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Downtown

What should I know before I go?

Thoughts from a few notable residents

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Jennifer Harrington and fiance Michael Cornthwaite have plans to create a multi-use artist space in Downtown Las Vegas.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

“Surbanites should know the true borders of downtown Las Vegas. Interstate 95 with Cashman Field and the Cultural Corridor to the north, Decatur Boulevard to the west, Eastern Avenue to the east and Sahara Avenue to the south.” -Anne Kellogg, Downtown booster

“Downtown Las Vegas is the only area of the city where you can get a metropolitan experience in a real, cultured, community environment.” –Michael Cornthwaite, owner, Downtown Cocktail Room

“Downtown, it seems people are ‘into’ the music more ... they interact more, they buy more merchandise, they seem to like things that are grassroots and original.” –Rustyn Vaughn Lee, singer/songwriter

“Downtown is where the cool kids in Vegas go to cut loose. Kabob Corner is a good cheap meal, Steakhouse on top of Binions is the best restaurant. Downtown is where you can drink cheap and hear good live music.” –Paul Devitt, owner, Beauty Bar

Misko's Somewhere

“Downtown isn’t as polished and easy as Green Valley or Summerlin, but it is full of awesome spots you’re not going to find anywhere else. I’m not saying turn a blind eye to the less-savory areas, but don’t judge the whole of Downtown based on them. Come down and explore if you’re new to Vegas or revisit past haunts if you’re a local that has gotten caught up out in the ’burbs.” –Jerry Misko, artist

“Whether it is Ty, the proprietor of the cafe downstairs, Angela at the art gallery across the street or Willy at the dry cleaners on the corner, we all know each other just like in any city across America. Heck, even the Pawn Stars are only 100 feet away!” –Brian “Paco” Alvarez, curator, artist

“We take our local business very serious here, and you should know that when you spend money in downtown Las Vegas, it stays here, and you are supporting your fellow Las Vegans! It is authentic and smart, fun and unique. I never feel disconnected from my city, and what goes on in government here.” –Jennifer Cornthwaite, co-owner, Emergency Arts, Henri & Odette galleries

“It’s where the art, dining, entertainment and community all overshadow the corporate, tourism and gaming aspects of the city.” –Michael Cornthwaite, owner, Downtown Cocktail Room

“A few things that stand out: You can park very close to where you are going. The liquor served is mainly all out of the bottle and not the gun, as in most casinos. Being in a smaller venue like Sidebar, I feel like I can give better service and it is more personal. That’s probably why about 90 percent of my guests are locals.” –Jerry Vargas, bartender, Sidebar

“I’ve been going to Book Magician, formerly Amber Unicorn, since I was a boy. It’s a great used-book shop with a very friendly staff. Just across the parking lot is Omelet House. If you’ve never been to this comfy spot, you haven’t had breakfast in Vegas. The spuds are legend.

“One of my favorite Downtown things to do is go check out all the restored signs down Fremont and the Boulevard. For the full experience, book a tour of the Neon Museum Boneyard (currently getting a face-lift and new visitor’s center). Just beautiful, and you can pub-crawl in between the signs. Under the rearing hooves of the Hacienda sign, Downtown Cocktail Room is my favorite place for a drink. Dino’s just up the Strip is Downtown’s best dive bar, and the sandwiches next door at Naked City are a treat.” –Jerry Misko, artist

A few recommendations:

“The Electronic Music Café (1308 S. Main St.), for those who want to experience one of the greatest musical genres of the late 20th Century—house music— and its founder Jesse Saunders.

“The Potato Valley Café (801 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), a great place to have a healthy lunch.

“Centennial Plaza at the 5th Street School, where history, art, architecture, poetry and nature come together in perfect harmony.” –Brian “Paco” Alvarez, curator, artist

“For thrill-seeking dessert hounds, Luv-It Frozen Custard is delicious, and the surrounding neighborhood of Oakey and Las Vegas Boulevard sufficiently sketchy after dark to give a crimson highlight to the otherwise grimy local color of the block radius around it. But for a real conflux of confection and peril, I recommend the Back Alley Cupcakery and Ammo Shop located between the abandoned art deco-styled exterminators and an abandoned food additive rendering plant on 1st Street not too far north from Gass. Slowly (and I can’t emphasize this enough)... slowly approach the breezeway between the buildings between the operating hours of 11 p.m. and 2 p.m. and ask to speak to “Stoney.” The password is “gentrify.” I highly recommend the Red Velvet Rope Cupcake and the Remington Golden Saber 135Gr .40 S&W combo.” –Dayvid Figler, from his untitled book in progress

“Galleries seem to come and go in the Downtown zone. Still, some great ones have been there for 50 Vegas years (that’s three years in Standard Roman Calendar time). Yet, there are a number of brilliant art displays that always seem to miss the overviews including: “That painting in the White Cross drugstore” (mixed media of oil, watercolor, a guy that looks like Clint Eastwood and flora); “That mural behind the bar at the Hard Hat Lounge” (depicts a simpler time in Las Vegas— late 1970s—when outrageously offensive caricatures of townies were de rigeur in any drinking establishment); and “My Sister’s Light Sculpture Collaboration with Mary Warner behind the elevators at the Fremont Street parking garage” (a juried winner that incorporates the decommissioned light bulbs from the FSE on permanent display—kidding aside—it’s beautiful). –Dayvid Figler, from his book in progress

“Win a piece of Jackie Gaughan’s fortune: My friends and I have dubbed it “old-man poker”—but if your timing is right (and while random, it’s more steady than you might think), you can catch Jackie Gaughan, the legendary casino impresario and now pretty-old man, playing poker at his former crown jewel, the El Cortez (see what I did there ... I used the article “the” before the Spanish word for “the”).

“Legend (and truth) has it that Jackie still lives in the hotel he recently sold, and most days gets escorted down to the low-stakes hold-’em table, where he promptly produces a crisp C-note and goes at it. Jackie revels in the action and loves the river; but don’t take his age, 89, to mean he’s an easy mark. He can crack your aces like a pro and dance upon the carnage (well, so long as his hip holds out). In addition to the always amiable Jackie, you’re likely to find a cast of characters straight out of a short story that still needs to be written. Old-man poker—come for the filling, stay for the crust. –Dayvid Figler, from his book in progress

“Simply put, it is the real Las Vegas.” –Michael Cornthwaite, owner, Downtown Cocktail Room

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