What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Las Vegas? For most, it’s the Vegas Strip and all of its razzle-dazzle. The casinos, world-class shows, 24-hour debauchery, and of course, the obligatory “Vegas, baby!” But for many, there’s a growing interest in “old Vegas.” Vintage Vegas. Plenty of it still exists, both on and off the Strip. So let’s scratch the flashy surface a bit and talk about how to spend 48 hours in vintage Vegas.
Despite day-trip-proximity to Sin City during our decades as Angelenos, we’d never really “done Vegas” just for fun. We’d both been there enough times – myself, performing with bands in and outside of city-proper, and Andie visiting a friend in one of the ‘burbs on occasion. But we never visited as tourists, so to speak. To be honest, we never felt like it was our vibe, so we simply never made it a priority. Since 2020, however, we’ve developed a whole new perspective on adventure-ing and started our YouTube channel and this blog. And this year, we decided to quit being snobs and go do Vegas! But we put our own spin on it, focusing on what we like to call “Vintage Vegas.”
The Flamingo is a Las Vegas icon, and was the impetus for turning our Vegas trip into a vintage Vegas trip. Smack dab in the heart of the action, the Flamingo is the oldest still-operating hotel on the Vegas Strip. In fact, it turned 75 in December of 2021. Often associated with the Rat Pack, Dean Martin was the only one of that group who ever headlined here. The Rat Pack typically headlined across the way at Caesar’s Palace and the Sands. Another famous feature of the hotel is its beautiful and relaxing habitat, filled with koi, ducks, turtles, pelicans, and of course, flamingos! With very reasonably priced Strip View rooms, we think the Flamingo is the perfect stay for your Vintage Vegas getaway.
Atomic Liquors isn’t just an old school bar, it’s a legit O.G.! Established in 1952 as a liquor store, it obtained the first liquor store license in Vegas. Next, Atomic purchased the liquor “pouring” license from a lounge that was closing in a downtown casino. This license made it the first freestanding bar in Las Vegas, since previously, all bars were within hotels and casinos. Thus, an entirely new type of liquor sale license was created called the “tavern license,” and Atomic Liquors was issued the first ever, #00001. In addition to its local clientele, Atomic was an under-the-radar haunt for celebrities like the Rat Pack, Barbara Streisand, and many others looking to knock a few back on the D.L.. It’s still a cool, no-frills hang with plenty of original decor and charm – including a safe on display that was discovered in the floorboards during its 2012 restoration!
Surely you must have heard of the “world famous” A Little White Wedding Chapel. If you haven’t, that’s not just a description, that’s its actual name. When you hear of people running off to Vegas for a quickie wedding, chances are it’s here. Its chapel and Drive-Thru Tunnel of Love – complete with a sweet vintage pink Cadillac – have been virtually synonymous with Las Vegas since 1951. You can even have “Elvis” officiate your wedding! Reportedly close to a million couples have tied the knot here, quite a few of which are famous. Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Patty Duke’s first and third weddings (where’d she have the second one done?), Judy Garland, Joan Collins, Paul Newman, Mickey Rooney (two times), and in more recent years, Brittney Spears and Michael Jordan – but not to each other. You should definitely head up north toward Downtown to check this place out!
North of the Strip in Downtown is where it all began. Fremont Street was the first paved road in Las Vegas in 1925 and received the city’s first traffic light in 1931. This is where some of the first casinos opened, like Binion’s Horseshoe, The Golden Nugget, 4 Queens, and the oldest still-standing – The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. Famous for block after block of iconic marquees and neon signs, this stretch became known as “Glitter Gulch.” It was permanently closed to traffic in 1994 to begin construction of the Fremont Street Experience. Its main attraction is an overhead canopy with multimedia light shows and zip lining, but some say the eclectic buskers and people-watching are the draw. For us, it’s the vintage charm of Fremont, like the many classic, famous casinos that remain. So, despite its modernization, Fremont Street should absolutely be on your vintage Vegas itinerary.
The Neon Museum is a must for every vintage Vegas itinerary. Ok, maybe we buried the lead on this one, but we kinda insist you go. It’s wonderful non-profit dedicated to preserving the cool Las Vegas history of neon. With over 150 signs in the “boneyard,” about 27 have been fully restored to their original form, lights and all. You can do a self-guided tour, but we recommend the guided group tour. In addition to getting to see these icons up close, the history of the signs and of the city itself is absolutely fascinating! Our favorite is Moulin Rouge. Enormous, with gorgeous, sexy lines, and a legendary history. It was designed by Betty Willis – a woman sign designer – which was virtually unheard of in the industry during this time.
Fun fact: Betty Willis also designed the iconic “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that we all know and love!
A favorite of celebs like Marilyn Monroe, Nat “King” Cole, The Rat Pack, Elvis Presley, and many others, the Golden Steer Steakhouse is a proper throwback to the golden era of vintage Vegas. Established in 1958 and located off the northern part of the Strip near The Sahara, this steakhouse is also known for its flaming table-side dessert shows. Perfect, because we’re vegetarians! We also have a serious sweet tooth, and needed to see where all the “cool cats and kittens” hung back in the day. Wouldn’t you know, we scored the Chairman of the board’s booth, Mr. Frank Sinatra himself! Realizing it was a bit more of a “fancy joint” than expected, we decided to order some proper food first. Not at all awkward, being vegetarians and all. It was excellent, but we really came for the dessert show. The Bananas Foster did not disappoint! “Fire.” Literally.
Additional Vintage Vegas Spots You Might Check Out
We ran out of time before getting to all of the spots we’d hoped to check out during our visit, but we’re keeping these on our list for next time. Here are a few more to consider for your trip!
- The Mob Museum – Organized crime played a huge part in vintage Vegas’ history. This non-profit’s mission is “to advance the public awareness of organized crime’s history and impact on American society.” It is four floors worth of mob and law enforcement artifacts and interactive exhibits, all housed in a restored 1933 former courthouse and post office building. How cool is that?
- Vintage Vegas – This funky antique store is so vintage it doesn’t even have a website. Its very sizable space is filled with furniture, home decor, signs, clothing, jewelry, and much more. A sign reading “dead people’s junk and cool crap” tells you they’re hip, too!
- Golden Gate Hotel and Casino – The Golden Gate Hotel Casino has seen it all throughout the years. Established in 1906 at 1 Fremont Street (how O.G. is that address?), it is beyond “vintage Vegas.” There’s a neat little “secret” feature somewhere inside – a built-in portal that shows the original hotel wall structure. Installed when the high limit area of the casino was being renovated, it’s a real look back into time. With lovely Art Deco touches throughout, the Golden Gate isn’t all “old.” Its hotel rooms are modern, and being located directly under the lights of the Fremont Street Experience, it is very much living in the present.
- Sigma Derby At the D – While you’re kicking around Fremont Street, stop by The D and head up to the second floor for a taste of 80s Vintage Vegas. The Sigma Derby is a beautifully constructed slot machine track game with 5 miniature mechanical horses and jockeys, and was a staple at most casinos back in the day. This is the only one left in the city and the main attraction at The D. Pick your horses, choose your odds, drop in a quarter, and start cheering! The table seats 10, so it’s the perfect if you’re hitting the town with a bunch of your friends.
If you’re looking for more itineraries, you should check out these posts: