Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Our Fremont Street Experience

Fremont Bokeh
There's a lot more to Las Vegas than the bright lights and crazy crowds of the Strip - an assertion I've tried to prove positive with my ramblings about finding amazing Thai food in a dodgy-strip mall, taking a walk down wedding chapel alley and exercising my taste buds in a Las Vegas pizza showdown. Of course, if there's any place as well-known and well-traveled as the Strip, it's Las Vegas' Fremont Street.

This part of old 'downtown' Las Vegas is actually much richer in history than the modern-day Strip. Fremont Street was home to the first Vegas hotel (the Hotel Nevada, now the Golden Gate, was built in 1906), the first Nevada gaming license (issued to the Northern Club, in 1931), the first high-rise (the Fremont Hotel, in 1956) and the first purpose-built casino (the Golden Nugget, in 1946).

Of course, Fremont street has changed greatly since the early days. As the focus of casino owners, and gamblers, shifted to the Strip, Fremont Street was increasingly forgotten. In an effort to inject new life into the area, the 'Fremont Street Experience' was conceived in the 1990s and opened in 1995. The main attraction of the Fremont Street Experience is a massive LED display canopy that stretches several blocks, from Main St. to Fourth St. In the evening, this canopy is set alight with amazing visual displays, set to music. The are also permanent stages for live performances, turing the whole area into a giant, nightly street fair.

I stayed in the Golden Nugget when I first visited Las Vegas, experiencing the storied Fremont Street atmosphere firsthand. On this past visit, Matt and I saved Fremont Street for our last night. The crowd is a little rougher (and sometimes stranger) than you'd usually see on the Strip, but we were lucky enough to arrive during an open-air concert, which was a fun experience. The light show is impressive, but my favorite part of Fremont Street is wandering through some of the older casinos. Fremont Street is also home to several iconic Las Vegas neon signs, like Vegas Vic (the famous, 50-foot tall winking cowboy) and the illuminated lamp from the former Aladdin casino, now Planet Hollywood.

Vegas Vic!

If vintage casinos and antique signs aren't your style, there are plenty of street performers and even a brand new zip-line that runs the length of the canopy. I'm not sure if this is going to be a permanent feature, but it seemed to be quite popular with the crowds. There are also street vendors, street artists and a wide variety of places to eat.  Matt and I watched an amazing spray paint artist before ducking into a little Asian restaurant just around the corner, where I enjoyed an excellent Pad See Ew.

Fremont Street may not have the scale of the Strip, but the crowds that gather beneath its high-tech canopy each evening are proof that it's every bit a popular, contemporary Las Vegas destination.

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