Music

Beauty Bar turns 10: memories of Downtown’s scrappy, late-night music hub

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Photo: Adam Sternberg

It rocked with The Walkmen and The Hold Steady, partied with Green Day and helped break Imagine Dragons. It lured First Friday’s crowd from the Arts District, and staged DJ sets by members of The Smiths and New Order, not to mention future Strip residents Diplo and A-Trak. If that still doesn’t sound like much, consider that it operated as a lone-wolf on East Fremont for two years, battled through Las Vegas’ crushing recession and, as time went on, survived ever-increasing competition up and down the block.

As Beauty Bar prepared to open on May 13, 2005, original owner Paul Devitt told the Weekly, “This is the litmus test for Downtown, to give people something they’d experience in another city.” For so long, locals pined for an indie clubhouse, where they could see bands and DJs too left-of-center for Strip venues and suburban hangouts. That’s exactly what they got.

Afghan Raiders

Afghan Raiders

STARTING A SCENE

Once upon a time, Beauty Bar founder Paul Devitt had a clothing line and made annual visits to Las Vegas for the MAGIC trade show. He’d stay at the Algiers and hang Downtown, where he thought his concept—going strong in Manhattan, San Francisco and LA—might translate. When he caught funk-soul First Friday party the Get Back at the old Ice House on Main Street, he knew the crowd was there.

Paul Devitt, founder: Downtown was the attraction—I liked the way it looked and felt at the time, the historical feeling of the place. And the opportunity was good. We met with the city, and they were excited about developing Downtown. I knew it was going to change, and I felt we could jump-start that change.

Jason Sturtsman, Indie Krush promoter and former shareholder: I got involved in Beauty Bar because I liked the edgy dirtiness of Downtown, the danger of being there and the fun of owning a bar. Just walking to your car in those days, you would be propositioned for crack and by hookers on Sixth and Fremont.

Johnny Rox, DJ and founder of Rawkerz indie dance party: I remember just looking out the windows and thinking, who will come to this bar when all I see is a cigar store, a dollar store, a Philly sandwich place? After meeting with Paul, I was convinced we were going to make a huge impact for our local community and bring a music culture to Fremont Street.

STRFKR

STRFKR

James Woodbridge, promoter and Neon Reverb co-founder: Beauty Bar was the foundation of that scene, from the Get Back on First Friday to becoming the first real venue in the area and a place for fun dancing afterparties with great local DJs like Aurajin, Rex Dart, Remy the Restless, Ladyfingers. If Beauty Bar hadn’t been there, I don’t know how long it would have taken for something to develop in the area.

Thirry Harlin, booker, former GM and Neon Reverb co-founder: I think people really discount what a few small venues like Beauty Bar and the Bunkhouse pulled off in a cultural sense. When I first got started at Bunkhouse in late 2004, it was impossible to get people to believe Fremont Street wasn’t the bloodbath they’d been led to believe. But after the Beauty Bar opened up just blocks away, it became more of a team effort, because now there were twice as many of us to get out there and not only let people know it was safer now, but spread the gospel of Downtown.

Donald Hickey, Neon Reverb Radio host and scenester: I think there was already a feeling that the music scene had to move to Downtown Vegas. It was just a matter of who would take the leap first. Beauty Bar did it.

Ty Segall

Ty Segall

THE VIBE, THEN AND NOW

“When Beauty Bar opened, it was the only cool thing going on Downtown,” says former manager Bree Blumstein. Whether staging touring bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Tokyo Police Club, serving as a hub for the Neon Reverb music fest or hosting DJs like M!KEATTACK or Dirty Shame Karaoke with Jenn O. Cide and Toni James, the place started—and stayed—colorful.

Blair Dewane, musician, The Skooners/Rusty Maples: It was the cool venue, part of the whole hipster music renaissance. It was Arcade Fire and The Strokes—it had that feel, that hot-girls-liking-comic-books feel. So it was a big deal playing the Beauty Bar back then. ... A lot of it has to do with the backyard area. That made it feel like we were living in a real city. We could have been anywhere in the world with that backyard and alley. If the show was sold out you hung out in the alley, smoked weed and listened to the band. When we’d do a weekday show, a loud-as-f*ck garbage truck would roll by while the band was playing.

Bree Blumstein, former GM: Lots of hipsters. They loved the Get Back and Rawkerz. Beauty Bar was primarily a dance bar for the first few years.

James Woodbridge: My earliest memories of Beauty Bar are from when I was visiting out here to line up a place to live for my move to Vegas in 2006. It was a First Friday, so we went to the Get Back. John Doe was spinning the good stuff. Everyone was dancing; people were friendly. I thought, “Yeah, I can live here.”

DJ John Doe

DJ John Doe

Adriana Leyva, former manager: I would go Downtown by myself any day of the week, and it was a guaranteed good time. There would always be a familiar face. I especially loved Monday night karaoke. That was the most fun and random night of the week—a total sh*t show, but in a very good way.

Heather Hyte, DJ and former bartender: I was there from the beginning, first as a customer, then as a bartender, then as a DJ. That’s how I mark the beginning of my DJ career: by the number of years Beauty Bar has been open.

Joe Garcia, DJ, sound engineer and former GM: There was definitely a sense of community. The staff was like family there. There was a lot of creative energy from many sources—the staff, the promoters, the bands, local artists. It was a unique time in the city.

Courtney Carroll, former bartender and musician, The Clydesdale/Love Pentagon/Kid Meets Cougar/Dusty Sunshine: Every local band has played Beauty Bar at least once, right? 2009 and 2010 stand out in my memory as a time when my bands had some really fun shows at Beauty Bar. Those were the days when Pan de Sal, Afghan Raiders and A Crowd of Small Adventures were playing as well, and it was always a super party time.

Kid Meets Cougar

Kid Meets Cougar

Mikey Francis, musician, Afghan Raiders/Black Boots: Everyone was so friendly and eager and open-minded to hear new music. The music scene was so vibrant and hadn’t been overtaken by EDM and club culture, so it was very raw. You could hear completely different types of music on any given night, and the crowd was just full of friends and good vibes. ... It would get so packed inside that you couldn’t move, but everyone had fun. Outside was super-cool, like a small courtyard alley in the middle of this historic, weird pocket of Vegas.

Ruben Rodriguez, former booking manager: I saw a lot of people come and go. I think people got older, or had to be at work in the morning, or just cared less. I noticed a huge shift in the crowd and community every year I worked there. When I first went to Beauty Bar, that was the indie place, and then it went more dubstep, then more hip-hop. People who were wearing Interpol shirts were now wearing Ty Segall—which meant I’d book Ty Segall.

Jason Sturtsman: Beauty Bar has always attracted a 21-25 demographic that wanted cheap drinks, underground live music and DJs, and an atmosphere of misfit toys, where your bartenders were as f*cked up as you were.

THE GET BACK

For a long time, the Get Back was the busiest night of the month, any month. It was unlike any other party in town—playing soul, funk, classic hip-hop, reggae, Latin. For founding DJ John Doe, moving the party to Beauty Bar was nerve-wracking, but he loved the patio so much that he “had to gamble.” He remembers it being packed from the first night, July 1, 2005.

The Walkmen

The Walkmen

John Doe, DJ and Get Back founder: I can remember feeling relieved to finally find a Downtown bar owner who “got it.” ... There was no power out back, so I had to talk the owner of the check-cashing place where Don’t Tell Mama is now into letting us run a power plug outside his back wall. I also used to run a few extension cords to the burger place next door, where Le Thai is now, as a backup in case we blew a breaker. ... I ran some Christmas lights from the roof and had a friend project visuals on the wall, and we were in business.

Bree Blumstein: All the Get Backs the first few years were equally insane. The bar was mobbed from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m., and I believe we usually did upwards of 800 covers. I remember the first Get Back at Beauty Bar when the bar flooded. It was a mess—eventually we had to call it a night and close it down.

Blair Dewane: Growing up, I hated DJs, [but] people like Aurajin and Rex Dart were just awesome. They brought the party vibe Downtown.

Paul Devitt: The Get Back put us on the map pretty strong. I did more money that one night than I did most weeks. They kept me in business. I owe John for that one. Without the Get Back I wouldn’t have been able to stay there.

THE PARTIES

From mainstays to one-offs, memorable nights at Beauty Bar have a magical synergy—plus kids jumping over barbed wire for Justice.

Devitt (right) and Blumstein

Devitt (right) and Blumstein

Bree Blumstein: One night that has always stuck out was when Justice performed after the MTV Video Music Awards. Vice magazine hosted a surprise party with no cover and free vodka. We weren’t allowed to advertise the show; Vice let the word out a few hours prior to doors at midnight. At 11:30 p.m. I peeked outside, and the sidewalk in front of the bar was absolutely flooded with people.

Joe Garcia: Justice was the craziest/best night in that place hands down. Open bar till something like 6 a.m. The place was bonkers.

Johnny Rox: Rawkerz’s first night was packed from wall to wall. DJ Aurajin would never fail the dancefloor. The best DJ sets were from Boz Boorer, Marky Ramone, Daniel Ash, Andy Rourke, Diplo … Then came the official/unofficial afterparties with Interpol, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Killers, Hot Hot Heat and many more.

Heather Hyte: [2005 to 2007] was the magical era. That was our Gatsby-esque party. You parked your car at the bank and walked over to Beauty Bar, the one bar where the DJ played all the songs you would have played if there had been a jukebox, and you danced until you couldn’t anymore.

Ruben Rodriguez: I’m not the biggest fan, but when Green Day’s [rep] reached out for a private party, that was mind-blowing. They kept calling the band “their client,” but I was like, who is it? When they finally said it was Green Day. I was like, “When I Come Around” Green Day? Really?

The Skooners

The Skooners

Jason Sturtsman: Say What?! started as an alternative to the Get Back, featured once a month with a theme, fashion shows, live art, a photo booth, DJs and bands. The [attendees] were the artists of Las Vegas, the gays, trans [people], bisexuals, bands, pimps, hustlers and prostitutes. If you were weird and cool, get the f*ck inside, ’cause we wanted to party with you.

Joe Borusiewicz, promoter and co-founder of Nickel F*cking Beer Night: Ratchet Olympics with Lil Debbie last year was probably my favorite NFBN of all time. Both areas were slammed from the jump, and just about everyone who showed up channeled their inner ratchet for a beer-throwing, ass-shaking, ridiculous night. There was a twerkathon onstage, inciting one of the loudest crowd reactions we’ve experienced in our four years at Beauty Bar. Pretty sure half the city called in to work that Wednesday.

THE SHOWS

As Beauty Bar came of age, so did its commitment to live music, especially a growing local scene in need of a backyard.

DJ Aurijan

DJ Aurijan

Paul Devitt: In every other city it was all about the place—the interior, the look, the feel, the nostalgia. It didn’t pan out that way in Vegas. People were more interested in the bands. I didn’t really anticipate booking as many shows as we did.

James Woodbridge: Bands that would otherwise skip Las Vegas started coming here, and more people started hanging out Downtown. For me one really big one was The Walkmen show for Neon Reverb in Fall 2010. It had been a hectic long weekend, and everything just came together for that festival-closing show: The crowd, the opening bands, the sound, lights, it was all just perfect. ... Some local bands that I saw really shine at Beauty Bar were ACOSA, Afghan Raiders, The Skooners, Black Camaro, Love Pentagon, Big Friendly Corporation, Kid Meets Cougar, Twin Brother, The Mad Caps and so many others.

Blair Dewane: [The Skooners] opened for Sole and the Skyrider Band and Astronautalis inside. We were the only rock band; everyone else was hip-hop. It felt cool to be the only rock band and have a great response.

Donald Hickey: Moonface played an epically long set during Neon Reverb. So many things came together at that moment. It was magical.

Joe Garcia: [My Life With the] Thrill Kill Kult was one of my favorites. [And] giving Imagine Dragons their first shows.

Ruben Rodriguez: Washed Out was my favorite show. That was a sold-out night—I cut it off at 325. People were scalping tickets outside. I felt like a god after that show. I went out afterward, got a room at the Golden Nugget and spent $500.

KRS-One

KRS-One

Adriana Leyva: Cold War Kids, March 1, 2011. Most stressful night of my life. The house was packed like sardines. Everything that could have gone wrong did, but in the end we had fun.

Thirry Harlin: That Cave Singers show where they played inside, when the stage was shoved against the wall in the middle of the room. One of the best shows I’ve seen in my life. And it happened again and again over the years—The Black Angels, Ty Segall, Tokyo Police Club, Har Mar Superstar and hundreds more.

WILD NIGHTS

This goes beyond just memorable to theft, broken bones and fake cocaine.

Mike Fish, musician and punk/garage DJ: I was DJing a punk show inside, and those crazy Jesus freaks with the huge signs and video cameras showed up outside, provoking all the kids out front. [Sound engineer] Justin [Montgomery] had the speaker outside the window and we blasted “Raining Blood” by Slayer.

Ruben Rodriguez: When we had Lucero play, they brought their own custom stage, so we had to move ours. It got stolen from the alley during their performance. We couldn’t believe someone would successfully take four big stage pieces. This is how we got the new stage with the ramp.

Moonface

Moonface

Jason Sturtsman: We threw a Say What?! Blow party, because we were sponsored by an energy product called Blow, a caffeinated powder that was removed from production by some government agency. We spread mirrors out around the bar, and put the product on it. We also invited all the hustlers, pimps and prostitutes from the local neighborhood. Nothing better than some good old debauchery down the rabbit hole until 6 a.m.

Thirry Harlin: I love the backyard, even though we had to basically rebuild it every night before a show. Even after the nights where I had to waste my time keeping kids from hopping the fence, or cleaning up after rowdy beer-can hooligans who think it’s hilarious to puke in the most inconvenient places.

Adriana Leyva: It’s safe to say I’m the only patron that has broken both wrists at Beauty Bar Las Vegas. New Year’s Eve 2007: DJ Aurajin and I were dancing, and I slipped and broke my right wrist. Valentine’s Day 2009: the very first Down & Derby roller-skating party. I was riding the Patrón Train feeling very brave and mocking Ryan Pardey for hanging onto the fence. Right after that I slipped and broke my left wrist. Cool brag, I know. I must say, broken wrists will get you loads of sympathy drinks.

GROWING PAINS

Many times over the course of Beauty Bar’s lifespan, its future seemed wildly uncertain. Part of that’s just the breaks of business. Part of it’s Vegas. Part of it’s that each Beauty Bar is set up as a financial island. But even as others in the family faded out, Vegas survived.

Pan de Sal

Pan de Sal

Bree Blumstein: When the City of Las Vegas was widening Fremont Street in an effort to make East Fremont more pedestrian-friendly, it looked as if Beauty Bar was closed half the time. The construction made it incredibly difficult to access. Times were very tough then.

Jason Sturtsman: Locals, for at least the first five years, had a hard time paying to see local bands, something very common in other cities. People had a hard time understanding that the door paid for bands coming in from out of town. If we wanted a cool NYC band that cost $1,000, the bar was definitely not going to cover it.

Ruben Rodriguez: I thought it was going to go out of business [in 2011]. But with me and [GM] Kevin [Griffin] and Justin Montgomery and Joe from Nickel Beer Night, we pulled our weight for a few months and powered through. It was a group effort. ... The last few months I was there, the city was [demanding] promoters’ licenses and saying DJs needed business licenses. That became a giant issue.

Paul Devitt: We had our ups and downs there, more downs than ups, honestly. Vegas was always a struggle, to figure out how to get people through the door on a regular basis. ... I always thought in the Tony Hsieh era, so to speak, things were gonna ramp up, and it didn’t really happen. I took it about as far as I could.

CHANGING HANDS

In 2014, Devitt approached Darin Feinstein, co-owner of LA’s Viper Room, about selling. Feinstein got Corey Harrison from Pawn Stars involved and the deal got done. “It seemed like a good fit. They have strong local ties, and Corey was a semi-regular down there,” says Devitt, who still owns most of the Beauty Bar name but isn’t actively involved in the Vegas outpost.

Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons

Ruben Rodriguez: Paul was still denying [selling the bar] even when there was [news] going around. He said, “Well, it’s not the first time someone was supposed to buy the bar.” But then after a week or so passed, he showed up randomly—and we always knew when Paul was coming because I had to get him a room. I’m in the office, he walks in, asking for the business license. He rummages through the folder, looking at deeds, and then reality hit me. “You really are selling?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “I need the money. Family comes first.”

Darin Feinstein: He agreed it would be better for the brand and for the structure of the bar to be owned by Las Vegas residents. ... One of the things we [dealt with at Beauty Bar] was we didn’t have an exemplary sound system. The Viper Room has one of the best on the West Coast, so we bought an excellent sound system. … We also did a lot of cosmetic stuff, improvements to the bar. We renovated both bathrooms. To say it as politely as I can, they were inhospitable (laughs). We’ll be adding a small patio in the front and renovating the back patio.

The new owners’ tenure got off to a rocky start, with allegations of harassment by Feinstein outside the bar posted to social media, to which Feinstein responded with a (since-dropped) defamation lawsuit.

Heather Hyte: I found it hard to form an opinion or pick a side to believe. On one hand, here’s this guy who now owns Beauty Bar but wasn’t responsible for building it up to what we knew it to be—the Beauty Bar we felt passionate about. I didn’t have any connection to him. But I saw this unfolding on social media, and I wasn’t sure if people were just being dramatic and wanted him to fail because he wasn’t the original owner, or if she had actually been harassed.

Darin Feinstein: With any new venture there’s surprises that come at you, and Downtown is no different than any location where we’ve opened venues. Any of the issues that have come up have been handled, and the bar is moving forward in a great manner. … We’re hoping to be open for another 10 years.

REFLECTIONS ON A DECADE

So what did it all mean?

Bree Blumstein: We were the foundation. Without Beauty Bar, I am not sure Fremont East would exist today.

Big Talk

Big Talk

Blair Dewane: It has that rock-star feel—people having sex and doing drugs in the bathroom. That’s how I’ll always think of it.

James Woodbridge: The crowd there seems different; the vibe is different and less my thing (although maybe that’s just me getting older!). But Downtown in general has changed a lot in the past five years, with so many more bars and music venues opening, so many new options. It’s all interesting and exciting, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for those golden days (for me, from 2007-2011), when Beauty Bar was such a central point for the scene.

Joe Garcia: It started as a creative outlet away from the Strip and evolved into something much more.

Thirry Harlin: I can walk into the Beauty Bar today and have just as great of a time as I did when they opened their doors ... as long as you show up on the right night for your kind of party.

Paul Devitt: I have no regrets. I never look back, it’s not worth it. It’s another experience in life. Learned a lot, met a lot of people. I didn’t make enough money, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Johnny Rox: If these walls could talk ...

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