I love Vegas: the messy drunks, ersatz cityscapes, cigarette smoke, even the douchey bros and packs of shrieking sorority girls are strangely familiar and reassuring. All of it just means I’m near blackjack, fancy meals, gay pool parties, and Cirque de Soleil. But it’s easy to forget that people power this adult Disneyland; that a real city exists beyond the neon and plastic.
Maybe that’s why Downtown Vegas fascinates me, since it’s the closest thing to a real city that Las Vegas, home to 2 million souls, can claim. I’m not the only one interested in this once-thriving, long-derelict, now-back-from-the-dead collection of densely-packed casinos, high-rises, and restaurants. Led by Zappos’ young CEO Tony Hsieh, which relocated his shoe empire to the city center, the area is now seeing new investment, development, and young residents. A nascent art scene is headquartered in a downtown hospital-turned-JCPenney-turned-coffeehouse/art gallery. A mini-Coachella debuted in downtown last year, winning praise for its organization and street art. A cultural district is establishing itself around the gorgeous Smith Center, which in September debuts the first performance of Kinky Boots outside Broadway.