Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project espouses the ideals of building communal spaces that foster serendipitous human interaction—“collisions” in Zappos parlance—to accelerate learning, innovation and productivity. Downtown Project’s purchase of Gold Spike from the Siegel Group exemplifies the group’s intention to become a community hub that maximizes collisions.
Downtown Project communicator Kim Schaefer cites inspiration from Triumph of the City, Ed Glaeser’s Hsieh-influencing book that studies the history of cities. Its thesis: When people live and work closely together they become healthier, happier, smarter and more productive. To that end, the guiding Downtown refrain of “return on community” means “investing in businesses that will enhance the neighborhood rather than just focusing on short-term return on investment,” Schaefer explains.
The Gold Spike boasts a sizeable and conversation-friendly main room, abundant games, a pool and a courtyard that Schaefer describes as “a little urban oasis escape right in the heart of Downtown that feels like you’re in a little park.” It will also become a convenient connectivity point between East Fremont and the future Zappos campus.
The space feels equal parts college rec center and local watering hole. “I love when people say ‘it feels like I’m in my friend’s basement,’ and ‘I feel like I’m at my buddy’s house,’” Gold Spike General Manager Brad Johnson says.
Immediately noticeable is the abundance of games, especially cornhole (a.k.a. bags or bag toss). There are several standard 2-foot-by-4-foot bags sets with one massive 4-foot-by-8-foot setup in the middle of the main room. The juxtaposition of standard and oversize continues with standard darts, huge darts; standard Jenga, massive Jenga; tabletop shuffleboard and oversize 42-foot floor shuffleboard; plus classic billiards. Stop by the Stuff booth and leave an ID to check out your favorite board game: Monopoly, Clue, Twister or dominoes, among others.
There’s still a bar and a café—both have been upgraded but not changed dramatically from the Siegel days, “other than ingredients,” Johnson notes. “We’ve gone from purchasing from one vendor to purchasing from multiple vendors to make sure that we’re getting the best product. … We offer some healthier options, some to-go options,” including gluten-free items. There’s an even greater selection at the bar with 35 beers and some new top-shelf liquors. Another ambition: to become the hot-sauce capital of Downtown; there were 22 varieties at last count.
Even as amenities grow, maintaining a low price point remains an important component. “We really didn’t want to scare people away who had been coming here for years. We kept many of the menu items similar, we kept many of the bar prices similar,” Johnson says.
Gold Spike is also making a serious play for your daytime work schedule. There’s speedy free Wi-Fi with abundant seating and table space.
“People can work, hang out, have meetings, have a good meal—everything all rolled into one. … Live-work-play, all in one building.” Johnson adds, “There are not too many co-working spaces that are 24/7.”
Live music is also part of the formula. Johnson explains, “We are very into the music scene—DJing, live bands, things of that nature here Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights.”
Notably, the new Gold Spike does not offer gambling, and the attached hotel is currently closed. But don’t confuse that with an anti-gaming mentality. “The focus was to create something that didn’t already exist Downtown,” Schaefer says. Johnson adds that it’s about activating “a 24/7 location without gaming, without a hotel.”
The Downtown Project hired 29 former employees who account for more than 80 percent of the current staff. What’s new is an empowered, happiness-delivering etiquette and customer-service training, where management-coached employees take ownership.
The vision of Gold Spike today is clear: “A welcoming, homey environment. Somewhere that you can feel comfortable to relax, work, party and do whatever,” Johnson notes. So what does the future hold? “Long term, [the goal] is just creating the most collisions per square foot, and making sure that every inch of the property is activated in some way.”
This is bigger than building a Zapposian utopia: “It’s about helping to make Downtown Las Vegas one of the best cities in the world,” Johnson says. Not buying drinks? Cool, hang as long as you’d like.