Henderson’s once-moribund downtown area is showing new signs of life these days, with several new restaurants and more to come. The city even pipes in music — baby boomer favorites on a recent afternoon — to jazz things up.
Anthony Molloy, interim redevelopment manager for the city, said the district’s pieces are falling into place.
“We specifically want to have destination businesses, and restaurants fill that gap,” Molloy said. “It brings people to our downtown, and provides our downtown with that exposure. It creates an awareness of what we have to offer here.”
Those offerings include Juan’s Flaming Fajitas, which opened recently at 16 S. Water St. It’s the second location for owner Juan Vazquez, who put up a building next to Lovelady Brewing Co.
Vazquez said he lives eight minutes from the new location and got tired of driving to the area of Sunset Road and Stephanie Street to find a place to dine.
“Lovelady was a tremendous influence,” he said, “because we would go there and have a beer. We’re hungry; where do we go eat? And the revitalization of the Water Street District, we wanted to be a part of that.”
Just three weeks after opening, Vazquez said the restaurant was as busy as the slightly smaller location near Tropicana Avenue and Grand Canyon Drive. Besides four varieties of fajitas, Juan’s serves Mexican favorites and has a full bar.
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “We’ve been welcomed by the community. The other restaurant has a good following, and that helped us tremendously over here.”
Farther south at 306 S. Water St. is Hades Grill, which opened in early August in the former location of an Italian restaurant. It’s the first restaurant for business partners and co-owners Derek Hornaday, a Henderson firefighter, and Monica Martinez, a Henderson nurse, but Hornaday said he wasn’t worried about their lack of experience.
“A lot of these items I’ve cooked for guys over the past 23 years” in Henderson and St. Louis, he said. “Firefighters cook for eight to 10 heavy-duty critics every shift.”
The restaurant serves beer and wine, and the menu includes burgers, salads, chili and starters such as the Blazing Pickle, which is stuffed with cheese, wrapped with bacon and wonton skins and fried. A charbroiler nicknamed the Hades Grill is used to prepare many of the dishes, and barbecued meats are well-represented on the menu.
“All of our brisket items come from the backyards of St. Louis,” Hornaday said. “All of our smoked meats are the same way I’ve been smoking meats for ages.”
He said news distributed at the station made him realize there was a lot going on downtown.
“We talked about other places in Henderson, but we kept getting pulled back to Water Street,” he said.
Flavor Flav’s Chicken and Vinny’s Pizza is due to have a soft opening in mid-November at 139 S. Water St. It’s from the rapper and TV personality, plus Vinny Cimino (who owns Vinny’s Pizzeria in Boulder City) and their investor and partner James Hawkins.
Cimino said he was drawn to the district because of its quaint air, which reminds him of Boulder City.
“Like it’s its own little town,” said Cimino, a native of Chicago. “I’ve had 25 restaurants in my life, and I’ve always liked the small-town feel.”
They’re hoping to franchise in the future, and thinking about a reality show.
“Four years ago, I started looking,” Cimino said. “It wasn’t really ready yet. Now, it’s really happening on Water Street.”
He said besides chicken and pizzas, they’ll serve sandwiches, salads, calzones, and beer and wine.
Molloy said the presence of Sunset Pizzeria at 203 S. Water St. shouldn’t pose a conflict.
“Flavor Flav’s and Vinny’s is more of a family-friendly environment,” he said, while that location of Sunset, which has gaming, is limited to those 21 and older.
There’s plenty of action around them. Public Works Coffee Bar opened at 314 S. Water St. in summer 2017, and El Cactus Veggie Vegan took root this summer around the corner at 18 W. Pacific Ave. The historic Gold Mine Tavern at 23 S. Water St. has new owners and has been renovated and expanded. Hardway 8, dedicated to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, is expected to open in the spring at 46 S. Water St., and the old Town House Motor Lodge is being converted to the 37 S. Water St. multi-use complex, with plans for a restaurant. The Water Bar & Lounge at 147 S. Water St. is a private, nonalcoholic social club for “women on the rise.”
Molloy said the mix of restaurants isn’t dictated by the city; “what we want to do is attract businesses where the owner has vision and has passion for what they do.”
Visitors, he said, “will share with their friends: Hey, there’s this amazing place downtown. Come here, you’ve got to see it.”