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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?