Area is buzzing with bars, restaurants and art
It’s a Friday night in Downtown Las Vegas, miles from the megaresorts of the Las Vegas Strip and just a few blocks down from the old Vegas allure of Fremont Street’s casinos.
A flock of people crosses Las Vegas Boulevard, but not toward the casinos and the flashy Fremont Street Experience. Instead, they seem to be walking in the direction of what could easily be the biggest martini glass you’ve ever seen.
“See, that place is buzzing. That’s the place that’s always buzzing,” said one guy to another among the dozen or so people in the crowd. And he might just be right.
The “buzzing” Fremont East District is a community of bars, restaurants and shops adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience that provides Downtown Las Vegas with a heavy dose of urban-cool charm and a growing cultural, arts and nightlife scene.
The district is home to uber-hip bars with names like “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Beauty Bar” and “Insert Coin(s),” as well as “Emergency Arts,” a repurposed medical center that is now home to galleries, boutiques, a yoga studio, salon and coffee house.
As a final flourish, retro-styled neon signs and art like “Oscar’s Martini” line the storefronts and street median in Fremont East – this is Las Vegas, after all.
“This is a better weekend hangout spot than anywhere else in this town,” said Patrick Sanders, a graduate student visiting his family in Las Vegas.
Sanders lived most of his life in Las Vegas and admits to having largely ignored what would become the Fremont East District until a few years ago.
“It used to be a place you’d kind of avoid. Now it’s the most hipster place I’ve ever seen and I mean it in the good way,” he said. “Now it’s hard to avoid.”
For a block that was once pretty bare, Fremont East now packs a lot of personality. One local favorite is Don’t Tell Mama, a piano bar with a varied playlist and open-mic night on Thursdays.
At Don’t Tell Mama, you’d be just as likely to hear some Elton John as you would Lady Gaga, and requests are encouraged. Everyone has their favorite in this infectious little piano bar.
“[Mine is] totally Billy Idol,” said Maureen Vaughan, a Fremont East regular who lives in Las Vegas and ranks Don’t Tell Mama and Beauty Bar next door among her favorite watering holes.
“Everyone loves karaoke when they’ve got a few [drinks] in them, so everyone sings along.”
Vaughan, a long-time resident of Las Vegas, recommends visitors to Downtown venture across to Fremont East.
“It’s close to the [tourist] area but it’s very local and authentic, and I like that,” she said.
“It’s like what the Cosmopolitan is doing but it’s been here longer and it’s a little more real. It’s cooler.”
For Vegas resident Aaron Miller, Fremont East has trendy bars, but it’s more about the music and events at Beauty Bar, as well as the food.
“I can walk around with a drink in one hand, a burger in the other and buy some [art] or T-shirts or watch someone breakdance,” Miller said of Vegas StrEATs, a monthly event at Fremont East that brings local bands, artists, vendors and food trucks together every second Saturday of the month.
The variety of gourmet food trucks ensures that you can eat anything from an Asian-cuisine-inspired burger to a jalapeño mac-and-cheese sandwich or pulled-pork slider.
But StrEATs is only around once a month, so Miller suggests visitors acquaint themselves with the smaller restaurants along Fremont Street, which include Mediterranean eatery Kabob Korner, New York-style Uncle Joe’s Pizza, Mexican-Cuban combination restaurant Mamacita’s, and The Beat Coffee House, which serves up craft beer and home-made café dining along with its caffeinated brews.
“If you don’t immediately get the hot wings [at Kabob Korner], you’re doing it wrong,” he said.
Events like StrEATs and First Friday in Vegas’ Arts District draw big crowds for Fremont East and its businesses.
“There are so many people out here. It’s awesome, it’s fun and the food is great,” said Sanders of StrEATs.
“I love the community out here, [it has] a lot of people that just know how to have a good time.”
And a community has certainly formed around Fremont East. But the district’s proximity to the Fremont Street Experience makes it a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
Ellie Nelson lives in Delaware but is visiting family and friends in Las Vegas. Like many others on any given weekend night, she lined up to get into the latest Fremont East hot spot, the joint arcade-bar concept Insert Coin(s).
Nelson admits she isn’t a hardcore gamer by any means, but the “bar-cade” was too interesting to pass up.
“This place rocks,” she said. “I don’t mind the line because you can just chat up some of the locals or the people who are also just visiting.”
Nelson commented that something similar to Fremont East would have fit in to any other city, but the vibe and especially the vintage neon lighting, was distinct to Las Vegas.
“It’s different than a lot of the other stuff out here, but it’s still its own Vegas style.”