Las Vegas: high stakes, low prices, neon lights

Las Vegas: high stakes, low prices, neon lights

TONY CLAYTON-LEA gives his top tips for a visit to Las Vegas

Luxor Hotel


The first thing to know about hotels in Las Vegas is how cheap (not just reasonable, but cheap) they can be. Booking Monday-Thursday always helps, of course, but sometimes even weekends or five-day stays can be a good look for the pocket. The second thing to know about hotels in Las Vegas is that many of them on the Strip, and ever so slightly off it, are MASSIVE. We are talking about thousands of rooms (the hotel we stayed in, Luxor Las Vegas, has almost 4,500 rooms), which is why the cost of staying there can be relatively inexpensive. We paid about $65 (around £50) per night, and that included the nightly resort hotel tax.


The primary area for gambling is the Strip, which has the largest hub of hotels within the smallest area. With rare exceptions (notably the Waldorf Astoria), every hotel has their own casino. As the city contains the largest number of the world’s land-based casinos, avoiding the relentlessness of the ping-ping-ping machines, the blackjack, poker and roulette tables, and the cigarette smoke is impossible. The Strip casinos have a reasonable sense of respect, at least – the gambling joints we ventured into on the ‘Old Vegas’ Fremont Street locale had gyrating go-go dancers (none of which were male) on the tables. We’re not judging, just observing!

The Sphere


At a cost of $2.3 billion, the globe, which so far is being utilised as a music venue, although movies will also be shown is the most expensive entertainment spot ever built in Las Vegas. U2 have just finished their ‘residency’ there. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Sphere is its exterior, which features 580,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art LED display space, upon which can be displayed, well, pretty much anything.


Away from the glitziness of the Strip is this little gem of a rain-or-shine open air warehouse for previously used and/or rescued neon signs from the city’s hotels, restaurants, casinos, and other establishments. Founded in 1996, this non-profit organisation’s site contains more than 250 signs, some of which have been restored to their former day-glo glory and some of which silently wait for their turn in the spotlight. What is especially good about this museum is the signs, be they restored or not, have a unique story: the people that created them, where and when they were made, and the part they played in the city’s singular history.


They call it ‘Old Vegas’ and that’s exactly what it was back in the 1930s, when its in-situ Northern Club received one of the first of six gambling licences issued in the state of Nevada. The western end of Fremont Street came to represent the public perception of the so-called Sin City atmosphere with enough flashing lights and neon signs to earn it the nickname of Glitter Gulch. These days, Fremont Street is now part and parcel of the Fremont Street Experience, which is a tourist-friendly pedestrian mall covered by a 1,000ft-plus canopy, teeming with street performers. It’s noisy, vibrant, and equal parts high wire fun and low rent vibes.

The Mob Museum

Ha! Who would have thought that the Mob Museum is governed by a non-profit board? Now open just over 12 years, this intriguing place is – no surprises – dedicated to featuring the background and artefacts of organised crime in the U.S. Yes, the Irish feature significantly in the history and development of it, as do Italians, but how the connections are joined and then severed are fascinating.

Border Grill specialty


Honestly, where on earth do you start? There are over 4,000 restaurants in Las Vegas (not just in the city), and quite a number of these aren’t necessarily for residents but for the throngs of tourists that flock here. Every hotel/casino has their own eateries, with some having at least six places to rest your weary bones and replenish. Quite a few restaurants also trade under exclusive ‘name’ brands (Gordon Ramsey has six – yes, six! – restaurants here), while too many on the Strip offer pizzazz (not pizzas) gone mad. Our best reasonably priced meals over five days were brunch in the likes of Border Grill (at the Mandalay Bay Hotel) and Broken Yolk (close to the Harry Reid Airport). Decent food at decent prices? Don’t get me started on paying $20-plus for a glass of wine!


Similar to restaurants, there is no end of shopping if you’re that way inclined, and once again, all of the major hotels have their own shopping malls (the Bellagio hotel has an eye-watering array of shops that want to sell you products from Prada, Gucci, Tiffany, and so on). If you’re on a budget, however, then you might want to visit the Premium Outlets a short distance outside each end of the Strip. North Premium Outlets are pricier (Versace, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, and so on), while South Premium Outlets is the better option for money conscious shoppers (including Adidas, Levi’s, Banana Republic, Nike, Calvin Klein, Samsonite, and North Face). A pair of Levis for $60? Don’t mind if I do, thanks…


In many cities, especially in Europe, city centres are reasonably compact and often reasonably accessible on foot. Pretty much everywhere we wanted to go in Las Vegas, however, necessitated the need for a taxi or Uber ride. The latter is by far the cheaper option, and once the Uber app is downloaded onto your smartphone, ease of access – as well as 100 per cent efficiency – is yours for a fistful of dollars (payable via the app, of course).

Bellagio Bar


Five days and nights of the Strip, the hotels, the casinos, and the general noisy, crowded hustle and bustle atmosphere of Las Vegas is enough to make you want to lie down in a quiet room for a while, so be thankful for the few places in the city that can actually bring down your heart rate. One of these is the 24/7 Piano Bar (aka the Petrossian Lounge) at The Bellagio, from where you can listen to crooner standards and gentle classical pieces as you sip a Brandy Alexander and gaze in wonder at the Dale Chihuly ceiling. In a word? Sublime.