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As We See It

[The Strip Sense]

Feeling good in the gayborhood

Apparently 89121 is the gayest ZIP in the state

I have noticed that my local Albertsons tends to display the Froot Loops just a little more prominently than other stores in town. I've also peeked into my neighbors' iTunes lists and noticed that Broadway show tunes are disproportionately popular around here, but I try not to read too much into this sort of thing. And, yes, even though Rainbow Boulevard is way across town, those colorful arcs are undeniably brighter in the skies over my house after a good rain.

I live in the gayest ZIP code in the Silver State? Really?

It sure seems that way. It's been six months since Nevada began allowing gays to fake-marry, creating a registry that confers to same-sex couples just about all of the statewide benefits of being hitched without calling it that, because the semantics-obsessed voters decided early last decade to constitutionally bar marriage equality. I call it "fake-married," because we're not allowed to call it married, and it means nothing to the federal government, where all the real goodies lie for married couples — in the tax code, anyway.

As of last week, 1,717 couples had declared they had "chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring" and reside together "on at least a part-time basis," as the form reads. Nearly 300 couples a month plunk down either $50 for a boring black-and-white certificate or — as this is the state of the upsell — $65 for a colorful "ceremonial" one that looks like the sort of thing a kindergarten teacher prints out for her prized students. (Just three partnerships have been dissolved, by the way.)

Back in November, when 1,150 couples had taken this plunge, writer Alex Richards did a fun by-the-numbers box for the Las Vegas Sun, indicating that the most popular ZIP code in Nevada for gay fake-marrieds — with 50 couples registered — was 89121. That is to say, mine.

Last week, I checked again, by obtaining the database of all the couples and their ZIP codes from the secretary of state. There were now 61 couples registered in my ZIP, including me and my partner, Miles. We're still No. 1, with 3.5 percent of the state's registered couples. Huh. Who knew?

This outcome is utterly perplexing for several reasons. One is that there's nothing particularly notable or interesting about us. The 89121, as hipsters would call it if any lived here, is an east-of-Strip ZIP bounded by Sahara and Tropicana from Eastern Avenue to Nellis Boulevard. It's dominated by apartment buildings, condos and townhouses, and has precious few fabulous houses — unless you count the monstrosity that ex-Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren concocted. We've got the Regency Tropicana Cinemas, where movies are $1 on Tuesdays, a Hispanic grocery that replaced the Vons a few years ago, and a Las Vegas Athletic Club that the gays don't much like because the one in 89109 is open 24 hours.

The only dining worth mentioning is Lindo Michoacan, and the only thing considered funky or artsy is ReJAVAnate Coffee, which recently closed, having slid downhill years ago after its original — gay! — owners sold it. There is a gay bar, the Las Vegas Eagle, where you're encouraged to show up in your underwear after 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. That's not exactly where you'd expect to find gay marrieds, is it?

More puzzling, though, is that for years I've explained to readers of national gay publications that Las Vegas has no gay neighborhoods. This is a city that grew up so fast, in such fits and spurts, that there really aren't any ethnic or minority-driven neighborhoods, with the exception of historically black West Las Vegas. Our town is broken down far more by economic strata, so people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds are about as assimilated as can be imagined.

There are a couple of gay commercial districts, it's true, anchored by the bar clusters south of Harmon on Paradise and in Commercial Center on East Sahara Avenue. But Greenwich Village? WeHo? No. And they're not in 89121.

I'm not the only one who's stumped. Jack LeVine, a gay real-estate agent who sold me the two homes I've owned in 89121, agreed that "traditionally and anecdotally, there's been a preponderance of gay couples in the southeast part of town," but he didn't have an explanation as to why.

Another gay Realtor, Rob Schlegel, had an intriguing, if incomplete, thought. Off Eastern just south of Sahara, there's a townhouse development called Tarrytowne, that was built in the late 1980s. The developer was the first straight builder to aggressively advertise in the area's gay monthly magazine, then owned by Schlegel. Schlegel estimates more than 70 percent of the 120 units were sold to gays. Two decades later, Schlegel said, few of the original gay owners remain, but perhaps they were bitten by the practical charm of 89121?

"89121 is an intelligent ZIP code, because you're in the middle of everything," he said. "I've pushed that area just because it makes sense to live there. People who are a little wiser and pragmatic and understand transportation and value in their lives like it."

That's how I ended up over here. My first job in Vegas was as the Review-Journal's education reporter, so my office was at the school district's headquarters on East Flamingo. Rents — and, later, housing prices — were reasonable, the Strip and McCarran were nearby, and I almost always traveled against traffic. To this day, I'm uncertain what the Rainbow Curve feels like at rush hour or why living in Summerlin makes it worth that hassle.

All of this defies stereotypes. Gays, we are told, have higher incomes, enjoy culture and fine dining, appreciate interesting architecture and instinctively upgrade — gentrify — their properties. By those tokens, you'd expect a gay enclave in Paradise Palms, that region of mid-century modern homes in the 89104 ZIP code east of the Stratosphere, where all the people who think they're cool live in suburbia while pretending they're urbanites. Alas, Paradise Palms only had 18 pairs of fake-married couples; maybe it's popular among single, more urbane gays, but nobody except Absolut vodka and the gay cruise lines count them.

In fact, the No. 2 ZIP for fake-marrieds in Nevada, with 51 registered couples, was 89117, a western area encompassing The Lakes and bound by Rainbow and Hualapai between Spring Mountain and Charleston. Other hotbeds of queer contentment are 89031 (the Aliante area, with 48 couples) and 89052 and 89074, both Green Valley addresses that had more than 40 couples apiece.

Obviously, these numbers are incomplete; I know same-sex couples all over Clark County who have chosen not to register as domestic partners. We should get a clearer picture, though, when the 2010 Census data is released. For only the second time, the census will count same-sex couples living together, and we'll be able to compare that incidence to the numbers registered in Nevada.

I hope 89121 doesn't come out ahead in that count, because if that happens, I fear more straights will be lured here — as they have been by every other gay mecca — by the practical charms and well-maintained properties. And if that happens, well, there goes the gayborhood.

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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