The Adventurist Guide to Downtown Las Vegas

Westside Story

Written by Matthew O’Brien 

Most of you, I assume, are familiar with the Fifth Street School, an old grammar school on Las Vegas Boulevard (formerly Fifth Street) that was converted into a cultural center. A similar transformation is taking place at the Historic Westside School on Washington Avenue at D Street.

The renovated Westside School, which catered to Native Americans in the 1920s and ’30s and African-Americans beginning in the ’40s, was unveiled last summer and is currently hosting its inaugural exhibit. Appropriately, “Life on the Westside” features the photography of Clinton Wright, who lived in the historic African-American neighborhood in the ’60s and ’70s. The stark, black-and-white images, with titles including “Voter Registration,” “Passing School Kids” and “Swimming at Doolittle Pool,” show a rarely seen side of the now-depressed neighborhood.

“Without Mr. Wright’s talent and incredible generosity, Las Vegas would have very little visual evidence of this vibrant, under-represented community,” said Aaron Mayes, curator of visual materials for UNLV’s Special Collections, which provided the pictures. “His images are special in many ways, but none more important than their ability to show the community in good times, something often lost in media coverage of the day.”

“Life on the Westside” is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (I recommend going midday, when light in the Mission Revival Style building is brightest.) The exhibit runs through May. To learn more about Wright and view images from his collection, visit and search for “Clinton Wright.”

Neon Reverb Returns


Written by Matthew O’brien 

To the delight of music junkies, Neon Reverb is back for its second straight year. The critically adored indie-music festival will be held March 9 through 12 in downtown Las Vegas. This year’s headliners include New York’s the Drums, LA’s Chicano Batman, Mexico’s Le Butcherettes and England’s Temples. Local acts include the Big Friendly Corporation, Same Sex Mary and Black Camaro.

Shows in the Fremont East area will be held at the Bunkhouse Saloon, Backstage Bar & Billiards, Beauty Bar and 11th Street Records. Shows in the Arts District will be at Velveteen Rabbit and the Inside Style warehouse. (The Inside Style show, which begins at 2 p.m. on March 11, is all ages and will showcase female musicians.)

Neon Reverb debuted in 2008. It has featured established acts like Melvins, Ty Segall and the Walkmen, but specializes in mid-tier acts that have a chance to make it big. It also aims to showcase the local music community and promising local acts.

Single show ($15) and festival passes ($60) are now on sale. For more info, visit

Do the Write Thing

Written by Matthew O’Brien 

Over the last five years, downtown Las Vegas has had its share of successes and failures, which have been well documented in blogs, magazine articles and even books. There’s no need for me to regurgitate them here. I would, however, like to note one of the successes—an anachronism of sorts that I think has been overlooked in the media coverage.

The Writer’s Block debuted in late 2014 (when many brick-and-mortar bookstores were going out of business) at Fremont and Tenth streets (an area that was considered off the beaten path). While I don’t know if hands-on owners Drew Cohen and Scott Seeley have benefitted financially from the business—it certainly seems stable—I do know the community has benefitted from it. It’s an ideal place to grab that novel you’ve wanted to read (that’s never on the shelf at Barnes & Noble) or get a gift for a friend, but what I appreciate most about the store is its willingness to promote local writers. This is evident in its events the next few weeks. On March 9, Black Mountain Institute executive director Joshua Wolf Shenk will read from his book-in-progress, tentatively titled The Question Man, which explores themes of addiction, sobriety and identity. “EXPO,” its monthly reading featuring local writers, is scheduled for March 10. (This month’s readers are Dayvid Figler, Kayla Miller, P Moss and Mercedes M. Yardley.) On March 14, Megan Edwards will read from and sign her debut novel Getting off on Frank Sinatra.

Don’t let the Writer’s Block stumble and be yet another downtown business you wish you had supported when it was open. Attend at least one of these events and buy something. (The store specializes in contemporary fiction, art and design, current affairs and children’s literature, but also sells stationery and notebooks, craft and office supplies and other unique items.)

For more information on the Writer’s Block and its events, visit

Hip to be Square

Written by Matthew O’Brien

For the past six years, I’ve lived within walking distance of Art Square and I’ve experienced its evolution firsthand. It started, for me, with drinks and the occasional show at Artifice, which has served as an anchor tenant of sorts. It continued with Cockroach Theatre, a black-box venue that (oftentimes) features avant-garde shows. Then it was Josephine Skaught, now considered one of the city’s top salons, and Mundo at Mingo Kitchen & Lounge.

In short, there has always been a reason to visit Art Square and now it seems like there are several. The Cube LV, formerly Brett Wesley, has long been one of my favorite downtown art galleries and it continues to make us think with Bianca Scott and Lucky Wenzel’s photo exhibit “Phaos Perspectiv,” which runs through Feb. 25. The small but stout Nevada Humanities space currently features Daniel Miller’s “Our Invisible Neighbors,” a series of straightforward and powerful paintings that reminds us of our homeless problem. (The exhibit runs through March.)

Art Square is also home to a new wedding chapel (Ace of Hearts) and a promising art gallery (Priscilla Fowler). I’m looking forward to seeing where this oft-overlooked complex takes us next.

Enter the Dragon

Written by Matthew O’Brien 

If you have yet to visit Las Vegas’ latest resort, the Lucky Dragon, it may remain something of an enigma to you. Is it Asian-themed or just Asian-style? Would non-Asians enjoy it? Is it affordable or exorbitant?

A trip to the sleek, red-dominant boutique hotel-casino, located on the southern edge of the city (on Sahara just west of the Strip), goes a long way toward solving the riddle—and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find something there to suit your taste. Perhaps it’d be the dining options, which include a 24-hour, Asian-style eatery (Bao Now) and Pearl Ocean, an upscale restaurant that’s drawing rave, early reviews for its dim sum. Maybe it’d be Cha Garden, the tea room that sits adjacent to the lobby and features an extensive menu and a “tea sommelier.” Or it could be the 27,500-square-foot casino, intimate by Strip standards, that specializes in table games like baccarat and pai gow and above which soars a 1.25-ton glass dragon sculpture/chandelier.

Lucky Dragon President and CEO Andrew Fonfa has expressed hope that his hotel-casino will help spur a second Chinatown. This seems awfully ambitious and many years off, but it has already provided an option for authentic Chinese food a little closer to the heart of the city—and it’s certainly worth a visit.