Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Get Spooked on The Strip (and in Downtown)

I LOVE Halloween. It's my favorite holiday, but more than that, it's mind-boggling to me that anyone could prefer any other choice to a night devoted to dressing up and getting drunk and eating candy and making out with girls dressed like hot versions of super heroes or monsters or Abe Lincoln (and I'm predicting that this year's big Halloween costume will be Joaquin Phoenix from The Master, which will mean there will be a few hot lady versions of said costume that might just be slightly sexually confusing).

Las Vegas, as one would expect, does Halloween right. Thanksgiving or Christmas/ Chanukah/ Kwanza in Vegas? Just sad. New Years Eve is of course a blast there, but also turns The Strip into the most crowded place on Earth, while drinks and food cost about a million dollars (prices are only slightly exaggerated).  But Halloween in Las Vegas? If you've never done it at least once, I feel bad for you son.

This year promises to be a particularly gruesome Halloween month (another reason I love the holiday: it basically means a month chock full o' parties), with Hostel director/ Quentin Tarantino entourage member Eli Roth's Goretorium at the Harmon Corner Shopping Center opening up for bizness this week. An ambitious Halloween Haunt that will be open year round, the place promises to deliver bloody scares aplenty, all of them approved by the twisted horror auteur. While the $40 admission price is a bit steep for a haunt (the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights and Knotts Scary Farm haunts cost about the same but also include the park's many rides in their admission prices), your ticket does include admission to the attached nightclub... which could be fun or totally terrible, who's to say until it opens officially? Roth said that he wants the place to be "the scariest, top of the line, most intense haunted house in the world," and now he'll have the opportunity to put his money where his (very big) mouth is as the place is just hours away from opening its doors for the first time.

Sick and twisted magician The Amazing Jonathan has "designed" (or been given credit for the design of due to marketing concerns) his own Haunted House in Downtown, The SCREAMont Experience at The Las Vegas Club. While this one isn't getting as much hype as Eli Roth's haunt, it also costs half as much to get into. Circus Circus also has their own Fright Dome haunt in their Adventuredome amusement park and converts offers freaky tours of their 13th Floor Experience, but then again, Circus Circus is scary enough without people dressed as zombies lunging at you from dark corners.

So if you're looking for some good scares, Las Vegas has got you covered. But that's not the main reason to visit Sin City for the best holiday on the planet (or the Saturday before the best holiday on the planet if Halloween happens to take place in the middle of the week). The real reason that Las Vegas is the best place to be for Halloween is that it's LAS VEGAS ON HALLOWEEN. The ultimate party holiday (sorry, NYE, there is too much sadness and loneliness involved with you if you don't have anyone to kiss at midnight) combined with the ultimate party city. A place where people travel to in order to escape their normal lives and act a little ridiculous combined with a holiday where people dress up to escape their normal lives and act a little ridiculous.

There are over 50 parties being thrown at bars, clubs, and other venues on the weekend before Halloween and on the night of the holiday. Mandalay Bay throws a Haunted Hotel Ball that combines the best of Vegas nightlife with an old-school (and Shining-like) society ball, with a scary haunt into something totally unique. The 3rd annual Las Vegas Halloween Parade is a fun all ages event in Downtown, and it plays like a First Fridays event with costumes and giant puppets (and the fact that the route is near some of the most unique bars in town doesn't hurt). If you're feeling a bit frisky, head to The Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball at The Hard Rock.

Clearly there are plenty of options for parties and events, but I've personally enjoyed a few Halloweens at GhostBar in The Palms. The place already has a fun spooky theme with glowing ghost-shaped overhead lights and 3D hologram portraits on the wall that seem to follow you as you walk, and their Halloween event kicks it up to the next level. Plus the fact that the place is located on the 55th floor of the hotel, and the patio area (which includes a clear glass walkway that makes you feel like you're floating on air) affords you some of the best views in the city.

But wherever you end up in Vegas on or around Halloween, you will find yourself a good time. How can one argue with people walking around The Strip sipping on giant Margaritas in full costume (some of which will be clever and elaborate references to semi-obscure movies and TV shows you love and some of which will just be really sexy), celebrating the best holiday we have? You can't argue with it, and you really shouldn't try.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eat Your Heart Out: The Best Buffets in Las Vegas

When writing about Las Vegas for an extended period of time, one must eventually confront the city's most prominent yet somewhat embarrassingly unsophisticated mode of dining: the buffet.

While foodies may turn their noses at the notion of all you can eat feeding troughs piled high with low to medium quality Mexican food, Pizza, Shrimp, Fried Chicken, Pasta, and Chinese dishes kept lukewarm for hours under heat lamps, the fact is that as said foodies affected the entire city's culinary scene and brought great restaurants opened by prominent chefs to open shop in what was once a food desert in the middle of a literal desert city, buffets have been forced to step up their game to compete. That means you can actually get some quality with your quantity at a few Las Vegas buffets. And below I will list my favorites, before this intro grows ever-more long-winded or faux-David Foster Wallaceian (the release of your favorite author's biography will do that you, I suppose).

Still one of the best. The Rio is off The Strip but it's worth the extra effort to enjoy Penn and Teller and the spectacular selection at their buffet. The Carnival World Buffet reliably has one of the of the longest lines in town on Saturday and Sunday mornings/ afternoons, and for a good reason. There is just a whole lot of there there, with different stations serving international cuisines of more surprisingly high quality and freshness. I always seem to return to their Mexican section as well as their succulent Prime Rib. Plus the place has a full bar with hourly drink specials and one of the most loaded dessert stations in Las Vegas (featuring fresh Gelato!)

Steve Wynn doesn't do half measures, not even in his buffets. The creator of The Bellagio seemed to be out of the Vegas game when he sold his iconic property (as well as The Mirage and Treasure Island) to MGM in the early 2000's, but then he came back with a resort baring his name that redefined the city again. The mogul micromanaged the quality of everything in his upscale boutique resort, which meant that the food in his buffet as of the highest quality. Featuring fine dining quality food with the type of quantity you'd expect from a buffet, Wynn upped the ante on all you can eat. Also, with its constantly changing display of seasonally appropriate and colorful flower arrangements, the place is just pretty to look at. The Buffet at Wynn is spectacular, but be warned: it's one of the most expensive all you can eat options in town. 

The Cosmo branded itself as the hippest hotel in Las Vegas when it opened a couple years back, and they backed up their claims by trying unique and unexpected things in every aspect of the resort, including the buffet. Instead of the usual design where patrons pile their plates high, most of the options at The Wicked Spoon are presented on small plates. While this might extra work for dishwashers at The Cosmo, it probably means less food is wasted because people aren't absentmindedly serving themselves more than they will ever actually eat. Plus, all of the food is top quality for a buffet, with unique options like Bone Marrow, Chocolate Covered Strawberries, and Thai Tea Gelato, all presented in a dimly lit and ultra-hip space. This really is the buffet for people who normally avoid buffets.

The Paris Resort has a half charming and half super-cheesy Disneyworld feel to it, and that vibe is very apparent in their buffet. Modeled after a provincial village in France, you can sample delicious pastries and cheeses out of fake country homes, complete with chimneys and a ceiling mural that makes it feel like the middle of the day 24/7. The salads and Eggs Benedict are strong at the buffet, but the true highlights are the made to order Crepes, a feature ripped off at other buffets but which is most appropriate at an all you can eat restaurant with a French twist. 

Caesars Palace helped launch the foodie invasion in Las Vegas when Wolfgang Puck's legendary Spago opened there in the 90's, and the owners of the classic resort have recently begun to rebuild their reputation as the go to destination in Las Vegas for good eats. The multimillion dollar renovation of their buffet is one of their most impressive feats of fevered foodiedom. Skilled chefs man live cooking stations where almost every of the 500 available items available are prepared in front of your drooling face. The dazzling variety of upscale and unique cuisines from all over the world include including homemade tortillas, fresh Enchiladas, Sliders, Carnitas, wood-smoked meats, wood-fired Pizzas, Sushi Cones, Chicken and Waffle baskets, and made to order selections like Ramen, Omelets, Crepes, and Souffles (yeah, you read that right... Souffles). Plus for a small fee you can enjoy all you can drink Beer and Wine. The beautifully designed space doesn't feel like a buffet at all, with mutliple smaller dining rooms that allow for a more intimate and romantic meal, even if you're intimate and romantic meal involves multiple plate-piling trips to the cooking stations. Truly indulgent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 28: Firkin on Paradise

The British Pub is not a particularly novel concept when it comes to bar themeing, either in Las Vegas or anywhere else. But when done well, a good British Pub is like the comfort food of bars, especially since the good ones literally serve comfort food. And beer of course, which is basically the perfect comfort beverage.
Firkin on Paradise, the new family-run British pub located in the strip-mall on Harmon Avenue and Paradise Road, offers everything you'd want and a little more in a British Pub. The place doesn't break any sort of new ground in terms of decor and design, and you can probably find similar places like it in every town across the country where people like to drink... but that's sort of the point. It's got a nice homey, neighborhood vibe and it executes everything its set out to do in a warm and inviting setting.

The main reason the place is so warm and inviting is probably because the owners are husband and wife duo Tony and Mariel Sharron, who told The Las Vegas Weekly that "we put our heart and souls into this place. It's our fourth child." The personal touch really makes the Pub special as the owners set out to open a place that would appeal to Beer lovers as well as a family friendly restaurant (if you find places that emphasize their Beer selection and often host rowdy patrons screaming at Football games while knocking back more than a few adult beverages to be friendly towards families, that is).

Thus the place features large booths, Shuffleboard and Pool tables, and Dart Boards, as well as flat-screen TVs for enjoying the big game. The menu is chock-full of Pub foods of a higher quality than most similar places, with the standout option being the Wednesday night all-you-eat Wings deal, a pretty dangerous though fun in the moment option that I took full advantage of on my last trek out to Vegas. The entire menu is impressive, and nothing costs all that much (or in Yelp parlance, this is a place that rates a mere $$).

But any Pub is only as good as their Beer selection, and Firkin has a fine list of Beers on tap indeed. With over 42 Brews available, there is a great selection of interesting Crafts as well as more popular options for those with a less adventurous palette. I've been on a giant Stone kick since I visited their awesome Bistro and Gardens outside of San Diego on the Sunday after Comic-Con weekend, and I enjoyed a few pints of their famous Arrogant Bastard Ale to cool down from the piles of extra-spicy Wings I consumed. They've also got a few Ballast Point beers on tap (another wonderful San Diego Brewery), including the incredible Sculpin IPA, which might well my second favorite IPA right now. (It ranks behind Russian River's legendary and a slightly scarce Pliny the Elder. I'm of course not counting the same brewery's legendary Pliny the Younger Triple IPA because it's only available once a year, but  that amazing beer justifiably earned its crown as the greatest in the world.) People looking for a little sweetness along with their Beer may enjoy their Bee Sting, Lager & Lime, Shantygraff, or Radler, in which Honey, Sprite, Ginger Ale, or Lemonade are added to a Brew of your choice, but I personally don't see the point in diluting the balance of a well brewed Ber. Another cool feature is the bar's Draft Wall, where you can pour your own drinks (though if you think that would make it easy to sneak a free drink or two, think again... they've got that system on lock-down).

There's no new ground being broken at Firkin on Paradise... it's just a solid and warmly inviting British Pub run by a husband wife duo serving delicious and affordable comfort food and pouring a terrific selection of cold Beer. It may not be revolutionary, but it's close to perfect.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Imperial Palace to be Reborn as The Quad

Imperial Palace is an exceedingly cheap hotel located in the exact middle of The Strip. Despite its ridiculously low room rates and excellent location, I've never even considered checking in to the place.

This is not a hotel with a great reputation. The IP barely musters an average rating of of 2 1/2 stars from Yelp users. VegasChatter saddles it with the dubious distinction of Worst Hotel in Vegas, describing rooms with "smeared roof mirrors" with features like "Deluxe Luv Tubs." Ick.

Though I've never stayed in the hotel, I have spent a little time in their nightclub, which has an outdoor bar right on The Strip. And by a little time, I mean like five minutes before I ran out, hoping that the experience hadn't permanently damaged my soul. The Rockhouse Bar had no cover, unless you count the little piece of your soul it kills upon entry. This awful place was filled with bros with popped collars playing Beer Pong while sad-looking ladies danced in cages as classic rock blared from the speakers. I should take solace in the fact that the place is dead and buried now, but like Jason Voorhees before it I'm not sure I quite believe Rockhouse won't one day come back to murder everyone I know.

All that is to say it's absolutely no surprise that Caesars Entertainment has made the very (very, very) wise to decision to renovate and re-brand Imperial Palace. After months of speculation (by nerds who speculate on such things), Caesars announced on their Pulse of Vegas Blog that Imperial Palace would morph into The Quad. Details are a bit fuzzy on when the name change will go into effect, but renovations are already fully underway with a snazzy new check-in desk and less beat up looking garage open to the public. Other changes in the elaborate plan include an expanded and updated Casino floor, while the retail and dining levels will be given a once (or twice, or thrice... the place is pretty gross) over. Caesars hasn't announced what they'll do about the rooms, but you can bet those dirty roof mirrors and Deluxe Luv Tubs are probably not long for this Earth.

Basically, it sounds like everything will be completely changed except for the Auto Collection (which will remain intact for car geeks) and, more importantly, the resort's "Delertainers." For those who have never been to The IP, the one thing that is amazingly silly yet great about the place is their Dealertainers. Have you ever played a hand of Blackjack where your dealer was a Prince, Rod Stewart, Elvis, Tina Turner, or Amy Winehouse impersonator? Because you can do that at Imperial Palace, and (thank goodness) you'll still be able to do that at The Quad. These actually pretty good tribute acts both deal Blackjack and perform the hits of their inspirations in the middle of the casino floor. It's the closet you'll ever get to Prince actually dealing you some cards, unless you know something completely awesome that I don't know about (and in which case, please stop holding out on your underground Prince poker game).

The Pulse of Vegas Blog explains the new name, saying that it "brings to mind good times for many. A quad is a gathering place, a place to meet and make new friends." While I have rarely heard the term "quad" used to refer to anything other than a gathering place for students on a college campus, that might just be what the brain-trust at Caesars had in mind. They might be aiming directly at Top Ramen munching college kids looking for a cheap place to stay during a party heavy weekend in Las Vegas, in which case the semi-odd name for the rebranded resort in the middle of The Strip might actually be kind of genius. Only time will tell if the place will become like a rowdy dorm hall or Frat Row in the middle of The Strip. Keep an eye out for socks on the door knobs when you back to your room either pre or post-Imperial Palace re-branding, it's probably always a good idea to wear your sandals when you take a shower at the property.

Friday, September 14, 2012

All Things Must Pass: How Hunter Thompson's Craze Inducing Bar Became a Gelato Stand

The Horse-Aound Bar at Circus Circus was deeply weird, even for Las Vegas standards.
Located in a rotating Carousal in the middle of the perpetually scummy (yet family friendly!) resort, Hunter S. Thompson wrote about the place in a memorably surreal passage from his landmark work of "Gonzo Journalism," Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Terry Gilliam's audacious filmic version, starring Johnny Depp as the hallucinogenic drug addled madman, adapted the sequence into one of the movie's flat-out freakiest sequences, one powerful enough to put "The Fear" into your soul.

The place is not the only Carousal-like bar in the country. New Orleans boasts a similarly named Carousel Bar at the elegant Hotel Hotel Monteleone in The French Quarter, but that place is sophisticated and classy (and serves a damn fine Sazerac). The Horse-Around was a different matter entirely.

Maybe I was under Thompson's influence, but the first time I drank there I could swear that The Horse-Around revolved at a much faster pace than the glacial rotation of the ostensibly similar New Orleans bar. And Nola's Carousal Bar is soundtracked by classy piano and light jazz, while the Circus Circus version featured... well, circus music. Freaky, off putting circus music. And bright flashing lights. And scary painted horses. You get the idea. The place was not "classy."

But it was weird, different, strange and kinda messed up. Despite being built into a Carousel, The Horse-Around was not kid-friendly, but that's as it should be because it was a bar for drinking alcohol after all.

Now Hunter S. Thompson is gone, dead by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Terry Giliam can't get his films financed these days, and one of his last movies was a dumb as bricks tale that turned the Grimm Brothers into monster hunters gallivanting around a sub-Tim Burton fairy tale back lot. As for Johnny Depp? He's spent the last decade playing a cartoon version of a Pirate in Disney movies. The less said about Johny Depp the better.

And The Horse-Around Bar is gone, replaced by a Gelato stand where parents can appease their kiddies with sugary frozen treats.

I'd heard that the place was shuttering, but could hardly believe it wouldn't be there anymore. It was just something that I'd taken for granted as a ghost of Las Vegas past that couldn't be gotten rid of very easily. But like The Stardust and Sands before it, Las Vegas has a way of irradiating its wild past in the name of corporatized progress. And thus it was with a heavy heart on my most recent pilgrimage to Sin City that I discovered rumors of the Horse-Around's deamise had not been greatly exaggerated.

Is the loss of such a strange, kind of wrong place a tragedy? Circus Circus is kind of a ratty dump in general anyway, an excessive mess of over the top fear inducing spectacle meant to rob people of their hard earned money, and The Horse-Around was an excessive example of this (which was one of Thompson's main points in the first place). But the weirder fringes of America, even in the capitalistic centers of the nation, are disappearing, and the stranger edges of the nation are dulling into commercialized homogeneity.

Johnny Depp's likeness now appears in a Disneyland attraction and you can buy Italian Ice Cream at the site of one of the most bizarre freakouts in the middle of Hunter Thompson's Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream. Las Vegas is less filled with mobsters, weirdos, and sweaty Mescalin users than it used to be. And there's something sad about that, at least a little.

Goodbye, Horse-Around Bar. Can I get two scoops Pistachio?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Through the Looking Glass: R+D Hipster Emporium

One of the defining traits of hipsters is that they never admit to being hipsters. It's a fact that's held true since the current definition of the word took root (sometime around the release of the first Strokes album and The Royal Tenenbaums). It's like the Higgs Boson (or the definition of porn): you and nobody you know is a hipster by any means, but you'll know one when you see one.
That seems to be changing a bit as of late, as American Apparel-clad, Animal Collective early adopters who once rolled their eyes at people who were ostensibly the same as them  and labeled them "such a hipster" are now starting to own the term. At least in my limited view of the people I know, more and more people are admitting: "yeah, I live in a city, I like DIY indie rock shows, vintage clothes, and weird indie movies, I guess I'm a hipster." This admission is made with as much self-mockery as pride, but the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem you're a hipster. (You see what I did there? I created an ironic detachment from the idea of admitting hipsterhood by equating it with 12 step programs. +10 hipster points for me? Or whatever. I'm over it.)

Now a new Urban Outfitters-like boutique has opened in Las Vegas that has the audacity to admit in its name that it's for hipsters, by hipsters (FHBH has no ring to it, I know). R+D Hipster Emporium, located in the otherwise unhip Boca Park Fashion Village shopping Center on Rampart, is (as you can plainly see from their Tumblr) is everything you'd expect from a business with such a name. The place carries the edgy and indie-leaning fashions, faux vintage T-shirts, Tom's Shoes, Native American inspired jewelry, and... Juicy Couture. (The inclusion of the sorority girl brand seemingly complicates the message of the store's target audience, yet it's actually kinda shrewd and brilliant. Non hipstery girls might be intrigued by the store's name in a Common People-like fit of cultural tourism only to find comforting fashion options they'd buy anywhere else, while snarky hipster girls can buy a pair of Juicy sweatpants ironically. In this regard, their strategy for stalking JC clothing is possibly a masterstroke.) The storefront has a faux faded facade and Yelp reviews praise their decent selection while criticizing their prices (which are not especially high for a boutique of its ilk, really).

But I'm not writing this post to apply a critical eye to the style on display at the store... I have no dog in that fight and don't really have much of a sense of fashion anyway (as much as I'd like to believe I've been able to fake it for years, I'm pretty sure most people are well aware of my style, which is to say my total lack of it). I'm mostly marveling at the through-the-looking glass meta-moment we're living in when a word that became a pejorative at basically the exact instant it was given its current definition has turned back into a buzz-word powerful enough to be used in the name of a store in an extremely commercialized city that's still finding its footing with the subculture the word represents. While most vintagey boutique stores in neighborhoods like Los Feliz, Park Slope, and (yes) Downtown Las Vegas are designed to appeal to groups that could be lumped under the dreaded H-word label, they always come with cheeky and heavily coded names like Squaresville, Odd Twin, or Electric Lemonade. R+D Hipster Emporium is one of the few instances I've come across where a business has brazenly embraced the word in its very name.

Does the fact that the store is openly appealing to hipsters as a demographic mean that hipsters have stepped out of the closet as it were and proudly "taken back" the word from its negative connotations? Or is the fact that the place exists in Las Vegas the shrewdest move by the owners of R+D, as they invite people who wouldn't normally admit to hipsterdom at home to indulge in the same "what happens here, stays here" behavior that Vegas has turned into their proud city slogan for the better part of the last decade?

More surprising is the fact that the store, while aimed at a hip indie consumers (down to their Instagrammed exterior photograph featured on their slick Tumblr) doesn't seem to be using the term hipster as some ironic  po-mo meta-knowing double meaning. They seem to be saying "yes, this is a store for hipsters, period." And as when dealing with anything involving as a subculture as self-aware as modern hipsters, that very straight forward approach to the naming of their store has of course inspired in me a spiral into ironic po-meta knowing analysis where I look for what it all (double) means.

My conclusion? The owners of R+D Hipster Emporium might just be brave progressive pioneers, pushing a maligned subculture to acknowledge who they are and stand up proudly and say "Yes, I'm a hipster, and proud of it damnit!" And inviting members of said subculture to step into their store to buy some fashionable, fair-trade shoes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Neon Reverb to Bring the Sloppy DIY Garage Rock To Downtown Las Vegas This Week

I thought musical festival season was over after FYF Fest in LA last weekend, but then I took a look at the lineup for The Neon Reverb Festival (which kicks off tomorrow night at The Bunkhouse Saloon in Downtown Las Vegas), and realized I'd be making a grave, grave mistake by underestimating Las Vegas' DIY indie rock fest.

Neon Reverb is a relatively new festival scheduled to take place twice a year, in March and September. But the group of bands the organizers have put together demonstrates that the young festival already coming into its own. Taking place over a few days at different venues in Downtown Las Vegas, this festival is a seriously good reason to fake an illness and take the rest of the week off work.

Justifiably acclaimed garage rocker Ty Segall, from San Francisco, headlines with his blistering lo-fi psychadelic guitar shredding, as the prolific and young prodigy plays cuts from his excellent new record, Slaughterhouse and his already startlingly deep back catalog. Continuing the loud and garagey theme is SF's Thee Oh Sees bring their poppy yet psychadelic sound to Downtown Sin City. Indip pop supergroup JJAMZ, featuring former and current members of Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes, Maroon 5,  Phantom Planet, and The Like have a catchy, Blondie thing going on, and the easy on the eyes quality of their cute front-lady Z-Berg doesn't hurt. Country punkers Those Darlins have an appealingly throwback girl-group sound, while Moonface brings a cheekily fun twist to 80's style gothy drama. Former Limp Bizkit guitarist (!!!) Wes Borland finally threw off the shackles of douche Emperor Fred Durst to form his new, quirkier band Black Light Burns, which might be interesting to see just to witness what life is like for a musician who survived playing guitar on Nookie, which isn't necessarily the worst song ever written but is surely in the running for the title.

Beyond the super excellent Segall, I'm most excited by the inclusion of Foxygen on the bill. Fronted by two hilarious young bros living on opposite coasts (who share duties updating a hilarious Twitter feed), their debut album Take the Kids off Broadway is a deliriously unhinged bedroom pop/ garage rock EP that pays loving homage to tons of classic  rock acts within single songs, mimicking The Who, The Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, and The Beach Boys within four minute blasts of schizophrenic (in a very good way) rock n roll. I saw them play at the recent (and kinda dumbly named but otherwise lovely) Echo Park  Rising Festival and they were equally energetic and sloppy. If they keep working at what they're doing, these guys could be truly great, but for now they're already a lot of fun.

A bunch of other bands and DJs are scheduled to play the festival, which launches tomorrow night and runs through Sunday. Hopefully I'll see you there... just try not snap any Instagrams if we run into each other. Photos of me drinking beer and rocking out to loud garage rock bands in Downtown Vegas Dive bars might blow my story that I'm sick at home with a bad case of Hantavirus.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Food Truck Drama in Downtown Las Vegas

I adore the explosion of food trucks that started with the success of the Korean BBQ Taco slinging Kogi trucks in LA and erupted into a full blown phenomenon all over the country. Food trucks make it easy for a chef with a good idea to get their small business off the ground quickly with lower overhead than a brick and mortar restaurant, and they provide a wonderful alternative to the usual fast food options that are open late into the night after many drinks have been consumed.

Like any other major city (or even minor one... I saw a lineup of trucks in Boca Raton, for goodness sake), Las Vegas has a huge fleet of food trucks serving up a diverse offering of mobile delicacies. Among the most popular trucks rolling around The Strip and Downtown are Fukuburger (which was so successful that a brick and mortar version opened in Hollywood last year), Haulin' Balls, Sin City Wings, Chi-Town Huslter, Slidin' Thru, LBS Patty WagonSausagefest, Lola D's Kitchen, The Redneck Kitchen, and Engine 1 Pizza (served out of an actual decommissioned Fire Truck). More and more chefs are getting their concepts off the ground and onto the road with each passing month, and I've noticed new trucks the last few times that I've attended the First Fridays Art Festival.

The success of food trucks has sent brick and mortar proprietors into a bit of a tizzy, which is kind of what always happens when a new development in any industry threatens to take away market share from the old guard. And now many Las Vegas restaurant owners are working to regulate food trucks and keep them from posting up near their front doors.

On one level, I get it. It seems sorta unfair to find a way to put together the money to open a restaurant and then have the competition park in front of the real estate you struggled to fund. But come on... how many people are planning to go out for a nice sit-down meal and decide at the last minute to grab food off a truck? Sure, if you were headed to a pizza by the slice joint, then maybe you'd change your mind and decide to grab some Wings or a Burger. But really, if you're looking to get romantic dinner and drinks, are you really going to change your plans at the last minute just because the Sausagefest truck is idling outside of Bar + Bistro? I think not.

A proposition was recently shot down that would require food trucks to always park at least 300 feet of a restaurant. While it's fair to ask trucks to not park right in front of a restaurant, staying 300 feet away from any restaurant is insane. Another proposed law would have required that all trucks stay 1300 feet away from brick and mortars, a truly insane and over the top number. These proposed laws would basically make it impossible for food trucks to park in the same city as their competition.

The real irony of this whole battle, and I'm certainly not the first person to point this out, is that many Downtown restaurateurs who have benefited from the neighborhood's policies that have made it easier to open a small business are now fighting against other small businesses. It seems especially gross to witness supposedly progressive and cool local business owners trying to block out other small businesses from thriving. Trying to keep a Walmart out of the neighborhood is one thing... trying to block The Redneck Kitchen from cooking up some homestyle Southern fare down the block from a sit-down restaurant seems downright un-neighborly. It's against the spirit of everything the slowly building Downtown renaissance is building towards.

With a 300 foot buffer between trucks and every restaurant, where would the trucks park on The Strip or in Downtown on First Friday fest nights in a town with hundreds of eating establishments? 300 feet is such a wide radius that once they are out of the prescribed zone of one place, they're probably going to be in the nuclear footprint of another eatery.

Other cities have passed similar laws and managed to remain reasonable. In progressive haven Austin, trucks are not allowed to park within 20 feet of a brick and mortar restaurant. This seems fair, reasonable, and completely chilled out as are most things about Austin. Restaurants aren't allowed to make laws against other restaurants opening down the block from their front doors... why should they shut down a food truck's right to compete in a neighborhood with plenty of hungry potential customers?

In the end, the places that will thrive, whether they serve their food from a brick and mortar storefront or out of a firetruck, are the places that serve the tastiest grub. That's how America is supposed to work, and that's how food truck regulations should work in this election year!

We built that. Forward, not backward.