Urban Exposure: Enter Artifice

A new bar, lounge and live music venue moves in at the corner of form and function

Denizens of the Arts District will soon have one more place to hang their hipster hats as Artifice Bar & Lounge readies to open its doors in early April next to the Arts Factory. Artifice will offer a casual live performance space and two lounges, as well as a bar to serve all three. It has an artist’s soul, a musician’s heart and a businessman’s brain. Partners Brett Wesley Sperry and Trinity Schlottman spent more than two years dreaming up the concept and working with the city to bring this about—finding a place to house it was more like serendipity as the vacant brick building at 1025 S. First St. was only the second they considered.

Built in 1953, it was once an electrical warehouse, after which it served as the laundry facility for the Lady Luck (with a water-drainage channel running right down the middle of the performance room that had to be filled in), and later a warehouse once more.

The 3,400-square-foot venue flows well as you enter from a rather unassuming side door on Boulder Avenue between First Street and Art Way into Lounge 1. Here, original cinderblock walls are stained but otherwise left raw with taxi-yellow windows with old-fashioned panes and exposed sprinkler pipes. The long, rectangular room offers comfortable, hand-stitched upholstered booths and leads to a small, cozy raised space for larger groups or intimate convos, semi-separated by custom-made open cabinetry.

Turn left where Lounge 1 abuts the bar and you’re in Lounge 2, with its hand-stenciled and painted walls inspired by Victorian wallpaper, couches, cocktail tables and—this being the Arts District—art installations, photography and experimental video by acclaimed local and national artists. Turn right where Lounge 2 hugs the bar’s sharp angles and, behind a few tied-back chocolate-brown chenille curtains, Artifice opens up wide to reveal the 30-by-35-foot performance space beneath the building’s original barrel curved roof, skylights and iron cross-trusses. Here the lounges’ stained pine planks give way to original concrete floors.

Sperry and Schlottman retained as much of the original structure and patina as possible. “Each area will have its own feel, its own lighting, its own art,” says Sperry, also owner of the nearby Brett Wesley Gallery, “so there’s a lot to explore.”

Facing the low, raised and removable performance stage, Schlottman added a drinks rail with purse hooks for ladies who like to have their drink and set it down, too. The bar will offer a full beverage program, six beers on tap, a limited cocktail menu and a short list of some boutique wines. Artifice will open with a 3 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly schedule featuring DJs and indie-friendly, eclectic live bands.

Schlottman, a developer known for his Urban Lofts projects around town, served as general contractor and constructed much of the custom furniture, bar and millwork himself. Sperry’s influence can also been seen everywhere, from the casual palette of grays and blues on the walls to the playful, freehand painted details. “This is for us,” Sperry says. “It’s going to have the mark of locals.”

Whereas the art program at Sperry’s gallery (itself the winner of the Mayor’s Urban Design Award) adheres to a more structured, formal program, Artifice is more of a celebration, a flex-space with great expanses and little nooks for art to live in for as long as six months, or as little as two weeks. At first, the venue will feature works from Juan Muniz, Danny Roberts and Joel Spencer, and photography by Marcos Rivera and Curtis Walker.

Beyond his gallery-owner hat, Sperry is also a software developer and designer, and a fine-art photographer. He has studied architecture, design and psychology but relies more on feel and flow than renderings. He studied intensely how the wind, light and projected emotion impacted Artifice. This necessitated that Schlottman negotiate between the artist in Sperry and the plans he needed to draw up as contractor. “It has to move him,” Schlottman says. So physical models and mock-ups—such as a quickly thrown-together bucket and ply-wall approximation of the bar—became standard conversation between this somewhat odd couple, who are also longtime friends.

Considered altogether, Artifice is minimalist, casual, whimsical, irreverent, a little bit gritty and morphable—like that awesome wardrobe staple, one dresses up or down to suit. “This is a place to be comfortable,” Sperry says. “It’ll generate a lot of conversation. … And if people connect with some of the visuals they see on the wall, if it cracks them up—perfect!”

As for the name, that, too, is a bit of whimsy, Sperry says. “It can mean ‘the art of the thing,’ ‘to be crafty.’ It can also mean ‘to be tricky.’” Sperry is still working on a set of comic-book-style characters who are being added to the painted exterior. The evolving commentary between this man and woman will be broadcast next to the Artifice sign.

Artifice is in good company: Just next door, the husband-wife team of Westley Isbutt and Debra Heiser, longtime residents of the Arts Factory, have finally opened the permanent bar portion of Bar & Bistro (grand opening April 14); and developer Sam Cherry’s Lady Silvia bar and lounge is slated for an end-of-April opening at the nearby Soho Lofts. Along with Artifice, the three projects are the result of the Urban Lounge incentive (recently extended to 2012) that waived a $50,000 licensing fee for bars opened within the 18 blocks of the Arts District.

All of this is happening, recall, during the Great Recession. There’s no telling what might be possible for the future as Vegas continues to pulls itself up by its booze-straps.