Downtown Las Vegas (mostly Fremont Street) has always been a great place to go for cheap gambling, food and drinks. Its nightly “block party” vibe appeals to many of us. And it’s just neat to see what old Vegas looked like, with casinos set right next to each other, easy to walk in and out of–in contrast to the Strip, where going to the resort “next door” can still result in a very long walk.
But for many years, it was difficult to convince other tourists that they should pry themselves away from the Strip for so much as an evening to go Downtown and see “classic Vegas”. I have a feeling that’s going to change very soon, and in fact, it already has for many of us. There are so many exciting things happening down there now–the new Mob Museum, the nearby Smith Center, the renovations at the D Las Vegas (formerly Fitzgeralds) and the Golden Gate, new bars up and down Fremont Street, the zipline, and now, the expansion of tourist-friendly offerings beyond Fremont Street–where tourists formerly feared to tread.
Recently, Fifth Street Gaming hosted a group of Vegas bloggers including me at the Mob Bar for a sneak peek at the new Downtown Grand. The Downtown Grand, opening later this year, will be located on the site of the former Lady Luck on 3rd Street between Stewart and Ogden. This resort is part of Fifth Street Gaming’s four-block Downtown3rd Redevelopment Project.
If you haven’t heard anything about Downtown Grand yet, you can find a few details on Fifth Street Gaming’s website: They’ll have 35,000 square feet of gaming in the casino, 700 slot machines, and 30 table games. They’ll also have 8 bars and lounges (woohoo!), 11 restaurants and 650 guest rooms. You can find lots of posts about it at VegasChatter as well, including photos of the resort under construction and the finished rooms.
What I’m most excited about right now, though, is the food. I’ve always treated my one or two evenings Downtown per trip as an opportunity to eat cheaply, away from Strip prices. I’ve usually gone for a traditional Vegas meal like a prime rib dinner, which can be had for $10 or less downtown.
That’s about to change. After sampling some of what Downtown Grand will be dishing up, my attitude about dining Downtown has been blown wide open. I cannot wait to explore more of their food offerings on future trips. Here’s why:
The Mob Bar
I was thrilled to learn that the Mob Bar will be moving across the street from its current location to the Downtown Grand, where it will be closer to the Mob Museum and in the center of the action at that resort. The Mob Bar is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat after visiting the Mob Museum and frankly, any other time. (Try the chicken parm sliders and the shrimp spiedini—you won’t be sorry.)
Downtown Grand’s The Commissary is an area with several food outlets which you might be tempted to call a food court, but please don’t. They prefer to call it a “curated collection of restaurant foods.” And going by what I learned—and tasted—I think that’s a very apt description. It’s definitely not going to have your typical McDonalds-Subway-Sbarros options.
The Commissary will include 3rd Street Tacos, offering street tacos with authentic Mexican sodas. It will also have an i♥burgers shop. (They have great, juicy burgers, and their parmesan fries are to die for.)
There will also be a Coffee and Crepes store, and a bao (Asian pork sandwich) shop where they will “play around with Western ideas for bao”, like bacon-and-egg bao. Sounds intriguing.
What else can you expect?
The Stewart + Ogden Diner and Bistro will pay homage to two prominent figures in Las Vegas history, Archibald Stewart and Peter Skene Ogden (the streets were named for them) while offering both a traditional menu (Stewart was a “meat and potatoes” man) and a more adventurous menu (Ogden was an explorer).
A restaurant called 9th Island will serve Hawaiian specialties (naturally), including what I have to say is the best shave ice I’ve ever tasted. Granted, I’ve only had shave ice once before, but it was in Hawaii, so the fact that this was even better says a lot. It had small chunks of fruit in it (Coconut? Pineapple? I couldn’t tell), and I couldn’t stop eating it. It was mighty tasty and will be sure to refresh on a hot Vegas day. (The name 9th Island refers to Las Vegas often being called the “9th Island” of Hawaii, since so many Hawaiians visit the city on vacation.)
The new Deli will serve pulled pork sliders on Sweet Hawaiian Rolls. These were truly great pulled pork sandwiches—the pork was flavorful and saucy, but the secret ingredient for me was the Hawaiian sweet roll. Art Bar will have tuna tartare, which I didn’t try because I am not a fan of raw meats of any kind. (However, Swanky Dietitian claims it was the best thing she tasted that night.) There will also be an as-yet-to-be-named Chinese restaurant moving in to the resort.
The concept promising the most fun, though, is Picnic, a “park on a roof” – not just a rooftop pool area with some landscaping, but they’ll have actual grass. Picnic will play host to outdoor movies and concerts where you can bring your own blanket and lay it out and enjoy a night out under the stars. (So basically, it’s like Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool area, but with grass and probably a more laid-back, down-to-earth locals crowd.) There will be food you can purchase there, too, including some mouth-watering mini shrimp tacos with avocado corn relish and caprese and proscuitto sandwiches on focaccia bread.
The Downtown (and Downtown Grand) Attitude
All of the above sounded great to me, but then it’s hard not to get excited when you’re stuffing your face with delicious free food. But what really impressed me, even more so than the incredible food, was the vision for the resort. I could have listened to Zach Conine, Vice President of Development for Fifth Street Gaming, talk all night. As he articulated Fifth Street Gaming’s attitude, and the general attitude of Downtown (vs The Strip), it clicked for me.
They really “get it” in a way I don’t think many Strip resorts do. They’re not focused on making sure they get the biggest piece of the (existing) pie, to use a common metaphor. Their focus is on making the pie bigger, so there’s plenty for everyone. Let’s face it, would Downtown be a destination anyone would want to visit if there were only one decent resort there? Of course not. And if all they had to offer were the exact same things everyone else has to offer, what would be the point?
All the businesses Downtown lift each other up and complement each other; collectively, they make Downtown a desirable destination. Therefore, they’re all invested in each other’s success. As Zach put it, if another hotel Downtown has something the Grand doesn’t have, that’s still another amenity for their guests.
“We don’t want to keep people on our property and not let them leave. That doesn’t help us,” Zach said.
This is a collegial attitude you don’t often see among Strip resorts. That’s the attitude that is causing such exciting changes Downtown. In my opinion, that’s the attitude that is going to revitalize Las Vegas in the coming decade.
Disclaimer: As mentioned, Fifth Street Gaming plied us with free food that night, but there was no twisting of arms for blog coverage in exchange. My opinions and enthusiasm are 100% my own, as always.