With the revitalization of the Fremont East Entertainment District (that’s at the other end of the Fremont Street Experience tunnel), El Cortez managed to dust itself off, revamp and renew with the area, which is now teeming with trendy bars and restaurants. Touting itself as the “longest continuously operating hotel-casino in Las Vegas,” El Cortez’s rich history began in 1941, and is peppered with names like Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel (two of the “businessmen” who purchased it in 1945), and Jackie Gaughan (who bought it in 1963, selling it to corporate interests in 2008). The hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the sign that sits at the corner of Fremont Street and Seventh Streets has been the same since the 1940s.
Ten Designer Suites are the result of collaboration between the hotel and Las Vegas Design Center, where four lucky winners showcase their take on the city’s iconic aesthetic: live out your Sin City fantasy in a mob-themed suite, in 1950’s glam chic, or in digs reminiscent of vintage Vegas, among others. The tony Cabana Suites are in a separate tower entirely, a batch of 64 boutique rooms that straddle both vintage decor and ultra-contemporary design. The original rooms may pale in comparison to all the new additions. They’re vintage as in “traditional” not “hipster,” but run larger than plenty of other rooms Downtown, and are usually priced quite affordably.
Many of the employees at El Cortez have been here for decades, which says a lot. Local legend and former owner Jackie Gaughan lived in the penthouse atop the hotel tower until his death at age 92 in 2014. Forget the manufactured versions—this is the real thing, updated but without losing its identity, and for at least half the price.
During Downtown’s home-grown autumn music, food, and arts festival, Life is Beautiful, El Cortez is smack dab in the middle of it all. If you’re planning on attending, staying here is a fantastic idea. But thanks to being set right in the heart of the now-gentrifying Downtown, it’s still one of the coolest places to stay, even when there’s not a festival going on.
- Grace Bascos