Chances are that if you haven’t been to Sin City in the last four or five years, you have never heard of the Fremont East District. Not to be confused with the Fremont Street Experience, the Bourbon Street-esque renovation of Glitter Gulch right next door, this stretch of old school Las Vegas has come back to life just recently. Thanks in part to a multimillion dollar investment by a private-public partnership, the historic downtown neighborhood is now a pedestrian-friendly arts and entertainment area. Fremont East is where both local creative types and savvy visitors head for the city’s hippest lounges, hottest new eateries and a happening arts scene.
Ocean Malandra is a freelance writer that divides his time between Northern California and South America. He frequently makes extended stopovers in Vegas to visit family and can be found bar-flying around Fremont Street when in town.
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Housed in the former home of the first medical complex of downtown Las Vegas, Emergency Arts dominates the corner of sixth and Fremont and acts as an anchor for the area's art community. Besides the Beat Coffee and Records at street level, which hosts regular events like spoken word Monday nights and has both fresh brewed coffee and PBR on tap all day, the building is home to art studios, local film and media companies, and the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Check out the two-floor Emergency Arts Gallery for a sampling of local talent.
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Vintage booths, good drink specials and a circular fireplace to gather around in the front draws a trendy crowd to The Griffin, while a DJ-hosted dance floor in the back keeps them there till late. Other popular drinking holes on Fremont East include Commonwealth, the rooftop bar with a killer view, and Atomic Liquors, which holds the oldest liquor license in Vegas and is a living memorial to the bomb testing that once took place in the nearby desert.
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Shop the boutique and specialty stores of this open air complex, ingeniously designed out of simple metal cargo containers. A huge tree house for children, complete with a 33-foot slide, dominates the center of the Downtown Container Park, while a stage in the rear hosts regular live music on the weekends and family-oriented shows during the week. Watch out for the giant fire-spouting praying mantis guarding the entrance to the park, it likes to startle visitors on their way in.
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The container park is also a great place to sample some of the Fremont East District's top eats, including the hickory and oak smoked pulled pork and beef brisket at Big Ern's BBQ, a local favorite. Back out on Fremont Street, Le Thai does spicy soups and noodles into the night andThe Smashed Pig Gastro Bar pairs its lamb tacos and mini Yorkshire puddings with classic ales and lagers. Outdoor seating overlooking the action on the street and creative takes on light fare make Park on Fremont a standard date and dinner destination as well.
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Opened in 1941 and still oozing gangster-era charm, the El Cortez is the longest continuously running hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Right on Fremont across from the Commonwealth and Emergency Arts, the seedy-looking-from-the-outside yet surprisingly clean hotel offers inexpensive classic rooms right in the heart of the action. With blackjack and slots covering the main floor and its own steakhouse and martini bar, you don't have to leave the area to get your casino experience.