The VICE Guide to Las Vegas
Get off the Strip! Let our guide steer you to all the great places to eat, drink, and shop in Sin City.
All photos Chris Carmichael
There's an expression in Vegas that the locals love to drop: "This town wasn't built on winners." There's some truth to it. As one of the largest tourist destinations, not just in America, but in THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD, Sin City has perfected the art of keeping people happy and entertained while ripping holes in their pockets.
But here's the thing. Most of you are in town for a bachelor/ette party. Or a wedding. Or your best friend's 21st birthday party. You'll be blackout drunk within the first three hours you arrive on the Strip, and you'll stay that way until you leave three days later. You'll lose money, then win some, then lose it all again, all while throwing shade at the one friend in your group who hit it big and responsibly cashed out and never touched the slots again. You won't remember where you ate or the clubs you hit up or the lap dance from Destiny at the strip club because Vegas has a tendency to blur together in the 24/7 madness. And you'll love every minute of it—even the part where you found yourself sobering up in the horror that is Circus Circus—because VEGAS, BABY!
During its days of glory, Las Vegas was where the OG panty droppers went to spend money, chill with their mafia pals, and sometimes sing a song or two. The Rat Pack, Elvis, Tom Jones—all those guys lived that cool AF Ocean's Eleven life. These days, you've got Britney Spears, Celine Dion, and an endless crew of corny magicians running the Strip. Not gonna hate on Cirque du Soleil, though. Those mofos are mad athletic.
It's not all bad. There's still good music and delicious restaurants. The best DJs in the world stop by nightly. And there are worse things to do at 10:30 AM than hitting up a pool party. But if you want to get to know the REAL Vegas, the one with the growing hip-hop scene, restaurants owned by locals, and some damn fine desert and mountain scenery, you might have to venture AWAY from the Strip once in awhile. But don't worry. We'll hold your hand the whole way.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
You may have noticed that in some of our other city guides, we've referenced "neighborhoods we like." Vegas doesn't quite work like other cities. Try asking a local where they live. They'll rarely give you a neighborhood or town. The response will either be cross streets or a compassed version of the city ("I live in North LV."). Away from the Strip, Las Vegas is extremely spread out and development is always stopping and starting, creating new residential zones. For the purposes of this guide, these are the places you should know.
The Las Vegas Strip, aka the Strip
When you think of Vegas or watch movies about Vegas, this is where it all happens. All the major hotels, restaurants, casinos, etc. are situated along or (important to note) just off Las Vegas Boulevard. For example, the Palms and Hard Rock are not on Las Vegas Boulevard, but are often still referred to as being on the Strip. But we're about to blow your mind, because...
THE STRIP IS NOT ACTUALLY IN LAS VEGAS.
It's technically south of the city limits in the towns of Paradise and Winchester. But remember that thing above about neighborhoods/towns not really being a thing? There you go.
A couple warnings about the Strip. First, if you happen to be sober and out-and-about during the day, it's a complete eyesore. The buildings look sad in the sunlight, and the surrounding brown and orange hues will be an aggressive reminder that you're in the desert. But damn, when that town lights up at night, people flip their shit. If your flight comes in after dark, you'll definitely want a window seat.
Second, the Strip is much longer than you think. Depending on your source, it runs between 4.2 and 4.5 miles. Not blocks. MILES. Think about that when you decide to wear your highest, most uncomfortable shoes for a night of casino and club hopping. Nothing will be as close as you want it to be. Just getting from one end of your hotel to the other can take 20 minutes. Please don't be gross and start walking around barefoot. You will step in things that will give you nightmares for years. Go to the nearest pharmacy and buy those cheap flats that fold up and fit in a clutch.
The airport, UNLV, and most of the Strip is in this "town." You will likely go your entire stay without ever hearing the word "Paradise," but if you do, this is what's being referred to.
Fremont/ The Arts District/ Downtown Las Vegas
The original Vegas. Fremont Street houses some of the classic casinos, most of which have seen better days. In recent years, efforts have been put into revitalizing the area. Most of that is thanks to a huge investment from Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, and the Downtown Project. Despite some backlash in the last couple years, it's difficult to deny the impact the change has had for the people of Las Vegas. A good chunk of the new businesses that have sprung up are owned by locals instead of huge corporations, and enjoying a night out won't break the bank. Yes, you'll still find meth heads wandering the streets (and occasionally trying to break into your car), but you'll also find delicious food, the best of the LV music scene, and a community of old and new artists.
Like most large cities, Las Vegas has its own Chinatown. Unlike most large cities, the name is misleading. Businesses are just as likely to be run by Japanese/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean/Mexican people as they are by Chinese locals. The area is made up of shopping centers where the traditional unattractive strip mall architecture is sometimes embellished with Asian touches, but make no mistake, good eats abound.
Better known to locals as "gaming." Gaming, like the quickie divorce, has been legal in Vegas since 1931. You need to be 21 to play. People visit from abroad, especially Europe, and are surprised they can't gamble at 18. If you're underage, you will be booted.
Locals are known to partake in gaming as much as tourists. It's not unusual for someone to say, "I want to party hard tonight. Let's see if we can win the money we need to have a good time" and then hit up the nearest gaming spot for some slots or sports betting (way more fun if your team is in the game). Counterintuitive, we know, but it's been an effective strategy for the legal-aged youth of Las Vegas.
If you hit it big, there are a couple things you should know. First, if it's a non-table game (slots, keno, etc.), you will be forced to pay taxes on it, so expect some paperwork. Second, if you're playing in a bar or anywhere where the serving staff has been attentive, it's customary to leave a large tip in line with how much you've won. Don't be a dick.
We can sit here and recommend one casino over another, but in reality, luck is luck. Whether you're hitting the slots at the airport, in a CVS (because that's a thing), at the Bellagio, or at a rundown Station Casino, may the odds be ever in your favor.
Prostitution is legal in Vegas, right? Let's live out our Godfather dreams and order a bunch of hookers and do blow all night!
Prostitution is technically illegal in Clark County, which is where Las Vegas is located. There are legally operating and highly regulated brothels in Nevada, including the famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch, but be prepared to drive way outside the city. So if you accept a solicitation from that lady subtly-not-so-subtly roaming Las Vegas Boulevard telling everyone it's cool because it's legal, don't be surprised if there are consequences beyond just an STD.
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