The Alternative Guide to Las Vegas

One of many murals in the Las Vegas Arts District
One of many murals in the Las Vegas Arts District | © Lissa Townsend Rodgers

Sin City is much more than the Strip, from underground theaters to fusion restaurants, and dive bars to curiosity shops.

Many Las Vegas visitors find themselves trapped along Las Vegas Boulevard, lost in giant casinos and blinding signage.

But for those who prefer to take the occasional step off the beaten path, there are all manner of underground movie theaters, graffiti-adorned bars, multi-cuisine fusion restaurants and even a place to buy a human skull. Here’s a dozen spots that are definitely not Vegas as usual.

Amber Unicorn Books

Bookstore, Store
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Interior of Amber Unicorn Books | Courtesy of Amber Unicorn Books
Interior of Amber Unicorn Books | © Amber Unicorn Books
Amber Unicorn Books is one of Las Vegas’ oldest bookstores. The store stocks volumes from all genres—fantasy, mystery, biography, art, history, a large selection of cookbooks and an entire section of books on Las Vegas. The peaceful atmosphere and overflowing shelves invite visitors to take their time and browse. Amber Unicorn also offers store credit, so if you have old books you wish to trade for new (to you anyway) ones, this is the place.

Americana

Restaurant, Restaurant with Rooms, American, Fusion, $$$
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Located on the far west side of Las Vegas, Americana offers creative dishes in a scenic location. The restaurant sits on the side of a man-made lake, where swans, ducks, and canopied boats drift past. Americana’s menu frequently changes with the seasons and unique takes on traditional dishes are a specialty—calamari is poached and grilled, served with hints of sausage and pepper, while fettuccine is topped with a poached egg dusted with edible gold. A half-price happy hour and all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch offer more opportunities for delicious.

Badlands Saloon

LGBTQ Bar, Bar, Gay Bar, American
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Badlands Saloon, Las Vegas | Lissa Townsend Rodgers / © Culture Trip

One of Las Vegas’ oldest gay bars, Badlands Saloon always stayed true to its creed of a warm welcome and a strong pour. The western-themed watering hole is located in the Commercial Center, near a number of restaurants and other nightspots. Badlands hosts drag shows, bingo and trivia nights, but it’s also a fine place to have a relaxed cocktail in the late afternoon or early evening.

Double Down Saloon

Bar, American
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The bathroom at the Double Down Saloon, Las Vegas | © Kingfox / Flickr

Las Vegas is a place where all track of time can be lost, and perhaps the most hours have been frittered away at the Double Down Saloon. The beloved punk-rock watering hole turned 25 last year and has gone from questionable hangout to Travel Channel-featured institution. The walls are covered in graffiti-ed murals, the bar serves Ass Juice and Bacon Martini’s alongside the usual beers and shots, and the entertainment ranges from hardcore bands to blues guitarists to burlesque acts to live radio shows. But perhaps the best entertainment comes from the stories swapped by an ‘only-in-Vegas’ cast of regulars.

Huntridge Tavern

Bar, American
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Sign outside the Huntridge Tavern | © Lissa Townsend Rodgers

One of Vegas’ most beloved dive bars, the Huntridge Tavern has been pouring 24 hours a day for over five decades. The red velvet wallpaper, beer signage and vinyl booths with clunky video poker machines remain largely unchanged. A steady stream of regulars come in at all hours for conversation and a cold one.

Las Vegas Oddities

Shop, Store
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Human rib artwork at Las Vegas Oddities | Lissa Townsend Rodgers / © Culture Trip

Most gift shops tend towards the sweet or at least the silly: Las Vegas Oddities goes straight for the strange. The store specializes in items like a pendant made from a cross-section of a human femur, or an intricate shadowbox of a miniature murder scene. If you need goth woodcuts or vintage pinup photos, Soviet-era children’s toys or steampunk jewelry, they can help you out here.

Paid In Full

Gastropub, Restaurant, Japanese, Fusion, Pub Grub
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Spam sliders at Paid In Full | courtesy Paid In Full
Paid In Full remixes Japanese street food with influences as disparate as French fine dining and American BBQ. The restaurant is on the far west side of town, but worth the trip for its scrumptiously innovative dishes. Kurobata corn dogs wrap spicy Japanese sausage in fluffy batter, while Takoyaki have non-traditional fillings such as escargot or mushroom with truffle. The hip-hop soundtrack, colorful murals and friendly service add to Paid In Full’s vibe.

Pinball Hall of Fame

Museum
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Classic vintage pinball art in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 1, 1998.
Vintage pinball art! | © evan Hurd / Alamy Stock Photo
The Pinball Hall of Fame has entertained Las Vegans of all ages for over a decade, though most of the machines are much older. Hundreds of pinball machines are here for the playing, from wood-and-metal 40s models to the newest technology themed to the latest TV shows.

ReBar

Bar, Restaurant, American, Pub Grub
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ReBar
ReBar in Las Vegas' Arts District | Lissa Townsend Rodgers / © Culture Trip
ReBar is a unique combination of bar, restaurant and thrift shop. Want to buy that light-up Lowenbrau sign? It’s for sale. That painting of a sad-eyed clown? It’s for sale. The beer stein in your hand? It’s yours for a few bucks. Everything at ReBar is available for purchase: Naturally this makes for eclectic decor. There is a wide array of beer available, with a stress on local brews, as well as specialty cocktails. John Mull’s brats and sausages are also served, adding better-than-usual bar food to the mix.

Sci-Fi Center

Bookstore, Theatre, Store
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The Sci-Fi Center screens cult films like Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires | © Kino Lorber

Las Vegas’ nerd clubhouse, the Sci-Fi Center is where you can buy a comic, see a movie, watch a burlesque show and mingle with like-minded folk. It hosts screenings of cult and grindhouse films, as well as binge-watch TV shows. The Cinemondays program stresses classic and foreign films; there is also a monthly B-movie-themed burlesque show and occasional music performances.

Springs Preserve

Botanical Garden, Natural Feature, Park
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© Chon Kit Leong / Alamy Stock Photo
The serenity of Springs Preserve is only a few miles from the overstimulation of the Strip, but it seems much further.The 180-acre site is home to the Nevada State Museum, as well as a reconstruction of turn-of-the-century Las Vegas, Boomtown 1905. Trails wind throughout the property, through spring houses and around tortoise habitats, making it an excellent peaceful escape without leaving the city.

11th Street Records

Shop, Store
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11th Street Records in Downtown Las Vegas | Lissa Townsend Rodgers / © Culture Trip

For lovers of vinyl, 11th Street Records is mecca indeed. Located at the far end of Fremont Street, the store stocks both new and vintage albums and singles—whether you seek the latest from local hero Shamir, a replacement for your worn-out disc of the Stones’ Let It Bleed or a signed copy of Television’s Marquee Moon. National Southwest Recording is an in-house studio where acts including the Killers and Anti-Flag have recorded.