Bar, restaurant scene leads downtown renaissance

Nowhere is the downtown Las Vegas urban renaissance more evident than its bar and restaurant scene.

Fremont East, bordered by Las Vegas Boulevard and Eighth Street, is a lively hub of activity day and night. By day, The Beat Coffeehouse and Records at Emergency Arts serves as a meeting place, casual hangout, and lunch and dinner destination. After 7 p.m., it becomes another bar in the already eclectic nightlife scene.

"As lively as we are during the day, the evening vibe is even better," says co-owner Jennifer Cornthwaite. "The vibe consists of great food, great people and a diverse selection of craft beer. We really pride ourselves on making food from scratch, taking the time to select interesting beers and giving our friends and neighbors real food."

Slightly to the west of The Beat sits Vanguard Lounge, which came on the scene in 2010. Vanguard has a swanky coastal feel, where patrons sit on the open-air patio as they sip exotic craft cocktails with names like Drunk Monk and Leopard's Spots. The area in front of the DJ booth offers plenty of open space for dancing.

Dance parties are also common at Vanguard Lounge's neighboring establishment, the 7,000-square-foot Insert Coin(s), where video DJs create spectacular visual displays to complement the music. Insert Coin(s) is best known for being the only bar in Las Vegas that mixes ultra lounge service with the fun of videogames and classic arcade games.

Across the street, The Griffin, Beauty Bar and nearby Downtown Cocktail Room, three of the area's pioneering establishments, consistently draw crowds of locals from all corners of the valley and tourists seeking hip spots off the Las Vegas Strip.

The Griffin offers hide-a-way ambience with deep-red leather booths, caged fire pits, brick walls and music emanating from its unrivaled jukebox selections. The Beauty Bar, decorated with retro-hair dryers, is known for frequent live music performances. Downtown Cocktail Room is the go-to nightlife venue for exceptionally fresh and creative cocktails in a chic environment.

Not far away on Third Street is Sidebar, which will be transformed into Mob Bar. It will open Dec. 5, 2011, the 78th anniversary of Repeal Day -- the date on which the 18th Amendment that prohibited alcohol was repealed.

"Prohibition played a major role in the growth and evolution of organized crime," said Seth Schorr, CEO of Fifth Street Gaming, the company that is overseeing the bar's redevelopment and will continue to operate it. "It's only natural and fitting we align ourselves with our new neighbor, the Mob Museum, to capitalize on the interest and intrigue surrounding organized crime and those who fought it. We are excited to be part of the downtown revitalization that is transforming the heart of our city."

The downtown casinos are also getting in on the area's nightlife resurgence.

At the Golden Gate's One Bar, customers are served by bikini-clad bartenders. The Hideout at H2O is the backdrop for the Golden Nugget's two-story infinity pool. The newly remodeled El Cortez features the Pub lobby bar and the Parlour piano bar.

In the 18b Arts District, bordered by Commerce Street, Hoover Avenue, Fourth Street, Las Vegas Boulevard and Colorado Avenue, urban nightlife takes on a laid-back vibe influenced by downtown's growing arts community. 

On First Street behind the Arts Factory, 20- to 50-somethings can be found mingling at Artifice. A recent addition to the burgeoning Arts District, the 3,400-square-foot former warehouse space features three lounges with a wraparound bar connecting the rooms. A performance area is home to an eclectic music program, and artwork adorns the walls throughout. 

Across the parking lot at the Arts Factory, Bar+Bistro is another day-to-night institution. The bistro offers Latin Fusion lunch and dinner cuisine in a relaxed, funky atmosphere surrounded by art galleries and studios, while the bar features an indoor-outdoor environment that showcases everything from live jazz to open mike nights for poets.

"We wanted to create a place that was all about a sense of community," says Ryan Reason, marketing coordinator for Bar+Bistro, "a place where you can come as you are, say hello to everyone in the room and enjoy a stiff drink at an affordable price. The Arts Factory has been a gathering place for creatives and culturally minded residents of Las Vegas for over a decade, and the Bar+Bistro is now the proverbial water cooler for them to meet, mingle and exchange ideas."

Nearby, the newest lounge to open in the Arts District is located on the first floor of the Soho Lofts, facing Hoover Avenue. Patrons enter Lady Silvia through an unmarked door that leads to the Old-World library motif bar, complete with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and low-lit lamps.

Lady Silvia owner Sam Cherry plans to open a vegan restaurant in the Soho Lofts as well. Like its bar scene, downtown restaurants are growing in variety and number, and the special ones are quickly becoming timeless neighborhood joints.

The Triple George Grill is reminiscent of San Francisco seafood houses offering a selection of American-style seafood, steaks and chops, pasta, homemade soups and salads. Located on Third Street, the restaurant has become a go-to business lunch destination and a respite for dinner.

At Lola's -- A Louisiana Kitchen, on West Charleston Boulevard, authentic Cajun dishes and Southern hospitality are a passion of Louisiana-native, owner and chef Lola "Beth" Pokorny. Many of Lola's recipes, such as bronzed catfish and grits, have been handed down through generations and adapted from the good old traditional styling.

For breakfast and lunch, downtowners frequent the Verdict's Inn in the legal district on Las Vegas Boulevard, known for its chopped salad, and the Golden Gate's Dupar's Restaurant and Bakery, famous for its pies, pasties and pancake stacks smothered in butter.

Opening in November is Oscar Goodman's fine-dining restaurant and speakeasy. Oscar's at the Plaza will invite patrons to dine overlooking Fremont Street and enjoy the former Las Vegas mayor's signature drink: the classic Oscar martini. Also coming soon to the area is a Thai restaurant, Le Thai, opening across from The Beat Coffeehouse and Records.