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).

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