In downtown I trust

Fremont East is dedicated to its drinkers, and so am I

Xania Woodman

Wednesday, August 29, 12:50 a.m.

So what’s this mystery shot called?” I asked the Griffin’s pretty blond bartendress. “It’s a Wet Pussy.” Were I not so drained from three back-to-back near-all-nighters I probably would’ve caught myself before stupidly inquiring, “So what goes into one of those?” Her face goes blank, mine red. She rattles off a list of ingredients while I eye the door, searching for both an escape and a co-worker who has also run himself into the ground this week.

“You think you’re tired now?” he had needled me earlier. “Just wait until you start smelling colors!” He should know: He’s pulled three actual all-nighters. “You’re invincible!” my editor had said when I told him I would somehow still make it Downtown tonight. But so far from invincible do I feel that I must assume this was just a ploy to ensure I turn in my articles. And that being done, it’s shot time! My friend arrives, and we move on to Beauty Bar, where I instantly exclaim, “It smells like college.” Not quite a color, but dark and beer-y nonetheless.

Beauty Bar is packed, inside and on the patio out back. It’s kind of like the Get Back First Friday afterparty, only way more urban. The United Tradeshow crowd is enamored of all things hip, like black hoodies, old-school hip-hop, break-dancing and graffiti. Tonight, the owners and operators of the Griffin, Beauty Bar and Downtown Cocktail Room have collaborated on a five-day United block party which started Friday, August 24 with the Mayor’s never-know-what-he’s-gonna-do-next dedication and the lighting of the new Fremont East neon signs. Four temporary venues were also installed with much help from the Downtown’s owner Michael Cornthwaite. The two boutiques and art galleries will hopefully let Las Vegas see what Fremont East could look and feel like if more hip, urban businesses took a chance on this lively two-block (for now) area.

I recall a few years ago feeling safer on the Fremont Street that lay west of Las Vegas Boulevard than to the east, preferring generally to take my chances with the tourists and the crazies under the neon canopy than the more foreboding characters to be found across the way. To venture east was to go off the map into murky, uncharted territory, to a land of no-budget motels and shuttered-up apartment buildings, where lost tourists got harassed and where few but those publicly urinating felt safe. Oh, it’s still largely the same cast of freakish characters out there, but with the coming of Beauty Bar I began to brave the harassment, started carrying loose change for the panhandlers and even got used to the smell of pee. Why?

Because it was thrilling to once again have to check over my shoulder, to keep my purse clamped to my body and to put on that “Don’t f--k with me, I’m from New York and I will cut you” face that I used to reserve only for subway rides in the City. I swear, it’s almost like a real city down there now!

The subsequent additions of the Griffin and the Downtown Cocktail Room give me even more reason to rejoice in the fact, beyond these three anchor bars, the largely vacant Fremont East zone is sloooowly filling in. Falafel, pizza, Mexican food and a dollar store add culture if not some light where once there were blacked-out windows. Sure, I feel safer walking alone through New York’s Grand Central Station at 3 a.m. on a Saturday than I do walking down the alley behind Beauty Bar, but there’s a certain comfort in knowing that the bum I saw sleeping under the restaurant napkins outside Downtown Cocktail Room is harmless and is more interested in my $0.50 and blessing me than in dragging me off to my doom.

Talk on the street is already of next week’s First Friday. In the art gallery, a DJ spins in the corner, in front of him a gaping wooden box marked “Fragile” with graffiti artwork “spilling” out of it onto the floor. A metaphor? We stare thoughtfully at it before moving onto the Downtown Cocktail Room, just in case the tagger is watching. United’s temporary men’s boutique is closed at this hour, but with its appealing display of black river stones and gallery lighting, it’s tempting to hope that they might leave it up to further attract culture and hipness to this corner. But for now, it is we who must go to the hipness.

Xania Woodman thinks globally and parties locally. And frequently. E-mail her at [email protected] and visit to sign up for Xania’s free weekly newsletter.

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