Appropriating Downtown, With Fries

There’s a new McDonald’s on the Strip, a place where you can order your Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, accompanied by a McCafe Iced Caramel Mocha, and eat in a test-marketed atmosphere of faux-graffiti murals and faux-brick walls, loft seating and chandeliers befitting of a sophisticated urbanite such as yourself. (Hey, sophisticated urbanite: Why are you eating at McDonald’s anyway? Eh, never mind.)

This is Metro McDonald’s, a one-off with a similar idea to the store the burger chain plopped down in Los Angeles in 2008, where feng shui and earth tones replaced rows of booths and kindergarten yellows and reds. Our Metro, the only burger dispensary in the world (un)lucky enough to carry that moniker, has its very own McAmbience, reflective of the 24/7 nature of Las Vegas. At least that’s what they were shooting for.

At the risk of cheapening the term, these one-off installations are the company’s attempt to be “organic” in its presentation, if not its menu—to capture a city’s vibe and sell it back to patrons who probably just want a convenient place to shove cheap food down their gullets anyway.

Unfortunately, McDonald’s corporate put MetroMac in the wrong part of town. Downtown is where “organic” lives in Las Vegas. Emergency Arts opened in 2010 in response to a very homegrown need for space for artists. When entrepreneur Chris LaPorte slapped his forehead and said, “I’ve got it! A club that combines booze and video games!” he opened Insert Coin(s) downtown. Downtown is where First Friday thrives and throbs each month, growing from a tiny gallery walk that attracted a few hundred to a monthly must-see event that draws 20,000-plus. Downtown is where Zappos is relocating its mandatory happiness ethos from a Henderson office park. Soon, downtown will be teeming with call-center hipsters so full of new urbanism and joie de vivre that they’ll be unable to sleep. They’ll need a place to supersize day and night—these are call-center hipsters, remember, not Silicon Valley hipsters—and wouldn’t Metro McDonald’s have been ideal for that?

What’s going on is a kind of role reversal, with the Strip trying to glom on to downtown’s energy, and downtown—after years of looking wistfully toward the Strip—finding success by not being the Strip. Today, the street vibe promised by Caesars Entertainment’s Linq and the artsy aspirations of Metro McDonald’s are examples of vibrant downtown themes appropriated and re-marketed by the Strip. Such attempts may be heavy-handed and corporate—the opposite of organic—but they’re nonetheless flattering for urbanites.

So, on second thought, maybe Metro McDonald’s is right at home on the Strip—a place where borrowing themes is as organic as it gets.