The Spellout

Art, Culture & Unavoidable Spite

Category: Las Vegas (page 1 of 3)

Bourbon & Bleach: 24 Hours in the Double Down Saloon

This piece originally appeared in my Vegas.com column Tourists For Breakfast, March 8, 2000.

I am not a drunk. Never call me a drunk. That kind of talk could get me a reputation, and besides, I’d much rather you describe me as a lush. Anyone can be a drunk, given the tools and the time. Being a lush, it seems to me, requires a measure of urbanity. A lush could drift through a Noël Coward play without incident: “Oh, that’s just our Geoffrey. A bit of a lush, but otherwise a fine fellow.”

But this is Las Vegas, not Look After Lulu. And I spend my drinking hours not in the countess’ arboretum, but at the Double Down Saloon on Paradise, which is a place for drunks.

8 P.M. FRIDAY

“Hey! Blue Chevy truck!” howls Bartender Grant, over the in-house PA. “Fuckin’ move it! Get outta here and move your fuckin’ car!”

I don’t remember when or how I first got the idea of spending 24 hours in the Double Down, but now that I’m actually doing it, I feel mighty good about having Grant at the helm. All the nighttime bartenders at the Double Down are absolute sweethearts – Melo, a displaced surfer with the best head of hair you’ll ever see; Lynn, a husky-voiced temptress who should be a movie star; Scotty, an affable, bearded fellow with an affinity for the Grateful Dead.

This is Grant.

This is Grant.

Grant, though – he’s my funk-soul brother. We can converse in dialogue from “Jaws,” 1975 (“Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…”); he knows what I want to drink before I know; he is conscientious enough to serve me a glass of water (a “spacer”) between every round. That’s a good bartender.

Grant nods approval at me as I arrive this fine Friday night, and sets up a Rolling Rock, which is exactly what I wanted.

“To start you on your journey,” he says.

Moss, the proprietor of this fine establishment, stops by my table. He’s the quintessential bar-owner type – if this were 1950. He wears a neatly trimmed goatee, smokes cigars, wears bowling shirts. He’s done so for years, long before the recent swing craze rendered such things ubiquitous, and, in the man’s own words, “easier to find.”

“You all right?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Well, then,” he says, “I’ll see you to-morr-owwwww!”

9 P.M. FRIDAY

The Double Down Saloon is the hippest bar in Las Vegas, and has been for seven years. Every flat surface is covered with darkly colorful murals and collages by local artists Magda Kearns, John Emmons, Tony Bondi and Elizabeth Blau. In one corner, a guitar-wielding Ganesha rocks out, as a pack of spindle-legged women mix it up nearby; a voluptuous nude palms a Cosmopolitan in the entryway, her nipple artfully covered by the cherry garnish; the wood paneling above the bar itself swims with oversized rubber cockroaches, swizzle sticks and surgical clamps, colliding in crazy gridlock.

And the jukebox matches the visual chaos note for note. The CD selection runs the gamut from Frank Zappa to Billie Holliday to NOFX to Elvis. Shortly after 9, I load up the juke with Clash, Dead Milkmen and Louis Jordan, and wait for the crowds to hit.

Sure, every bar has its characters, people who seem more or less conjoined to barstools, but in my humble opinion, the Double Down has perfected characterization. The surroundings demand nothing less, and inhibitions are loosened, if not tossed completely: patrons writhe on the children’s quarter-operated mechanical horse, dance erratically to garage / surf rock, bellow at each other across the pool tables, even strip naked on short-lived, glorious occasion.

The crowd begins to pour in shortly after 10, and it’s one cute bunch of psychopaths. I’d expect nothing less of a place that has hosted the late Dr. Timothy Leary, Man Or Astroman, Tim Burton, members of Pearl Jam and Sister Spit’s Traveling Roadshow. Rumor has it that even Bill Bayno used to drink here, before he became respectable.

Maybe some of them will show tonight. If Leary shows up, I will switch from Cuba Libres to Shirley Temples.

MIDNIGHT SATURDAY

The crowd reaches critical mass. Tonight, it’s an even mix of gothic babes, suspender’d and Prada’d power yuppies, flattop rockabilly punx and true lushes. Someone is celebrating a birthday with an inflatable sex doll; she is batted around the room like a beach ball.

Finally, someone gets the perfectly rational idea of placing the doll astride the horse. Without hesitation, I wedge the doll’s nether opening onto the saddlehorn (it’s just a doll, kids), fish out a quarter and send the whole assemblage a-moseying along. What’s not right?

5:30 A.M. SATURDAY

The crowd has thinned out, but only slightly. Most nights, the crowds don’t really come on until 11 or so, and they stay on until dawn. I’ve done it a few times; it’s too easy to do in a city bereft of clocks. On lucky nights, I get out just before sunrise, and race the light home.

Not tonight. I’ve been awake for 23-and-a-half hours, and this time—when I’d normally make my way to bed, or to Mr. Lucky’s for steak and eggs—I’m still at the bar, shooting something that barely resembles pool.

My friend taps me lightly on the shoulder as I try to line up a shot.

That’s the cue ball,” he says, pointing. “Down there.”

6:30 A.M. SATURDAY

The dawn patrol arrives. After drinking the last bourbon Melo served me – about half an hour ago – I settled into one of two overstuffed chairs for a quick nap, only to be awakened by the invigorating smell of bleach. Two fine fellows, Grandpa and Stoney, come in every morning and mop up every inch of the joint with a mix of bleach and solvents that could strip the proverbial skin off a cat.

I run to the front door for a lungful of air that isn’t burning, and promptly return to my chair.

“You survived the morning cleaning!” says Grandpa, running a hand through his Mohawk. “You’re a true Double-Downer!”

This is the ladies' room.

This is the ladies’ room.

NOON SATURDAY

I watch the Army/Navy game listlessly. I’ve met a few other true seekers, still lashed to the bar. “Otto,” so nicknamed for his resemblance to the “Simpsons” character, and John, a real neighborhood drunk. When he tries to stick his bankcard into the receipt slot of the ATM machine, Ian, the morning bartender, eighty-sixes him.

“You’re all fucked up,” says Ian. “Why don’t you beat it?” John nods sagely, throws a bill on the counter, and leaves without incident.

After he walks out, Ian shrugs, and tells me a story about the man who, bent and belligerent, demanded food of one of the bartenders. The bartender calmly walked to the supply cabinet, took out a urinal cake, and handed it to him.

3 P.M. SATURDAY

Moss visits, accompanied by his daughter.

“You see that guy?” he tells her, pointing at the journalist hunched over a video poker machine. “He’s trouble.”

7 P.M. SATURDAY

Almost zero hour. My girlfriend brings some Vietnamese food, which I share with Grandpa as we shoot pool. Grandpa has been in two major pedestrian accidents this year, fracturing his wrists and legs respectively. The fortysomething takes it all in stride – “I’ve been around the block a few times” – noting, with a smile, that a pool had been started amongst the Double Down staff, along the lines of “What will hit Grandpa next?”

“A week or so after the contest started,” he says, “a rule was added: ‘You may not hit Grandpa yourself.’”

He sinks the eight ball. He was once a tournament pool player, before the road turned.

8 P.M. SATURDAY

“You made it,” Grant says.

I have. And though I’m pretty much done with the Double Down Saloon for the day, and I smell like a thousand ashtrays, I find myself reluctant to leave. So I look around at my home away from home: at the “You Puke, You Clean” sign, at the advertisement for house specialty “Ass Juice,” and at “Otto,” asleep on the couch. The night before, someone told me that he had been at the Double Down for three straight days; this would make it his fourth.

God love that wonderful lush. He should have written this piece.

 

Augustine Kofie Shapes the New

AKofie by urbanartcore.eu

Originally published as part of MSN.com’s “Fresh Perspectives” series, April 2011

If you must give Augustine Kofie something, give him something old. “There’s so much out there, in the past,” says the 37-year-old artist. “We live in an age where there’s so much new technology and new information, but there’s still so much old stuff that’s great, too. That’s my whole life, being a vintage futurist. I love my new stereo, but I also have a reel-to-reel player.”

And even though Kofie owns a computer and has easy access to all the sophisticated illustration tools it offers, when it comes time to draw a circle or square, he reaches for his vintage drafting tools and he uses them to produce otherworldly abstractions like none you’ve seen before. A Kofie piece can be a mass of sharp interlocking forms floating on a background of muted earth tones, with more of the more vibrant colors trapped in soft, rolling shapes … or it can be something else entirely. Kofie’s art has personality enough to change its mood, sometimes while you’re looking right at it. And it does indeed look futuristic while also seeming old, like snapshots of a forgotten World’s Fair.

“I like combining things that don’t seem like they’re supposed to be mixed,” says Kofie. “I’ve been drawing in this style for so long now that I can just kind of go off my head and build something from the ground up.”

Kofie builds his pieces in a variety of settings. More often than not he’s working in his studio, which sits on a hill above L.A. (“it’s really quiet; it’s amazing”), but sometimes you’ll find him plotting his beguiling abstractions on city walls. While not as active in the street art community as he once was, he remains committed to it.

“Street art is just a really tough art form for people to digest sometimes, and I’ve held with it and kept it and I really believe in it,” says Kofie. He’s a bit cagey about his street work – “There’s still a risk factor in doing it out there and I’m well aware of it, the illegal activity of it” – but he does confess to his love of transforming abandoned buildings and drawing the occasional freehand circle on a nice, rectangular wall.

“You have to really balance yourself and have control of your arm; it’s called can control,” says Kofie. “You have to pre-think of everything you’re going to sketch out. People can’t paint like that. I mean, I can because I’m six-foot-two, have a pretty wide arm span, and I’ve paid attention to the fact that my body can be, in essence, a compass.”

For Fresh Perspectives, Kofie was asked to use that human compass to create two pieces on the themes of Empowerment and Escape, both of which resonate through the whole of Kofie’s work and sense of being. “I understand empowerment because I’ve basically empowered myself — I started my own business, I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t go to business school. And because my work is so involved and there are so many layers and so much depth to it, I feel like when I work on the pieces I shut out reality. I’m in my studio, playing music, and I’m just letting my work do what it needs to do. It’s still in the midst of everything, but my studio is an escape for me.”

The way Kofie speaks about his studio, it’s obvious that it’s his second heart. In his studio are paintings waiting to be begun or revised, and of course, a bunch of vintage drafting tools he picked up at estate sales.

“I’m an old soul,” says Augustine Kofie. “I’m inspired by the things that people kind of forget about.”

KeepDrafting.com

Keep Drafting @ Flickr

Keep Drafting @ Vimeo

Official Facebook Page

PHOTO BY URBANARTCORE.EU/CREATIVE COMMONS

It Rained in Vegas

A couple of weeks back we had some beautiful monsoon weather in Las Vegas. I shot this video on the Strip-Downtown Express, using the slow-motion capability of the HTC EVO 4G LTE, while enroute from the Bonneville Transit Center to the Vegas Seven offices. The music is “The Trees in Juarez” by The Flashbulb, and I make no apologies for the butt-rock breakdown. I was actually listening to this song on headphones as I shot this video, and the big metal guitars kicked in at pretty much the precise moment as they do in the clip. Apologies for the wonky edits; I’ve never used iMovie before. Enjoy.

Crazy is On The Bus, Part 2: Can’t Get There from Here

Waiting Bus

It’s called the Strip & Downtown Express, or SDX. It’s the most direct RTC Transit route between downtown Las Vegas and the Wendoh Media offices, except it ain’t. Once I get to Town Square — the closest bus stop to the Wendoh offices on Post Road — I still have to walk through a shopping center, over a freeway and through an industrial park. It’s a 20- to 25-minute walk in the overachieving Vegas sunshine. My commute from Charleston and Rancho (where I catch the 206; I connect with the SDX at the Bonneville Transit Center) often exceeds 75 minutes, which kind of gives the lie to the whole “express” thing.

But that number doesn’t mean anything if the SDX isn’t running … which it doesn’t, by the way, between the hours of 12:30 and 9 a.m. So, if you need to be at a meeting at 9 a.m. — smack-dab in the middle of the time of day known in other cultures as “rush hour” — the SDX is not an option. You’re taking The Deuce.

On the off chance that Andrew Dice Clay is reading this, I should hasten to say that “The Deuce” isn’t the punchline to a joke about Immodium AD, but a double-decker bus that runs the length of the Strip, from Fremont Street in the north to Mandalay Bay in the south … and it stops in front of nearly every single property on the Strip, presumably so that tourists won’t be tempted to walk to some other casino to catch it. It’s a slow, noisy, and acutely aggravating ride, even in the morning hours. And this morning, for 60 glorious minutes, it was mine.

It wasn’t all bad. The view from the upper level of a Deuce is sensational — better still if you manage to get a seat up front, easy to do before 8 in the morning. I saw the D, the SLS, the LVH — our three “new” resorts, and also the least helpful Scrabble draw ever. I sat alongside tourists who tried to engage me in German and Japanese, and in the process, we learned that the word “hangover” is kind of universal. And I enjoyed the driver’s increasingly harried PA announcements: “Can someone on this bus help me to translate Spanish to English? No one on this entire bus knows Spanish? Seriously? Huh. That’s a … surprise.”

I realize that I’m close to being alone in this. If the RTC had a real need to run the SDX before 9 a.m., they would find space in the budget to do it. And if anyone else in this office was taking the bus to work — hell, anyone else in this entire fucking industrial park — I’m sure the RTC would take pity on us and install one lousy bus stop at Sunset and Polaris. But I fear it’s going to be a long time before the ridership numbers drive RTC to do these things, and by then I’m sure I’ll have given this up and acquired a car, or quit this job to take a new one as a Deuce-based Spanish-to-English translator. ¿Por qué, te preguntarás? ¿Por qué no?

LOOSE CHANGE:

  • Yesterday I tried to snap a few photos of the Bonneville Transit Center — as I said in the previous post, it really is a nice-looking facility. No sooner had the Nikon come out was I surrounded by four security guards, one of them on a bicycle, telling me to Cut That Shit Out or Else. I’m used to such behavior in Seattle — uptight repression is kind of a thing up there; we have a team training in it in anticipation of it becoming an Olympic sport. But I’d hoped that Las Vegas, a culture built on a foundation of ¿por qué no?, would be cooler than that. Nope, it’s the same deal. Oh, well, I was gonna call RTC’s public relations office anyway.
  • What’s with all the palm trees around the BTC and City Hall? I know we have to plant those stupid Bart Simpsons around the Strip so people will know we’re a resort town, but they have no place downtown; they guzzle water and provide virtually no shade. (Check out this piece in The Atlantic to learn how other cities are phasing palms out of their public planning.) I’m no gardener, but I don’t have to be to see that other kinds of trees can grow here — trees that look nice and provide much-needed shade in pedestrian areas.
  • I, um, I don’t really speak Spanish. I used Google.

Crazy is On The Bus, Part 1: Meet John Methhead

De Deuce

He had a very individual case of the shakes. He shook his head by twisting his shoulders to and fro; at the end of each motion he would crane his neck to look in whatever direction the inertia had taken him. His hair was long, blonde and stringy, partially contained under a baseball cap with the insignia ripped off. He sat on the bench with his legs crossed at the ankles, clutching a burner phone, and he muttered the word “animals,” urgently, over and over again.

I didn’t have to clock his smile to know that I’d met one of Las Vegas’ methamphetamine achievers. Truth to tell, I didn’t engage him at all; I stood a full two methheads’ length away from him as we two awaited the arrival of RTC Transit Route 206, westbound from the Arts District to McNeil Estates. This fucking guy was about to get on a bus with me, 11 p.m. on a Thursday night. Excelsior.

As it turned out, he didn’t follow me upstairs — many of RTC’s route buses are double deckers, purchased from UK coachbuilder Alexander Dennis — and the ride back to my friend’s house was quiet and uneventful, which meant that I had plenty of time and opportunity to think about the month ahead. I have elected to get around Las Vegas using public transportation from now until June 15, at which time I’ll begin pooling my resources to buy a car. Any fucking sort of a car, as long as it moves and has working AC. Hubcaps desired, but optional.

I’m doing this to prove a few things. I’d like to demonstrate that it’s possible, for one thing. Four years into a recession that more or less broke this town, Vegas has caught civic improvement fever. All of a sudden, this city wants to be a city, as opposed to a city-themed resort. The city’s downtown core is being redeveloped by young entrepreneurs, most prominent among them Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh; I’m too lazy to provide links, so just Google his name along with “Las Vegas” and brace yourself for a flood. The people here seem to want walkable neighborhoods at long last, and the way you get those is by A) creating a concentration of businesses, residences and civic amenities that are worth walking to, and B) leaving the car parked at home. Or getting rid of the car entirely, as I did when I moved to Seattle ten years ago. I want to prove to myself, and maybe to you, that it’s possible to do the same in a town that was built for, and probably by, single-occupant vehicles.

I’ve been back in Vegas less than a week, but in that time I’ve taken the bus almost a dozen times. I’m already beginning to learn the pluses and minuses of Vegas’ sprawling bus network, and I’ll be weighing them in this bl-g under the heading “Crazy is On The Bus.” (If I’m to do this fuckin’ dumbshit thing in the heat of a Las Vegas summer, at least I’ll feel like Samuel L. Jackson while I’m doing it.) I hope to demonstrate to you that the first step to building a pedestrian-friendly town is by taking an actual step. Yes, right past the carport; that’s a good fella. The bus stop is only a few minutes’ walk from your door, and thanks to a certain heavily medicated vigilante, it’s completely animal-free. You’ll be fine.

LOOSE CHANGE:

  • If you can, get on the upper level of those double deckers. The view really is something else — and half the people who ride RTC either can’t or won’t navigate those stairs.
  • I’ll say this right now: The RTC is nowhere close to covering this town the way Metro Transit covers Seattle. The 15-minute drive from McNeil Estates to the offices of Wendoh Media, where I now work, takes 50 minutes by “express” bus — and there’s an additional 25-minute walk after I disembark. Glad to meet you, June heat. Please don’t cook my brain; I may need it for stuff.
  • I know I’ve ripped on this before, but … the Strip bus is called The Deuce? Seriously?
  • The Bonneville Transit Center is really nice. Once some of the empty lots surrounding it are built up with apartments — and once the gub’mint pulls its head outta its ass regarding Juhl — it will become a very highly-valued civic asset. There’s a bike shop inside the terminal! Cool cool cool.
  • I’m not too proud to take a ride home, or to the grocery store, if one is offered. I don’t think it’s a huge dereliction of my purposes. Are you, um, are you offering a ride? I got five dollars you can put in the tank.
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