Viva the other Las Vegas
The neon lights of Las Vegas. (Ray Laskowitz/LPI)
Though the old Las Vegas clichés might be exactly what most people come for, when you have had your fill of monster buffets, sipped all the 99 cent margaritas you can manage, ridden the rollercoasters, gawped at the little old ladies at their giant $100-a-crank slot machines, tied the knot at midnight in an Elvis-serenaded wedding chapel and otherwise thoroughly revelled in Las Vegan hedonism, here are some of the best ways to experience an alternative side to the City of Sin.
Forego the Dions or Manilows (unless, understandably, you must have one small dose of Copacabana), in favour of rock and blues at the Sand Dollar Blues Room (3355 Spring Mountain Rd), the city's oldest live music venue, with entertainment nightly and nary a velvet jacket or toupee in sight. If music of a more divine nature is calling, make for the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues (3950 Las Vegas Blvd S.) where uplifting Sunday morning church tunes accompany a down-home feast of grits, jambalaya and key lime pie. For a taste of good old country honky-tonk, polish your dancing shoes for a night out at Dylan's Dance Hall and Saloon (4660 Boulder Hwy, Boulder Strip); alternatively, sit back with smooth jazz and vintage wines at Jazzed Cafe and Vinoteca (8615 W. Sahara Ave) west of the city centre.
Though there is fine dining on offer throughout the city, one place not to miss is Rosemary's Restaurant (8125 W. Sahara Ave), whose stylish but down-to-earth dinners include parmesan soufflés, crimini mushroom soup and prosciutto-crusted salmon. If you have indulged in one too many prime-rib buffets, opt for a homemade tamale at simple little Mexican cantina Doña Maria (910 Las Vegas Blvd) or, for tastes of long-gone Las Vegas, head over to the 24-hour Tiffany's Cafe (1700 Las Vegas Blvd S) to fill up on old fashioned vanilla malts and corned beef hash. Finally stake out a deep-red booth at Cafe Heidelberg (610 E Sahara Ave), where you might see an old time crooner or two schmoozing over schnitzel and sauerkraut.
Explore a burgeoning contemporary arts scene in the Las Vegas Arts District, making sure not to miss The Arts Factory (107 E. Charleston Blvd), where the first Friday of every month sees a local artist showcased. Next browse the eclectic treasures at the Main Street Casino (210 N Main St), which include a chunk of the Berlin Wall and Little Women author Louisa May Alcott's private Pullman car. Visit the sobering Smithsonian-affiliated Atomic Testing Museum (755 E. Flamingo Rd) which traces the history of the atomic era and of eerie ground-level atomic testing outside the city. Then, for a little light relief, steel yourself for the Liberace Museum (1775 E. Tropicana Ave), opened in 1979 by the man himself, which features - amongst other, even glitzier things - the world's largest, 150,000-carat rhinestone.
Having propped up its sports bars, clinked flutes in its champagne bars, and affected an air of nonchalance in its chicest drinking destinations, there are two Las Vegas watering holes (at the very extremes of the drinking spectrum) you really should not miss. Hit the Double Down Saloon (4640 Paradise Rd), where the likes of the Stooges, the Sex Pistols and the Clash rarely leave the jukebox, to sample a "bacon martini" and peruse the manifold Psychobilly tattoos. When the music gets too loud, make for the intimate Artisan Lounge (1501 W Sahara Ave), filled to the brim with leather and gilt, whose after-hours events can assume a decidedly Burlesque character.
After a few hard partying days in town, it is a welcome relief to get out into one of the city's more soothing natural spaces. If you are feeling energetic, hike the 10.3 mile Las Vegas Valley trail to the cool summit of Mount Charleston, accessible from the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, or tramp the stunning desert trails of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. For gentler outdoor recreation, visit the 180-acre Springs Preserve (333 S. Valley View Blvd), with wetland trails, 400 tree species, and a 3D movie illuminating all things environmental in the area. A little farther afield, spot birds along the meandering pathways of the Clark County Wetlands Park (7050 Wetlands Park Lane), or head back in time to discover the petroglyphs of the Valley of Fire State Park, an easy hour's drive from the city centre.