Betting on a stay at Circa, the first all-new hotel in Downtown Las Vegas in 40 years
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In the last four decades, many resort casinos have opened up in Las Vegas. In fact, from Bellagio to Aria to Mandalay Bay, the Wynn and more, almost all the current biggest names in town opened in that time frame. And most of them have been located on the Strip.
In fact, until the 777-room Circa opened in late 2020, the last time a new resort had been built from the ground up in the city’s iconic downtown was 1980.
But Circa isn’t like the other resort newcomers in Las Vegas — and that’s not by accident.
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In fact, in some ways, Circa has much more in common with the Vegas of yesteryear than many of these other large developments that debuted on the Strip with dolphins, roller coasters, gondolas and fake Eiffel Towers.
Instead, Circa’s origins feel much more like the original Vegas that took shape and made its fortunes around Fremont Street.
Circa is serious about being adults-only; there are no kitschy themes, waterslides, lazy rivers or flaming volcanos to be found. Everywhere you turn you’re greeted with a midcentury modern aesthetic that makes you almost wonder if you’re going to run into Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. or Dean Martin.
And while you may not actually run into the Rat Pack, you will see the iconic “Vegas Vickie” (formerly of the Glitter Gulch) kicking up her leg within the walls of Circa.
While it’s by far the newest resort on the Fremont Street block, it’s by no means standing all alone.
If you have any preconceived notions that Downtown Las Vegas is dead, you might be surprised to learn that the Fremont Street Experience, located literally outside Circa’s backdoor, welcomes more than 24 million visitors annually — that’s more than Disney World.
During normal times, I’m a relatively regular visitor to Vegas who has stayed at many of the town’s newest and flashiest resorts on the Strip. I love Las Vegas. Heck, I even got married and honeymooned there. And while the service at Circa wasn’t perfect on this stay, I thoroughly enjoyed the overall vibe and approach to re-creating Las Vegas as it was during the Rat Pack’s heyday.
Here’s what it’s like to stay at Circa, the Vegas resort where what’s classic is new once again.
Circa can be found on the grounds of Las Vegas history, right across Fremont Street from the Golden Gate and at the end of the Fremont Street Experience.
That means it’s a few more miles to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport than the Strip hotels, which may or may not influence your desire to rent a car while you’re in town.
If you’ve never been downtown, the area is actually a lot of fun. There are many properties in easy walking distance of each other, and often with much lower table minimums and sometimes better odds than the Strip’s megacasinos.
There are old-school warm, flashing gold lights all over, so be sure and bring your charged phone or camera to snap some photos.
That said, there is a bit of a seedy element to this part of town, which honestly can be found all over Las Vegas. You just may encounter it a bit more when you walk around downtown than when you take an Uber from one end of the Strip to the other.
Unlike many other properties in Las Vegas, Circa is not part of a major points program or available for booking via the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts program. That meant keeping things simple and booking our stay directly with Circa.
On our midweek night, the going rate for the Circa studio suite was $286, along with a $29.95 resort fee and an additional $7.50 valet fee. That’s a pretty good rate for valet, but now that I’ve done it, you’re probably just as well off parking yourself — you still have to go across the street into the same “Garage Mahal” to pick up your car as if you had just self-parked.
It’s also worth mentioning that the parking fee oddly had to be paid in the garage, separate from the room rate.
I hate resort fees but must admit that at Circa, the resort fee does actually confer at least one perk with some value. Most notably, it gets you into Stadium Swim at no additional fee — and one hour before non-hotel guests. We’ll talk more about Stadium Swim in a bit.
Compared to other Vegas properties that night, the going rate for a suite wasn’t bad.
While we didn’t actually need the extra space, it made sense to check it out since the cost of the suite was only about a $50 price difference from a standard room. I paid with my Chase Sapphire Reserve and earned 3 points per dollar on the room charge and resort fee — just not the strange separate valet fee we paid with … cash.
Pulling up and walking in, I was immediately taken with Circa’s design choices, but the honeymoon was tested a bit at the check-in desk.
First things first though: You can’t get into Circa without showing your ID to a guard who will scan it. Unlike most resorts in Vegas, Circa is a 21-and-up establishment so be prepared to show ID before you even walk in the door.
Check-in time for Circa begins at 3 p.m. and when we arrived, it was already after 4 p.m. While there thankfully wasn’t a long line to check in, there was the bad news that our room was not yet ready for us.
The room wouldn’t be ready until around 5 p.m., or over two hours after the posted check-in time. We were tired, ready to relax and also prepare for our 6 p.m. dinner reservation, so it wasn’t the best start to the stay.
When our room was finally ready, I asked if we could secure late checkout the next day to compensate for the delay getting in (since I knew we wanted to enjoy the pool), but was told that was not possible to confirm in advance.
However, we were given a $35 food and beverage credit on the room to help make up for the delay, which seemed fair.
The next morning, we were able to secure one extra hour of late checkout, though I don’t think that had anything to do with the check-in delay.
When it comes to security, the front desk did a good job of checking my ID when I asked for a new copy of my key.
Circa may have the vibe of the middle of the 20th century, but it has the technology of today.
For example, to access the rooms and suites you need to swipe your card at the elevator bank and then the system tells you which preassigned elevator to board.
Our studio suite was located at the end of the long, dark, swanky hallway.
The Circa studio we booked provides a living space that is partially separated from the sleeping space.
You can use the living area just for watching TV or relaxing, but a Murphy bed can be pulled down from the partition to create another sleeping area.
The primary king bed in the room was extremely comfortable, with a Serta Prestige mattress and amazing views.
It was seriously enjoyable to just lounge around and look out the massive windows into downtown and around the entire Las Vegas Valley.
One area where the room did not impress me was the lack of a decent number of bedside outlets.
In fact, the only ones I found were behind the table and for the most part, we were running cords and chargers from other parts of the room. That seems like a very strange oversight for a modern room.
Luckily, there was an actual table in the room that we used as device headquarters. I was working from Las Vegas, so ample power was a must-have and not a nice-to-have.
In a related stumbling block that affected me more than it would most people truly on vacation, the Wi-Fi at Circa wasn’t great. In fact, the speeds were pretty bad. Terrible, even. That really is unacceptable, even for a resort that focuses on leisure more than business.
The bathroom consisted of a double vanity and a walk-in shower with mounted bulk toiletries.
The towels were fluffy and the water was hot so I have no complaints about the shower situation at Circa.
Overall, the room was very comfortable for our one-night stay and I’d absolutely not hesitate to book that room type again, especially with just a $50 premium over the standard room.
Food and beverage
Barry’s Downtown Prime
I’m not much of a red meat eater, so it may be a surprise that one of my favorite meals of all time was at Barry’s Downtown Prime Steaks & Cocktails at Circa.
Located on the lower level, right next to Vegas Vickie, Barry’s oozes classic, cool charm.
Here the lights are dim, the wooden walls of the booths are high and the service is on point. Oh, and the food is really good, too.
We thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary bread basket (hello, pretzel roll), the jumbo shrimp cocktail ($26), roasted beet salad ($16) and crispy cauliflower ($14).
Honestly, we should have stopped right there. But the bone-in ribeye ($69) and Atlantic salmon ($42) entrees also didn’t disappoint.
We didn’t remotely have stomach space left to order dessert, but the server brought out some complimentary sweet nibbles to end the meal.
I can fully vouch for the cocktail called “The Adventures of …” made with huckleberry vodka, lemon and other light but not-too-fruity concoctions.
However, the cocktails they created tableside for other nearby patrons also looked like a lot of fun. Regardless of what you order, if your experience is anything like ours, expect the service from a small army of waitstaff to be a true highlight of your trip.
If you know Vegas history, you know about the 99-cent shrimp cocktails at the Golden Gate.
I’ve certainly had many in my day. The cheap shrimp cocktail has sadly departed Golden Gate, but Circa actually brought the tradition back to Fremont Street with a pretty legit 99-cent shrimp cocktail that has a sauce with just the right amount of kick.
The catch? While you can order the cocktail any time of day you want, it’s only 99 cents from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. with the purchase of an entree. And yes — I was told people really do order them in those witching hours of the night.
But you don’t have to stay up all night or geek out over shrimp cocktails to enjoy this classic diner offering items such as blintzes, veggie hash, silver dollar pancakes and corned beef sandwiches.
In most new casinos you’ll find a Starbucks that almost always has the longest line on the property starting by 6 a.m. and lasting through pretty late in the morning.
But there’s no Starbucks at Circa. Instead, you have the adorable Jack Pots offering coffee with a blend custom to the resort and breakfast items, sandwiches and salads 24 hours per day.
And while perhaps it was a fluke, I never saw a line more than a couple of people deep for morning coffee at Jack Pots, while several other casinos I was at the very same week were plagued by the morning Starbucks coffee crush.
I didn’t get a chance to try Circa’s other dining options, including 8 East, Project BBQ and Victory Burger, but they are there waiting for us to sample on the next trip … though there’s no way I’d give up a return trip to Barry’s.
Stadium Swim deserves its own section as it’s much more than a pool — it’s a groundbreaking record-setter.
Circa isn’t confined to just creating a replica of the past or reliving the glory days, but it also blazes its own path forward. In a city that is already pretty good at pools, Stadium Swim takes things to another level — to 40 feet high, to be exact.
The 337-chair complex with six pools as well as daybeds and cabanas has a capacity for 4,000 people but is noticeably splash pad- and cannonball-free since kids aren’t allowed at Circa.
What it does have are live sports betting odds and the largest outdoor pool screen for watching sports in all of Las Vegas.
Normally, it costs $20 per person to get into Stadium Swim, but for those staying at Circa, admission is covered by the resort fee. Not only that, but Circa guests can get in an hour early at 8 a.m., which allows early rising guests to grab the chair they want before anyone else.
So while I hate resort fees, in this case, I didn’t hate it as much as usual.
Daybeds and cabanas naturally cost extra and can be reserved online, but if you just want to lay out and enjoy the massive screen, staying at Circa gives you first dibs on seats without doling out $20 per person just to get in the door.
Be warned that unless you have a cabana (shown below), there isn’t a whole lot of shade to be found at Stadium Swim until the surrounding buildings provide a shadowy respite from the sun.
But the experience is still fully enjoyable if you like hot sun, cool drinks, fun music and huge screens.
I don’t normally rock out in the hot tub to Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” while sipping on a frose and looking at the over/under lines for sports at 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday, but that’s precisely the Vegas-style morning that Stadium Swim inspired.
I can only imagine how hopping the place gets later in the day.
While it wasn’t open the morning we were there, there is a covered area with around six tables that look like they are used for blackjack and similar games later in the day.
Casino and sportsbook
Stadium Swim actually isn’t the only massive screen housed at Circa. Its sportsbook is also pretty legendary.
It’s three stories tall with a 1,000-person capacity, leading Circa to claim that it’s the largest sportsbook in the world.
You can book tables or chairs online for a fee with a required minimum spending amount, though on the afternoon we were there, plenty of chairs on the sides were available to anyone who wanted to sit a bit and watch some sports. Online reservations for the main chairs and tables start at under $100 minimum for a chair on some days and soar to thousands of dollars minimum for a table during prime football weekends.
Circa’s two-story casino houses 55 table games and 1,350 slot machines.
On the night we were there, the minimum betting amount for blackjack was $25 per hand, which felt a little high for downtown. At Resorts World on the Strip the night before, it was $15 per hand. However, there were plenty of places up and down Fremont with lower minimums if you are a low-roller like me.
Circa does have a gym, though it is pretty small and really nothing to get excited about.
Having stayed at most of the top spots in Vegas, including some very high-end accommodations, it might be a surprise to some that this downtown casino was one of my favorite Sin City stays yet.
It wasn’t the flashiest, or the one with the best service or longest list of amenities, but it was the one that really felt like classic Vegas.
Circa pulls off being dark, classic, sexy and retro in all the right ways without being corny. The delayed check-in time, weak internet and lack of ample outlets were speed bumps during our stay. But overall, Circa way outperformed its weight class when it came to design, vibe, food and swim entertainment.
If you want a taste of “old Vegas” without staying in a hotel that just feels old, Circa is waiting for you to make your own history inside its golden-clad walls.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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