Downtown Nugget is uptown establishment

Jan 19, 2010 5:00 PM


DOWNTOWN DELIGHT: This week we thought we would take a cruise downtown to check out the Golden Nugget, which in November opened Rush Tower, the latest of several ongoing renovation and expansion projects.

We were pleasantly surprised with the new entrance off of First Street. We drove north on Main Street, turned right at the Golden Gate Casino (Carson Street, just before Fremont) and a short block down at First we were there. It seemed to make getting there easier. Big palm trees lead you into a grand porté cochere that gives off enough elegance to let you know you’re at an uptown establishment.

The lobby is spacious, contemporary and elegant. Behind the sleek front desk your view is filled floor to ceiling with a magnificent tropical aquarium. The 75,000-gallon fish tank, filled with hundreds (maybe 1,000 or so?) colorful creatures is part of the Chart House restaurant, located immediately behind the reservation area. Although the menu was tempting (Miso glazed salmon wrapped in prosciutto sounded yummy), it was a little early for lunch and we wanted to explore more.

As we walked through the lobby heading toward the main casino we noticed a small gaming area that included slots and video poker machines along with several live table games, a nice convenience for Rush Tower guests. We continued down a short hallway and turned right; a view of the hotel’s outdoor pool area, known as The Tank, was constantly visible through huge walls of glass. By the time we got to the original lobby off Casino Center, the beauty of the pool enticed us to step outside.

Although it was a cool 61 degrees, several brave souls ventured into the water, which is heated to a comfortable 78 degrees. At the center of the pool was another fish tank. This one – 200,000 gallons – was filled with sharks. The pool also sports a three-story waterslide for the more adventurous.

There were rows and rows of chaise lounges and several large round day beds. Over near the Jacuzzi was an open pit fireplace and plenty of lounge seating with cocktail tables for those enjoying a bite to eat or a cocktail, both conveniently available near-by. It was very inviting.

But we didn’t come to swim or lounge so headed back inside. Once there we made our way to the sports book, noticing as we walked through the casino (which was quite busy) there were ample table games with a $5 minimum bet.

The book is small but very comfortable with video screens at nearly every seat. Since the NFL playoff games were in full swing, it was packed and the crowd was excited. What made it even more exciting was the large video wall at one end of the room. The huge screens were not in the usual place, up behind the betting counter. They were on the wall right in front of you, and the high definition broadcast made it seem like you were actually on the field. GN is definitely a great place to watch a game.

After seeing the Saints score yet again in the third quarter, we decided to leave. Sadly, our parlay included Arizona and only food could make us feel better, so we headed toward the Grotto, GN’s Italian restaurant.

Of course, we had to try the meatballs. They were offered as an appetizer with a side of marinara sauce for $8.99 and are a true test of any Italian eatery. You get two meatballs to the order, but don’t fret, there’s plenty because these are Italian-size meatballs (a little smaller than a tennis ball). They were soft, moist and delicious. We also enjoyed the grilled vegetable Panini ($11.99), which came with a cup of tomato basil soup and a side of garlic parmesan fries. (We opted to substitute salad for the fries.) The sandwich was good (but what’s with the mayonnaise?) and the soup – made with San Marzano plum tomatoes – was the best I’ve ever had.

OLD VEGAS: If you’re looking for a touch of the old Las Vegas, stop by the El Cortez at the corner of Fremont and Sixth. The people are downright friendly and there are plenty of $5 table games, and even some with a $3 minimum. You can also find nickel and penny slot machines, both of which let you play one credit at a time if you want to, and you can enjoy playing a few of the old reel machines. You know; the ones they had before everything was a video screen. When you get hungry, Café Cortez offers a huge menu at very reasonable prices.

FREE! The word is used a lot in advertising. But usually there’s an asterisk right next to it, and when you get out the magnifying glass to read the fine print you find out it’s not really free. You have to buy something first or agree to buy something or take a survey or whatever. But if you stop by Binion’s on Fremont Street you can get your picture taken next to their display of $1 million and it will cost you absolutely nothing. You don’t have to join a slot club; you don’t even have to tell them your name. Just wait your turn, smile pretty for the camera and return in 30 minutes to pick up your photo.

See you around town.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Eileen Di Rocco