While many places claim to be 24-hour cities, that usually just means five percent of their pizza places stay open until 4 AM. Thanks to Las Vegas's architects utilizing psychological tricks to make you forget that reality exists, local liquor laws allowing alcohol purchases at all hours, and the brutal desert heat turning everyone into vampires, it truly is a city that never sleeps.While Sin City is known for the extreme, relentless tourism of the Strip, there's plenty of action going on beyond that: Vegas has everything from a newly revitalized downtown area to weirdo strip malls to get you through the night.
Crystals, the Strip's high-end mall with an exterior designed by Daniel Libeskind, happens to house James Turrell's art installation Akhob. Turn up at Louis Vuitton and you will be greeted by an attendant on the lower floor who will escort you upstairs to experience one of Turrell's trademark Ganzfeld—a term coined by psychologists to describe "total loss of depth perception as in the experience of a white-out." Once inside, you'll hallucinate inside immersive fields of color provided by 900 LED lights. It's disorienting, more than a little transcendent, and free, but book well in advance (at least a month ahead of your trip) by calling 702-730-3150.
SIMULATED LEVITATION AT AKHOB
More to do nearby: If you can't get into Akhob, look for the less cloistered, back-up Turrell installation on Platform 1 of the Crystals tram station, which is well worth a look. For a mindblowing view of the city as night sets in, head up to the bar at the obscenely swank Mandarin Oriental, or take the tram to the Monte Carlo and wander over to the chill outdoor scene at The Park. While there's no good walkable way to get from one property to another on the Strip, you can use the trams and air-conditioned walkways between casinos to navigate clusters like this one.
Get a ride to the northern edge of the Strip for arguably the best Thai restaurant in the country and Vegas locals' favorite. Buried in an aggressively nondescript strip mall, Lotus of Siam serves up authentic northern Thai food from chef Saipin Chutima to a city that has never particularly cared for authenticity. Start with an appetizer of nam kao tod, a plate of crispy fried rice with little cubes of raw cured pork sausage, herbs, and tangy lime. Then go all in for the khao soi, a curry dish with meats like duck or short ribs floating atop a bed of egg noodles in a delicate coconut sauce. Whatever you do, don't leave until you've had a couple of big bottles of lager and the coconut ice cream sticky rice.
PRE-GAME DRINKS AND DINNER AT LOTUS OF SIAM
11 PM–2 AM
Yes, it's over the top. But this is Vegas so you might as well prepare to drop some significant cash on subpar drinks and get into the hedonistic insanity that very likely includes a jump in a glowing blue pool full of inflatables and spilled drinks. Of all the Vegas pool party spots, Drai's, perched at the top of the Cromwell Hotel, easily claims the most mesmerizing nighttime views of the Strip. Don't want to swim? Join the throngs of beautiful people on the dance floor or weasel your way into Drai's Nightclub next door for a summer lineup that includes Method Man, Wiz Khalifa, and Lil Wayne.
NIGHTFALL POOL PARTY AT DRAI'S BEACH CLUB
More to do nearby: It's worth a cab ride to get to the top of the Stratosphere, the high point of the Strip. Looking for something other than booze at this point? Head over to the El Dorado Cantina, which shares a wall with a strip club and serves award-winning Mexican food.
By now, if you are vaguely human, you're going to want to get off-strip. Drinking at Frankie's is like stumbling into the secret bar you wish your grandfather had built in the basement in the 1950s. Neon blowfish dangle from the ceiling while TVs alternate between classic surf footage and vintage punk and new wave videos (Sid Vicious singing "My Way" is a welcome favorite). Owner P Moss, patron of the Las Vegas punk scene, is also a mystery writer, member of the band Bloodcocks UK, and inventor of the bacon martini. On a hot night, order the Scurvy, a potent mix of a few kinds of rum, coconut, and citrus, or the Bearded Clam, a passion fruit mojito, both of which come in a grimacing tiki mug you can take home as a souvenir.
COCKTAILS AT FRANKIE'S TIKI ROOM
More to do nearby: Arty types flock to Vegas's revitalized downtown at night. Get to Atomic Liquors just before closing to hang out in a bar where happy locals and tourists gathered in the 1950s to watch mushroom clouds forming on the horizon after nuclear weapons tests. Not far away, Commonwealth has a rooftop bar with dangling patio lights and a top-secret speakeasy, the Laundry Room, where you have to text a special number to get in the door. Send as eloquent a request as you can manage to 702-701-1466.
For the Bloody Mary, hearty portions, and flaming fire pit alone, this 70s throwback just north of the Encore at Wynn is hands down the cult-favorite breakfast in town. Head for the lounge, where everything is lit in electric pink and blue hues (somehow this makes everyone look fuckable, even the most hungover of souls, yourself included). Locals swear by the French toast ambrosia in particular. A good thing to split less than ten ways is the ten-egg omelet. If you're not in the mood for a Mary yet, try the signature house cocktail, the Scorpion, a 64-ounce behemoth complete with an oversized straw that reaches from the table to your mouth as you recline on plush pink cushions.
ELECTRIC BREAKFAST AT THE PEPPERMILL
More to do nearby: Speaking of the Wynn, if you're in the mood for the quintessential bottomless buffet Vegas experience, the hotel's rendition features, among hundreds of other unnecessary dishes, spaghetti supposedly made from Frank Sinatra's family recipe. You could also hit Pub 1842 inside the MGM Grand for the brisket benedict. Better yet, get a ride to the old Eureka Casino and tuck into the pork belly benedict at Fat Choy, a locally beloved Asian diner that started as a bao shop inside a hair salon in 2011.
Get some perspective before you call it a morning by hopping in a car and finding your way to Lone Mountain, about 20 minutes northwest of the Strip, at the end of Vegas Vista Trail. Walk off your buzz with a mini-hike up this peak. (It's a steep climb at points, and a bit of a scramble, so you may need to go back to your room to pick up comfortable shoes beforehand.) You'll pass little spherical cacti and tiny flowers on your way to the top. A bench with a pristine view of the Strip awaits. From here, it all looks tiny. What was overwhelming hours ago is now just a distant glow on the horizon. Vegas is a city that plays with your senses, but up here in the Mojave Desert in the early-dawn warmth, you might just feel like you finally know exactly where you are.
SUNRISE AND WILDFLOWERS AT LONE MOUNTAIN
All photos by Luther Redd.