If you follow Vegas news on blogs and social media, you can’t avoid hearing about the problems the new Downtown Grand has–restaurants and bars reducing hours (or closing altogether) and a casino that’s not exactly jumping with customers. I saw this with my own eyes during my June trip to Las Vegas, because the Downtown Grand was my home for two nights. I might have passed it off as mid-week low crowd levels, except the hotels on Fremont Street were very busy, so the lack of business was unique to the Grand. For instance:
I desperately wanted a shave ice to cool off in the 100 degree Vegas temps, but Ninth Island was never staffed. The casino was never busy; the bars and restaurants were mostly empty. People cluster around check-in, where there are no queues, making it hard to know who’s next “in line” and who’s just standing there waiting to meet the rest of their party to go out for the day. And that half-wall of glass in the shower is a bathroom flood waiting to happen.
So yes, the place has problems. Let’s get the biggest of those out of the way first, shall we?
Problem #1: Lack of Foot Traffic
The lack of foot traffic on this block is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing to those of us looking for a little peace and quiet Downtown, but a curse to the long-term success of the hotel. Is it because visitors don’t know it’s there? Or do they still think Downtown isn’t safe unless you’re under the canopy? Or is there some other reason? I’m not sure.
Triple George Grill and Pizza Rock are both on this block, and they’re well recognized as being among Downtown’s better dining spots. The Mob Museum (a must-visit Vegas attraction) is right across the street, as is a weekly Farmers Market (which is small, but worth checking out if you like to buy unique, locally-made souvenirs when you’re in Vegas). But it’s likely most Vegas visitors glance down 3rd Street and see nothing appealing on the block between Fremont and Ogden, so they never make it to the Downtown Grand on the next block (between Ogden and Stewart).
For the record, it’s plenty safe to walk back and forth by day and night; I made the trip several times, and I was always alone.
Problem #2: Food and Beverage Operations
I’m not surprised that they’re scaling back bar and restaurant hours. The lack of foot traffic contributes to the lack of customers in their bars and restaurants, but that’s not the only problem here. They bit off more than they could chew with multiple eateries in a small hotel. In hindsight, they should have started small–with a good 24 hour cafe, a bar/restaurant, and maybe a Starbucks or something–and gradually added to their eateries as demand warranted.
When I first heard of their plans to relocate the Mob Bar across the street from the Mob Museum on the hotel’s first floor “off the lobby,” it sounded like a great idea. But in reality, it’s just not visible enough to anyone (even hotel guests!), and without a food menu, it’s now just a bar in an inconvenient location. What a waste.
The biggest disappointment for me was my breakfast at Stewart & Ogden, the 24 hour cafe. I didn’t know it was possible to screw up an omelet, since even I can make them, and I’m not much of a cook. It had been overcooked to the point that it was covered with a hard brown skin and had a slice of alleged cheddar cheese slapped on top instead of melted shredded cheese inside the omelet. It was disgusting. The breakfast potatoes tasted frostbitten. Only the toast was edible. They definitely need a new chef.
And Yet I Loved The Grand
It’s true. During my two days and two nights at the Downtown Grand, I fell in love with it. Yes, it has some problems, but they’re fixable. For me, the positives far outweighed the negatives. Such as:
With not a lot of attractions and activities to keep you busy Downtown during the day, it’s nice to stay at a hotel that offers an appealing pool area where you can relax for a few hours, swimming, sunning or reading a good book. Picnic is the Grand’s rooftop pool and nightlife area. The only other Downtown pool that compares is the Golden Nugget’s, but Picnic feels less cramped and more spacious.
The pool is beautiful and not overcrowded. The loungers, daybeds and cabanas all look very stylish and comfortable, and there are misters in the cabana and bar area to keep you cool. There’s no natural shade, so they have umbrellas by the chairs.
Non-guests can use Picnic, but they have to pay for it. (Update: Access to non-hotel guests is available FREE with a two drink minimum purchase per person.) They check your name as you enter the pool area to determine whether or not you’re a Downtown Grand guest. No outside food or beverages are allowed, but there is free cold water and paper cups at the towel counter, as well as a bar and snack bar where you can buy food and drinks.
Next to the bar and snack bar, there is a shaded area of picnic tables with overhead fans and TVs. There was great music playing here, not too loud. If it hadn’t been too ungodly hot while I was in town (over 100 degrees every day), I would have spent more time out here.
Interestingly, there is no lifeguard at Picnic, but there is a security guard. I chatted with her a couple of different times during my stay. She told me Picnic is usually busier on the weekends with pool parties and nighttime concerts.
Great Bang for Your Buck
I felt like this place was such a steal. You get nice, new accommodations in what feels like a boutique hotel, at Downtown prices, in a great location: Close enough to enjoy everything on Fremont Street but just far enough away from all that noise and drunken craziness so you can enjoy some peace and quiet, too. Dining issues aside, it’s perfect.
For just $39/night (plus $11 resort fee–which for some idiotic and inexplicable reason has apparently been bumped up to $18 since my trip), I got a cute room (room 1040) in the Grand Tower, which is across the street via an indoor pedestrian walkway (like the one between Main Street Station and the California).
The Commissary was located on the ground floor of my tower, which made breakfast there very convenient. The pool, casino, check-in, and most other facilities are in the main building. The resort fee covered amenities I felt were worth it: Tons of discount coupons, 2 bottles of full-sized water upon check-in, free Internet, and free coffee in the Art Bar every morning. (Of course, now that the resort fee is $18, it’s too high.) Service was very good and responsive.
My room here was much nicer than some other Las Vegas rooms I’ve stayed in (both on the Strip and Downtown)–despite the Ikea-like furniture. Obviously, it’s new, but it was also clean, and I liked the color scheme. The bathroom is beautiful. The linens were all in great shape and the toiletries smell nice.
In the public areas, I really appreciated the artwork that paid honor to Las Vegas and its history. (For a city with resorts themed after Paris and New York and Egypt, it’s kind of refreshing to see one that embraces its own city.)
Downtown Grand’s casino is clean and not as smokey as most in Downtown Vegas (probably because it’s not as busy). It was easy to sign up for their players card. I doubled my money on an Iron Man slot machine, which made me happy.
Skip Stewart & Ogden and get breakfast at the coffee/crepes bar in the Commissary. I had a huge orange crepe ($6) and iced latte for breakfast one morning and took it outside to eat at one of the sidewalk tables (there is plenty of indoor seating as well). I love starting my day in Vegas with breakfast outside–and because there’s no automobile traffic on this block, I didn’t have to smell exhaust while I was doing it.
Conclusion: This is My New Downtown Home
I’m sad about the problems the Grand is having bringing people in the door, because I want them to succeed. They’ve got a good vision, it’s just that they’re having some problems with the execution of that vision. For me, the Grand’s greatest selling point is ironically the same reason they have little foot traffic and are having trouble bringing people in the door: The location.
I like visiting Downtown. It has a lot going for it. But the crowds on Fremont Street have gotten out of control. The loud drunks and costumed freaks are out in droves. The cigarette smoke is thick enough to choke a horse–even outside! There are so many people crammed into a narrow street, it’s hard to make your way through the crowd–even mid-week. It makes me cranky.
It was always a huge relief every night to be able to duck down 3rd Street and walk away from the crowds and the craziness and go back to the Grand and its relative peace and quiet. This is really a very pleasant block to stay on. It felt like my own sane little corner of Downtown, if that makes any sense.
Despite its flaws, I feel like I’ve found my new Downtown home (as long as they don’t close!). I hope they can get through their “growing pains” quickly and reach a level of success that keeps them in business for a long, long time–without being overrun with the swarms of loud drunks we see on Fremont Street. There’s got to be a place for a hotel like this in Downtown Vegas. I, for one, am rooting for this underdog.
Miscellaneous notes about the Grand:
- Room keys are scanned at the door, rather than inserted into a slot; very high-tech. And it worked on the first try every time.
- The elevators here are very fast.
- They have the tiniest “fitness center” I’ve ever seen. It’s just a small room with a few machines. The Race and Sports Book is also very small, as is the cafe. This contributes to the “boutique” hotel feel.
- The hotel provides earplugs on the nightstand for guests. To me, this is usually a red flag. But I’m a light sleeper, I wore earplugs, and I didn’t hear any noise that kept me awake.
- If you are a member of Choice Hotels loyalty card, you can use it here for points. Downtown Grand is a member of their Ascend Collection of hotels.