Change is just about the only constant in Las Vegas. One section of the City of Sin where that’s been especially noticeable over the past decade is downtown. Yet despite all of the investment that downtown Las Vegas has seen with the Fremont Street Experience and Arts District, it wasn’t until October 2020 that the area got it’s first new hotel in 40 years when Circa opened. Today, Circa is the best place in Vegas to be a sports gambler.
Circa is the third hotel and casino from Derek Stevens, who, with his brother Greg, renovated two other downtown hotels: the Golden Gate in 2008 and Fitzgeralds (now The D) in 2011. It’s the first Stevens opened in Vegas that’s designed from the ground up. Still, the building is a nod to the Vegas of the past and what Stevens sees as the Vegas of the future.
The name Circa is a reference to the various decades of Vegas through the 20th and 21st centuries. Stevens left it at Circa rather than choosing just one era such as “Circa 1940” or “Circa 1960” because there’s something notable in every time period.
“There isn’t one greatest era in Vegas, so we wanted to represent it all,” Stevens told me in July as we walked through his newest casino.
One connection to the past is the 25-foot Vegas Vickie kicking cowgirl neon sign. It hung on the building that was previously on the lot Circa sits now, the Glitter Gulch, for nearly half a century. Vickie is an icon among neon fanatics, and “Circa was built on sacred ground” when it comes to the city’s neon history, says Jeff Young, senior vice president of YESCO, the company that restored the sign.
“I always want to take something from the past and move forward,” Stevens said, looking over the inside balcony where Vegas Vickie now spans two floors, her head and cowboy hat eye-to-eye with people in the casino and at the Vegas Vickie’s Cocktail Lounge. “Vickie has been hanging on the streets for 40 years. She got a lift, and now she’s inside.”
While the sign and connections to Vegas’s past and future are impossible to ignore, people largely come to Circa for the sports.
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It’s easy to see Circa as an adult playground for sports lovers. It was the first 21-and-over only casino on Fremont Street. That means no strollers, no kids splashing in the pools, and you don’t have to pull out your ID to do the things that you’re in Vegas to do.
Ask anyone who knows Stevens — and there’s plenty of people to choose from, considering nearly every worker we passed as we toured the property gave a fist bump or wave — and they’ll tell you the casino matches the owner. Stevens lives and breathes sports. As we walked into the small on-site TV studio where he does weekly shows, he rattled off facts about the teams closest to where I’ve lived, from central California; to Auburn, Alabama; to New York City; and finally Denver.
The best experiences come from people who live and breathe what their business is about. That’s quite literal at Circa. Case in point: VSIN, a TV channel that runs 21 hours of live programming a day that’s shot inside Circa. Stevens has his own weekly show, and describes the programming as “to sports betting what CNBC is to the stock market.”
When I was inside the watch room, two guys discussed college football futures while a single screen made up of 85 million pixels displayed their faces and what felt like a thousand other sports statistics in the betting lounge. For comparison, a standard 50-inch TV has about two million pixels. Fitting for the world’s largest sportsbook to also have what has to be the world’s largest TV dedicated solely to showing sports and only sports.
At Circa, sports are king. But even those just looking for a different vibe than what you’ll find at a Strip pool party or the rest of Fremont Street will be entertained here.
Circa Las Vegas restaurants and bars
Barry’s Downtown Prime: A traditional steakhouse through and through, the type where you might get the meat sweats just thinking about the menu. As this is a restaurant housed in Circa, sports are ever-present, of course, and some of the private rooms have TVs. Barry Dakake himself will come out and talk about the dry aged steaks and the rest of the menu (a massive American wagyu tomahawk graced my table on my visit, along with a seafood tower and Dover sole). The wine list covers the hits, but the table service cocktail cart steals the show when it comes to drinks. There are two options: an old fashioned or Manhattan, but you can customize your liquor and garnish choices to make it your own. I went with a Manhattan made with añejo Patron that was then dosed with a smoke machine.
Victory Burger & Wings Co.: Victory Wings is run by Chris Sotiropoulos and Grace Keros, the third-general owners of Detroit’s 103-year-old American Coney Island. The wings are a standout, of course, but the burgers, sauces, and massive shakes are hard to beat whether you’re placing a bet or just looking for a bite to eat.
Saginaw’s: Paul Saginaw is Michigan royalty thanks to his Ann Arbor deli, Zingerman’s. Stevens, who grew up in Michigan, turned to his home state and brought Saginaw along with him when Circa opened. When it comes to the move from the Midwest to Vegas, Saginaw referenced his uncle who was “one of the biggest bookies in Detroit, so it’s in my blood to be in Vegas.” That bookie was Chickie the Bookie, who was immortalized in a 1974 Detroit Free Press obituary with the headline “Chickie the Bookie, Friend To Hundreds, Laid to Rest.”
“When I realized food and beverages was going to be my career,” Saginaw said, “my dream job was to open a restaurant in a casino and live in a suite, but I couldn’t get that in the contract.”
He didn’t get the suite, but he did get the 24-hour casino restaurant. The restaurant name was originally going to pay tribute to Chickie, but “Derek didn’t want any connection to organized crime,” Saginaw said. Still, the Saginaw family is ever-present in the restaurant. A photo wall has blown-up pictures of the family going back generations, while another wall features old photos of the original Zingerman’s deli in Michigan. Order a sandwich on rye — the bread took a year to get right because the water and lack of humidity changed the recipe compared to what was made in Michigan. It was well worth the trial and error.
Project BBQ: Chef Rex Bernales has turned a food truck into a permanent haven for anyone who loves good barbecue right outside of Circa on Fremont Street. It’s hard to go wrong with anything on the menu whether you prefer sausage, brisket, or pulled-pork tacos. If you’re really looking to go all out (this is Vegas, after all) Project BBQ has a “hogstravaganza” platter with a whole Carolina-style roast pig served with pork rinds, grilled veggies, and other sides. Just know that when you make this special occasion order, all eyes will be on you. The whole pig comes out with sparklers and party horns, letting everyone in earshot know that you’re not afraid of excess.
Mega Bar: This being Vegas, there are a number “mosts” and “biggests” and “bests” at Circa. Mega Bar is one of them. It’s the longest indoor bar in the state, and the only competition for that title comes from the Long Bar at The D, Stevens’s other property. The two are also the longest indoor bars west of the Mississippi. Mega Bar is 165-foot-long with TVs lining the back wall. Drinks are served up by the property’s famous flair bartenders, so you get a show with your beverage (at any of the bars at Circa, just look for the bartenders in the bowling shirts — those are the ones who know how to turn making a drink into a full-on performance).
8 East: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai dishes come together in this pan-Asian restaurant. Everything on the food-market-inspired menu hits at just the right level of flavor and spice — definitely don’t miss the lobster fried rice.
Vegas Vickie’s Cocktail Lounge: Circa’s lobby bar takes its name from the nearby sign. Here, you’ll find a number of fine cocktails whether you like classics or specialty drinks. Order the off-menu spicy encounter to start, and then cap it off with the wish you were here, which comes with a Vegas Vickie postcard that the staff will mail out for you.
Legacy Club: Circa is the tallest building in downtown Las Vegas, and Legacy Club, the property’s premiere cocktail lounge, is on the 60th floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor area make it easy to take in the sights of the Strip, downtown, and the mountain ranges. Inside is just as striking — in no small part thanks to the 1,000 ounces of pure gold shaped into 500 bars in a glass case at the entrance. The drinks here skew fancy, and so does the well-dressed clientele. If you’d like to learn a little more about how to make fine cocktails, Legacy Club offers mixology classes where you can learn three classic drinks and cocktail making basics.
Things to do at Circa Las Vegas and Fremont Street
Gambling, of course, takes center stage when it comes to activities. But here, gambling is far from the experience that you’d get at one of the casinos on the Strip or the rest of Fremont Street.
The World’s Largest Sportsbook: Stadium seating in three stories of seats facing the massive screen is always a good choice for a group who wants to wager on whatever game is playing at the moment. The massive screen splits up into live games, VSIN programming, and stats and betting lines. For big events like the Super Bowl, it’s taken over by one game entirely. If you don’t want to shell out for a VIP table, there’s bar seating above on the gaming floor. Fill the experience out with drinks and food from Victory Burger & Wings Co.
Stadium Swim: Inside isn’t the only place with a jaw-dropping TV. Stadium Swim (which you get to by taking the longest escalator in the state of Nevada) has a 40-foot-tall, 14-million-megapixel screen playing whatever game is trending at the moment. Gamblers can make their bets from one of the kiosks by the outdoor blackjack tables, or from their seat or the pool (“the cleanest in Vegas,” Stevens tells me, thanks to an impressive filtration system) through Circa’s app. A cabana makes a summer experience easier — on the 110-degree-plus day that I went, I alternated between cooling off in the pool and the air conditioned room with a frozen drink in hand. The pools are always the perfect temperature, even in the winter when they’re heated to a comfortable plunge pool temp. The food menu is provided by Victory Burger & Wings and has a slightly different menu than what you’ll find inside. The highlight is the lobster corndogs, which are worth every penny and have to be the best fried-and-battered-on-a-stick food I’ve had.
The rooms at Circa
Basic, yet extremely modern and posh, rooms with all of the amenities can be booked for as low as $120 during the week and in the $500s on the weekends. Flex king rooms make it easy for groups thanks to an extra pull-out or fold down bed.
The suites have an added living room and wet bar area for entertaining. There’s just enough gold colored mirrors and fixtures to make it feel luxurious without being over the top, though the premium suites with wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows are on another level. From the suite that I stayed in, I could catch the action on the TV at Stadium Swim (and place bets on what I was watching out the window).
Regardless of the option you choose, it’s almost as easy to be entertained in the room as it is on the casino floor or at one of the bars and restaurants.