Tag Archives: Nevada

Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–Downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District

Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District. Checking out local spots and culture in Las Vegas’ historical downtown and the up-and-coming arts scene.

 

The last time we were in Las Vegas, when we left we decided we’d had enough of Las Vegas and probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. But…..Las Vegas always has a way of seducing you back. The inexpensive and easy 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, the escape from the Seattle rain, the abundance of cheap, nice hotel rooms, the ability to walk around the street with a drink in your hand, and the great restaurants are ever enticing. We needed a quick winter getaway to lift our spirits (January through April in Seattle is a miserable, rainy, cold, awful time) and decided that Las Vegas would be quick and affordable. We had also never made it to downtown Las Vegas during our first two trips, and decided that this time we would stay in downtown Las Vegas and avoid The Strip altogether.

It was a wonderful plan. We had a fabulous time exploring historical downtown Las Vegas, the Arts District, and a few other local spots. Not once did we go to The Strip, and we left Las Vegas with a new appreciation for Sin City. Our trip was made even better by reuniting with an old middle school friend of mine who was living in Las Vegas and producing a local burlesque show through the winter.

Day 1:

Our flight landed at 7:00 PM, but sat on the runway for 25 minutes because our gate was occupied by a delayed flight. Fortunately we had not checked baggage, so when we finally got off the plane we were able to dash down to ground transportation to catch our shuttle.

We had reserved a round trip shuttle through the aptly named shuttle service Airline Shuttle. It was very inexpensive at $18.00 per person round trip with direct hotel pick up and drop off. Online booking was easy. Be sure to print off your confirmation, however. They do not accept phone screen confirmations, you must print a copy with the bar codes. Their website made this pretty clear, so I printed two copies, just in case.

There are other transportation alternatives such as buses and taxis. A taxi to downtown Las Vegas will run around $40-$50 from the airport one way, and a bus will take a long time. The shuttle was definitely the easy and affordable option.

The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas

Finally , we arrived at our hotel, The Golden Nugget. After a bit of confused wandering around in the huge casino we made it from the back entrance where the shuttle dropped us to the front desk to check in. We had reserved the most inexpensive room through Booking.com –a Carson Tower King, non-smoking. We were informed that the only non-smoking rooms available had two double beds. Upon presenting the front desk lady with our printed confirmation for a king room, and informing her that I am allergic to cigarette smoke so a smoking room was not an option, she upgraded us to a Rush Tower king room at no extra charge. (This is why I’m old-school and print my confirmations, it’s easy to whip out and show at check in if something doesn’t match what you were promised.)

The Rush Tower rooms were NICE. The Rush Tower was clearly the newer, upgraded side of the hotel. Our trip was off to a great start.

Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget

After a speedy luggage drop and clothes change, we were dying for a drink and a snack. It was already 8:30. We headed down to the casino and into the Cadillac Tequila Bar.

Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget

The drinks and food at Cadillac Tequila Bar are a bit upscale Mexican, not outrageously expensive but not cheap. I ordered the Elote (Mexican street corn) and the Ahi Tuna Tacos appetizer and a guava margarita. Paddy ordered the Queso and chips, a beer, and a shot of tequila. The tequila menu was extensive, but the cheapest shot was $9.00. Whatever, we needed to get our night going. The tequila was high quality.

Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Paddy at Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Ahi Tuna Tacos at the Cadillac Tequila Bar in the Golden Nugget
Ahi Tuna Tacos at the Cadillac Tequila Bar in the Golden Nugget

The food was great. Paddy was particularly impressed with the queso dip–real cheese (no Velveeta) and great flavor. The ahi tuna tacos were also very tasty. There was an Asian ponzu-style sauce to pour on them, and the shells were made from wonton wrappers. My guava margarita was delicious, but didn’t seem to have much booze. I ended up ordering another $9.00 shot of tequila to add to it.

After snacks and a couple first drinks, we were ready to check out Fremont Street.

Fremont Street is the heart of downtown Las Vegas, and the original thoroughfare through the city. Many of the casinos on Fremont Street including the Golden Nugget are still there, but with a modern makeover. The west portion of Fremont Street is the renowned Fremont Street Experience.

Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas

The Fremont Street Experience is a covered pedestrian-only section of the street. At night, a light and music show happens on the ceiling every hour. Cover bands play at two different stages on opposite ends of the covered street, tourists zip line over the crowds and under the covered light show, and various street performers and people in costume are stationed around the street providing photo opportunities for tips. There are flashing neon lights and alcohol for sale from street side bars everywhere you turn. I was able to procure a keg cup of cheap white wine for $6.00 (don’t judge).

Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
“Vegas Vickie,” Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
“Vegas Vic,” Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas

The Fremont Street Experience was fun for approximately 15 minutes. After that, we were ready to get out of neon tourist fun-land. We kept walking down to the east part of Fremont Street, which was a much mellower and quieter experience. The covered pedestrian street turns into a regular downtown street with fewer large casinos and more small bars and restaurants.

Fremont Street Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas

Fremont Street East was recently re-vamped in 2002 and new, hip bars and restaurants have been popping up to revitalize the local downtown Las Vegas scene.

We wandered into Commonwealth, a hipster speak-easy style bar with dim lighting and 1920’s decor. The music was modern and the cocktail menu was fancy. We ordered drinks at the bar and walked around. It was about 10:00 PM, so the night was just getting started for the 20-something crowd that was beginning to trickle in.

Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas

We wandered upstairs to the rooftop patio, which had a DJ and another outdoor bar. A server came around with free shots of knock-off Fireball whiskey and tiny complimentary cupcakes. Who doesn’t  like free shots and cupcakes?

I had read that there is a speakeasy within Commonwealth called The Laundry Room. The only way to get into the Laundry Room is to send a polite reservation request via text to (702) 701-1466. We sent a text to see if we could get in while we were there, and waited a little bit. We finished our drinks and about 10 minutes later received a response with an offer of a 12:15 AM reservation. It was 11:00 PM, and we were tired from working earlier that morning and then traveling, so we thanked them and declined the offer. We’d been to “speakeasies” in Seattle and New York and weren’t feeling like getting into the Laundry Room was that important to us. Maybe next time.

We wandered around Fremont Street a little bit more before calling it a night.

Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas. We never found out what was in that big blue dome.
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 2:

 

Friday morning we were greeted by 58 degree drizzle, very reminiscent of the Seattle weather we were trying to escape. Se la vie. We took that as a sign that we should go ahead and sleep in a bit longer.

Eventually, we were hungry. I had read that the buffet at the Main Street Station casino around the corner was supposed to be one of the best cheap buffets in town, a local gem. We put on our raincoats, walked to Main Street and got in the buffet line.

Main Street Station Casino downtown Las Vegas
Image from www.lasvegas.com

We waited in line for about 10 minutes, only to be told when we got to the front of the line that they would be closing at 10:30 (it was 10:15) for half an hour to switch over to lunch, at which point everyone in the dining area will be forced to leave. We decided that 15 minutes was not the time frame that we wanted for breakfast, so we opted out.

*Note–we learned that this is Main Street Station buffet’s weekday schedule. Saturday and Sunday have a champagne brunch buffet from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM for $11.99. We didn’t make it back to try this, but will definitely consider it for our next trip.

We were starving, so we wandered into the Plaza Hotel and casino next door on Main Street to see what they had going on. We found Hash House a Go Go inside the casino, which had a 15 minute wait but looked really good. We gave the host my cell number and walked around the casino until we got a text that our table was ready.

At first look, the prices at Hash House a Go Go seemed a bit high–most plates in the $16.99 range. But then we saw the food coming out of the kitchen—it was HUGE. We were hungry, but the portions this place was serving wouldn’t be something either one of us could finish individually. So we found a dish we both wanted to try and split it. We were really glad that we did.

We ordered the Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict, which the menu bragged to have been featured on Man Vs Food.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash House a Go Go
Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash House a Go Go, downtown Las Vegas

Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict is a split biscuit with two fried chicken breasts, bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomato, tomato, spinach, scrambled eggs and chipotle cream sauce, served on a bed of mashed potatoes. It was delicious, but massive. Eat this one with a buddy. I couldn’t even make it all the way through my half.

All things considered, the prices are pretty reasonable after all at Hash House a Go-Go, considering the portions. I think we’ll have to come back again on our next downtown Las Vegas trip and try the crab cake benedict.

After breakfast, we called a Lyft and took a short ride over to the downtown Las Vegas arts district.

The downtown Las Vegas arts district is a rapidly up-and-coming neighborhood comprised of several bars, restaurants, art collectives and galleries, and vintage shops. It is also the new home of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which was our first stop.

Burlesque Hall of Fame, downtown Las Vegas arts district
Burlesque Hall of Fame, downtown Las Vegas arts district

We caught the Burlesque Hall of Fame during a transition period. It had previously been located on Fremont Street, but had recently moved to the arts district and was in temporary art gallery space while their new location was being renovated across the street.

The gallery was a small space, but had a few costume pieces on display from burlesque legends, and a well-constructed timeline of the history of burlesque with many photos and other memorabilia. The man at the front desk was more than happy to answer our questions.

You would think that a town like Las Vegas, with all it’s glitz and glam would have a great modern burlesque scene. Sadly, we were informed that has not been the case. In Las Vegas there are showgirls, and there are strippers. The art of the rhinestone-encrusted shimmy and a wink with costumes and dancing has been a little lost on sin city. It’s not large-production enough to compete with the big-time casino shows, and it’s too classy to be a raunchy modern striptease.

There are local burlesque performers who are trying to change this, however. Small-venue burlesque shows are becoming more frequent and the local arts scene is growing. The gentleman at the Burlesque Hall of Fame informed us that there were big plans in the works for their new space. He said they have tons of costumes, vintage marquees, and lots of other items in their collection that they are excited to exhibit. Check http://www.burlesquehall.com/ for updates.

Here are some burlesque show posters from current local burlesque troops. Look them up if you’re planning a trip!

Majestik Burlesque Las Vegas
Majestik Burlesque Las Vegas at the Royal Resort  https://www.facebook.com/MajestikBurlesqueLasVegas/?ref=page_internal
Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas https://www.facebook.com/Leather.N.Feathers.Burlesque/
Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas at the Erotic Heritage Museum https://www.facebook.com/Leather.N.Feathers.Burlesque/
nerdlesque las vegas
“Nerdlesque” burlesque at the Artifice Bar in Las Vegas– new themed shows every third Saturday of the month http://www.artificebar.com/event/nerdlesque-burlesque/

We moved on from the Burlesque Hall of Fame to S Main Street to explore the vintage and antique shops.

If you are looking for vintage furniture, clothing, or random kitschy knick-knacks, S Main Street in the Arts District is the place to be. The only thing stopping us from blowing our tax return on a lime green 60’s sectional sofa at Retro Vegas was that we couldn’t take it on the plane home. And maybe a little common sense.

Retro Vegas on S Main St.
Retro Vegas on S Main St.
S Main Street Arts District, downtown Las Vegas
S Main Street Arts District, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage beer can collection
Vintage beer can collection

We had a lot of fun looking at all the shops on S Main Street. There was so much to explore. I really wanted to go to the Rockin’ Bettie store, a boutique with retro-style dresses and clothing, but sadly they were closed because they were at a rockabilly convention. Next time.

Later that afternoon we went and got foot massages at the Happy Feet massage place in the El Dorado casino on Fremont Street. $15 for 30 minutes. It was money well spent, we felt revitalized and ready to take on the evening.

After our foot massages were over, we got take out from the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck on Fremont Street. Their menu looked amazing (lobster tots!) I got a lobster roll, Paddy got the lobster grilled cheese, and we got some smothered tots to share–tots smothered in a creamy salsa sauce.

Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Lobster roll, Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Maine Lobster smothered tots
Cousins Maine Lobster smothered tots

Overall everything was tasty and the lobster was great, but we both felt like our sandwiches were a little small for the price.

After dinner we got dressed up and headed to Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street to meet up with Leah, a long lost middle school friend of mine and her husband Sam. Leah had been living in Las Vegas since the fall, producing and performing in the Leather & Feathers Burlesque Cabaret show at the Erotic Heritage Museum. I grew up with her, but hadn’t seen her since middle school.

Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas

Atomic Liquors is the oldest free-standing bar in Las Vegas. It was formerly a cafe, originally built in 1945. The cafe customers used to watch atomic blasts at the nearby atomic test site from the roof of the cafe . In 1952 the cafe owners Joe and Stella Stobchik turned it into a bar. Rumor has it that the Rat Pack and the Smothers Brothers used to drink there after their nightly shows.

Slightly divey, but with a classy signature cocktail menu and a bartender who looks like she stepped out of a 1940’s pin-up magazine, Atomic Liquors was a great place to start the evening.

Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas
Paddy at Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas
Me and Leah, Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas

It was fun reuniting with Leah, who gave us the scoop on what it was like to live in Las Vegas. She said that everyone she’s met in Vegas has been surprisingly friendly. She thinks that it is because everyone she meets isn’t from Las Vegas. Most people are transplants from elsewhere, and know what it’s like to move to a new city and have to find new friends. She is also a huge fan of the plentiful cheap Sunday champagne brunch deals.

After a couple drinks at Atomic, we headed over to the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street to see a local band, Franks and Deans. There were many interesting photo ops along the way. And we found Vegas Santa! In February! He was urinating on the motel sign that advertised that llamas stay free.

Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Vegas Santa!
Vegas Santa!
Vegas Santa!
Vegas Santa!
We hot

Weasels!
???? Downtown Las Vegas
We didn’t know what this was, other than an empty store full of mannequin heads with creepy green flickering lights.

We eventually made it to the Beauty Bar. The Beauty Bar is a chain bar, the original Beauty Bar is in New York. The bar offers booze and manicures during the day, and booze and live music at night. The walls were covered in pink and red glitter, and the bar and furniture are all vintage 1960’s beauty salon style.

Beauty Bar downtown Las Vegas
Beauty Bar downtown Las Vegas

The bands and atmosphere were great, the drinks were not. Weak, overpriced cocktails were served in crappy plastic cups and they didn’t serve wine. (Um, if I owned a bar plastered in pink glitter, there would definitely be wine on the menu. Possibly even mini bottles of Cooks served in a paper bag with a straw. Just sayin’.)

The bands made up for the lame drinks. The opening band was The Swamp Gospel, and they were great. Gritty, Southern-style blues-rock, complete with rubber snakes thrown into the audience.

Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas

Franks and Deans went on last, and they were fantastic. It doesn’t get much more modern, local Vegas than Franks and Deans. They do punk rock style covers of old crooner songs (their name is a play on Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin if you hadn’t put that together already). They put on a great show, complete with a go-go dancer.

Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas

We ended the night by soaking up the booze with pizza from Evel Pie across the street. The name is an homage to stunt performer Evel Knievel, and they always offer a $5.00 pint of PBR and a slice special. Open until 4:00 AM on weekends, it’s a good place for late night munchies.

Sam at Evel Pie, downtown Las Vegas
Sam at Evel Pie, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 3: 

Saturday started pretty late, on account of the alcohol-soaked late night before. The weather was also even worse than Friday’s, cold and pretty rainy. We took our time getting out of bed. Eventually, we got pretty hungry so we grabbed some coffee at the Starbucks downstairs and then headed down Fremont Street to the Container Park Mall.

The Container Park Mall is on the East portion of Fremont Street, and is built entirely out of recycled shipping containers. There are lots of little shops, a couple restaurants, a coffee shop, and even a little wedding chapel on the third floor. There is an outdoor stage in the center of the mall, and lots of tables and places to view live music should a show be going on.

Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas. Large foam blocks for kids to build things with (in better weather)
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas–sculpture with padlocks. Always a work in progress.

We found sustenance at Cheffinis Hot Dogs on the ground level. Their hot dogs are some of the best we’ve had, with lots of options and toppings. I loved that they offered a turkey dog option in addition to beef and veggie dogs, since I don’t eat beef.

Cheffinis Hot Dogs, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall
Cheffinis Hot Dogs, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall

I had the Moshi Moshi dog with a turkey frank, which had caramelized onions, seaweed, jalapeño, wine sauce, and spicy mayo. Paddy had The Grandfather with a beef frank, piled with chopped pork belly, red bell peppers, caramelized onions, crushed potato chips, spicy mayo, basil aioli, pickled mango, and topped with a fried quail egg. They were delicious.

The Grandfather dog at Cheffinis hot dogs
The Grandfather dog at Cheffinis hot dogs
Moshi Moshi dog at Cheffinis Hot Dogs
Moshi Moshi dog at Cheffinis Hot Dogs

We then explored some of the container shops and admired the murals on Fremont Street.

Hunter S Thompson, Mural, downtown Las Vegas
Hunter S Thompson mural, downtown Las Vegas

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped off at The D Casino and went up to the second floor to check out their collection of vintage slot machines. We played a couple for fun, no wins. They are the classic kind with the pull lever on the side and the cherries, numbers, and other little pictures that spin and you try to get a match.

Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slVintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas

Later that afternoon, we headed to Chinatown for food and drinks. A lot of people (including us before doing research for this trip) don’t know that Las Vegas has a Chinatown, but it does. It isn’t the type of Chinatown you see in other cities, however. You won’t find a cute downtown area with hanging lanterns, Chinese archways and funky little side streets to explore. Las Vegas’ Chinatown is essentially one big long strip mall extending for miles west of The Strip on W Spring Mountain Road.

Don’t be put off by the strip mall appearance. If you like Asian food, there are many great restaurants here to explore. And one really great tiki bar.

If you’ve read much of our blog you probably have figured out that I have a tiki bar fascination. There are two great old-style tiki bars in Las Vegas, one of which is The Golden Tiki.

The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas

The Golden Tiki’s strip mall location gives a deceiving outward appearance, but once you step inside the large double doors, you enter another world. Clamshell fountains, dark, intimate booths and tables, a large wrap-around bar, and a ceiling covered in tiny LED star lights that flicker all create an exotic tropical wonderland. Tiki kitsch and tropical memorabilia abound, with the 1960’s exotica sounds of Martin Denny playing on the bar surround sound system.

The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

We cozied up in a little side table and got out our cell phone flashlights to read the menu. Don’t expect food here. Their kitchen offers only 15 pupu (appetizer) platters each Friday and Saturday night that serve four people each, sold until they are gone. There are many other great food options in the area, so eat first and come here for drinks.

Since I’m a bigger fan of tequila than rum, I ordered the Coconut Sunrise, with coconut and aloe liqueurs, tequila, lime, orange juice, honey mango syrup, and grenadine. It was sweet but fruity and delicious.

The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
“Coconut Sunrise” at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

You can also order a drink in a souvenir tiki mug, which was tempting but we didn’t want to carry it around for the rest of the evening. We had some time to kill, so I tried the Dole Whip, a soft serve pineapple sorbet. The Dole Whip was delicious, albeit a HUGE serving. I could only eat a portion of it.

Dole Whip at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
Dole Whip at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

Eventually, we were getting hungry, so we settled up and headed out to dinner. I couldn’t resist the photo in the giant clam shell before leaving, however.

Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

Prior to our trip to Vegas, I had been browsing through restaurants on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and came across District One Kitchen on the outskirts of Chinatown on S Jones Blvd. We love Vietnamese food, and their menu looked enticing. The menu is more Vietnamese-fusion than straight Vietnamese, combining flavors of Japan, China, Thailand, and a little French.

District One Kitchen, Las Vegas
District One Kitchen, Las Vegas

We started with the oysters, which came with a light soy-ponzu sauce and caviar. They were delicious. The sauce wasn’t too much to overpower the flavor of the oyster, and the caviar was a nice touch, adding texture and a little boost of flavor.

District One Kitchen, Las Vegas
oysters, District One Kitchen, Las Vegas

Paddy tried the beef carpaccio, which he said was amazing (I don’t eat beef so I’ll take his word for it). We also shared the whole grilled squid with a spicy aioli, the Vietnamese-style green papaya salad with prawns and pork, and the “Belly Buns,” (pork belly pinch buns). We are suckers for pork belly pinch buns. Everything was outstanding. We would highly recommend the trek out to District One, it is worth it. The prices were reasonable for what we got.

Grilled squid at District One Las Vegas
Grilled squid with spicy aioli at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Green papaya salad with prawns and pork at District One Las Vegas
Green papaya salad with prawns and pork at District One Restaurant,  Las Vegas
Beef carpaccio at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Beef carpaccio at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Belly Buns at District One Restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Belly Buns at District One Restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

We had tickets that evening to see my friend Leah perform as a guest in the Artifice Bar’s “Nerdlesque” show in the Arts District, so after dinner we caught a Lyft over to The Velveteen Rabbit on S Main Street to have some drinks before the show.

The Velveteen Rabbit is so hipster that if I didn’t know where I was, I would guess that I was in Portland.

The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas

There were antique velvet couches and chairs, chandeliers made from old bottles and canning jars, and a craft cocktail menu made zine-style in a booklet including poetry. You can cake the zine/menu home as a souvenir for $1.00.

I ordered the “Fireside” cocktail from their seasonal winter menu, which consisted of roasted marshmallow bourbon, salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup, lemon heavy cream, and aztec chocolate bitters. It came in a teacup with a roasted mini marshmallow on a cocktail pic. It was impressive.  Paddy tried the “Smoke & Cinder,” with rye whiskey, averna, cherry heering, black walnut bitters, ginger, and laphroaig mist. Don’t ask me to explain any of those ingredients to you, because I have no idea what they are. Paddy gave a rave review of the Smoke & Cinder. It seemed like the right thing to drink while wearing a red velvet blazer.

The Velveteen Rabbit makes a lot of their cocktail ingredients in house (I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup in the store), and they do an excellent job.  Their website even advertises cocktail making classes every other Saturday afternoon, if you’re interested in taking your cocktail skills to the next level.

It was early, so there weren’t many people in the bar yet. There was a small DJ booth in the corner and a small dance floor area, along with a projection light show on the brick wall near the dance floor. I did not see an event calendar on their website, but it looks like The Velveteen Rabbit is set up for some late night fun.

The "Fireside" cocktail at The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The “Fireside” cocktail at The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
Paddy enjoying his “Smoke & Cinder” cocktail, The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas

When it was time, we settled up with the bartender at the Velveteen Rabbit and walked up the street to the Artifice Bar for the Nerdlesque Show.

Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas

The Nerdlesque Show happens every third Saturday at the Artifice Bar in the downtown Las Vegas Arts District, and has a different, unique, and “nerdy” theme for every show. I was told that last month’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, while this show’s theme was DC Comics.

My friend Leah was a guest performer in this show and got special permission for me to photograph her act, which was a burlesque Joker theme. Other acts were based on Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Raven, Harley Quinn, Superman (a fantastic male burlesque act), and a couple of characters that I wasn’t quite nerdy enough to know.

When we got to the Artifice Bar we met Leah, who introduced us to a friend of hers and we found seats along the side wall of the room. I sat down next to a petite older lady with big, beautiful copper red hair.  After seeing a couple people talk to her and call her “Tempest,” I turned to Leah’s friend and asked if she was Tempest Storm. She was.

Tempest Storm is one of the greatest classic burlesque legends of all time, her exotic dancing and burlesque career spanning decades. She is still active in the Las Vegas community at 89 years old. I introduced myself to her and told her it was an honor to meet her. After the show, my friend Leah asked if we could have our photo taken with her, but she declined. It was a little disappointing, but I’m sure she is tired of having her photo taken all the time.

Tempest Storm
Tempest Storm at the height of her burlesque career

Tempest was soon moved by the show producer from the chair next to me to a nicer table location with a better view, but it was exciting to meet her.

The DC Comics Nerdlesque show was great. Each performer put a lot of effort into their costume and routine, and many included props. My friend Leah (stage name Katerina HoneyBunny) did a great Joker Routine to “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, complete with a straight jacket. It was a fun show.

DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Katerina Honeybunny as The Joker, DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
DC Comics theme Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Nerdlesque show
The Joker and Superman after the show

 

Day 4:

Sunday was a no-plans day. We had a dinner reservation later that evening, but other than that the day was scheduled to be a do-whatever-we-feel-like day. I’m a planner, but I always like to plan for no-plans days on trips.

We slept in again, and then made our way down to the Container Park Mall to have brunch at The Perch restaurant inside the park. A no-plans day seemed like a good time to take advantage of their unlimited bloody Marys, bellinis, and mimosas for $15.00.

Apparently, everyone else had the same plan so we had to get on a list for a table. It was a 30 minute wait, but it was worth it.

The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

Paddy had the Short Rib Hash, and I had the Smothered Egg Biscuits, which was basically biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and cheese on top. Good dishes for a hangover.

The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Short Rib Hash, The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Smothered Egg Biscuits, The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

The bartender was our server, and he was great. He kept our bloody Marys and bellinis full. We even got a couple bellinis for the road–although we learned that we weren’t allowed to take them out of the Container Park. It didn’t really make sense, considering that Las Vegas has allows open containers, and there were people walking around with drinks on Fremont Street right outside the Container Park entrance. But the security lady wouldn’t let us leave until we finished our drinks.

We considered going to the Mob Museum, which sounded interesting, but the ticket price of $23.95 per person seemed a little steep. That, and we had a pretty good bloody Mary/bellini buzz going and weren’t really in a museum mood.

So we walked back to the Golden Nugget and poked around. We looked at the pool and the big fish tank (formerly a shark tank with a water slide that goes through the tank in a clear tube, but there were no sharks and the slide was closed for repair). I’m not sure if they plan on replacing the huge tunas in the tank with sharks again, or if they learned that reef sharks shouldn’t be kept in small tanks. I hope it is the latter.

Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas

It wasn’t really warm enough to swim, but the pool was heated and a few people were swimming anyway. Up the stairs from the pool to where the top of the water slide was, were a bunch of fancy pool cabanas for rent (all empty) and a smaller adult pool with a bar where a bunch of drunk adults were partying.

Back in the casino we played a couple slot machines for a minute, but only because they had Gremlins on them. $2.00 down the drain. I’ve never been very lucky with slot machines, but I’m also not really a big gambler.

Gremlins slot machine at the Golden Nugget Casino
Gremlins slot machine at the Golden Nugget Casino

Finally, we decided to sit at the fancy fish tank bar near the Rush Tower elevator and have a drink and watch the fish.

Chart House fish tank bar, Golden Nugget
Chart House fish tank bar, Golden Nugget

As always happens with day drinking, we eventually needed a nap time.

That evening, we had made a reservation at Las Vegas’ most famous Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam. I highly recommend making an online reservation a week or more in advance, this place is POPULAR. It’s been around for over 20 years, and has been given even more notoriety in recent years by being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown.

Housed in an unassuming strip mall location east of The Strip on East Sahara Avenue, Lotus of Siam specializes in serving Northern Thai cuisine.

We had read reviews and seen Parts Unknown, and knew two of the dishes we wanted. The menu was a bit overwhelming, however. Everything in the front of the menu is your standard Thai restaurant fare, while the Northern Thai dishes and house specialties are all towards the back. It was a huge menu. I think that a menu makeover might be a good idea–feature their house specialties right up front, and the Pad Thai and other standard Thai dishes that are not northern towards the back. Kind of like the hamburger at the back of the Chinese restaurant menu…”Yes, we have it. But it’s not what you should be ordering here.”

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

The server helped us locate the two dishes we were after–the Garlic Prawns and the Crispy Duck Khao Soi. We also ordered the Nam Prik Hed, described as a spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables. We were looking for a veggie dish to add and it was something we’d never had before, so we gave it a go.

The Garlic Prawns came out first. Deep-fried in the shell with garlic and black pepper. They lived up to the hype. We couldn’t stop fishing out forkfuls of the fried bits of garlic and cabbage at the bottom of the dish, it was delicious.

Crispy Garlic Prawns at Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Crispy Garlic Prawns at Lotus of Siam

The Crispy Duck Khao Soi and the Nam Prik Hed arrived next. The Khao Soi came with an assortment of lime wedges, red onions, and pickled veggies on the side to add to our taste. We added it all. The noodles were flat egg noodles and the broth was a curry base. The duck was cooked perfectly with delicious crispy skin.

The Nam Prik Hed was a dip made from green chilis and pickled mushrooms. It wasn’t a very exciting dish, but it provided the perfect fresh vegetable component necessary to balance out the heavy fried prawns and crispy duck.

Crispy Duck Khao Soi at Lotus of Siam
Crispy Duck Khao Soi at Lotus of Siam
Nam Prik Hed (spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables) at Lotus of Siam
Nam Prik Hed (spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables) at Lotus of Siam

We were painfully stuffed when we left. Don’t miss this place if you like Thai food–it is worth the Lyft ride. Also, don’t forget to make a reservation. When we left the doorway was full of hopeful, hungry, reservation-less people, waiting for a chance at a table. If you do make a reservation, know that they will only hold the table for five minutes past your reservation time. Then it becomes available for someone else. And it appeared that there is always someone else.

After dinner, we called another Lyft to cap off the night at the other classic tiki bar in Las Vegas, Frankie’s Tiki Room.

Franki’s Tiki Room is on the outskirts of the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas, on W Charleston Blvd. It’s dark, open 24 hours, and serves only drinks (no food).

Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas

Tiki drinks are $10.00 each, or $25.00 if you want it in a souvenir tiki mug to take home. They had a lot of souvenir tiki mugs, all with the Frankie’s Tiki logo engraved into them on the back. We met a couple in the booth next to us who come to Las Vegas from LA a couple times a year and had collected almost all of them.

I ordered the Nakalele Knockout, which was said to be a tangy, refreshing blend of rum, hibiscus, and lime. All I tasted was rum–it was strong. Paddy had the Green Gasser, a mix of citrus rum, Red Bull, melon liqueur, and Bacardi 151 that was also really strong. The bartender wasn’t the friendliest, but he made some stiff drinks.

Frankies tiki
The Nakalele Knockout in a souvenir tiki mug at Frankie’s Tiki Room, and the Green Gasser.

Leah and Sam joined us at Frankie’s. Sam liked the Frankenstein, and I had the Kapu I’a which was the one tequila cocktail on the menu. I liked it a lot better than the Nakalele Knockout, but I am partial to tequila. My third and last drink was the Scurvy, which was a pineapple and coconut sugar-bomb that I couldn’t finish (and was glad I didn’t). We all ended up with a bit more of a buzz than we intended.

At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Bathroom graffiti at Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas

 

The next morning, all the rum and sugar from the night before was making us a little green around the gills. It didn’t help that we had a 9:30 AM flight to get up early for.

Our shuttle arrived at airport terminal 1, which was a complete madhouse. Everyone in Las Vegas seemed to be taking a Southwest Air flight out that morning. Our driver told us that our terminal was the next one, terminal three. Everyone else in the shuttle got off at terminal 1 to battle the long security lines.

Terminal three was the complete opposite. We flew Alaska Air, and terminal  three was quiet and mellow. We barely had any lines at security, and it was fabulous. The other domestic airlines at terminal three were JetBlue, and Virgin. Our shuttle driver said that terminal three is usually not as busy as terminal 1.

Moral of the story: If you are going to Las Vegas, try not to fly Southwest–try to get a flight with Alaska, JetBlue, or Virgin. Everyone seems to fly Southwest and terminal 1 is very busy.

We had the perfect ending to our trip at terminal three. Before we left for Vegas, my friend Keith told me that if I saw a Dolly Parton slot machine, I had to play it. I promised I would. I didn’t really expect to see a Dolly Parton slot machine… but low and behold, this is what was next to our airport departure gate:

dolly parton slot machine
Dolly Parton slot machine–I found one!

I had spent almost all of my cash, but had one last dollar in my wallet. Dolly Parton took my last dollar like a cold-hearted temptress.

We didn’t win big in Las Vegas, but we didn’t really try. Gambling has never been our thing. There are many other fun reasons to go to Las Vegas, and we really enjoyed getting off of the strip and seeing downtown Las Vegas. We didn’t leave feeling like we were “over it” this time. We want to come back. On our next trip, we’d like to make it to some of the other local places that we missed, and maybe see a show. We still have yet to see an Elvis impersonator (although I think they are ore scarce these days). Coming back in warmer weather and spending more time at the pool sounds nice too. Not to mention all the unexplored restaurants in Chinatown.  Las Vegas is a great, quick and easy and a relatively inexpensive grown-up trip. We will definitely be staying in downtown Las Vegas again on our next trip.

The Weird Things We Saw in Nevada

Weird things we saw in Nevada: Kitsch and Americana in the desert

 

There is a lot of weird stuff in Nevada. If a foreigner were to ask me what part of the United States to travel to where they could see the most unique Americana, I’d tell them to take a road trip around Nevada. Nevada is a desolate state, with pockets of decadence and extravagance (I.E. Reno and Las Vegas), loose laws and high security prisons, believers in alien life and leftover ghosts of Gold Rush days’ past. There are stretches of highway that go on for miles in between towns, which kept us nervously filling up our gas tank whenever it was only half full–just in case the next road was too long. It’s a state that will have you saying “what the fuck” at least once a day, but that’s the beauty of it. Here are the top weird things we saw in Nevada on our road trip in 2011:

 1. A sign telling us to report shooting from the highway

Shortly after leaving the small town of Ely, Nevada, heading south on Highway 50, we passed a sign with an 800 number telling us to report any shooting from the highway. Because apparently, people driving around in their cars shooting rifles at wildlife (and who knows what else) is a common enough phenomenon in that part of rural Nevada that there is a hotline to report it. Sorry, we didn’t get a photo. We also passed a high security prison and a sign telling us not to pick up hitchhikers. Noted.

weird things in Nevada

2. The Neon Boneyard

The Neon Boneyard is hands-down the coolest thing we’ve ever seen in Las Vegas. It is part of a small museum of Las Vegas past, with a fenced-in corral across the street where all the old neon signs of Vegas go to die. Reservations for tours are usually required, so plan ahead. Don’t miss it.

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
“Vegas Vic,” Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas

3. The Mermaid Lounge

The second coolest thing I’ve seen in Las Vegas is the Mermaid Lounge at the Silverton Casino. The waitresses dress in mermaid-inspired attire, there is a live jellyfish tank filled with moon jellies over the bar, and a giant floor to ceiling tropical fish aquarium next to the bar. The best part? They do live mermaid shows in the aquarium several times a day. The Silverton Casino is a little bit out of the way from the strip, but an easy cab ride. It’s more of a local casino.

weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas
weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas
weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas
weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas

4. The Peppermill Casino in Reno

We stayed two nights at the Peppermill Casino in Reno, and ate at their Oceano Restaurant. It is an extraordinary neon disaster of a luxury casino, with multiple restaurants, bars, slot machines, and game areas. There are several types of rooms–we went for the cheesy 80’s spa suite in the Peppermill tower with a two person hot tub and a giant four poster bed. If you really want to be a high roller, you can book their “safari adventure” or “Roman opulence” suites complete with a hot tub in the living room and themed decor.

The amount of neon inside the casino really is astounding, especially in the Oceano Restaurant. We had to eat there just because it had jellyfish lights. The food wasn’t anything special, but it was a neon aquatic catastrophe that had to be fully experienced. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth stopping by to take it all in.

Weird things in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno
Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno
Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno

5. The Shady Lady Ranch

We drove by a total of 6 brothels on our road trip around Nevada, and decided to pull over for a photo of this one. We were given notice of it’s location a mile beforehand from a hand-painted plywood sign on the side of the road in the highway. There is literally nothing around for miles.

It was a collection of travel trailers in the middle of nowhere. Classy.

Weird things in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch
Weird things in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch

6. Rhyolite Ghost Town sculpture park

We wanted to see Death Valley National Park, and there is an entrance from Nevada in the border town of Beatty. Just before the entrance to the park is the Rhyolite ghost town, which is pretty interesting. In addition to the ghost town, you get to tour a sculpture park. Some of the sculptures really fit with the theme (ghosts with bicycles), but others are just really random. Such as the giant nude lego-esque lady with a big blonde cube of pubic hair towering over the desert. It’s worth a looksie.

Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town

 

7. The Clown Motel

On the way from Beatty to Reno through Tonopah, Nevada we stopped to take a photo at the Clown Motel. Rates were advertised at $34.50/night and the rooms are clown themed. We would have totally stayed there had it worked into our itinerary. The creepiness of a clown themed motel in the middle of the desert is pretty high, but adding to it is a very old wild west era graveyard full of the bones of gold miners right next door.

If you stay here, you might not want to watch the movie Poltergeist close to the time of your trip.

Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel (and goldminer grave yard) in Tonopah
Weird things in Nevada: The Clown Motel (and goldminer grave yard) in Tonopah

8. The Extraterrestrial Highway

One of the things we absolutely had to go out of our way to see was the Extraterrestrial Highway 375 that runs between Crystal Springs and Warm Springs. There is one tiny town called Rachel in the middle with an alien themed diner and hotel (The Little A’le-Inn). Don’t expect a gas station though, be sure to have a full tank when you start out.

The Extraterrestrial Highway is named for the reported UFO sightings in the area, which is also host to the mysterious super-secret Air Force test facility Area 51. I’m sure the UFO sightings are all related to the test facility….but what is the government doing out there, exactly? Don’t plan on finding out, there are signs around the property that state that the government has the right to shoot you if you enter their area.

In any event, it’s a sight to see.

weird things we saw in nevada Extraterrstrial highway

Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway

 

Our week-long road trip around Nevada was one of my favorite trips with Paddy. It wasn’t another country, but sometimes it felt like it. I’m always on the hunt for the unusual, and the weird things we saw in Nevada were some of the best I’ve encountered. Sometimes I wonder if the desert makes people go a little crazy. The arid climate, the heat, the monotonous landscape and roads that go on for miles in the dry emptiness. It was fun, but I can’t tell you how excited I was to see green fresh veggies and leafy green trees when we got back to the Pacific Northwest.

Read about all our adventures in Nevada here: http://childfreelifeadventures.com/nevada-road-trip-2011/

Las Vegas, Nevada

Four days in Las Vegas, Nevada on a road trip in 2011: Red Rock Canyon, The Neon Boneyard, The Mermaid Lounge, showgirls, and giant cocktails

 

Las Vegas is one of those places that always makes for a great quick getaway. Flights are usually pretty cheap from most places in the US, and you can also find great rates on hotels. These days, The Strip isn’t as cheap as it used to be, however and you will have better luck staying off The Strip at a hotel that provides a free shuttle service (we stayed at the Orleans and it was great and affordable.)

There is a lot to see in Las Vegas, and we didn’t see it all. This was our second time here. We still have yet to make it to Fremont Street, which we will do next time. This trip to Las Vegas was part of a week and a half long road trip around Nevada, with a focus on seeing as much weird Americana as we could see.

While you could easily spend a week or more in Las Vegas and still not see it all, we don’t recommend more than four days. Las Vegas gets to you after awhile. The clanging slot machines, tourists, flashing lights, and lots of booze get to be a little much and Las Vegas is best seen in smaller doses.

 

Excerpt from original post Nevada Road Trip 2011. Read about the rest of our adventures touring the weird and wild sights of Nevada here.

 

Day 1:

 

Las Vegas sign

We arrived at The Orleans in Las Vegas around late afternoon, checked in,  and relaxed for a bit. This was actually our second time in Las Vegas. We opted for The Orleans as our friend recommended it. It was a really good price for the quality, and though off the strip there was a convenient free shuttle every 15 minutes or so to the strip. Last time we had stayed at the Mirage in 2003, which was also really nice. It seems that prices in Las Vegas aren’t what they used to be though, and the strip these days is kind of expensive all-around.

That evening we had an underwhelming meal at the TGI Friday’s in the casino, just because we didn’t really feel like going anywhere that night. We played some games and had a few drinks and relaxed. We had our cooler with us and there was a convenience store near the hotel we could walk to, so we stocked up on beer and wine there to save a little money and used the ice from the ice machine to fill the cooler.

Day 2:

The next morning, our friends Stephen and Heather flew in from Seattle to join us for the Las Vegas portion of our trip. When they had had a little rest, we all took the shuttle to the strip and walked around a bit, and did some shopping in the Forum shops at Ceasar’s Palace. Las Vegas had great spring weather, warm enough to wear a tank top and shorts during the day. It was a nice change from frigid Ely. I was particularly fond of the Bettie Page store, with retro-style dresses and accessories. Since this trip, they’ve opened up a location in Seattle. I’ve been trying to keep myself away from it as I need to save money for other things….like travel.

In the afternoon I was hell-bent on seeing the mermaid show at the Silverton Casino, which is 6 miles from the strip and pretty out of the way. It’s more of a local spot, which our cab driver confirmed on the way there. We had some food and drinks in the Mermaid Lounge which had a nice atmosphere and a great view of the fish tank, but horrendous service. There was barely anyone there and we had to wait forever to get any service. I did really enjoy the jellyfish tank above the bar. The mermaid show happens in the fish tank several times throughout the day–consult website for times.

The mermaids put on a great show, even posing for pictures and interacting with the spellbound little girls pressed up against the fish tank.

After we had our fill of the mermaids, some food, and a few drinks, we caught a cab back to our hotel.

We gussied up a bit and caught another taxi to The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge on the strip. The Peppermill has your standard diner fare, and seems to be a good spot for late night breakfast or to cure a hangover the morning after. With it’s flourescent pink lights, giant indoor fire place, and pink velvet furniture, it is everything over-the-top about Las Vegas that one could hope to find. We weren’t there for food, though, we were there for the cocktails in the Fireside Lounge. Particularly one cocktail–the infamous Scorpion Bowl. The Scorpion bowl is a fish-bowl sized drink  with all kinds of booze and juice in it, along with your choice of 1-4 long straws to share the drink with.

After our scorpion bowls were dry and we had a slight buzz going, we decided just to head back to the Orleans where the drinks were cheaper and play some slots and hang out.

Day 3:

As we had a car with us this trip, we decided to head out of Las Vegas and do some sightseeing in Red Rock Canyon. If you don’t have a car or want to rent one while you are in Vegas, you can easily find tour groups to Red Rock Canyon online or while in Las Vegas.

We weren’t really outfitted for some serious hiking, so we drove around the scenic loop stopping at the view points and did a very easy walk in Lost Creek, which has views of cliffs with old petroglyphs on them.

We got to see some of the Las Vegas suburbs on the way to Red Rock Canyon, and it was row upon row of the same house. Strip malls and cookie cutter housing complexes. I can’t say Vegas really appeals to me as a place to live.

We got back to the hotel and spent some time relaxing at the Orleans pool. It was warm enough to lay out in the sun but not super hot. There was a bar at the pool that served frozen drinks that were very refreshing. Overall, the Orleans pool isn’t one of the best pools in Las Vegas, but it was nice enough. After cold rainy Seattle and freezing cold Ely, we were ready for some sunbathing and swimming pools.

That evening we walked around the strip a bit. Eventually we were hungry for dinner and felt like splurging on something a little nicer. We walked around and decided on Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Las Vegas casino hotel. It was packed even at 9:00 PM but we got on the waiting list and were seated at 9:30 outside. It was a warm night and the restaurant has a nice view of the Bellagio fountain show across the strip. I don’t recall everything we had but I do remember a very nice duck leg confit and a side of garlic spinach that were very tasty. I think Paddy had steak frites. It was all very good and we would definitely go back.

When we left the restaurant, it was already 11:00 PM and we had a tour planned for the next morning, so we headed back to the Orleans for a few more cheaper drinks before calling it a night.

Day 4:

One of our main priorities in Las Vegas was visiting the Neon Boneyard. We had to make tour reservations in advance as they can only take a certain amount of people per day and you can only visit on a guided tour. The Boneyard was definitely a top highlight of our trip. It is a where all the neon signs of Vegas go to die, and an amazing walk through the ghosts of Vegas past. Our tour guide gave us an informative tour of all the old signs and Las Vegas history. I would highly recommend booking a tour here.

That afternoon I really really wanted to see an Elvis impersonator (it’s just so classic Las Vegas). Unfortunately, Elvis impersonators are not as prevalent as in days past but I managed to find one free show with Big Elvis at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon on the strip (I believe he has now moved his show to Harrah’s).  We got to Bill’s and ordered some drinks, but unfortunately Big Elvis was out sick that night, so we got Chuck. Chuck looked much more like a Roy Orbison impersonator but sang all Elvis songs. Honestly, the show would have been much better if he had just gone with a Roy Orbison routine. I was a little disappointed, but we still got a classic Vegas lounge act in and had fun.

Chuck the Elvis impersonator Las Vegas
Chuck the “Elvis Impersonator”

After the show, we split off from Heather and Stephen and went to Jubilee at Bally’s, which is one of the most classic Las Vegas shows there is. Lots of showgirls, feathers, glitter, and synchronized dancing. It was a great show. We had purchased some of the cheaper tickets and were on the isle. Shortly after the show began, we noticed the usher picking people off the isle to go down to some open seats in the front. He hadn’t picked us, so Paddy went and asked him if there were any front seats open that we could move to, and he found some for us.

**Tip: If you need to book a cheaper seat, book an isle seat and ask the usher if it might be possible to move to open front seats if available. You might get lucky like we did.

road trip 021

 

After four nights in Las Vegas, we were ready to leave and get back on the road. Vegas is fun, but it’s definitely an “in small doses” kind of a destination. I wouldn’t recommend more than 4 nights. The slot machine clanging and cigarette smoke get to you after awhile.

If we go back to Las Vegas (which we probably will, eventually) I’d like to stay near Fremont Street and spend some time checking out old Vegas. I’d also still like to see a real Elvis impersonator (not Chuck) if such a thing still exists, and a Cirque de Soleil show.

Nevada Road Trip 2011

Our road trip around Nevada, 2011: Ely, The Extraterrestrial Highway, Las Vegas, Beatty, Death Valley, and Reno

 

We were on a budget in 2011 as we were still paying off our French Polynesia honeymoon, but decided to at least take a week-long vacation by doing a classic American road trip. We figured that Las Vegas was pretty inexpensive in the right places, and what is more classic Americana than road tripping through the desert? So we set off on our way to Vegas with some sightseeing in Nevada along the way.

Nevada really feels like its own country. It is such a huge cultural difference from the Pacific Northwest and many other places in the USA. I think if you really want a picture of quirky, random and sometimes over-the-top things that you can only find in the US, Nevada is a good place to start.

So in late April 2011, we took our tax return and ran off into the desert. There is something so freeing about just getting in your car and driving. Just taking off without the hassles of an airport, lines, mass transportation, etc. Just being able to GO and change your mind about where at any given point in time. We hadn’t been on a road trip together since our first trip ever together to the California Redwoods in 2003 and we were way overdue.

Click on any image below to view larger

Day 1:

Our first day we left rainy Seattle and head to our first stop, Baker City, OR. There wasn’t anything special about Baker City, other than it is about the 8 hour point with stops for lunch and bathroom breaks and that’s about as much as we wanted to do in one day.

All maps and directions courtesy of Google Maps

Seattle to Baker City
Seattle, WA to Baker City, OR

While Washington is the “evergreen state,” many people are unaware of how much of the state is actually desert. Once past Cascade Mountains, there is very little greenery to be seen. The drive was very scenic and tumbleweeds could be seen going past as we got closer to the Oregon border.

Eastern Oregon

It was a long day, and we decided to make it to Pendleton, OR before getting something to eat. We should have stopped for gas around Hermiston, but Paddy thought we’d make it. Soon after Hermiston our gas light came on. There weren’t any gas stations until Pendleton and I think we were coasting on fumes down the highway hill into town. We vowed to keep the gas tank as full as possible for the rest of the trip. Looking for a quick meal that wasn’t fast food, we found Cadillac Jack’s Saloon and Grill and had some burgers. We definitely got that “you folks ain’t from around here, are ye” look from some locals, but overall the service was good and the food was decent.

After that, we drove the last leg of our journey to Baker City and stayed at The Knight’s Inn, where we got a cheap room for around $40-$50. The price matched the room, with wood paneled walls and 1980’s flowery beadspreads, but overall it was very clean and comfortable. It also came with this lovely painting “Log Jam” by Walter Butts. No further comment.

Log Jam Knights Inn Baker City OR
Log Jam

 

Day 2:

The next day we got packed up and ate a big breakfast at the local diner Sumpter Junction. Classic American breakfast fare with nice crispy hashbrowns and a train that goes around the restaurant non-stop.

Our next destination was Ely, Nevada as it seemed to be a good halfway point to Vegas.

map baker city to ely
Baker City, OR, to Ely, NV

The drive to Ely was longer than the drive from Seattle to Baker City. I think we stopped for a quick fast food lunch around Twin Falls, ID, and after that we soon crossed the Nevada border on Highway 93.  There was a whole lot of nothing on Highway 93, but it was a beautiful albeit a little eerie drive. We had a playlist full of Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline to keep us going.

Nevada road trip highway 93

Nevada road trip highway 93

Nevada road trip highway 93

At long last, we started seeing billboards for “Asian massage,” casinos, and “Soapy rub-downs” and knew we were getting close.

I had really wanted to get a room at the historic Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall but there was a convention of some sort booking all the rooms that day so we settled for the La Quinta. The La Quinta in Ely  was pretty new and very comfortable and included free breakfast.

It was the end of April, and Ely was cold. I think it was in the teens or twenties but bright and sunny. We warmed up in the hotel and I made use of the hotel’s indoor hot tub. After a little relaxing we went out in search of dinner. We consulted Yelp and took a drive up and down the main drag, and decided on Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant. It was pretty good.

 

Day 3:

The next morning we had the free breakfast at La Quinta and checked out. We took a quick tour of Ely and the Hotel Nevada before we got on the road. The Hotel Nevada was everything I had expected it to be. An old historic mining town hotel, full of statues, knick-knacks, slot machines, and cigarette smoke, it was a true piece of Americana.

We walked around the town, which was pretty quiet in the morning.

Ely Nevada
Ely, NV

It’s 2011, but they still love Ronald Reagan.

Ely Nevada
Ely, Nevada
Ely Nevada
Ely, Nevada
Ely Nevada
Ely, Nevada

We said goodbye to Ely, and got on the road. About two miles outside of Ely we passed a high security penitentiary with a gun tower, a sign telling us not to pick up hitchhikers, and a sign with an 800 number telling us to report people shooting from the highway. Because apparently in Nevada people hunting out their car windows along the highway is a regular occurrence.

Soon we were on highway 318, which was another lonely stretch of desert. Fortunately, it got a little warmer the further south we went. Our next destination: The Extraterrestrial Highway.

map ely to rachel
Ely, NV to Rachel, NV

We stopped for gas in a tiny old mining town of Pioche, NV as there weren’t going to be many gas stations again for a long time. After a short ways, we reached the junction for highway 375, aka The Extraterrestrial Highway. The highway gets its name from being the highway next to Area 51, the most mysterious and secretive US Government test site. It’s been rumored to be a specialized weapons and experimental aircraft test site, and the high level of secrecy and security gives fodder to all kinds of theories of alien crash sites and cover ups. There were plenty of signs along the highway that warned us that if we went any further than a certain point into the area that we would be shot. We didn’t attempt any hiking.

Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway

Shortly after turning off onto highway 375, we saw a giant alien statue and a tin shed that appeared to be a gift shop that was closed. Still a great photo op.

Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway
Extraterrestrial Highway

We headed to the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada in the middle of highway 375. There is nothing in Rachel other than a tiny restaurant, giftshop, and hotel all rolled into one, The Little A’le’inn. (There is also no gas station, so fill up before you head out here). The hotel part appeared to be a collection of trailers. We saddled up to the bar for a beer and some lunch and talked to the lady who owned the place. I had the greasiest tuna melt I’ve ever had in my life served on a styrofoam plate, and the owner told us all about living in Rachel, Area 51, and aliens. After lunch, we purchased our obligatory alien souvenirs and bid the lady adieu.

We continued on our way to Vegas.

map rachel to las vegas
Rachel, NV to Las Vegas

Las Vegas sign

We arrived at The Orleans in Las Vegas around late afternoon, checked in,  and relaxed for a bit. This was actually our second time in Vegas. We opted for The Orleans as our friend recommended it. It was a really good price for the quality, and though off the strip there was a convenient free shuttle every 15 minutes or so to the strip. Last time we had stayed at the Mirage in 2003, which was also really nice. It seems that prices in Vegas aren’t what they used to be though, and the strip these days is kind of expensive all-around.

That evening we had an underwhelming meal at the TGI Friday’s in the casino, just because we didn’t really feel like going anywhere that night. We played some games and had a few drinks and relaxed. We had our cooler with us and there was a convenience store near the hotel we could walk to, so we stocked up on beer and wine there to save a little money and used the ice from the ice machine to fill the cooler.

 

Day 4:

The next morning, our friends Stephen and Heather flew in from Seattle to join us for the Vegas portion of our trip. When they had had a little rest, we all took the shuttle to the strip and walked around a bit, and did some shopping in the Forum shops at Ceasar’s Palace. Vegas had great spring weather, warm enough to wear a tank top and shorts during the day. It was a nice change from frigid Ely. I was particularly fond of the Bettie Page store, with retro-style dresses and accessories. Since this trip, they’ve opened up a location in Seattle. I’ve been trying to keep myself away from it as I need to save money for other things….like travel.

In the afternoon I was hell-bent on seeing the mermaid show at the Silverton Casino, which is 6 miles from the strip and pretty out of the way. It’s more of a local spot, which our cab driver confirmed on the way there. We had some food and drinks in the Mermaid Lounge which had a nice atmosphere and a great view of the fish tank, but horrendous service. There was barely anyone there and we had to wait forever to get any service. I did really enjoy the jellyfish tank above the bar. The mermaid show happens in the fish tank several times throughout the day–consult website for times.

The mermaids put on a great show, even posing for pictures and interacting with the spellbound little girls pressed up against the fish tank.

After we had our fill of the mermaids, some food, and a few drinks, we caught a cab back to our hotel.

We gussied up a bit and caught another taxi to The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge on the strip. The Peppermill has your standard diner fare, and seems to be a good spot for late night breakfast or to cure a hangover the morning after. With it’s flourescent pink lights, giant indoor fire place, and pink velvet furniture, it is everything over-the-top about Vegas that one could hope to find. We weren’t there for food, though, we were there for the cocktails in the Fireside Lounge. Particularly one cocktail–the infamous Scorpion Bowl. The Scorpion bowl is a fish-bowl sized drink  with all kinds of booze and juice in it, along with your choice of 1-4 long straws to share the drink with.

After our scorpion bowls were dry and we had a slight buzz going, we decided just to head back to the Orleans where the drinks were cheaper and play some slots and hang out.

 

Day 5:

As we had a car with us this trip, we decided to head out of Vegas and do some sightseeing in Red Rock Canyon. If you don’t have a car or want to rent one while you are in Vegas, you can easily find tour groups to Red Rock Canyon online or while in Vegas.

We weren’t really outfitted for some serious hiking, so we drove around the scenic loop stopping at the view points and did a very easy walk in Lost Creek, which has views of cliffs with old petroglyphs on them.

We got to see some of the Last Vegas suburbs on the way to Red Rock Canyon, and it was row upon row of the same house. Strip malls and cookie cutter housing complexes. I can’t say Vegas really appeals to me as a place to live.

We got back to the hotel and spent some time relaxing at the Orleans pool. It was warm enough to lay out in the sun but not super hot. There was a bar at the pool that served frozen drinks that were very refreshing. Overall, the Orleans pool isn’t one of the best pools in Vegas, but it was nice enough. After cold rainy Seattle and freezing cold Ely, we were ready for some sunbathing and swimming pools.

That evening we walked around the strip a bit. Eventually we were hungry for dinner and felt like splurging on something a little nicer. We walked around and decided on Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Las Vegas casino hotel. It was packed even at 9:00 PM but we got on the waiting list and were seated at 9:30 outside. It was a warm night and the restaurant has a nice view of the Bellagio fountain show across the strip. I don’t recall everything we had but I do remember a very nice duck leg confit and a side of garlic spinach that were very tasty. I think Paddy had steak frites. It was all very good and we would definitely go back.

When we left the restaurant, it was already 11:00 PM and we had a tour planned for the next morning, so we headed back to the Orleans for a few more cheaper drinks before calling it a night.

 

Day 6:

One of our main priorities in Vegas was visiting the Neon Boneyard. We had to make tour reservations in advance as they can only take a certain amount of people per day and you can only visit on a guided tour. The Boneyard was definitely a top highlight of our trip. It is a where all the neon signs of Vegas go to die, and an amazing walk through the ghosts of Vegas past. Our tour guide gave us an informative tour of all the old signs and Las Vegas history. I would highly recommend booking a tour here.

That afternoon I really really wanted to see an Elvis inpersonator (it’s just so classic Vegas). Unfortunately, Elvis inpersonators are not as prevalent as in days past but I managed to find one free show with Big Elvis at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon on the strip (I believe he has now moved his show to Harrah’s).  We got to Bill’s and ordered some drinks, but unfortunately Big Elvis was out sick that night, so we got Chuck. Chuck looked much more like a Roy Orbison inpersonator but sang all Elvis songs. Honestly, the show would have been much better if he had just gone with a Roy Orbison routine. I was a little disappointed, but we still got a classic Vegas lounge act in and had fun.

Chuck the Elvis impersonator Las Vegas
Chuck the “Elvis Impersonator”

After the show, we split off from Heather and Stephen and went to Jubilee at Bally’s, which is one of the most classic Vegas shows there is. Lots of showgirls, feathers, glitter, and synchronized dancing. It was a great show. We had purchased some of the cheaper tickets and were on the isle. Shortly after the show began, we noticed the usher picking people off the isle to go down to some open seats in the front. He hadn’t picked us, so Paddy went and asked him if there were any front seats open that we could move to, and he found some for us.

**Tip: If you need to book a cheaper seat, book an isle seat and ask the usher if it might be possible to move to open front seats if available. You might get lucky like we did.

road trip 021

 

Day 7:

After four nights in Las Vegas, we were ready to leave and get back on the road. Vegas is fun, but it’s definitely an “in small doses” kind of a destination. I wouldn’t recommend more than 4 nights. The slot machine clanging and cigarette smoke get to you after awhile.

Our next destination was Beatty, Nevada near the California border to see some of Death Valley National Park.

map las vegas to beatty
Las Vegas to Beatty, NV

The drive to Beatty was only about an hour and a half from Las Vegas. We got into town and were ready for some lunch. Beatty is a tiny town so we just picked a spot on the main drag, KC’s Outpost Saloon and Sandwich Shop. We had some sandwiches at the bar and talked to the owners, who were very friendly. After that we were ready to check into our room.

We had reserved a room for the night at The Atomic Inn. The Atomic Inn was originally built to accommodate defense contractor and military personnel working at Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The new owners went with the atomic idea and renovated the place with a 1950’s atomic theme, complete with fake atomic bombs sticking out of the cactus garden out front and framed 1950’s and 1960’s magazine ads and paintings in the room. The guy at the front desk was very laid back and friendly. We had booked a standard room for $50.00 a night but were upgraded to a deluxe room at no extra charge. Our room had a fridge, coffee maker, microwave and a comfortable queen bed. There was also a selection of 1950’s B movies at the front desk that we could check out if we wanted.

The only negative thing about the room is that the walls are very thin, and the next morning we were awakened early by some very loud Russians in the room next door. The fact that we could figure out that they were speaking Russian should be a testament to how thin the walls are. It wasn’t a huge deal though, and I don’t know that the owners could really do anything to fix it.

After checking in and getting settled, it was time to go see some of Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is huge, and I’d love to see more of it from the west side on a California road trip someday. As it was, we had only one afternoon to explore from Beatty so we only made a few stops.

First we visited Rhyolite Ghost Town. This is the ghost town of an old mining settlement that was established in 1906 and was abandoned in 1916. It is technically outside of the park on the Nevada side, about 10 minutes from Beatty. In addition to the remains of the town, there is also a really awesome sculpture garden out in the middle of the desert in Rhyolite that is definitely worth a visit. Especially appropriate are the statues of ghosts, the larger ghost sculpture is supposed to be “The Last Supper.” The one with the bicycle was my favorite.