89°F
weather icon Clear

Protests overrun downtown Las Vegas’ reopening party

Saturday night was supposed to be a hang at Don’t Tell Mama piano bar at Neonopolis. The bastion of entertainment on the corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard was open for the first time in 2½ months after closing because of COVID-19.

Mama is where a piano player invites customers to the open mic to sing their favorite songs. Singing on key is hardly mandatory. The bartenders are the better singers. The employees routinely work the room with a tip jar. If you’re seeking to hear, or even participate in, an unvarnished rendition of “Islands in the Stream,” Mama’s is for you.

Mama’s, The Cat’s Meow karaoke bar, the Notoriety entertainment complex, The Nerd bar and Banger Brewing were all open for business Saturday at Neonopolis. The operators and entertainers were eager to start the long road back to normal.

But we never made it to Neonopolis’s revival. Instead, we were tear-gassed.

The reopening downtown Las Vegas party gave way to a protest, and unrest. I ventured into the teeth of this demonstration, in my very backyard, the same walk I make when Life is Beautiful is in town.

Life was not that on Saturday. Most of the businesses on Fremont East that were hoping to reopen, didn’t. Downtown Cocktail Room and the Griffin — two bars that initiated the rise of Fremont East nearly 15 years ago, wouldn’t chance unlocking their doors. Commonwealth, Corduroy and Park On Fremont, too, were shut down.

Evel Pie, fittingly a tribute to daredevil Evel Knievel, was open. The pizza parlor’s patrons raptly watched the parade of protesters that had started at the family-friendly Container Park.

The mass of protesters carried “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” signs in tribute to George Floyd. They chanted, “What do we want? Justice? When do we want it, now!” Graffiti taggers made their mark at the D Las Vegas, Eureka and El Cortez.

The throng moved to the Clark County Detention Center, where an inmate clicked a cell-block light on and off to draw cheers. Folks pulled coolers marked “Free Water”; later, protesters were hurling bottles of water at Metropolitan Police Department officers. A series of blasts emanated from near the CCDC and we all ran, fearing gunfire.

At one point the crowd faced off with a line of patrolmen at the edge of the blocked-off Fremont Street Experience. I thought of the conversation I had with FSE President Patrick Hughes the other day, when he expressed concern about social distancing as the FSE reopened Wednesday.

Social distancing? FSE seemed to be turning into a ground war. I said, really to nobody, “Here we go.” I honestly felt a melee would erupt, right there. But someone with a megaphone ordered a U-turn back to Container Park.

View this post on Instagram

This is happening here, now #DTLV #Vegas

A post shared by John Katsilometes (@johnnykats1) on

There, protesters met up with another police line. I was near, too near, that confrontation. One woman in particular faced off with a Metro officer. Both were black. She unloaded the worst types of racial insults you can imagine at this unflinching officer, shouting repeatedly, “You should be on this side of the line!” A glass bottle flew overhead, was batted down by an officer and exploded on the street.

Along with photojournalist Denise Truscello, a friend who works for Getty Images, I moved to the second floor of City Center Motel. We felt it would be safer. We connected with RJ photojournalist Kevin Cannon and digital journalist Le’Andre Fox. We all trained our cameras and iPhones on the escalating conflict on the street, the Container Park in the background.

A series of blasts erupted on the street and the crowd scrambled. White smoke rose. All of us on the motel balcony coughed and doubled over, blindly trying to find a safe place to gather our senses. I wound up on the steps leading to the motel parking lot.

I thought, “How did we get here?” It was, and is, unfathomable that this would happen in our downtown.

I found Truscello, who was also coughing. She had a gift — a cold, wet towel. I pressed it to my face. A young man who was staying with his elderly parents at the motel gave those to Truscello when he opened his door and saw what happened.

We walked some more, ducking one more tear-gas blast at Villa Inn Motel. My night ended in distress, disbelief, confusion.

Sunday morning, Truscello and I returned to Fremont East. The cleanup, and recovery, had been underway for hours. We returned to City Center Motel, too, and found the guy with the towels.

His name is Sammy, and he just moved to Las Vegas. His parents are both pastors and they are moving to a new place in a couple of weeks. We thanked him for the towels. He said he was grateful we came back, and that his parents had been praying for us. I said I would also keep the faith, in humanity, and in our city.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Las Vegas bar workers frustrated, angry as restrictions return - VIDEO
In Southern Highlands, the Italian restaurant Spaghetty Western, while remaining open, had to shut down its bar. Bartender Scarlett Brock, who is still waiting to receive unemployment payments from the initial shutdown, calls the financial impact of being out of work again “a knock in the face.” (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'In the Dark' at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum - Video
Laurie Thomas, controller for the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, discusses the new exhibit, "In the Dark," in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Summertime Dole Whip Cocktails
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer at The Venetian has two new Dole Whip cocktails. The Golden Tiki, which offers a line of Dole Whip cocktails, is reopening Wednesday.
Lin-Manuel Miranda says 'Hamilton' criticism is 'fair game'
Lin-Manuel Miranda has responded to people claiming he presented an idealized version of the Founding Fathers. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Charlie Daniels, 'Devil Went Down to Georgia' singer, dead at 83 - Video
Charlie Daniels, the country music star, was struck by a hemorrhagic stroke in Hermitage, Tennessee. His death was confirmed on Monday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jennifer Romas takes her 'Sexxy The Show' to Dreamland Drive-In - Video
Jennifer Romas, producer, director, choreographer and star “Sexxy The Show" at Westgate took her show to Dreamland Drive-In at FreshWata Studios in Las Vegas. The show, which is currently dark at the Westgate, is a benefit for charities Golden Rainbow of Southern Nevada, The Actors Fund and Pawtastic Friends. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Wynn Las Vegas’ ‘re-imagined’ buffet - VIDEO
On June 18, The Buffet at Wynn reopened to customers with what the resort called “a re-imagined all-you-can-eat concept that combines the abundance of the traditional buffet with the benefits of a full-service restaurant.” (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jimmy Kimmel issues public apology for past blackface sketches - Video
On Tuesday, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel took to Twitter to apologize for his blackface impression of NBA star Karl Malone. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged guitar sold for record-breaking $6M - Video
The 1959 Martin D-18E, which was often out of tune, was expected to fetch between $1million and $2 million. The iconic guitar was sold during the online 'Music Icons' sale hosted by Julien's Auctions over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joel Schumacher, director of 'Lost Boys' and Batman films, dead at 80 - Video
Schumacher died in New York City after battling cancer for a year. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'We are not a monolith' - Video
Lance Smith, a multidisciplinary artist, talks about how black artists should be acknowledged for their work and not tokenized or only have their work connected to trauma. "Blackness, we are not a monolith, we deserve to live and create in a world that respects us as we are." (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Amid protests and pandemic, black artists view works as means to empathy, healing - Video
Erica Vital-Lazare is an artist, writer, sometimes activist and professor at the College of Southern Nevada. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
PodKats! with Ross Mollison
On this edition of PodKats! Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes is joined by the founder of Spiegelworld and producer of Las Vegas Strip shows such as "Absinthe," and "Opium," Ross Mollison.
Paramount pulls 'Cops' series in wake of protests - Video
Paramount Network recently confirmed their decision to cancel the long-running reality show, "Cops." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Restaurants add COVID-19 surcharge - Video
Some Las Vegas Strip restaurants are adding a COVID-19 surcharge to their bills to help offset the additional costs of reopening. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kats hangs at Mayfair Supper Club as Bellagio reopens
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes visits The Mayfair Supper Club at the Bellagio on the Strip in Las Vegas on the first night after reopening Thursday, June 4, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas performers adapt to pandemic restrictions - Video
The coronavirus pandemic has forced creative people in Las Vegas, a city that thrives on live performance, to adapt to new or changed ways to entertain. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas woman brings Blue Angel to life - Video
When Las Vegas shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Victoria Hogan created the Blue Angel costume and performance, emulating the statue locals know and love in order to connect with others in a time when connection isn’t as possible. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‘Hamilton’ postponed as Smith Center remains dark indefinitely - VIDEO
The hit musical 'Hamilton' was supposed to run from September through October at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Strip with Kats
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife Gilligan Stillwater GIbbons and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Las Vegas Strip with Kats - Video
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife, Gilligan Stillwater Gibbons, and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Ex-WWE star Shad Gaspard found dead on beach - Video
Shad Gaspard, 39, the former WWE wrestler, was found dead Wednesday morning on the shoreline of Venice Beach in California. Gaspard went missing over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffets won’t reopen soon, but they may return eventually - VIDEO
In a Tuesday earnings call, Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos parent company Red Rock Resorts, said buffets won’t be among the amenities included in the early stages of the resorts’ reopenings. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Hamilton' to debut on Disney+ in July - Video
The film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular musical was originally set for theatrical release in October. The musical’s director, Tommy Kail, shot three live performances featuring the original Broadway cast. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Little Richard dead at 87 - VIDEO
Little Richard, the pioneer and rock 'n' roll originator, died on Saturday, May 9. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the news but the cause of death is unknown. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jerry Stiller, actor and comedian, dies at 92 - VIDEO
Jerry Stiller's son, actor and director Ben Stiller, announced his father's death via Twitter. Jerry Stiller became widely known with a recurring role on "Seinfeld" as Frank Costanza, George's hot-headed father. He also starred on "King of Queens." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wolfgang Puck's Players Locker opens in Downtown Summerlin along with others - VIDEO
Under the governor's orders a few restaurants were able to open their dining rooms in Downtown Summerlin Saturday, May 9. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nicolas Cage to portray Joe Exotic in ‘Tiger King’ TV adaption - VIDEO
Nicolas Cage is headed to television to take on the role of Joe Exotic, the iconic character from the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quarantined! 'The Ghost Adventures' miniseries by Zak Bagans - VIDEO
The four-part miniseries “Ghost Adventures: Quarantine” by Zak Bagans will debut in June on the Travel Channel. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 facts about Cinco de Mayo - VIDEO
The holiday celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico began the holiday in 1862, but does not recognize it nationally anymore. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Cirque lenders fighting company’s restart plan

According to reports, if Cirque lenders’ effort is turned back, the group would ask to replace Lamarre as Cirque’s CEO and as a board member, along with the rest of the board.