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You can find the best of Old Vegas in these retro places

Binion’s in Las Vegas
The current facade of Binion’s, installed in the 1960s, includes the vintage Hotel Apache.
(Glenn Pinkerton / Las Vegas News Bureau)

New life is being breathed into downtown’s Hotel Apache, which welcomed its first guests in 1932. The Las Vegas hotel at the corner of Fremont Street and Casino Center Boulevard will relaunch Monday. It’s a bit of Old Vegas, which still exists, if you know where to look.

“In Las Vegas, most things get torn down,” said Tim Lager, general manager of Binion’s Gambling Hall, the casino that includes the Apache. “We want to hold on to some history.”

Indeed. In June, Twitter rejoiced when the SLS returned to its original name, Sahara, an affirmation that the city’s old-time glamour hadn’t totally faded.

“Somewhere, the Rat Pack is smiling,” journalist Howard Stutz tweeted in June. “The name Sahara returning to the Las Vegas Strip.” The re-branding of the hotel-casino that opened in 1952 will happen in fall.

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Several are gathered by the pool at the Sahara in 1953, including a woman in a two-piece bathing suit and a man in mid-leap off the diving board.
Swimmers and sun seekers enjoy the pool area at the Sahara in June 1953.
(Las Vegas News Bureau)

And there’s the Neon Museum filled with oodles of vintage signs and marquees.

But back to the Apache. The hotel’s 81 rooms, the same size as they were nearly nine decades ago, will include such vintage touches as stained glass windows, old-fashioned clocks and flyswatters. “We’re trying to give you the experience you would have felt back in the ‘30s,” Lager said. Weekend rooms start at $199, with no resort fee tacked on.

The exterior of the Hotel Nevada in the 1920s
Pictured in the 1920s, the Hotel Nevada was Las Vegas’ first hotel when it opened in 1906. It’s still operating, now as the Golden Gate.
(UNLV Special Collections)

For true vintage Vegas, you can’t beat the Golden Gate, which cost just a dollar a day, including meals, when it opened in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada.

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The Golden Gate hotel in Las Vegas.
The Golden Gate hotel is what used to be the Hotel Nevada.
(Joe Buglewicz / Las Vegas News Bureau)

It has been firmly rooted at 1 Fremont St. ever since. Whiskey bottles, hidden in the walls during Prohibition and recovered years later during renovations, are among artifacts now on display in the lobby. Weekend rates from $71, plus resort fee.

Atomic Liquors
Atomic Liquors and Bar in downtown Vegas held the city’s first liquor license. The interior has recently been restored to its original appearance.
(Joe Buglewicz / Las Vegas News Bureau)

One mile east along Fremont Street, Atomic Liquors has the distinction of having been issued the city’s first first liquor license, No. 1, when the bar opened in 1952. Recently restored to its original appearance, the bar has been used as a set for TV shows and movies, including “Casino” and “The Hangover.”

Vickie Kelesis, in a yellow top, stands at the pink-seated counter of her Vickie’s Diner.
Vickie Kelesis, owner of Vickie’s Diner, began working as a waitress at the restaurant. It first dished up home-cooked food in 1950.
(Jay Jones)

Two Vegas restaurants have been dishing up food with a side order of history since the 1950s. At Las Vegas and Oakey boulevards, Vickie’s Diner served its first customers in 1950. Originally a lunch counter inside a drug store, Vickie’s is all that remains inside long-closed White Cross Drugs. Owner Vickie Kelesis said Elvis Presley was once a regular.

“He would always have steak and eggs, three or four times a week,” she said.

The diner featuring home-made food is open for breakfast and lunch Sundays to Thursdays. To accommodate the out-of-towners on weekends, Vickie’s stays open until 10:30 Friday and Saturday nights. Kelesis began waitressing at the diner in 1990 and bought it in 2014. “I want to make everyone feel at home,” she said.

A red leather booth at the upscale Golden Steer.
The red leather booths at the Golden Steer are little changed from the 1950s and 60s, when celebrities including members of the Rat Pack were regular diners.
(Chris Wessling)
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The Golden Steer Steakhouse west of the Strip on Sahara Avenue also oozes history. The upscale restaurant opened in 1958 and quickly became the go-to place for some of the city’s biggest names, such as Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Celebs’ favorite red-leather booths look just like they did six decades ago. (You can ask the longtime servers about who liked to sit where and the private entrance for stars.)

Little Church of the West
Dating to 1942, the Little Church of the West is Las Vegas’ first wedding chapel.
(Jay Jones)

Wedding chapels, an Old Vegas staple, were the destination for quickie weddings (and quickie divorces). Not much has changed either. The Little Church of the West, touted as the city’s first chapel, hitched its first couples in 1942. The cedar exterior and redwood chapel appear much the same as they did more than 75 years ago. Elvis slipped a ring on Ann-Margret’s finger here for 1964’s “Viva Las Vegas.” A year later, Judy Garland got married here, for real.

Originally part of the long-gone Last Frontier Hotel, the entire chapel was moved in 1996 to its current location on the south end of the Strip.

Lounge singer Cook E. Jarr onstage with microphone in hand and an American flag draped over his shoulder.
Cook E. Jarr, a longtime Vegas fixture, performs at Paris Las Vegas.
(Jay Jones)

Cook E. Jarr (whose real name is Tony Pettine) has seen Vegas evolve since he first performed at Caesars Palace in 1969. Back then, only 275,000 people lived in Clark County. Today, it has 2.2 million residents. A lounge singer with a still-strong and soulful voice, Jarr turned 78 on July 18.

With his signature Prince Valiant haircut, Jarr drapes himself in the flag for his opening number, “America the Beautiful,” inside Napoleon’s Lounge at Paris Las Vegas. His songbook includes hits by Ray Charles, James Ingram and longtime friend Tom Jones. “I’ve worked every hotel in town,” he said, exaggerating only slightly. “You used to have lounge acts like Frankie Valli and Fats Domino. Bill Medley was in a lounge. Now, you have to search to find the lounges.”

Jarr performs at Paris 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays, no cover charge.

The remains of a fort built by Mormon missionaries in what is now downtown Vegas.
Mormon missionaries were Las Vegas’ first non-native settlers. They built a fort in what is now downtown. The remains and an interpretive center are now a state historic park.
(Sydney Martinez / Travel Nevada)
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And then there’s the truly Old Vegas that has nothing to do with its glamorous times. Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park, established in 1855, was built beside a creek by missionaries. You can tour the remains of the fort, plus an interpretive center, for $3.


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