Downtown Las Vegas is playing host to the first self-driving, autonomous shuttle to be deployed on a public roadway in the U.S. And it’s adorable.
Driving is so 2014.
The autonomous shuttle will take guests up and down Fremont Street, between Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes and the Downtown Container Park for a couple of weeks. It’s free, and it’s fun.
If you’re not familiar with the Fremont East district, we’ve got this.
Here’s a video we shot of the driverless vehicle, including a couple of times when we foolishly jumped in front of the thing. Somebody had to.
The shuttle’s pilot program in downtown Las Vegas is a partnership between the City of Las Vegas and two companies, Navya (the tech company that developed the shuttle) and Keolis (a public transportation company that sounds like a character from “Lord of the Rings”).
The first of such self-driving shuttles debuted in the streets of Sion, Switzerland in 2015. This is much more exciting, because Las Vegas.
Clean, spacious and welcoming. So, the opposite of existing public transportation.
The shuttle is battery-operated and can carry about 15 people (four standing), and there’s an attendant from Navya onboard at all times. The vehicle’s top speed is 28 m.p.h., but operates at 15 m.p.h. So, yeah, sit back and enjoy the three minute ride.
Don’t worry about motion sickness on a self-driving shuttle, as that would require motion. We kid. There are occasionally sudden stops, so we recommend you make the trip sitting down.
The self-driving shuttles rely on advanced technology to work safely, including something called “LIDAR.” LIDAR stands for “Light Detection and Ranging,” although it would be much funnier if it stood for “the means through which your significant other can tell if you’re cheating on them.”
Pick-ups and drop-offs happen at these signs, which you’ll get to know intimately if you’re someone who texts while they walk.
The public will be able to ride the free shuttle through Jan. 20, 2017. It operates from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
One would hope the courtship between Navya and the City of Las Vegas will flourish to the point where driverless shuttles could zig-zag throughout downtown, perhaps even extending their reach to The Strip. This, of course, involves a significant investment in infrastructure, so it’ll never happen. Which thrills the pigeons no end.
Two curiosities in downtown Las Vegas, vintage train cars used by the likes of Teddy
Roosevelt, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill, have been relocated to Ely, Nevada.
The train cars, named The Blackhawk and The Cascade, were included in the sale of a parcel
of land located between Main Street Station and the Plaza. The land was purchased by Derek
and Greg Stevens (owners of The D and Golden Gate) from Boyd Gaming for $7.5 million. Learn more.
We were surprised to see the trains sat on tracks below street level. We were even more surprised we got up this early to take photos of train cars.
We chatted up our friend and V.P. of Operations for The D Las Vegas, Jeff Victor, to find
out more about the sale and relocation of the trains. Mainly because we have no life and
consider such things wildly fascinating.
Victor says the company was initially surprised to learn the trains had been included in
the land sale. The Stevens brothers asked Boyd (owners of the Main Street Station casino)
when the trains would be moved, and only then were they informed the trains were part of
what they’d acquired.
The train cars had originally come from Colorado, and were restored by John Small at the behest of Florida developer Bob Snow. Snow estimated the value of the train cars at $250,000 each.
Buffalo Bill Cody used The Blackhawk to travel with his Wild West Show from 1906 until his death in 1917.
The announcement the classic train cars were for sale set off a bidding war. Snow showed
interest in the cars, and the town of Caliente, Nevada was also in the running for
possession of the rolling pieces of Americana.
Some bidders were deterred by the cost of transporting the cars, estimated to be about
That’s “Colorado Midland Private Car #100” for the train nerds. You know who you are.
Ultimately, the cars were sold to a waste and recycling firm, Western Elite. The company
is expected to feature the vintage train cars in its annual Christmas Express (also called
the Western Elite Polar Express).
Christmas Express is a community outreach event where guests ride train cars towed by
diesel trucks. You know, the rural version of a thrill ride.
The vintage trains at Main Street Station have found a new home in Ely, Nevada. All’s weld that ends weld.
So, while it’s sad to see the train cars go, there’s some consolation in the fact they’ll
be back in action and enjoyed by families in Ely. It’s pronounced “EE-lee,” by the way.
Yes, we asked how much the train cars sold for, but the answer isn’t straightforward. It
wasn’t a completely cash transaction. The deal included trade for waste disposal services,
which makes sense given the fact the Stevens brothers will be in construction mode on
their new resort, currently called 18 Fremont (formerly the Las Vegas Club).
Roof parts. We trust these made their way to a big-ass recycle bin.
We’ve learned exclusively that before the trains were taken to Ely, they served as a location for an upcoming episode of “Pawn Stars.” Derek Stevens will presumably be shown haggling over the train cars with experts from the Las Vegas-based reality show. No deal could be struck, hence the sale to the company in Ely.
Here’s a look at the parcel of land in question, as well as the trains before their move.
We’ve been asked how the nearby casino can be called Main Street Station if there are no longer trains involved. Well, there are two train cars at Main Street Station, the Louisa May Alcott Pullman car and another called Orlando Dawn. Feel free to use that information to win a bar bet someday.
Enjoy more photos of the vintage train cars being removed from downtown’s Main Street Station, and thanks to Jeff Victor for keeping our story on track.
Way back in Jan. 2016, we caught wind of a new bar coming to El Cortez, the classic hotel on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.
At last, the hotel’s current casino bar has been closed and Imbibe bar is in the works.
Yes, even if it’s just a curtain, it qualifies as a security breach. You’re quite the stickler, aren’t you?
The hotel has made no official announcement about the bar, it’s closure, any expansion
or even the bar’s name. Just go with it, anyway.
Naturally, we had to peek behind the drapes to see what’s up inside.
The future home of Captain Morgan spiced rum and possibly other kinds of liquor we care much less about.
Presumably, the new Imbibe bar will try to appeal to a younger crowd. From what we hear, there’s already a strong millennial presence on Fridays and Saturdays. El Cortez benefits from all the surrounding restaurants and bars (think Gold Spike and Commonwealth) in the Fremont East District.
Staffers say not only is the bar being renovated, but it’s expanding beyond the current casino bar’s footprint, and could potentially swallow the area where the keno parlor resides. (The keno desk would then be relocated to the hotel’s sports book area.)
Cornhole and foosball in 3…2…
We’ll keep an eye on the new bar at El Cortez, of course, but in the meantime, you’ll want to take advantage of a new promotion at the historic casino.
Here’s a thingy because we’re too drunk to relay the details.
We refuse to do math unless it directly benefits us. This is that.
So, that’s cool, right? You’re making a withdrawal from the ATM, anyway, so why not get some free slot play?
Once you make your ATM withdrawal, head to the casino cage. There, you’ll be given a certificate for free play. Take the certificate to the loyalty club desk, and the free play is put on your club card.
Vast fortunes have been won in Las Vegas with $15. Actual results may vary.
Now, win something and stick it to The Man. Winning with free play is even sweeter than the regular kind of winning, promise.
Nobody saw this one coming, but the former Pete Rose Bar & Grill on the Las Vegas Strip will soon be replaced by Heart Attack Grill.
The Pete Rose Sports Bar & Grill opened in Oct. 2015, but struggled almost immediately. In Aug. 2016, Rose’s name was unceremoniously removed from the restaurant’s signage, and business ties with the slugger were severed.
The restaurant was stripped of its baseball theme and continued to flounder, until finally being euthanized this week.
Easiest “Wheel of Fortune” puzzle, ever.
The new Heart Attack Grill, located in the Hawaiian Marketplace shopping complex, near the closed Harley-Davidson Cafe, will be the restaurant’s second location in Las Vegas.
The original Heart Attack Grill is a fixture at Neonopolis in downtown Las Vegas.
The new restaurant is festooned with a sign reading, “Now hiring hot nurses.”
We honestly can’t decide which turns us on more, “hot nurses” or the word “festooned.”
Heart Attack Grill is one of the most WTF-infused restaurants in all of Las Vegas. Customers must wear hospital gowns, and waitresses dressed as nurses paddle guests if they’re unable to finish their burgers.
One of Heart Attack Grill’s signature offers is customers who weigh 350 pounds or more dine free. And, yes, people have died of “apparent heart attacks” at Heart Attack Grill.
No opening date for the new Heart Attack Grill has been announced, but a good deal of work has already been done to the restaurant’s interior.
This venue needs an infusion of profitability, stat. Or something.
While we’ve never eaten at Heart Attack Grill, we’ve always enjoyed the restaurant’s playful irreverence. We’ve just never been able to tell if the humor is tongue-in-cheek or not.
We may spend a wee bit too much time in downtown Las Vegas, partially because we work there (at Fremont Street Experience), but also because we like our Vegas cheap, lucky and occasionally semi-nude.
There is some benefit to our chronic infatuation with downtown, however, as we’re uniquely qualified to share all that’s new in Glitter Gulch. Which we’re using generically to mean downtown, as the actual Glitter Gulch (the strip club) has closed. See? Things move fast downtown, so here’s what’s new since your last Vegas visit.
1. Turmeric Flavors of India
This new Indian restaurant is in an odd location, and completely worth finding. Turmeric Flavors of India sits across from the Downtown Container Park and serves up traditional flavors with a French presentation. A welcome addition to the downtown dining scene.
Too pretty to eat? You’ll get past it.
2. Evel Pie
This throwback restaurant has a charming, relaxed vibe and delicious, cheap pizza. At Evel Pie on Fremont East, you can get a beer and slice for $5 at lunch, play classic arcade games and check out tons of Evel Knievel memorabilia. If you’re not sure where everything is on Fremont East, we’ve got this.
There’s a happy hour, too, with $3 well drinks. Sold.
3. Freedom Beat at Downtown Grand
Out with Stewart + Ogden, in with Freedom Beat. It’s a music venue during the evenings, with a solid menu, including deep friend Twinkies, in case you’re craving them now that Mermaids has closed on Fremont Street.
Freedom Beat’s menu was developed by Chef Scott Commings, season 12 winner of Gordon Ramsay’s reality TV hit, “Hell’s Kitchen.”
4. Wana Taco at Four Queens
Four Queens has rolled out a pop-up taco stand that suits the Fremont Street mojo (drunken revelry) to a tee. The tacos are quite satisfying, and the only downside is there are no beverages sold at Wana Taco. Thankfully, there’s an outdoor bar nearby. It’s Fremont Street, after all.
The tacos at Wana Taco are surprisingly good, about on par with the excellent Taqueria El Buen Pastor just across Fremont.
5. Redwood Steakhouse
This one isn’t entirely new, but it sure looks that way. Redwood Steakhouse at the California recently underwent a major renovation. New look, new menu and there’s an adjoining bar with a great happy hour.
Redwood Steakhouse features “handsomely detailed, carved-walnut pilasters.” We’re not taking the time to look up “pilasters,” so you’re on your own.
6. Holo Holo Bar
The Cal takes up three spots on this list of new downtown things, including the new Holo Holo bar. The Holo Holo bar takes the place of the hotel’s San Francisco Pub, as The Cal continues to hone in on its key customer base, visitors from Hawaii. Holo Holo means “Let’s go!” in Hawaiian slang. The drinks are cheap and the video poker is plentiful.
The Cal has spend millions renovating its rooms and casino, and we’re focused on a bar. Telling.
7. Cal’s Sports Book and Lounge
The California went all out for its new sports book and lounge. The venue is just off the main casino floor (replacing the tired second floor sports book), and has ample seating and hooch.
We like it, despite the sports.
8. Fremont Arcade
This new diversion has breathed new life into Neonopolis, the much-maligned shopping center wherein Heart Attack Grill and Denny’s reside. Fremont Arcade has a number of rare and custom pinball machines, and it’s a great way to spend some time for a fraction of what it costs to gamble.
Several of the limited edition pinball machines at Fremont Arcade cost $10,000 or more, so be gentle.
9. Neonopolis eSports Arena
We rolled our eyes when we heard an eSports Arena was opening at Neonopolis, but we stopped by during an event and it’s sort of a thing. Hundreds of people showed up to watch competitive video game playing. We’re still rolling our eyes, but that doesn’t make it any less a thing.
Yes, there was even a girl.
10. Binion’s Charger Stations
Kudos to Binion’s, not exactly known for being particularly innovative, for installing phone charging jacks at every single chair at every one of its casino table games. You can’t have the phone on the table, but you can set it on your lap as you charge the device and play. There’s another, less pleasant thing at Binion’s, too, unfortunately. Binion’s (along with its sister casino, Four Queens) has converted pretty much all its blackjack games to 6-to-5. A true shocker given its hallowed history as a place that catered to gamblers.
Yes, at every seat. Bring your own cord, or they’re for sale in the gift shop.
11. Hennessey’s Pint Glass
For some time, Hennessey’s Pub has boasted what’s billed as the “World’s Largest Pint Glass.” When you visit again, however, that pint glass will look more like a mug. The pint is being rebranded to promote Not Your Father’s Root Beer. Progress has been slow, but it’s happening, and the structure will get a “handle” to complete the motif.
This isn’t the first time somebody’s taken a mug shot downtown.
Red is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s new and it’s open! Red took over the space formerly occupied by Insert Coins, and it’s sort of a bar that aspires to be a nightclub, but without the pretense and $500 bottles of Gray Goose. Red had some trouble with its sign (it didn’t pass inspection), so most folks don’t even realize it’s there. If you stop in, feel free to dance like nobody’s watching, because from what we’ve seen, nobody is.
The folks behind Red say a remodel is planned for 2017, and describe it as a “sports bar by day, nightclub by night.”
13. Coffee Stand at The D
We are not a coffee person, but apparently some people are really into it. The D recently opened a pop-up coffee stand that features Zingerman’s coffee, whatever that might actually be. The stand opens at 6:00 a.m. and is rolled away by noon each day. It’s located near the hotel’s registration desk, and here’s the full menu.
If you’re not a coffee person, the stand also serves iced drinks, expresso drinks, blended drinks and smoothies.
14. Big Rig Jig
This awesome art piece is a little like a human centipede but with trucks. Big Rig Jig is an eye-catching photo op, so if you’re feeling bold (it’s in a not-so-great area, but you’ll be fine during daylight hours), seek it out and behold a wonder of WTF. If you’re interested in more weird photo ops in Las Vegas, we’ve wrangled 25 of them.
Big Rig Jig is located in the courtyard of the closed Fergusons Motel. Like that helps.
15. Eclipse Theaters
We’re not sure who was clamoring for a luxury movie theater downtown, but Eclipse Theaters has opened, anyway. Movies are $18 (stop clutching your chest, it’s embarrassing), but offers chef-catered meals, pre-assigned, reclining seats and hooch. If we’re paying $18 for a movie ticket, there had better be procedures in place to deal with idiots talking or using their phones, or we’ll be looking for a bail bondsman. Thankfully, the neighborhood is teeming with them.
We can’t wait to drink, eat and movie here, especially that first thing.
Oh, and here’s another something new in downtown Las Vegas. The Harley-Davidson retail store has closed. That’s not really the new part. The retail store has been emptied. Which still isn’t the new we’re talking about. What’s new is that by the next time you visit downtown, it is likely to have a new White Castle. No, really. The White Castle on Fremont Street is expected to open in early 2017.
The Harley-Davidson store has a sign that says, “Closed for renovations.” True, sorta.
That just about covers it. Las Vegas is always racking its brain to come up with newer and bigger and differenter. Which is possibly not a word, but Las Vegas doesn’t live by society’s rules.
If you stumble upon new things downtown, or on The Strip for that matter, we’d love to hear about them. Especially if they’re imbibable. Again, possibly not a word, but it certainly should be.
When you’re a Las Vegas blog, one of the most common questions you hear is “Which restaurants should I visit?” Another common question is, “What makes you think you can do a blog when you write as though you’ve experienced a traumatic brain injury?”
Focusing on that first question for a moment, Las Vegas has so many great dining options, it can be overwhelming. That’s where Lip Smacking Foodie Tours comes in.
Therapy restaurant’s soft truffled goat cheese and almond stuffed date wrapped in bacon served on Romesco sauce. Say that five times fast.
Interest in foodie tours has skyrocketed in recent years, mainly people are lazy and indecisive. Foodie tours take the guesswork out of deciding what’s for dinner.
In the case of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, recently named the “Best Las Vegas Tour” in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “Best of Las Vegas” honors, guests choose between exploring restaurants on The Strip or downtown. We chose downtown, mainly because we work there. (You thought we were kidding about the “lazy” thing?)
In the downtown and Strip tours, guests gather at an appointed place and time. In our case, the tour began at Carson Kitchen. We didn’t eat there, but it’s sometimes included in the tour.
Let the appetition begin. Which, we should say, we’re only 40% confident is an actual word.
Right off the bat, you start to bond with your fellow tour mates. Foodie tours are a great way to meet new people, especially because there’s also alcohol involved.
The downtown version of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours includes visits to three restaurants and a bar, plus a guided tour around downtown, including the Downtown Container Park and other points of interest, some of them super top secret.
We’ve walked by this wall a hundred times, but until our tour we didn’t know you could peek between the stickers into the super private Laundry Room at Commonwealth, a popular downtown bar.
Our first stop was Therapy restaurant, one of our favorite downtown Las Vegas eateries. And drinkeries, come to think of it.
The restaurants on the tour set aside special seating, and the food comes out very quickly, since everyone has the same dishes.
It’s Therapy, in more ways than one.
The restaurants serve a selection of their signature dishes, which means guests get more variety, and the restaurants get to show off.
Foodie tours are perfect for people with commitment issues. Try everything!
One cannot live by signature dishes alone, so this was the panty-dropper cocktail we had at Therapy. We’d tell you the name, but it was a very, very good cocktail.
This is The Smash, with Four Roses bourbon, blackberries, fresh limes and mint. Translation: Get in our belly.
Our next restaurant was Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey, in the Ogden luxury apartment building. The day after our group visited, the restaurant closed its kitchen. They were like, “That meal was so good, we can never match it, so we’re dropping the mic and we’re out.” Or something along those lines.
We probably shouldn’t bore you with photos of Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey food which no longer exists. Moving on.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours changes up its roster of partner restaurants, so it’s not a big deal to lose one.
Next up, we hit the Wayfarer bar at Inspire, for a cocktail. That cocktail is included in the tour price ($125 downtown, $199 Strip), but there’s a cocktail package add-on for $40 ($60 Strip) where you get a cocktail at each restaurant. Oh, just do it, you big baby.
Part of the Inspire visit involved special access to a “secret,” members only bar, 365 Tokyo.
According to the owner of 365 Tokyo, it doesn’t exist. Let’s pretend this photo never happened.
A bartender showed us how to chip a block of ice into a ball, as well as showing us his herbs. The other kind of herbs. What is wrong with you?
Sharp object, dark room. What could possibly go wrong?
If you’d like to know where the bar is that doesn’t exist, just look for the mirrored part of Inspire’s exterior.
It’s the protruding part, upper left. Now you know.
The food was great, and when you’re on a Lip Smacking Foodie Tour, you get the full VIP treatment from the restaurants. No waiting. Expert information about the restaurant and food, and just an all-around great time with 15 of your new best friends.
Just power through, gang. It’s Glutton!
The food was fast and fresh at Glutton, another downtown restaurant success story we completely forgot to take notes about.
We have a vague memory this cocktail at Glutton is called ‘Merica. Just order the cocktail with the coconut. They’ll figure it out.
All the dishes at Glutton were shared, and you’ll feel relieved that’s the case, unless you’re wearing pants with an expandable waistband.
Everything was delicious, from the ahi tuna tacos to the Spicy Coppa Flatbread, from the wood charred broccoli to the pickled tomatoes. Yes, we just said the broccoli was good. By this time, the cocktail package was doing all the heavy lifting.
Flatbread is like pizza, but after it’s been to the gym.
Glutton did a masterful job of topping off the evening’s festivities with dessert, apple cobbler and caramel corn profiteroles, whatever those might be.
It’s a cream puff, choux à la crème if you’re a blog trying to pretend you know something about food.
We chatted with Donald Contursi, President of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, for our podcast, so it’s worth a listen.
Contursi is not only a very likable tour guide, we were impressed with his vast knowledge of not just the restaurants and bars on the tour, but Las Vegas and downtown in general. And we don’t tend to be impressed by things that haven’t been enhanced with saline or silicone.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours take between two and three hours, but the time flies by.
The tour pops in at the Downtown Container Park. There tend to be children, so they don’t stay long.
The company offers other packages, including one with five restaurant visits and a helicopter flight ($299).
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours are a great way to sample some of the best food in Las Vegas, while meeting new people and learning about the city from those in the know. Gratuities are included in the cost of the tour, so you can enjoy your night out without having do to any math whatsoever.