Desert Companion March 2010

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Y o u r G u i d e t o L i v i n g i n s o u t h e r n N e va d a


We BUILD THIS CITY From the Strip to the suburbs, these visionary architects are crafting your new Vegas cityscape


L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on the Strip’s coolest structure* * Hint: It’s the one that resembles … page 35

Don’t be scared, it’s just history One neighborhood’s uphill battle for preservation

I could just eat you up, downtown Foodie renaissance in the urban core

A Very shoptimistic outlook Upbeat tales in local retail

Eric Strain and Drew Gregory of Assemblage Studio

HE-DesertComp GeneralAd:Layout 1 12/16/09 9:33 AM Page 1


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Publisher’s Note

POrtrait Sampsel-preston photography

New season, new companions Any list of favorite Las Vegas movies long enough to include Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 One from the Heart comes with an asterisk. Director Francis Ford Coppola created a replica of Fremont Street on a soundstage and put Nastassja Kinski in the Neon Boneyard; beloved comedienne Teri Garr danced with Raul Julia in a downtown showroom; and Tom Waits joined Crystal Gale in an atmospheric, Oscar-winning soundtrack. But here’s the asterisk: The movie magic of One from the Heart bankrupted Coppola’s studio. If there’s a shred of a silver lining in this lackluster economic cloud, it is the chance to the direct Las Vegas’ own sequel. In this edition of Desert Companion, we introduce you to a cast dedicated to building a community while working with a very different script. Architect Eric Strain is one — sparking controversy and dialogue with his edgy designs. Nevada Public Radio has a special affinity with our design and architecture community, and we’re pleased to include the activities that highlight the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects in Architecture Week 2010. March 2010 is both the 30th anniversary of KNPR going on the air (Nevada Public Radio was incorporated in 1975) and the beginning of a new bimonthly publication schedule for Desert Companion. In uncertain times, it’s a bold move, to be sure. But here’s something of which we are certain: Las Vegas deserves a magazine that goes beyond the daily or weekly cycle of headlines. In the pages ahead, you’ll find a worth-keeping guide to dining downtown and a revealing profile of guitarist Ricardo Cobo. Longtime political observer Hugh Jackson dares to imagine a Nevada without the senior U.S. senator, and we discover outdoor spaces with which to connect this spring. Our newest companion on the team is one you may know from Las Vegas CityLife. We welcome new Editor Andrew Kiraly, a lifelong Las Vegan with a keen wit, an eye for style and a deep (if sometimes warped) affection for his hometown. In this edition, Andrew profiles the “other city center” — that is, Commercial Center. Sure, it doesn’t boast “starchitects,” but it has passionate supporters willing to fight for its survival — as well as some off-the-beaten-path restaurants 2

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renowned across a foodie nation. I want to thank Phil Hagen for his Maggie awardwinning work on Desert Companion. Phil edited and nurtured Desert Companion for several years, and set a standard of which we are very proud indeed. He introduced us to many of the writers who’ll continue to be featured in these pages. So, turn the page and enjoy your Desert Companion as we embark on our next phase. This edition, as always, is one from the heart.

Florence M.E. Rogers President & General Manager, Nevada Public Radio

Coming 2012



ON THE COVER Eric Strain and Drew Gregory of Assemblage Studio Photography: Sabin Orr Digital Artist: Matt Taylor of Adapt


All things to all people



What’s coming up in culture, commerce, politics and more {By andrew kiraly}

When a neighborhood sought historic status, it met opposition from ... fellow neighbors? {By david mckee}

features 26 31

ow do you restore a historic shopping H plaza in disrepair? Polish it up — without scrubbing away its soul {BY ANDREW KIRALY}







Amid tough times for music, Ricardo Cobo forges his own path {By jarret keene}

Your definitive guide to spring cultural events, from art to dance

A foodie crawl reveals a downtown that’s as tasty as ever {By brock radke}


BookS Two young writers explore cultural boundaries, with surreal humor and a touch of noir {By andrew kiraly}


essay Trying to find a little neighborhood in our new urban neighborhoodthemed resort {By dave surratt}



So What if he loses? I f Harry Reid loses re-election, it’ll hurt Nevada — but not as much as you think {BY HUGH JACKSON}



Saving the Other City Center



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On The Strip in The Palazzo - 2nd Level Located adjacent to The Venetian 702.414.4500

March//April 2010 publisheD By nevada public radio




Andrew Kiraly Editor

Florence M.E. Rogers President / General Manager

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Art Director CHRISTINE KIELY Corporate Support Manager

Melanie Cannon Director of Development

laura alcaraz Senior Account Executive

Cynthia M. Dobek Director of Business, Finance & Human resources

Sharon Clifton Senior Account Executive Nicole MastRAngelo Account Executive brandonscott williams Account Executive cybele Proofreader

Phil Burger Director of Broadcast Operations dave becker Director of Programming

nevada public radio BOARD OF DIRECTORS Officers

MARK RICCARDI, Esq., Chairman Fisher & Phillips, LLP Elizabeth FRETWELL, Vice Chairman City of Las Vegas REED RADOSEVICH, Treasurer Northern Trust Bank Florence M.E. Rogers, Secretary Nevada Public Radio


shamoon ahmad, m.d., mba, facp

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Susan Brennan NV Energy Louis Castle, Director Emeritus

Patrick N. Chapin, Esq., Director Emeritus KIRK V. CLAUSEN Wells Fargo sherri gilligan MGM Mirage Kurtis Wade Johnson Precision Tune Autocare jan L. jones Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. John R. Klai II Klai Juba Architects Cynthia Levasseur, Esq. Snell & Wilmer Lamar Marchese, President Emeritus

Chris Murray Director Emeritus Avissa Corporation Curtis L. Myles III Las Vegas Monorail Jerry Nadal Cirque du Soleil peter o’neill William J. “Bill” Noonan, Director Emeritus Boyd Gaming Corporation Mickey Roemer, Director Emeritus Roemer Gaming TIM WONG ARCATA Associates

nevada public radio COMMUNITY ADVISORY BOARD David Cabral, Chairman American Commonwealth Mortgage


DENNIS COBB President, DCC Group

Steve Parker UNLV

CANDY SCHNEIDER Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Al Gibes Stephens Media Interactive

Richard Plaster Signature Homes

Stephanie Smith

Carolyn G. Goodman The Meadows School

Gina Polovina Boyd Gaming Corporation

Marilyn Gubler The Las Vegas Archive

Chris Roman Entravision

Megan Jones Friends for Harry Reid

Kim Russell Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Susan K. Moore Lieutenant Governor’s Office

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Gerry Sawyer

Bob Stoldal Sunbelt Communications Co. kate turner whiteley Kirvin Doak Communications Brent Wright Wright Engineers

To submit your organization’s cultural event listings for the Desert Companion May-June edition, go to and submit the form by April 5. Send feedback and story ideas to Office: (702) 258-9895 (outside Clark County 1-888-258-9895) Fax: (702) 258-5646 Advertising: Christine Kiely, (702) 258-9895; KNPR’s “State of Nevada” call-in line: (702) 258-3552 Pledge: (702) 258-0505 (toll free 1-866-895-5677) Websites:, Desert Companion is published six times a year by Nevada Public Radio, 1289 S. Torrey Pines Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89146. It is distributed free of charge to NVPR members, supporters, underwriters and the community. All photographs, artwork and ad designs printed are the sole property of Nevada Public Radio and may not be duplicated or reproduced without the express written permission of Nevada Public Radio. The views of the Desert Companion contributing writers are not necessarily the views of Nevada Public Radio.


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What’s coming in culture, lifestyle, politics and more

[Architecture] State historic preservation officials balked at Eric Strain’s design for the Neon Museum visitors center.

Building Las Vegas 2.0


Too hot for the Neon Museum

r e n d e r i n g c o u r t e s y A s s e m b l a g e S t u d i o ; BRE A K F A ST C o u r t e s y DU - P A R ’ S

Modern design and historic preservation clash on a major project Eric Strain of Assemblage Studio is no stranger to coupling modern architecture and Nevada history. His firm designed the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort Visitor’s Center and the Mesquite Heritage Museum and Art Center. Both award-winning designs announce their subjects with bold, angular forms and materials that reflect the history within. But Strain’s latest foray into building new around old has met with opposition from the state. In a clash between historical sensitivity and forward-thinking design, Assemblage Studio, the firm commissioned to design the Neon Museum visitors center and offices, resigned from the job Feb. 17. Strain threw up his hands after numerous disagreements over the site design. “We’ve never faced an issue like this,” Strain says. His vision included a dramatic, flying-V canopy intended to celebrate the curves of Paul Revere Williams’ famed La Concha hotel lobby that fronts the site. But state officials rejected Strain’s boomerang roof as a show-stealer. “It’s a principle of preservation that when you’re putting an addition on a historic building, you will have something sensible and compatible, understated in design,” says state Historic Preservation Officer Ron James. “You don’t want the addition to say, ‘Look at me! I’m impressive!’” Now the Neon Museum board is back at square one. Meanwhile, Strain’s not sitting quietly. When he’s not making state officials squirm, he’s rockin’ the suburbs — see page 34 to see what we mean.

Can we please replace that gainsaying platitude, “Yes, there is culture in Las Vegas,” with this one: “Yes, there is good architecture in Vegas”? Thanks! Proof: Architecture Week in Las Vegas April 12-17, a week of talks, tours and tête-à-têtes about urban design in the Las Vegas Valley, put on by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It kicks off 6 p.m. April 12 with a reception at the Historic Fifth Street School; other events include building tours, the 30th Annual AIA Las Vegas High School Design Awards April 14, and CANstruction April 15, in which design gurus build structures out of canned and dry food. Get your paws off that chicken noodle soup — the grub goes to benefit food bank Three Square. See for more information.


A new old eatery arrives downtown Downtown’s dining renaissance (see page 54) just got renaissancier: Celebrated L.A. diner Du-par’s will take over the Golden Gate casino’s Bay City Diner in mid-March. Founded in 1938 and known for its near-religious reliance on fresh ingredients, Du-par’s should kick the flavor level of the historic Golden Gate’s beloved diner up a notch. “We peel our own potatoes for the hash browns,” says Du-par’s owner Biff Naylor. “We make our own boysenberry sauce for our pancakes.” Fear not, foodies: Du-par’s retro-fresh comfort food won’t eclipse homegrown Sin City traditions. “Yes, our shrimp cocktail is staying,” says Golden Gate owner Mark Brandenburg. Do you even have to ask what’s for dessert? Pie! Got a tip for All Things to All People? Send it to Editor Andrew Kiraly at

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P ORTR A IT BY A A r o n m a y e s

Maile Chapman explores the dark side of medicine in her debut novel.


‘If you saw my bookshelf, you’d think I was morbid.’ Who is she? Maile Chapman, a UNLV Schaeffer Fellow and young Las Vegas novelist on the rise. Her debut novel, Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto, published by acclaimed independent imprint Graywolf Press, hits bookstores March 30. What’s it about? A convalescent ward in Finland in the 1920s. Characters include a practical American nurse, an embittered ex-ballroom dancer and an obstetrician whose quest to perfect a new surgical stitch drives him to some dark moral territory with his patients. Where’d she come up with that? The novel was inspired in part by one of Chapman’s favorite plays, Euripides’ The Bacchae — yes, that one, the bloody Greek tragedy featuring divinely deranged women on a murderous rampage. “In Greek drama, it’s almost like a machine,” Chapman says. “Once the machine is in motion, there’s no stopping it.” What she learned in writing the novel: “The idea of good behavior, civility ... it’s almost like a membrane over human behavior, and it’s very easily ruptured.” You see where this is going, right? Without giving away spoilers, let’s just say the blurb about Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto includes the phrase “terrifying conclusion.” Hear for yourself: Chapman reads from her work 7 p.m. April 15 at UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium. Still need convincing? Try this endorsement from best-selling author Junot Díaz: “Maile Chapman is one of my favorite writers and in Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto she has given us an eerie gift of a novel. It is a superb hallucinatory piercing, an ominous dispatch from that Gothic frontier of the Female Body.” But there is a glimmer amid all this gloom: Chapman’s dual interest in medicine and literature has led to her becoming facilitator of the Literature and Medicine discussion group, a joint project between Nevada Humanities and University Medical Center. The idea: Recharging the batteries of stressed-out doctors and nurses with the power of books. “Medical professionals suffer a lot of burnout, a lot of anxiety, a lot of hardening of the self,” Chapman says. “Everybody who’s participated [in groups like these] welcomed this outlet as a way of reconnecting with why they were interested in working in medicine in the first place. So I’m not just a weirdo for reading old nursing books and looking at horrendous pictures from historical medical texts.” Hey, we didn’t say that. “Seriously, if you saw my bookshelf, you’d think I was morbid.”— Andrew Kiraly 10

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ST o r i e S BY A NNE K E L L O G G


Worn but not worn out

[ SHOP ]

They give you wings

Victoria’s Secret’s secret: Feathers dyed and sewn in Sin City The perpetual popularity of the feather in fashion, costumes and decor means a lot of work for Jodi and Mike Favazzo, owners of Rainbow Feather Dyeing Company. “Feathers are never out of style, because they are used for so many things,” Jodi Favazzo says. For 45 years, Rainbow Feather Dyeing Company (1036 S. Main St., 598-0988) has worked with everyone from Disney to Cirque du Soleil. The most recent feather in its cap: Creating a single 65-foot boa — among other feathered props — for the motion picture musical Nine, starring Nicole Kidman and Sophia Loren. Little wonder Nine got 2010 Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design. Before that, the creative team at Victoria’s Secret enlisted the Favazzos to help build two sets of eight-foot wings to transform two of its supermodels into angels for a high-profile ad campaign. But Rainbow doesn’t just sell plumes for runway models. It also makes feather boas, and even sells feathers tailored for fly-fishing and archery. Behind the scenes at Rainbow? Not quite as glamorous as supermodels and feather boas suggest. Before newly plucked plumage is ready to become part of something fabulous, each feather must be properly prepared — which is where science and elbow grease come into play. The bleaching and dyeing of each feather must take into account not only what kind of bird the feather came from, but where on the bird it came from. “It’s intense work that requires a lot of knowledge about the ways each feather behaves,” Favazzo says. “We work with about six different kinds of bird feathers from all over the world.” Favazzo grew up around feathers. Her father, William Girard, started dyeing feathers in the 1960s to satisfy his wife Francine’s desire for more brilliantly colored “feather bouquets” she enjoyed making. In 1965, he started Rainbow Feather Dyeing Company in California. Girard moved his business to Las Vegas 14 years ago. Favazzo and her husband moved to Las Vegas to help with the business before her father died in 2005. “Last year, our major competitor in this country closed its doors,” Favazzo says. “There are some companies dyeing in China, but the quality is nowhere near as good as ours. We are the best at what we do.” And when supermodels are knocking on your door, it proves that being a feather expert has its advantages. 12

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Nicole Sorrentino, owner of Chique, a newly opened consignment boutique in Summerlin (9691 Trailwood Drive, 522-8331), describes herself as a “retail junkie,” but she’s actually out to save us from retail prices — and save those of us who have unwanted designer clothes taking up shrinking closet space. “I have a client who came to me with a fabulous, one-of-akind, really expensive designer piece that she wore to an event where everyone saw her, and she just won’t wear it again because everyone saw her in it,” she says. “I can help with that problem.” Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays before and after regular store hours (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), you can bring in up to 20 designer items for consignment consideration. If Sorrentino agrees to sell them, she splits half the profits with the consignment clients, some of whom elect to send their share to a non-profit. Whether it’s a bad economy or growing budgetconsciousness, most of Chique’s clients on the buying side have simply had enough with escalating retail prices. “They say, ‘I want designer, but I am just not going to pay retail prices anymore,’” Sorrentino says.

F e a t h e r s : ISTOC K P H OTO . COM ; N i c o l e S o r r e n t i n o : Ch r i s t o ph e r s m i t h

A secondhand cure for ‘retail junkies’


(Last Entry at 9pm)


story by David McKee

P h o t o g r a p h y BY C H R I S T O P H E R S M I T H

Tiffany Hesser encountered fear and misinformation in her efforts to preserve her neighborhood.

Who’s afraid of big bad history?

When residents sought to secure historic status for downtown’s Westleigh neighborhood, they encountered opposition from ... their own neighbors? Keen Ellsworth was seeing red — lots of it. The Las Vegas Planning Commissioner was staring at a map of the Westleigh neighborhood covered in crimson dots. No, the venerable development hadn’t suffered a mass outbreak of chicken pox. Each little red circle represented a household that had come out in opposition to designating Westleigh a historic neighborhood. Blue dots denoted supporters of historic status. “There were significantly more red dots than blue dots. The quantity was amazing,” Ellsworth recalls. “My memory was something like 80 percent were against it.” And with that, Ellsworth’s vote moved from “aye” to “nay.” That nay was part of a stunning reversal in which a seemingly sure-thing designation of Westleigh as Las Vegas’ second historic neighborhood went down to unanimous defeat in a Nov. 5 planning commission vote. Headed for near-inevitable doom before the City Council, the proposal was withdrawn. 14

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“The opposition became very vocal and the tide turned,” says Scott Evans, another planning commissioner. “A preponderance of the neighbors were adamantly opposed to it.” What’s wrong with a little historic designation? A lot, when neighbors aren’t exactly well-informed. Last year’s defeat of Westleigh’s proposed historic district status is a textbook case of what happens when fear and bad information become the currency of discussion. Some opponents to giving Westleigh historic status raised the dire specter of the city dictating stringent design standards that would be costly to maintain. Others argued the area had already been too compromised by commercial buildings nibbling at the community’s edges to be considered truly historic. “It just put an undue burden on homeowners,” says realtor and resident Shawn Spanier, who owns five houses in Westleigh. “As a realtor, I have clients who don’t want to live in gated communities … or historic neighborhoods.”


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He adds, “We did our home in a Cape Cod style, fully bricked across the front.” Spanier says it’s “unfair and unacceptable” not to let his fellow residents do the same. And what would historic status do to his homeimprovement costs? For instance, he says his home needs new, double-paned windows; the original ones are “horrible.” He can switch to double-paned ones for $4,200, whereas he says recreating the originals — something he assumes would be mandated by design standards — would cost $18,000. (Bob Bellis, a Historic Preservation Commission member who lives in the nearby John S. Park Neighborhood Historic District and just replaced his own windows within his neighborhood’s design guidelines, says, “It’s not more expensive at all. That’s just misinformation.”) Misinformed or not, this sort of latedeveloping but vociferous opposition caught both Westleigh advocates and the Historic Preservation Commission off guard. “We didn’t build up a great counterattack,” says Westleigh Neighborhood Association President Tiffany Hesser. “I don’t know if it’s our place to go and tell people they should love this, whereas the people opposing this were very aggressive.” Precarious position “Veterans! You, too … can live in Westleigh, Las Vegas’ finest residential area!” Thus proclaimed an ad in the Nov. 16, 1952 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Westleigh sprang from a

single model home at 3301 W. Charleston Blvd., then the far western fringe of Las Vegas. A series of growth spurts, mainly in 1953 and 1954, eventually swelled it to 288 residences, stretching north from Oakey Boulevard and east to Cashman Drive, bounded on the west by an alley that would later become Valley View Boulevard. Westleigh is inconspicuous — by design, says Diana J. Painter, the Spokane, Wash.-based preservationist commissioned to study whether Westleigh qualified for historic-district status. It did, just barely. Painter’s report described the area as “a transition between the Minimal Traditional style of the 1940s and the Ranch style of the 1950s and 1960s.” “It’s a good, intact example of a postwar neighborhood. It has an unusual, creative layout of the actual houses,” Painter says. One of Westleigh’s idiosyncratic features is that, at intersections, the houses are angled slightly away from the street, so they face each other instead. Limited access from nearby arterial streets reflects a concern with pedestrian safety prevalent in the ’50s. Wide, functional alleys allow trash to be discreetly collected in back, and the modest, single-story homes are notable for their incorporation of crawl spaces and hardwood flooring — features soon extirpated from Las Vegas home design. All the Charleston-facing houses have long since become commercial properties. It’s one reason that preservation commission member Mary Hausch

Neighborhood photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

In the 1950s, Westleigh sat at the western edge of Las Vegas.

performance “I Could Read the Sky” I Could Read the Sky, a collaborative novel by writer Timothy O’Grady and photographer Steven Pyke, comes alive in a unique St. Patrick’s Day performance: O’Grady’s reading from the book is interspersed with music from celebrated fiddle-andguitar duo Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill and the singing of Aine Meenaghan, with Pkye’s arresting images projected throughout the show. tuesday, march 17 at 7:00 p.m. doc rando recital hall

panel “Blurring Borders” Pulitzer Prize-winning DominicanAmerican writer Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, PEN/Hemingway Awardwinning Chinese-American writer Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants, and Cuban-American poet, novelist, and translator Pablo Medina explore the blurred borders between identity, nationality, and culture in their work. tuesday, april 6 at 7:00 p.m. student union theatre

reading Maile Chapman and Vu Tran

panel BMI Fellows in Conversation

Chapman, a widely published short story writer and author of the novel Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto, and Tran, winner of a 2009 Whiting Writers’ Award and a contributor to the serial novel Restless City, read from their work. Both are Schaeffer Fellows in fiction at UNLV.

This year’s BMI’s fellows discuss the literary projects they’ve undertaken while in residence at UNLV.

thursday, april 15 at 7:00 p.m. barrick museum auditorium

thursday, april 29 at 7:00 p.m. barrick museum auditorium Support for BMI’s public programming is provided by Nevada Public Radio, The Harrah’s Foundation, Las Vegas CityLife, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.



The Contest is back!


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describes the area as “in a precarious position, hanging in the balance between having stability and not.” That precariousness concerns residents such as Robert Reitz, a lifelong Las Vegan who moved to Westleigh to raise his family more than 40 years ago. The retired construction worker worries that, without historic-district protection, the same kind of commercial encroachment that took place on Charleston could start creeping in from Valley View, bringing lawyers’ and accountants’ offices into the neighborhood. “I don’t want a gated community, but if it was a historical community, maybe the property owners would be motivated to take a little bit better care,” Reitz says. “It would be a feather in our cap.” Historical enough? Then there’s the inverse view — that, rather than designate Westleigh as historic to preserve what’s left, it shouldn’t be designated as historic because it hasn’t been effectively preserved. William Camp, a retired teacher who lives in Westleigh, believes proponents such as Reitz had valid concerns, but Westleigh “wasn’t a major player in Las Vegas development,” unlike several other neighborhoods, including nearby Hyde Park, which he says is unique because it was built around a park and a school. “The homes aren’t necessarily impressive,” Camp says. “It was not reflective of Cottage style or Tudor style. When you drive through, you’ll see lots of different house plans, wonderful stuff. The area has changed dramatically in the 60 years since it was developed. More than half the homes had modified. It just made no sense. People would not drive from Springs Preserve and say, ‘Jiminy Christmas, this is a neat little cottage area!’” Some adversaries drew upon the John S. Park Neighborhood Historic District’s design guidelines (“quite restrictive,” says Spanier, pointing to seven paragraphs for landscaping, including a trees-to-square-footage ratio). Hesser thinks opponents misinterpreted the preservationist’s recommended restraints as official writ, though the preservation commission would be under no obligation to adopt them. “We had folks showing up that were concerned they would not be able

Some worry that without historic status, more businesses could creep into the neighborhood. to put a handicap ramp, change their landscaping or paint the color of their house,” Hesser says. “It’s pretty clear that would not be restricted.” Historic Preservation Officer Courtney Mooney adds that the kind of changes that would require her scrutiny would only be those that would need a permit anyway. Landscaping aside, guidelines for John S. Park Historic District are confined to six points, such as mandating that “original architectural details must be maintained as originally constructed.” However, compatible materials can be substituted for the original ones (for example, vinyl shingles in lieu of wooden ones). Even more tellingly, all modification requests made in the John S. Park Historic District have been greenlighted, and Mooney says that window replacements have become so routine that the preservation commission has given her carte blanche to approve them. Only additions and major external changes go before the commission, which has a month to approve or deny them. Reitz accuses a handful of Westleigh families of “spreading untruths, such as [saying] every house would have to be painted” or restored to original appearance. “’All of your front there has got to come off,’” he says one opponent claimed. “‘The door of your house might change.’ That’s an untruth.” Ironically, moving one’s front door is the first thing expressly forbidden in John S. Park Historic District’s design guidelines. But anyone saying that a neighbor’s façade might have to be removed would be greatly misinformed. A house altered to that degree would already be deemed “non-participating” and excluded from the dreaded historicpreservation strictures. “[Opponents] said the city will be having bus tours coming through here,” Reitz adds. “That’s an untruth.”

Cart before horse Other opponents stoked worries about class warfare and sneaky city government agendas. “You were going to create a class system within the neighborhood,” says opponent Joseph Thomas. “It seemed that the leadership of the neighborhood association had an ulterior motive. There’s definitely a conflict of interest in the leadership,” he asserts, pointedly mentioning that Westleigh Neighborhood Association President Hesser is a county employee, and thus loyal to the government. In his conspiracy theory, Hesser is scheming to increase the neighborhood’s property values for nefarious ends. “Who benefits ultimately if you have higher property values? The City of Las Vegas, because you pay higher property taxes.” “I was called Mussolini. I was called Hitler,” Hesser says with a laugh. “Our efforts were compared to an atom bomb going off in the neighborhood.” Ultimately, Hesser blames the process and says it ought to be retooled. “It’s tough to get people to support an action plan they don’t have all the details on.” She understands some of opponents’ concerns, because design standards aren’t developed until historic designation is approved. Those standards would then apply only to the 56 percent of homes in the area considered “participating” — i.e., ones conforming substantially to their original appearance. While some opponents still carry grudges, Camp and his wife want to bury the hatchet. “I feel bad if it’s not in harmony, because we worked darn hard for six months to make it that way,” he says. Hesser agrees. “I think everyone on both sides of this issue has an interest in seeing our neighborhood maintained,” she says, adding, “At this point, the issue’s been put to rest for me.” But others wonder what kind of precedent this sets. The Historic Preservation Commission’s Hausch fears the deep-sixing of Westleigh’s historic status will have a chilling effect on other neighborhoods pondering the effort. “I don’t know if we’ll get another historic neighborhood district,” she says. For better or worse, she may be right. According to Bellis, Las Vegas High School neighborhood, which was seeking historic status, recently withdrew its application. DC

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story by Jarret Keene


world of classical music is a troubled one. By most accounts, the late ’80s and ’90s were the last golden age of classical music. An arts lover (Bill Clinton) was in the White House, the National Endowment for the Arts was, well, fully endowed, and airport security had yet to become a sideshow for bodyscanning shenanigans. For classical musicians, however, options are increasingly few and far between. Cobo, who teaches privately and at UNLV, feels fortunate enough to have enjoyed what he himself calls “the gravy days.” “Classical music was crazy gangbusters,” Cobo says of those times. “Now we’re in a prolonged recession, orchestras and symphonies are striking or shutting down, and it’s no longer fun to tour the world because of all the security hassles.” For Cobo, playing private events and business functions are the norm these days, which is why his upcoming April 23 concert is a mustsee for fans of classical guitar.

‘Why the heck I live here’

Today’s no golden age for classical guitar, but Ricardo Cobo soldiers on.

The strumming maverick

Amid tough times for classical music, world-renowned guitar virtuoso Ricardo Cobo survives by his own rules The Washington Post calls him “mesmerizing.” The L.A. Times says he’s “superhuman.” American Record Guide says Ricardo Cobo’s performances are “definitive.” In January, he played to adoring throngs at the Cartagena Music Festival in Colombia, Cobo’s native country, where he’s treated like a conquering hero. “The sound of 3,000 people in the town square, screaming for you to get onstage and perform, is just unbelievable, and impossible to describe. It’s in those moments that I realize why I’m doing this,” says Cobo. “It makes you play better. Even in the weeks that follow.” But global acclaim won’t spare you from economic turmoil. In these lean times, Cobo draws more and more sustenance from such moments, since these days the 20

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For Cobo, who grew up in a Lebanese family with a deep appreciation for music, the guitar has been a source of imagination and creativity from when he first picked it up at age 8. Since then, he’s never abandoned the instrument. “Even as a child, it was pretty clear in my mind that playing guitar professionally was something I absolutely wanted to do,” he says. Cobo has devoted his life to this pursuit. At 12, he entered Colombia’s Antonio María Valencia Conservatory, before heading to the Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Cobo then graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and studied at the postgraduate level at Florida State University. In 2000, he arrived in Vegas to start a relationship with UNLV’s music department. By Cobo’s own admission, the relationship became strained due to constant touring and private instruction. People from all over the world fly to Vegas for a lesson with Cobo. Often they scratch their heads at finding a musical jewel in the desert. “People ask me all the time why the heck I live here,” he says. “When you look around, it’s easy to understand. The surrounding area — Red Rock, Mount Charleston — is beautiful and, compared

Music to other places, Vegas has an established tradition of appreciating live music.” Still, don’t expect to ever find Cobo performing in a Strip production show. “Strip musicians are advanced jazz guys,” he explains. “It’s definitely a fun way to make a living, but being a mainstay in that role isn’t realistic for a classically trained guitarist. Also, you’re playing the exact same show twice a day. It’s lucrative, and I know a lot of good musicians who do it, but it’s not for me.”

Living the legends What is for Cobo is realizing his mission: to perform original music by living authors, including the works of Cuban guitarist/composer Leo Brouwer. Cobo’s interpretation of “Black Decameron,” a solo guitar work that must be heard to be believed (thanks, YouTube), is startlingly unique. Cobo approaches Brouwer with both the strict technique of a veteran musician and the fluid, fret-burning passion of a heavy-metal headbanger. The latter comparison doesn’t faze Cobo. “When we first heard that piece as young music students, it was like being a fan of electric guitar and hearing Van Halen for the first time,” he says. “Suddenly the old dusty repertoire of transposing Bach to guitar had been eclipsed by something rhythmic and alive. Brouwer sparked a movement of people writing for guitar who were guitarists themselves. That had been lost for 100 years.” As long as the movement keeps its fingernails trimmed. That’s another mustsee Cobo video on YouTube: The one taken during a master class in which Cobo shapes a student’s fingernails before he’s allowed to play. “The deal with manicures is that, if you want to be a serious guitarist, you can’t play without first knowing how to treat your nails. I do a lot of manicures for my students. And don’t get me started on guitarists and Crazy Glue. When it comes to playing live and in the studio, glue is a lifesaver.” DC

Ricardo Cobo

(with Christopher McGuire) When: April 23, 8 p.m. Where: Lee and Thomas Beam Music Center Recital Hall (UNLV) Tickets: $35,, 895-2787 22

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Saving City Center (the other)

How do you restore a historic shopping plaza like Commercial Center in hard times? Clean it up — without scrubbing away its soul

By Andrew Kiraly * Photography By Christopher Smith

Seagulls. Seagulls everywhere. Perched on the light poles, lined up on the rim of the trash bin. Pecking fussily at garbage on the asphalt. All in the Commercial Center parking lot. To anyone else familiar with the strangeness of urban life, the birds might evoke a shrug. But to business owner Paula Sadler, the seagulls on that summer day in 2006 were nothing less than a revelation — a totem of glorious urban renaissance. 26

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“According to the Native Americans, if an animal shows up in your life in an unusual way, there may be a message for you,” she says. “When I looked up seagulls, it said they represent ecological cleanup. They’re naturally shore-cleaning birds, and they literally eat trash! So I did a little prayer and meditation, and I decided it was time. It was time to start cleaning up the shopping center.” Oh, sure. You’ll be forgiven for not

imagining Commercial Center as a worthy recipient of such a mystical blessing. This? This faded, low-slung cluster of strip malls that sits on Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway? But to the tireless Sadler and her small army of true-believers and do-gooders, the seagulls reflect their own efforts to turn around one of the valley’s oldest shopping centers that’s been in decline for decades. “The first few years were quite a struggle,” says Sadler, owner of A Harmony Nail Spa. “When I was hiring people, they’d say, ‘Where are you located?’ I’d say, ‘Commercial Center,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh … Commercial Center. No thanks.’ After hearing that for two and a half years, I got fed up. I decided I’m not going to hear one more person say that ever again.” Since moving her salon here in 2004, Sadler, president of the Commercial Center Business Association, has led the charge to clean up the plaza and polish its image. A likably daft busybody who never met a new age concept she didn’t like, Sadler also happens to get things done. She’s painted over graffiti and shooed off panhandlers. She’s weedwhacked overgrowth on the crumbling

Left: Artist Howard Freeman has brightened up Commercial Center with colorful murals. Above: Paula Sadler has led the charge to polish the plaza’s image after years of neglect.

parking medians and commissioned splashy murals for walls and power boxes. She’s hired security guards and petitioned the police for extra help on weekends when, ahem, lively nightclub patrons spill out onto the parking lot. “God bless her,” says Judy Del Rossi, owner of Tiffany Couture Cleaners, a Commercial Center mainstay since 1970. “People used to park their mobile homes here, and we’d arrive at five, six in the morning to find a bunch of them just camping out in the parking lot. Paula’s the one who got them moved.” “She’s done an excellent job at improving the center,” says Valerie Hodson, office manager at Golfjoy, a golf supply store wedged between a mariachi nightclub and a men’s gym. “It’s a lot cleaner, nicer, and you really don’t see the homeless anymore.” Some property owners are just as dedicated to cleaning up the center after decades of neglect.

“You’ve got be hands-on here,” says Ron McMenemy, who purchased the New Orleans Square at Commercial Center’s south end in 2007. “This is fourth-generation office and retail space. Some days I’m here in a threepiece suit, other days you’ll find me in jeans, carrying ‘For Lease’ signs across the parking lot. You’ve got to do whatever it takes.” In a city obsessed with the sparkling new District this, Town Square that or CityCenter something-or-other, it’s easy to forget that Commercial Center is one of the valley’s original walkable urban retail spaces, and one with a vital and startling jumble of culture, commerce and cuisine. There’s an Asian supermarket next to a church next to a blue-collar bar next to a wedding boutique next to a transgender-friendly watering hole. There are comic books at the cave-like Sci Fi Center, some of the best pool sharks in town at the Cue Club, and cutting-edge theater at Insurgo. There’s a crucial wedge of the gay

community support system at The Center. There’s pad Thai and dahl and goat tacos. There’s karaoke and Vampire Weekend on the jukebox and brassy, blaring nortena. And, if it’s your thing, there’s more fetishwear than you can shake a cat-o’-nine tails at. “It’s the only place you can sin and be saved on the same day — and then get your nails done,” Sadler is fond of saying. But you can milk quirky and quaint only so much. The question is whether a spirited crew of DIY-minded merchants and property owners is enough to spark a Commercial Center rebirth. However, one thing’s certain: They’ve got nobody but themselves to rely on. When the economy tanked, the old shopping plaza missed out on a massive overhaul effort pitched by Clark County. In December, county officials mothballed the redevelopment agency that had put Commercial Center’s proposed facelift at the top of its to-do list. Nonetheless, longtime merchants say now is the perfect time for Commercial Center to rise again. The trick isn’t for Commercial Center to reinvent itself. That’s so Vegas. Instead, the trick is to stay the same. “People in Las Vegas are starting to crave a sense of history,” says Mara Lieberman, owner of Violin Outlet, in business at Commercial Center for 25 years. “That’s what I want to provide. I want to be that one shop that’s always there, where a kid can come back 20 MARCH//APRIL 2010

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years later to the same place where he bought his first violin. There needs to be a place you can always go back to that doesn’t change.” She might be on to something. Stir-fry, lingerie and rock ‘n’ roll Developed from 1962 to 1964, Commercial Center was trumpeted as “Southern Nevada’s most distinguished new shopping complex” and the hub of the “new downtown” when it opened. Developers Paradise Homes — that would be Merv Adelson, Irwin Molasky and Harry Lahr — had set out to create a retail center to serve the homes and apartments their firm was building in the area. At Commercial Center’s three-day “Fun-Fiesta” opening bash that ran from April 23 to 25, 1964, a lucky raffle winner walked away with a 1964 Admiral color TV set, and the Las Vegas High School Rhythmettes were slated to perform. Stores included the Tate Beauty Academy, Pat’s Chinese Kitchen, Madeline’s Lingerie, Town Pump Liquor & Cocktail Lounge and the Cue Club, today’s lone holdout. But it was more than a place to pick up some wine and nosh on Chinese food. After opening in July 1967, the Las Vegas Ice Palace ice-skating rink — christened with a performance by Jimmy Durante and Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon riffing on clarinet — hosted everyone from James Brown to Buffalo Springfield to Led Zeppelin. The Doors even performed at the Ice Palace in late 1969, though it didn’t spark the rock ‘n’ roll mayhem you might expect. Police and security guards were out in force to make sure Doors frontman Jim Morrison didn’t try to pull any of the purported lewd behavior that had gotten him cuffed at a previous concert in Miami. According to press reports, Morrison was a good little rock ‘n’ roller at the Ice Palace gig, barely moving as he sang lest he incur the wrath of the cops. Local businesswoman and noted Nevada feminist Dana McKay owned a book store in the center. Renowned choreographer 28

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Left: The Violin Outlet has been selling students stringed instruments for decades. Above: Komol’s herbal salad — just a taste of the global cuisine at Commercial Center. Next page: One vision for turning Commercial Center into the SOSA District proposed a mixed-use urban mall not unlike The District at Green Valley.

Henry Le Tang ran a dance studio there, manning an upright piano even at age 82 as students practiced their shuffles and cramprolls. Countless deals were clenched with a handshake at lunch spots such as the Commercial Deli and Piero’s. For years, Liberace entrusted his dry cleaning to Tiffany Couture Cleaners. (Today, it’s still the place where the Strip takes its dirty laundry. Tiffany Couture Cleaners ensures that Cirque du Soleil acrobats, the Jersey Boys and the Phantom of the Opera have clean costumes.) Making blight of the situation But Commercial Center’s glory days would fizzle fast, as competing malls, from the Boulevard to the Fashion Show, began to lure away both customers and businesses. A fire ripped through the center in November 1978, destroying several stores and causing more than a million dollars in damage. In 1981, one of the celebrated anchor tenants, department store Vegas Village, went bankrupt and was later demolished. “In some ways, it’s a standard story,” says Dennis McBride, curator of history at the Nevada State Museum. “As Vegas started growing outward, malls opened in other parts of town and the neighborhood around Commercial Center began to decline.” In 1996, an urban planning firm hired by Clark County deemed Commercial Center a blighted area, and encouraged the county to

bootstrap what was clearly a plaza in disrepair. “Blighted appearances, declining uses, marginal maintenance, vacant storefronts all exist, and relocation of businesses to other areas has occurred,” the report said. Then-County Commissioner Myrna Williams used less diplomatic terms when addressing the troubled shopping center. “I think it does need to be leveled, and it would be impossible to do that without a redevelopment agency,” she told the Review-Journal in 1999. Cops had reported receiving nearly 400 complaints in a six-month period stemming from the property, complaints about dragracing, gunfire, burglaries and prostitution. The place where you could power lunch and take your daughter for tap-dance lessons could also now give you food poisoning or worse. An October 2000 joint raid by cops and county inspectors revealed a rash of unsanitary restaurants and safety hazards. The surprise crackdown shut down five businesses and cited five others — and that raid had targeted a mere sliver of Commercial Center shops. Destroy, erase, improve When the county created a redevelopment agency in 2003, Commercial Center topped the list as problem child No. 1. During huddles over what to do with the plaza, the county demurred on using eminent domain to revive the center, but its proposed plan was radical in other ways.

r e n d e ri n g c o u r t e s y C L A R K C OUNTY

What came out of discussions emerged in November 2008 in a 116-page report: a vision of a sleek urban village bustling with boutiques and sidewalk cafes, gleaming midrises and mesquite-shaded avenues perfect for strolling. The vision recast Commercial Center as the SOSA (South of Sahara Avenue) District. It called for turning the area bounded by Joe Brown Drive, Maryland Parkway, Sahara Avenue and Karen Avenue into a pedestrianfriendly shopping and nightlife destination. It looked as though a clone of The District at Green Valley had been snapped into central Las Vegas like a game cartridge. But the bad economy put SOSA on ice. With more dire budget needs calling, the county dissolved the redevelopment agency in December and, along with it, mothballed the SOSA District plan — at least temporarily. Some say that ambitious redevelopment plan might have been Commercial Center’s last best chance. “What Commercial Center needs is better owners — and a willingness to consider a joint venture with the redevelopment agency,” says property owner McMenemy. But others are breathing a sigh of relief at a close call. “I wouldn’t want to see the place demolished,” says Del Rossi of Tiffany Couture Cleaners. “Maybe some refacing, some remodeling, some newer stores, but I’m not for leveling Commercial Center. Las Vegas is such a destructible town, I think people want to see something in Vegas actually stay.” “If the county had it their way, they would have torn everything down, put a road in the middle and put in new corporate chain stores with midrise condos and apartments on top,” says Sadler. “That’s great, but what about us? Where do we go?” Beyond the county paying businesses for moving expenses and an extra $10,000 for their trouble, there’d be

no guarantee that displaced shops would get dibs on storefronts in shiny new SOSA. But is a merchant-based, paint-bucket brigade enough to save the center? County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district includes Commercial Center, favors some form of redevelopment. “Commercial Center is such a hidden gem, but one of the issues is it’s such a hodgepodge of owners,” she says. That makes agreeing on design standards and improving common areas nearly impossible. Commercial Center property owners, sometimes a crotchety bunch, have balked several times before at letting the county levy fees to repaint curbs and plant trees. “Unless we get the owners to come together, we’re limited in what we can do,” Giunchigliani says. “There’s not a lot of camaraderie there.” (Exhibit A: For all her enthusiasm, Sadler’s business association boasts a mere eight members.) But Giunchigliani says the redevelopment agency was able to broker some buyouts in the last three years, reducing the Balkanized Commercial Center’s number of property owners from 56 to 21. Fewer owners means a better likelihood of striking agreements. Act locally, rebrand globally If you can’t be SOSA, what can you be? How about The District at Commercial Center? That was Sadler’s first foray at a rebranding effort she kicked off in March 2007. She ordered banners, bought bus stop ads and launched a new website. Sadler even hired a muralist to paint international flags on the trash bins (a well-meaning move that miffed a few business owners, who saw their national standard glorifying … garbage). “We didn’t want to use ‘Commercial Center’ alone by itself, because of past problems. We wanted something new, something more, something new and edgy,” Sadler says.

The District at Commercial Center. Simple. Sophisticated. Yeah. Kind of reminds you of The District at Green Valley. Which was the problem. Sadler’s rogue rebranding campaign ran afoul of American Nevada, owners of The District at Green Valley. American Nevada sued Sadler In October 2008 for trademark infringement and cybersquatting. The two settled about a year later. Sadler agreed to stop using The District at Commercial Center and handed over the domain name, “I still feel we won that battle,” Sadler says. “It’s like Madonna. She’s constantly reinventing herself. I used it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves yet again — and to shine.” Sadler’s latest moniker that plays up the plaza’s cultural salad is a mouthful. “The Commercial Center District World Village,” the undaunted Sadler declares. “We’re renewed yet again!” Some like the ring of it. “We’re as clean and nice as any other shopping center in town. I think our success will depend on turning ourselves into an international village that welcomes all types of people to attract foreign guests,” says Elaine Fish, president of John Fish Jewelers, which has been here since 1976. “We’ve done a lot of work cleaning it up. Now we just need other businesses to come fill these empty places.” Not everyone is on board with Sadler’s rebranding campaign. Some consider her a bit of a meddling Pollyanna with more good intentions than solid know-how. “You can’t own a little nail salon as a tenant and form a group to rename the property. Come on,” says property owner McMenemy. “Listen. I definitely applaud her grassroots efforts. But you don’t let amateurs oversee tens of millions of dollars in real estate. You’ve got to have the building owners be responsible for the property.” Like himself, for instance. “I’m one of the good guys. I keep my building full and happy.” Maybe the lawsuit was another sign from above, like the seagulls. Maybe Commercial Center doesn’t need to change its image. Crazy idea: Maybe maturing Las Vegas can stand to change a little bit and take a breather from its fascination with the shiny and new to rediscover some history in its midst. Amid all the chatter about redevelopment and rebranding, heartfelt endorsements from longtime merchants such as Violin Outlet’s Mara Lieberman resonate the most. “I feel alive here,” says Lieberman. “I’m going to stay if I’m the last person here. This is what the city needs. This is what we need. We need continuity.” How fitting that she deals in violins, an instrument that can last generations — if you take proper care of it. DC MARCH//APRIL 2010

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Our Strip silhouette changed forever with the opening of CityCenter, but look around: The cityscape we navigate in civilian life has been changing for years — often for the better. Over there, among the big-box malls and tract homes… is that a striking and original building rising from the blah? ¶ It is. Here’s a sampling of the hot architecture of the new Vegas cityscape — explained by the architects designing it every day. ¶ Also, we pinched notoriously tough L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne really, really hard until he admitted he loves the Luxor. Read his confession on page 35.


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Lovers, fighters, drunks — Veer Towers invite countless comparisons.

Architecture critics have described CityCenter’s leaning Veer Towers as everything from drunken tourists to confidants whispering naughty things to dancers frozen in mid-sway. Which is it? Answer: All of the above. “I wanted the towers’ activity to reflect people moving and talking, the activity of a city,” says architect Helmut Jahn, whose twin condos serve as CityCenter’s visual stake — and deliver some architectural whimsy to a project that’s been razzed as lacking a sense of humor. But Jahn had more than one purpose in mind when creating Veer Towers’ signature five-degree lean. One purpose was to create just that: a signature for CityCenter. “There’s an iconic quality the lean provides,” Jahn explains. “I wanted to create a good, memorable piece of architecture, and also create tension between the two buildings. The hotel projects in Las Vegas always have to be new, new, new, and I wanted to design a building that looks better with time, something with timeless value.” Jahn had Veer’s future tenants in mind as well; the 37-story towers also veer in opposite directions simply to get out of each other’s way. The tilt naturally “optimizes and improves the view from the apartments,” he says. “In good architecture, there are a multiplicity of intentions which ultimately get realized.” Jahn sees that good architecture as another attraction on offer from a rapidly diversifying Strip — you know, that place that used to be all about gambling, buffets and showgirls. Now tourists come for fabled nightlife, fourstar restaurants, high-end shopping … and, DESIGNED BY: hopefully soon, serious architectural apHelmut Jahn preciation. You can almost imagine some future Vegas hosting aesthete tourists, auHE’S KIND OF A BIG dio guides clapped to their heads as they DEAL: Among other gaze up and ponder CityCenter. renowned international “CityCenter is not so much a ‘scene works, Jahn designed city’ like the rest of Las Vegas,” Jahn says. the Sony Center in Berlin “It does not harken back to memories of and the Suvarnabhumi New York, Paris or Italy. It relates to a Airport in Bangkok. broader group of people in this entertainIN A NUTSHELL: ment culture that Las Vegas services. It is “I wanted to create a a new, different kind of society that seeks ‘wow’ effect, but not entertainment not in classic arts, but in something you would get the more popular arts. Until now, Las tired of,” says Jahn. Vegas was an entertainment center for GREEN CRED: Veer’s people who enjoy gaming, but now there metal “fins” act as is a broader spectrum of services that don’t shades that block the have to be connected to gaming culture.” summer sun, reducing So, next time you make it a night out energy consumption in on the Strip 2.0, go ahead, enjoy fine dining summer, but allow low at a celebrity chef’s restaurant, take in the winter sunlight to penworks at a fine art museum — but don’t foretrate the windows and get to look up and savor some world-class create natural warmth. architecture. — Andrew Kiraly 32

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Veer Towers

The library that shocks

DESIGNED BY: Holmes Sabatini (now Dekker Perich Sabatini)

Whitney Library 5175 E. Tropicana Ave. “It fronts on Tropicana, in a very high-traffic, very fast-moving area, and they wanted the library to be noticed,” says Jess Holmes, the Whitney Library’s lead architect. The library’s leaders got their wish: This is more than a neighborhood book warehouse. In this otherwise unexceptional setting, a short distance away from the design wasteland of Boulder Highway, its mixed-shape structure and bright color scheme announce it as a tasteful community amenity. Whitney Library comprises a purplish curve, inset with a grid of open-faced brickwork, intersecting the blocky, salmon-hued main mass; a series of vertical, yellowish light shafts mark one side, and a teal trellis and window frame on the south side echo the teal signpost along the street. Holmes describes it as a “response to the desert.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this building looking so at home in the suburbs of Chicago or New York. Which doesn’t mean it was immediately embraced by desert-dwellers. “It was a shock to their system,” Holmes says of the neighborhood’s response to the building’s appearance. “They weren’t too crazy about the colors — until we talked to them and explained it.” That is, that the hues —golds, oranges, lavenders and blues — derived from the desert sunset. “After that they were crazy about it.” In terms of library design in Las Vegas, the big, showy facilities hog the spotlight—the Las Vegas, Sahara West and West Charleston branches. But the Whitney is a reminder that in a smaller, neighborhood context, powerful, generous architecture can have just as strong an impact. As Holmes says, “It took a nondescript neighborhood and gave it a bright edge.” — Scott Dickensheets

WHAT IT IS: A signpost for culture in a faceless suburb GREEN CRED: Passive solar design reflects light in but blocks direct sun—good stuff for a mid-’90s building INCIDENTALLY: The entrance faces away from the street, so apartmentdwellers across the way wouldn’t be tempted to walk directly across to the door instead of crossing at the corner

Peaceful and dignified, Hope Chapel is aptly named.

Sanctuary for the struggling


Salvation Army Hope Chapel 37 W. Owens Street The Salvation Army needed a miracle in 2006. A benefactor had donated DESIGNED BY: enough money to build a new chapel on JVC Architects 5,000 square feet of space in the center of WHAT IT IS: An island the organization’s densely built campus, of sanctuary in a sea of north of downtown Las Vegas. The orgaSalvation Army services nization had one shot at replacing the old GREEN CRED: An building with a proper worship venue for outdoor courtyard taking residents, overnight shelter-seekers and up half the total square frequent visitors. “When the architect footage saves the S.A. a bundle on power bills went to work he had a really tough piece of dirt to work on,” says Rev. Rob Rogers, INCIDENTALLY: The Hope Chapel replaced an chaplain for the campus. The lot was long aluminum-sided structure and narrow, so getting equipment and fondly referred to as supplies in would be tough. “The Chicken Coop.” The Salvation Army hired JVC Architects, who asked if they could “explode the program,” according to Director of Design Roy Burson. A modest but modernist design replaced the original conception of a lobby and church under one roof. Partly concealed east and west entrances lead to the pacifying environment of a shaded outdoor courtyard, its high walls blocking outside distractions. A brick path leads into the chapel, straight to the altar and a blue Plexiglas crucifix on the north wall, past pews made from light-colored ash that match the color of the ceiling. The roof slopes upward toward the 42-foot spire on the north side, enhancing the ventilation supplied by the courtyard breezes. By July 2008, the Salvation Army had its miracle. It’s an amazing sight

in the middle of the campus, concealed from Owens Avenue and the tough surrounding neighborhoods. For many of people who come to the campus, it’s become the only sanctuary in their lives. — Matt Kelemen MARCH//APRIL 2010

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The daughters are happy and the parents stay sane, thanks to House in Two Parts.

THE CHALLENGE: You love your two college-age daughters who live with you part of the year, but you also value your privacy. THE SOLUTION: Split the house in two. GREEN CRED: The project’s walls are concrete blocks filled with insulation, which is more energy-efficient than standard stucco. It’s trendy in other Southwestern cities, but has yet to really catch on in Las Vegas.


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Simple division House in Two Parts The Ridges in Summerlin A house divided — but in a good way. That’s what Eric Strain designed for a Summerlin family in happy flux. One side of House in Two Parts is for the family’s two college-age daughters; the other is for the parents. “This way, the daughters still have their independence, but they’re still right there by mom and dad,” says Strain. A second-floor breezeway connecting the segments keeps functional family ties. But it’s not just about privacy, it’s about … well, recycling. When the daughters move away to pursue jobs and families of their own, the couple can use the vacant house as a rest home for their own parents — close enough to care, separate enough to preserve sanity. And down the road, the couple can use it as a retirement home for themselves, renting out the other segment or using it as a guest house. Of all places, this story of architectural innovation happened in The Ridges in Summerlin. Forget the development’s general rep as a lifeless museum of stucco clones ruled over by a schoolmarmish HOA. “They’ve relaxed their design standards considerably,” says Strain. “They’re not looking for the typical white stuccored tile look so much anymore.” He should know. He’s currently at work designing another Summerlin home for his sixth client in the area, proof that breakthrough design is catching on in the ’burbs. – A.K. MARCH//APRIL 2010


DESIGNED BY: Eric Strain, Assemblage Studio

Liberace’s last stand Liberace Museum 1775 E. Tropicana Ave

The critic confesses: I the Luxor

It’s easy to imagine a lone keyboard player sitting at a baby grand, complete with candelabra, playing the “Beer Barrel Polka” in front of the Liberace Museum. That’s the tune running along the staves on the giant sheets of music in the center of the renovated façade on the southernmost of two buildings. A tiled mosaic depicting a smiling Mr. Showmanship on a curved wall is to the right. On the left, a glass and steel entrance sports a ribbon of keyboard and is topped by a neon grand piano. It takes focus away from the drabness of the rest of the strip mall at the southwest corner of Tropicana Avenue and Spencer Street, and complements the ornate frontage of adjoining Tivoli Gardens. “They wanted an [architectural] icon that would bring people there,” says Frank Dumont, director of design for the Las Vegas office of architects Leo A. Daly. “They feel, which I feel too, even if people weren’t interested in the collection until they got in, they’re interested in seeing new innovative buildings.” Like Liberace, the façade is showy, almost kitschy. But it does the job, easily visible from the roads and instantly evocative of the seminal Las Vegas superstar. The museum’s days may be numbered, though, at least at its present location. In January, Liberace Foundation President Jack Rappaport announced the organization’s intent to move the museum to a site with more patronage potential. The old museum will become another entry in Las Vegas’ ongoing saga of architectural impermanence, with the “Beer Barrel Polka” retired to the Neon Boneyard — unless some innovative architect works it into the design of the new Liberace Museum. — M.K.

Near the end of 2009, I flew to Las Vegas to review the massive new CityCenter complex for the Los Angeles Times, where I’ve been the architecture critic for a little more than five years. I was not particularly complimentary about the $8.5 billion collection of sleek towers by a well-known — but rather conservative — group of architects. For me, CityCenter represents a kind of bland gigantism, and seems very clearly to have been enabled by the same easy credit and towering leverage that has left so many investment banks and real-estate companies facing bankruptcy. “They should put Alan Greenspan’s face on the poker chips,” I wrote.


The Luxor is at its most impressive during the day, which is another way it’s an anomaly in the Las Vegas skyline. (The same is true of the hotel’s surprisingly effective addition, which is wrapped in the same dark glass as the pyramid, but takes on a stepped ziggurat form.) Most of the big hotel-casinos look gaudy or flimsy — or both — in the glare of daylight, as if something they’d prefer to hide had been exposed. But the Luxor is happy to absorb your noontime gaze.

WHAT IT SAYS: This museum might be fun. WHY HERE? Liberace once lived close by. INSPIRATIONALLY SPEAKING: The “curvilinear” façade pays homage to Liberace’s capes. DON’T BE SCARED, BUT THEY TRIED TO: “Take his soul and put it in the building.”

Within a couple weeks, I got a response to that review from Desert Companion Editor Andrew Kiraly. Enough with the negativity, he said, tongue squarely planted in cheek. Was there a piece of architecture on the Strip, he asked, that I actually liked? I was intrigued enough by the question that the next time I found myself in Las Vegas — just a month or so after the CityCenter review was published, as it turned out — I spent a few hours walking and driving up and down the Strip, doing something I almost never do, but that in this case struck me as an entirely useful exercise: I looked and looked until I found a piece of architecture that genuinely appealed to me. The building I settled on might surprise you. It is not typically associated with ambitious architecture, let alone the kind of cutting-edge, rule-bending creativity that tends to draw critics’ most enthusiastic praise. It is the Luxor hotel-casino, designed by the architect Veldon Simpson and completed in the fall of 1993. Why the Luxor? Simply for the spare, stark power of its forms, which are basic and confident enough to qualify as Las Vegas’ best example of minimalist architecture, even as they suggest an attempt to recreate the original pyramids at Giza — and an echo of I.M. Pei’s pyramid-shaped addition to the Louvre Museum in Paris, which opened in 1989. If you move south along Las Vegas Boulevard looking at Strip architecture, as I did on that rainy January afternoon, mostly what you find is better categorized, of course, as maximalism: ornament piled on decoration like whipped cream on frosting. The 350-foothigh Luxor stands out in that context as a frankly simple, if massive, architectural form, sheathed in dark-bronze glass that on the day I looked at it read as entirely black. On sunnier days, the building takes on a bronze cast.

That doesn’t mean, though, that it wants to impress or even really engage you. Despite its muscular profile, and very much unlike the CityCenter’s sleek, preening towers, the Luxor seems to have no ego. It may seem all the more that way because the hotel has fallen almost entirely out of fashion in recent years, and now offers rooms for rates that are among the lowest on the Strip. And yet I’d argue there is something attractively reticent in the architecture, too. Most buildings in Las Vegas are the carnival barkers of architecture. They shout at you. But the pyramid has secrets, and I like that. — Christopher Hawthorne


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Design is in session Alexander Dawson School 10845 West Desert Inn Road

ARCHITECT: KGA Architecture WHAT IT IS: School as a landscape feature

From the street, the Alexander Dawson School, its squarish forms striated with reds and tans, looks like an architect’s remix of the nearby edge-of-the-valley mountains — mother nature repurposed as upscale suburban design. From the 215 beltway along its western edge, the private school is an enigmatic collection of façades and offbeat rooftops. Here’s what it doesn’t quite look like: a school. Proof is in the nearby public elementary building, a perfectly pleasant example of recent school design, and a structure that doesn’t draw (or require) a second glance. The Dawson facility, though, is different. Each individual structure “has its own jagged rooflines, natural colors and contours,” notes Masonry Construction magazine. “That sense of nature is carried through indoors, where sunlight and shadows play on the exposed masonry walls.” The classrooms have high ceilings and large windows that look out onto the desert demonstration gardens that wind throughout the 35-acre site. A wide, round opening exposes an interior courtyard to the sky. Thus, in their way, the buildings and site are themselves educational tools — lively design that encourages energetic thinking. — S.D.

AND YET IT’S ALSO: Building as educational exhibit

An artful invitation Brett Wesley Gallery 1112 South Casino Center Blvd.

“Come on in,” says the design of Brett Wesley Gallery.


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DESIGNED (AND OWNED) BY: Brett Sperry WHAT IT IS: An art gallery that’s livening up downtown with some architectural verve. INCIDENTALLY: Before he was a gallerist and vocal proponent of the downtown arts scene, Sperry helmed video game company Westwood Studios.

B R E T T W E S L E Y G A L L E R Y : N athan D ouglas

After you’ve grabbed an eyeful of the work on the walls at Brett Wesley Gallery, make sure you take a step back to ogle at the permanent exhibit: the building itself. It blends classic American roadside architecture and Midcentury Modern touches in a building that has urban finesse without sacrificing a friendly vibe. “I had two goals with the design for the gallery,” says Sperry. “One was for the building to say, ‘Hey, welcome, come on in.’” It’s an even heartier welcome than that. The gallery practically waves people in from the street, with a gently cantilevered roof opening to reveal the space through generous glass walls. “The second thing I wanted to do was give the sense that the building itself is a frame for what’s inside — a work of art that holds art,” Sperry says. Inside, urban meets urbane, as exposed ducts and raw trusswork exist alongside chandeliers and broad oak stairs enclosed by floating glass. Sperry says he took inspiration from his European travels, where young architects remixed history’s greatest hits with new touches. Think the iconic dome atop Berlin’s Reichstag, or modern additions to the Friedrichsplatz square in Kassel. Okay, so there’s nothing quite that old in Vegas — but the timelessness of Brett Wesley Gallery’s design inspires hope that Vegas will keep this building around for a while. — A.K.

UNLV’s Lied Library is the campus’s living room.


C ourtesy U N L V P H O T O S E R V I C E S

LOOKS LIKE: Grand Central Station, sans commuters, converted into a library HOW IT WORKS: A robotic book retrieval system stores books and remembers where it put them. INSPIRATION FROM ABROAD: The five-story atrium space is meant to feel like an Italian piazza.

Space for a mind to explore Lied Library UNLV, main campus Before 2001, the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was like a home without a living room. That year, the 301,000-square-foot, $58 million Lied Library opened, not only providing a social center for UNLV in a mammoth piece of architecture but proving to be both state-of-the-art and sustainable before seeking LEED status was cool. The Lied Automated Storage and Retrieval Unit (LASR), hundreds of computer workstations and a variety of study environments create the library’s personality. An atrium with five stories of open air, diffused daylighting from the northern sky and a grand arrival statement mark the appearance. “We used simple materials for the construction: block walls, metal, glass,” says Leo A. Daly’s Frank Dumont. “We didn’t use a lot of complex materials on that project. It’s just the way we detail them.” The design of the steel-framed, concrete-floored building with titanium cladding on the exterior was “fairly straightforward,” says Dumont. “We wanted to put the money more into the grand [atrium] space and the daylight coming in, and this robotic retrieval system. That’s where we spent most of the money, on creating volume instead of lavish materials.” The atrium contains more than 100 computers, many of which are covered by aluminum canopies meant to enhance the intended town square feel. “They wanted it to be the living room of the campus,” says Dumont. “You can be in the big, grand space and still feel like there’s some intimacy. Even though there’s a lot of spaces on many floors surrounding it, wherever you are going in the building you experience the atrium.” — M.K. MARCH//APRIL 2010

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DESIGNED BY: Carpenter Sellers Architects LOOKS LIKE: A giant, unfolded steel fan embedded in the side of a showroom

Arlen Ness Motorcycles’ building is a custom job, too.

Design outside the box

Architect and urban planner Robert Fielden’s favorite urban spaces in Southern Nevada The Lewis Avenue Corridor One of the few pedestrian-friendly public spaces in Las Vegas. Great urban spaces like this provide ample shade, seating and tables for playing checkers and chess. Hills Center Drive from West Lake Mead Boulevard to the roundabout on Town Center Drive The landscaping and human scale of this segment of the travel corridor makes for an almost perfect pedestrian environment. Only pieces missing: seating and tables for neighbors to sit and chat. Desert gardens at the Springs Preserve A series of great “knowledge” spaces that prove how lush the desert can be, and how pleasant being out-of-doors is when surrounded by a drought-tolerant landscape receiving lots of love and attention. 38

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Downtown Boulder City An excellent example of integrating scale, traffic and pedestrian-friendly activity. This project reinvests in downtown businesses and new infrastructure, including an urban forestry program and public art. Thanks to ample shade, dining outside in Boulder City is has caught on downtown. Civic Center Plaza at Henderson City Hall The valley’s best gathering space. The plaza is home to a farmers’ market every Thursday through the year. But even without an event, the plaza exhibits a distinct, high-quality architectural character through the design, articulation and details the space contains.

Clark County Government Center Amphitheater This is a tremendous community asset within the heart of the central city — and its only truly green space downtown. When it’s filled for evening performances, it’s hard to dispute the appreciation attendees have for community-wide, open events. Clark County Government Center Rotunda If not for the large expanse of west-facing glass and the energy drain it creates, the rotunda of the Clark County Government Center would be the best interior space in the valley. It exudes a powerful sense of civic pride. That said, the only other truly great interior space I know is the Bellagio Conservatory. Its highest value: It has no principal purpose other than offering beauty to visitors from across the world.

Custom bikes, custom building

A rlen N ess M otorcycles and O rigen R otunda : C H R I S T O P H E R S M I T H

Arlen Ness Motorcycles of Las Vegas 4020 Boulder Highway Arlen Ness Motorcycles houses some gorgeous machinery in its more than 17,000 square feet of space, but the peacock element of the building’s architecture is a custom steel canopy that turns the showroom into a roadside attraction. The canopy resembles a huge, open hand fan that unfolds around the southeast side of the building, protecting the custom motorcycles and scooters from the elements while creating an iconic structure. At night, the canopy reflects the glossy paint jobs of the merchandise and neon accents on the exterior. Owner Dee Barnes wasn’t sure what he wanted when he connected with Carpenter Sellers Architects. The location was an in-fill site across from Boulder Station, and Barnes was toying with the idea of a prefab building. “But they wanted something interesting,” says Rick Sellers, principal/vice-president of Carpenter Sellers Associates. “They wanted to give it a decent face. One of the goals was to grab attention with the façade even though it was across from the casino.” They also wanted to accentuate the bikes rather than compete with them. The idea of the building as custom bike, a basic framework that is chopped and cut until it becomes a personal statement, began to fuel the discussions. They worked with galvalume, sheet steel coated with an aluminum-zinc alloy, for the canopy which attracts attention and draws it to the bikes below. Randomly angled mullions in the windows signify motion and the freedom to ride anywhere. “So the building came to reflect what these custom bikes are all about,” says Sellers. “Accentuating them, complementing them, not taking away from them but enhancing this notion of freedom and the open road.” — M.K.

Bask in civic pride at the Clark County Government Center Rotunda.

The ORIGEN Rotunda wants you to get lost — in a good way.

Structure au natural ORIGEN Experience Building Inside Springs Preserve The ORIGEN Experience building at Springs Preserve is bogglingly green, sustainable and LEED-certified — from its renewable energy systems to its recycled building materials. But perhaps this is its most charming note of environmental sensitivity: no lights point skyward. That is, in one of the most photon-intensive cityscapes in the word, this building still worries about light pollution. Makes sense. This structure is all about nature, from its mission (“The main concept is water,” says project architect Deepika Padam; it sits on the site of the valley’s natural springs) to its rounded architecture, inspired by the creeks and ravines on the 180-acre site. “Nature has a natural way of curving,” Padam says, “and we wanted to maintain that experience.” Natural, too, is the way the 53,000-square-foot exhibit building is arranged. From a striking main rotunda, the galleries radiate in spokes, filled with interpretive displays about the springs, water use and the site’s archaeology. “It’s meant for you to meander,” Padam says. “To get lost and find different ways to get out. It’s a playful experience.” Befitting the austerity of the desert, the architecture minimizes waste. DESIGNED BY: “All the materials used have recycled Tate Snyder Kimsey elements,” Padam says. She can lay on GREEN CRED: the numbers, too: It’s 85 percent dayIt earned a rare LEED lighted, generates 18 percent of its own Platinum rating. energy and 16 percent of the materiNOT TO MENTION: als come from local sources. “It’s very The facility reuses 100 earthy,” she adds. “In the choices of percent of its water. material, we wanted to speak desert.” Very eloquently, as it turns out. — S.D. MARCH//APRIL 2010

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SO what if he loses? If Harry Reid is sent packing in November, Nevada will suffer — but not as much as you think By Hugh Jackson • Illustration by Aaron McKinney Wake up and smell the clout! cry U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s supporters. Numbering more than a few Republicans, they are sent into fits of apoplectic disbelief by the notion that Nevadans would even consider voting out a majority leader of the United States Senate. Reid’s detractors — an electoral majority, if polls are accurate — counter that the senator is an icky liberal so out of touch with the government-hating thumpity-thump-thump of Nevada’s libertarian heartbeat that he simply must go, before he succeeds in transferring the entire means of production to the working class and ushering in the socialist revolution once and for all. Or words to that effect. Not surprisingly, Reid’s fate has become a cause célèbre in the national political press, which has declared the Senate seat one of the most likely to switch parties in the 2010 elections. Why, just the other day, a reporter called me from the Big City to question me about Reid’s prospects. I was pleased to answer promptly. I said I really don’t care all that much. Make no mistake. Nary a day goes by without a few hundred thousand, or a few

million, American dollars being designated for Nevada, thanks to Harry and The Clout. Under the heading “Delivering for Nevada,” Reid’s campaign website lists dozens of projects — water projects, energy projects, lots and lots of military stuff — that are federally funded in Nevada “thanks to Sen. Reid.” Reid has been “delivering for Nevada” in countless other ways, too, from stopping Yucca Mountain, to securing tax breaks to promote renewable energy, to making sure Nevadans get to take a federal income tax deduction for paying state sales tax, to … well, I could go on and on, but really, Reid pays a bunch of people to do that for him, so let’s leave that to the professionals. Suffice it to ask, what hope is there that a freshman Republican senator could ever deliver as much for Nevada as Reid can deliver now? Actually, that’d be easy. If the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase that punctuated the health care legislative wheeling and dealing are any indication, all a newbie Republican would have to do is vote with the Democrats on important bills, and Senate leadership will ladle favors on the newbie’s state

in return. If of a mind to do so, a new Republican senator from Nevada with a reasonable amount of negotiating skills should be able to relocate most of the Pentagon to Pioche by the time she or he is up for re-election in 2016. Alas, if elected, none of the 462 (at last count) Republicans vying to face Reid in November are likely to work across party lines, for any reason, because of The Socialism. No, when it comes to Beltway influence, Nevada will never have it better than it does with Reid. But wait! a Reid critic will say, index finger aloft for emphasis, Nevada ranked dead last in per capita funding from the stimulus bill, so Reid isn’t delivering after all! And that gets straight to the heart of why I’m less than fascinated by Reid’s political fate. As Reid’s campaign will explain (and as his critics know, or should), Nevada’s relatively paltry share of stimulus money, and its relatively poor ranking when it comes to federal funding generally, has very little to do with Reid, and everything to do with, well, Nevada. Federal funding is often tied to state funding (in conjunction with the all-important census information, which is why you should be friendly when your local census taker knocks on the door). The less a state spends on, say, scientific research at universities, or health care and mental health services for the poor and indigent, the less money the state gets for those things from the federal government. Whether measured on a per capita basis or as a portion of the state’s economy, Nevada spends less on state government than any state in the nation. And now the state is yet again slashing government spending — including spending on educational programs that are the prerequisite to attracting some form of economic activity that might be more sustainable than building new houses for people who build new houses for a living. Not content with an economy that is in tatters now, Nevada’s leaders, sanctioned by Nevada’s citizens, are dedicated to inflicting economic wretchedness on the state for years, if not generations, to come. And yet Official Nevada — apparently because Nevadans want it so — refuses even to entertain the possibility that it should no longer be one of only five states without a broad-based business tax and one of only seven states with no personal income tax. So, would Nevada suffer by casting aside a Senate majority leader? Yeah, almost assuredly. But much more assuredly, the far more important issue for Nevada isn’t how much clout it has in the Beltway, but how much sense it has at home. DC Hugh Jackson blogs at and writes a column for Las Vegas CityLife. MARCH//APRIL 2010

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The seamier side of Las Vegas is as close as your bookshelf — that is, if you’re reaching for Blue Vegas, the recently published story anthology by P Moss. Better known as the owner of local bars The Double Down Saloon and Frankie’s Tiki Room, Moss can also turn a phrase and tell a good, gritty story. The Blue Vegas kickoff party happens 8 p.m. March 2 at The Double Down Saloon, 4640 Paradise Road. If you can’t make the party, buy the book at




Good things indeed come in threes this month when Nevada Ballet Theater presents Brave New World, a premiere of three new works: Song of the Nightingale, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale; The Nightingale, by Wideman/Davis Dance Company Artistic Director Thaddeus Davis; and Cyclical Night, a tango-inspired piece by NBT Artistic Director James Canfield. March 27, 8 p.m., March 28, 2 p.m. Tickets: $10-$75. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall. Info: 895-2787,

If you’ve ever wanted to run away with the circus — or just chase a French-Canadian acrobat — now’s your chance. And you can do it while benefiting the Springs Preserve. Chase to your feet’s content at “Run Away with Cirque du Soleil,” a five-kilometer run and one-mile walk to benefit the Springs Preserve. Registration is $25-$40, and includes a day pass to the Springs Preserve through April. “Run Away” takes place 7 a.m. March 20 at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Info: 352-0164,

Call Adam del Monte’s music Flamenco 2.0 — its thoroughly modern but rooted sound comes from del Monte’s love of jazz, world music and other contemporary sounds. Del Monte performs 8 p.m. March 25 at UNLV’s Beam Recital Hall. Tickets: $35. Info: 895-2787.


Cliff Segerblom had a keen eye for Nevada, whether it was through painting or photography. Check out what magazines such as Life, Time and National Geographic saw in his photographic work March 15-June 13 at the Big Springs Gallery in the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Info: MARCH//APRIL 2010

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Golf Classic

Art Teetering on the Brink Through March 12. John Bissonnette uses greeting cards as a lens through which to view contemporary life. Closing reception 5 p.m. March 5. Free. Rotunda Gallery at the Clark County Government Center. Paintbrush Gateway and Other Projects: Dennis Oppenheim Exhibit Through April 3. The artist selected to create the Arts District gateway sculptures showcases his work. Free. Reed Whipple Cultural Center. full-figured neon kiss Through March 31. Paintings by Constance Edwards Scotpepolis and Kristine McCallister, as well as sculptures by Christopher Schulz. Free. Brett Wesley Gallery, 1112 S Casino Center Blvd, 12 + 7: Artists and Architects of CityCenter Through April 4. Learn about the work of the artists and designers who helped make CityCenter a reality. $10-$12. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 693-7871. First Friday March 5, 6-10 p.m. The Arts District’s monthly festival features more than 100 artists displaying their works downtown, plus live entertainment. $2. 384-0092, Nevada: The Photography of Cliff Segerblom March 15-June 13. Nevada painter and photographer Cliff Segerblom devoted his life to capturing the landscape of Nevada. His photography has been published in Life, Time and National Geographic magazines and displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Free. Big Springs Gallery in The Springs Preserve. Boulder City Fine Arts Festival April 17-18, 10 a.m. Fine arts exhibit and sale featuring artists from Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Wyoming and Utah. Free. Boulder City’s Bicentennial Park, 293-2138.

Music Peter Fletcher March 3, 2 p.m. Peter

Fletcher performs classical and Spanish guitar music. Free. Centennial Hills Library, 6711 N. Buffalo Dr., 507-6136. Brass Roots Quintet March 6, 2 p.m. Longtime Las Vegas professional musicians play a wideranging repertoire from classical to contemporary. $5. Charleston Heights Arts Center. Las Vegas Philharmonic Pops Concert III: Broadway A La Carte March 6, 8 p.m. Spectacular singers and the entire Philharmonic present music from Les Miserables, Hello Dolly, Evita, and South Pacific. $35-$75. UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, UNLV Jazz Concert Series March 10, April 14, 7 p.m. The series highlights the best student musicians from UNLV’s Jazz Studies Program. Free. Clark County Library, 507-3459, Neon Reverb March 11-14. A downtown music festival featuring musical styles ranging from rock ‘n’ roll to folk to electronica, at intimate venues such as The Bunkhouse, the Beauty Bar and The Aruba. Tickets/ passes $15-$30. Nevada Pops III: Guy Movies March 12, 7:30 p.m. Popular movie music performed by Nevada Pops. $14-$18. UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, Vocal Jazz Solo Night March 12-13, 7:30 p.m. CSN Jazz Singers showcase their vocal talent in jazz standards to show tunes to ensembles. $5-$8. CSN’s BackStage Theatre, Musical of Musicals March 12-13, 19, 20, 8 p.m., March 14, 21, 2 p.m. Nevada Conservatory Theatre satirizes musical theatre, sending up styles from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim. $13.50-$15. UNLV’s Black Box Theatre, 895-2787, Marina V. March 13, 3 p.m. Russianborn singer, Marina V., a singer, pianist and songwriter with an incredible life story, performs Russian and English

Fine food, famous company Las Vegas is usually known for thinking big, but the minds behind Vegas UnCork’d Presented by Bon Appétit have had the good sense to think small. That is, they’ve graaaadually grown this culinary fest that pairs hardcore foodies with renowned chefs. Call it smart, flavorful growth. This year’s four-day event boasts more than 30 tastings, dinners and samplings — but UnCork’d Executive Director Rob O’Keefe has seen the wisdom in maintaining the element that truly gives it flavor: intimacy. Who wants to have to elbow his way through a herd for a nanosecond of face time with a TV chef? Now in its fourth year, Vegas UnCork’d happily remains a low-key affair that’s more friend’s kitchen than school cafeteria. Case in point: One of the highlights, “Chef’s Table with Alain Ducasse,” in which 12 attendees will sit in with the master chef as he creates his new seasonal menu. “This is truly like a rock concert for foodies, but we’ve worked really hard to keep it intimate,” says O’Keefe. That rock-star chef talent includes the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Paul Bartolotta, Bradley Ogden and Charlie Trotter, all of whom host tastings, brunches, luncheons and talks. No elbowing required. Vegas UnCork’d Presented by Bon Appétit takes place May 6-9 at the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Wynn/Encore, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and Venetian/Palazzo. For tickets, visit


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Guide songs. Free. Sahara West Library, 9600 West Sahara Ave., 507-3631. Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra: The Firebird March 13, 8 p.m. The Charles Vanda Master Series presents Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night Overture, Stravinsky:’s Petrouchka for Orchestra and The Firebird Suite. $45-$90. UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, Vienna Boys Choir March 18. Presented by the Charles Vanda Master Series. $35-$80. 895-2787. UNLV’s Performing Arts Center, Bill & Kate Isles March 19, noon. Folk musicians Bill and Kate Isles convey their life experiences and Minnesota memories through song. Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Jury Assembly Room, 229-3515.

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The Magic Flute March 20 7:30 p.m., March 21, 2 p.m. UNLV Opera Theatre presents Mozart’s beloved opera. $8-$10. UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, 895-2787, Adam del Monte March 25, 8 p.m. One of the leading flamenco and classical guitarist/composers of his generation performs. $35. UNLV’s Beam Music Center Recital Hall, 895-2787, Las Vegas Philharmonic Concert: Masterworks IV April 3, 8 p.m. Works featured include Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor and Grieg:’s Symphonic Dances. $35-$75. UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, “Wild About Harry”: A Tribute to Big Band Leader Harry James April 10, 2 p.m. The Tony Scodwell Big Band presents a tribute, also featuring song stylist Lisa Mayer on hits such as “You Made Me Love You” and “Sleepy Lagoon.” $10-$12. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush St., 229-6383. Mardi Gras Mambo: Laissez le Bon Temps Roulez April 11, 2 p.m. Fans of

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The sound of downtown If your idea of a music festival involves elbow-to-face crowds, parking headaches and $7 bottles of water, maybe it’s time to check out Neon Reverb. The downtown music bash is a decidedly unfestival-like festival that brings local, national and international talent into intimate venues downtown. Better yet, if you like your rock ’n’ roll in a rainbow of global flavors, this is the place for a taste. Among the dozens of bands slated to perform, there’ll be New Zealand’s Ruby Suns unleashing its kaleidoscopic, psychedelia-tinged sound. There’ll be the Autumn Owls from Ireland, whose ambient rock is moody but never sentimental. And let’s not forget Bo-Peep from Japan, balancing comically chirpy vocals with frantic and visceral grunge-pop.

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There’s plenty of local talent on tap, too. Be sure to check out the fast-rising indie pop act A Crowd of Small Adventures and the electro-rockers Afghan Raiders, whose ability to induce collective dance-floor spasms is rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.

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Neon Reverb takes place March 11-14 at various venues downtown, including The Bunkhouse, the Beauty Bar, The Griffin, the Box Office and the Las Vegas Country Saloon. Passes $15-$45. Info:

Louie Prima, Sam Butera, Dr. John and Dixieland will appreciate this concert of New Orleans-inspired jazz. Free. Clark County Library, UNLV Jazz Ensemble I and Contemporary Ensemble April 13, 7:30 p.m. The UNLV music department showcases talent. $8-$10. UNLV’s Black Box Theatre, 895-2787,

American Guild of Organists Recital: Heather Hernandez April 16, 7:30 p.m. Heather Hernandez, director of music at the Lutheran Church of the Master in Phoenix, presents a recital. Free. UNLV’s Beam Music Center Recital Hall, Duo Mystique Flute & Harp April 16, noon. Flautist Bonnie Buhler-Tanouye


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Guide and harpist Tara Ogden-Skouson play classical, jazz, Celtic, Broadway and contemporary music. Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse Jury Assembly Room, 229-3515.

comedy by Douglas Carter Beane, presented by Nevada Conservatory Theatre. $17-$30. UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, 895-2787,

Ricardo Cobo and Christopher McGuire April 23, 8 p.m. The two acclaimed guitarists perform. $35. UNLV’s Beam Music Center Recital Hall, 895-2787,

Spring Arts Festival March 4-14. Bishop Gorman High School’s Gaels Theatre Guild puts on The Importance of Being Earnest; an original choreographed production, The Tree. Each performance will be preceded by a bonus greenshow of Her Tongue, a one-act farce by Henry Arthur Jones. $10-$12. Bishop Gorman High School’s Jim3 House of Performing Arts, 5959 S. Hualapai Way, 476-4175,

Las Vegas Brass Band April 25, 2 p.m. Performance by the Las Vegas Brass Band. $5. Clark County Library, UNLV Choral Ensembles Spring Concert April 25, 7:30 p.m. UNLV’s Music Departments showcases its talent. $8-$10. UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787,

Theater The Little Dog Laughed March 4-6, 8 p.m., March 7, 2 p.m. A Hollywood

The Fantasticks March 25-27, 7:30 p.m. Ira Aldridge Theatre Company’s production of The Fantasticks, the 1960 musical with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones. West Las Vegas Library, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 507-3991.

“The Orphan Train” April 2-3, 8-10, 7 p.m.; April 4, 10 and 11, 2 p.m. Rainbow Company Youth Theatre presents the story of the “orphan train” that traveled the country in 1914, filled with children seeking a home. $3-$7, Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211. Red Lights & Sirens April 14, 16, 17 8 p.m. UNLV’s theater department puts on a play with adult situations. $7.50. UNLV’s Paul Harris Theatre/Ham Fine Arts Building, 895-2787, Colleges/Fine_Arts/Theatre. Three Viewings April 16-17, 23-24, 7:30 p.m., April 18, 25, 2 p.m. Three comic/dramatic monologues explore how the bereaved treasure memories, money, life and love. $10-$12. CSN’s BackStage Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream April 23-24, 8 p.m., April 25, 2 p.m., April 29-30, 8 p.m. Nevada Conservatory Theatre presents one of Shakespeare’s


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most beloved comedies. $17-$30. UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, 8952787,

Dance Spring Dance Concert: Unforgettable March 12, 8 p.m., March 13, 2 p.m., 8 p.m. UNLV’s dance department showcases its talent. $10-$18. Judy Bayley Theatre, 8952787, Inside Out March 13, 2 p.m. Nevada Dance Project showcase concert of contemporary dance. Dancers and choreographers who perform in shows on the Strip present their own visions of dance. $10. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211. Student Dance Concert March 26, 7:30 p.m. CSN dance students present their 11th annual concert. $5-$8. CSN’s BackStage Theatre, 651-4201. Brave New World March 27, 8 p.m., March 28, 2 p.m. Nevada Ballet Theater presents three new world premiere works: Song of the Nightingale, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Nightingale, by Wideman/Davis Dance Company Artistic Director Thaddeus Davis; and Cyclical Night, a tango-inspired piece by NBT Artistic Director James Canfield. $10-$75. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall, 895-2787, Concert IV: Last Chance Dance April 22-23, 8 p.m., April 24, 2 p.m., 8 p.m. A concert of new choreography by UNLV students and guest artists. $10-$18. Dance Studio One inside UNLV’s Ham Fine Arts Building., 895-2787, Spring Dance Concert April 30, 7:30 p.m., May 1, 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Concert Dance Company and CSN Dance Ensemble combine forces to present Daphnis and Chloë, a myth-inspired ballet. $8-$10. CSN’s Nicholas J. Horn Theatre,

Family Spring Break Youth Drama Workshop March 29-April 3,

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Guide 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Drama workshop for grades 2 through 6, includes theatre games, improvisation, acting exercises, mime, and rehearsal skills. Youth will participate in a final presentation 10 a.m. April 3 in Charleston Heights Arts Center main theater. $95. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 229-6383. Spring Celebration Family Festival April 10, noon. Free park admission and activities. Community celebration that features amusement rides, inflatables, games, square dancing and crafts. Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, 9200 Tule Springs Road, 229-8100.

Lectures, readings and panels “Beyond Discrimination: Detecting Subtle Gender Discrimination in Faculty Salaries,” March 3, noon. UNLV’s Marcel Nzeukou, discusses pay disparity among male and female faculty members in higher education. UNLV campus, Classroom Building Complex Building B, room 225A. Alice Notley March 8, 7:30 p.m. The acclaimed poet reads from her work. Free. UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium, “Was Shakespeare a Catholic? The Historical Sources revisited” March 10, 7:30 p.m. Thomas McCoog, archivist with the British Province of the Society of Jesus, London, discusses one of the most controversial areas of recent Shakespeare scholarship: Was he a Catholic? Free. UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium, “Empowerment or Objectification? Beauty Pageants and Feminine Identity Cross-Culturally” March 17, noon. UNLV linguistic anthropologist Heidi Swank, UNLV professor, discusses the social and cultural contexts of beauty pageants worldwide. UNLV campus, Classroom Building Complex Building B, room 225A. Free and open to the public. “I Could Read The Sky: Timothy O’Grady and Steven Pyke” March 17, 7 p.m. I Could Read the Sky, a


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collaborative novel by writer Timothy O’Grady and photographer Steven Pyke, is brought to life with music and images. Free. UNLV’s Beam Music Center Recital Hall, 895-5542, “Human Blood Sacrifice in the Andes” March 24, 7:30 p.m. Prof. Richard Chacon of Winthrop University discusses the practice among the Cotacachi and Otavalo Indians of Ecuador. Free. UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium, “Blurring Borders: Junot Diaz with Yiyun Li and Pablo Medina” April 6, 7 p.m. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz, PEN/Hemingway Award-winning writer Yiyun Li, and Cuban-American poet and novelist Pablo Medina explore identity, nationality, and culture in their work. Free. UNLV’s Student Union Theatre, “Medieval Empowerment: Female Mystics in the Middle Ages,” April 7, noon. Kate Wintrol, instruction librarian for UNLV libraries, discusses the role of medieval nuns in a restrictive Christian era. Free. UNLV Campus, Classroom Building Complex Building B, room 225A. “Our Place in the Cosmos” April 7, 7:30 p.m. University of California, Santa Cruz astronomy and astrophysics Professor Raja Guhathakurta discusses the universe. Free. UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium, 895-2787. A Reading by Maile Chapman and Vu Tran April 15, 7 p.m. The two authors read from their upcoming work. Free. UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium, BMI Fellows in Conversation April 29, 7 p.m. A panel discussion featuring Black Mountain Institute fellows Lavonne Mueller, Judith Nies and Timothy O’Grady. Free. UNLV Student Union Theatre, Reading Las vegas 2010 April 1-30 A month of panels, readings, classes and other events sponsored by the Las Vegas Clark County Library District.

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Clark County Library 1401 E. Flamingo Rd., 507-3459,

College of Southern Nevada (Performing Arts Center, BackStage Theatre, Fine Arts Ballery, Nicholas Horn Theatre) 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., North Las Vegas, 651-5483,

Contemporary Arts Center 107 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 120, 382-3886, east las vegas community center 250 N. Eastern Ave., 229-1515. fifth street school 401 S. Fourth St. Green valley Library 2797 N. Green Valley Parkway,l 507-3790, Henderson convention center and events plaza amphitheatre 200 S. Water St., 267-2171 Henderson Pavilion 200 S. Green Valley Parkway, 267-4849. Las Vegas Natural history museum 900 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 384-3466, lvnhmorg. Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse 333 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 229-3515.

Reed Whipple Cultural Center 821 Las Vegas Blvd. North, 229-1012. Sahara West Library 9600 W. Sahara Ave., 507-3631. The Springs Preserve 333 S. Valley View Blvd., summerlin library and performing arts center 1771 Inner Circle Dr., 507-3860, UNLV (Artemus Ham Concert Hall, Black Box Theatre, Beam Music Center, Doc Rando Hall, Dona Beam Gallery, Barrick Museum, Fine Art Gallery, Judy Bayley Theatre, White Hall) 4505 S. Maryland Parkway 895-2787, West Charleston Library 6301 W. Charleston Blvd., 507-3964, Winchester Cultural Center 3130 S. McLeod Dr. 455-7340.

An evening with david sedaris April 30, 6 p.m. The celebrated essayist and memoirist reads from recent work and shares humorous (and sometimes humiliating) stories. Clark County Library.

Ethnic events Noche Michoacana en la Plaza March 19, 7 p.m. Bring the family to enjoy the lively music, dance and cuisine of Michoacán, Mexico. East Las Vegas Community/Senior Center Bandstand. The World in Your Backyard Multicultural Festival March 20, noon. Multicultural performances, children’s crafts, cultural lectures, demonstrations and workshops. Free. Centennial Hills Park and Amphitheatre.

Fundraisers Ninth Annual Run Away with Cirque du Soleil March 20, 7 a.m. A 5k run and 1-Mile Fun Walk to benefit the Springs Preserve. Mayor Oscar Goodman provides the shotgun start, and Nevada Public Radio’s President and General Manager Flo Rogers will act as emcee for the day’s events. First 1,200 participants get a T-shirt and entry in a drawing to win tickets to a Cirque show. Registration $25-$40, including a day pass to the Springs Preserve through April. Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. 352-0164, unlvino 2010 April 8-10. Three days of wine-, champagne- and sake-tasting at select resorts such as The Palms, Caesars Palace and Bally’s. Best of all, the event benefits the students of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV. Tickets $50$100. Walk MS 2010 April 10, 8 a.m. A walk to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis. Free. Town Square, National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Golf MS April 18. A golf match to benefit MS sufferers in Southern Nevada and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Palms Golf Course, Mesquite,


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story by By Brock Radke

Photo caption goes here Dishes such as Tinoco’s take on New York strip steak and shrimp are bringing an upscale touch to downtown fare.

Chow down downtown Let’s admit it: One way downtown Las Vegas differs wildly from other cities is the fact that it’s not one of our dining hubs. For that, we have the Strip, Chinatown and all those scattered suburban pockets of good eating. As a restaurant neighborhood, our original city center can’t hang. But great food can exist where great restaurants do not. I’ve discovered the stuff myself, after 10 years of working and lunching downtown. From ethnic holes-in-the-wall to reliable diners and delicatessens, there’s much more than a few ancient casino gourmet rooms and shrimp cocktail snack bars. (But I like those, too.) An exciting new wave of restaurants is making a big splash in this vintage habitat, but a certain level of deliciousness always has endured here. Many of these new restaurants aren’t new at all. The Plaza, the unlikeliest of places, is the epicenter for this development. Here we have the second coming of beloved tapas bar Firefly (Plaza, 1 Main St., 380-1352), situated in the infinitely cheesy, vintage Vegas glass dome 54

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that overlooks the great neon cavern of the Fremont Street Experience. Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro kicked it here in Casino and you can too, especially when happy hour starts early at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. The menu has been made a bit friendlier for its new audience, but don’t worry, you can still get those addictive stuffed dates, bacon-wrapped and dabbed with blue cheese. The revolution continues across the street, new home to downtown’s dining darling of the decade, Tinoco’s Kitchen (Las Vegas Club, 18 Fremont St., 380-5735). Chef Enrique Tinoco moved his bistro from the Arts District to what was the Great Moments Room, bringing along his seared ahi tuna, corn crab chowder and lobster ravioli. The new setup includes an underrated breakfast (Eggs Chesapeake, poached over crab cakes with sweet red pepper sauce) and a rapidfire to-go counter serving burgers, tacos and burritos. Now inhabiting Tinoco’s old Arts Factory digs is another familiar name, Paymon’s Mediterranean Bistro (107 E. Charleston Blvd. 272-0018). Like the

Brooke Ernst

A foodie crawl of new hot spots (and old mainstays) reveals downtown never tasted so good


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In 1969, Sam and Aiko Nakanishi opened the first Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas and named it after their hometown, Osaka. Thirty years later, their daughter Joy opened the Summerlin location, spreading Las Vegas’ favorite flavors of Japan to the newest part of town.

Rosemary’s combines great food, drink and service with uncommon value and dining diversity. The Jordans draw from a variety of culinary influences to create a unique American cuisine with regional twists from New Orleans, the Deep South and the Midwest.

Rave reviews from the day they opened. The best in steaks, burgers, pastas, salads and killer appetizers. Comfort food in an upscale setting and some original artwork or enjoy the bar with its 10 HD plasmas and 10’ HD projection screen

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Brio tuscan Grille

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In Tuscany the food is everything. Tuscan Culinary Creations are mastered at Brio using the finest and freshest ingredients. Brio brings the pleasures of the Tuscan country villa to the American City.

This once seven-table pizza eatery has transformed over the last 17 years to a three- room local favorite restaurant. Exquisite southern Italian dishes from Nora Mauro’s family recipes are served and their award-winning cocktails are made by Nora’s team of mixologists.

Khoury’s prides itself on excellence in the preparation of food, presentation and quality of service. Serving some of the finest Lebanese cuisine available in Las Vegas, Khoury’s restaurant will stimulate and delight your senses. Close your eyes as you savour this fantastic food and drink, and you’ll feel you’ve stepped into the heart of Beirut.

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One too many drinks downtown? The Hangover Burger at Binion’s Café may help cure the blahs.

happily encourages a screwdriver, Bloody Mary or mimosa with your breakfast or lunch. But if you’re time-traveling at the Golden Gate, you may just want to stroll back to the Shrimp Bar and grab two or three of the other kind of cocktail; they still come in those parfait glasses, fresh and tasty with spicy cocktail sauce, just $1.99. Of the handful of decent Mexican joints downtown, I prefer Casa Don Juan (1204 S. Main St., 384-8070) for its massive margaritas, fresh, warm corn chips with spicy salsas, and delicious carnitas. Plus, it’s open every day at 7 a.m. If you prefer a bit more authenticity (i.e., you like to be the only gringo around), head over to Salvadoran hot spot Esmeralda’s (1000 E. Charleston Blvd., 388-1404). You can get tacos here, too, but wise up and opt for perfect pupusas, thick, house-made corn tortillas stuffed with salty cheese, refried beans or fried pork bits. These things are impossible to stop eating, maybe battling those Firefly dates for the single best bite downtown. Or perhaps it’s a steaming forkful of tender baked potato topped with artichoke, mild green chile and cottage cheese. That’s a typical order at the simple and healthy Potato Valley Café (801 Las Vegas Blvd., 363-7821). You don’t have to go all-veggie here, but you might

Hangover Burger and HOt Dog: Christopher SMith


Omelet House, this is the third location for Las Vegas’ favorite hummus depot, strategically operating from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week and staying open for the artsy evenings of First Friday. So what was old is new again — at least in location — but other oldies are still quite tasty. Take Triple George Grill (201 N. Third St., 384-2761): still the preferred lunch spot for your lawyer, still serving up classic Crab Louie salads and steak sandwiches in its big city bar and distinguished dining room. You know what I like to do? Use the Third Street valet here but then walk a couple blocks to the Cal and get a titanic bowl of saimin at Aloha Specialties (Cal, 12 E. Ogden Ave., 382-0338). It’s the Hawaiian version of Japanese ramen: soft noodles, savory dashi, veggies and maybe a little barbecued pork or a wonton tossed in. If we’re talking not-so-secret treats around Fremont Street, let’s not forget the cheeseburger at Binion’s Café (Binion’s, 128 E. Fremont St., 878-2452). Since the casino’s coffee shop closed, the menu here has been expanded to include breakfast, appetizers and salads. But the star is the never-frozen, greasy-good, right-off-the-flat-top burger. The No. 2 downtown burger resides nearby in the Bay City Diner (Golden Gate, 1 Fremont St., 385-1906). This nostalgic greasy spoon is a personal favorite for many reasons, not the least of which is a Hair of the Dog menu that

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The Hot Dog Guy brings delicious street food downtown.

Downtown? Thumbs up!

At the At At the the

John Curtas picks his faves for urban noshing El Sombrero Jose Aragon learned to make sopapillas at La Placita Dining Rooms in Old Town, Albuquerque, N.M., in the early ’60s. Jose’s sopapillas are still so good they’ll make you weep, as are his chile verde and chile Colorado. Both are true to their New Mexican roots, and all three (along with his amazing menudo and boffo burritos) are more than enough reason to visit Las Vegas’ oldest restaurant on a desolate stretch of Main Street. El Sombrero, 807 Main Street, 382-9234 The Hot Dog Guy Pete Rosa spent six hours at a Sysco warehouse tasting hot dogs until he came up with the thick, garlicky, slightly smoky, foot-long beauty he serves from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays at the corner of East Charleston Boulevard and Sixth Street. He’ll load it up with chili, cheese, sauerkraut, relish, onions and ketchup if you’d like, but it’s damn tasty in its own right. A dog and a drink will set you back $3. Rosa also does a pretty

fair meatball sub, too — and dispenses homespun wisdom for free. The Hot Dog Guy, corner of Charleston Boulevard and Sixth Street Tinoco’s Enrique Tinoco has set himself up in an upscale location inside the workin-progress Las Vegas Club Hotel and Casino. The décor still bears some of the artsy flourishes from his last venue in the Arts Factory, there’s a comfortable, full bar and, best of all, Enrique is at the stoves every day. Seafood and pasta are the strength of his menu, but the sandwiches and salads are nothing to sneeze at, either. Next door is a take-out counter where he cooks traditional foods from his native Mexico, making Tinoco’s a one-stop food shop, no matter what you’re in the mood for. Tinoco’s, Las Vegas Club, 18 E. Fremont St., 464-5008 Ocha Thai Is this the second-best Thai restaurant in town? Judging by the todd munn (deep-fried fish cakes), the sour sausage, grilled

beef salad, Laotian-style green papaya salad (som tam), and the “stir-fried, hot spicy hog,” we’d say yes. We’re also partial to Ocha’s version of pla gkoong (raw shrimp salad), dressed with heaps of cilantro and lemon grass. (We hate to admit it, but it might be better than Saipin Chutima’s version at Lotus of Siam.) Ocha Thai, 2211 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 386-8631 Luv-It Frozen Custard If the pickings are slim when it comes to savory food downtown, they’re pretty much nonexistent for folks with a sweet tooth. If your calorie count allows, quell the heat from an El Sombrero salsa or an Ocha Thai nom sad (minced chicken salad with ginger and chiles) at this bastion of superior soft custard. When you’re in this neck of the woods, there’s no better way to end to end an evening of adventuresome eats than a Scotch Jimmy Treat or Western Special Sundae. Luv-It Frozen Custard, 505 East Oakey Blvd., 384-6452

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Valley Cheese & Wine 1770 Horizon Ridge Parkway #110 Henderson, NV 89012 702-341-8191 This gourmet cheese and wine shop in Henderson supplies Las Vegas with the finest artisanal and handcrafted specialty foods, wine, and cheeses available.

Free Wine Tastings Friday 4 PM until 7PM Sat. noon until 7 PM


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as well because it tastes so good. Get a spud with spinach, feta and roasted garlic. Okay, fine, add bacon. It’s still one of the cheapest and best lunches downtown. You wanna get real simple? Plan a visit to the tiny Strip Sandwich Shop (603 Las Vegas Blvd., 382-6292). My advice: go early (it opens at 9 a.m. and serves breakfast sandwiches) because once lunchtime rolls around, it’s chaos. These guys are running so many deliveries to the courthouse crowd, the blade on their oldfashioned deli slicer never stops spinning. Order a Sloppy Joe, which isn’t what you think. Choose your own meat (you want corned beef ) on rye with Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. Then call off your afternoon meetings. There’s a brand new sandwich downtown, next door to the infamous Dino’s Lounge. Naked City (1516 Las Vegas Blvd., 889-6300) roasts its own turkey, ham and tri-tip and lets you pick the toppings. They also dish out a pretty mean veggie sandwich, with poblano peppers and crimini mushrooms — surprising, considering the two Back East guys who run the joint also operate Guinea Pigs, something of an

Naked City’s signature item? The Naked Sandwich, of course, with roasted turkey.

underground hot dog stand that pops up in the area late at night. Two more new restaurants are guiding the old neighborhood toward bold culinary adventures. Depressing economic news overshadowed the November opening of the Golden Nugget’s Rush Tower and Chart House (Golden Nugget, 129 E. Fremont St., 385-7111) seafood restaurant, a spectacular teal dining room with a huge aquarium and an old-school Vegas vibe. Its modern surf and turf and easy-access valet is sure to bust into your list of power lunch spots. Then there’s the well-reviewed Lola’s (Holsum Lofts, 241 W. Charleston Blvd., 227-5652), a comfy café serving New Orleans-style favorites. Dishes such as the vibrant bronzed catfish and grits and spicy barbecue shrimp prove the neighborhood can still pack a flavorful punch, and so Lola’s, with its proximity to Symphony Park, creates a real and metaphorical view into the future of our downtown. Yes, there is more to come. But there’s plenty already here. So in every way possible, eat up. DC

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The Executive MBA program at UNLV: Moving your career forward‌fast! EMBA graduates join an extensive professional network spanning the Las Vegas business and professional communities and beyond. For more information on the Executive MBA program and how to join this group of accomplished professionals, please contact the UNLV MBA Programs at (702) 895-1367 or e-mail \



story by Andrew Kiraly

Photography Aaron Mayes

Her bleakly funny tales depict women who struggle with odd compulsions

Alissa Nutting applies biting humor to Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls.

Crossing the line

Two young Vegas writers explore cultural barriers — one with surreal humor, the other with a touch of noir These women kidnap pandas from the zoo. They stuff the front of their cocktail dresses with tennis balls. They drink too much at the class reunion and wake up in strangers’ cars. They let their aggressive 27-pound cats interfere with their one-night stands. These are the characters in Alissa Nutting’s upcoming short story collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. In an age when reality TV sends Playboy bunnies, would-be supermodels and celebutantes parading through our living rooms, Nutting’s women are decided underdogs. “I wanted a book that was dedicated to a different viewpoint of American women 60

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in the modern setting,” says Nutting, a Schaeffer Fellow in UNLV’s English department. “I wanted to give a voice to outcasted or pathetic females in society whose experience wouldn’t normally be championed.” Her bleakly humorous stories, some of which are flash portraits as brief as 400 words, center on women who struggle against bad habits and odd compulsions in their quest for a connection. There’s the narrator of “Deliverywoman,” who still can’t earn her mother’s love — never mind it’s the year 2045 and she’s generously unfreezing dear old mom from a cryogenic prison capsule. Or the protagonist of “Magician,” who buys a parakeet for her brother, who lost an arm in accident; she imagines it might somehow magically regrow his lost limb. Or the adoring, long-suffering sidekick in “Model’s Assistant.” And somehow, you could easily imagine Nutting, a sunny, waifish, self-confessed neurotic, in all the main characters’ roles. (Get a taste of Nutting’s skewed universe on page 63.) One major American author appreciated her worldview: acclaimed experimental writer Ben Marcus, who selected Nutting’s collection as the winner of 2009’s Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls will be published by Starcherone Books in the fall. Surely, Nutting will be happy — but not too happy. “My writing comes from a very obsessive, scared, very paranoid, injured place,” she says with a laugh. “It’s kind of like taking the water and scooping it out of the boat with the hole in the bottom every single day. I sort of have that kind of … I don’t know, hurt monkey on my back, I guess?” Authentically noir The work of Vu Tran explores cultural barriers of a different type.

Beyond the lights, Beyond the headlines

a desert companion for the way we live now Las Vegas’ only city magazine dedicated to coverage of Southern Nevada culture, travel and dining. Stories, opinion and profiles with the in-depth style and intelligence of News 88.9 KNPR. Desert Companion reaches 125,000 Southern Nevada readers each issue. Powered by the unrivaled on-air marketing of Nevada Public Radio. Desert Companion is now available at area Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations. Complete pick up location information at

For sales and sponsorship information, please contact Christine Kiely at or call 702.258.9895


Vu Tran explores Vegas’ underworld — a literal one — in his upcoming novel.

Tran’s upcoming novel is a piece of literary noir in which California cop Robert Ruen comes to Las Vegas to search for his recently disappeared ex-wife, Hong. During his quest, Ruen plunges into a Vietnamese underworld — literal and figurative — of toughs and crime lords. The story’s inspiration came from a friend from Tran’s youth in Oklahoma, a Vietnam veteran preoccupied with Vietnam. “I thought it’d be fascinating to write about an American cop who was married to a Vietnamese woman and became obsessed in the same way, and how their marriage crumbled because neither could really understand the other’s world,” he says. Tran’s novel is based on his short story, “This or Any Desert,” which appeared in 2008’s Las Vegas Noir anthology and Best American Mystery Stories 2009. Most recently, Tran won a 2009 Whiting Writers’ Award, a $50,000 62

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prize for promising talent. (You can get a sneak preview of that talent when Tran, also a Schaeffer Fellow, reads from his work 7 p.m. April 15 at UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium.) But his novel, slated to be published by W.W. Norton, is about more than mere noir thrills. In a town of surface glitz, Tran explains, his protagonist Ruen is ultimately searching for some sort of cultural substance in trying to reconnect with a woman from a war-torn country. “The fact that he’s trying to find some depth in his ex-wife’s history, and he never found it — that for some reason disappoints him,” Tran says. “But the truth is, she might not have had anything happen. The fact that people tend to want that authenticity, especially when they deal with people from another culture, is kind of fake, too.” In Tran’s Las Vegas, that troubled search for authenticity takes people to dangerous places. DC

Zookeeper By Alissa Nutting

I took a baby panda home from the zoo. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to. I decided to keep my job there, at least for a while, so as not to look suspicious. Dolores from reptiles almost got me. “Aren’t those panda droppings?” she asked, pointing to my hair. “I don’t think so,” I said. I put on a helmet. The panda and I were still working through bathroom and sleeping arrangements. I named her Lulu. Pandas really like bamboo. That’s not a myth. At the time I was living in a room of the Sleep-Eeze Inn. All my local calls were free, as was my cable. I put up a DO NOT DISTURB! sign but worried it might fall off, so I taped several others like it to the actual door. One night I came home from work with some chicken tenders. I figured the two of us could share them. I did not bring enough for all the policemen who were outside my door. I pretended to be part of the crowd. I pinched a mother of five on her elbow. “What’s up?” I asked. She covered the ears of her youngest. “They thought someone was making a pornographic film in that room. There were all these signs up and people heard growling and scratching.” I saw them carrying out Lulu. She looked at me with her giant panda eyes. “Mother,” she yelled. I didn’t know that pandas could talk. It might have been an accident. While the cops questioned me, Lulu and I tidied up what was left of the continental breakfast in the lounge. I stuck Fruit Loops on the tips of her canine teeth. She seemed to be smiling. I went to jail. Lulu went to the zoo. There’s a website,, that has a photo of both of us standing behind our respective bars. Each month I write the zoo a letter, in cursive, asking them to send me a lock of her hair. They will not. When people ask me why I did it, I tell them, “She was soft.”

2010 Cox Charities recently awarded $100,000 to 23 Southern Nevada non-profit organizations that support children, families and/or education. Cox Charities is funded primarily through Cox employee contributions and the generous support of Cox subcontractors.

We are proud to support our community! After-School All-Stars – $5,000 to support the Follow the Leader program American Red Cross – $3,000 to support babysitter training for low-income teens Assistance League of Las Vegas – $5,000 to support its Pocket Books program Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada – $2,500 to support youth programming Blindconnect – $5,000 to support Youth Life Skills Training Child Focus – $5,000 to support the Sibling Preservation program Children’s Heart Foundation – $5,000 to support Camp Mend-A-Heart Easter Seals of Southern Nevada – $5,000 to the Wonders of the World Child Development Center Horses4Heros – $3,000 for the Horse Play program Jude 22 – $8,000 for the Senior Nutrition Outreach program Junior Achievement of So. Nevada – $2,500 for the Whole School Financial Literacy program Las Vegas Natural History Museum – $5,000 for its Open Door education program Miracle Flights for Kids – $5,000 for Emergency Miracle Flights for Kids Nathan Adelson Hospice Foundation – $4,000 for Camp Mariposa Nevada Child Seekers – $5,000 for radKIDS abduction prevention education program Nevada Diabetes Association for Children/Adults – $5,000 for the Injection Connection program Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth – $8,000 for Safe Place Drop-In Center Nevada School of the Arts – $2,500 for Cox Honors Recital & Scholarship Program Olive Crest – $3,500 for its Family Preservation program Shade Tree – $5,000 for a Children’s Activity Center Spread the Word – $5,000 for the Kids-to-Kids Literacy program Three Square – $3,000 for the Youth Backpack Nutrition program Variety Early Learning Center – gently-used computers for Youth Computer Technology program For more information or to apply for a grant, visit

Supporting and enriching Southern Nevada with all our heart.

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story by Dave Surratt

I L L U S T R A T I O N b y C H R I S T O P H ER S M I T H

My own private CityCenter Trying to find a little bit of actual neighborhood in our new urban neighborhood-themed resort MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren has said CityCenter isn’t just “a resort in the middle of a parking lot,” but a “neighborhood.” Not just a themed urban experience, but a place where Las Vegas locals and out-of-towners alike can feel an authentic sense of community and purpose. An organic kind of place we can enjoy, like New York City enjoys its SoHo. A place we can make ours. So, is it? Well, the Aria Resort & Casino valet who just directed me back out to the self-park entrance on Las Vegas Boulevard behaved in a way you could call neighborly, and now I’m gliding down an escalator to a mini-lobby where three tall, meandering stainless steel sculptures by British artist Tony Cragg really do make the room feel like it could be part of the neighborhood public art museum that doesn’t exist anywhere in Vegas anymore. So far, so good, but now I’ve gone through some glass doors and found myself in Aria’s casino. Not neighborhoody at all. “But no one expects this part to be,” I console myself while picking a path through the tables and sharp-screened slots, finally emerging at the main registration desk area, where the decor is impressively understated, natural light pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows and there’s enough headroom and distance from the electro-din behind me for a true tranquility to descend — the kind traditional hotel casinos still fend off with inescapable detonations of sight and sound. Aria’s confident like that, so, within its walls, I am too. Now I’ve left Aria and crossed quickly, eyes forward, through a tiny outdoor courtyard — the so-called “pocket park” whose promise of improbable Strip serenity I’m saving for later when I might really need it — and entered CityCenter’s half-millionsquare-foot retail palace, Crystals. If there’s anything I can afford in this part of the neighborhood, it’s not displayed in the window 64

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of French jeweler Cartier, where a diamond-encrusted elephant looms in heavy relief on a watch whose hands are an afterthought. Back to that “pocket park.” All concrete and no grass, though the little trees help some. There’s a prominently placed sculpture out here, too: Henry Moore’s travertine marble “Reclining Connected Forms.” From one bench, way off to the left, it looks like a misshapen and tumorous coffee mug. From the other bench, way off to the right, it looks like something you really need to be looking at from the front. From the front, standing awkwardly in the flow of foot traffic in and out of Crystals, it’s most appreciable. Back on the left-side bench, people-watching eases the anxiety for a moment. This isn’t a typical Strip contingent of Midwestern tourists passing between buildings, but a more refined set. A tall man in glasses and a long wool coat gestures broadly at Moore’s work and at the towering steel-andglass walls above, and speaks in thoughtful, hushed tones to the nodding woman beside him. It’s all convincingly urban, but then the dull thump of arena rock invades from somewhere across the boulevard, somewhere not CityCenter, and I’m suddenly seized with the fear that the tall man will make eye contact, giggle maniacally and produce a yard-long margarita glass from underneath that coat. And the birds — where are the birds? There are trees, but no city sparrows to claim them. Maybe for lack of food scraps in this park. Or maybe the birds know something about CityCenter, in the same way cats will sometimes know something about a visiting neighbor that makes them arch up, dilate their eyes and hiss before streaking back up the stairs, leaving you by yourself to make small talk with the undead. “Wait, wait,” yips a chubby kid in a yarmulke, pausing to read the plaque next to “Reclining Connected Forms,” but his parents have already swept through Crystals’ doors. He heaves a dramatic sigh before chugging along after them, thwarted this time in an attempt to make CityCenter his. But that’s the spirit, kid. DC

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