District has plenty of other options. Stop at Cornish Pasty Co. (10 E. Charleston Blvd). to play pool and throw back a few cold ones before chowing down on legit British pasties like the traditional Oggie. Mingo Kitchen & Lounge (1017 S. 1st St. #180), a fusion spot with nightclub flare, serves everything from hot dogs to brisket enchiladas, while D E Thai Kitchen (1108 S. 3rd St.) a Downtown newcomer, offers authentic Bangkok street fare for an affordable price. And if you’ve got a taste for Cuban food, don’t sleep on the delectable cubanos at Florida Cafe, located in the Shalimar Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard (1401 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). Now, what’s for dinner?
With the late Kerry Simon’s brother Scott in the fold cooking up a new menu, comfy Carson Kitchen (124 S. 6th St. #100) defines Downtown destination dining, while soulful Italian newbie Esther’s Kitchen (1130 S. Casino Center Blvd.) has become one of the toughest reservations in the city. If you can’t get in and you need pasta in the neighborhood, there’s always classic eatery Chicago Joe’s (820 S. 4th St.) or the unsung Grotto Ristorante at the Golden Nugget (129 E. Fremont St.), which complements its linguine vongole with crisp pizzas or rich veal chops. Did somebody say chops? Downtown is ripe with casino steakhouses offering old-school vibes, from the Nugget’s regal Vic & Anthony’s to the 24th-floor Top of Binion’s (128 Fremont St.) to the D’s bustling hot spot Andiamo (301 Fremont St.). Oscar’s Steakhouse at the Plaza (1 S. Main St.) feels like it’s been around forever—maybe because some of Casino’s most memorable scenes were filmed there—while Four Queens fave Hugo’s Cellar (202 Fremont St.) actually has and is still passing out roses and sizzling beef appetizers on hot rocks.
Power-lunch spot Triple George Grill (201 N. 3rd St.) has grown into a beloved dinner destination, a status for which tasty upstarts like the creative 7th & Carson (616 E. Carson Ave. #110), the sushi-centric Bocho (124 S. 6th St. #150) and the pubby Therapy (518 E. Fremont St.) are striving. For a casual option with refined food and drinks, try nearby La Comida (100 6th St.) and the Container Park’s Downtown Terrace (707 E. Fremont St.).
THE BAR SCENE
THE ARTS DISTRICT AND NEARBY
If for nothing else, barhoppers should love the Arts District and its surrounding areas for its much-beloved dives. Here you’ll find the Huntridge Tavern (1116 E. Charleston Blvd.), with its old-Vegas bonafides and retrograde prices; Dino’s (1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), practically a karaoke institution; Bastille on 3rd (1402 S 3rd St.), formerly Snick’s Place and still the city’s oldest and most chill LGBTQ bar; and the Hard Hat (1675 Industrial Road), a workingman’s bar with a rock ’n’ roll soul.
These favorites have recently been joined by newcomers that feel like they’ve been part of Downtown for decades. Classic Jewel (353 E. Bonneville Ave.) and Urban Lounge (107 E. Charleston Blvd. #150) are freshly minted neighborhood hangouts, comfortable as a favorite robe. Artifice (1025 S. 1st St.) offers strong pours and a pleasing diversity of entertainment offerings, from art shows to dance nights. Velveteen Rabbit (1218 S. Main St.) serves up exquisitely crafted drinks, live and DJ music and shadowy enchantment. The vast Ninja Karaoke (1009 S. Main St.) is part private karaoke rooms, part live entertainment space and all positivity. Jammyland (1121 S. Main St.) has a superlative cocktail menu, great kitchen and a genuine staycation vibe. And Millennium Fandom (900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #140) is its own dimension—a bar for hardcore cosplayers to be whomever they want.
Need a beer? Try Hop Nuts Brewing (1120 S. Main St. #150), where your next favorite lager, bock or IPA is probably brewing right now; Three Sheets Craft Beer Bar (1115 S. Casino Center Blvd.), a multilevel tap house that’s practically built for viewing Golden Knights and Raiders games; or Nevada Taste Site (1221 S. Main St.), a living Vegas postcard that serves up nothing but regional brews. Or just head to ReBar (1225 S. Main St.), order the dirt-cheap Mystery Tap, browse the for-sale collectibles and marvel at a neighborhood in rapid ascent.
FREMONT STREET AND FREMONT EAST
From the beginning, the bars of the Fremont neighborhood were made different than other local bars: A majority of them lack gaming and aren’t open 24/7. But they do have a sense of place, a charm that’s uniquely Downtown Las Vegas. Where else could beloved hangout Atomic Liquors (917 Fremont St.) be, with its atomic-testing paraphernalia, killer taps and its roots set deep in the city’s beginnings? Or Gold Spike (217 Las Vegas Blvd. N.), a former casino that’s been converted to a party house, complete with a “backyard?” Or Vanguard Lounge (516 Fremont St.), which brings together everything that makes an upscale Strip cocktail bar and compresses it into an urban storefront?
The variety of experiences on offer around Fremont is staggering. Here you’ll find everything from no-frills tap rooms like Banger Brewing (450 Fremont St. #135), whose delicious beers need no frills, to Corduroy (515 Fremont St.), a rock ’n’ roll nostalgia trip whose every surface is Instagram-ready. It’s also home to wildly popular New York City imports like dueling piano bar Don’t Tell Mama (517 Fremont St.) and perpetually rowdy biker bar Hogs & Heifers (201 N. 3rd St.), and to the Griffin (511 Fremont St.), an LA import whose medieval basement-like decor and killer indie jukebox is a natural Fremont fit. In its way, so’s the Nerd (450 Fremont St. #250), which combines hardcore fandom with softcore bowling.
There are also experiences here you’ve never tried before. Oddfellows (150 Las Vegas Blvd. N. #190) is, to our knowledge, the world’s only Ouija-themed indie dance party. The bars of Downtown Container Park (707 E. Fremont St.)—chill wine and beer lounge Bin 702 and sublime mixology spot Oak & Ivy —both overlook what is arguably the world’s coolest kid’s park playset. Commonwealth (525 Fremont St.) offers live DJs and strong drinks over multiple floors, with a proper speakeasy (the Laundry Room) tucked away. And speaking of speakeasies: Underground at Mob Museum (300 Stewart Ave.) offers a legit Prohibition-era experience (with moonshine and live jazz!), and mixology haven Downtown Cocktail Room (111 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has both a clandestine vibe and an actual hidden room: Mike Morey’s Sip ’n’ Tip, a sweet little bar with an alley entrance.
SEE AND HEAR
Any serious exploration of Downtown music ought to begin on 11th Street just south of Fremont, where the Bunkhouse Saloon (124 S. 11th St.) presents touring and local acts in a 250-capacity, state-of-the-art—following a massive 2013-2014 remodel—club setting, with an inviting outdoor gathering space. A few blocks to the west, the 13-year-old Beauty Bar (517 Fremont St.) remains a Fremont East mainstay, with DJ nights inside and acts of all sorts, from indie to metal, on its tucked-away back patio. A few doors down, the versatile Backstage Bar & Billiards (601 E. Fremont St.) hosts live music, dance nights and comedy from its anchor spot at the corner of 6th and Fremont, with the occasional larger show spilling over to its adjoining sister venue, Fremont Country Club. The rooftop bar at Inspire Theater (107 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) serves up DJ dance parties above the walking throngs at the corner of Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard. And farther west under the canopy, the Fremont Street Experience presents free sets by original artists and cover bands on its 1st and 3rd street stages, while the Golden Nugget (129 E. Fremont St.) brings in rock and country acts for reliable Friday-night concerts in its showroom.
For sounds of a different sort—jazz, classical concerts by the Las Vegas Philharmonic and more—plus touring Broadway musicals, dance performances by Nevada Ballet Theatre and lectures from well-known names, head to the elegant Smith Center for the Performing Arts (361 Symphony Park Ave.). Theater devotees should also keep tabs on the diverse and interesting calendars at Art Square Theatre (1025 S. 1st St.), which houses productions by Cockroach Theatre and other troupes; the Usual Place (100 S. Maryland Parkway), operations base of A Public Fit Theatre Company; and Troy Heard’s Majestic Repertory Theatre (1217 S. Main St.), now with a permanent Arts District home. Vegas Theater Hub (705 Las Vegas Blvd. N.) serves as both classroom for improv comedy and a club where students can show off what they’ve learned. And the Center (401 S. Maryland Parkway) presents LGBT-focused programming of all sorts, from film screenings to community discussions.
Downtown is the ultimate gathering spot, so it’s the obvious location for our best festivals. Large-scale events for the visual arts (First Friday), literary arts (the Believer Festival) and music (Neon Reverb and Punk Rock Bowling) make their natural home here, as does the biggest one of them all: the multi-block, multimedia Life is Beautiful weekender.
GALLERIES AND PUBLIC ART
Even when it’s not hosting the monthly First Friday Arts Festival, Downtown’s 18b Arts District lives up to its name. Cultural powerhouse Art Square (1025 S. 1st St.), with its Mondrian-inspired facade, is home to Nevada Humanities, the Cube gallery and event space and Priscilla Fowler Fine Art, along with a variety of dining and entertainment options. Nearby, venerable scene fixture the Arts Factory (107 E. Charleston Blvd.) is currently being remodeled but remains a jam-packed hive of studio spaces and offbeat retail, including Peacenart Studio, Obsidian Fine Art, “steampunk boutique” Hiptazmic Studio, Wonderland Gallery, Random Alchemy Studio and many more.
But Downtown art is scarcely limited to the Arts District. The Rotunda Gallery at Clark County Government Center (500 S. Grand Central Parkway) hosts free, noteworthy exhibits by local artists, as does Las Vegas City Hall’s Grand Gallery (495 S. Main St.). Downtown Spaces & Naked City Studios (1800 Industrial Road) comprises low-cost studio-gallery spaces, drawing such unique entities as the cheerful, pop-culture infused Bubblegum Gallery; Skin City Body Painting, which puts its masterworks on flesh; art and interior design studio Princy & Child; and Luces De Bohemia, a spot that combines Latin American art and music.
Outdoor art is all around you. Wander the Fremont East district to discover murals by Shepard Fairey, Felipe Pantone, Fafi and other world-class street artists. (Murals are added and/or painted over annually for the Life Is Beautiful fest, which also brings the Crime on Canvas international group art show.) In the Arts District, Dennis Oppenheim’s 45-foot tall ”Paintbrush Gateway” and Jesse Smigel’s lovably cartoonish cat sculpture “Snowball in Vegas” add a third dimension to the area’s dense collection of alleyway murals by locals Recycled Propaganda, Ras One and others. (Don’t miss the Filthy Little Hands mural inside Cornish Pasty.) And the Smith Center’s Symphony Park (361 Symphony Park Ave.) features Downtown’s most Instagrammable sculpture: Tim Bavington’s vivid “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
STOCK AND AWE
WHERE TO SHOP
Downtown offers lots of innovative retail, most prominently the massive North Premium Outlets (875 S. Grand Central Parkway), a hotbed of designer-label deals from the likes of Burberry and Coach. Locals who brave the tourist hordes park free.
A far different sort of “mall,” Downtown Container Park (707 Fremont St.) provides shoppers with three stories of shipping containers-turned-adorable shops, guarded by a flame-spewing preying mantis. Don’t miss the inspired Hawaiian brand Red Label Clothing, Ink Master star King Ruck’s tattoo parlor Black Spade or the splendidly well-curated Kappa Toys.
Main Street boasts a wealth of clothing and antique shops to explore. Buffalo Exchange (1209 S. Main St.) is a popular stop, as is Patina Decor (1300 S. Main St. #140). But there are many more quality stops to make: Vintage Vegas Antiques (1229 S. Main St.); Tatyana Boutique (1412 S. Main St.); Vintage NV (1126 S. Main Street); Cleopatra’s Treasures (1520 S. Main St.); Las Vegas Oddities (1228 S. Main St.); and Gamblers General Store (800 S. Main Street).
Want weed? You won’t have to wander far. Downtown is liberally dotted with bright, brand-new dispensaries, including NuWu (1235 Paiute Circle), Canopi (1324 S. 3rd St.), Thrive (1112 S. Commerce St.), MedMen (823 S. 3rd St.), Blüm (1921 Western Ave.), Blackjack Collective (1860 Western Ave.) and Essence (2307 Las Vegas Blvd. S.).
Also not to be missed: Desert Art Supplies (2003 E. Charleston Blvd.), putting paint on easels for 60 years; Writer’s Block book shop (1020 Fremont St. #100), as indispensable a resource to writers as to readers; 11th Street Records (1023 Fremont St.), with its hideaway recording studio; vast thrift store Charleston Outlet (1548 E. Charleston Blvd.); Toy Shack (450 Fremont St.), a chest of playful collectibles; and Cowtown Guitars (1331 S. Commerce St.), an armory of axes. And the monthly pop-up Fergusons’ Market in the Alley (1031 Fremont St.) puts locally-crafted Vegas into your hands.
ATTRACTIONS FOR ALL
Downtown maintains a spirited balance between Vegas’ urban evolution and colorful past, best exemplified by its two historical amusements. Over in the Cultural Corridor, the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. N.) manages the none-too-mean feat of being a graveyard that gives new life to the city’s old beacons, arranged with both innovation and inspiration. Just north of Fremont Street Experience sits another peanut gallery, the Mob Museum (300 Stewart Ave.), which takes visitors through the history of organized crime, though not without modern-day contextualization. You can also glean the city’s ribald spirit at the Burlesque Hall of Fame (1027 S. Main St. #110), and catch a glimpse of its possible future at the soon-to-open Cannabition Cannabis Museum (450 Fremont St.). And a different kind of playfulness marks the Discovery Children’s Museum (360 Promenade Place), Downtown’s only bona fide kiddie option.
That’s not to say youth are underserved in the area. Strap your brood onto the several ziplines inside the towering Slotzilla monolith (425 Fremont St. #160) and watch them glide over the never-dull Fremont Street Experience (and under its mesmerizing LED canopy, the largest anywhere). If you want to soar off the Stratosphere Tower (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), there are rides for that. And two horror franchises put a disembodied foot forward: the Fear of the Walking Dead (425 Fremont St. #150) zombie haunt and the terrifying Saw Escape Room (2121 Industrial Road #101).
Like stuff that’s famous? Get in line to enter Gold & Silver Pawn (713 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), less a place to shop than the real-life set for TV’s Pawn Stars. Nearby, Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum (600 E. Charleston Blvd.) brings the Ghost Adventures world in contact with our own. If you don’t spot Chumlee or Bagans in person, you can watch celebrities at the lux Eclipse Theaters (814 S. 3rd St.). You can also catch big-screen entertainment at the Dome at Container Park (707 Fremont St.), but if you want the ultimate escape, play video games and test virtual reality gear at the futuristic eSports bar and game lounge (206 N. 3rd St.).
And if you’re feeling more reflective, stop by the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden (1015 S. Casino Center Blvd.), a tenderly considered park for remembering those who perished in the October 1 shooting.
For the next few months, you can catch professional baseball and soccer Downtown—in the very same venue. Cashman Field (850 Las Vegas Blvd. N.) currently toggles between Las Vegas 51s triple-A baseball games and Las Vegas Lights United Soccer League contests, though the former will head to a new stadium in Downtown Summerlin starting in 2019.