Most cities sleep. Not this one.
In the strange space between today and tomorrow, Las Vegas is filled with possibility and shadow. We explore its potential.
Thu, Mar 3, 2011 (midnight)
It’s four in the morning, I’m looking out the window from my darkened 17th floor hotel room at the Palace Station and all I can think about is the traffic below. The freeway is hopping. Cars are heading north and south on I-15. I can’t even imagine where everyone is going at this hour. Where I’m from, things close at night. Everyone heads home after dark, goes to bed and sets their alarms. Roads are quiet. Neighborhoods are spooky. Cities are abandoned. It’s depressing.
Not here. Not in Las Vegas.
This is where I want to live. There’s nothing sending people home in the middle of the night. There’s not even a suggestion of a collective slumber. People grocery shop at 1 a.m., have dinner at 2, drink at 3 and drop into Walmart for sundries at 4. I want to do all that, then go home and sleep all morning—not be forced to live according to some centuries-old sunup/sundown rules that don’t apply anymore. This is where I want to live. Las Vegas.
That was 18 years ago. I’d flown out here to find a place, knowing little about the city and even less about its culture. Whenever someone mentioned Las Vegas, they’d talk about the casinos not having windows or clocks so that you never had a concept of day or night. The point, I gathered, was that nightlife continued all day, but what interested me more was the idea that daylife continued all night.
There were times in Minneapolis when it seemed I was the only one alive. I lived on a busy street above a restaurant across from a popular bar, but by 1:30 in the morning, everything came to a standstill. Here, we can take comfort in knowing that, whether we’re whooping it up at Walgreens or asleep in our beds, bodies are moving about this city; activity is continuous, not on some all-or-nothing sleep/wake cycle. And we can rest easy knowing that there’s a moonlit otherworld permeating from the Strip to touch the Valley’s corners, a place where night owls saunter into glowing 7-Elevens, bowling alleys and nail salons, into the morning on well-lit streets. —KRISTEN PETERSON
It’s 1:02 a.m. but the corner parking lot across from the Hard Rock Hotel is nearly full. It’s Saturday night, and between the hookah bar, restaurants and 24-hour cantina, there’s plenty of reason to be here. I’m not coming to drink or snack, however. I want a manicure, and now’s as good a time as any.
Get Nailed 24/7 isn’t as sexy as it sounds, but there’s always someone at the nail salon with polish and acetone at the ready. Tonight, a pair of big-breasted young women with streaky blond highlights and tired faces chat quietly while one gets her toes painted. A steady stream of hip hop plays through the salon’s speakers. Along one wall, a photo mural shows the Strip at night, never mind that the real thing is right outside and just a few blocks away. They’re “entertainers,” I’m told. The one getting the mani/pedi? She doesn’t work for less than $1,000 an hour.
Manicurist Kim Vy’s eyes focus intently on my fingers as she pulls a coat of deep burgundy polish across each nail. She’ll be here till 8 in the morning, painting nails, tidying the shop, killing time. A phone call cuts through the calm. “No, we’re not too busy … 3:30? … okay.” People make appointments at this hour? I marvel. Vy rolls her eyes.
Actually, Vy considers her late-night weekend shift prime time for clients who want a little extra privacy. With no one in the next chair it’s easier to spill your guts, she explains. “It’s like therapy, coming to see your technician.” Before I know it, I’ve let loose all sorts of details about my past, too. That she mostly keeps her eyes on my hands only makes it easier.
The door opens and a young man walks in. “Pizza delivery?” he asks, and one of the escorts shuffles to the door, cotton stuffed between her still-wet toes. I chuckle at the client ordering her midnight snack to Get Nailed, lounging casually as if she were in her own living room. Vy just smiles, “Girl, it happens all the time.” —SARAH FELDBERG
Slice of life
Spending the after-hours at the not-so-secret Cosmopolitan pizza place is a blur. Sentimental smells and sounds abound, and the sights are pretty interesting, too. Besides the bubbling, cheesy goodness you came for, the people-watching is fantastic: short-skirted clubgoers, buzzy tourists, suits taking pies to go. It doesn’t really matter if this place transports you to a big city, back-alley pizza kitchen, which is clearly the goal. It doesn’t matter that it’s one of those places on the Strip that feels very un-Vegas. The only thing that matters is fun, and if you want to keep the party moving into the wee hours, this is a smart stop.
It’s Saturday morning, 1 a.m. There are five people in the line, and six working behind the counter. Gritty rock is booming and SportsCenter is shining from above. I tell the guy behind the counter: one slice cheese, one slice pepperoni. Let’s keep it simple. “That’s your problem,” he replies, heavy with what seems like a fake Italian accent. By the time I reach the register, he’s displaying a white pie, laced with ricotta and tomato. It smells and looks amazing, so I add a third slice. “This is the Sunrise pizza, see? These are the clouds,” he hams it up, pointing to the mounds of toasted ricotta, “and this tomato is the sun coming up. I make it special for you.” Yeah, that accent has to be fake.
Three perfectly greasy, chewy, cheesetastic slices and two PBRs later, there are many more people in this pizza place, and most of them look too young to be here. Super short skirts. A pint glass breaks on the counter near my scraps of crust and napkins. No one cares. A Mark Zuckerberg look-alike cuddles in the corner with a babyfaced brunette. Couldn’t be him, could it? Nah. Groups of Asian girls in mega-short skirts hustle down the hallway and take their slices to the wooden tables outside Jaleo.
It’s after 3 a.m. and this pizza place is still packed. Somehow, the line stays neat, and I wonder if it’s longer than the one to get into Marquee. There are no loners, just cute, matching tribes of happy kids. Another girl gang joins the fray, with the short-skirted leader announcing, “This place is the bee’s knees!” Seriously, she said that. Devo’s “Whip It” is playing. The drunk, sleepy faces may not know exactly where they are, but they know why they’re standing in line. They can smell it. —BROCK RADKE
Mop-up time at LVAC
They say you’re supposed to do cardio first thing in the morning. Often I do—quite literally. I begin my workouts at midnight or 1 a.m. at the Las Vegas Athletic Club at Sahara and Desert Inn. Most nights, the mop comes out around 1:15. I don’t know what chemicals they put in the bucket that goes with it, but judging by the smells, it’s a combination of vinegar, ammonia, rubbing alcohol, sour milk, pickle juice, orphan tears and death.
The mopper has this system. Basically, he finds the machine I’m using, and then he starts mopping there. I assume his boss told him, “You need to get as close to Rick’s bike as possible. Don’t be afraid to throw an elbow or hip—really get in there.”
I imagine the mopper replied, “Maybe I could just start by an open machine? And that way, I wouldn’t disturb Rick. He looks really pissed, night after night. And also, maybe I could work around the three or four people who are actually using the machines at that hour? And then, after they leave, I could go back and mop those areas?” And then, the supervisor said, “No, let’s just do it my way.” —RICK LAX