Best use of Twitter
“Iconic” doesn’t begin to describe Betty Willis’ contribution to the Las Vegas landscape. Her “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign has stood sentry since 1959, bidding tourists welcome and residents welcome home. So it is fitting that the beloved landmark uses its celebrity status as @lasvegassign, dispensing all the Vegas news that’s fit to Tweet: “Big Elvis, the King of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, finds a fitting bride.” Now you know.
Greg Bambic, president of the Professional Drivers Association, knows his shortcuts. A cab driver since 1992, he shares the quickest way to get from the south end of the Strip to the north end (i.e., Convention Center/Sahara Hotel): Take Interstate 15 north to the Spring Mountain West exit. Head toward Spearmint Rhino on Highland Drive. At the almost-immediate stoplight, turn left on the Desert Inn arterial. That will take you east on Desert Inn, all the way down to Paradise Road, right by the Convention Center. “This route will save someone 20 to 45 minutes compared to taking the surface streets,” he says.
Best Green Idea
Las Vegas has made news in the last year with a crop of big-ticket, green-friendly buildings. But Doug Taylor may be leading a more significant green revolution in Las Vegas: food. Last year the longtime chef for three Mario Batali restaurants opened Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market in a warehouse. It’s grown to include nearly 40 local producers (from within 150 miles of Vegas). There are huge grapefruits and watermelons from Sandy Valley. Specialty items such as flowers, China Ranch date cookies and boutique goat cheese are all worth a detour. And all produce is organic, grown without pesticides or hormones. Who knew the Mojave even had local produce? Now, we do. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursdays, 7485 S. Dean Martin Dr., No. 106.
Local writer Steve Friess has an opinion about everything Vegas, and he isn’t afraid to let you know it on thestrippodcast.blogspot.com. Sometimes we agree with him (why are Robin Leach and Brad Garrett freaking out over a Twitter feed?), sometimes we want to scream at him right through our monitors (sorry, dude, but Luv-It is on the border of the John S. Park neighborhood), but rarely (the new Cosmopolitan resort can’t be found online!) do we not care at all. There are hundreds of blogs about Las Vegas, but few update with the regularity and the provocative mix of Vegas news and Vegas criticism seen here. It ain’t all right, but it’s all good.
Beer-filled guitars are sooo 2009. We’ve proclaimed 2010 the Year of the Portable Stripper Pole, which can be purchased at Bonanza’s Naughty Town (adjacent to Bonanza Gift & Souvenir Shops, 2460 Las Vegas Blvd. South). The metal pole, which comes packaged in a tube about 2 feet long, is more than 6 feet tall when assembled and retails for $200. The fine folks who work at the gift shop assure us that it’s “sturdy enough for anything you want to try on it.”
Best Vintage Neighborhood
In a valley whose housing stock is ravaged by recession reaching into every gated community, wouldn’t it be nice to find a place with cool houses, cool people and a good neighborhood spirit—in other words, a sense of place? We whittled our list to five and then enlisted the help of two real estate agents respected for their knowledge of Old Vegas neighborhoods: Jack LeVine and Steve Franklin. “It’s tough,” says LeVine, who writes a blog on classic Vegas homes at his website, veryvintagevegas.com, “but I’d vote for the John S. Park/Southridge/Beverly Green combo.” This central Vegas area (east of Las Vegas Boulevard between Charleston Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue) offers “the perfect blend of architecturally cool mid-century homes” occupied by “vibrant, energetic and community-minded souls.” Franklin agrees it’s tough to pick a favorite, but John S. Park is attractive because it “breaks a very basic rule of master-planned communities, and that is conformity.” Like many Old Vegas areas, John S. Park homes are eclectic (“Homes that are 900 square feet can rest comfortably next to a 2,500-square-foot home,” Franklin says) and therefore house a diverse group, from artists to attorneys. Franklin sees the area as a naturally developing community, regaining the luster it once had in the 1950s. “Many downtown business owners opt to live downtown,” he says. “It adds to that community and neighborly sensibility. We truly get to live, work, and play, all within a three-mile radius. Where else does something like that happen in the Valley?”
Best Sign of the Times
Amid the usual signs of life on the Strip—the tourists with their cameras and Stratosphere-shaped plastic margarita glasses, the homeless, the nightclub ticket hawkers—we can add the slow emergence of that emblem of real big-city vitality, the buskers. You can get your share of Elvis or Michael Jackson impersonators, pose for a picture with a human “Welcome to Las Vegas Sign,” or be serenaded by that violinist outside Paris who fiddles artful versions of “Tequila” and “La Cucaracha.” And if you’re lucky, you may even catch one of those human statues spray-painted silver or gold. As Vegas recovers its sense of identity following the Great Recession, the Strip still continues to lead the way.
Best Dog Park
Photo by Anthony MairMan’s best friend’s park: Dog Fancier’s.
As much an opportunity to meet your fellow animal lovers as a play date with your four-legged friend, dog parks provide secure environments for fun outings. The oldest of the Valley’s dog parks, Dog Fancier’s Park has been a place for dog owners to gather since 1974. Events such as Strut Your Mutt each November draw pet owners to this 20-acre park, but it’s the daily serendipitous moments that create special memories—for people and dogs. New competition is coming this fall, though: The Bark Park at Heritage Park (Racetrack Road and Burkholder Boulevard) will have an agility course, restrooms designed to resemble doghouses and benches that look like dog bones. 5800 E. Flamingo Road.
We’re No. 12! OK, we can’t figure it out, either. Aren’t Nevadans supposed to be this every-man-for-himself, don’t-tread-on-me breed of frontier American? But it turns out we buckle up more than most. In the U.S. Department of Transportation’s annual report on seat-belt use, Nevada ranks 12th, with 91 percent of us choosing to restrain ourselves. That puts us just ahead of such a bastion of old-fashioned common sense as Minnesota (90.2 percent). What’s next? A Mojave Home Companion? Let’s not get too full of ourselves, though: Michiganders lead the nation at 98 percent, and look where it’s gotten them.
Best Beacon in Dark Times
Photo by Anthony MairThe Smith Center: on time, on budget.
After The Smith Center for the Performing Arts was topped off in February, Myron Martin, president and CEO, threw a barbecue for the construction workers. He recalls one of them coming up to him to ask a favor, that Martin “tell everybody over at Smith Center headquarters thank you for this project.” Myron said he would, no problem, and started walking away. But the man grabbed his arm and reiterated the request: “You don’t understand. My family and I have lived here for 17 years. If we didn’t have this, we would have had to leave town. Please thank them.” Martin estimates that 1,200 construction workers have helped build The Smith Center since it broke ground in May 2009, and about 800 are currently on the job at Symphony Park in July. “It makes you feel pretty good,” Martin says. “And having jobs means they’re able to do things like shop, buy groceries and pay their mortgages.” Ironically, when the project was being conceived in Vegas’ pre-recession days, Martin had a hard time getting the attention of construction companies; they were too busy. Now it’s the city’s main gig. And, Martin notes, when the $470 million project’s interiors phase fully kicks in, there’ll be more jobs, as the on-time, on-budget project continues toward the March 2012 finish line.
Best Nonprofit Group
Certain names top most giving lists in Southern Nevada, and billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s name is one of them. The 93-year-old man who has built his fortune to an estimated $3.1 billion, according to the most recent Forbes 400, is the largest shareholder of Mirage Resorts International and has undertaken a major charitable giving effort through the Lincy Foundation, named for his daughters—Linda and Tracy. Much of Lincy’s giving, an estimated $180 million, has gone to Kerkorian’s ancestral home of Armenia, but an increasing number of Southern Nevada nonprofit groups are turning to Lincy and its passionate director of Nevada Giving, Lindy Schumacher. Recipients include: UNLV ($14 million), the Clark County School District ($13.5 million), the Andre Agassi Foundation ($1 million) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada ($100,000). UNLV used $3 million from its Lincy money so the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, could open Brookings Mountain West on campus.
There’s a place in this arid desert of ours where you can sit on a bench under the merciful shade of a mature tree, cast your gaze over a reed-lined pond and watch as dragonflies and damselflies progress through their aquatic life cycle. Or take a walk past cattails towering over your head and listen to the sound of actual running water. And the price for this stroll down memory lane and back to the less-parched place you came from? Free. The place is the Nature Preserve at Clark County Wetlands Park. Never mind that the preserve is really a giant ShamWow!, absorbing the toxins from the city’s run-off water before it flows into Lake Mead. It’s green, pastoral and calming. But don’t tell anyone; it’s a secret. 7050 Wetlands Park Lane, accessclarkcounty.com“>.