The title is a literal statement. The iconic Strip, the first thing people think of when talking about Las Vegas, is not actually Las Vegas. Its location is unincorporated Clark County. The only Strip hotel in the actual City of Las Vegas is the Stratosphere, which became an instant landmark and was under construction when I moved here in February of 1994. “The City” doesn’t begin on Las Vegas Boulevard (“The Strip”) until Sahara Avenue.
The first Strip hotel casino was El Rancho Vegas, built in 1941 by hotelier Thomas Hull. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegal’s Flamingo – the first hotel casino to demonstrate the growing influence of “the mob” on the Vegas gambling industry – didn’t appear until nearly seven years later.
So if the Strip isn’t Vegas, then what is Vegas?
Welcome to Fremont Street, where the first casino, the Northern Club, appeared a full 16 years before the Flamingo, and which was the genesis of the legal gambling culture in Las Vegas. The Northern Club wasn’t the first casino in Nevada; it opened on the same day as The Bank Club in Reno, the day after open gambling was legalized in Nevada.
By the way, because of PR, appearances, or whatever reason, “gambling” is no longer used. “Gaming” is the PC term that replaced it some time ago, although when I hear gaming, I think video as in Mortal Kombat. (is that still around?)
But I digress.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a wine tasting event (review here) at one of my favorite downtown locations. I began taking photos and realized that it had been a while since I’d been downtown just to mosey. So that’s what I did!
Fremont Street is in the city of Las Vegas, whereas with the exception of the Stratosphere, all of the Strip casinos are in Clark County. Oddly, the Clark County Government Center, the county seat, is located in the city of Las Vegas.
The “Fremont Street Experience” is the lighted, musical canopy that covers Fremont Street. It was built in 1994 and spans the length two miles from Main Street (yes, there’s a Main Street in Vegas) to Las Vegas Boulevard where Fremont Street East begins. It’s about 90 feet tall at the peak and has nighttime six-minute shows every hour(ish) or so. Before it became a stage, it was a cruising street for local teens who would drive up and down the street. Have you ever seen
There is a constant stream of street performers, kiosks, creative beggars, artists, the occasional political protest, and the ever present pervs.
Charging for parking has always been a downtown thing, but because the city has always been a lot more compact than the Strip, it was accepted as a part of visiting the area. However, several casinos have free parking for locals or free parking if the parking receipt gets validated at the cashier. With the singular exception of the Downtown Grand where I couldn’t find any locals information, the parking fees are pretty reasonable.
The only place to purchase Las Vegas souvenirs is downtown. There’s a variety of souvenir shops all along the length of Fremont and any number of kiosks. The prices and variety of Vegas trinkets cover all budgets and tastes. Yes, there are souvenir places on the Strip, but the best (and arguably cheapest) stores are downtown.
Because of a software glitch, I haven’t completed my slideshow for this post. They’re mostly iPhone photos, but I’m planning in-depth coverage of many casinos and other attractions when I get my real camera. Trust me!