They say to never buy the most expensive home on a not-so-nice street. The opposite is true for hotel stays in Las Vegas. If you’re staying on Fremont Street (Sin City’s B-side to The Strip), opt for the best hotel. The choice is not debatable. Since its 2006 renovation, the Golden Nugget is the swankiest stay on the tackiest street.

The lobby is upscale and (relatively) tasteful, the pool is worth dodging security to get into, and the huge rooms don’t even smell like smoke. For $130 a night on the weekend, the Golden Nugget is worth it. Especially if your friend is paying. (Thanks Sandy!)

Let’s start with the pool.

Golden Nugget Pool

Located courtyard style in the middle of the hotel (so jealous passerby’s can stare longingly inside), the pool circles a two story fish/shark tank. Climb the stairs to the top of the tank and enjoy either a waterslide back down or a very chill 16-and-over area. Cabana rentals are available for the usual exorbitant prices – $250 on weekends. Although the pool isn’t huge, space is used very well. Some chairs are even available in six inches water. Securing a sunbathing location isn’t the chore it can be at Mandalay Bay or The Palms (wherein you’d better be up at 8am in order to get a prime spot) and the service is pretty good too. I got my eight dollar pink lemonade in less than ten minutes and later secured two “free” drinks while playing poolside blackjack. The pool is open until 8, but the party continues in the hot tub area until two in the morning.

The food options at the Golden Nugget are plentiful, the most talked about being Vic & Anthony’s, Chart House and Grotto. On Friday we started at The Grotto for happy hour decided to stay at the bar for dinner. It was a good decision. The bruschetta appetizer was a great start, particularly the balsamic vinaigrette dressing and the waiter’s insistence that HE dishes us up.

The pizza choice was tough. The best looking one had pine nuts, prosciutto, and fontina cheese, but we went with the happy hour special: A roasted herb chicken pie. While not the best pizza in the world (that would be Serious Pie in Seattle, in case you’re interested) if was pretty good. I ate more than my fair share. After that was a slice of Italian wedding cake, one of the few Italian desserts I like. The white strawberry-topped cake was so light and airy that I had my fair share of that too. 

On Saturday morning we were in search of a quick breakfast before hitting the pool. The Starbucks had a double-tall line and we’d heard the 24 hour Carson Street Café was bad. So we stopped at The Grill, a three-seat-plus-barstool eatery next to the Sports Book. The service sucked, but the food was alright. Kinda. We did better Sunday afternoon with the $20 buffet. We got a seat right above the pool and the food was basic (no crab legs or fancy spread of ten international cheeses), but very good.

We also had a dinner at Lillie’s Asian Cuisine (not to be confused with Red Sushi, also at the Golden Nugget) at their Hibachi Grill.

As is always the case with these places, our experience was a reflection of our hibachi man and our co-diners. Our hibachi griller guy made his customary onion volcano, tapped out a little ditty with his knives and called it good. He didn’t even throw food in anyone’s mouth (isn’t that mandatory?!?) Our dining compatriots consisted of six cookie-cutter guys, all in stripped blue button-downs and fresh-out-of-college haircuts. I immediately started making fun of them, which proved to be good entertainment for the evening (for me anyways). They were in town for a bachelor party (of course) and were reportedly heading to a strip club (of course). But I ran into them a few hours later and there was no way they were gonna make it to a strip club that night. Congratulations to John, or Adam, or Steve, or whichever one of you is getting married.  

In between eating and sun-bathing, the Fremont Street Experience is a great place to wander around. It features…

  • A traffic-free space covered by the world’s largest movie screen
  • Three free bands. This year is themed I-Love-the-‘80’s. Last year the cover bands were rocking ‘70’s tunes. I have a guess at next year’s playlist…
  • A high population of Elvis’s (Elvi?), Zorro’s, members of Kiss, and feathered dancers. Tip ‘em if you take their picture!  
  • La Bayou (15 East Fremont St) – one of the last spots you can collect your winnings in buckets full of nickels.
  • Zip-lining. $15 before 6, $20 at night, or a $50 pass all day. Not as scary as you think, and worth the short flight over the chaos.