Las Vegas's North Strip Is Having a Glow Up
It's a new era for the north end of the Strip, which is beginning to feel cohesive for the first time in decades with the opening of several hot new hotels and restaurants.
It all began after a guest at the Tavern, the resort’s sportsbook restaurant, posted a photo of the Adobo Chicken Nachos on social media. The small plate of six sad tortilla chips with routine toppings sat next to four condiments—and came with a $21 price tag.
A day later, I grabbed the only bar seat without a video poker machine at the Tavern and asked the bartender what I’d get if I placed an order.
“You’re going to get a mound of nachos,” she replied, before pausing. “You know about Nachogate?”
Lousy food is the last thing the resort wants to be known for while trying to position itself as a luxury destination with the prices to match. The Fontainebleau has invested heavily in its restaurant lineup, which includes the Miami vibe-dining spots Komodo and Papi Steak, the rooftop omakase experience Ito, and the ingredient-driven Roman cuisine of Mother Wolf. The Tavern, a good spot to place a bet and watch a game on a wall-size video screen, is just off a 150,000-square-foot casino floor, where dazzling light fixtures incorporate the resort’s bow tie logo, artwork falls into the “large-format” category, and advertisements promise the opening of Gucci and other high-end boutiques later in 2024.
The Fontainebleau is built on the site of where two sister hotels, the Algiers and El Rancho, welcomed road trippers in the ’50s and ’60s as attention shifted from Fremont Street to the Strip, leading to a boom in Vegas tourism and development. By the 1990s, these smaller hotels couldn’t compete in the era of the megaresorts, which had a stronger presence on the south end of the Strip.
Like most hotels of their era, the Algiers and El Rancho were eventually demolished, clearing a 25-acre lot for the Fontainebleau, a project first announced in 2005. The resort was built and topped off in 2008, but the Great Recession sidelined the opening, leading to an extended period of delays, ownership changes, and stagnation. After the neighboring Riviera was demolished, it left an unavoidable hole of inactivity that was made worse when the failed Echelon project across the street sat dormant for years before evolving into Resorts World in 2021. All of this meant the north end of the strip was relatively quiet for years—and now that’s changing in a big way.
This became especially clear after the Fontainebleau opened in 2023, claiming its long-awaited title of tallest hotel tower in Nevada after 15 years as the Strip’s more glaring eyesore. The resort’s success lies in its prime location next to the newest wing of the Las Vegas Convention Center, beckoning out-of-towners with 3,600 hotel rooms and more than half a million square feet of its own expo space.
A bridge to a better future
The synergy between the two giants is giving the north end of the Strip some serious momentum right now, even with Nachogate revealing a few growing pains.
“The north area of the Strip is lively right now, but also very amorphous,” said Amanda Signorelli, owner of the Golden Steer steakhouse, also located on the north end. “Everyone’s still trying to figure it out. It’s not quite defined yet, which is exciting, right? That’s a great place to be.”
The oldest steakhouse in Vegas is known for wet-aged cuts of beef and stiff martinis, dating back to 1958 when cowboys parked their horses out front before taking a seat. The Golden Steer recently took over a neighboring business to expand its dining room, host larger parties, and take advantage of the increased activity in the area. “We were already unable to accommodate demand, and we needed to have more space,” said Signorelli.
If all goes according to plan, the Golden Steer will be steps away from a proposed $40 million circular pedestrian bridge that will touch all four corners at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue, which officially caps the north end of the Strip.
“That bridge will allow people to go from the Convention Center to Sahara, walk straight across, and come over to the Golden Steer,” said Signorelli. “So we wanted to be prepared.”
The bridge is equally welcome news for the Sahara, a hotel with 72 years of history on the Strip. At one point, it was rebranded the SLS, but new owner Alex Meruelo brought the old name back and invested heavily in a series of renovations, including a reimagined porte cochere and casino floor. About 1,200 of 1,600 rooms have been redone, and plans are in place to turn the Alexandria Tower (formerly the W) into a luxury hotel-within-a-hotel concept later this year.
“We’ve curated some world-class features in a smaller footprint here,” said general manager Paul Hobson, pointing out that the Sahara answers to one individual owner, a rarity in Vegas these days. “We’re somewhat of a throwback to that strong independent owner who’s trying to do something real specific with their resort.”
Joshua Levin of North Las Vegas is a casino regular who appreciates the recent improvements. The Marine Corps veteran prefers the Blackjack conditions at locals’ casinos like El Cortez but visits the Sahara to play Jackpot Hold’em poker. “Plus the parking’s free,” he added. “You can’t beat that.”
The Sahara further entices visitors with new restaurants, such as Shawn McClain’s Balla Italian Soul, but wisely kept Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, a holdover from the SLS era and easily one of the best steakhouses in Las Vegas. Executive chef Frank Medina plans to keep the core menu of Bazaar Meat in place while adding new items like game (possibly pheasant), cured and aged fish, and even 3D-printed food.
“There’s a lot more traffic than when it was the SLS,” said Medina. “We’re always busy here. There are a lot of restaurants, and a lot of good chefs are super close now, so it’s obviously beneficial to all of us.”
Navigating the North Strip via underground taxis
The 3,500-room Resorts World hotel is also a contributor to the North Strip boom and is enjoying the uptick of surrounding activity. “We’ve seen foot traffic pulled this way, which is great,” said Nicole Brisson, executive chef at Brezza, one of the hotel’s most popular restaurants. “We were honestly really excited to have Fontainebleau open. We had customers who were checking out Fontainebleau and came back over here for dinner. It's a win-win for both of us.”
Brezza kept up with demand by introducing a lunch menu seven days a week, and Brisson and director of operations Rob Moore are revamping Bar Zazu, a smaller sister concept next door with live music or DJs five nights a week and a fresh focus on gin in the cocktail-and-spirits program.
“When you open a new hotel, it takes a couple years to find out who you are, what services you provide, and who your customer really is,” said Moore. "We’re finally starting to see that. The guests are connecting with the hotel and recognizing the restaurants. We are definitely seeing more foot traffic.”
Across the hallway, Australian chef Shaun Hergatt recently rebranded his Caviar Bar as Aqua Seafood & Caviar with a redesigned dining room that better complements the quality of the cuisine. New items include beef tartare with quail egg and caviar, lobster tempura, and scallops in kataifi with green curry.
“We had so much more to offer,” said Hergatt, noting some customers misunderstood the concept, thinking it was strictly about caviar and cocktails. “Moving into Resorts World, we knew it was going to take some time to develop. We’ve seen a good evolution.”
Just like the Fontainebleau, Resorts World is benefiting from conventioneers. Last year, the property became the first hotel to connect with the Vegas Loop, Elon Musk’s underground tunnel of Tesla taxis that travel between three stops at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The next station opens in late February at the Westgate, a property east of Las Vegas Boulevard but already tethered to the Strip by its own Las Vegas Monorail station.
The Westgate famously hosted Elvis Presley for a residency in the ‘70s, back when the property was the International Hotel and later the Hilton. “When Elvis was there—and even after he was there—it was a cool spot,” said University of Nevada, Las Vegas associate professor of history Michael Green. “I think the entertainment and Hilton brand helped, as did being next to the Convention Center.”
These days, Frankie Valli and Barry Manilow perform in the same theater that once welcomed the King. Despite the added competition of the Fontainebleau, the Westgate still had strong business during CES.The Westgate also has loyal locals who love to place bets at the jumbo-size SuperBook and dine on dry-aged beef at Edge Steakhouse.
“I opened this bar. It used to be half the size,” said bartender Mike Thompson, who saw the steakhouse’s lounge area expand over the years to accommodate customers. “We have so many regulars.”
The promise of more to come
As the North Strip continues to evolve, it remains a patchwork collage that’s uniquely Las Vegas, from the worn-in neon of the Peppermill and Circus Circus to noticeable energy in newer attractions like the Ahern hotel (formerly the short-lived Lucky Dragon) and Las Vegas Festival Grounds, the site for music festivals like Sick New World (metal), Lovers & Friends (pop, rap, and R&B), and When We Were Young (emo and alt-rock), which are all returning this year.
The area is beginning to feel cohesive for the first time in decades, yet a few holes in the skyline remain. Clark County officially squashed plans for the All Net Resort & Arena after the project broke ground a decade ago, doing little aside from tossing dirt around in its lot next to the Sahara. Land owned by the Wynn between the Fashion Show mall and Resorts World remains vacant after plans to build Wynn West were canceled, but a recent Federal Aviation Administration study confirmed a structure as tall as 640 feet could be approved on the site where the New Frontier once stood. Resorts World, meanwhile, has enough land to build a second hotel tower if and when the time is right.
For now, think of these unused lots as open blueprints for future opportunities in a promising part of Las Vegas that’s on a dramatic upswing.