Before Wolfgang and Wynn, there was Wayne Newton and the Rat Pack. Those were the glory days of Vegas, when wise guys got the best tables, the dealers knew you by name, and neon beckoned the world to this burgeoning playground.
Though many of the old haunts are either gone or unrecognizable, there are still a few left. These character-filled sites will make you yearn for Frank, Sammy and 50-cent shrimp cocktails.
Once frequented by everyone who was anyone — including Elvis, Natalie Wood, Joe DiMaggio and Tony “The Ant” Spilatro — the Golden Steer still holds its own, serving up some of the thickest, juiciest steaks in Vegas. Opened in 1958, the Steer’s décor has not changed much since; its dark wood paneling and burgundy carpet are right out of a movie set. Reserve one of the celebrity booths — brass plaques display their names — from Mario Andretti, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne to the King. (www.goldensteersteakhouselasvegas.com, 702.384.4470)
Another old charm- and character-filled favorite: Tiffany’s, an old-school, round-the-clock diner that has been in continuous operation since 1957. Enjoy Breakfast at Tiffany’s (yes, that’s what they call it) 24/7 — two pancakes, two eggs and two strips of bacon for $5.75 — along with typical, tasty diner food, including nightly dinner specials: meatloaf Monday, spaghetti and meatballs on Tuesday, and, of course, Chef’s Surprise on Friday. (www.tiffanyscafelv.com, 702.444.4459)
At the El Cortez Hotel & Casino located in the historic Downtown area — named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 — some of the original “vintage rooms” remain just as they were when Bugsy Siegel owned the joint in the 1940s (Bugsy eventually sold it to fund the construction of the Flamingo Hotel). Despite periodic facelifts, the El Cortez keeps the spirit of classic Vegas alive: You have to take the original, creaky stairs to reach the second- and third-floor rooms in the original wing; the casino is filled with old-fashioned slot machines; and it still rocks the same facade it had in 1952. (www.elcortezhotelcasino.com, 702.385.5200)
Long before Fremont Street became hip and happening, The Golden Gate Casino (originally named Hotel Nevada) ruled the scene. Opened in 1906, the Golden Gate has been the site of many Vegas firsts, including the first telephone and the first shrimp cocktail, served, as it still is today, in a tall tulip sundae glass with a kicky sauce — though the price has jumped from 50 cents to all of $2.99. The hotel has expanded considerably, but there’s still a lot of old-school charm here. The lobby exhibits items from the hotel’s notable past, including a Kellogg telephone and ledgers from 1907. And you can still get a drink in the casino’s newly renamed Bar Prohibition, which once served the likes of Ol’ Blue Eyes and Sammy Davis Jr. (www.goldengatecasino.com, 702.385.1906)
— Andrea Kahn, Brand Publishing WriterCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times