Las Vegas hotels are constantly changing. Ongoing renovations, renamings and demolitions make every visit to Sin City seem new. Tourists routinely opt for the trendiest resorts and latest upgrades, or find themselves pushed toward package deals built to fill rooms in sprawling casino complexes. Those with a careful eye to the past, however, know that more than a few historic Las Vegas hotels remain in operation. Make sure that you look for deals on Las Vegas rooms as there are always specials going on.
For the fascinated tourist-historian interested in staying in a piece of Las Vegas history, unique options abound both on the Strip and downtown. These five historic Las Vegas hotels blend both luxury and antiquity (at least by Vegas standards) and should not be overlooked.
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5. The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino
The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino opened as the Hotel Nevada in 1906. It remains the oldest continuously-operating hotel in Las Vegas, and the smallest with only 122 rooms. The first telephone number in Las Vegas was assigned to the Golden Gate Hotel: the number one.
The cliche of the “fifty-cent shrimp cocktail” – a parfait glass with shrimp on the rim and a dollop of cocktail sauce – originated at the Golden Gate and became a Vegas mainstay, though the price has increased since its introduction in 1959.
4. El Cortez Hotel
One block from Las Vegas Boulevard in old downtown is the El Cortez Hotel – one of the best values in Vegas. In operation since 1941, El Cortez is today on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a small property, with only 364 rooms.
Not long after its construction, El Cortez was purchased by mobsters Gus Greenbaum, Moe Sedway, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Guests can still stay in “vintage rooms” original to the hotel, accessed by a wide staircase from the casino floor. The vintage rooms aren’t the only throwback to old Vegas – El Cortez still offers loose coin-operated slots, $1 roulette, full-pay blackjack and a $10.95 prime rib special at the restaurant named for Siegel.
3. The Golden Nugget
Though the Golden Nugget was built in 1946, its most fascinating history dates to 1973 when a young entrepreneur named Steve Wynn became a majority shareholder in the property. At age 31, he was the youngest casino owner in Las Vegas. Four years later, the Nugget expanded and received a four-diamond rating. Throughout the ’80s, new towers were built bringing the room count to 2,419. In 2000, Wynn sold the Nugget along with his other existing Vegas properties to MGM Enterprises, and began new ventures in Las Vegas and Macau.
2. The Flamingo Hotel
While the Golden Nugget was under construction in 1945, Hollywood Reporter owner Billy Wilkerson dreamed of opening an elegant hotel outside of Las Vegas city limits. Bugsy Siegel, having difficulty at the time with Las Vegas officials, heard of Wilkerson’s plans and bought a two-thirds stake in the venture with the help of the mob.
Siegel never stoped believing that the Flamingo would be profitable, but the opening of the hotel – attended by Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Jimmy Durante – was a flop. The casino did not turn a profit for nearly a year. Siegel’s mob investors believed that Bugsy was skimming profits. By the time the Flamingo showed profitability, Bugsy Siegel had been shot dead.
Hilton owned the Flamingo for a time, renaming it the Flamingo Hilton. Today the hotel exists as the Flamingo Las Vegas, though none of the structure original to 1946 remains. It touts 3,626 guest rooms.
1. The Tropicana
Ben Jaffe bought 40 acres of land at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Ave in 1955 with the intention of creating a massive Cuban-themed resort. Two years later, it opened successfully, with Eddie Fisher headlining a musical in the theater.
The Trop was quickly tainted by news of Mafia involvement. Not long after opening, mobster Frank Costello was targeted for assassination. Found in his pocket on the night he escaped a gunman was a handwritten note containing the exact house take of the Tropicana. This triggered an investigation by Nevada authorities that led to the dismissal of the hotel’s casino manager. Almost two decades later, the FBI opened a second investigation on the Tropicana, and found that the owners were diverting funds to the mob in Kansas City.
Over the next sixty years, the Tropicana underwent multiple renovations. An enormous stained-glass ceiling covered the 50,000 square-foot gaming hall for many decades before being replaced. The now-demolished Tiffany Theater was designed in the ’70s by Sammy Davis, Jr.
There are now 1,467 guest rooms available, including a number of villas and the famous two-story Penthouse Lofts.
Las Vegas Nevada continues to evolve. Famous properties like the Sands, the Sahara, the Stardust and the Riviera are now gone from the Las Vegas Strip. Historic Hotels are not completely relegated to the past, however. Historic Las Vegas hotels continue to serve millions of tourists yearly.