Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: In a city built on booze, here’s to some hope for better behavior

Bottoms up: Las Vegas ranked 14th on a 2011 list of America’s drunkest cities. We can do better … or is it worse?
Photo: Sam Morris

At the other end of the coffee bar, Cliff is listening to all the complaints about Fremont Street drinking and the police and shaking his head.

“Vegas is a drinking town,” he says. “Always was, always will be.”

Of course he’s going to say that. He recently consummated a beer-goggled interlude with a young woman after a long night of drinking. He’s still clicking his heels. But he’s also right.

Cliff has learned to avoid Downtown on weekend nights, when the drinking is rampant and police are out in force trying to prevent what typically comes when you combine young people and too much booze: chest-beating bravado, fights and worse.

I’ve seen the machismo on display, and I can honestly say that, in almost every case, I didn’t know any of the mouth-breathers. In fact, you can sit on the second floor of Commonwealth on any given Friday night and swear that all those “kids” stumbling around down there aren’t “us.”

But you would be kidding yourself.

For locals, booze is plentiful and, for gamblers, often free. If you’re sober enough to read this, you probably already know that.

In 2011, the Daily Beast melded together a mishmash of statistics to come up with a list of America’s drunkest cities. Las Vegas ranked 14th—Boston was first—with 5.1 percent heavy drinkers, 17.5 percent binge drinkers and an average 14.6 drinks consumed monthly per person. Those stats, presumably, are based on residents, not tourists.

You probably also realize that drinking here is more of a slippery slope than in other cities because of our historic transience and lack of community. The reasoning goes like this: If you don’t know your neighbors, you care a little less about acting moronic, vomiting or passing out on the street, getting a DUI and some of the other embarrassing and potentially deadly outcomes that result from a drinking life.

Today, there is much more drinking going on Downtown than a few years ago. Tourists have always found a tiny joy in carrying yard-long glasses filled with fluorescent beverages under the Fremont Street Canopy, but now Fremont East is a drinking haven. In one square block there are eight bars and four bar/restaurants, with more on the way.

Then there are the hordes of Zapponians moving into the area, who are somewhat cheered for their drinking ways. Zappos' company events often end with an open bar, and CEO Tony Hsieh is fond of purchasing that pine tree-in-a-bottle, Fernet.

The hope is that Hsieh’s wish for a “community” Downtown is happening—and, honestly, it is in a relatively small geographic area—because sometimes the only way people see themselves is through other people’s eyes. If enough friends and co-workers look askance and shake their heads at someone’s drunken behavior, the drunk might one day take the hint.

So the next time you look around Fremont Street on a Friday night and cuss at the fact that there are so many police officers—and tourists and idiots whose drunken stupidity is the reason for all those cops—try to remember: You’re standing there with a drink in your hand. You just might be one of those drunken idiots.

Las Vegas is a drinking town, after all. Always was, always will be.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
Tags: Opinion
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