Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Atomic Liquors Returning Soon

Sometimes you can't kill a classic.

Atomic Liquors is the oldest bar in Las Vegas, a Downtown institution that hosted some of the most glamorous stars and seediest gangsters over the course of its six decade history. Opened in 1952, Atomic took its name because visitors could watch test blasts from the roof as they enjoyed a stiff drink. The bar holds the oldest liquor license in town, was issued the first package liquor license in Vegas, and was once occupied by a cafe (according to legend) named after Bugsy Siegel's girlfriend.

Over the course of its long history, The Rat Pack, The Smothers Brothers, Clint Eastwood, Robert DeNiro, Burt Reynolds, and Rod Serling spent time at the bar, rubbing shoulders with the equally flush yet less reputable mobsters who ran the town. Diva Barbra Streisand even had a personal seat reserved only for her visits. A memorable (and ultra-violent) scene from Martin Scorsese's Casino was filmed in the bar, while Atomic's iconic sign was used in various Vegas-set films, most recently in The Hangover.

Original owners Joe and Stella Sobchik ran the bar for nearly 60 years until they both passed away within a few months of each other, which led to initial shuttering of the classic watering hole. The passing of the couple, who had become an local institution as much as their place of business, could have meant that The Atomic would go the way of so many other iconic Las Vegas legends whose storied histories were decimated in dramatic implosions. But this is one story with a happy ending, as a group of industrious and ambitious investors saw an opportunity in the classic Vegas venue, leasing the place from the Sobchik's son and dreaming up elaborate renovation plans that would modernize the venue while retaining the classic spirit. This week, the new owners accepted the keys to the place and are already planning their extensive updates, with plans to open the new and improved Atomic Liquors in December.

The new owners include Derek Stonebarger, who runs Theater7 in Downtown, a small yet awesome venue that screens indie and art house film and hosts live performances. Stonebarger is a filmmaker himself and a true cinephile who plans to turn the bar into an even more ambitious outlet for artists and the creative community than his theater, which recneetly celebrated its one year anniversary.

Plans for the renovation include a brand new Beer Garden with views of The Fremont Street Experience, larger bathrooms, and an expanded back-bar area. The owners also plan to pay homage to the entertainers who drank at Atomic with The Rat Pack Corner, Smothers Brothers Alley, and Barbra's Seat (a restoration of the original seat reserved for the favorite star of Jewish mothers and gay men everywhere). The interior will be treated like a museum as much as a bar, with decor dedicated to honoring the history of the place and plenty of old school Vegas artwork and photos hanging from the walls. The bar is located next to a large garage which will be used for live performances, and the parking lot will be converted into The Atomic Drive In, where classic and indie films (as well as atomic blast test footage) will be projected during outdoor screenings.

Like the recently rescued from the brink of extinction Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles (which is also going through its own series of ambitious renovations aimed at mixing in modern elements with the restaurant's classic, Disneyland inspiring kitch), what could have amounted to the loss of a old school piece of a city's history will be reborn anew.

Converting the old warhorse into a hip and vibrant bar, beer garden, museum, live venue, and theater is an ambitious undertaking, but it's the exactly what Downtown needs to keep evolving into a mecca for the young and creative. I can't wait to drink at the reborn Atomic for years to come... assuming the end of the world doesn't happen this year. But even if the Mayans were right about 2012, I plan on watching the nukes explode from the rooftop of The Atomic as I sip on their strong drinks, just like the original patrons did almost 60 years ago.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Is Las Vegas the New Ibiza?

The New York Times recently ran a fairly in-depth piece about the rise of DJ and dance music culture in Las Vegas. Framed by the insanely successful 2012 Electric Daisy Carnival, the article is notable (in addition to its hilarious details about 70 year old billionaire Steve Wynn befriending DeadMau5 and hyping a performance by Afrojack) for declaring that electronic dance music has finally arrived in the mainstream (after some false starts in the 90s), and that Las Vegas is becoming the ground zero of EDM culture. A dance record company exec is even quoted declaring that "Las Vegas is the new Ibiza."

The EDM scene has certainly exploded in Las Vegas in the recent years, with big-name DJ's creating an advantage in drawing thronging crowds to the city's many competing mega-clubs. Nightclubs have emerged as one of the city's most reliable revenue generators over the last decade, as The Hangover and the "what happens here, stays here" PR campaign put the Sin back in the City and restored its reputation as a hard partying mecca of excess (after the 90s were spent trying to market Vegas as a family friendly tourist city. But we all made mistakes in the 90's. It was the decade that The Spin Doctors became famous, after all) helped attract eager groups of young people looking for all night parties.

But before the recent EDM-slosion, the soundtrack at most Vegas nightclubswas generally made up of Hip Hop and Top 40 bangers, with some crowd pleasing 80's and 70's classics thrown in for good measure. Only recently have DJ's themselves become draws at clubs (replacing celebutantes like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, who were paid stupefying fees to dumbly wave their hands in clubs during the first half of the 00's), with fans coming in knowing and expecting to hear their original music. Big name DJ's are now attracting Saturday night sized crowds to the clubs on Wednesdays, and Wynn is taking the trend even further, with plans to start an in-resort TV channel based around his nightlife destinations and sell CD's to guests (which seems adorably retro considering that exactly no one buys CD's anymore).

So Las Vegas is developing a new image, as it does every few years, one defined by party starters standing behind laptops and turntables. While (readers of this blog will already know) I'm not into the EDM scene... at all. In fact, I wouldn't want to come want to touch a ten foot pole ten feet away from a club banging out Skrillex music with a twenty foot pole on most nights. Big name DJ's are also headlining douche-filled Dayclub Pool Party parties, with their oiled up STD riddled crowds, which horrifies me even more. I can cut a rug (badly) on the dance floor with I get enough drinks into me, but I'd rather gesticulate wildly to some 90's hip hop classics or a goofy 80's pop song instead of listen to the angry robot beats of a typical Dubstep track. That said, I think the growing popularity of EDM in Las Vegas is a hugely positive sign.

Yes, EDM is becoming more and more popular in mainstream culture, but Skrillex and DeadMau5 are hardly moving the kinds of units that Rihanna or Kanye move these days (even though they barely move any units themselves since the recorded music industry is dead). DJ culture has exploded, but it's still a niche more than a full on cultural movement (the fact the NYTimes is talking about it all is pretty significant, and the fact that AO Scott and David Carr discuss it in their bookish nerd and old guy video show is even more so). The fact that Las Vegas is actively courting a niche, even if it's a rather large and growing niche, is proof that the definition of a "Las Vegas person" is ever evolving. While I spent the better part of the last decade defending Las Vegas to my snobby and pretentious film and art school graduate friends, the fact that a once underground music genre is filling megaclubs on weekdays in the least underground of cities is proof that it could become the preferred vacation destination of that same group within a few years.

If the kids who were made fun of for liking weird electro music have found a home for their subculture in Las Vegas, why can't the town accept more and more niche groups into its ever growing big-tent? Superstar DJ Steve Aoki (who has a montly residency in two of Wynn's megaclubs) describes the evolution of the scene by saying that he "used to consider Las Vegas the most musically ignorant place in the world. Now it’s completely flipped." If it can happen with EDM, why can't it happen with other niches? I can envision a scenario where Las Vegas becomes an indie rock mecca, with bands moving to town for the lower than Los Angeles rents and the abundance of venues in which to perform. There's already tons of standup shows going on every night in Las Vegas (many of them filled with the hackiest hacks who ever dared to hack), so why couldn't the city evolve into a home for hip alt-comics, sharp improv performers, and inventive sketch artists down the road? Cinevegas never took off, but with Downtown's evolution into a cool urban center, I could see an art-house theater and a yearly film festival popping up near Fremont Street. Las Vegas has already become a foodie mecca with namebrand celebrity chefs opening restaurants across a variety of resorts, but why can't rising chefs make their mark in the city as well?

With the rise of the interwebs, the idea of the mono-culture has been completely decimated as people are able to find the kinds of entertainment that appeals to them specifically. While Las Vegas casinos have worked hard to appeal to all people at all times, the way culture has broken us all down into specific mini-niches makes that far more difficult... and appealing to more specific niches just makes more sense at this point. In his review for Midnight in Paris, Roger Ebert compared Woody Allen's surprise hit to typical Hollywood fare by admitting that he's "wearying of movies that are for everybody-- which means, nobody in particular." Though it seems absurd to expect Las Vegas, a city that is almost a too convenient metaphor for capitalism to evolve into a place that's not just meant for an unspecific everybody, the smartest resort owners of the future will find ways to create experiences that appeal so specific niches... or more accurately, to someone in particular.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where the Douchbags Are: The Franklin and Bash Vegas VIP Package From Hell

In the two years I've been writing this blog, I've recommended more than 20 places in Las Vegas where you can pretty much avoid dealing with the douchebag element that haunts most Las Vegas establishments. I've tried to help you steer clear of the bro-ed out elements that infest The Strip's more commercial attractions, but there comes a time when a man has to face his deepest fears and stare the beast in the face.

And there is nothing in Las Vegas that encompasses the perfect ideal of douchebaggery more fully than the Franklin and Bash VIP Package that the Luxor is currently promoting.

Brought to my attention by VegasChatter, one of my absolute favorite Las Vegas blogs, The Bashover VIP All Inclusive Package sounds like a dark Lovecraftian nightmare made flesh and promoted with an over abundance of hashtagged Tweets.

Full disclosure: I've never seen an episode of Franklin and Bash (and while I am in the market for a new "hate-watching" candidate, it sounds like Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show The Newsroom will finally fill the Aaron Sorkin's ego-sized hole left  in my heart by the cancelation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip 5 years ago),  but as far as I can tell it's about a couple of cool guy bro lawyers (broyers? broterrnys?) played by Zach Morris and the dude from Road Trip. Promos for the show feature scenes where the lawyers make out with clients on the witness stand, admit that they're drunk in front of judges, get attractive women to take their tops off to win caes, and call other lawyers "lame" for raising objections (and doing their jobs like professional adults), essentially acting like entitled pricks who treat the courtroom like a frat house.

Of course there is audience out there for this kind of idiotic garbage. While I fully buy into the idea that we're living through a golden-age of television, an era when visionary, deeply intelligent, and artistic programming like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Louie, Community, Girls, and 30 Rock have brought the auteur theory to the small screen, there are still many hours of programming to fill on many channels. The cream of televisions crop might be creamier than ever, but the medium still allows for a lot of base level stupidity, which explains the prominence of shows starring the Kardashians or Real Housewives and basic cable mediocrities like F and B.

USA and TNT seem to be competing for the most banal show with the most generic title, and while Suits, White Collar, Rizzoli and Isles, Fairly Legal, Necessary Roughness, Royal Pains, Common Law, Covert Affairs, Burn Notice (featuring, in its defense, B-movie God Bruce Campbell), and the Dallas reboot (which is insane to me, by the way... it's 2012 and we're allowing a Dallas remake to happen?), but Franklin and Bash seems to be aiming so low on the totem pole of stupididty, it's almost heroic. Perhaps normally classy co-stars Beau Bridges and Malcolm Macdowell are actually dead and Franklin and Bash is their personal Hell as they are being forced to atone for sins we can only imagine. This may be a pretty existential explanation for the show, but makes more sense than a television executive, even one who works for TNT, green-lighting a show that was almost certainly pitched as "it's like Entourage, but with lawyers."

Anyway, The Bashover VIP All Inclusive Package includes such bro-dacious features as 24 hour all you can eat passes to Luxor's mediocre buffet, two tickets to the violently hated Criss Angel Believe (starring the Franklin or Bash of magicians), two admission passes to the Titanic Exhibit (getting that sinking feeling yet?), day spa passes (I have no snark for this, this sounds lovely, actually), VIP passes to Cathouse (so you can be as misogynistic as the cool lawyers from the show), admission to LAX Nightclub (where you can practice your awesome Pick Up Artist moves you learned by reading The Game), VIP check in privileges, and a "special gift" (even money that it's that Axe Body Spray that makes you smell like chocolate). Notice the package does NOT include admission to Luxor's Savile Row, an exclusive club that attempts to attract an interesting and eclectic clientele (whose the discerning gatekeepers wouldn't let you within a mile of the club if they found out you "got totally hooked up by the VIP Bashup package, bro").

If I was a more dedicated journalist (or had more money in my bank account), I'd sign up for the Bashup Package and dig in deep into the belly of the Chocolate-body spray smelling Beast to give you a hilarious and insightful warts and all account of what it's like to get VIP status with a package that ties in with a basic cable courtroom comedy drama thing. But instead I'll avoid the situation entirely and head over to Dino's for a stiff drink.

That said, if any Vegas hotels end up offering a "Sanctimonious Sorkin" VIP weekend, complete with walking and talking tours of the city where we all pontificate on how all other Vegas VIP packages are not nearly as intelligent as the one we're on, I will totally hate-participate in that.

 Fist bump, bro!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 21: Dino's Lounge

I have made it no secret to readers of this blog that I'm an avid fan of the classic, seedier version of Las Vegas that's been almost completely replaced by slick corporate casinos that invite you to misbehave... in a controlled environment. The people behind the famous "What Happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign are selling the town as a place where you can have an out of control weekend in which misbehavior will run so rampant you'll have to swear your friends to secrecy for fear that your life will be ruined if people back in the real world found out just how much fun you had. But the key is that it's an image that they're selling... at this point, most Las Vegas experiences are completely controlled, and the idea that the city is a Disneyland for adults is very apt... you are indulging in a constructed fantasy of illicit behavior that helps normals blow off some steam after working an endless succession of 40 hour weeks. But in today's Sin City, there is very little actual Sin.

That wasn't always true. Back in the day, the mob ran Las Vegas and it was a very different town, a true Wild West of loose morals. I'm not actually saying that times were better when getting caught counting cards meant you'd be driven out to the desert and forced to dig your own grave before you took two slugs to the back of the skull from a hulking henchman in a cheap suit named Tony or Joey or Frankie instead of simply being banned from the casino floor, but things were at least a little less slick and homogenized.

Dino's Lounge, which has been serving hard drinks for low prices since 1962, is a throwback to the city's seedier past. It's not a place where you're in any danger of getting whacked (you're more likely to run into a hipster belting out a Neil Diamond or Bruce Springsteen tune on the karaoke machine than a character from The Sopranos), but the walls are soaked with classic Las Vegas history.

Dino's was originally known as Ringside Liquors and owned by notorious Las Vegas mobster Eddie Trascher, where many shady deals were hashed out over glasses of the hard stuff. Trascher sold the bar to Rinaldo Dean Bartolomuci in 1962, when it was rechristened after the new owner's nickname. "Dino" ran the local's favorite bar until he passed away, but it remained in the family through generations. Now Dino's granddaughters run the place, which is more popular than ever even though (or maybe precisely because) it's barely changed in the half century it's been in operation.

There is nothing modern or hip about Dino's, and that's a major part of the appeal. The roomy dive bar still has the same smokey and booze soaked charm that's been its specialty since the 60's, offering visitors the opportunity to shoot some pool, see some great live music, play some beer pong, choose some tunes from their excellent jukebox, and embarrass by warbling some drunken versions of hit songs in front of a forgiving and encouraging crowd during their Karaoke nights on Thursdays- Saturdays.

The greatest thing about Dino's (other than their ridiculously cheap yet ridiculously strong cocktails) is the incredibly eclectic crowd. Locals, old timers, colorful tattooed types, and hipsters looking for something a little different will find a welcome home at Dino's. While some many of the cool, artsy types, both locals and visitors, can often be seen in Dino's, the vibe never approaches pretentious or exclusive.

This is a place for people who are serious about their drinking (their website even has a "drunk of the month" program where the bartenders elect a regular for keeping them in business through their heroic consumption of alcoholic beverages; winners are awarded perks that include their own exclusive parking spot for the month, which is most likely irresponsible but most definitely awesome), which means you'll get to hear a lot of great stories from the characters who frequent the bar along with the great music playing on the jukebox (or awful renditions of great music on the weekend Karaoke nights).

Dino's has a Las Vegas Boulevard address, but it's far North of where "The Strip" proper ends, and it's closer to the funkier environs of Downtown, where classic landmarks aren't torn down as readily in the name of "progress" (and sometimes in the name of creating gaping holes sitting idly and pointlessly and serving as nothing more than giant gaping metaphors representing the American economy of the last half-decade).

Dino's bills itself as "the last neighborhood bar in Las Vegas," and that's not just hype... like many of the patrons who frequent it, the old school saloon is a grizzled survivor with a tawdry past that refuses to change with the times and can hold its liquor as it tells amazing war stories about the Sin City's seedy good ol' days. Plus, it's a place where you can get onstage and butcher Cracklin' Rosie, if you're feeling brave (or drunk) enough in front of a crowd of people who won't judge you. What's not to love?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Smith Center Brings Class and Culture to Las Vegas

If you compiled a list of the most cultured cities in the world, Paris, London, and New York would undoubtedly rank exceedingly high, while Las Vegas, at least historically, probably would have fallen somewhere between Riverside and the woods where the Unabomber's cabin was located. But while it will take the world some time to change their perceptions of the glitzy gambling capital, the reality is that culture has indeed come to Sin City in the form of the breathtakingly beautiful Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown.

The Arts Center boasts a classic art deco design inspired by The Hoover Dam, with a 17 story working bell tower, a 2,050 seat theater with a massive stage and orchestra pit, an intimate 250 seat Cabaret and Jazz venue, and a small theater built for community based performances and events. Original paintings hang on the walls throughout the buildings, and handcrafted sculptures are placed indoors and outdoors throughout the 5 acre campus.

The Center is surrounded by the peaceful and meticulously manicured Symphony Park, featuring more original artwork. Names of prominent backers (including, surprising to exactly no one, Downtown savior Tony Hsieh) are carved into marble in the stunning Grand Lobby that leads into the complex's centerpiece, the jaw-dropping (yes, I'm using many synonyms for the adjective "pretty," but The Smith Center is exceedingly pretty), multi-tiered 2,050 seat Reynolds Theater, where most of the Center's major events are staged.

The programming is diverse and designed to draw in the entire local community, as high culture performances are mixed in with more widely appealing commercial fare. March's extravagant opening night gala was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (who must have a closet full of tuxedos after as it seems like he's emceeing or hosting a different classy event every weekend) and featured performances by Carole King, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, Jennifer Hudson, Joshua Bell, and John Fogerty. The Center is the home for the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theater, as well as The Broadway Las Vegas series (which is bringing an ambitious slate of productions including Wicked, Mary Poppins, Memphis, The Million Dollar Quartet, Catch Me If You Can, La Cage, West Side Story, Billy Elliot, American Idiot, Beauty & The Beast, The Addams Family, Shrek, and Anything Goes to the city in its inaugural season), and is hosting performances from music and showbiz icons like Diana Krall, Pia Zadora, K.D. Lang, Chris Botti, and Steve Martin in the upcoming months.

The Smith Center has filled a void in Las Vegas that once seemed un-fillable, bringing actual honest-to-gosh culture to Sin City, with a diverse programming schedule designed to invite the entire community to celebrate the arts. Beautifully designed and smartly curated, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is a shining triumph in Downtown's metamorphosis from a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with empty lots, drug dealers, and low-rent hookers into a vibrant, creative, and thriving community.

No offense to low-rent hookers; they deserve to experience the arts as much as anyone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 20: Artifice Bar

Oh, how far we've come. 20 recommendations for non-douchey, bro-free activities in Las Vegas. And some of you probably started reading this blog thinking it was a gimmick, that Las Vegas had nothing to offer those who identify as hipsters (or those who deny that they're hipsters even though they totally are). Yet I've only gotten started.

As you've no doubt noticed (and I haven't failed to point out in an insecure hedge where I criticize myself before you can), most of the places I've recommended have been located off The Strip and in Downtown. A few years ago, the thought of recommending great places in Downtown (unless you were looking to score a hooker or some meth) was nearly unimaginable. Just a few years ago, Las Vegas was less than friendly to the artsty, alt., and indie types. But the city, which has a history of changing directions every few years, is shaking off it's old skin and regenerating into something new, Doctor Who, style.

And Downtown in particular continues to evolve into its own unique brand of awesome. While the neighborhood did decently attracting people to The Fremont Street Experience as a kind of low-rent alternative to The Strip, the current movers and shakers in the area are thinking of the neighborhood as its own entity. Downtown is becoming a unique neighborhood that is equally friendly to locals as it is to tourists, as new and unique businesses are opening in the area all the time. The Artifice Bar, located in the middle of the area's growing art's district, is a perfect example of the neighborhood's exciting and creative expansion.

The Artifice opened just over a year ago, but the place became hub for the hipsteratti almost immediately. It's easy to see why local hipsters adopted the artsy place as their own, because the bar gives off a unique vibe even when viewed from the outside, with an old-school neon sign announcing that you've arrived and cheeky comic-strip style art inviting you inside.

Located next to Bar + Bistro in a brick building that was started as an electrical warehouse and was once used as a laundry facility for the Lady Luck Hotel, the interior is massive, with two wood-floored lounge-style rooms and a performance space. The lounge rooms feature long leather couches that are perfect for cuddling up for some dimly lit private time with that special someone. Paintings and photographs from local artists hang on the black stenciled and exposed cinder block walls. Because all the works on display are for sale, interesting new artwork constantly rotates in to replace pieces that have been sold, so there's always something new to see.

The performance space is decently sized, with a large stage where some of the best local bands and comedians in town perform in a room with chalkboard walls where artists can draw ephemeral works, lending a cool interactive vibe to the space. The venue is always one of the best places to check out great music during the monthly First Fridays Art Walk.

The quirky touches continue even in the bathrooms, where vintage televisions hang above the urinals. Local artists contributed to the design of the entire place, which explains the unique and forward thinking details embedded throughout.

The bartenders serve an amazing selection of cocktails on a black marble bar top (as Artifice is yet another place I easily could have covered in my review of Las Vegas cocktail culture). The talented mixologists serve artfully named Cocktails like The Warhol, Alice in Wonderland, Nicky Free, Taming of the Shrew (made with Absinthe, Gin, Lime, Soda, Lime, and Sour), and The Charleston (a delicious Old-Fashioned-like concoction made with Maker's, Bitters, Sugar, and a sprtiz of Seltzer and garnished with Cherries and Orange Slices). Artifice also carries an excellently curated boutique Wine list and a small yet decent selection of beer (including a few good Crafts).

The most impressive trick that Artifice pulls off is balancing all of the artsy elements, such as their quirky design, artwork on display, and outside the box Cocktail selection, while simultaneously remaining totally unpretentious and fun. Sure the place attracts a hipster crowd, but everyone I encountered was chilled out instead of "too cool for school." This is a hipster bar for people who hate hipsters (or at least claim to hate hipsters).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Invasion of the Ravers

How quickly a year passes. The Electric Daisy Carnival is coming back to Las Vegas for a second weekend of all night raves and mayhem starting this Friday.

Last year, the arrival of the massive electronic music event, which is expected to draw 300,000 people (and nearly as many glow-stick vendors), caused a bit of panic among adults who don't understand what these crazy young people were doing in the dessert. Sure, many (most) of the attendees will be on drugs (that's why people go to these things), but so was everyone at Woodstock back in the day. Los Angeles banned EDC because a girl died at the festival two years ago, which led to Las Vegas taking over hosting duties last June. For weeks leading up to the event, headlines coming out of Vegas played up the danger of the scary rave culture, many of the articles reading like hilariously old fashioned 50's style moral panic pieces.

But then the actual festival happened, with respectful and smart crowds, and no deaths or major incidents reported. More importantly (or cynically), the event was a massive success for the recession cratered city, with  hotels completely sold out (at heightened room rates), and restaurants bars and gaming floors jammed with people during the day (because the massive rave takes place overnight), bringing tons of cash into the city over one weekend. After such a massive success, it's no surprise that the controversy and panic that led up to last year's festival has all but disappeared from the media as Sin City is welcoming over a quarter million party goers to the town with open arms. The injection of lots and lots money really changes the perceptions of those disapproving grownups, doesn't it?

With that said, I have to admit to not really "getting" the whole rave thing. Dubstep just straight up confounds me. Skrillex is basically the first artist that makes me feel like parents when they listen to the next generation's music. It's just noise! In my day band played instruments and hauled them three miles through the snow!

I'm not inherently against electronic dance music. LCD Soundsystem might be the most important act of the last decade. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. rocks, Daft Punk rocks harder (I'd much rather deal with their brand of robot music than Skrillex-bro's), and if I lived in New York, I probably would have been willing to commit murder to get tickets to Kraftwerk's performances at MOMA. But the whole rave culture is a turnoff to me, and has been since it became a "thing" in the 90's (even though I kind of liked the movie "Go" when I saw it theaters). The music, the fashion, the drugs, the dance moves... I just can't connect to any of it (I'm with them on glow-sticks though. Glow-sticks are cool no matter how old you get).

That's the thing with niche culture though. Whatever it is about the DJs and the music that brings people together to dance under the moon and strobe lights until dawn doesn't appeal to me at all, but it means everything to the 300,000 people who will gather in Las Vegas this weekend. It's easy to snark on something that's not your scene and that you barely understand (other than porn, it's basically the main use of the internet) but what's the point? It's the same for any polarizing art or artists. As many people as there are who love the work of Wes Anderson and Animal Collective as much as I do, there are just as many people who become enraged at the work of these extremely individualistic artists because their very specific point of view doesn't appeal to them. But just because it's not for you, why should it make you metaphorically Hulk out on an AV Club comment board? Why can't we all just get along and realize that just because something is not made for us, it doesn't automatically need to inspire rage filled tirades on Twitter? Respect an artist for trying to follow their own muse and let the people who respond to it enjoy the community they've created around it instead of viciously attacking them. It doesn't take anything away from your scene to allow someone else to enjoy a totally separate scene. Can't we all just get along, internet?

EDC is not my bag by any means, but it's cool that there is an event that can bring so many people together to joyfully participate in something that they're passionate about. The music those crazy ravers love so much might sound like an epileptic robot having a violent yet vaguely rhythmic seizure to my ears, but I will defend their right to dance to that music it with my life. Or at least with my blog.

I'll be avoiding the crushing crowds filling Las Vegas to capacity this weekend like the plague, but rave on kids. Keep hydrated, and someone bring me back a few glow sticks.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plugging a Blackhole: The North Strip

The north end of The Las Vegas Strip was not doing well before the recession, but the collapsing economy has been catastrophic for the area. Once the site of the last remaining old-school casinos, The Stardust was imploded to make room for a hotel that was never finished, The Sahara has been closed down to make room for a planned SLS Hotel, and all that remains are the increasingly low-rent Riviera and Circus Circus (which is billed as a family friendly destination complete with a theme park but is also the kind of place where you immediately remove the comforter on your hotel room bed).

So what is Las Vegas to do with this large chunk of the iconic Strip? While Steve Wynn's luxury towers were built towards the north end of The Strip as they square off against The Trump across the street, as if the two exceedingly rich men (who famously have no love for each other) chose their locations in order to have the world's most expensive staring contest, the flow of Bellagio-like luxury stopped there and isn't likely to continue. The SLS gamble may well pay off and create fancy-pants luxury resort even further up The Strip, but the dead zone creates an opportunity for casino builders to think smarter instead of bigger. Being the visionary that I am, here are my personal (and only half snarky) recommendations for how to fix the north Strip.

Go Old School: Conservative scumbag casino mogul Sheldon Adelson knocked down The Sands in 1996 to make way for The Venetian Resort. The Sands is still a powerful brand name (why else would he call his company Las Vegas Sands even after knocking down the resort?) and nostalgia for old-school Vegas style is still palpable, with a trilogy of Oceans 11 films grossing over $1 billion (with a b) worldwide over the last decade by riding a tone of neo-Rat Pack cool. The Mob Museum has opened its doors recently in celebration of the seedy history of Sin City. And even though Las Vegas has lost market share to the more loose book-keeping practices of Macau as a destination for the world's gamblers, it's still friggin' Las Vegas. Sin City is the original and someone needs to make the smart move by building a casino that plays off that history of Rat Pack cool and bad behavior. It be a bit ironic to knock down a property and build a modern take on The Sands barely a decade and a half after the original was destroyed... but Vegas is ever changing, so why can't it change back and regrow some of its roots?

Niche It Up: I've already noted in the past how nichey Las Vegas is becoming. The North Strip could be a great spot to serve some of the niches who are not coming to Las Vegas. Put that Ace Hotel I keep talking about in one of those empty lots, build a Standard Hotel (for the d-bag Entourage loving crowd who thinks they're artsy and interesting), create a techy and gamer-centric destination geeks will love, build a gay resort, target Latin-Americans (a strategy that's been working for nearby Primm), market to pirates. Builders can think smart as they build these more modest places with specific target audiences in mind instead of spending billions as they try to become all things to all people. And while these niche based properties will appeal to smaller audiences, those same audiences will be fiercely loyal to the resorts that speak to their desires directly.

Go Downscale: The pre-recession Vegas boom witnessed the opening of more and more luxury resorts on The Strip, but those salad days are over (I've never understood that term, btw... salads are sensible and healthy meals, so why does the term "salad days" mean a time of youthful irresponsibility? Just sayin'.) and more and more resorts have seen the writing on the wall. While Treasure Island (or TI as it's known to the kiddies) was never an upscale resort (even before Steve Wynn sold it), the place is now smartly marketing to mid level audiences, replacing upscale nightclubs with more affordable party destinations like Senor Frogs, Gilley's Salon, and Kahunaville. The entrepreneurs of the North Strip's future would be wise to follow this model as they build out in the desolate area. There's enough luxury options for the 1%... open some fun options for the rest of us out there.

Connect to Downtown: I know, I'm obsessed with the continued development of Downtown Las Vegas, but I find Tony Hseih's plan to renovate the area inspiring and fascinating. The North Strip and Downtown will never actually physically connect to each other, but they can do so spiritually. Downtown is becoming the part of Las Vegas where the cool, bohemian, artsy, and progressive can hang out... why can't the North Strip open a few bars and establishments that appeal to the creative class who live in and visit Sin City. And who knows, maybe Hseih, the Santa Clause of Downtown, will reach into his bottomless moneybag and build a monorail that connects the end of The Strip to his beloved hood? It might sound crazy, but making it easier (and cheaper) to travel between The Strip and Downtown will bring more people out to the area, which is exactly what Hseih wants and needs for his vision to succeed.

Turn Failures into Wins: Sure there are now a ton of empty lots where historic resorts once stood and luxurious new properties were supposed to tower above The Strip. But why not turn those failures into wins? Don't think of them as empty lots, think of them as giant theme parks. The owners of these failed properties could stop losing money every day with unfinished products and turn the husks of resorts they've built into fun attractions, like haunted houses, spots to install ziplines, or "recession tours."

Okay, this is a terrible idea, but someone has to do something with these massive empty lots.