If there’s one place to put trouble in the rearview mirror, it’s Las Vegas. Adept at forgetting the past, the Mecca of tourism is about moving forward, not looking back. It was one of the first destinations to reopen with security protocols, and then reluctantly imposed new indoor mask mandates. But even in the midst of all the whiplash of the past year and a half, Vegas has seen plenty of openings that make sliding on that face covering worth it.
The first new downtown Las Vegas hotel and casino in more than 40 years cut its ribbon at the end of 2020. Adding to an already reborn downtown, Circa Resort & Casino opens directly onto the unusual and entertaining Fremont Street Experience, a five-block pedestrian promenade. Circa boasts huge sports betting facilities and an expansive pool stadium, but we found its restaurants to be the biggest draw. Do not miss 8 East, a fantastic Asian fusion of the guys behind the city’s iconic Le Thai restaurant. During this time, Saginaw’s charcuterie, open 24 hours, features some of the best latkes, lox, and pastrami outside of New York City.
Circa owner Derek Stevens has a deep love for old school Vegas, visible in the resort’s retro steakhouse, Barry’s Downtown Prime, and the iconic recovered Las Vegas Vickie neon sign, which now hovers above an eponymous lounge bar (above). The roof of Circa Heritage Club offers a 360 degree view of the city.
Circa, being more modern than other DTLV resorts, is more welcoming to gay travelers than some darker downtown casinos, but your Grindr or Tinder may not come out the way it does on the Undress (below view of the aerial visit).
Move south, through the city’s arts district, and explore The garden from Vegas nightlife legend Eduardo Cordova. Sleek and sexy, this indoor / outdoor bar has filled a niche in a city that has lost several of its major gay nightclubs in recent years. There is food, a drag brunch (Coco Montrese performs there), and bottle service on Friday and Saturday evenings. Celebrities (including Cher) are known to pass by, but most attendees dress casually but chic.
Keep moving south and you will strike World of seaside resorts. The new mega-station that opened this year counts Las Vegas Hilton Hotel among its 3,500+ rooms and a myriad of restaurants, including an Asian street dining room. Celine Dion, who left Caesars Palace, will be the resort’s first residence in November, followed by Carrie Underwood and Katy Perry. Lady Gaga will return MGM Park for her acclaimed Jazz & Piano.
The unforgettable Zone 51 is an artistic experience that must be seen to be believed. Inside are Meow Wolf and Omega Mart, immersive experiences with giant neon creations and virtual reality opportunities. It’s a fantastic commentary on consumerism that prompts reflection, not morality.
Luxor Temptation Sundays is the oldest LGBTQ + pool party in town. Sipping a cocktail surrounded by smiling queers from all over the world – which you can actually see and possibly touch – will make you forget both the pandemic and the heat of the desert.