Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 31: Eat

Nothing proves a city's true hipster credentials like a hip brunch spot with a minimalist name. I have no scientific, statistical proof of this claim, but I do have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support my thesis (something that uber-stat wonk Nate Silver would surely frown upon, using math-wizardry). To compliment places like Good in Silverlake, Home in Los Feliz, Gravy in Portland, Radish in San Francisco's Mission District, and Egg in Brooklyn (which has its own farm, of course), Downtown Las Vegas now has Eat.

Fed up with the corporate culture that came with working in Vegas kitchens for two decades, veteran Chef Natalie Young was about to move away to El Paso before Downtown Cocktail Room impresario Michael Cornthwaite recruited her, Avengers style, to stay in town and open her own restaurant. When Young protested that there was no way she could afford to open her own place, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh swept in with his magic powers (read: money) to finance the brunch spot. With that, Eat was born.

Dedicated to filling a hole in the emerging but still slightly sparse dining scene in Downtown, Eat is a hip spot that serves inventive takes on American classics with a French twist. Eat's menu is designed to be hearty and healthy, with items made from sustainable, fresh, ingredients, with as many local and organic elements as humanly possible. So on the hipster brunch checklist, the restaurant hits pretty much all the right notes.

Eat is one of those places that really makes Downtown feel like a neighborhood with a thriving community, with art installations personally curated by Young, including large murals and wood sculptures on permanent display as well as rotating photographs and paintings from local artists. Natural woods, exposed bricks, and overhead lights with exposed light-bulbs give the place a funkily rustic vibe.

None of these cool features would be anything more than gimmicks if the food wasn't good, but thankfully the food at Eat is very, very good. Cornthwaite made the right call by keeping Chef Young in town, because her menu is pretty darn amazing. I ordered the Huevos Motulenos (2 over easy eggs with Red and Green Chili, Black Beans, Peas, Feta, and Sauteed Bananas served on warm Tortillas... yes, sauteed Bananas are part of that amazing dish), while my friends ordered Chicken Fried Steak and the Truffled Egg Sandwich.

We all shared bites of each other's meals (but only one bite each because none of us were particularly keen on giving away much of our amazing orders), and everything was ridiculously delicious (though I'm pretty convinced my meal won the day, if only for the friggin' Sauteed Bananas). For dessert, we split an order of fresh Beignets, served with Raspberry Jam and Vanilla Mascarpone. I love Beignets. I've been to Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans multiple times... and these were some of the best Beignets I've ever tasted. Eat's steamy and strong Coffee, which is always just as important an element to a good Brunch as the food itself, was served fresh in a French Press, which was a very nice touch.

As much as I love the runaway gluttony of a good (or even mediocre) Brunch Buffet, Eat is so perfectly executed that it's probably going to be my new go-to destination for Sunday Brunch on future Las Vegas weekends. Thank goodness Michael Cornthwaite was able to pull a Samuel L. Jackson and convince Chef Natalie Young to stay in Las Vegas and open Eat, which will surely become a staple of the burgeoning Downtown Las Vegas community for years to come.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Speculating Wildly on Sir Rachard Branson's Plans to Virginize Las Vegas

Richard Branson is one of the billionaires on the planet who is hard to hate. The guy pushes forward progressive politics, has some pretty cool brands, doesn't overcharge consumers to use them (Virgin America is one of the most pleasant and feature-packed flying experiences out there, and their ticket prices are consistently amongst the lowest available), has an irreverent sense of humor, is so intent on going to space that he's developing his own space-ships, and just seems to have a lot of fun being Richard Branson overall.

Virgin is expanding into the arena of hotels, with the first one open to set in Chicago next year and plans to aggressively expand into cities where Branson's brand would fit in nicely. The recently launched Virgin Hotels Website (which will presumably offer a tangible product that consumers can actually experience sooner than Virgin Galactic) says the chain will look to draw "high income, well educated, metropolitan, creative class customers." Since this sounds suspiciously similar to The Cosmopolitan's made up demographic they've dubbed the "curious class," it's no surprise that, in addition to cities like New York, LA, and San Francisco, the New York Post reports that one of the cities that Virgin is targeting as a hotel site is Las Vegas.

Virgin Hotel Chicago will be opened in an old building that will be renovated into something new and presumably oh-so-Branson. Will Virgin do the same in Las Vegas and other cities? Will Branson play it safe and near properties with similar demographics like The Cosmopolitan or CityCenter, take a chance on the emerging neighborhood that is Downtown (as I keep hoping the owners of The Ace Hotel chain will do in the near future as well), or try to be a part of the revitalization of the North Strip along with The SLS?

This is potentially awesome news, and while there are no real details on what a Virgin Hotel Las Vegas will look like, that's never stopped me from speculating wildly. Which is why I've come up with the following fantasy itinerary based around a fully Virginized Las Vegas weekend.

(Note... I love Virgin America and many other Branson properties and feel that Sir Richard is actually a super cool guy. The following fake itinerary is for gently affectionate satirical purposes only. So please don't kill me, Mr. Branson, even though I'm sure you have Virgin-branded Drones that could assassinate me with extreme precision or serve me a perfectly mixed Martini, depending which mode you set it on.)


8:00 PM: De-board Virgin America flgith at McCarren with a killer travel package put together by the company. Curse when I realize I could have spent less money without the package but was fooled by the ads with pretty girls.

8:30 PM: Arrive at Virgin Hotel and Casino after riding in Virgin Courtesy Shuttle from airport, which is like Virgin Airplane except it's a van, meaning that I'm basically crushed between two fat dues wearing Hawaiian shirts who are excited to have dinner and drinks at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritvaille.

8:45 PM: Check in to room after waiting in line where the latest Dubstep tracks, selected by DJ Branson himself, are playing. Get free shot of Patron upon checkin and from Clarissa, the beautiful desk clerk. Even though I know it's her job to flirt with the customers, I walk away feeling like I made a real impression and mentally plan to walk past the check in desk later before I hit the bars.

9:00 PM: Arrive at room. It's a mixes Stanley Kubrick sterility with bright purple lights. And the giant HDTV features a snarky and cooler than though animated welcome video as well as a Branson only channel where the excitable British Billionaire hosts a travel adventure program about all of the cities that his airline can fly you to to stay in his hotels. The best part will be when he starts ranting, in all earnestness, about building the first Hotel on the moon.

10:00 PM: After realizing I've been watching Branson's channel on a loop for a full hour, emerge from my my hypnotic state and head downstairs to eat an overpriced yet delicious meal at a trendy restaurant with a menu created by (INSERT HOT CELEBRITY CHEF OF 2014'S NAME HERE). The fresh muddled (INSERT 2014'S TRENDIEST FRUIT OR HERB) Cocktail is top-notch.

MIDNIGHT: Grab drinks and hit the dance-floor at the space-aged themed Bar, which will probably be called "SPACE" or "PLANET" or something equally sparse and to the point. Dance a little to slightly better than average beats played by bored looking British (possibly French?) DJ as I (try not to) oggle the girls serving drinks in go-go boots and shiny silver skirts.

3:00 AM: Enjoy a midnight snack at a diner that looks exactly like my hotel room that looks exactly like the inside of Virgin America airplanes that looks exactly like what you'd see if you were shrunk down to the size of a bug and crawled through Branson's magificent goatee.

3:30 AM: Fall to sleep to the loop of Branson's channel, which is starting to become as impossible to turn away from as The Entertainment from Infinite Jest.


10:00 AM: Wake up, realize how hungover I am, shut out the blinding Vegas sunlight with automated curtains, go back to sleep.

11:00 AM: Wake up for real, rinse off in shower that seems to have come from the future, head out of hotel room.

11:30 AM: Enjoy brunch at Branson's buffet, "As Many Virgins as You Can Handle." Leave disappointed that it's just a cheeky title.

1:00 PM: Hit the pool, only to realize that it's populated by the Kings and Queens of the Kingdom of Douche. Same bored Brit (or French) DJ is spinning by the pool, making more money than I can imagine making in one afternoon while barely feigning consciousness. But if he looked more engaged, he wouldn't have the job, would he?

2:30 PM: Hit the casino floor. Win maybe $30 playing Roulette and get one free, feel like I've won a moral victory. Blow my winnings and my entire gambling budget playing Blakjack for 10 minutes.

3:00 PM: Exceed gambling budget, lose all of it. Get a second free drink, count that as moral victory.

4:00: Walk through The Virgin Mall, feeling slightly buzzed, sleepy, and disoriented. Snap to my senses before booking $10,000,000 reservations at Virgin Galactic Travel Agency for two tickets to the moon hotel.

6:30 PM: Another overpriced yet excellent dinner at a restaurant with a name chef. It's a cool twist on the American diner from a Chef so young and cutting edge he's not born yet. So yes, he'll be 2 when I dine there after the place opens. Deal with it. Richard Branson is hiring two year old Chefs, and  their cooking is amazing.

8:000 PM: Pregame with the help of in-room Ipod Doc and robot that shakes drinks for you. (Note to self: patent idea of drink shaking robot, sell it to Richard Branson, pay for trip to Virgin Las Vegas in 2014 with profits from patent.)

9:00 PM: Queue up to get into Sir Richard's, the hottest nightclub in town of the moment after purchasing VIP pass that promises I won't have to wait in line for too long.

1:30 AM: Get into club. It's like every club in Las Vegas, just more packed. Make eye contact with one or two girls, pay too much for drinks, dance badly to music I'd never listen to. Agree with friends that it was "awesome."


Lather, rinse repeat. Because that future-shower is awesome.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 30: The Tell

The Tell is another one of those events that defies lazy stereotypes attached to Las Vegas. A glitzy haven of excess nicknamed Sin City with an economy fueled by vice industries, it's not a place generally considered the most literary of cities. In fact, the most famous book about Vegas uses the city to paint a vulgar picture (fueled by psychotropic drugs) of the American dream gone to rot.

I guess the organizers of The Tell never got the memo (I always like this cliche, btw... is there someone out there writing memos with facts like "Vegas isn't into books" or "the Niners will beat the Giants this Sunday?" Because if there is, I'd like to know how I could get that job since they seem to have the ability to get things wrong and stay employed) though, because they've created a truly cool storytelling event that's somehow found a big enough audience in Sin City of all places that its celebrating its third anniversary this month.

Local newspaper writers, comedians, musicians, writers, poets, actors, and more step up to the mic to tell their tales, which are usually at least loosely based around a set theme. Many of the participants are either locally or even nationally famous, while others are working folks from the area with a story to tell (the upcoming event features storytellers who are local teachers and State Police Officers/ poets, as well as actors with credits from big movies like Super Troopers and Cabin Fever).

Most of the stories take the form of This American Life style slice of life non-fiction at least loosely based around a theme, such as this week's upcoming I Fought the Law event (which will be given extra coherence as its held in the lobby of the new Las Vegas Mob Museum, a building that also once served as a courthouse where many big-time Mafioso made-men were tried back in the day). Many of the stories are hilarious, while some are heat-warming, and some are genuinely moving. No matter what, they're always honest.

The 3rd Anniversary Edition of The Tell takes place on Thursday, October 18th at 8:00 PM at The Las Vegas Mob Museum. Tickets are $10, totally worth it for a night of interesting stories told amongst curious and intelligent people. I'd be there if I was in Las Vegas this week, helping to prove that Las Vegas does indeed have a literary side.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 29: Don't Tell Mama

Perhaps this is not something I should be admitting, but I really enjoy piano bars.

Maybe it's my love for Piano rock (I'm a not so secret Billy Joel lover), but I love me a smokey bar with a Piano player pounding out covers of the hits. Las Vegas has no shortage of such places, with dueling piano bars Harrah's, New York New York, and Paris, but those joints are generally packed to the gills with a more broish element screaming for Don't Stop Believin' (not that there's anything wrong with that wonderful song, but it's sorta been done to death of late). Don't Tell Mama in Downtown is a different story entirely.

DTM, located right on Fremont Street near a bunch of other cool bars, is a bit small, so try to get there on the early side of the evening if you want to grab a table for you and your peeps. The bartenders take turns belting out tunes played by the energetic and hilarious piano player when they're not serving you strong yet admittedly slightly pricy cocktails. The girls are surprisingly talented, especially singer/ drink-slinger Dre, who has become somewhat of a local celebrity. Throw a few bucks into the tip jar and ask for a request and you can get up and sing your heart out or let the super talented do it for you.

In addition to a Billy Joel rarity (this is not a place to beg for the overplayed yet still wonderful Piano Man, but they conceded my deep cut request), I got them to play some Beatles and Kinks tunes that brought down the house. And even though I didn't have anything to do with the performances beyond requesting the songs, I felt that I had proven something (you'll never accuse me of having anything less than a healthy ego).

But as much as I like to take credit for my piano bar curatorial skills (an extension of my X-Men like abilities to choose the best Jukebox tracks every time I go to The Drawing Room in Los Feliz), the piano player himself really blew me away with the selection of tunes he selected off the top of his head. Radiohead played at a Vegas piano bar? Yes, please!  He did also play a Muse song, but let's not hold that against him.

The place is right in the heart of the "cool part" of Fremont Street, located just a couple doors away from The Griffin, and very close to Insert Coins and Beauty Bar. The crowd is a nice mix of locals, adventurous tourists who have heard the place offers something more off-beat, hipsters, and gays (which made one less than open-minded Yelper so uncomfortable that she rated this awesome place only three stars. Plus she was mad that there weren't "endless drunk renditions of Journey and Billy Joel," so the fact that they play more eclectic music is now apparently a bad thing.  There's no accounting for stupid, I guess).

 Don't Tell Mama is pure fun-time, and just another example of why Downtown is the place to be if you're looking for an offbeat party night  in Vegas.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Little Piece of Brooklyn is Heading to The Strip

The Linq Project, currently under construction in the middle of The Strip (and the reason that beloved low stakes and cheap booze casino O'Sheas had to close), with its previously announced tenants that include a giant Ferris Wheel and Yard House restaurant, seems to be aimed squarely at mass audiences. There was no sign that anything cool or edgy was part of the plan, until yesterday when a more complete list of venues opening at The Linq was announced and The Brooklyn Bowl was intriguingly and unexpectedly included amongst them.

The original Brooklyn Bowl is, as its name implies, a bowling alley in Brooklyn. But it's also a concert venue in which interesting and cutting edge acts perform, where ?uestlove from The Roots DJs and curates a weekly party, bands like Lucero and Yelawolf are on the calendar of upcoming shows, and acts like like Chairlift, The Drums, White Denim, Real Estate, and Maya Rudolph (performing the hits of Prince with backing band The Roots!) have put on shows in recent months. So yeah, this is a place that books more interesting and eclectic acts than most Las Vegas venues, to say the least.

Bringing a venue like The BB to The Strip makes a certain amount of sense. The Cosmopolitan has seen some success booking hip up and coming acts like Best Coast and Fitz and the Tantrums for free to the public gigs at their small Book and Stage venue and bigger indie bands like Grouplove, The XX, and The Shins at their Boulevard Pool. The original Brooklyn Bowl isn't exactly tiny, but it's also by no means a massive theater appropriate for hosting the giant mainstream acts most Vegas venues usually stick with (I can't imagine Celine Dion or Rod Stewart will move from across the street Caesars and play at The Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas, but Elton John could maybe put on a more stripped-down and intimate show than his over the top Million Dollar Piano spectacle if he felt like it), so it only makes sense to expect the bookers to continue the original venue's eclectic lineup.

So does the opening of The BB in Las Vegas mean that  a Brooklyn invasion of The Strip is imminent? Probably not, as The Linq's other just announced venues include The Tilted Kilt (a chain that meshes Irish Pub and Hooters styles, so you'll basically be served by scantily clad hot lady waitresses in kilts), Chayo Mexicano (an upscale Mexican joint), Ruby Blue (a fashiony jewelery store), Flour and Barley (a pizza joint), and Sprinkles Cupcakes and Ice Cream (a delicious gourmet sweets import from Beverly Hills, but one that's more yuppie-centric than hipster baiting). Nary an artisinal Cheese shop, fair trade Coffee shop, Organic Butcher, or Craft-Brewery amongst them, so it seems like if hipsters are finally invading The Strip, it's a very slow invasion.

I think the owners of Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas have a real opportunity to cultivate the same hip and "curious" audiences that The Cosmo and many Downtown venues have been courting if they curate their shows smartly. Bowling plus indie rock is an irresistible pairing, and using a venue that combines both to bring a bit of Brooklyn cool to The Strip might turn out to be a stroke of genius. And perhaps Artisinal Cheese Shops on The Strip will not be so far behind.