Our New Frontier

Fremont East is finally living up to the hype

It’s easy to overindulge on East Fremont Street. Despite a naysayers’ reputation that the area is more talk and less reality, the nascent Fremont East entertainment district—the three blocks between Las Vegas Boulevard and Eighth Street—has evolved into a small but effective collection of unique bars and the closest thing Las Vegas has to a proper pub crawl. In fact, forget pub crawl; with art, poetry, live music, food and independent shops, Fremont East is becoming a bona fide culture crawl.

Starting more than five years ago with the young and raw indie chic of Beauty Bar, and soon after, the serious speakeasy mixology at Downtown Cocktail Room, the district then welcomed the Brit-styled Griffin (where the drinks come fast, hard and cheap) and an outpost of NYC’s Don’t Tell Mama (a piano bar where Strip ringers often step in after drunken singers).

Bar No. 5—the indoor-outdoor Vanguard Lounge—slid open its giant garage-style door in September to offer Fremont East’s first patio seating. Like Downtown Cocktail Room, Vanguard takes pride in an ever-changing list of specialty cocktails (try the Vanguard Cider, made with Maker’s Mark); unlike any other bar in the district, the Vanguard has an ambitious wine-by-the-glass menu.

But mankind does not live by grapes and grains alone. Until recently, unless you wanted to cross the Boulevard west to the “other” Fremont Street under the Experience, options were limited to Kabob Korner (a brightly lit Halal-certified counter selling falafel, kabobs and hummus) and Uncle Joe’s Pizza (a cramped NYC-style joint serving slices, lasagna and the like). Both offer eats cheap and tasty. Both close inexplicably early on weekends.

Enter The Beat and Maharaja Hookah Café: two vastly different late-night food experiences bookending the north side of Fremont East. Maharaja is beautifully furnished, featuring ornate pieces handcrafted in Pakistan, and offers dozens of flavors of hookah, both traditional and modern. Operated by the same folks as Kabob Korner, Maharaja has an extensive appetizer and small-plates menu, but we hold hope that the full Kabob Korner menu makes its way here.

At The Beat, an urban café where coffee, art, music and thinky people working on laptops collide, are some of the best sandwiches and sides to be found in Las Vegas. This is no cheerleading hyperbole; chef Andy Knudson has an impressive kitchen history (D.B. Brasserie and Guy Savoy). Adding melody to The Beat? They now serve draft beer and wine by the glass after 7 p.m.

If these hip joints just aren’t serious enough for your downtown date, consider The Flame. Resurrecting a beloved steak-house name to rebrand its fanciest dining room, the El Cortez gives Vegas a taste of what many say is missing: high-quality dining at fair prices. Unique specials punctuate the classic steak-and seafood selection: the grilled walleye pike is delicious ($17!), but with the one-pound Stone Crab ($28 per person) in season, there really is no other option.

But save yourself some room. Later, you can step outside to Cheffinis, a gourmet hot dog cart that sets up outside the door to the Emergency Arts complex, which also serves as the perfect place to hail a cab after your downtown culture crawl.

Got a cluster of restaurants and bars in your neighborhood worth knowing about? Write to us at comments@weeklyseven.com.