The city’s most unexpected new persona actually makes sense. All the hipster signifiers — dive bars, tattoo parlors, those shrunken Thom Browne suits — were fundamental to the original Rat Packer’s Vegas. It just needed to reclaim and upcycle its own cultural history, and it’s finally doing that — with a vengeance.
In the last few years, the Fremont East district has emerged as the percolating anchor of a Vegas-meets-Williamsburg scene that by day swirls around Emergency Arts (520 E. Fremont St.; EmergencyArtsLV.com), a blocky complex on Fremont Street jammed with galleries, mixed-use spaces, and a ground-level coffee shop.
At night, the party starts at the pioneering Downtown Cocktail Room (111 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; TheDowntownLV.com), a dimly lit speakeasy with leather lounge chairs, communal tables, and bearded, Mumfordy bartenders in dapper fitted vests serving literary drinks (try the fruity grapefruit, rum, and lime Hemingway Daiquiri).
Just around the corner, the Park on Fremont (506 E. Fremont St.; ParkonFremont.com) dishes up patented boho décor (taxidermy!), while Commonwealth (525 E. Fremont St.; CommonwealthLV.com) counters that with lots of glass chandeliers and a rooftop bar that overlooks the whole hazy strip of Fremont, blinking with neon signs of strippers and martini glasses that suddenly look modern. So how far can the city’s off-the-grid mod vibe reach?
The most dynamic gay party of the moment isn’t a casino rager but the off-the-Strip Share Nightclub (4636 Wynn Rd.; ShareNightClub.com). Likewise, the most exciting restaurants are quiet local kitchens like Raku (5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd.; Raku-Grill.com), Honey Salt (1031 S. Rampart Blvd.; HoneySalt.com), and Eat.
None of this independent action is doing much for the town’s oligarchy, of course, but the bigwigs are clearly watching. Among the most anticipated planned premieres of 2014? The Gansevoort Las Vegas, a brand with its own hipster cred now trying to bring something edgy back to the ever-shape-shifting Strip.