Living Las Vegas: Discovering and Exploring Vegas’ Art Scene
Posted on: November 26, 2022, 01:24h.
Last updated on: November 29, 2022, 11:11h.
All great cities are defined by their distinctive neighborhoods, and Las Vegas is no exception. It’s easy, of course, to gravitate to the Almighty Strip. But you’ve got to step into the streets—with boots or stiletto heels on the ground—to become fully immersed in everything Vegas offers.
I mean, why miss out on the pleasures of Downtown Las Vegas, the Arts District, Chinatown, and Area 15 in addition to The Strip?
There’s plenty to do in suburban Summerlin (where I live) and Henderson. But the sizzle of urban environments is way more intoxicating. Here’s my “Vegas Big 5” list of areas where the city is most eclectic and unpredictable.
It’s hard not to be attracted to the Fremont Street Experience’s dizzying overhead digital video screen (the largest in the world). Or be fascinated by the open-air Container Park, with its reconverted metal cubes and shipping containers housing bars, retail stores, bars and eateries like the irresistibly tasty L.A.-originated Pinches Tacos.
But don’t limit yourself to those places.
I had a blast at Fremont Street East’s super-intimate nightclub/disco Cheapshot, which ramps up Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with a must-see burlesque hoedown, “Miss Behave’s Mavericks.” Deliciously conceived by the show’s MC—ribald British-born performer, producer, and ringleader comic Amy Saunders—it’s the underground version of a high-end Vegas variety show, priced accordingly (only $39 per ticket).
Tickets are available via the Cheapshot website through November 26; the show will go dark before returning in “Spring 23.”
The rotating female and male performers—sexy, loose and downright fun—will meet all your entertainment needs with their pole-dancing, hula-hooping, juggling and aerial acrobatic skills, plus intentionally goofy magic tricks and comedic monologues.
These “mavericks” hold court on a postage stamp-sized stage, with some performers, including motormouth Saunders, spontaneously moving onto the top of the bar for some truly in-your-face action. Anything can happen at this freewheeling, fast-paced two-act revue, and watching it thrillingly felt like riding a roller coaster that could slip off the track at any moment. Tickets are available via the Cheapshot website through November 26.
Why not start your evening at the distinguished Carson Kitchen around the block from Cheapshot? That’s where in-crowders head for dynamic American cuisine. Their “Devil’s Eggs” with crispy pancetta and caviar instantly reeled my wife and I in. We followed it with two other small plates—a watermelon/feta salad and the cauliflower with chermoula and harissa cashew butter—plus the truly melt-in-your-mouth salmon with mango-lime salsa.
Alternatively, if you’re running low on cash, there’s the towering American fast-food institution White Castle, where folks line up for their still-satisfying “original sliders.” I will always recommend White Castle, having lived near one in the Bronx, so I’m delighted that Vegas has a few locations, with most open 24/7.
It’s exciting to watch the Arts District—also known as 18b, signifying its number of blocks—grow. However, the recent installation of parking meters on some streets is admittedly a buzzkill. The neighborhood’s signature event is First Friday, where thousands show up on the first Friday of every month (since 2002) to browse the modern art galleries (with many housed in the Art Square building) and enjoy the outdoor scene with food trucks and music.
But a more intimate way to tap into the “arty” aspect of the area is by entering a converted warehouse across the street from The English Hotel for “Particle Ink: Speed of Dark.” It’s a heady feast of art, technology, ambient music, and spiritual consciousness, with a loose narrative about the necessary balance of light and darkness in our world.
As you move from room to room, you’re suspended in a child-like state of wonder while encountering surrealist actors, aerial performers, witty animated projections, and hypnotic lasers. As part of this interactive evening, I magically spray-painted “light” on a wall from a special can. After drawing crowds for months to this unlikely location, tickets are available for “Speed of Dark” via the Particle Ink website through December 4.
Looking for some goth in your life? The Saturday dance party “Scarlet Deepest Red Goth Night” at the spacious three-room club Artifice won’t disappoint you. The music pumps hard at this black celebration, thanks to DJs spinning goth favorites like Ministry and Depeche Mode. Visuals include iconic Bettie Page striptease films projected on the club’s walls, and sometimes bands perform. Attendees with dark lipstick looked menacing when I was there, but they were really friendly.
There are many standout restaurants in the area, including the proudly old-school Casa Don Juan, where it’s fun to eat sopes, enchiladas, quesadillas and sip margaritas while people-watching from one of its many outside tables.
Elsewhere, scene-makers continue to make a beeline for Esther’s Kitchen. That’s the deservedly acclaimed Italian eatery from chef/owner and all-around nice guy James Trees (he named the restaurant for his great aunt). Devouring their complimentary freshly baked hot bread will instantly remove any heavy load you’re carrying around.
Although everyone knows that the truly cool people only come out at night, you’ll find them congregated for Esther’s weekend brunch in broad daylight on the patio. Offerings like “Nutella and Orange French Toast” and the “Porchetta Benedict,” with pepperonata, poached eggs, and calabrian chili hollandaise are memorable creations.
Situated in an industrial area one mile west of Interstate 15, Area15 is technically not a “neighborhood.” But it has its own vibe and character. The original massive building, which opened in late 2020, is a breathtakingly lit art-smart funhouse with experiential art installations like surreal supermarket Omega Mart, Museum Fiasco, and Wink World, and live entertainment inside at The Portal (hello, “extreme drag wrestling”!) and outside on the ample grounds.
Hipper than anything in New York, Los Angeles or Miami, Area15 continues to impressively expand outside with attractions like the “Liftoff” ride, Lost Spirits Distillery (“modern Cirque show, rum distillery and cocktail party”) and Illuminarium with its dazzling “4K interactive projections.”
Everyone hates Mondays, so why go out and party on Monday nights like there’s no such thing as Tuesday? The folks at Area15 make this very enticing with their discount-friendly “Industry Mondays.” With local ID, there’s 25% off food and drinks at participating vendors, including the Oddwood Bar and Todd English’s The Beast, with his reliably creative take on pizzas, burgers and barbecue meats.
On a recent Monday night outing at Area15 with my wife, we boarded “Liftoff” to take in the sweeping Vegas skyline. Next, we experienced utter visual chaos by wandering through the sound-and-light attraction Museum Fiasco with 3D glasses. We dined at The Beast and had imaginative craft cocktails at the 2500-square-foot Oddwood Bar. That’s where DJs spin EDM, and folks are entranced by the huge “digital maple tree” whose “5000 leaves are lined with individually programmed LED lights.” After all that, it wasn’t easy facing the mundane reality of Tuesday morning.
Chinatown is one of the city’s crown jewels. Centered on and around Spring Mountain Road, it’s a sprawling three-plus mile stretch, with some 20 shopping plazas and more than 150 restaurants, per the “Chinatown Vegas website”—but honestly, who can keep up with these statistics when the area is infinitely growing?
My Chinatown staples are the soup dumplings at Xiao Lo Dumplings, the pad Thai at Lamaii, the pork banh mi at Orchid Vietnamese, and the popular Thai street food khanom krok at LaMoon (hipster alert; it’s open to 2:00 a.m.). Their dreamy coconut-rice pancakes (crispy outside, soft and warm inside) with toppings including corn, taro, and (odd but it works) green onions.
The restaurants here are not limited to Asian food. Try the perfect spinach-and-cheese empanadas at the 25-year-old Rincon de Buenos Aires, the satisfying tacos and burritos at the La Jolla, CA-originated Taco Stand, and the juicy rotisserie chicken at the new and buzzed-about Half Bird Chicken & Beer. This casual eatery, in the you-can’t-miss-it orange-and-yellow building at the corner of Wynn and Spring Mountain, is the brainchild of Brian Howard, the same chef/owner of the nearby American cuisine-focused Sparrow + Wolf. I will be back for more of their chicken and elevated sides—”ogarashi rolls, potatoes and brix’s mac’n cheese”—plus sauces like “green curry ranch” and “sweet miso bbq.”
There’s, of course, nowhere on the planet like The Strip. My idea of a great night out is first having dinner in the hotel where you’re seeing an artist’s show or one of the many astounding productions like Cirque du Soleil’s still vital “O” at Bellagio and Cirque’s fine magical mystery tour, “Beatles LOVE,” at The Mirage.
Before recent gigs by Kenny Loggins and lethal comic Taylor Tomlinson at the Encore Theatre at the Wynn, I dined at the hotel’s Allegro and Casa Playa, respectively. Allegro impressed with its “Foccacia Pizza” (an Italian/Jewish merger with mozzarella, cream cheese, and smoked salmon) and “Potato Gnocchi,” paired with an excellently blended pork, veal, and beef bolognese, burrata cheese, and pine nut pesto. Every bite also counts at the posh Mexican eatery Casa Playa. Its scene-stealing dish is the succulent “Shrimp and Green Rice Epazote,” followed closely behind by the “Chicken Tinga Enchiladas Crema.”
On a beautiful fall night when Aerosmith was performing at the Park MGM, we first ate outside on the Strip-side patio of Eataly’s La Pizza e La Pasta We split the “Insalata Tricolore” and the home-run pasta dish, “Vesuvio Con Asparagi E Guanciale.” From there, we walked over to the hotel’s expansive Dolby Live venue to see the bad boys from Boston (and my former PR clients) still getting drunk on the fountain of youth; with their supersonic dirty blues, they also make their audience feel young and reckless again. The band’s “Deuces Are Wild” residency goes through December 11 (it’s billed as their “final Vegas shows”).
The band’s “Deuces Are Wild” residency starts up again on November 19 and goes through December 11 (it’s billed as their “final Vegas shows”).
Still More To Explore
There are even more areas to explore in Vegas, like New Orleans Square—an array of buildings with art galleries, eclectic retail stores like Avantpop Books, and a museum, The Office of Collecting and Design–in the Commercial Center area.
Now that it’s fall, minus the challenging summer heat, it’s a good time to get out of your car and check out places you haven’t been to or even noticed before. It’s all about adventure and discovery in the big city.
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