James P. Reza is a lifelong Las Vegas writer whose nightlife knowledge has been tapped by Condé Nast Traveler, USA Today, Zagat and Time Out. A downtown denizen, he can be found most weekends doing the downtown bar crawl with a hot dog in one hand, a bourbon in the other.
1. Hottest Live Music Scene
East Fremont Street
Sure, we love the piano-driven sing-a-longs at Don’t Tell Mama, but we’re talking live, original music. Take Beauty Bar’s two stages (in- and outdoors), add the must-play Bunkhouse, and corral it all with Neon Reverb, the single most successful homegrown music fest that has ever rocked Vegas.
2. Best Cocktails
Downtown Cocktail Room
Shaken, stirred or freshly squeezed, the bartenders here know from Prohibition classics, as well as their own concoctions, presented on a seasonal menu. Plus, DCR’s velvety urban vibe is perfect for savoring what takes almost three minutes of intense concentration to make. If you want a Jack-and-Coke served fast and strong, the Griffin makes it happen, but if you want a hand-crafted cocktail, the place to be is just around the corner.
3. Best Old School Vibe
Frankie’s Tiki Room
Few people get Las Vegas like P Moss, and few things prove that point better than his reinvention of a 1950s Vegas slot bar named in honor of Sinatra. He kept the neon sign, refurbished the outside, and enlisted tiki legend Bamboo Ben to remake the cave-like interior into a tiki fetishist’s woven-palm wet dream. Add a menu of classic (and potent) rum cocktails and a Moss-curated jukebox, and Frankie’s feels almost more Vegas than Vegas itself.
4. Best Pre/Post
Maharaja Hookah Café
East Fremont fave Kabob Korner has expanded (sort of), and after-hours eaters couldn’t be happier. Across from the early closing falafel joint sits Maharaja, an authentic hookah café appointed with hand-carved Pakistani furniture and serving small bites and flavored tobacco into the wee hours. The only thing missing is the nightcap, but rumor has it that beer and wine may be coming soon.
5. Sexiest Wine List
Sure, Vanguard has specialty cocktails, and good ones at that. But what makes it shine (aside from having the first street patio on East Fremont) is the wine list. Vanguard includes a number of unique and boutique winery selections, including nearly 30 offered by the glass.
6. Biggest Bang for Your Buck
The Flame Steakhouse, El Cortez
We love steak and seafood joints, but they are quite a bit more pricey compared with the days of the $2.99 prime rib. No worries—for about half (or less) than what you might spend on the Strip, The Flame’s kitchen cooks up excellent steaks and fish. No, the scene isn’t N9NE, but neither are the prices. Plus, we hear a stylish mini-makeover is in the works.
7. Best Reason to Do Downtown by Day
Emergency Arts and The Beat Coffeehouse
Coffeehouse? Lunch spot? Downtown hang? Yes, yes and hell yes. Michael and Jennifer Cornthwaite have turned a former JC Penney store into Emergency Arts, a rambling rabbit hutch of arty boutiques with The Beat as the community kitchen. Chef Andy Knudson (now at Neros) developed the menu, Bon Bakery supplies the bread for unique creations like the Slap and Tickle, Boulder City’s Colorado River Roasters brings the coffee and the Wi-Fi is as free as the spirit.