There’s more than one Las Vegas. Beyond the differences between the Strip, Fremont Street, the rest of Downtown Vegas, and the city’s residential and outlying areas, Vegas is a city that tries to be all things to all people. You have the large family-friendly resorts that include activities for all ages. You have classy, upscale hotels that focus on the rich, or at least those with rich tastes. You’ve got the mega-resorts of the ‘90s and ‘00s that give the Strip its Adult Disney World feel, the Bellagios and Venetians of the world. You’ve got Old Vegas haunts with cheap rooms, low table minimums, and a certain kind of gleeful, timeworn seediness that feels authentic and which is hard to find elsewhere. You have some of the best local restaurants in the country alongside big-name celebrity chef destinations, and warm off-strip dive bars offering a welcome escape from the glitz and roar of the nightclubs and casino bars. You have garish versions of the mall stores and chain restaurants you know from home alongside some of the most unique experiences you’ll ever encounter. Uniting it all, in the one true constant found throughout the city, is Las Vegas’s explicit promise: the eternal party, a good time that never winds down until it ends suddenly, abruptly, and with a guaranteed hangover of some kind, be it physical, emotional or spiritual.
Few spots in Vegas live up to that promise as thoroughly as the brand-new Circa Resort & Casino.
When Circa opened in October 2020, it was the first new hotel and casino to be built on Fremont Street in 40 years. You might know Fremont Street as Old Vegas or Downtown Vegas, or from its canopied Fremont Street Experience outdoor entertainment district that spreads out for five blocks between casinos like Binion’s, the Golden Nugget, the Golden Gate (the oldest hotel in Vegas), and The D. Circa stands right at the start of the Fremont Street Experience, on the corner of Fremont and Main, and like The D and the Golden Gate is owned by Derek and Greg Stevens. The two Michigan-born brothers have made a major impact on Las Vegas over the last 20 years, with Circa representing their largest investment yet. The result is a monument to partying, an adults-only hotel seemingly built primarily with bachelor and bachelorette parties in mind—a cathedral of drinking, gambling, and carrying on. If Vegas is all about having a good time, Circa is almost laser focused on one particular version of a good time—the kind of booze-soaked, hedonistic oblivion that anybody who went to a state college spent four years at least minoring in.
You see it in almost every aspect of the Circa’s design. Right at the heart of the hotel, just past the lobby, sits the famous Vegas Vickie, a 25-foot-tall neon beauty who used to recline on the sign of the old Glitter Gulch casino. Now she overlooks Circa’s lobby bar, greeting all who enter with a smile and a sassy leg kick. Elsewhere, on the back end of the building, you’ll find the Mega Bar, which, at over 160 feet, is the longest bar in Nevada. If you’re lucky you might find Derek Stevens himself holding court at his own private seat at the head of the bar; look for the incredibly friendly man in the pinstriped suit.
Nowhere is Circa’s commitment to partying more apparent than at the Stadium Swim pool complex. Equal parts sports bar, nightclub, and aquatic center, Stadium Swim features a 40-foot HD TV that’s always dialed in to sports. Live DJs constantly spin the latest club hits alongside nostalgic classics, and its six different pools are always heated to anywhere between 78 and 94 degrees, depending on the weather. It might sound odd to have the water kept at 90-something degrees in a desert, but you’ll understand it once you actually jump in; that warmth makes every breeze feel especially cool and refreshing. The music can be a little loud—sometimes oppressively so—and the barely-there bikinis of the all-female wait staff definitely have a very specific clientele in mind, but if you can tune that out you can still find true comfort and peace in these pools. And if you’ve got a lot of money to spend you can always splurge for a private cabana, with drinks and food from the Stadium Swim menu.
The pool attendants aren’t the only employees whose attire plays on boorish frat boy sensibilities. On weekend nights the casino dealers are all conventionally attractive women known as “Dancin’ Dealers.” They wear tasseled crop tops, with some of them dancing on platforms between the tables. It’s a relatively harmless ode to Vegas’s salacious past, and the dealers wear more than the average showgirl and many street performers right outside on Fremont. Still, it’s a little tasteless, and out of step with the times. Of course, if you’re coming to Old Vegas, there’s a good chance that brazen and old-fashioned is specifically what you’re looking for. If that’s the case, Circa is the place for you.
As further proof of its party credentials, rooms are practically made to be shared. There are king beds in every room, and many have king-size Murphy beds hidden within a wall. That makes it very easy for a group to split a room—or to make space for unexpected guests. The rooms are spacious and tastefully appointed, with their own bars and large bathrooms, and a kitschy retro-Vegas aesthetic perfect for Fremont Street. The room would be my favorite part of Circa, if it wasn’t for its restaurants.
Circa takes its food seriously. As part of a trend of paying homage to their Michigan past, the Stevens brothers reached out to the owners of two iconic Wolverine State eateries about opening Las Vegas outposts. Paul Saginaw, the owner of Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s Deli, presides over Saginaw’s, a fantastic traditional deli found at the Circa. With classic sandwiches, delicious pies, and some of the best traditional Jewish food I’ve ever had, Saginaw’s is legit, and the best deli I’ve ever eaten at in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Chris Sotiropoulos and Grace Keros, from the family behind Detroit’s beloved American Coney Island hot dog restaurant, have opened Victory Burger and Wings Co., overlooking Circa’s absurdly massive sports book TV screen. The burgers and wings at Victory are both big and juicy, with a variety of delectable sauce options for each. Onion rings, fried green beans, and seasoned waffle fries are a perfect complement. The real treat here, though, are the milkshakes, which are all based on different breakfast cereals from the owners’ youth; I can heartily recommend the Chocolate Cocoa Puff and Cinnamon Toast Crunch shakes. Both Saginaw’s and Victory bring decades of experience (the Keros family has been slinging Coney dogs for over a century) and a personal touch to a town whose restaurants can too often feel like cookie cutter chain spots.
As great as Saginaw’s and Victory are, they may not be Circa’s best places to eat. 8 East is a pan-Asian eatery from Dan Coughlin, a half-Thai chef originally from Milwaukee who made his name in Vegas with his restaurant Le Thai. Its selection of small plates mixes up influences from all kinds of Asian cuisine, with pork belly bao brushing up alongside stir fried bok choy, musubi bites, and sizzling shrimp with Thai seafood sauce. If you don’t feel like sharing, you can order its signature 8 East ramen for yourself, or one of a handful of noodle or fried rice entrees. Dessert is a highlight, with Asian tea-inspired takes on creme brulee and tiramisu. I ate at 8 East twice during my time at Circa, and loved every bite both times.
Outside of Circa, right next to the stage at the mouth of the Fremont Street Experience, sits the Project BBQ food truck. Long known in Vegas for its excellent Carolina barbecue, Project BBQ has permanently set up shop at Circa, offering up brisket, chicken, and pulled pork in sandwiches, tacos, empanadas, bowls, and more. Chef Rex Bernales, who’s originally from Hawaii, and spent years as an executive chef with various Disney World restaurants, has brought authentic southern barbecue to Vegas; as a native southerner who grew up going to annual pig-pickings in North Carolina, I feel safe giving Project BBQ an unqualified thumb’s up. If you have the dough and at least nine friends with you, maybe consider the Hogstravaganza? It’s a sparkler-festooned platter with an entire hog and a surplus of sides, and guaranteed to get the full attention of Fremont Street.
If you’re in the mood for a steak, Barry’s Downtown Prime Steakhouse fills the requisite upscale steakhouse role at Circa. Every casino at Vegas needs one, but few have one as classy—or as socially conscious—as Barry’s. Chef Barry Dakake makes a point of only sourcing meat from farms that treat its animals with as little cruelty as possible, and refuses to serve dishes like foie gras. I’m not sure if you can taste that more humane treatment, but I do know it’s a step Barry’s didn’t need to take, and one worthy of respect. Even if you don’t eat meat, you might want to try to walk through Barry’s; it’s a beautifully designed space with such eye-catching elements as an artificial tree lighting one dining room, and a giant stylized eye overseeing another.
Is it weird that I’ve barely mentioned gambling in what has so far been almost 1600 words about a Vegas casino? I don’t really gamble. My wife plays blackjack, and she particularly enjoyed the tables at Stadium Swim, which are outdoors and thus had slightly more relaxed mask regulations during our time at Circa. We did place a few bets at Circa’s sportsbook, which is billed as the largest one in the world, a claim I absolutely believe is true based on how absurdly large it is. Its TV is three stories tall, and I’m pretty sure you could play a game of professional football on it—at least arena football. The casino is full of all the games you’d expect it to be, of course, from poker and blackjack to craps and roulette, and with dozens of slots across its two floors. And miraculously it doesn’t smell like smoke or the chemical concoction used to kill the smoke smell at most Vegas casinos; that might be because Circa is still young, and smoke hasn’t had time to permanently bake itself into the walls and carpet, but it also could be because of a high-tech filtration system aimed at reducing the amount of smoke in the air. All I know is I only smelled cigarettes once during my three days at Circa, despite seeing people smoke pretty much every time I was on the casino floor.
If you aren’t into the Vegas party mentality, the restaurants are the main reason to visit Circa. There’s also one other highlight worth mentioning, though, one that offers a more refined way to enjoy yourself than the fratty vibe you’ll find elsewhere throughout the hotel. The Legacy Club sits on Circa’s 60th floor and offers a gorgeous view of Las Vegas and the surrounding area. Its rooftop section is a perfect place to watch the sun set behind the mountains that ring Vegas, and its selection of delicious cocktails and list of rare and expensive whiskeys makes this the best place to drink at Circa. It has a dress code—no sneakers, no shorts, no swimwear or ball caps—but The Legacy Club is more than worth dressing up for. I can easily see this becoming one of the most popular bars in all of Vegas—a place to start off the night with a spectacular view and fantastic drink before moving on to whatever debauchery awaits.
I’ll be frank: much of what I saw at Circa is not necessarily what I’m looking for when I go on vacation. The nightclub-style pool complex, the go-go dancing dealers, the huge footprint of the sportsbook: those are all things that I, personally, can do without. The real strength of Circa, though, is that, like Vegas itself, it goes out of its way to be all things to all people. The overriding atmosphere might be that of a youthful party oasis, of a nightclub hotel for bachelor parties and hardcore ragers, of spring break without the beach, but if that was all Circa was going for it wouldn’t have the excellent restaurants that it does. It wouldn’t have the genuinely classy Legacy Club and its glorious overview of the city. Its rooms wouldn’t have to be as luxurious and well-decorated as they are. Circa Resort & Casino might be all about the party, but it realizes that people party in all different kinds of ways—which makes Circa a party worth going to.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.