Category Archives: Downtown

Fading (or gone) icons Part 3

I have taken off too long and now I’m back from my recent trip to Las Vegas.  I got to stay at the California Hotel and Casino in Downtown Las  Vegas.  As I have written earlier, for someone from Hawaii to stay can be a cool experience.  You have food your familiar with, walking distance to other casinos, and your guaranteed to run into someone from home while your there, sometimes someone you haven’t seen in many years.

One of the biggest changes they made at the California was to move the sports book downstairs and to get rid of the snack bar/fast food counter that was on the ground floor.  It was a great place to get something fast, delicious and to go.  I really used to love the hamburger steak there.  A few times I ordered out so that I had a lunch to take on the plane, which was waaaay better than anything served on a plane.

One of the biggest adjustments I had to make with this renovation was that whenever I had leftover coupons from my meals booklet, I could take it to the snack counter and trade it in for cracker jack style popcorn, cookies, M&M’s and canned juice.  I found out you can still do it, but now you go to Lappert’s Ice Cream upstairs and they will exchange it for you.  But I think it has become kinda tight with the exchange.  I used to be able to get several bags of popcorn and cookies each but now I was only able to get one bag of popcorn and 3 bags of cookies.

The girl working there told me that it was based off the dollar amount of the tickets which came out to about $2.50 per ticket and the popcorn and cookies were $3-$4 a bag!  I guess I will just get less to take back home.

I have to someday write about how my friend Nick didn’t believe me that you can do this to cash everything out.

Fading (or gone) icons Part 2

Time is undefeated and it will move on.  Nothing stays the same, sadly.   Another icon of Las Vegas has been the neon.  Hard to imagine Downtown Las Vegas or the Strip without neon.  Nowadays, the “neon” is actually a gigantic LED TV screen.  It looks sharp and can be updated with a few keyboard entries and a click of a mouse.  Neon itself is a dying art and there is not much of it left.  If you take a walk down the Fremont Street Experience, you will find several old neon signs still up, even though they have nothing to do with the business below or within the building.

You can still see the famous “Vegas Vic” the neon cowboy but his sidekick (companion?) Vegas Vickie was removed back in June 2017 as well as the Las Vegas Club sign to make room for the renovations coming to Fremont Street.  According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, she is supposed to be restored and put back up for all to see in another location, but no one seems to know where.

Omiyage or gifts to bring back home

When visiting Las Vegas, those of us from the 50th State always seems like we have to bring something back for others; neighbors who watched your house while your gone, co-workers who had to put up with you being gone…again, friends and relatives just because.

One of the most popular items to be brought back from Las Vegas is beef jerky.  Yes the flavorful snack that was originated to keep meat from spoiling and has evolved to 100’s of flavors.  My favorite to bring back is one that is soft and sweet, like teriyaki.  Everyone has their favorite; spicy, mild, natural, hot, hard etc.

If your staying Downtown Las Vegas, there are at least four businesses to shop at within walking distance of each other.  The most convenient one is 808 Vegas located in the California Hotel which has the beef jerky and other snacks, one of my other favorites is the cinnamon bagel chips!  If shopping here, check to see if they will deliver to your room.  I heard they deliver to the California Hotel, Main Street, and Fremont.  Not sure about the other downtown hotels.

Just off of Fremont Street on 3rd Street, close to the Four Queens and the D is The Beef Jerky Store .  Same location for over 20 years and probably the one with the largest selection.  The walls are lined with beef jerky selections and other snacks!  Iso peanuts, arare, lemon peel, dried scallops, li hing worms, too many to mention and it bore you to death.  Their webpage even allows for online shopping in case you don’t see a trip coming up in the near future and no one you know is headed that way.

The next most popular location seems to be Las Vegas Jerkys, located on the third floor of the Plaza Hotel and Casino at the top of Fremont Street.  Their shop is pretty low key, nothing fancy but a wide selection.

If you wander further east on Fremont Street into Neonopolis, you will find Beef Jerky Neonopolis, on the ground floor, right next door to Ultimate Sportscards and Memorabilia .  This is the shop Jeremy, the sports memorabilia expert featured on History Channel‘s Pawn Stars owns.  The selection in this store is very expansive too, but super similar products to the Beef Jerky Store.  One of the lady’s that works at Beef Jerky Neonopolis used to be at the Beef Jerky Store, but when you ask them, it seems like she tries to down play it.

One of my friend’s commented to her about the Beef Jerky Store having expanding into this location and he was immediately shut down with “No, we opened this place.  We are not an expansion of them”.  Looks like family dramas.

Didn’t stop me from buying many bags of flavorful beef jerky, candies, nuts and other treats to take home back for the family, neighbors and co-workers.

Super Bowl Sunday in Las Vegas

I recently got to visit Las Vegas from Feb. 5 to Feb. 10.  I flew from Honolulu direct to Las Vegas with my friends Brian, Bert and Darrin. Friends since we weren’t even old enough to drive.  We didn’t plan it, but we ended up flying out on Super Bowl Sunday.  We landed right at kick off and made it to the California Hotel by half time.  On our way there, you could tell that the game was in progress because the freeways and main roads had no traffic and very little cars on them!

We checked into the California Hotel in time for the second half, which I found out I couldn’t place many prop bets at that time. The sports book at the California is more comfortable than when it was upstairs and there was a lot of seats and viewing areas for people to watch the game.

TVs were on all over the casino; near the table games, the upstairs and downstairs bars and even in the Keno room!  There was even a special, by invitation only function going on in the Ohana Room on the second floor.

I took a quick walk down to Fremont Street and could see that it was pretty much a ghost town but I could hear the cheers coming from every casino bar, as most of them are near the entrance off of Fremont Street. While most of the places had some sort of drink special, party special or food special, most of the places were a bunch of football fans sitting together to watch the biggest game of the year. If your a Patriots fan, probably one of the best games ever.



Just in case; a medical anxiety when visiting Las Vegas

My biggest fear of traveling to Las Vegas is needing medical attention. If you have a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan such as HMSA, your good but I have Kaiser Permanente and believe it or not, Kaiser Permanente has no facilities in the State of Nevada! I always thought that Las Vegas has everything, but I later found out that Kaiser Permanente is not one of them. Several years ago, co-worker told me that her brother had Kaiser Permanente, but when he was visiting Las Vegas, a situation came up where he had to see a doctor and the closest facility to Las Vegas was in California. He had to make a two hour drive, one way, to see a doctor! Just that story alone made me worried every trip I took to the 9th Island.

I know that it were an emergency that would be taken care just like any other person would be taken care of. What I was dreading was getting sick or injured, but not bad enough for an emergency room visit. The drawbacks to an emergency room visit are:

  • It can be depressing because every sort of illness and injury comes in
  • If it’s busy and your not that bad off, every severe case that comes in pushes you to the back of the line to be seen
  • You could be there for hours because even if the doctor has seen you, the rest of the emergency room staff is busy with other patients and they will get to you when they get to you
  • Lastly, it is very expensive compared to a regular doctor visit

My anxiety would soon change. Here’s what I found out by accident: I had to go for a doctor’s visit the other day and while waiting in the examining room, I see a flyer with the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, (which will always catch my eye). I opened it up to find out that Kaiser Permanente has now contracted with Concentra Urgent Care and Walgreens Healthcare to treat their patients when traveling.

I started to read the flyer and found that Concentra Urgent Care might be the best bet. There only four locations and three of them are open Monday-Friday 8:00 am to 5 or 6:00 pm. The fourth location at 5850 Polaris Avenue near McCarren International is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Concentra Urgent Care is staffed by board certified physicians and clinicians. Most of the centers also have X-ray and lab facilties.

Walgreens Healthcare has 13 locations with two right on the Strip, one near the Venetian and the other near MGM Grand. They are staffed by either a board certified nurse practitioner or physician assistant, but all locations have a pharmacy.

Hopefully you or me will never need to use these facilities, but it’s nice knowing that there are options.

Las Vegas Underworld; How illegal money is made fast

I was watching the National Geographic channel’s “Underworld, Inc. Las Vegas Hustle”. I wasn’t too surprised by what I saw when a card counter, a prostitute and the Aria Hotel and Casino security was featured. I found a couple of the features entertaining. Each of the persons featured in the show were wearing masks while they were telling their stories. The card counter was wearing a mask that covered his mouth and nose, but you could clearly see his eyes and the bridge of his nose. Other TV shows that featured Las Vegas casino security technology has publicly stated that they have facial recognition software that can ID someone just off the eyes and nose area because that is the one facial area that can’t be changed or altered. I can just picture it: security professionals, as soon as they saw this feature, began inputting this person’s facial features to match what they have.

The card counter not only demonstrated his card counting, but his slight of hand display. He practiced in his hotel room how he would slip a $25 or $100 chip under another chip after he won the hand and just prior to being paid by the dealer. Now that is really risky as that could get you jail time as well as banned from most casinos.

This card counter closed out his segment by saying that he played at one casino and won $300 from one and $800 from another for a total of $1100. He closes by saying “Not a bad night”. I agree, not a bad night, but hardly worth it to get banned from a casino.

The show also featured a person makes a living robbing casinos, armored cars and couriers throughout Las Vegas for a living.  Those are some dangerous and desperate people because they have no regard for person safety and others.

No thanks, I will just take my chances and have good memories of every trip I take to my favorite vacation spot without having to look over my shoulder.  It wouldn’t be much fun if I was always worried about being caught.

Shopping for Trader Joe’s; a Must Stop when traveling

When people from Hawaii travel to Las Vegas, a must (absolute must) stop is Trader Joe’s! You know that you have to bring something back from this market to the gang at the office, the neighbor that watched your house while you were on the trip, the babysitter, and other people who are close to you.

The most frequented branch is located on 2101 South Decatur Blvd. , north of West Sahara Avenue. I remember a few years ago, walking into this location and right in front, taped onto a support pole was a list titled: “Most popular items for our shoppers from Hawaii”. Which tells you how many of us shop at this certain location because it really close to Downtown Las Vegas.

There are other branches within Las Vegas but not frequented as much as the Decatur Blvd. According to the Trader Joe’s web page, there are two locations in Summerlin and two locations in Henderson.

I can’t confirm this but because the other locations are as frequented by Hawaii people, the stock of Cookie Butter is left on the shelf, not behind the customer service counter like it is at the Decatur Blvd. branch. If you were to vacation elsewhere and come across a Trader Joe’s anywhere else in the country, the Cookie Butter is also left on the shelf or on an end display.

Whenever I shop there, my favorites have been dried figs, trail mix, energy bars, cranberry dunkers, blueberry bars, pumpkin bars etc. I can’t help but envy (sometimes) the locals who can shop there and take home some of the frozen or refrigerated specialty items I see on display; marinated lamb rack, various cheeses, marinated fish and chicken and so many it makes almost anyone look like a gourmet chef.


Kahuku vs Bishop Gorman; Las Vegas and Hawaii game of the year

What has happened this weekend in Las Vegas has got to be something out of the ordinary. I’m not talking about Megabucks hitting twice in day but a huge football game. It’s not a professional game or even a NCAA FBS game but a high school football game between Kahuku High School and the number one team in the country, Bishop Gorman. The pride of the North Shore, Kahuku High School is ranked number 18 out of 20 according to the USA Today . It is really awesome considering that it is a public school which has to work with the student body that number barely over 1400 students.

Bishop Gorman also has a student body about the same size, but they don’t have community boundaries to operate within. It also helps that they have a long list of distinguished alumni with money.

On my Facebook page are a couple of videos of the Kahuku football team on Fremont Street attending a pep rally, which was huge! Located between the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino , Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel, The Fremont Hotel and Casino, and the Four Queens Hotel and Casino, a stage was set up and all I could see was red all the way down the Fremont Street Experience.

I was told informally that the game sold out within hours and Kahuku High School depleted their allotment of 2000 tickets, which goes to show the support the people of Hawaii can have for the home team. I know a few people from Hawaii made the trip (like it is hard to convince people from Hawaii to travel to Las Vegas) and thousands living on the mainland, I imagine the crowd will not be one sided in cheering.

I know this is early, but I wish the players from the North Shore the best of luck and to play hard, play with pride, and stay safe.

Container Park; Different Experience but so close to the action

While vacationing in Las Vegas last year, my friend Marc told me about a new attraction, so close to Downtown Las Vegas called “Container Park“.  He assured me that it was just across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Fremont Street Experience and that it would be worth checking out.

So one late afternoon I took a walk east on Fremont Street, crossed Las Vegas Boulevard and a couple of blocks later, I was walking up to gigantic metal praying mantis.  It is made of recycled metal parts and can move up and down. Also just outside of Container Park is large metal heart shaped sculpture with wire mesh covering it.  There are dozens, if not over a hundred padlocks attached to this heart.  This is a take off from the social media concept of couples locking a padlock onto a fence near a scenic point and throwing the key away as a symbolism to their loved having a lock on their heart.

There was a group of about 20 young children sitting a half circle near this metal giant, waiting anxiously.  I stood there long enough to see that they were about to start drum lessons from a instructor who appeared to be very relaxed in his teaching.

Walking into Container Park, you find that it laid out in a large circle, two and three stories high of recycled shipping containers that have been converted to shops, restaurants, art galleries and offices. My favorite has become the the BluMarble which is unique in that it takes used alcohol bottles and transforms them into serving trays, shot glasses, drinking glasses and other useful items that have the product labeling on it.

The restaurants appear to be very popular as I observed four members of the North Las Vegas Police Department stopping in for a bite to eat and it is no secret that cops know the good places to eat!

I make it a point to always stop by this attraction whenever I’m staying in Las Vegas because the business have changed out a couple of times already and there might be something new or just something I missed.

Losing Mermaids, Fried Twinkies, coin slot machines

This past Monday, 6-27-16, marked another passing in Las Vegas.  Not the funeral type, but the passing of another mainstay in Downtown Las Vegas.  This date was the last day of operation for Mermaids Casino, Glitter Gulch and La Bayou.  The trio were purchased by Derek Stevens, co-owner of The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.  He plans to renovate them but is quiet on what that will be.

What I will miss about these two casinos is that they are a throwback to when Downtown casinos were just that, casinos.  I know that was many years ago, but many years ago, a trip to Sin City meant staying at one of the surrounding motels and going to the casinos to gamble. Eventually most evolved to becoming hotel and casinos properties, but not Mermaids and La Bayou.  The latter was also the only all coin slot machine casino left.  Remember the days of the slot girls walking around with their apron full of rolls of quarters and dollars?  Looking back, that must have been punishing work.

From a gastro point of view, I will miss the deep fried twinkies and oreos, even though I only had them once, as I always thought “I get one on the next trip”.

It must have been nostalgic in the hours before closing and really wish I could have been there to take part in it.