When heading Downtown on a Saturday afternoon, it helps to know up front that the area may be many things—a salvation from bland suburbia, a refuge for artists, a gathering space for the anti-Vegas types, the real Las Vegas, a place to buy crack, a place to film Cops, a place to open a trendy little business or sell antiques or buy a bail bond.
In its Arts District, you will not find quaint sidewalk cafes and hordes of coffee-sipping urbanites chatting outside bookstores. Expect vacant storefronts, concrete buildings and empty sidewalks. That way you’re more open to enjoying Downtown’s Arts District for what it is—a collection of older buildings leased by hard-working, culture-centric dreamers, doers and visionaries.
For the Downtown newcomer, we suggest this easy route: Start by gorging on delicious but gringo-tized Mexican food at Casa Don Juan (1204 S. Main St.), then head across Main to Retro Vegas (1211 S. Main St.), where you’ll find a well-preserved collection of mid-mod furniture, retro ceramic ashtrays, modernist wall hangings and dinette sets.
From there, head south down Main Street, take a left on Colorado Avenue and walk to Casino Center Boulevard. This lands you in front of the Funkhouse (1228 S. Casino Center Blvd.), where you’ll find more vintage offerings and just about everything you never knew existed.
Then head east across Casino Center Boulevard to Williams Costumes Co. (1226 S. Third St.), a gem of a costume company that has been outfitting Las Vegas since 1954. The Gypsy Den (213 E. Colorado Ave.), which specializes in vintage clothes and accessories, is directly across the street.
When finished there, go back to Casino Center Boulevard, walk three blocks north to Charleston Boulevard, where on your left you’ll find Brett Wesley Gallery (1112 Casino Center Blvd.), which features a diverse selection of more conventional contemporary art and photography. Gaia (4 E. Charleston Blvd.), an eco-friendly plant and flower shop that features art exhibits, is just beyond that. The Arts Factory is directly across Charleston Boulevard. Enter the back of Arts Factory to visit Trifecta Gallery (107 E. Charleston Blvd.), which features mostly contemporary representational art with an emphasis on illustration and painting, and the Contemporary Arts Center, a longtime institution which exhibits cutting-edge, mostly emerging and experimental art.
If you’d rather stuff yourself with tablouli before taking your Downtown stroll, start at Paymon’s Mediterranean Bistro (107 E. Charleston Blvd., at the east end of the Arts Factory), walk around to the back of the building and into the Arts Factory, and you can hit all the stops in reverse order.
If there's time, make a trip to the Attic, 1018 S. Main St., where the funky and vintage collide, and stylish, wacky threads from the past mix with vintage radios, sunglasses, hats, art, jewelry and more.