New gay clubs enliven
Las Vegas scene
by Ed Walsh
Ten years ago when Mya Reyes, the then-director of diversity marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, suggested a campaign to bring more GLBT visitors to the city, she recalls her boss responded, "What is GLBT? Is that something like a BLT sandwich?"
The invisibility of the gay community that was reflected in her boss's response was not helped by the pervasive apathy in Las Vegas' gay community not so long ago. Dennis McBride, the director of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, and an expert on Nevada's LGBT history, told the Bay Area Reporter earlier this month that the city never saw the kind of activism that other cities experienced.
"Everything about this city was gay except the city itself," McBride said. The historian noted that the gay influence in the design of the casinos, hotels, and the city's over-the-top shows was an open secret yet the gay community was generally met by hostility from the political establishment.
But like its seemingly routine building implosions, when Las Vegas decides to change, it often does so very quickly and dramatically. When it came to Vegas' welcoming of the LGBT community that change came rapidly and it is showing no signs of slowing down.
Just this summer, two new gay clubs sprung up on the famed Las Vegas Strip. One nightclub, Liaison, boasts it is the first gay nightclub in a casino. The club is in the Las Vegas mainstay, Bally's, and the new club is marketed on signs throughout the property. The other nightclub, Equalibrium, also opened nearby on the Strip across from the Monte Carlo.
A second legendary hotel casino, Tropicana, started an LGBT weekend pool party, Xposed, this summer. The Luxor Hotel Casino has had the Temptation pool party on Sundays for years.
Tropicana's party is on Saturdays. The city's tourism office now actively courts LGBTs and many of the city's major hotels and casinos have marketing campaigns targeted toward the gay market.
Las Vegas' biggest gay weekend is coming up next week. The trifecta celebration includes Las Vegas Pride, Gay Days Las Vegas, and the lesbian-focused Shedonism. The Pride parade will be in downtown Las Vegas on Friday, September 5, at night when it is a little cooler and when the city can best show off its spectacular lights.
If you can't get away next week, another huge event is coming up at the end of the year. It is called Evolve, the city's first international gay New Year's Eve celebration. Evolve includes a number of parties and special events and options for gay-focused tours and excursions. Organizers hope it will put Las Vegas on the map as the place for LGBTs to welcome in the new year.
Aside from Las Vegas' gay-friendliness, one of the biggest recent changes in the city is the rejuvenation of its once depressed downtown. Starting with the opening of the Strip's first mega-resort, Mirage, in 1989, more and more of the casino business shifted from downtown to the Strip, the section of Las Vegas Boulevard south of downtown, just outside the Las Vegas city limits.
Downtown fell onto hard times by the early 1990s. The revitalization that continues today was heralded in 1995 when four blocks of Fremont Street became a pedestrian mall complete with an electronic sign canopy that provides shade during the day and a light show at night.
The downtown comeback took another huge step forward in 2012 with the opening of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the new City Hall complex, Discovery Children's Museum, Mob Museum, Neon Museum, and the renovation of the Zappos world headquarters building. A couple of years earlier, in 2010, fans of modern architecture were thrilled with the opening of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health designed by the world renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Las Vegas' emerging downtown arts district features a First Friday gallery walk and plans are in the works to build a modern art museum in the area. To coincide with Las Vegas Pride, the very gay-friendly Sin City Gallery will host an exhibit by gay San Francisco artist Suzanne Shifflett next month.
"[Gallery owner] Laura Henkel picked September for my show because there are a lot of queer themes in my work," Shifflett told the B.A.R. last week. "My paintings are very technique driven. The queerness is subconscious. Since my painting process is so time intensive I pick subjects that are visually stimulating to me. Trying not to make a statement seems to produce a more authentic statement."
Photo: Ed Walsh
A foolproof way not to miss any of the newest highlights of the city is on a guided tour. Las Vegas' gay-owned tour company, Las Vegas Pop Culture Tours (http://www.lasvegaspopculturetours.com), is a great way to see the sights. The company's owners, Bab Daitch and Richard Hooker, are perfect tour guides with an encyclopedic knowledge of Las Vegas history and culture from an LGBT perspective. The company offers scheduled walking tours and custom group tours.
The newest feature on the Las Vegas Strip is the LINQ, an open-air retail, dining and entertainment district whose centerpiece is the High Roller, the world's tallest observation wheel. The wheel opened in March and the LINQ celebrated its grand opening over the July 4 weekend. The LINQ is between Harrah's and the Flamingo. The Quad Hotel and Casino is part of LINQ and is being transformed into the LINQ Hotel and Casino.
Museums are not the first thing visitors think of when planning a Las Vegas trip, but the Greater Las Vegas area has more than two-dozen. One of the best, gayest, and largely undiscovered museums in the city is Grant Philipo's Las Vegas Showgirl Museum. Philipo is a show producer, director, and designer as well as a former model and showboy. His museum showcases costumes and accessories worn by stars from Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra to Donny and Marie Osmond. Tours are by appointment only 4 p.m. until midnight and can be arranged by calling (702) 893-9000 or e-mail Grant@LasVegasShowgirlMuseum.com. A minimum $10 donation is requested to help support the museum's plans to relocate from the mansion it is in now to a larger and more public space.
A couple of the newest museums, the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum, are well worth seeing. The Mob Museum (www.themobmuseum.org) is downtown in a former post office building. It chronicles the rise and fall of organized crime in Las Vegas and throughout the U.S. The Neon Museum (www.neonmuseum.org), just north of downtown, showcases a collection of historic neon signs. If you want to see some of the city's best-known performers on the cheap, check out Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in the Venetian Hotel (http://www.madametussauds.com/lasvegas). It is a smaller version of Madame Tussauds in Hollywood, but unlike the Hollywood museum, if offers a 4-D adventure show that is not for the faint of heart.
The aforementioned Liaison (http://www.liaisonlasvegas.com/) and Equalibrium (http://www.equalibriumvegas.com/) are the city's newest gay clubs and are prominently located on the Las Vegas Strip. Liaison is open Thursday through Sunday nights and Equalibrium is open Friday and Saturday nights.
The largest cluster of gay bars and nightclubs is in the so-called Fruit Loop, on Paradise Road, just south of the Hard Rock Hotel. That's where you will find Piranha Nightclub and the adjoining 8 1/2 Ultra Lounge. Next door, the Las Vegas mainstay gay nightclub, Gipsy, is being completely remodeled to include a pool in the hopes of attracting a daytime and nighttime crowd. Across Paradise Road, the longtime Buffalo nightclub has been replaced by the video bar QuadZ, which is owned by the same people who own the popular SpurLine video bar in Palm Springs.
There are no exclusively lesbian bars or nightclubs in Las Vegas but Free Zone, just across the street from Quadz, has a ladies night on Sundays. The Phoenix Bar and Lounge is planning on a ladies night on Wednesdays starting next month. Phoenix is on West Sahara Avenue, about five miles northwest of the Fruit Loop. The Phoenix used to be the Escape Lounge. You will immediately notice the change by the new fiery motif on the outside.
The country western themed Charlie's Las Vegas does a good business early in the evening before the nightclubs get busy. It has a famous underwear night on Wednesdays, whereby the bar serves free drinks to customers in their underwear. Across town, on East Tropicana Avenue, the Las Vegas Eagle has an underwear night on Wednesdays and Friday nights, but not as wild as it was a few years ago.
The weekend nightclub, Share, draws a big crowd. It's on Wynn Road near the Orleans Hotel and Casino.
Snick's, in business since 1976, is Las Vegas' oldest gay bar. The 24-7 bar is also the only gay bar downtown, and popular with locals.
The Blue Moon Resort is Las Vegas' only gay hotel and is a great choice for any gay male traveler to Las Vegas. It is conveniently located along Interstate 15, near the north end of the Strip. It is a good idea to rent a car if you stay there. I-15 makes it easy to avoid the congested Strip to get where you want to go quickly. The resort has 45 rooms and suites, a clothing-optional pool, hot tub, and a steam room that stays open 24 hours. (Most Las Vegas resort hotels close the pool at 6 or 7 p.m.) Blue Moon also has free Wi-Fi and a continental breakfast. With an adult video room, the hotel can be cruisy but it is also laid back and friendly. The Blue Moon's free seasonal Sunday barbeque draws a big crowd of locals who visit on day passes.
You will be hard pressed to find a mainstream hotel in Las Vegas that is not gay-welcoming. Many offer websites and advertising campaigns aimed at the LGBT community. Vegas' newest hotel-casino has its roots in the gay community. The 1,600-room SLS resort is owned by SBE Entertainment Group, the same company that owns the landmark West Hollywood gay bar, the Abbey. It will be the fourth SLS hotel after New York, Beverly Hills, and Miami. The SLS replaces the old Sahara Hotel. But the Sahara wasn't imploded. SBE gutted and transformed the existing structure into what promises to be one of the Strip's hippest new properties.
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