Another day, another escape from douchery post where I advocate a uber-hip spot Downtown. I know, I know, I'm getting predictable, but the neighborhood really is emerging as a mini-urban paradise for artists, musicians, hipsters, bohemians, and the "creative class" (as the awesomely named urban planning guru Richard Florida has dubbed the Zappos employees and people following in their footsteps who are starting to work, drink, and live in the area).
You have to look no further than The Arts Factory, a collection of art galleries, studios, yoga classrooms, jewelry makers, and performance spaces all housed in a former warehouse, as an example of a venture that perfectly represents the emerging creative population of Downtown Las Vegas. And the simply and directly named Bar + Bistro, with its emphasis on seasonal Latin fusion food made from locally sourced ingredients, classic cocktails, good wine, original art on display, and funky design, has become the ideal social center for the eclectic and exceptionally (and sometimes self-consciously) cool group of residents and visitors to the artsy hub.
I obviously cannot resist a visit to Downtown when I'm in Vegas, but I had not seen The Arts Factor until my last Sin City adventure due to that I usually spend my time in the area wandering The Fremont Street Experience (in my defense, they have a bowling alley with an all drag queen staff on Fremont, plus that stupid giant screen above your head that is just hypnotizing sometimes), but I corrected that on my last trip.
The entire Arts Factory building is certainly impressive and utopian, and I got to see some decent art at a couple of the galleries. But the star of the place is doubtlessly Bar + Bistro, a totally unique spot that is in an obscure enough location to truly keep the douche-element far away. This is a place frequented mostly by locals and tenants of The Arts Factory, a place you have to seek out specifically. That means the fratty tourists aren't going to end up there, since they're too busy whooping and hollering at horrible pool parties, ruining comedy shows at Strip resorts, and making general asses of themselves.
The restaurant has a funky and inviting vibe that you'll notice from the exterior, with signage inspired by the graphic design of the New York Subway system (because as everyone knows, everything cool ever comes from New York, obviously). The interior is super cool, yet unpretentious and relaxed, with a rustic (I never know if I'm actually using that word right in describing restaurants) atmosphere created by walls given texture with wood, exposed brick, or bold colors. Original pieces of art hang on the walls (curated by the very cool Trifecta Gallery, located in The Arts Factory building), and many of the pieces are actually really good (unlike the work at many, many, many local restaurants, bars, and coffee shops across the country, which may be original but is also totally terrible). The background music is well curated; I heard lots of Walkmen, Modest Mouse, and Tom Waits, and not even one Rhianna song (okay, I kinda like that "We Found Love" song. Guilty as charged).
My group wasn't ready for dinner, but we did split some delicious tapas, including Spicy Spanish Chorizo, Carnitas Tacos, and Mofongo (a Plantain and Garlic Mash with Chorizo that was so good it made me angry that I had not tried it before that night). And for those of you (including Steve Wynn) wondering, the menu does feature an extensive Vegan section (would you expect anything less from a place like this?).
We came to drink, and the place delivered. I started with an excellent Scotch flight that featured three different 1 ounce pours, then sampled a few of their signature cocktails, including their Margorilla (a margarita with Grand Marnier on the rocks) as well as their fresh and tasty Pomegranate Sangria (because resisting a Sangria at a Latin Fusion place is just plain stupid, even if it's a Sangria that buys into the silly and should-be-played-out-by-now Pomegranate in everything fad). The gimmicky Sangria was good, but their plain old straightforward Sangria was even better. Like "holy crap pour me another immediately, or I will punch you in the nose," good.
Bar + Bistro used to throw an even called Camp 107, where they screened classic cinema and cult flicks outside on their patio while serving food and drinks as hipsters with high socks and oversized glasses played Bocci Ball in the warm dessert night. They still throw events like Raggae concerts, beer tastings, and Vintage Bike Nights, but my cinephilic heart hopes they bring back the outdoor movie screenings. You can still play Bocci Ball, though.
Overall, Bar + Bistro was a pretty utopian spot, with great food, excellent cocktails mixed by bartenders who know what they're doing, an inviting vibe, and interesting art on the walls. No wonder it's become a bit of a hub for the artsy and hipster types who spend time in The Arts Factory and Downtown.... it's a common place where they gather, away from the more commercialized Vegas Strip, to create a community with other like-minded Bohemians without fear of judgment.
Or maybe "creating a community" is just a buzzword that's really just excuse for those artsy types to get drunk. Which is fine too, because THAT SANGRIA IS REALLY GOOD.