This weather is bananas. It makes me want to stay up all night, sleep outside naked and experience the particular schadenfreude that comes with snagging a table on a hopping patio while the masses pace and ogle my beer like it’s the last one on Earth.
That beer tastes different al fresco, warm air on my lips and tingling with the energy of crowds. It feels the most electric Downtown, with people-watching that rivals the Strip and the neighborhood vibe without the suburban sprawl. As new venues pop up, so does more patio real estate, and that means more chances to run into people serendipitously. Or, as the Downtown Project might say, to “collide.”
I decided to collision-test my Friday. It might be fun to go solo, I thought, to see who would approach the mysterious woman strategically positioned at a Downtown bar. Then I thought about how it would feel to sit there all night reading Google News on my phone, wishing I smoked so I could at least be doing something. Reinforcements were called, and our trio trekked toward the Plaza.
Collision No. 1 was a near miss with a potbellied dude in a G-string. Fremont was clogged with mini Michael Jacksons, Pirates of the Caribbean and a specimen I like to call Sad Superman. Jo, Feldy and I pushed through, ping-ponging our way to the end of the street. Because it’s Fremont’s bookend—and because SlotZilla blocks it off like it’s in Time Out—the Plaza is an island of mellow. Right in front, there’s a new patch of actual grass covered with picnic tables and a pergola that jasmine has just begun creeping around. It’s called Bier Garten, and the accoutrements are legit (think ’80s-era Oktoberfest in Munich). The “living wall” adds to the backyard effect; though I doubt your barbecue has two-dozen craft beers on tap, fancy wursts and the broken-glass beauty of Frankie Lee’s voice fronting Dante’s Inferno.
Washing down covers of Amy Winehouse and The Pretenders with Wexford Irish Cream Ale, it struck me that the “Downtown bubble” could be this patio rather than a gentrification machine. Removed from the Fremont Street Experience (in the best way), Bier Garten is still ripe for run-ins. When the band took a break, the drummer asked if we wanted his broken stick. Collision! Then three familiar faces peeked over the fence. Collision! While I made a pit stop inside, Feldy and Jo got a wayward “Hey” from what appeared to be a Jewish motorcycle gang named the Get Down Boys.
Another “Hey” flew from a car outside Downtown Grand, and from a smiling tourist on the escalator to its new rooftop concept, Picnic. Getting there requires a jaunt through the hotel, and few chaise lounges were taken for Holes and Hearts’ styling of Sublime, The Doors and some original songs. That doesn’t mean you can crash the cabanas, we were gently informed.
It was plenty cozy in the central everyman space, the ’50s varnish on the party pool giving it Gidget-ish sweetness. That’s a keyword on Picnic’s menu of drinks, because they taste that way and are mostly $8. The Royal Treatment (Crown, Chambord, triple sec, sweet and sour and orange) went down easy as the band launched into a fresh set. The singer knocked the cord off his microphone for a few bars but recovered nicely. That was the only collision of note at Picnic, though we could see the potential (Life Is Beautiful afterparty!) of a space with such killer views of the Downtown skyline and so much capacity. There may be a bit of over-ambition, though, considering it just opened and the fried chicken is already “famous.”
From Bar 46 at the Golden Nugget to the Atomic, Downtown is ripe for an al fresco crawl. Hell, you can even saunter down the sidewalk with a drink in your hand, making the neighborhood one big-ass patio. Collisions included, it’s good to be outside.
Bier Garten Plaza, 386-2218. Daily, 11 a.m.-midnight.
Picnic Downtown Grand, 719-5100. 9 p.m.-7 a.m. (open later for events), non-hotel guests $15 Monday-Thursday; $25 Friday-Sunday (includes use of pool facilities and one drink of choice).