For those of us allergic to the idea of Times Square on steroids (and perhaps more literally, the ever-present odor of cigarettes, strong perfume, and dubious buffet fare), Las Vegas might seem an unsuitable destination. But the same anything-goes ethos responsible for the Strip’s over-the-top glitz has also bred a special brand of raw, quirky energy that permeates the city as a whole. Navigate away from the chain restaurants and mega-hotels on the main drag and you’ll find a jackpot of unusual and decidedly cool spots (with nary a sequined body-con clubbing dress in sight). Some of these places tap into vintage Las Vegas, with its rich and titillating history. Others are modern alternative classics: independent businesses that have been doing their own thing amidst the surrounding casino culture. Still others are brand-new by-products of a growing effort to make downtown Las Vegas—once a dusty desert setting full of empty lots and abandoned motel fronts—a creative and entrepreneurial mecca, an endeavor that’s being spearheaded by local residents and backed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s revitalization venture dubbed the Downtown Project. (Zappos itself has set up headquarters in the heart of DTLV.) So take a gamble—Sin City is for you, after all.
Click through the gallery to see the coolest unknown parts of Las Vegas.