There’s something different about the place. My boyfriend and I sit down at the bar on the Soho Lofts ground floor, the site of our first date in 2013. Back then it was the Lady Silvia, known for its speakeasy-like entrance, library-motifed lounge and house-music soundtrack. We hadn’t returned before it closed in October 2014, its historical significance—to us, anyway—giving way to the usual regret of all-too-infrequent patronage. Now it’s November 2015, and the space has new life and the same cold Stella.
We order two, just as we did nearly three years ago, and look around to see what has changed. There’s a large poster from the 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis behind the bar, now free of video-poker machines. Some of the library’s shelves feature not books, but LED-lit movie props and memorabilia, including a lightsaber.
That’s when Alex Pusineri walks over and introduces himself as the bar’s owner. He chats us up, then tells us to turn on the Jedi weapon. We do and simultaneously exclaim, “Whoa!” It’s so realistic that we immediately begin taking selfies with it. As we stamp the Instagram photo with the location, we discover the bar’s name, which explains everything: Millennium Fandom Bar.
The play on words is key, and not just for avoiding a lawsuit. This is not a local Mos Eisley Cantina or even a Star Wars-themed bar. Pusineri envisioned a gathering spot that would celebrate every kind of geek fandom, down to the cocktail menu that tips its hat to beloved films like Guardians of the Galaxy (a Midori concoction named In Groot We Trust) and The Big Lebowski (a modified White Russian called The Dude). Not for nothing is one of Millennium Fandom’s slogans, “What’s your kingdom?” For my boyfriend and I that night, it was Star Wars. For those gawking at the unmistakable hammer of Thor hanging on the wall, or cosplayers attending a Deadpool-themed party in full regalia, it might be Marvel Comics. Sunday nights, it’s board games—think Cards Against Humanity and Superfight, not Dungeons & Dragons—which Pusineri makes available to anyone.
“Every time you go to a bar, it’s a zombie bar or a Harry Potter bar, a Star Wars bar, a Star Trek bar—[the theme is] very concentrated, very focused,” he tells me later, during a Sunday evening interview. “I think we’re 100 percent unique.”
As it turns out, there’s a fandom bar in New York City and even one in his hometown of Paris. What’s 100 percent unique, however, is Pusineri himself. In a bar that caters to and celebrates characters, he might be its biggest one. He’s relatable to anyone who’s ever geeked out about anything, and he’s all the more endearing when he does it himself. His French accent, confidence and love for deep-house music may lend him an air of sophistication, but he comes back down to Earth as he excitedly talks about the party he wants to throw more than any other—a real-life version of the Blood Rave from the 1998 film Blade—or the documentary he helped make, about acclaimed French graphic novelist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius (“It was awesome, like spending a week with George Lucas”).
“He’s one of the biggest sci-fi fans I’ve ever met,” says Tyler Kizzar, a local cosplayer who hosts the bar’s monthly Anime IRL party. “He embraces the nerd and fandom culture so well, and it’s very evident by how he’s decorated the place. He also really takes the time to get to know every person who walks in the door and makes sure that they feel welcome.”
Which is exactly what Pusineri did as a teenager in Paris, throwing big parties with his friends at his father’s house. Ten years later, while working for a TV network there, he accepted an offer to welcome and facilitate European production companies in Las Vegas. He spent the next 18 years between here and Paris, eventually becoming so enamored of America that he established dual citizenship.
In 2014, while working in Vegas as a caterer—and fresh from fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing and publishing a sci-fi book, Symbiosis 1908—Pusineri came up with the idea of a creative platform in the form of a bar, one that would reflect both his own wide-ranging interests in sci-fi, video games, manga, etc., and pop culture’s embrace of nerd institutions like Comic Con and The Big Bang Theory. It would also encourage fandom types to get out from behind the computer screen and interact with one another in person, while aiming to be the first dedicated, judgment-free cosplay bar in the States. (Another Millennium slogan: “Cosplay or not, let’s fandom!”) He then decided it had to open before the release of the new Star Wars movie and be located Downtown—preferably with a tourist-friendly Las Vegas Boulevard address. He knew few people in the area, but one was Richard Hooker, co-owner of Las Vegas Pop Culture Tours, whose advice he sought over drinks at Downtown Cocktail Room—Pusineri’s favorite Vegas bar—one night.
“As we talked I really had no idea what fandom or cosplay was, so I was doing Wikipedia on my phone and nodding as he talked,” Hooker says. “In an instant I saw that the concept was refreshing and original—a really good fit for Vegas as a fantasy and performance city … I thought it would be a unique destination in and of itself as a bar, and that the best location was not Fremont East with its plethora of bars, but in the Arts District since it was really about so many aspects of art, commerce and creativity.”
Hooker would later introduce Pusineri to former Mayor Oscar Goodman, who endorsed his idea, and Soho Lofts owner Sam Cherry, who handed over the newly shuttered Lady Silvia space. Almost a year later, on November 5, the Millennium Fandom Bar quietly opened, but not before a stressful, two-week-long effort to acquire fandom props and memorabilia, mostly on eBay. One treasured score: a Golden Snitch given to Warner Bros. executives who worked on the Harry Potter movies. It’s one of only two items based on the boy wizard in the bar, which Pusineri says frustrated a Meetup group of Potter fans clamoring for more. Incorporating only a few items from any given kingdom was necessary, however, to remain faithful to the idea of a true fandom bar. (At press time, Pusineri still hadn’t found anything he liked from Star Trek.)
As such, Millennium Fandom Bar is a work in progress, despite its held-over elegance from Lady Silvia and its already impressive curation of geekery. Heck, its sign—the first one the space has ever had—only went up on February 18, after delays. Pusineri is still acquiring locally produced art. The Marvel wall near the DJ booth remains unfinished. And soon, a painting of the Cheshire Cat will debut, which Pusineri plans to hang right at the entry. “So when you walk in, it’s like a cat is ready to jump out at you—a sneaky cat!”
And, maybe more importantly, the calendar is still evolving. When I interview Pusineri in mid-February, he’s giddy about two recent parties that were big successes—a steampunk ball and the Anime IRL party launch—along with a Wednesday Nerdathlon trivia night, steadily gaining its faithful. There’s already been a Winter Cosplay Ball and two superhero/supervillian parties, the latter event having taken over the last Saturday of every month (this week’s edition is a movie tie-in no-brainer: Batman v Superman).
“It was amazing seeing a bunch of people in costume just having a blast,” Kizzar says. “You know you’re at a fandom party when the DJ starts playing a song from Star Wars and the entire crowd starts to cheer.”
In February, my boyfriend and I go back to Millennium to attend a Star Wars-themed party, and this time, there are two lightsabers and many more patrons, some donning Obi-Wan Kenobi robes and the helmets of Boba Fett and the Stormtroopers. The Unassociated DJ crew mix the house tracks with samples from the movies. And sitting in the center of the lounge is a new life-size R2-D2, apparently made from the same mold that birthed the first R2 unit in 1977.
Regardless of the intent to reflect the entire fandom world, it’s clear Star Wars looms large at Millennium. When I tell Pusineri that a Disneyland TV special airing the next night will address the park’s upcoming Star Wars Land, he tells the female bartender nearby that the bar should show it on its TVs, and she agrees. He smiles and reminds me why both she and I are in the right place. “If you haven’t seen Star Wars, you can’t work here.”
Millennium Fandom Bar Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday, 4 p.m.-midnight; Friday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #140, 702-405-0816.