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Vegas reborn: the revitalisation of the North Strip and Downtown Las Vegas
First things first: no, Las Vegas doesn’t begin and end with its infamous Strip. Enticing, casino-packed, and neon-lit as it may be, the Strip is only one part of this city’s urban buzz. And for those looking to explore a different side of Sin City, there’s never been a better time to visit.
Take Downtown Las Vegas. Located northeast of the Strip, the area is host to a flourishing Arts District, has seen the launch of many leading restaurants, and has established itself as a new cultural nexus in Vegas. And then there’s the North Strip, which, after years of being considered a veritable no-man’s-land, is seeing new stirrings of life. Once you’ve logged the requisite time admiring the Strip’s sights, then, be sure to explore Vegas’s other corners. There’s a whole different side of this city to get acquainted with.
The New North Strip
For a long time, the North Strip — the stretch that runs between Convention Center Drive up past Sahara Avenue — was considered something of a wasteland. It didn’t help that, during the recession, the construction of two sprawling new casino projects along the North Strip (the Echelon and the Fontainebleau) was permanently halted.
Fast forward to the present, when all that is staring to change — particularly with the arrival of the swanky SLS Las Vegas in 2014. A harbinger for the area’s growth, the SLS began life as a 1950s-era casino known as The Sahara; after an extensive renovation, the landmark was reopened with plenty of draws. Like its top-chef run restaurants (José Andrés and Katsuya Uechi both manage eateries on-site), revamped guestrooms and swanky pool parties. A recent partnership with the W and Marriot International are further contributing to its destination status.
And then there’s the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, the huge, open-air venue at the corner of the Strip and Sahara Ave. In 2015, it hosted the first stateside edition of the Brazilian Rock in Rio Festival, which featured headliners like Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars, and in 2016 it was the location for ACM’s Party for a Cause country music festival.
And coming up next? The construction of the colossal new Resorts World Las Vegas on the old Echelon site, predicted to open in 2019, promises future growth, while a projected expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center should see more business traffic in the area, too. It all points to a very rosy future for this once struggling stretch of the city.
The Renaissance of Downtown Las Vegas
For an even more thriving scene, it’s but a quick dash over to Downtown Las Vegas – where, beyond the glitz and energy of the Strip, an arts district, quirky venues, and trek-worthy restaurants are calling visitors ever northwards.
For explorers keen to discover the city’s artiest addresses, the best place to begin is the Las Vegas Arts District. Also known as 18b (named in honour of the 18 blocks that formed the district’s originally boundaries), the neighbourhood has expanded since its founding in the 1990s, and is now home to dozens of galleries, restaurants, art events, shopping destinations and other cultural draws.
Begin your 18b explorations at the Arts Factory — a restored warehouse of art — to peruse, purchase, and otherwise admire. A number of galleries both classic and contemporary occupy the space, and artist studios are also housed within. Alongside the makers and sellers on-site, the Arts Factory also hosts regular events ranging from concerts and poetry readings to life drawing classes.
If you time your visit right, you may just be able to take part in one of the city’s top art events. The district’s First Friday events are held, yes, on the first Friday of every month; each installment draws approximately 20,000 local and visiting art lovers to tour its galleries, which remain open after-hours and serve up hors d’oeuvres and wine alongside the visual displays. But even if your travels don’t coincide, the First Street Art Trail provides amblers with a tour of the area’s public artworks.
Enlivened Downtown Vegas hosts a number of new addresses that are catnip for the city’s hipper set. Like the Downtown Container Park, located on Fremont Street, one of the area’s main commercial arteries. A shopping centre composed of upcycled shipping containers, it’s host to a medley of fashion boutiques, galleries, restaurants, home décor outlets and other specialty shops.
Speaking of restaurants: while Vegas’s casino colossuses are host to many of the city’s most high-flying, name-brand restaurants, those after something a bit more relaxed — but no less delicious — would do well to go on a culinary wander of Downtown Las Vegas. One of the highlights of the newest generation of eateries is Carson Kitchen, which turns out a variety of edgy plates – think cocoa-espresso strip steak, gyro tacos, and strawberry salad. For top-notch casual dining, eat. Chef Natalie Young has also attracted plaudits – her comfort food staples like shrimp and grits with over-easy eggs, a truffled egg sandwich, and killer grilled cheese are well worth the indulgence.
Beyond the galleries, culture vultures have more to explore in Downtown Las Vegas, too. Several museums are neighbourhood musts: The Mob Museum turns its focus to American history’s seedy underbelly, while The Neon Museum canonises the city’s iconic signs in its outdoor Neon Boneyard exhibition space. For an evening out, meanwhile, the Inspire Theatre hosts comedy shows, movie screenings, live musical and theatrical events.
On your next trip, then, get your dose of the Strip – but don’t let that be where your holiday ends. From the revitalised North Strip to flourishing Downtown Las Vegas, there’s simply so much more to see.
Written by Claire Bullen