The Golden Gate: A Little History in Downtown Las Vegas

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Who says Las Vegas is too young to be of interest to history buffs?

The Golden Gate Casino & Hotel will turn 107 in November of this year. That’s like 441 years old in dog years or a 1,000 years old in Vegas years. I mean, people describe hotels that are 20 years old as “old,” “aged,” “faded” and other negative adjectives. When you consider the many implosions that have taken down historic hotels in this city and replaced them with shiny new behemoths, it is mind-boggling that anything has lasted 107 years.

Golden Gate Hotel

How does something that old survive in Las Vegas? With a mix of embracing its history and adapting to the times, apparently. (Inexpensive prices don’t hurt, either.)

The History

On November 14, 2006, the Golden Gate celebrated its 100th anniversary. The slogan on their website reads “What happens in Vegas. . .started here.” And they aren’t kidding. The City of Las Vegas was founded in 1905. That means the Golden Gate hotel (originally the Hotel Nevada) really was there from almost the beginning of this city.

Golden Gate History Sign

Go through the history timeline on their website. It’s fascinating. My favorite entry?

1933: “Prohibition ends. Fremont Street stunned to discover whiskey had been illegal.”

That cracked me up. Other interesting historical tidbits? The hotel had the city’s first telephone (installed in 1907). Interestingly, the casino wasn’t built until 1955. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. (“The Rat Pack”) used to drink and play here. With its renewed emphasis on the hotel’s historic significance to the city, the Golden Gate is displaying a number of artifacts in public areas to showcase its history. Be sure to check them out next time you’re in town.

Golden Gate

Adaptation

If you’re new to the Vegas scene, you might not know the hotel took on some new owners in the past few years who invested millions in a 5-story, 35,000-square-foot expansion (the first in 50 years!) with modern suites designed as tributes to the Vegas of yesteryear, including the Rat Pack and a showgirl suite.

Other recent additions to the casino-hotel include the OneBar (so named because The Golden Gate is located at 1 Fremont Street, though I would have preferred if it had been a riff on the Lord of the Ring‘s “the One Ring”, because I’m nerdy that way). I’ve been impressed with their marketing in the past couple of years. When I first started going to Vegas, their website looked like it was stuck in 1996. It has vastly improved.

And boy, that marketing department sure does know how to spin their history, that’s for sure. According to them, their bikini-clad bartenders/dancers are “inspired” by the trend-setting flappers of the 20s. Uh-huh. Sure they are. I’m sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with the hotel wanting to draw in male customers by displaying half-naked women on property.

Golden Gate and La Bayou

The Deals

Even before the expansion, The Golden Gate remained popular for its cheaper-than-the-Strip gambling and inexpensive hotel rooms: You can get a regular room here for as low as $29/night. It’s the kind of thing that spoils you for any other hotel stay in North America or Europe. Granted, people talk about how small the rooms are here, but that’s the way they were built back in 1906, so if you’re a history buff, you can’t complain about that. And if you’re traveling solo, it’ll just feel like you’re staying in a single room.

But the most well-known “deal” at the Golden Gate is in its diner. The Golden Gate is home of The Original 99 Cent Shrimp Cocktail, which they started serving in 1959 for 50 cents (Uh, then shouldn’t it be known as “The Original 50 Cent Shrimp Cocktail”?). Today, they’ve served over 40 million of them. Of course, inflation means it’s no longer 50 or even 99 cents; it’s now $2.99, but it fills an entire tulip sundae glass with shrimp and cocktail sauce, so it’s still a great deal.

Best Tail in Town

Don’t let the sign fool you; it’s $2.99 now.

I have to admit, I’ve never stayed at the Golden Gate, played at the Golden Gate or eaten at the Golden Gate. But now that I know more about the history of the hotel, I’m much more likely to visit on my next trip for a closer look. So, you see? That spin on its history in the marketing department is working–even with someone like me who has no interest in seeing half-naked women or eating an entire sundae glass of shrimp.

Upshot

If you’re a history buff, head to Fremont Street and The Golden Gate (check out Main Street Station, too, while you’re there—they also have artifacts on display and a great old train).

Let’s see a show of hands (er, comments): How many of you repeat Vegas visitors have stayed at the Golden Gate? What do you think about it, past and present?

9 thoughts on “The Golden Gate: A Little History in Downtown Las Vegas

  1. Abby

    I’ve been starting to spend some more time downtown, but I wish I knew more about the history. (“Best tail in town has always been my favorite though!) Thanks for this!!

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Glad you liked it, Abby. I feel the same as you. I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time Downtown over the years, but have never learned its history properly, and I’m starting to realize that. I’d like to know more.

    2. Dee

      I liked it better when it was ahem a “dump”. It was tiny but lots of fun slots, I always seemed to do well. The staff was very friendly. I always got good comps..

      Now it is LOUD , my comps are no more and dancing girls yuck. I guess I am getting old. I like to sit at the bar and play VP and perhaps carry on a conversation or two, but since the remodel it just isn’t for me.

      Dupars prices are sky high for downtown. But you can’t beat the pancakes YUM, everyone should try them. The shrimp cocktail is pretty decent and if they haven’t changed the rules if you show your players card you get a buck off.

      I have never stayed at GG ,but I understand the rooms although tiny have very, very comfy beds.

      Thanks for the history tidbits.

      1. Gray Cargill Post author

        Good tip about the player’s card, Dee, thank you! I agree with you about the dancing girls–but then, you and I probably are not the hotel’s target demographic there.

  2. hardware

    Never stayed there. I have stayed downtown several times now and am happy with the rates and remodeling at the D, also owned by the Gate’s ownership group. I see some of the rooms in the Gate look out upon Fremont Street (or am I wrong?) which seems kinda cool, except there’s a music stage right outside the gate, and that would drive me nuts.

    For $2.99, the shrimp is a good deal. I tried the 99-cent version of the cocktail inside the Fremont casino a year or so ago (I think it was there) and it sucked. The old days of giant strawberry shortcakes and shrimp cocktails have gone by the wayside, and I like shrimp a lot, so I wish I could find good low-cost alternatives.

    A few years ago when the shrimp was still $1.99 I had five or six of ‘em over a four-night downtown stay at the glamorous Vegas Club.

    People love those Dupar’s pancakes, and I have yet to try them. Perhaps someday I will. But count me among those who miss the old café in the back of the casino that Dupar’s replaced. The old place wasn’t top notch, but it was less formal, reasonably priced and had some decent offerings.

    The renovated gaming floor is nicer, but for me the casino lost a little of its charm when it was renovated. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems that some of the historic artifacts that use to be on display are no longer displayed.

    I agree, if you want to see some cool historic artifacts and other interesting items, check out the rail cars and assorted gems at Main Street Station.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Thanks for your experience and thoughts, hardware. Yes, some of the rooms are right on Fremont Street. I couldn’t possibly stay there, I’m a very light sleeper. You had to mention giant strawberry shortcakes. Sigh. One of my favorite things in the world.

  3. Administrator

    I agree with Dee. The old version of Golden Gate was way better. The renovations are nice, but there used to be this old time piano in there that set a tranquil mood. You could walk back to the line, get a shrimp cocktail for 99 cents, and sit back down to the piano and casino people watching.

    Also, before it became Du Pars a few years ago, the restaurant was the Bay City Diner. Way better offerings and prices like the Silver Dollar breakfast that was to die for.

    The rooms I wouldn’t recommend due to the extremely small bathrooms with no counter space and industrial toilets (think public high school gym).

    Also, if you ask nicely at the bar, they’ll give you a coupon or two for free shrimp cocktails. I usually get one or two after just chatting with them for a few minutes over a morning red bull.

    Thanks for your post! Enjoyed it as always.

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