Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
One of the oldest casinos in the city, the 1914-room Golden Nugget stands out as the only downtown destination that hasn't given up in the face of overwhelming competition from the over-the-top Strip. Its "Old Vegas" neighborhood had a higher profile in the 1970s, before the ascendancy of the Strip mega-resort, a shift crystallized by the opening of the Mirage in 1989. Since then, many of the properties on Fremont Street and its environs, including the Four Queens, the California, and Main Street Station, have become sleepy throwbacks to a bygone era. The Nugget is the glaring exception.
Keeping up with the Strip has meant hundreds of millions in renovations. Since Landry's Restaurants took over management duties in 2005, the Golden Nugget has added its vaunted Tank, a pool complex boasting a three-story waterslide that runs through a 200,000-gallon shark aquarium. In late 2009, the hotel opened the $150 million Rush Tower, which added more than 400 rooms to the hotel (all of which are bigger and nicer than the rest).
The efforts appear to be paying off in the form of a younger and more varied crowd than you'll find anywhere else downtown. The guests at the Nugget run the gamut from wedding and bachelor(ette) parties to young couples and vacationing families. The nightlife is a notch above the typical downtown hotels, but still nothing close to Strip excess.
With a fast check-in and checkout as well as rapid room service and housekeeping help, service at the Golden Nugget is great.
Service at the Golden Nugget stands out, particularly for a Vegas hotel in this price range. The Nugget has garnered a Four Diamond rating from AAA for 32 consecutive years, a Nevada record. A few pampering touches are missing -- no free overnight shoeshine service, and guests in standard rooms don't enjoy turndown service (Gold Club rooms and all suites do). But numerous bellmen wait at the entrance to hail cabs and help with bags. The concierge desk and room service are on call 24 hours a day.
Check-in took five minutes, enough time for the clerk to ask whether I wanted a king bed or a double room (with two queen beds), and smoking or non. Checkout was likewise fast; I waited behind only one person.
Located on Fremont Street in Las Vegas' older downtown section, the Golden Nugget is surrounded by small hotels, all more closely packed together than the buildings on the Strip are. Rather than walk nearly half a mile to the next casino, guests can literally cross the street to reach the Four Queens, Binion's Horseshoe, or the Fremont Casino.
The Golden Nugget, like other hotels on the western end of Fremont Street, opens right onto the Fremont Street Experience, a 90-foot-high canopy over the street where nightly light and sound shows play.
Most Las Vegas visitors want to explore all of the big properties along the densely packed three-and-a-half mile long stretch of hotel-casinos known as the Strip. From downtown, the Strip is 10 to 15 minutes away by cab (a $10 to $15 ride). On the Strip, cabs are easy to find at virtually any time of day or night. A generally less expensive option is the Deuce, a double-decker bus that runs up and down the strip 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and costs $3 to ride. There's also a monorail system, which stops at Bally's, Caesars Palace, Harrah's, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Hilton, and the Sahara. A single-ride ticket is $5; a one-day pass is $13. If you're traveling along the Strip with at least one other person, a cab is often the least expensive option.
The Golden Nugget is a 20-minute, $25 cab ride to McCarran International Airport.
Rooms at the Golden Nugget are traditional, spacious, and free of wear and tear. Yet outside noise was a moderate problem.
At about 400 square feet, the traditionally decorated Deluxe rooms are roughly the same size as a standard room at most midpriced Las Vegas hotels. The floral pattern "Dorset" by Samelson Chatelane on the bedspreads repeats on the window curtains and the headboard. Textured, gold-hued wallpaper lends warmth to the space, and all the tables, including a vanity, are topped with the same heavy, granite-like surface. I saw nearly no visible wear and tear on the furniture.
Deluxe rooms come with either king- or queen-size beds with comfortable Serta mattresses and Pyramid 200-thread sheets, name brands but not luxury labels.
The room falls short in a few areas. Although the side table between two armchairs has a computer port with an Ethernet cable and a power outlet, the space isn't ideal for working because the chairs are too low to treat the table as a desk. A Sony clock-radio is all you have for music -- no CD player, no iPod dock -- and the 21" RCA tube TV with basic cable and on-demand movies won't knock anyone's socks off.
The bathroom, a fairly standard 54 square feet, is outfitted with a shower-tub, toilet, sink and Kudos Spa toiletries. Dorset-patterned drapes once again make an appearance, this time on the shower curtain. Two Sunbay Supplies robes bearing the Golden Nugget logo hang in the closet.
My room overlooked the Plaza Hotel and the Nugget's parking garage, with a view of distant mountains. On this side of the building, noise from nearby concert halls and the Fremont Street Experience is audible. The music played past midnight and became audible again at 7 a.m. It wasn't overpowering, but definitely noticeable
Significantly more spacious than the Deluxe room, the Gold Club rooms on the 16th and 17th floors of the Gold Tower (formerly the North Tower) boast plasma TVs in the bedrooms and bathrooms and free Internet access. They can cost as much as $100 more than the Deluxe rooms.
Rooms in the Rush Tower (opened November 2009) are about 20 percent larger than rooms in the Gold Tower and Carson Tower (formerly the South Tower), and have 42-inch flat-screen TVs and beds with pillow-top mattresses and down comforters.
At the elegant Golden Nugget Spa, guests can sample fresh fruit, hot drinks and lemon-infused water while relaxing in plush armchairs under the lounge's vaulted, translucent ceiling. The $20 admission fee -- standard for Vegas -- includes the fitness center and spa facilities. The hot tub in the men's facility is small, but the opulent tiling and low lighting create a luxurious feel. The men's vanity area offers an array of Gillette shaving products as well as moisturizing gels. The locker room sports its own lounge area with a flat-screen TV and a view of the pool through slatted window shades. The Golden Nugget Spa sells a range of services, including massages, facials and a "Wedding Cake" sugar body scrub.
The fitness center is part of the spa and features 11 pieces of cardio equipment, including StairMasters, exercise bikes, elliptical machines, and treadmills. The well laid-out separate weight room houses Cybex weight machines, Pilates balls, and a full set of free weights. A large flat-panel TV hangs in the weight room. The treadmills in the cardio room have personal TV screens. The spa and fitness center are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The business center shares space with the bell desk, making it tough to conduct business privately, but the center does offer document services and shipping. In addition, two computer stations with printers sit by the elevator bank. The computers cost $5 for the first five minutes, 50 cents a minute thereafter, and the printing is $1 a page (black-and-white prints only). In-room Internet access is $12.99 a day.
The Tank, the Golden Nugget's one-of-a-kind pool, is named for the massive 200,000-gallon shark aquarium in the middle. A three-story waterslide runs around the tank, shooting guests past sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, and zebra sharks via a transparent tube. Blackjack tables on the deck allow swimmers to gamble within view of the waterfalls and deck chairs. The year-round pool is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer; off-season hours may vary. Seven cabanas, with flat-screen TVs and refrigerators can be rented. Rates vary day to day.
The expansive, 45,000-square-foot space, home to more than 1,300 slot machines, table games, a poker room, sports book, and high-limit areas, is a downtown destination.
With plenty of gaming options, the Golden Nugget's popular casino draws a crowd from all over downtown. More than 1,000 slots and 50 table games, including blackjack, craps, baccarat, roulette, Pai Gow Poker, and keno fill the space. The 24-hour poker room sponsors daily $65 Texas Hold-'em tournaments at its 13 tables at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., and 1 a.m. Lessons are available every day at 10 a.m.
The atmosphere at the Golden Nugget is not overtly adult-oriented, especially by Vegas standards. Kids can have a great time at The Tank pool, swimming by the shark tank and shooting down the three-story waterslide.
The Fremont Street Experience right outside is another attraction kids should like, and the Hand of Faith by the hotel lobby, the second-largest golden nugget ever discovered, might hold children's interest for several minutes.
The rooms are spotless. The carpets bear no stains, no dust or discoloration mar the furnishings. Aside from a paint stain on the shower light, the bathroom is also beyond reproach. Similarly, from the hallways to the lobby, I found nothing to complain about.
Not surprisingly for a busy pool, several stray towels were left uncollected by pool attendants, but that's a minor gripe.
Although the Nugget makes admirable efforts to spice up what can be dull downtown nightlife -- at least compared to the notorious excess of the Strip -- the entertainment options fall short. Gold Diggers nightclub, which features scantily clad female dancers, plays "your favorite hits from the '70s, '80s, '90s, and today." Drinks at H2O's Jacuzzi can make for a fun night, but don't expect the rowdy scene or latest hip DJs found at many Strip resorts.
Similarly, theater options are limited to Gordie Brown, whose shows include impersonations of Elvis Presley and Sylvester Stallone (but not the Prime Minister of the U.K.), and the Frankie Moreno Band, fronted by a guitarist/mandolinist/pianist/harmonica player.
Far more variety -- and higher prices -- than diners will find at other downtown hotels.
Guests at the Golden Nugget will find a wide variety of dining experiences at a variety of prices -- seven restaurants, including a solid value at the Buffet, 24-hour cafe fare at Carson Street, and chic decor at Red Sushi. At the Nugget's top fine-dining rung sits Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse, which garnered a Michelin Guide recommendation in 2009. The choice puts other downtown hotels such as the Main Street Station, and the California to shame.
Prices at the Grille line up with other nearby budget restaurants. Simple fare like hamburgers and chicken fingers runs $7 to $10. On the other menus, prices go up sharply: $8 to $40 entrees at Lillie's Noodle House, $12 to $36 entrees at Grotto, and $24 to $40 entrees at Vic & Anthony's.
The buffet on the second floor is good by buffet standards, but not the best in Vegas. For that, check out the Bellagio. The Champagne brunch costs $17.99. On weekdays, breakfast runs $9.99, lunch $10.99, and dinner $17.99. Windows on one side of the restaurant overlook the pool area.
For the price, the Golden Nugget is a steal, provided you don't mind staying in Vegas' older downtown neighborhood instead of the newer, livelier Strip. In exchange for giving up the prime location, guests can enjoy clean, well-appointed rooms, excellent service -- and a top-notch pool complete with a shark tank.