Culture + Style

Where to Catch Blasts from Las Vegas’s Storied Past

Snapping a selfie at the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is a must-do. (Photo: Alamy)

In the original Ocean’s 11, Frank Sinatra’s Danny Ocean and his band of war buddies staged a daring New Year’s Eve heist at five Las Vegas casinos — the Desert Inn, Sands, Flamingo, Sahara and Riviera. In the more-than half century since the movie’s release, most of those properties – and much else of Las Vegas’ storied past — has been dynamited into oblivion, replaced by shiny, new megaresorts.

Are there any remaining vestiges of vintage Vegas? If you know where to look, you can still find remnants of Sin City the way it used to be, from the original neon of Glitter Gulch to Rat Pack hangouts and, of course, the iconic sign that says it all.

“Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” Sign

Erected in 1959, this world-famous beacon to fun seekers stands on a grassy median at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard.

The playful design is topped by a neon starburst and rimmed by gold chasing lights. Never copyrighted, the design continues to inspire a global cottage industry of kitsch, from beach towels to baby’s onesies and snow globes to shot glasses.

Neon Museum

neon museum
See the ghosts of Vegas’s glowing past at the Neon Museum. (Photo: Image provided by The Neon Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada)

The classic neon that lent Las Vegas its high-voltage personality back in the day has mostly gone the way of the dodo bird, replaced by LED screens as big as houses.

You can take a look at more than 200 signs from Vegas’s neon heyday on a docent-led, guided tour at the Neon Museum, just north of downtown.

Among the colorful old relics are the 1955 sign from the Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas’s first integrated hotel-casino, and the 1958 Stardust sign, whose space-agey letters pay homage to the days when Las Vegans clinked martini glasses to toast the glow of atomic bombs detonated in the Mojave Desert.

Only a few of the signs at the Neon Museum are restored and lighted. For a look at original Vegas neon in its brightly lighted glory, head downtown to the museum’s urban collection, viewable 24/7 along Las Vegas Boulevard and neighboring streets.

Battista’s Hole in the Wall

A block off the Strip, Battista’s is a throwback of an Italian eatery once popular with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and has been serving up classic fare like four-cheese lasagna and chicken parmigiana since 1970.

The off-Strip eatery is a fun antidote to the overpriced, celebrity-chef-driven dining scene on the Strip: Gordy the strolling accordion player is still performing “Lady of Spain” — “Just for you!” — and dinner comes with free house wine.

Little Church of the West

Little church of the west
Will you say, “I do” at the Little Church of the West? ">Marriott’s Grand Chateau
  • The Westin Las Vegas
  • Las Vegas Marriott
  • Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel
  • Courtyard Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Residence Inn Las Vegas Convention Center
  • SpringHill Suites Las Vegas Convention Center
  • The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Autograph Collection