Community, history, walkability

Written by Hektor D. Esparza

Downtown: The Neighborhoods

Ask residents what they like most
about living in and around downtown Las Vegas, and chances are they will
say something about community, convenience, proximity. Depending
on exactly where one resides in the downtown area, most amenities are within walking distance or a very short drive.

cat sculpture

Cat sculpture by local artist Jesse Smigel.

“From bricklayers to prop-makers, musicians and writers, bartenders to trendsetters, the retired and the ridiculous, we are all here, and we look out for one another,” says artist and longtime downtown area resident Jesse Smigel. After seeing the gigantic cat head sculpture Smigel created as public art in the nearby 18b Arts District, one might be inclined to place Smigel in the ridiculous category. But that classification would be too simple. Smigel, like the greater collection of neighborhoods that these smaller enclaves surrounding downtown make up, is multifaceted. Besides being a working professional artist, he owns a home in the John S. Park neighborhood and operates a small business.

On the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard and south of downtown, some of the buildings date back to the 1930s. Most of the homes, however, were built in the 50s and 60s. The abodes here range from quaint two-bedroom cottages to five-bedroom homes and larger estates. Architectural styles include Ranch, Traditional Minimal, Mid-Century Modern. Surrounding John S. Park are the Marycrest, Southridge, and Huntridge neighborhoods. North of Charleston Boulevard and directly east of downtown is Las Vegas High School Historic District. Maryland Parkway, one of the oldest streets in the Vegas Valley, divides these neighborhoods east from west. Each named neighborhood is within walking distance of the historic Huntridge Theater and the adjacent Huntridge Circle Park. The modest park literally sits in the middle of Maryland Parkway and serves as a frequent gathering spot for seasonal celebrations, evening movie screenings and other cultural and civic events.

Huntridge Circle Park

Huntridge Circle Park

Huntridge Park
The park is also something of a magnet for the area’s homeless population. Fortunately for them, another notable area resident is Merideth Spriggs. The San Diego transplant is leading the newly formed Caridad, a homeless advocacy organization which helps connect homeless clients to the services they need and trains volunteers to efficiently conduct outreach. For Spriggs, living in the area presents access to clients, community and amenities.

As she says, “I love the convenience of living downtown. I’m walking or biking distance to everything. Downtown is friendly and feels like a small town. Folks are kind and generally willing to help out if you need them.”

Another area resident, Graham Kahr, agrees, “Downtown is full
of some of the most community-minded people I have ever met. Neighbors work together naturally to impact change in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Huntridge Neighborhood Association President Melissa Clary adds, “I like that my neighbors are creating new neighborhood events and traditions. The neighborhood’s proximity to entertainment, arts, and culture downtown is also a plus.”

Bronze Cafe
The Journey Begins

A few blocks north of Charleston Boulevard on Maryland Parkway, not far from the Huntridge Theater, the street splits into two, one-way streets which curve around the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. The Center, as it is more commonly known, provides services and meeting space for the LGBTQ community and low-to-moderate income area residents. Cory Burgess, The Center’s marketing director says, “Living in the Huntridge neighborhood is awesome because it’s a four-minute drive to work, plus the downtown area has several restaurants we love: MTO, EAT, DuPar’s and Carson Kitchen. After living for several years, basically in the suburbs, the downtown area gives me that big city feeling I was missing.”

A stone’s throw northwest of The Center is The Bunkhouse, a music venue purchased and renovated by the Downtown Project. Thus far, its superlative track record for bringing in top notch, nonmainstream performers at affordable ticket prices has earned it the respect of devoted live music fans.

“I love living downtown for its extreme architecture, constant change, dining, music, people, and visual and performing arts,” says realtor and avid cultural consumer, “Downtown Steve” Franklin. The Bunkhouse is technically on 11th Street, but it’s close enough to Fremont Street to be considered part of the area’s liveliness and charm.

Writer's Block Book Shop

Writer’s Block Book Shop on Fremont Street

Across Fremont and a few steps west is the recently opened Writer’s Block book store. Larger than its modest storefront windows suggest, the bookstore is a well-appointed bibliophile’s heaven. From mainstream to esoteric titles—and a delightful array of book-related bobbles— this Writer’s Block brings an additional air of smart and cool to Fremont Street.

Cruising farther west on Fremont, we see the fire-emitting antennae of the enormous grasshopper guarding the shops of kid-friendly Container Park. Katy corner from there is the coffee house, cultural hub, and gallery spaces of The Beat and Emergency Arts. Also on Fremont are unique venues like Insert Coin(s), The Griffin, and Downtown Cocktail Room which collectively provide an endless flow of beer, wine and spirits. These, along with a wide range of restaurants, are anchored by Inspire on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont. Inspire is a restaurant, theater and bar.

With a movie theater yet to arrive downtown, Inspire began hosting“Boozy Movie Night” every Wednesday. Representing the venue, Krystal Ramirez says the events have been wildly successful. “We’ve had such a huge variety of people from all overLas Vegas. For The Big Lebowski, we had a ton of fans come out dressed in robes and ordering White Russians. “For Heathers and Fight Club, we got a lot of people who had never seen the movies and thought this the perfect opportunity not only to watch it for the first time but also to enjoy it on a big screen with surround sound.”

To the 18b and beyond

Walking west, past the Slotzilla zip line attraction and through The Fremont Street Experience, you will eventually come to Main Street. Once outside the gravitational pull of downtown’s casinos, heading south on Main will take you to City Hall with its dazzling shimmering glass exterior and exquisitely designed interior complemented by well-curated art exhibit spaces. A few blocks farther south lands you at the doors of the recently transformed El Sombrero Mexican Bistro, Cowtown Guitars, and Exile On Main Street boutique.

As you approach Charleston Boulevard you have arrived at the 18b Arts District. Here, the Art Square and Arts Factory complexes are the unmistakable anchors of the 18b. Arts Square houses venues such as Brett Wesley Gallery (@Art Square), Freddie Ramon Gallery, Josephine Skaught Salon, Artifice Bar & Lounge, Unhinged: Indie Art & Fashion, Art Square Theater. The Arts Factory is home to Bar + Bistro, Hillary Hair Salon, Sin City Gallery, Blue Sky Yoga, Let It Roll skateboard shop, Jawa Studios, Pen Dragon Studios, and many other shops, studios and galleries.

South on Main Street, cocktail, retail,and dining destinations abound. Makers & Finders Urban Coffee Bar offers “Latin Comfort Food,” and a creatively progressive beverage menu with items like Tamarind Tea Latte, Lavender Infused Latte, and Mexican Spice Latte. For equally impressive cocktail concoctions, The Velveteen Rabbit features craft, seasonal cocktails in an upscale bohemian environment. For unique, fun and affordable retail experiences, try Amberjoy’s Vintage Closet, Medusa’s Antiques, or Martin’s Mart Thrift Store.

Coming Home

From Main, a 15-minute walk eastbound on Charleston Boulevard will have you coming full circle and arriving at The Huntridge Tavern, a fine spot to finish any day off with a straightforward cocktail and a working man’s beer. Located in a humble shopping center across Maryland Parkway from The Huntridge Theater, this is decidedly not an upscale lounge. Rather, it is a genuine neighborhood bar with authenticity to spare.

As Jesse Smigel says, “The entire downtown community is a strange mash up of friendly characters… and this can be most profoundly discovered at any time of day at the HT.”