Las Vegas’ claim to fame may be its over-the-top, public-facing, special effects-laden phenomena all the way down the Strip, but the city has its secrets, too. Think an entirely subterranean 6,000-square-foot home—including a “backyard” with ersatz skies and a swimming pool—all built 26 feet below ground to survive a nuclear blast. Or invitation-only villas that only the biggest whales in gaming—and the people who serve them—will ever see. There are private shopping rooms for VIPs—and back-room entertainment zones for their bored entourages—and private gaming rooms that service only the highest fliers.
Naturally, there’s little use in doling out secrets of Las Vegas unless most of us can actually visit them. Luckily, there are plenty of magnificent hidden gems, as well as enigmas and oddities, that you can see for yourself (many at no cost). Here are a few of our favorites.
You’ll find archival designs and contemporary pieces inside the massive two-level Tiffany & Co. in The Shops at Crystals in CityCenter—as well as the other Tiffany & Co. locations along the Strip. The Crystals location is the ideal place to find the classic six-prong Tiffany setting engagement ring, and if you’re planning on popping the question while in Las Vegas (it happens), you can call ahead and ask to use a perk only they have. Upstairs near the engagement rings, the Crystals location has its own private proposal balcony. This is, naturally, a perk that comes with an actual purchase.
The "Hand of Faith"
It seems only fitting that Las Vegas would house the largest gold nugget in the world—at The Golden Nugget. Found in Australia in 1981 and sold to the casino for more than a million dollars, the 61-pound “Hand of Faith” nugget sits in a wall display in a hallway near the hotel lobby.
The Louis Vuitton store in The Shops at Crystals holds what is now one of the Las Vegas art scene’s worst-kept secrets, Akhob: a womblike, immersive permanent art exhibition by James Turrell named after an ancient Egyptian word reportedly meaning “pure water.” You’ll enter two rooms whose rooms slowly change colors, completely altering your perception of time and space. Reentering reality is jarring after the meditative, approximately 25-minute experience. Visiting the installation is free, although you must reserve well in advance.
The wall that separated East and West Berlin experienced its fair share of defacement until it fell in 1989. And now you’ll find a section of the actual wall available for a symbolic—but impermanent—action in the men’s bathroom on the first floor of Main Street Station. The section, which is mounted behind glass behind three urinals, is only one of the historical oddities of this casino property. (Women can ask security to give them the all-clear to see it themselves.) Within the casino’s artifacts, you’ll also find Winston Churchill’s personal snooker table, Buffalo Bill Cody’s personal rail car, 19th century chandeliers from the San Francisco Opera House, and more. Map out your visit with this downloadable guide.
From the casino that arguably started the secret drinking/dining trend with its unnamed “secret pizza” place comes an equally secret tequila bar. (Keep in mind, of course, that Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was not the first to hide a drinking spot in the city—that honor goes to the little boîtes that were serving underground in the 1920s during Prohibition). Look for the green exit door with a pink donkey inside Cosmopolitan’s Block 16 Urban Food Hall, and you’ll find the eight-seat tequila bar, Ghost Donkey. Expect a massive selection of mezcal and tequila from all over Mexico, perfectly buffered with a pile of truffle nachos.
Nearly every tourist now knows about the Mob Museum, but head to the basement, ring a bell and provide a password, and you’ll gain admission to the museum’s own Prohibition-era bar and working distillery decorated with 1920s-era artifacts. The Underground produces its own moonshine, which you can try in cocktails like Moonshine Mayhem—a moonshine, pineapple, tea, and cardamom cocktail inspired by Al Capone’s time in Miami.
Hammargren House of Nevada History
You’d expect nothing less than a few larger-than-life political and public figures in Las Vegas (see also: our former mayor, who defended Meyer Lansky, Lefty Rosenthal, Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, and others in the actual building that now houses the Mob Museum, and played himself in the movie Casino). Less well-known among outsiders is Nevada’s former lieutenant governor, Lonnie Hammargren, whose compound of houses has served as an exhaustive—and, frankly, exhausting—collection of ephemera (much, but not all, Vegas-related) since he moved here in 1971. Think a T-Rex replica, a mini Taj Mahal, an Egyptian burial chamber with a golden sarcophagus (where Hammargren intends to be buried), a Batmobile, a Saturn rocket capsule, a small Mount Rushmore—you know, the usual. Now known as the Hammargren House of Nevada History, it’s generally open to the public only on Nevada Day, October 31, or by appointment.
Yet another treasure secreted in a restroom, artist Scott Hove created Cakeland, a wedding cake-themed room in an unmarked stall in the ladies’ room at Scotch 80 Prime, the steakhouse at Palms Casino Resort. Naturally, the stall's pink walls and white icing designs are not the only reason to visit Scotch 80. Make sure to indulge in some of the impossible-to-find whiskies selected by the Scotch Master; order the decadent mesquite-fired crustacean tower; and peek into the glass-enclosed private dining room to gawk at the Basquiats hanging there.