Downtown Las Vegas is popping, and is doing so in dramatic fits and starts. Here, today’s alleys and rundown motels are tomorrow’s boutique startups and artist enclaves. Earlier last year, we saw the arrival of Wild, a gluten-free alternative pizzeria and bar in The Ogden; Velveteen Rabbit, a romantic cocktail haven in the Arts District; and the debut of Life is Beautiful Festival, a music festival with a heavy culinary and mixology bent. But the progress continues with a few very welcome high-end and high profile additions to this exciting, increasingly sophisticated neighborhood.
Inspire Theater and News Café
It’s hard to tell what’s left ironically unfinished and what’s simply not done yet at Inspire, a multifaceted concept recently opened in a renovated building on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street. Buoyed by Zappos CEO and gentrification don Tony Hsieh and his partner Michael Cornthwaite of Future Restaurant Group, Inspire is all at once a café and newsstand, theater and flex space. There are also three bars. But we’ll get to those later.
Just inside the front door, a plywood panel to the left slides back to reveal a barista’s station. To the right, satiny wood bleachers are dotted with cushions, all the better to more comfortably avail yourself of the 200-plus magazines draped over metal racks covering every wall. One hundred more titles are on order, but for now you can still get your Mental Floss, Monocle, MovieMaker and Rad Dad The Magazine with your Illy Americano.
Taking up a sizable swath amid the café tables and chairs is the most technologically analog one-ton of equipment you’ll probably ever encounter: The Espresso Book Machine is often confused for an outsized copier or a 3-D printer. But as Drew, the knowledgeable and obliging bookista — my word, not his — will patiently explain, he can whip you up a freshly bound and covered copy of your own book or anything public domain. So give him a few bucks and a few minutes and you can be cracking the spine of a freshly printed copy of The Scarlet Letter, This Side of Paradise, Ulysses or the entire works of Jane Austen.
Behind the café, Inspire Theater is a 150-seat raked auditorium with balcony and a private viewing booth, complete with en suite restroom and room for Hsieh and a group of his closest Downtown Project lieutenants. Upstairs, conversation nooks are occupied by tweedy mid-century mod sofas and coffee tables. A wraparound deck, glassed-in conference room and halls filled with modular couch cubes will all come into play when the theater is booked for cabaret performances, theatrical engagements, film screenings and speakers.
Wayfarer Bar, 365 Tokyo and The Roof
Beyond the café and past an imposing textured wood door is Wayfarer Bar, a glamorous little throwback boîte. When the curtains slide back, doors open to the Inspire Theater, and Wayfarer becomes a sort of lobby bar. But the rest of the time it’s all about enjoying drinks and conversation in the leather booths, tartan chairs and on comfy barstools. Candlelight flickers off the cocktail shakers in a dim, darkly paneled room lit by fetching sconces — a room from an entirely other time.
When it opens in March (fingers crossed), 365 Tokyo will be a members- and invited-guests-only bar paying homage to the Japanese-style of bartending and all the ritual that comes with it (think hand-chipped ice, humble service and monastic concentration). Incidentally, the name refers to the maximum number of members that will have reservations access to the glassed-in bar that seems to float above Fremont Street, as well as to certain other perks at other Future Restaurant Group venues.
The next space to open, likely in early April, is The Roof, the city’s largest climate controlled rooftop lounge with enough daybeds, seating groupings and tables to accommodate up to 250 people. A shaded bar shows off some of the original wooden elements of the building, more of which can been seen from the Inspire Theater catwalk, and what Cornthwaite calls a “future space,” a Solatube-illuminated attic over his original Downtown venue, Downtown Cocktail Room. The space is rumored to have been a dance studio, Frank Sinatra’s dance studio to be exact. But we may never know.
About the only thing you won’t find at Inspire — yet —is sustenance. A short walk from Inspire’s doors is Container Park, an ingenious collection of retired shipping containers stacked and conjoined to establish an indoor/outdoor attraction filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Here you’ll find Cornthwaite’s collaboration with chef Kerry Simon, Pork & Beans, as well another Cornthwaite bar, a rustic little tavern called The Boozery. But the best place to both eat and drink in a fine atmosphere — you’d never guess you were in a metal box — is Bin 702, a wine bar with a beer penchant, and some of the best charcuterie in the city.
Photos Courtesy of Future Restaurant Group