Thursday, January 12, 2012

Biggest Vegas Stories of 2011: A Year End, Traffic Baiting List

We're nearly two weeks into the new year... and since we're deep into the January doldrums, blogs, magazines, newspapers, and new aggregation sites are still putting together best of 2011 lists in shameless attempts to grab some extra traffic. And since I am by no means above shameless stunts, here's my list of the top Las Vegas stories in 2011:

The Cosmopolitan Opens for Business
The Cosmo opened at the tail end of 2010, technically, but really 2011 was the first year that the mega-expensive, mid-Strip property had to shine. The resort was designed to attract an all new demographic to Las Vegas, which the powers that be described as the "curious class." Many were confused by exactly what the demo was supposed to be, but the term basically translated to the rich young LA  elite looking for something a little different... essentially the people who party at The Standard Hotel locations in Downtown LA or on The Sunset Strip. And it worked, in a way... the rooms at The Cosmo are quite often filled with young partygoers, and the sexy Chandelier Bar has become one of the hippest new watering holes in town. The resort has done a good job of booking hip indie rockers, from all time icons like Morrissey (headlining in the main theater) to up and coming buzz bands like Best Coast and Fitz and the Tantrums (rocking out on the more intimate Book and Stage) played the resort last year, while a slew of Pitchfork approved acts like The Shins, Justice, The Rapture, and Foster the People are on the books to perform there in upcoming months. The Cosmo also has one of the hottest nightclubs in town, The Marquee, which ushered in the beginning of 2011 with performances by Jay Z and Coldplay. While all of this may make The Cosmo sound like a runaway success, The Resort is actually losing money because gambling revenues are not strong... and despite all of The Cosmo's outside the box thinking, the Vegas economy is still fueled by gambling. Which puts the owners of The Cosmo in the awkward position of successfully attracting a new demographic to Las Vegas... only to find out that the "Curious Class" isn't all that curious about the thing that most defines Las Vegas.

Downtown Draws the Hipster Elite
Downtown Las Vegas is not as cool as Austin, Portland, Silverlake, or Williamsburg (Williamsburg is dead anyway at this point, but that's another story), but the neighborhood is becoming more and more of a hipster enclave... which is a pretty amazing development, considering that Vegas was built on glittering consumer palaces. But indie alty artsty types have found a home in Sin City around Fremont Street, where some of the coolest bars in town are located, from The Griffin (a super chill hipster hang with a great jukebox) to Frankie's Tiki Room (kitschy old fashioned fun) to The Beauty Bar (the hipster dance party center of Vegas) to Insert Coins (a video game lounge designed for discerning geeks). The ever expanding arts and music First Fridays events take place all over Downtown and has become a mandatory event for the artsiest Vegas citizens, while the best food trucks in town often post up near Fremont Street. Downtown has been growing in hipster cred for years, but 2011 was the year when Downtown cohered into a formidable mecca for indie scene dwellers... even if its in the shadow of the super mainstream Vegas Strip.

The Economy Continues to Pound Sin City
This is the inescapable fact of Las Vegas these days. While the economy as a whole seems to be on the (very slow) mend, Vegas has been hit hard and 2011 was no better. Before the economy crashed in 2008, there seemed to be no end in sight for the Las Vegas bubble, as more and more multi-billion dollar mega-resorts were replacing classic casinos, and no matter how many new rooms became available in new hotels, the town was almost always at capacity. Expensive restaurants were overbooked and girls in too shirt-skirts waited in long lines outside even the lamest clubs. People were gambling their money away and the rest of the city beyond the tourist mecca area was expanding quickly as more and more people started to move to the quickly growing metropolis. But then everything crashed like a house of cards, or at least like a hacky metaphor. Construction halted on many of those aforementioned multi-billion dollar mega resorts, as giant empty lots sit where proud old Rat Pack era haunts once stood. The Cosmo did open, but only after a European bank took over its staggering debt. Hotel prices swing wildly from weekend to weekend, as resorts are often desperate to attract visitors (you can stay at The Wynn for about $100 a night if you book the right weekend, an astoundingly low rate for such a luxurious and expensive boutique hotel) and shows from iconic entertainers and restaurants from celebrity chefs were forced to shutter. The Strip itself feels strangely empty on many Saturday nights, as the bustling crowds of the midd 00's have thinned drastically. All is not lost in Vegas as the economy slowly recovers and the smartest Casino bosses will continue to innovate and succeed with the cards they've been dealt, but for now some of the glamor of the halcyon days of Sin City feels strangely absent. But Vegas is a town famous for reinventing itself every decade (remember that the 90's were all about trying to attract families and turn Vegas into Disneyland with gambling and liberal open container laws before things shifted to the more honest and direct "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" philosophy that launched a decade defined by the kind of debauchery and bad behavior celebrated in The Hangover), so maybe 2012 will be the year Vegas is reborn again, like a glorious Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Or the world will end. Either way. 

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