In an era where developers tend to implode tired structures to make way for flashier “new and improved” versions, Downtown Las Vegas has wagered that preservation and renovation may be a better bet. On a recent visit to the Fremont Street Experience where throngs of visitors were partying like rock stars, we’d say it’s a bet that’s paying off.
The Golden Gate, Plaza, Golden Nugget and El Cortez have been pivotal players in a Downtown revival that extends far beyond their swanky hotel and casino makeovers. During the past few years, the neighborhood has seen the opening of Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Mob Museum, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Downtown3rd Farmer’s Market, a new city hall and an 800-ft.-long zip-line.
Anchoring the west end of the Fremont Street Experience is Golden Gate, the iconic fixture that pioneered Glitter Gulch development more than a century ago. Founded in 1906 on “poker chips, whiskey and wild women,” Las Vegas’ original casino has undergone a handful of remodels and name changes. But a recently completed expansion is its first in more than 50 years.
A 1960s hangout for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and their Rat Pack cronies, the landmark has maintained its authentic Vegas vibe while tacking on a 35,000-sq.-ft., 5-story tower with 16 luxury suites—including a pair of 1,600-sq.-ft. high-roller penthouses encompassing the entire fifth floor.
“Finding the right partners to restore this authentic property to first class status made it possible for us to be a major part of the Downtown Las Vegas renaissance,” says Mark Brandenburg, president and co-owner. His Golden Gate partners, brothers Derek and Greg Stevens, own nearby Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel, which is undergoing a $15 million renovation and rebranding as the D Las Vegas.
“The fact that we’re the oldest hotel in Las Vegas gives us a certain mystique,” says Brandenburg. “So we designed this expansion and renovation to encompass influences from the city’s origins to contemporary times. It lets us preserve our unique history with a cutting-edge attitude.”
The boutique hotel has also remodeled its 106 standard guestrooms, merging vintage Las Vegas ambiance with modern amenities like pillow-top mattresses, Keurig coffee makers, flat-screen TVs, safes and iPod docking stations.
In the suite tower, 500-sq.-ft. accommodations integrate art deco influences, pinstriped carpeting and further tributes to the perpetually cool Rat Pack. Warm shades of burgundy and brown accent the dark wood credenza, dresser and workspace. With vintage black-and-white photography dramatically punctuating a bold burgundy wall, the living area is furnished with a sectional sofa hiding a queen sofa bed. The California king bed extends the theme with its dark brown headboard and burgundy accent pillows.
A bit more exposed than typical, the bathroom space incorporates stylish touches that still deliver privacy. Both the rainfall shower and water closet are hidden behind heavy-duty, contemporary frosted doors. Adjacent to the vanity is a marble countertop shelving area where ample towels are tucked away.
WiFi is available in guestrooms and in the small, clutter-free lobby where the reception wall is bare expect for the word “HOTEL” illuminated in light bulbs—in much the same style as when the property first opened its doors.
Retaining dark interiors reminiscent of early-20th century San Francisco, it appeases history buffs with a glass display case beaming with original gaming ledgers and guest registers from 1906, as well a 1906 Kellogg telephone. As Las Vegas’ first, it was appropriately issued the telephone number “1.”
Brandenburg is especially pleased with the casino’s new high-limit gaming area, credit program and higher table limits. With a more exclusive, intimate feel, the three-table gaming pit is elevated just a few feet above the adjacent casino floor. So it opens to gawking at gaming revelers and Golden Gate’s signature dancing dealers who are a modern throw back to Roaring 20s flappers.
“People tend to label Downtown as being budget,” says Brandenburg. “At the Golden Gate, we have always appealed to the mid-market. But our new high-limit area opens us up to high-end players looking for that boutique-style experience they might miss elsewhere.”
Expanded to 10,000 sq. ft., the casino hits gamers with blackjack, craps, pai gow poker, let it ride, three card poker, ultimate Texas hold ‘em, roulette, and over 350 slot and video poker machines.