Two miles (and worlds away) from the Strip, on Fremont Street, a 40-foot cowboy known as Vegas Vic winks at the hustle and tease that turned downtown Vegas into an epicenter of escapism.

Once a haven of quick divorces and legalized gambling, “Glitter Gulch” fizzled in the 1950s as opulent casinos moved to the Strip. Fremont became a backwater of $1 blackjack tables and empty lots.

Finally, luck has again struck downtown.

Cast-off casino signs light up the “Boneyard” at the Neon Museum, Bugsy Siegel lives on at the Mob Museum, and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts dazzles with Broadway and cabaret.

The comeback is an apt story of high stakes and deep 
pockets—namely those of Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. His $350 million Downtown Project plan bets on the intersection of urban density and creative people, and as he moves his headquarters here this fall, old Vegas is fast becoming Vegas for locals.

“Downtown had a soul before Zappos,” says Hsieh. “People just needed to know where to look.”

Insider’s Tip: Stay amid the action at the Downtown Grand Casino & Hotel in the former Lady Luck Casino.

This article, written by Elaine Glusac, appeared in the October 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.