Long ago, the New Town Tavern brought in much-needed business to Las Vegas’ h istoric Westside.
Some called it “a jewel in the desert,” comparable to the famed Moulin Rouge. It was a place where blacks sought refuge from segregation on the Strip.
The tavern, at 600 Jackson Ave., offered a restaurant, entertainment and gaming, even attracting icons such as boxer Joe Louis and musicians Little Richard, the Jackson Five and B.B. King.
Now, the community anchor that opened in 1955 sits empty — a victim of the recession. The city shut down the establishment in December for numerous code violations, which included a collapsed ceiling in the old showroom.
When the roof caved in, a primary source of revenue from concerts was lost. Economic hardship snowballed from that point on. In September 2008, the city shut down F Street, a major thoroughfare that leads into the heart of downtown government offices, including City Hall.
That project is expected to be completed by late 2013.
The tavern is fighting to reopen in hopes of becoming a beacon for other businesses in the historically economically challenged area. Its fate rests in the hands of anonymous out-of-state investors, a Las Vegas attorney and a local activist.
Trish Geran, who chairs the F Street Coalition, said the project to reopen the tavern is broken into three phases:
n Get the casino and restaurant up and running.
n Repair the ceiling in the showroom.
n Open the facility and attract a diverse group of people with music and gaming.
“This place has a lot of character,” Geran said. “(People) feel that. The tavern has a very solid, loyal following of customers.”
The hard core poker players now are playing at nearby Texas Station and Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas, but they’re eager to play near their homes again, Geran added.
“The community looks at (the tavern) as an anchor,” she said. “Since there’s not a possibility of the Moulin Rouge ever coming back, the New Town Tavern was looked at as the last hope of having a place that can supply all of the community’s needs.”
The building is undergoing $50,000 worth of renovations, which include ripping out the carpet, glossing the cement underneath, fixing the sprinklers and installing a firewall. The ceiling project is expected to cost more, but the exact price is unknown, Geran said.
The tavern was set to go to auction March 30, but the group found enough money to keep it off the block.
“The city’s really worked with us,” Geran said. “Right now, the fact is it was closed due to code violations. Coincidentally, they were up against getting some bills paid. … This is a done deal. It’s opening, and it’ll be better than before, with hip-hop, blues and jazz music.”
Elijah Green remembers when times were good for the tavern. He owned it from 1971 to 1999 before he turned it over to his daughter, Tarra Jackson, the current owner.
At that time, the tavern was open 24 hours a day with craps tables, poker tables and a sports book. The showroom sat 700 to 800 people, and the business employed 120 people in three daily shifts .
“This whole thing has me disgusted,” Green said. “We had a good business. I don’t know how it got all discombobulated.”
Messages left on Jackson’s phone went unreturned.
Green said the tavern’s problems came with the downturn in the economy.
“The closure of F Street didn’t help at all. That was definitely a setback,” he said. “The bills were going on, and the economy did have a big effect on us.
“The reopening of this place is a step in the right direction for other businesses up and down Jackson Street. It’s a business street, and it’s been there since day one. I’d like to see developers come in there and implement plans to open businesses and get jobs.”
The state’s jobless rate dropped to 13.6 percent in February, down from 14.7 percent the previous year, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. At least 129,900 Las Vegans were out of work and hunting for jobs the same month, which marked the 25th consecutive month of double-digit unemployment statewide.
Matthew Callister, the project’s lead attorney, said the project needs more money for renovations.
“Until F Street reopens, they’re a victim of that closure, too, quite frankly,” Callister said. “Their major intersection was Jackson and F Street. Once it closed down, it shifted things. Every single bar and restaurant has closed. We were the last to close, and we’ll be the first to reopen.”
Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow, who represents Ward 5, where the tavern is located, said the historical landmark’s closing had nothing to do with the road closure.
“They would still be open to this day if it wasn’t for code violations,” Barlow said. “It has no relation and no correlation. It has everything to do with what was happening underneath the roof of the tavern.
“The ball is 100 percent in their court. It’s something we can’t overlook for safety reasons. They need to correct these issues. We look forward to them reopening.”
Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-0492.