Industrial revolution: How a longtime Strip shortcut is becoming a destination of its own

Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

If you need to get to Caesars Palace, the Fashion Show or even just from Sahara to Spring Mountain on a Saturday night, you don’t take Las Vegas Boulevard or I-15. You take Industrial Road. It’s even useful in accessing some properties on the east side of the Strip, like MGM Grand; I mean, have you been on Paradise lately? It’s okay heading southbound from Desert Inn to Twain, but after that, things get stupid. Just take Industrial.

Most tourists don’t even know Industrial exists, and even if they do know about it, they probably don’t want to take it: Why skirt one of the world’s most spectacular scenic byways to cruise a street whose chief landmarks are auto shops, warehouses and the unadorned backsides of Caesars Palace and Circus Circus? For the longest time, the only reason visitors came to Industrial was for its strip clubs—enough of them for some to make the case for Industrial as a “Vegas Amsterdam.” (Even the Weekly made that connection, in an October 2004 article by Damon Hodge.)

But Industrial is changing. For one thing, it’s not entirely Industrial: A good stretch of it has been rechristened Sammy Davis Jr. Drive. (The renamed street begins, fittingly, at the intersection of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and continues north to Sahara. The remaining leg of Industrial, from Sahara to Wyoming, will likely follow suit one day.) And while the old strip clubs and adult shops are still in evidence, they seem diminished—by Internet pornography, perhaps, but also by time. Crazy Horse Too is permanently closed, and the street’s biggest, newest strip club—Sapphire, also the world’s biggest—feels more like one of the Strip’s sleek, ultramodern dance emporiums; it even has a pool and dayclub.

There will always be a place for grit on Industrial/Sammy Davis Jr.—two of the city’s most venerable dive bars, Hard Hat Lounge and Sonny’s Saloon, bookend the street at its north and south ends, and they’re probably here to stay. But as the north end of the Strip fills in, it seems inevitable that developers will notice the former Industrial’s underused properties (perhaps even as soon as the opening of Resorts World, which already has a rear entrance facing Sammy Davis Jr.).

If you’re one of those who prefers Industrial to remain, well, industrial , don’t worry. It could take Sammy Davis Jr. more than a generation to even begin to resemble the burnished shopping mall the Strip has become. And judging by the success of the businesses that have already flourished on the street in recent years—from a sexy museum to a different kind of shooting range—the former Industrial is well on its way to developing an identity that won’t easily be changed, only embellished. Sammy Davis Jr. could well become the place you go for niche adventures—experiences that are either unique in their presentation, or simply unique, full stop. Don’t think Vegas Amsterdam; think Vegas Westworld.

An advanced education Located at Sammy Davis Jr. and Fashion Show Drive is the Erotic Heritage Museum (3275 Sammy Davis Jr. Drive), a 24,000-square-foot sex museum owned by Harry Mohney, founder of the Déjà Vu strip club chain. (A Déjà Vu Showgirls club is just one door over, as is our answer to Hamilton, Puppetry of the Penis.) At first, it’s tempting to write the EHM down as pure raunch; signs even politely request that patrons refrain from groping or fondling the exhibits. But as you wander the museum, a strange thing happens: You start thinking.

The EHM is making a bona fide effort to condense the entire spectrum of human sexuality into its two floors of exhibits, from the Kama Sutra to the Marquis de Sade to the Chicken Ranch. There’s a Ron Jeremy fortune-telling machine here; a reproduction of Catherine the Great’s wooden throne, with a strategically placed phallus; erotic porcelain pieces from China and more.

All these exhibits endeavor to explain how our sexuality shapes our inner and outer selves, for good or ill. Some people get it, others don’t. But everyone leaves thinking about it.

“Reactions [to EHM] are just as wide-ranging as sexuality is,” says museum director Victoria Hartmann. “I’d say that 99 percent of the people who come in here, whether they’re from a conservative background, a background of faith or with more liberal leanings, come out and say, ‘I didn’t know sexuality was so diverse.’”

Au naturel Strictly by the numbers, Sapphire Las Vegas impresses: It’s 70,000 square feet (only a bit smaller than the 75,000 square-foot Omnia nightclub at Caesars Place), and the massive gentleman’s club packs in as many as 7,000 bodies a week. That might not mean anything to you if you’re not into a good headstand twerk, however, so let’s try this: Right next door to Sapphire is El Dorado Cantina (3025 Sammy Davis Jr. Drive), a Mexican restaurant with 4.5-star ratings on both Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Chef Paco Cortes’ shrimp taquitos, pulled chicken tacos and tableside-made ghost chili salsa—prepared with organic, GMO-free ingredients, as is everything on El Dorado’s menu—are positively sensational. Co-owner Darin Feinstein says all of El Dorado’s ingredients come from sustainable farms, some as distant as Northern California.

El Dorado went to all that trouble for a pretty basic reason. “I have two young children, 2 and 4,” Feinstein says. “As you become a parent, you start really focusing on what goes into your children’s bodies, because they’re so fragile. I follow an organic and sustainable lifestyle, and it was important for me to have a place where I wanted my children to eat.”

And in case you’re wondering, you can totally bring your mom. El Dorado and Sapphire are separate businesses with separate entrances.

The petting zoo Have you ever felt the side of a helicopter?” asks Battlefield Vegas staffer Trevor Logan. “Go feel it. You’ll get thrown for a loop.”

As I tap the side of the army copter, I’m surprised to discover that it’s borderline flimsy. “Soda cans have more protection than this,” Logan says.

Hands-on moments like these are why Battlefield Vegas (2771 Sammy Davis Jr. Drive) stands apart from other gun ranges. Everyone who works here has served in the military; many of the staffers are current reservists. They pick up customers in camouflaged Humvees that, like their drivers, have also served. And needless to say, you can handle and fire a dizzying array of weapons here, from handguns to an M134 mini-gun capable of firing off 4,000 rounds a minute. But firing a big gun is one thing; firing it under the guidance of people who handle this kind of ordinance for a living is something else entirely.

The yard in front of BV is full of decommissioned military vehicles—tanks, mostly, from an M60 Patton to a World War II-era Sherman. The BV crew calls it the Petting Zoo, and it’s free to visit. (Though if you’d like to use a Soviet-era T-55 or a British Chieftain Mk.5 to crush a car—and who wouldn’t?—that’ll cost you $2,500.)

Most of us haven’t handled this equipment and probably never will, which is what makes BV such a fascinating place to visit. Things you’ve only seen on television and movie screens are suddenly given weight. “When you go back and you watch that movie or play that video game, you have a better appreciation for the actual equipment,” Logan says.

The painted desert When former Bunkhouse owner Charlie Fox purchased the office and industrial complex that would become Downtown Spaces & Naked City Studios (1800 S. Industrial Road) back in 2013, it was hard to imagine a day it would be fully populated. That day came in 2015.

“This time last year we were 100 percent occupied, but arts-related businesses lead to high turnover,” says leasing agent Tamarisk Wood, who says that 35 of Downtown Spaces’ 40 spaces are currently occupied. And oh, what a tenant list: The terrific surrealist-pop artist Cristina Paulos has a studio here, as do photographers Jennifer Burkart and Ryan Reason, bodypaint artist Robin Barcus Slonina and many others.

Wood is confident they’ll soon draw new artists and businesses to fill those empty spaces, and that the tide might spill over. “North Industrial could very well could expand the Arts District footprint,” she says “It has a bunch of cheap, large spaces up for grabs. And I see potential in the stretch of Oakey between Commerce and Industrial; those buildings are begging to become restaurants, shops, bars or cafés. It would link the two areas perfectly.”

That’s a nice thought: The Arts District spilling over onto a revitalized Sammy Davis Jr. Drive. Imagine beginning a Friday evening with a gallery crawl and finishing it by driving a tank over a sedan. It’s a proper Vegas dream, and it’s within our reach. Westworld is here.

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