Editor’s note: Geoff Carter is the editor of DTLV.com, our new website about all things downtown. If you’ve been downtown recently, you know that the old urban core is steadily being renewed and revitalized: New bars, galleries and restaurants are opening nearly every month, and young, urban-minded Las Vegans are moving there in droves. Yet for all this new development, downtown’s nightlife still feels organic and intimate: The dance floors are small, the crowds full of familiar faces, and the beats come from vinyl records. This is real local nightlife, and it’s only just beginning to take root.
Best Nightclub That’s Not Really a Nightclub
Men’s Health recently called Insert Coin(s) “Downtown’s best velvet rope.” The “videolounge gamebar” often seems more like a nightclub than an arcade, largely because, for most of 2012, Insert Coin(s) has been behaving like a nightclub—booking a killer rotation of resident and guest DJs, packing its small dance floor. It’s only a matter of time before Strip nightclubs add Pac-Man machines to keep up. 512 E. Fremont St., InsertCoinsLV.com.
Hottest DJ Scene in a Tight Space
This year proved that you couldn’t judge a club scene by its size. The long, narrow space that is Vanguard Lounge has produced a DJ scene that explodes, in close quarters, nearly every night until 2 a.m. Partiers squeeze into Vanguard’s skinny throughways to dance to whatever’s on the menu—everything from downtempo to trap—and if someone tries to get through with one of Vanguard’s fine specialty cocktails, dancers just step aside with a compact but nonetheless rhythmic movement. 516 E. Fremont St., VanguardLV.com.
Best Place to Get Your Goth On
This spacious downtown bar and performance venue is many things to many people—but once a month, to the city’s black-garbed faithful, Scarlet at Artifice becomes a sexy and inviting pit of darkness. (This year, Artifice really impressed me with its ability to try on most any outfit and make it look good.) It’s all very simple, really: DJs Style and Morpheus Blak spin goth, industrial and ’80s tracks, and we dance like puppets whose strings are about to be cut by an occult hand. It’s an unexpectedly great match of venue and genre. 1025 First St., Suite A, ArtificeBar.com.
Best Downtown DJ Night
The Get Back celebrated its 10th year in October. And the vibe of this decade-old funk/soul/rock-and-roll party, held every First Friday at the Beauty Bar, is every bit as fresh as it was in 2002—a rarity among dance parties, which tend to lose steam as tastes change. The Get Back has become such a beloved and indelible part of the downtown cultural landscape that it’s even begun to rename it: This year I noticed that many locals call the alley behind Beauty Bar “Get Back Alley.” 517 E. Fremont St., TheGetBackVegas.com.
Best Place For No-Bullshit Live Music
There are those nights where you don’t care to hear another pre-recorded beat or be part of the downtown scene that you yourself helped to build. For those nights, there’s the Bunkhouse Saloon—Western-themed, out of the way (at 11th and Fremont), and forever reverberating with the sounds of live punk, garage, reggae, rockabilly and metal. Come on down, pay the nearly-always-under $10 cover charge, jam a cheap beer in your face and just be a nodding head in the crowd. 124 S. 11th St., BunkhouseLV.com.
Best Downtown DJ
DJ Aurajin is a downtown resident DJ. By that we mean this wildly popular DJ has been spinning his electro, downtempo and classic hip-hop beats at the Griffin, Insert Coin(s) and at the mighty Get Back for several years now, but also that Aurajin lives downtown—within walking distance of the venues he plays. Somehow, you can feel his love for downtown Las Vegas in every patently urban beat. It really makes a difference, partying where you live—and this year, people really noticed Aurajin’s downtown pride, and moved their bodies to it. DJAurajin.com.
Best Place to Start Out And/Or End Up
We Downtowners call it “The HT”—and truthfully, some of them would rather you didn’t know the Huntridge Tavern exists. They’d like to keep this venerable dive bar’s easygoing vibe and impossibly cheap drinks (we’ve never paid more than $5 for anything) entirely to themselves. But it can’t stay secret. Thing is, the HT is the best place to begin a long night of partying or wind down from one—and now the Zapponistas are beginning to hang out there, so you might as well go before they drive the prices up. 1116 E. Charleston Blvd.