By Matt Villano, on December 10, 2015

Vegas alfresco

In the olden days—that is, as recently as ten years ago—casino resorts in Las Vegas had a specific plan for keeping customers: Get ‘em in, get ‘em gambling, and don’t let ‘em see the light of day.

Often this translated into casinos with no windows, confusing exit patterns, and interminable walks from the table pits to the bartenders (or back). Friends of mine used to joke that we’d check into a resort for a weekend bender and not see the sunlight until the cab ride to the airport for the flight home.

Nowadays, however, the vibe in Las Vegas is much more, well, open. In a radical twist, many casino resorts have started letting the sunlight in. New resorts revolve around windows and open-air courtyards. Old resorts have sunk millions into new outdoor promenades. At the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, MGM Resorts is building a giant public park—parts of which will open in 2016.

The result: For the first time ever, Vegas is letting the outside in.

Here’s a look at some of the open-air developments about which everyone’s talking, and the ones worth visiting on your next swing through town.

The Park

Without question, the biggest outdoor investment right now is the open space MGM Resorts is building between New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. “The Park” will serve as the entryway from the Strip to a 20,000-seat arena that will host a variety of concerts (including Janet Jackson and Garth Brooks) in 2016. The Park also will offer pedestrians ample opportunities to interact with the resorts—and with each other—outside.

All told, when it opens to the public, The Park will span about six acres, and will include walkways, benches, water features, drought-tolerant landscaping, planter boxes, and public art.

New York-New York will rebuild the north side of the casino to incorporate unique indoor/outdoor dining and entertainment venues, cultivating a vibrant patio culture that encompasses The Park’s landscaped spaces. Monte Carlo will do the same on its south-facing side (eventually, Monte Carlo will add another theater on that side, too).

Between the resorts, Park Avenue, the access road for the arena from Las Vegas Boulevard, will be transformed into a tree-lined parkway—the kind of grand access road you’d expect to find in Beverly Hills.

Of course, right now most of The Park is a work in progress—from the Strip it looks like one big construction site. My sources at MGM tell me the park will open in April. In the meantime, head over to the Monte Carlo, grab an ice cream at BLVD Creamery, find a seat in the pocket park out front, and soak up the sun. Someday, this will be how everyone experiences Vegas.

A rendering of the Monte Carlo theater


The LINQ Promenade

Closer to the Center Strip, between The LINQ Hotel & Casino and the Flamingo Las Vegas, exists another open-air public space. This one, called the LINQ Promenade, is an outdoor shopping mall that stretches from the Las Vegas Strip to the base of the High Roller, currently the largest observation wheel in the world.

It goes without saying that the High Roller is the “biggest” attraction in this space. Along the approach, however, a series of fountains, planter boxes, and outdoor seating areas provide visitors with a host of places to relax. About halfway in, a series of glass doors on the south side provide access to the Flamingo, while some doors on the north side offer entrance to the LINQ Casino and O’Sheas (which, basically, is a casino within the casino).

One of the quirkiest features of the LINQ Promenade: an outdoor, 24-hour ATM machine that dispenses cupcakes instead of cash. The machine, on the outside of Sprinkles Cupcakes, offers nine different flavors, including red velvet and Cuban coffee. Cupcakes cost US$4.25 and are available while supplies last. (For more on how it works, check out this video here.)

Viewfinder Tip: If you want a cupcake from the ATM at Sprinkles, go at off times (early mornings) for the best selection.

The “new” Fremont Street

Downtown, the Fremont Street Experience—which comprises a pedestrian mall on Fremont Street beneath a canopy of lights—has always been open air. In recent months, however, the “experience” has expanded to include an outdoor stage behind The D Las Vegas and new zip lines connected to SlotZilla (which, coincidentally, is the world’s largest slot machine).

On the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard, a number of newish bars right on Fremont have open-air patios. At Commonwealth, the patio is on the roof, giving revelers a great perspective of all of downtown. At Park on Fremont, the “patio” is part of a parking lot.

Another great open-air attraction is Gold Spike, a playground-like clubhouse for grown-ups. Here, on a fenced-in patio in the back, I’ve played giant Jenga®, life-size chess, cornhole, shufflepuck, and a host of other games. (As an aside, the Oasis, a kitschy hotel next door, often offers fantastic deals and has a private entrance to the Gold Spike patio as well.)

But perhaps the best outdoor experience downtown is at Atomic Liquors, a bar that dates all the way back to 1952. Back then, the place was just a liquor store and patrons would swing by, buy some booze, and climb up to the roof to watch mushroom clouds from atomic tests in the desert. Today, the experience is far less dangerous; order a drink at the bar, take your drink to the spacious patio out front, and hang with friends under the stars. Downtown simply doesn’t get cooler than that.

Other notable mentions

Finally, it’s worth noting that a handful of casinos have worked to install windows to flood their gaming floors with—gasp—sunlight.

Encore Las Vegas launched the trend when it opened back in 2008, and the peaceful casino remains one of the best gambling experiences on the Strip. More recently, the casino at SLS Las Vegas has incorporated some natural light elements, including a row of windows that looks out onto the hotel pool.

Then, of course, there are open-air gaming options at a variety of casinos up and down the Strip. My personal faves are the craps and blackjack tables at the Beachside Casino at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Because if there’s anything better than gambling in Vegas, it’s gambling and sunbathing at the same time.

What are your favorite places to be outside in Las Vegas?

Monte Carlo theater rendering courtesy of MGM Resorts.