PublicUs PublicUs cafe is among the many new businesses sparking Downtown's revitalization

That ‘Not in Las Vegas’ Feeling

What do people mean when they say something feels like it’s “not in Las Vegas”?

Of all the Vegas clichés, this one bugs me the most. Maybe it’s because while I understand the intent of the cultural shorthand, I get frustrated by the insult inherent in it. Recently, a well-meaning Downtown cafe server’s first words to me were, “You aren’t from Las Vegas, are you?”

Sure, that day’s black jeans, fashionable sport jacket, and trainer attire looked a little more “coastal creative” than usual, and perhaps the earring I recently started wearing again didn’t help. But how can a native Las Vegan look anything other than a Las Vegan?

Taking a step back, I realized the cafe itself is one of those places that others describe as feeling as if “you aren’t in Vegas.” It’s in an old building, one not a casino and that began life as something else entirely. Subsequently, it has what most call character. More importantly, it possesses a sense of place, appearing to be of its surroundings rather than planted there. Over the years, I’ve come to understand this as the defining characteristic of spots that, um, “don’t feel like Vegas.”

Las Vegas is the youngest big city in America, a desert outpost that somehow survived into the 21st century by tearing down and rebuilding whatever necessary to keep the cash coming. So many of our city’s “places” are new, and even most of the old ones have stood just a few decades. Any sense of place Las Vegas has usually goes unnoticed by visitors (for obvious reasons) as well as new residents, most of whom move into new homes and wait for the new shopping center to open so they can visit the new restaurant. Forget history; we’ve barely had time for the paint to dry.

But things are changing. Thanks in part to the recession, people are paying more attention to where Las Vegas came from and where we are headed. The revitalization of Downtown is helping us gain a larger sense of place, not just with repurposed old buildings, but with museums that spotlight our past. And even the suburbs are generating their own unique vibes; lest we forget, we now have an entire generation of young adults born and raised in Summerlin.

So the next time someone says, “Wow! This place doesn’t feel like Las Vegas!” you can respond by saying that while it might not feel like the Las Vegas they know, it is the Las Vegas they love.

What are your favorite Vegas spots that don’t feel like Vegas? Send them to