Be it for cocktails or coffee, I have a few new reasons to do my drinking Downtown these days, and there are plenty more coming. I recently toured Inspire Theater and News Café on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street with co-owner Michael Cornthwaite of Future Restaurant Group. He’s partners with the Downtown Project in the multifaceted venture, and this is readily apparent by the ample places to have those serendipitous collisions of which Tony Hsieh is so fond (although hopefully not with a hot coffee in your hand).
The former and long-dormant 7-Eleven nearly became a live-music venue called The Hive before falling victim to the recession and returning to its hibernation.
At the corner, a throwback marquee reads “INSPIRE(D),” the D cheekily implied but left off as if both an invocation and a declaration of the concept’s intentions. Inside the door, a plywood panel slides back during the day to reveal a barista’s station. (That the panel is left unfinished could either be intentional or just by happenstance, as this project is still very much a work in progress.)
Across the hall, Inspire Café sports 200-plus magazine subscriptions, with another 100 on the way, which you can flip through while a bookista prints, covers and binds a fresh copy of The Scarlet Letter for you on the Espresso Book Machine. Behind bleachers strewn with cushions, the 150-seat Inspire theater awaits its next booking. Upstairs is occupied by communal space, a glassed-in conference room and Hsieh’s private box, as well as a green room, catwalk and what Cornthwaite calls a bit of “future space,” a dusty, forgotten loft above Downtown Cocktail Room that is rumored to have at some time been Frank Sinatra’s dance studio. But it’s the bars that really interest me.
Only one is open at present, but this too is a work in progress. Wayfarer Bar is an anteroom to Inspire Theater, with doors hidden behind heavy curtains when the theater is not in use. This darkly paneled drinking hole is a nod to a more glamorous time, with sconces throwing flattering amber light on a crowd sipping barrel-aged classic cocktails.
On the second floor, accessed through a mirror in a walnut bookcase, 365 Tokyo is a members- and invited-guests-only speakeasy paying homage to Japanese-style bartending and all the rituals that comes with. When this space—a glass-enclosed balcony that seems to float above Fremont Street—opens in late March, Korean lead barman Seong Ha Lee will preside over a highly detailed beverage program (think hand-chipped ice, humble service and monastic concentration). As to the name, that refers to the maximum number of members that will have reservations access to the bar, as well as to certain other perks.
Oh, and on the way up from Wayfarer Bar, depending on which stairwell you take, you might notice an elevator. This portal has a future not in moving bodies up and down but rather as an obscure new entrance into the already rather speakeasy-esque Downtown Cocktail Room—clever!
Still another floor above the street, The Roof bar can hold 200 bodies, and with daybeds, lounge furnishings and a nicely shaded bartop, is Downtown’s best new rooftop experience. A challenging architectural anomaly has been repurposed as a peek-a-boo backbar, showing off the building’s bones. “I figured the best thing we could do would be to give people a look into the building,” Cornthwaite says. He is simultaneously putting the finishing touches on 365 Tokyo, The Roof and Scullery, which is slated to open in three weeks in the ground floor of the Ogden—yet another new Downtown watering hole I simply cannot wait to wade into. Learn about all of Future Restaurant Group’s venues at FRGLV.com.