Monthly Archives: January 2017

Downtown Las Vegas Hosts Pilot Program for Self-Driving Shuttle

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.

Driverless shuttle

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.

Self-driving shuttle 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.”

Autonomous vehicle Fremont Street

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.

Let’s cross our fingers, though, fellow autonomous vehicle nerds.

If you get a chance to ride on the self-driving shuttle on Fremont Street, we’d love to hear about your experience. Because we’re very familiar with self-driving, if you get our drift.

In-N-Out Burger Opens at Linq Promenade and All Is Right With the World

More than a year after we first reported In-N-Out Burger was coming to the Las Vegas Strip, it has. The popular fast food restaurant opened for its first day of business at Linq promenade on Jan. 11, 2017.

In-N-Out Linq Las Vegas

The first non-California location of In-N-Out opened in Nevada in 1992. This one’s the prettier, though.

Just another burger joint in Las Vegas? Uh, no.

The popularity of In-N-Out is the stuff of legend in Sin City, with many visitors considering a stop at the restaurant an essential part of their vacation.

In-N-Out Linq Las Vegas

The first and only time you’ll ever see no line at In-N-Out.

Here’s a quick walk-through of the new In-N-Out at the Linq shopping district.

We’d wager the new In-N-Out Burger location will quickly become the chain’s most profitable, and we did our part during our first visit.

In-N-Out Linq promenade

We let them put the fruit and vegetables on it for the photo. Yes, tomatoes are a fruit. Stop fact-checking our photo captions. You’re not our mom.

The staff was predictably young, friendly and impeccably groomed. In-N-Out gets great talent because, unlikely the majority of its fast food chain competition, it pays team members more than mandated minimum wage guidelines. Managers make in excess of $100,00 a year.

Many of the opening night staff members were employees of other out-of-state locations shipped in to assist with the restaurant’s Strip debut.

The food was just plain delicious, as always. Context: Every other burger in the neighborhood is $12, at least.

In-N-Out Linq Vegas

Yes, there’s a bit of a price bump compared to other locations in Las Vegas. Not too surprising given the primo location.

The Strip’s first In-N-Out is located by the mall’s fountains, between Flour & Barley restaurant and Sprinkles Cupcakes. When you’re ready for dessert, check out the cupcake ATM just a few feet away.

Thanks to the Linq for turning off the fountains so we could take a photo with a pretty reflection.

In-N-Out Linq promenade

None of the food served at In-N-Out travels more than 500 miles to any restaurant location. Sorry, east coast, not happening.

The restaurant seats about 150 people inside, and a patio holds another 90 or so. In-N-Out Burger is going to need every seat it can get.

It’s no secret In-N-Out prints bible verses on some of its packaging. Chill out, it’s just a cup.

In-N-Out bible verse

We don’t know who this John guy is, but he makes a kick-ass burger and fries.

In-N-Out’s hours of operation at Linq promenade are Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

In-N-Out Las Vegas

Are you listening, Chick-fil-A? Open on Sunday!

In-N-Out joins a host of great dining options at Linq promenade, and is sure to give them a run for their money.

It’s elevated fast food, with reasonable prices and flawless, friendly service, and the restaurant is sure to be a much-needed draw for the mid-Strip mall. It’s been estimated 20 million people walk by the Linq pedestrian mall every year, and now they have an even better reason to stay awhile.

Let’s eat something, already, Animal Style.

In-N-Out Linq Promenade

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Vintage Train Cars at Downtown’s Main Street Station Find New Home

Two curiosities in downtown Las Vegas, vintage train cars used by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill, have been relocated.

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.

Main Street Station train cars

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.

Main Street Station train cars

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 $100,000.

Main Street Station classic trains

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.

We spoke to Ryan Williams of Western Elite, and for a time the cars were housed at the company’s “yard” in Las Vegas.

Eventually, where were moved to the family ranch about 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

They’re currently viewable during the company’s annual Christmas Express event.

Main Street Station trains

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’re in good hands.

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).

Downtown Las Vegas trains

Roof parts. We trust these made their way to a big-ass recycle bin.

We’ve learned exclusively that before the trains were moved, they served as the location for an upcoming episode of “Pawn Stars.” No deal could be struck, hence the sale.

Update (Oct. 2017): Here’s a look at the “Pawn Stars” episode featuring the train cars.

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.

We’ll wait.

Main Street Station Trains

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Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 38: Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz and All Our Usual Drivel

In this episode of the Vital Vegas Podcast, we talk to two comedy titans, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. The SNL veterans will headline a 20-show residency, “Reunited,” at SLS Las Vegas. Learn more.

We’re pleased, and relieved, to report “Reunited” more than delivers on its promise of top-notch stand-up, improvised interplay and a revealing Q&A from two of America’s most beloved funny men.

Jon Lovitz Dana Carvey

Yes, that Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey. Please try and keep up.

Also on the podcast, we talk about how we nearly lost an eye for you.

We also serve up the latest Las Vegas news, and irresponsibly combine some Las Vegas history with our “Listicle of the Week.”

We field a rare listener phone call and share our thoughts about Level Up, the new millennial lounge at MGM Grand. Hold onto your participation trophy, things get real.

Level Up MGM Grand

If casinos want to attract throngs of millennials, they should put a bed in Level Up with us on it. Just saying.

Join in the podcast fun and fill your skull with all the Sin City blather you can endure on an empty stomach.

“Pin Up” to Close at Stratosphere After Four-Year Run

Despite the hotel’s statements to the contrary, it’s been confirmed “Pin Up” will close at Stratosphere on Mar. 4, 2017.

“Pin Up,” a topless revue featuring Claire Sinclair, has been at Stratosphere for four years.

Pin Up Stratosphere

We’d list all the things we like about “Pin Up,” but it’s hard.

The official announcement about the show closing appeared on the “Pin Up” Facebook page, stating, “It is never easy to deliver sad news, even if you know that you will have to face it one day. The entire ‘Pin Up’ production team is saddened to inform you that our 4th year anniversary show on March 4th, 2017 will be our last one. It was incredible for-year run with over 1,000 shows, many wonderful friendships and thousands of fans all over the world. Thanks to all of you, we made the world little sexier.”

We’ve always had a blog crush on Claire Sinclair, so we’re saddened to hear this news, despite the fact rumors had been swirling for some time about the show coming to an end.

We were lucky enough to chat with Claire Sinclair for the Vital Vegas Podcast, so take a listen.

Pin Up Stratosphere

Las Vegas is about to get a little less schwing. Thanks to “Pin Up” for the pic.

While Sinclair’s run in “Pin Up” is at an end, we’ll all be able to keep a collective eye on her via her Instagram account, perhaps the best thing to happen in Las Vegas since the invention of comps.

No official announcement has been made about the show replacing “Pin Up,” but it’s rumored to be “Men of the Strip” from Jeff Timmons, a founding member of 98 Degrees. We hear from a source close to that show it’s not landing at Stratosphere.

An unprecedented number of Las Vegas shows closed during 2016, and we hoped the carnage would end in 2017. Good going, Capitalism.

Shows tend to run their course in Las Vegas, even the ones starring someone as charming as Claire Sinclair, who we are completely open to consoling about “Pin Up” closing. We’re selfless like that.

El Cortez Classes Up the Joint With New Bar and Lounge

As we wrote about months ago, El Cortez has its eye on a crowd it’s not known for catering to: Millennials.

Hoping to capture some of the youthful energy of downtown’s Fremont East District—bars like Commonwealth, The Griffin, Therapy and Park on Fremont keep it hopping, especially on weekends—El Cortez has unveiled its renovated casino bar.

El Cortez casino bar

We love us some Vegas newness.

When we first heard about the bar, the intention was to call it Imbibe. However, no new name has been officially announced. Now, we’re hearing it could be called Ike’s Bar, after the name of the company that owns El Cortez, Ike Gaming, Inc. (I.K.E. comes from the initials of Irving Kenneth Epstein, owner of the hotel-casino.)

El Cortez casino lounge

Let’s chill. Or Netflix. Or whatever the kids are doing.

The new bar, with its dark wood appointments and metallic ceiling tiles, doesn’t try to be The Dorsey at Venetian or Clique Lounge at Cosmopolitan. There’s no pretense, and the drinks are still dirt cheap, just the way we like them. The $5 Patron margarita looked especially enticing.

The bar’s footprint has been expanded to include a wood floor, which presumably could be used for dancing.

At the moment, the area is full of plush chairs and couches, perfect for hanging out with friends.

El Cortez casino lounge

Oh, just sit on something.

Thankfully, El Cortez hasn’t gone full Gold Spike, and there’s not a single game of cornhole or Jenga to be found.

Our favorite part of the new social area is a long table with chips from the now-closed Thunderbird and Western casinos embedded in the tabletop.

El Cortez casino bar

We have got to get us one of these.

No, really, it’s our favorite thing. Right behind the bottles of Captain Morgan at the bar, of course. Priorities.

El Cortez bar chips

The Western casino closed in 2012 and in its declining years held the distinction of inspiring more “Silkwood” showers than any other Las Vegas casino.

If that’s the Thunderbird we’re thinking of, it was originally the Silverbird, then El Rancho. It holds the distinction of being the place Judy Garland made her final Las Vegas appearance in 1965. Sweet nod to Vegas history, El Cortez.

El Cortez is trying to liven up this portion of the casino by loudly playing popular music through exactly six of the casino’s speakers just above the bar. We suspect this won’t land very well with the typical El Cortez customer, but we’re all going to have to learn to play nicely.

Ike’s Bar (it’s a coin toss at this point) has 19 video poker machines, 11 on one side and eight on the other.

The bar also features 10 flat screen TVs.

El Cortez casino bar

Cheap hooch, friendly service, video poker, mellow vibe. That’s our kind of Vegas.

The new casino bar at El Cortez is located near one of the entrances off Fremont Street, and sits next to the keno lounge and excellent Pizza Lotto restaurant. Pizza Lotto never did get those promised scratch-off lotto cards, but the solid pizza makes up for it.

You can still score freebies by visiting the Pizza Lotto Web site.

Cheers to El Cortez for investing in a more modern bar while retaining some old-school charm, including bartenders wearing old-timey garter on their sleeves.