You may have noticed Ellis Island recently took down some signage to make way for some big renovations and additions to the family owned and run property. This seems like a good time to dive into a little history behind Ellis Island.
50 years ago Frank Ellis opened a small bar on Koval avenue named Village Pub, mainly a blue collar neighborhood bar from 1967 through the 70's and into the 80's. He then turned over daily operations to his son Gary in 1985.
Gary Ellis had the idea of re-branding the bar ELLIS ISLAND, adding slot machines the following year. Ellis Island was a local hot spot and in 1997 they doubled their gaming machines and added table games as part of a $12 million renovation.
Came to Vegas in 1947 started working downtown in 1951, an icon standing tall as the ambassador to all things Sin-City.
No it's not Oscar Goodman although he is actually older. Its Vegas Vic. The instantly recognizable figure-head of downtown Las Vegas. But whats the story behind Cowboy Vic?
In 1947 he was drawn up (literally) as a marketing scheme, through the Chamber of Congress. A new symbol of friendly Las Vegas. Vic's face started popping up on matchbooks, postcards, travel ads and just about anything used to promote Las Vegas. Then in 1951, the owners of the Pioneer Club had him turned into a 40 foot tall neon mascot with a voice box and actual smoking cigarette. He was placed at his watch, over the doors to The Pioneer Club, and began a long residency downtown.
If you like to explore while Downtown, You can now get around a little quicker and safer then you could before. I Love exploring the entire downtown area, including the "rough" areas. I just consider it part of Vegas lore and the History that made Downtown what it is today. Atomic Liquor and Bunkhouse, Pawn Plaza and Pawn shop, Chicago Joes and El Sombrero and on and on. I have jumped buses and even walked in 110 degree heat just to experience these places in the pass. I always feel like an Idiot when I get to where Im going and im full of sweat and my feet are killing me because I'm way older then I was when I lived in the area. There are so many great restaurants, parks and shopping spots throughout the Downtown I cant believe it took this long to conjure up a free shuttle. From what I understand locals and visitors alike are welcome to use the service. It makes 7 important stops as of today.
1. The Bonneville Transit Center,
2. Art Way and Boulder Ave.
3. Pawn Plaza, 4. Fremont East. 5. The Mob Museum, 6. Fremont Street Experience, (Main Street) and 7. Las Vegas North Premium Outlets. I am on board this idea in a huge way. I can now do more spur of the moment trips and cut down on bus rides. 2 shuttles will be running constantly so plan about 20 minutes between stops.
The big picture calls for expansion to The Natural History Museum and possibly Cashman sports complex, which could be available after the initial 6 month trial run. The Mayor said she is hoping advertisement dollars will keep the shuttles a float for a long time to come.
If I was her I would talk with Mr. Tony Hsieh, I heard he's on board with developing the downtown area, or so he says.
So for this trip's Dive I tried out the Travelodge close to Circus Circus, actual address 2830 Las Vegas BLVD South.
Yep it's on the Strip and yep it was CHEAP!
Sunday Night $42 and NO RESORT FEES. I was there at about noon and asked to get in early but shot down being told she didn't have any rooms clean yet. Hmmm, really? So I asked if I could pay extra to get checked in early so I could get to the event I was in town for. She tells me for $20 I could. I was super beat at this point so I agreed and didn't think arguing about it would help, got in and showered up. Great shower, you could tell it was completely remodeled recently, Great looking stone tiled shower (no tub) but the shower had great water pressure but very low shower head. Room itself with a Large very, very comfy King bed. Small flat screen tv with about 10 channels to choose from. A small dark corner cubbie hole with a safe and just enough room to hang a few items of clothing. Pending your previous Vegas experiences the view could be Amazing or Ghetto. Directly out my bathroom window was an empty lot with literally blowing tumbleweeds. Out the front window, just beyond the parking lot, the large Neon foot of the Circus Circus Clown. No matter the view, if it contains Old Neon it's a great view to me.
I still consider this a Dive Stay even know the place is not as bad as many Ive been to. I would stay again, as a matter of fact I signed up for their rewards/points program just to get emails on rate specials.
The Travelodge is perfect for a first visit or a cheap stay as I wanted to do. They have a pretty great pool but I did not use it. Its open from 9a-9p and its been remodeled as well recently. It has 2 levels but no elevator and all the rooms are outside (Motel Style). Free WiFI was included and as I mentioned there is NO resort fee so thats a great perk. They have a few necessities in the lobby for sale such as waters, Tylenol, sunscreen, snacks etc.
So I have long asked myself, as many of you have:
How on Earth does a Jewish, organized crime figure, and Casino owner end up developing a Catholic Church on the Las Vegas Strip? Certainly not for him or his family? Turns out it was for his employees, so their place of worship was close to their place of employment. Thats the reason given and Im not one to argue with the likes of Moe Dalitz. (If you need a lesson on Mr. Dalitz, you tube it).
Moe Dalitz was approached by Rev. Richard Crowley in 1961 about the idea and donated some land that he owned close to The Desert Inn, and across the Street from The Stardust. Then he contacted Paul R. Williams, architect to the stars and designer of the famous La Concha Motel (which is now used as the entrance and lobby to the Neon Museum). The rest as the say is HISTORY.
The A framed Church still sits on the original location but has since changed its name (slightly)
The Guardian Angel Shrine was the original structure and name, opened in October 1963. In 1977 the Diocese of Reno/Las Vegas re-designated the shrine a Cathedral. Getting a little run down in the early 90's the Cathedral was renovated and brought back to life for a cool $1.3 million in 1993.
At the base of the tall cross in the front of the Cathedral is a statue of the Holy family and above the entrance is a huge mosaic mural containing three men said to represent Peace, Penance and Prayer. This was painted by Los Angeles artist Edith Piczek, her sister and fellow artist, Isabel, created the beautiful stained glass windows through out the Cathedral. Guardian Angel Cathedral holds up to 1,100 people and they still hold mass twice daily, Saturday Vigils and Sunday Masses through the entire day.
Click HERE for their website and more info.
The Cathedral also acts as a popular tourist stop for Vegas visitors and has a large gift shop if you are interested in a religious or just plain historical souvenir. Hours are from 7a-3p weekdays, Saturday 1:30p-7p and Sunday 7am-6p. The Guardian Angel Cathedral is not hard to find. The actual address is 302 Cathedral Way and its located right next to Encore just off Las Vegas Blvd.
Everyone has had a bad hotel stay in Vegas. Maybe the room smelled or the water leaked or maybe there wasn't enough hot water for a shower. Some people consider a room with no view a bad experience, others get discouraged by NO room service. Tourist usually label these "dive hotels".
I choose to stay in dive hotels. Every trip i take I like to spend at least one or 2 nights in a dive hotel simply for the historic feel of Vegas. Don't get me wrong I would much rather spend my entire trip in the Bellagio with the pool view, but enjoy the nuances of a rusty, broke down, faded paint motel just steps from the Las Vegas Strip.
This will be an ongoing updated article on some of the hotels I've experienced.
Click "DIVE STAYS" in Categories
In 1998 Stu Ungar was found dead in his hotel room across the street from what was to be his new employers casino The Stratosphere. Being the Vegas Historian I sometimes am I decided to check out the motel his oddly timed and slightly mysterious death took place at. When I arrived at The Oasis Motel I found it to be all the "dive" I read it was. The building to the rear of the motel was recently torn down to make way for a soon to be something and the homeless were taking advantage of the lot being fenced off. I walked through the narrow parking lot empty of cars or people for that matter but there were some cloths hanging on a clothesline near the back of the motel on a small lawn with a picnic table. Then I felt someone following me so I turned and it was a Greek gentleman with his hands in his pockets asking if I was with some company, but before I figured out what he meant he said "Oh no of course your not your looking to rent a room". I answered I was just looking around perhaps for my next visit. Turns out he has tourist ask about the Stu Unger incident quite often. Then He informed me there was another unfortunate incident in 1999. An actor by the name of David Strickland had also died in his room only 4 months later, earning the motel a haunted label from locals.
I decided to stay but #6 wasn't available for 2 days so I put a deposit down and told him Id be back for my final night in Vegas and stay with the ghosts in room 6. I think I paid $40 or $50 and got a small receipt signed by the man insuring I'd get the infamous room 6.
The final day of my trip had come and I headed to the Oasis Motel. My friend was not there but a girl behind a cage in the front lobby appeared and asked if I was "the guy who wanted to stay in #6"? I indeed was so I got the keys and after a brief chat and snooping around their well fortified lobby I took the long narrow driveway path to the room.
Now the fun starts, I open the door to the darkest room Ive ever been in but quickly opened the heavy curtains to reveal a very clean but awkward shaped room with an immense King size bed and small tv stand holding a 29-32 inch old school tv. No big deal but I turned it on as soon as I found the remote laying on a nightstand. 4 channels and a couple adult pay per view ones as well. I got local news on one and continued my tour. It didn't last long and I was in the bathroom, a good sized room with a large standing shower and plenty of space. For a dive hotel the bathroom was pretty big. The closet made me laugh because of the lone hanger hanging in it. A wire hanger bent and still rocking back and forth from the breeze when I opened the door. So now all that was left was to set up shop and get ready for a final night on the town. I sat on the bed to unpack and realized the bed was completely plastic wrapped. I appreciated the motels effort to insure my bed bug safety but it made me a little nervous so I ordered a couple extra blankets. This was a cheap hotel no doubt about that but the kicker was when I looked out the front door at the view. Amazingly I stood feet from the strip, shadowed by the Stratosphere Tower.
All in all the place was fine I walked down to the Stratosphere played some cheap Black Jack, jumped a bus and headed mid strip and returned about 2 am. Then the most peculiar thing happened I woke up to a ringing phone, at what seemed to be the middle of the night. I heard the girls voice ask if I wanted the room an extra day? Frantic I looked at the alarm clock I set the night before and it read Noon, Then I looked at my airline ticket and I had a 10am flight. I missed my first flight ever leaving Vegas. I explained to the girl I overslept and missed my plane and she was cool with. She kind of laughed and said "yep that happens a lot in that room". I dont know if she was serious or not but I was too freaked out to laugh I just packed up my stuff and dropped my key with her on the way out. I wanted to keep it but then I wouldn't get my deposit back. I would stay again but only after I try others on my list.
When you need a brief break from Casino noise or the heat of the Strip, there’s no better escape than the Wildlife Habitat at The Flamingo. Opened in 1995 this attraction is still free to all ages and considered a “must see” among many Vegas enthusiasts.
My last visit was in May and I did, indeed, indulge in one of my favorite “cool downs”.
Well placed sprinklers and misting equipment keep the “park” comfortable when the heat hits 100 plus. You could hurry through this attraction and see it all in 10 minutes but I actually wanted to waste a little time so I spent most of two hours photo hunting and relaxing in the sun. A quick visit to the chapel and I spoke with a great lady I assumed, was the receptionist. She said it gets very busy during summer months but stays consistently busy as far as weddings and vow renewals all year. You can book one of the seven different chapel areas for weddings etc or areas of the garden can be purchased in part or in their entirety for other catered events.
Near the entrance to the chapel is a great piece of Vegas history, the bronze plaque of Bugsy Siegel which is a great spot for photos. Other great photo ops include the fountain of flamingos and the pelican feedings, which they do twice daily at 8:30am and 2pm.
In all the garden sits on 15 acres and has a mixture of residents. You can find turtles, pelicans ducks, swans, tons of koi, parakeets, peacocks and of course the famous Chilean Flamingos.
They did house penguins but have since removed them all and i was told relocated them to a habitat in Dallas. If you look closely you'll find some interesting mermaid sculptures hiding in the shadows of the thick tree lines and along the edges of the streams.
The habitat comes complete with streams and waterfalls emptying into ponds surrounding small islands which act as boundaries to tourists.
The Wildlife Habitat attracts hundreds of thousands of sightseers a year and since opening has shown off to millions of Vegas vacationers.
You can even purchase a commemorative brick to be laid in the garden with a personalized message engraved on it for only $150, seems cheap for real Vegas nuts.
The Habitat itself opens at 8am and closes at dusk.
Around 1962 Ben Goffstein's dream slowly developed into reality when he resigned as President of the Riviera. He took a job at a downtown Casino but he had a project in mind.
Ben always considered his daughters to be his Queens; The oldest Michele was Queen of spades, Benita clubs, Faith hearts and fittingly, Hope diamonds. With his wife, acting as Chief interior designer, Goffstein began construction on The Four Queens as a loving homage.
The Casino opened in 1966 with 20,00 square feet of gaming space and 120 rooms. His 2 year expansion plan called for a total of 850 rooms.
Unfortunately Ben died the following year of Cancer before he could see this happen.
The hotel was sold to The Hyatt Corporation, which expanded the casino to 33,000 square feet, and In one form or another owned the Four Queens until 2003.
Bringing us to the present day owner, Terry L. Caudill (TLC Casinos Inc.) Mr. Caudill bought the Queens for 20.5 million dollars and brought the failing downtown structure back to modern-ish times. By 2007 Mr Caudill remodeled the guest rooms all the public areas, updated the restaurants and gaming as a whole. Eventually adding the first Casino Club in downtown called the Canyon Club. In total spending 20 million dollars on this gem. My first visit inside the Four Queens was some time back in the early 90's before the massive shit show started under the canopy. I was in my late teens and most likely skipping school but I loved the feeling the Casino gave off, and still do.
Today the vibe on Fremont is completely different, and don't get me wrong, not all bad but it could thin the heard of Kiosks and half naked street buskers.
The vibe in the Four Queens is that of value and history, very exciting small Casino feel with friendly staff that seem to have worked there since Goffstein's days. Food options range from historic to quick bites and brew pub grub.
Hugo's Cellar has been in business since 1976 but there has been a restaurant in the space since Four Queens opened. You do not need reservations to sit at the bar but you won't be served food unless you get a table. There's a very old school flavor to Hugo's. Deep wood and brick make it a blast to the past. The menu is classic and the room is romantic, some dishes are prepared table side, which is very cool. Dont forget roses for all the ladies.
If you're up late or early depending on your opinion, Magnolia's Veranda is open 24 hours. They serve family favorites and quick meals at very reasonable prices. They have lines forming early for some of their daily specials like a prime rib dinner for $12.99. From salads to steak sandwiches, they also deliver room service. Also a great spot for people watching while taking a small break from winning too much.
If Pizza is what you're looking for then Four Queens has some of the best downtown. Chicago Brewing Company is known for their Chicago style pie. I happen to think they have amazing sliders and wings as well but generally go there for the beers. They have a great collection of micro brews and even root beer when you're nursing your late night gaming spree. You can get an inexpensive flight and try multiple flavors including their root beer. Kind of a sports bar atmosphere with t.v's showing all the games and to top it off they have a cigar lounge with a great selection of stogies. Great spot to relax and pass time or meet up with buddies and lose track of it.
Canyon Club adds, sort of, a hidden lounge appeal with inexpensive entertainment. Mike Hammer performs his 1 hr 10 minute show Tuesday - Saturday 7pm and tickets are found everywhere. The other top notch show in the Canyon Club is Steve Connolly's Spirit of the King, starring Elvis Artist, Steve Connolly. With more than 4,500 performances, Steve is considered a seasoned veteran with numerous awards and achievements to his name. Definitely worth checking out.
The Queens offers 1000 slots starting at pennies, 30 tables including Blackjack, Blackjack switch, Craps, Roulette, 3 Card Poker, Let-It-Ride, Stud and Ultimate Texas Hold'em. Some say the VP at Four Queens is the best downtown, without a doubt myself, I have had the best luck and made the most money recently at the Four Queens (my favorite spot being a bar top machine i will keep to myself). Speaking of the bars, besides the Chicago Brewing Co. one can grab quick drinks at the main bar, the one back by "Nickel Town" or their Patio Bar which is the very best place to sit with a cocktail and laugh(i mean) watch people under the canopy of Fremont.
Don't forget about their sports-book and Keno room. Neither are huge and I believe theres more seating in the Keno lounge but with 4 nice flat screens high above everyone's heads, small betting window easily accessible and a bar very close I could spend an afternoon watching a couple games there. Im not a big Keno player but Four Queens has a Million dollar progressive game and the room is comfortable. With about a dozen seats and a small wall of Video Poker machines if you want to mix it up a bit.
Gambling in downtown has always been better for the promos and comps, seemingly more bang for the buck. Four Queens is no exception with their Royal Players Club. Comp dollars are accumulated not on win loss record but "coin through" machines, and by average bet size and time played at the tables. Use comp dollars at Magnolia's, Chicago Brewing Company even Hugo's. Cash back points are good for rooms or gift shop stuff. Why wouldn't you "member up" if you are playing downtown.
On to the rooms............. Meh. What do you want? The suites are nice but hard to obtain, I hope to stay in one next visit. They are not expensive so they get swept up quickly on weekdays and basically high roller rooms on the weekend. I've stayed in the regular rooms and was pleased with what it was. A little worn but comfy and air conditioned when I needed it. Clean and close to the action is what I want and that's what they offer. The rooms facing the "Experience" can be loud but only until the last show, which is 1am. in the summer. (Whos in bed at 1am in Vegas?) I have stayed at both, above and below canopy, level rooms and have to say; below is cool because of the show and people(freak) watching but above is cool because of the views and at night the neon from neighboring casinos.
A couple final bits about Four Queens, if you are staying in the hotel you get free parking and if you are visiting you can get validated while playing for up to 3 hours at a time. Its a great way to park free downtown. You also get to use the pool at the top of Binions if you are a guest, this is something most people overlook but a very nice perk in the summer months plus there is a great view up there.
Four Queens turned 50 years old in June of this year.
She is your typical, old school, Fremont Street casino with good table games and low minimums but not glamorous. That is unless you, like myself, consider history to be glamorous.
While tripping back and forth to Vegas every couple months I became quite a Hot Dog connoisseur. I enjoy most styles and types of Dogs as long as there not processed meat, generic style. Gourmet Hot Dogs are hitting Vegas at the moment and I enjoy myself a good gourmet dog just as much as anyone else. This past trip I visited Haute Doggery in the LINQ promenade to see how they compare. Haute Doggery is part of the Block 16 Hospitality food group. Which include Holsteins, LBS, The Barrymore, Pinks, Public House and a couple more.
The shop itself was very clean and "white". I was there on a Thursday afternoon when the temp reached about 90 degrees so I figured it would be packed full of cool climate seekers, much to my surprise it wasn't. In fact there was only one other table of two enjoying the air conditioned atmosphere. Plenty of seats with people watching window views and a couple out door tables to be had. You order as you walk in at a counter, they hand you a number and you find your seat. I purposely sat at the tall tables high enough to see into the kitchen over the wooden partition. They have a couple t.v's on the wall and some great ceiling art to distract you from the wait. It really didn't take too long actually.
I had my Dog and a soda in 10 minutes I would say. I tried the "Fun Guy" a char grilled dog with grilled mushrooms, caramelized onion, gruyere cheese and truffle mayo. Very tasty at about $8, you can be the judge of value. Hot Dogs ranged between $5 and $8, burgers around $11, In Vegas that seems average. All the employees seemed friendly and didnt rush me to make a decision while staring at the options board hanging above the grill area. The menu is simple with a few burgers and mostly Hot Dogs inspired from Holsteins. Of course they offer fries and other sides like onion rings but Haute Doggery had something on their menu I didnt expect, a $1 Shrimp Cocktail, yes thats what I said, the old favorite Shrimp Cocktail. Very refreshing to see and very inexpensive at a buck. Grab one to go while walking through the open air complex toward the High Roller or jump back on the strip. The location is great for either. Basically for $12-$15 you can grab a Dog, Soda and Shrimp Cocktail to top it off.
Haute Doggery is open everyday 10:00AM - 12:00AM, which we think is also very cool. Check out their entire menu Here and follow them through Facebook or Twitter.
I enjoyed the experience and suggest trying it if you're a Hot Dog fan as I am. I'll be back.
By now everyone's heard of the newest shipping container shopping center to hit the block.
Pawn Plaza has a unique blend of food vendors, clothing peddlers and other services I dubbed The Food the Bod and the Ugly. You'll get it later.