Chef Beni Velazquez cooking up at Bar+Bistro in 2013.

Why Can’t the Restaurant Space at Downtown’s Arts Factory Succeed?

Given its prime Charleston Boulevard location, expansive patio and easy parking, one wonders what plagued the list of Arts Factory restaurants that have come and gone. The longest run was the first—Enrique Tinoco and his Tinoco’s Kitchen, which was the kind of unassuming success adored by Instagram #foodporn users. Enrique was a passionate cook, elevating Downtown dining from the backside of an auto repair shop in the Charleston Plaza. Success pushed him to move the bistro to the Arts Factory in 2000, where its upscale lunch offerings blew up. By 2009, Tinoco’s had been coaxed from the Arts Factory to a spot within Fremont Street’s now-shuttered Las Vegas Club. Sadly, it closed after three years.

Tinoco’s jump to Fremont opened a void at the Arts Factory, one filled with falafel and feta four months later by University District stalwart Paymon’s Mediterranean Café. Given the Med Café’s reputation for wrangling fresh food fast, it seemed a slam-dunk for Downtown, where restaurants often live and die on business lunches, even today. But Paymon’s inexplicably lasted just a year before giving over to Bar+Bistro in 2010. A series of chefs (including Franco Spinelli and Beni Velazquez) toiled under the toque at Bar+Bistro in its five years; the spot even created a craft cocktail program. But after original Arts Factory developer Wes Isbutt sold the property, change was afoot.

In 2015, in stepped another longtime University District success, Crown & Anchor, offering its respected brand of 24-hour pub grub, Euro sports and booze. Hopes were high, yet not even a year later … Sigh.

But this is Vegas, and each time something shutters, we practice our relentless mantra: Change! I hear several proposals have been presented to the Arts Factory for a restaurant to take over the space. How to avoid another quick closure? Customer service is key. Showing up Downtown (where you can’t swing a spatula without smacking a food snob or busy lawyer) without dedication to timely, spot-on service is a death sentence. Perhaps contributing to nagging issues is the kitchen, which appears significantly undersized to serve the rabbit-hutch of indoor rooms, let alone that massive patio.

And, oh, that patio! What should be the spot’s strongest asset remains oversized and underdeveloped, lacking intimacy and any sense of place. As the restaurant’s “front door” and its primary drive-by billboard, it badly needs fixing. Sure, we’ve been down this path before. But I think it goes without saying that few would wish another failure here. Fingers crossed!

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