Hostels deliver a little less Vegas

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The communal kitchen area at the Las Vegas Hostel.
The communal kitchen area at the Las Vegas Hostel.

Instead of "water features" there's a modest pool, ready for a quick dip on a hot desert afternoon. Instead of a buffet with hundreds of dishes from ramen noodles to prime rib, there's a communal kitchen and complimentary breakfast.

Instead of a porte cochere where limos and taxis jostle for position, there's an on-site bike share program. And instead of a thumping nightclub, where chart-topping DJs spin and fist pump for bottle-service customers, there are weekend tours of neighborhood bars led by local staffers. 

For Vegas visitors who don't see themselves as part of the casino crowd, the Las Vegas Hostel is a refreshing, and recently refreshed, alternative.

While Las Vegas is one of the most tourist-oriented cities in the world, its accommodations don't actually offer much in terms of variety. There are various price points and thread counts, of course — you can opt for a suite with a built-in bowling alley or one with a fur hammock and wrap-around balcony — but most hotels simply provide different versions of the same standard amenities: restaurants, bars, casino floor, spa, pool and shops. Which makes perfect sense. That checklist is exactly why millions of people come to Vegas year after year.

The Las Vegas Hostel recently completed a full renovation giving the place a sleek, modern feel. The hostel’s common area.
The Las Vegas Hostel recently completed a full renovation giving the place a sleek, modern feel. The hostel’s common area.

But not everyone wants their Sin City experience to be centered on the neon-soaked sensory overload of the Strip. Some travelers are on tight budgets. Some prefer to get to know the local scene. Some just like a more social experience, where new friends are easily found around the pool table, in the lounge or relaxing in the hot tub. Some people want a hostel. 

Those people have three options in Las Vegas: Hostel Cat, on Las Vegas Boulevard halfway between the Strip and Fremont Street; Sin City Hostel right next door; and the Las Vegas Hostel, located downtown on Fremont at 14th Street.

The latter was taken over by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's redevelopment organization, the Downtown Project (DTP), in 2013 and recently completed a full renovation. Thirty-eight shared and private rooms with 154 beds now have new furniture, mattresses and bedding, along with en-suite bathrooms. The lobby, communal kitchen, dining area and pool have also been upgraded, giving the property a sleek, modern feel that's very much in keeping with the DTP focus on co-working and connectedness.

"My only regret is that we didn't get more 'before' pictures," General Manager Julian Ross said with a laugh. "It truly does look like night and day."

He said that the motivation behind the face-lift was creating a warm, welcoming space that guests would be drawn to. "It's a vibrant environment, there's people everywhere."

General Manager Julian Ross says the Las Vegas Hostel primarily caters to younger travelers, who choose it because they want a environment that’s different from what the big casino-hotels offer.
General Manager Julian Ross says the Las Vegas Hostel primarily caters to younger travelers, who choose it because they want a environment that’s different from what the big casino-hotels offer.

Ross worked at Caesars Palace for nine years before joining DTP, so he's seen Vegas hospitality from both the Strip and downtown sides. He says the hostel primarily caters to younger travelers who choose it because they want a different environment. The clientele is mostly international, visiting from Australia, Europe and Central and South America. Staying just a few blocks from Fremont East downtown, they can explore the local scene growing there or can catch the Deuce bus to the Strip.

Hostel beds start at $15 per night, and the staff takes guests on group tours or bar crawls and hosts regular activities on-site, like movie nights and pool parties.

"The location downtown plays to the type of clientele that likes to stay in hostels," Ross said. "We have a demographic that's more laid back."

The Las Vegas Hostel's swimming pool is a popular gathering spot for guests.
The Las Vegas Hostel's swimming pool is a popular gathering spot for guests.

At Sin City Hostel, receptionist Ivan Salazar sees a similar kind of guest. "A lot of the customers are backpackers and travelers, and they don't really do the big hotel scene. Even the ones that do will stay here for a couple nights and then do the weekend at one of the big hotels."

Sin City also is primarily popular with international guests, and domestic visitors who want to book a bed must show proof of travel or a valid student ID. Salazar said some American tourists are surprised to find a hostel in Las Vegas, and just two miles north of the Wynn at that.

He adds that the appeal of the hostel goes beyond the $15-to-$30 price tag to the environment created inside. "It's not just a room, you're making friends."

And you can be yourself at the hostel, he emphasized. "We get people from all walks of life," he said.

In fact, working the front desk at Sin City has been Salazar's first experience in hosteling and one that's inspired him to want to travel more — and stay at hostels along the way.

"It totally changed my perspective on life," he said of the job. "Everyone is so different, and everyone has different things to say. It's really cool to hear their stories."

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