Monday, February 20, 2012

Escape from Douchery, Part 12: The Beat Coffeehouse

The revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas is going to take some time.

Zappos CEO Tony Hseih's plan to transform the neighborhood from a vacant-lot filled post-apocalyptic wasteland into a vital arts-district populated by innovative tech-companies, local businesses serving the community, cool bars, music venues, and galleries is an ambitious endeavor that will not come to fruition for years, if at all. But the seeds of Hseih's plan are already beginning to take root, and one of the most visible seeds is the uber-hip Beat Coffeehouse.

The Beat is the coolest coffee place in Las Vegas, and not just because most coffee-shops in the city are located in corners of Casino food courts and have names that begin with an "S" and end with a "Bucks." Located in the Emergency Arts building, a collective that also includes galleries, a yoga studio, non-profit groups, and indie production companies, The Beat has become the center of culture in Downtown Vegas, a gathering place of the city's intelligentsia (yes, that is a demographic that exists in Vegas). On any given afternoon, you'll find Zappos employees, musicians, artists, and local politicians gathered around tables with their laptops open and a hot brews in their hands.

The coffee is uniformly excellent, as Colorado River Roasted Drip is always served fresh and you can order your own perfectly prepared French Press to take to your table. The food is equally tasty... I gobbled up their signature Slap and Tickle Sandwich, your classic Peanut Butter and Jelly number spruced up with Bacon and Jalapenos.

Upping its indie cred, The Beat features the only Zine Library in Las Vegas. While Zines seem a little out of date considering the fact that the blogosphere exists,  there is some interesting (and hippie-style progressive) reading material in there. Even cooler is the fact that the coffee shop features a killer vinyl collection, which you can pick and choose from to create the soundtrack while you hangout (I was in a very Rolling Stones-heavy mood the last time I visited). Local artwork hangs in the back of the shop (some of it better than the rest).

After 7:00 PM, The Beat becomes a 21 and over venue as great beers and wines begin to flow. On many nights, The Beat hosts some of the best local bands in Vegas. Monday nights they have an Spoken Word Poetry open mic night, which can be as insufferable as you'd imagine, but at 9:00 PM they bring DJs in for one of the most chilled out dance parties in town.

Like a plant growing out of the cracks in the pavement of a bombed out city (how's that for dramatic?), The Beat Coffeehouse is one of the most positive signs that Tony Hseih's vision for a revitalized Downtown Las Vegas can and will come true.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tony Hsieh's Plan to Ressurect Downtown Las Vegas

I don't care about shoes.

My Converse All Stars are are basically a mess of ripped canvas, rubber, and duct tape that are an epic daily struggle to pull on before I stumble out the door in a caffeine-deprived fugue-state every morning. My philosophy on replacing shoes basically boils down to: I'll get new ones when my current pair no longer adequately protect my feet from hot asphalt, rocks, and used needles.

Though I could care less about footwear, I am a fan of Zappos.Com. The extremely successful web-shoe store (okay I know they sell more than shoes now, but it's what they're primarily known for) has an exceptionally creative and charismatic CEO in Tony Hsieh (whose youthful mega-success makes me feel insecure about my own life and accomplishments, but that's nothing new) who emphasizes transparency (offering tours of the company's offices to anybody who cares to take them) and employee happiness (as he strives to make his campus a fun, creative and vibrant place to work, complete with personally and elaborately themed cubicles, a nap room, and a closet filled with Razor Scooters).

But the most awesome thing about Hsieh and his Zappos team is their plan to turn Downtown Las Vegas into a vital metropolitan center where smart tech companies operate during the day and cool bars, restaurants, and music venues are filled with people night after night.

It's an ambitious goal. While The Strip is one of the most jam packed avenues in the world, Downtown is still largely a ghost-town. I have written extensively on this blog about the DTLV haunts that I love, like The Griffin, Beauty Bar, and Insert Coins. I've talked about the First Fridays Art Festival and how it's brings out the artsy types once a month. I've declared (and we all know how much weight and influence my declarations carry) that Downtown Las Vegas is essentially becoming the center of the young, urban, artistic, crowd, the hipster mecca of one of the most overly commercialized and gaudy cities ever built by man (don't take that as a criticism; you know I love you Sin City). So sure, there are many disparate hipster elements that have come together in Downtown to make it a neighborhood of growing coolness, but what the area really needs is a creative visionary who believes in the potential of the district to pull everything together in a coherent way and really help it reach its full potential. And it seems like that visionary just might be Tony Hsieh.

Hsieh and a few other investors bought the rights to the First Fridays event from non-profit group Whirlygig for $2 million. The move was a surprise to gallery owners and artists, but the biggest shock is that nobody has protested. While corporate interests taking over an art festival from a non-profit group would often be criticized as dangerously close to selling out, it's a credit to the goodwill that Hsieh and his company have built up in the Las Vegas community that people were excited about the change and the infusion of ideas (and cash) that it would bring. Hsieh has also moved Zappos HQ into the old City Hall building, a very cool historic structure that would probably have been demolished eventually otherwise. The influx of young employees is directly responsible for the existence of The Beat Coffeehouse, a super cool venue that hosts local bands and sells great beer, vinyl records, and excellent coffee.

The inventive CEO and his merry band of followers have bigger plans to continue investing in Downtown's revitalization, with the hope that more forward thinking companies who want to a taste of that Zappos magic (and lax Nevada tax codes), cool bars, restaurants, music venues, comedy clubs, record stores, movie theaters, and interesting hotels (Ace Hotel DTLV! Do it!) will take an interest in setting up shop there. It's a big dream that will take years to come to fruition, but Tony Hsieh seems like the type of guy who has the creative vision and resources (he's invested a bunch of his own money into the idea and claims he's as motivated by the desire to live in a cool neighborhood and support his city as much as he's doing for business reasons) to really transform Downtown into a special place.

And if it will help his plan at all, I might just order myself a new pair of Chuck's from Zappos. I'll call it my contribution to the cause.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Curious Indeed: The Cosmopolitan's First Music Festival Will Be Confusing Corporate and Indie Hybrid Derp

I thought about just tweeting a snarky joke and a link to this story, but it's so bizarre I felt like I had to discuss it in a little more detail.

So basically Sports Illustrated is combining their venerable Swimsuit Issue with indie rock in a way that I still do not fully understand after reading the article about five times. Apparently different indie bands, including fairly big acts like The Black Lips and Toro y Moi, will be featured alongside each model. I'm not really sure what they mean when they say the bands will be "featured?" Because I don't know if anyone wants to see the guys from The Black Lips bronoodling on a beach when they pick up a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. They want to see hot chicks. In swimsuits. It's pretty straightforward.

The online component of this unholy alliance makes a little more sense (only in that the magazine part makes absolutely no sense at all whatsoever in any fashion), in that exclusive tracks will be released through the Sports Illustrated website.

But the most bizarre aspect is the fact that the whole thing will commence with a big, weekend-long rock festival at The Cosmopolitan. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Beauties and Beats Festival  (yep, that's actually what it's called) will be The Cosmo's first such event and take place over the weekend of February 14. The ten bands will play across a variety of stages along The Cosmo's (often strangely empty) casino floor. Oh yeah, and the whole thing is sponsored by Lexus.

The entire proposition is entirely confusing to me. I'm not going to argue that indie rock loving hipsters are above "sex sells" marketing. Just because you grow integrity beards, buy fair-trade coffee, and talk about gender equality doesn't mean you don't love boobs as much as the next guy. I for one remember receiving the SI Swimsuit Issue that launched Tyra Banks career and falling deeply in love with her... before she revealed herself to be the world's worst human being.

The corporate sponsored mix of indie rock and swimsuit models seems like it will be an epic fail. I don't see what a sport's magazine's special issue featuring hot chicks in swimsuits has to do with indie rock, other than the fact that people who listen to indie rock are a desirable demographic whose money they want. My favorite part of the article is the last paragraph, when Rehhan Choudhry, The Cosmo's director of entertainment and special events attempts to explain the thinking behind the fest:

"The audience we brand as 'the curious class,' they're lifestyle enthusiasts, people who travel the world and seek authentic, meaningful experiences," Choudhry says. "Frankly, they're an audience that never visited Vegas before…It's very difficult to create a meaningful experience for them, you can't fake it."

I'm not really sure how marketing a supposedly "indie" festival with "Swimsuit Beauties" in its name that is presented by a sports magazine and co-sponsored by a luxury car company can be seen as anything but "faking it" to that ill-defined curious class they keep targeting. I'm not really sure I've ever bought into the idea of "selling out," but if the partners in this venture are trying to attract an audience that values authenticity, then the approach to this festival seems patently bizarre.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps LA Eastsiders will roadtrip to Vegas and make the weekend a success as they ride the Toro y Moi chillwaves, sip on organic craft brews, hang out at the Chandelier Bar, and pretend they're too enlightened to stare at the swimsuit models.