Hitting the tables in Vegas is a sure-fire way to have fun and something everyone has gotta do. But, the next time you mess around in Sin City, you might want to try your hand at an offbeat version of gambling…in the Downtown Arts District. Although the end result could totally put a dent in your pocketbook, I’ve got a sneaky suspicion it’s not what you’re imagining.
Although I was super-into the vibrancy and commotion of the Strip, I needed an afternoon away from the electronic melody of the casino floor…and finding some in-the-moment Vegas mementos wouldn't hurt, right? So, I forged just a few blocks north to the Downtown Arts District. This my friends, is a little nugget of history…a living time capsule and the real Las Vegas that first introduced itself to us. Crowned an official arts district in 1998, this 18-block grid has been earmarked for artists to run rampant and is also home to Antique Alley, and from what I could see was super cool at first glance.
Aside from the eccentrically hypnotic murals on what felt like every wall in sight, this area was antiquing nirvana. The street scene had morphed from frenzied chaos to a slower, grittier vibe, and I was totally digging it. We were out of adult Disneyland and in the thick of an actual metro area and it was just what I needed. When it comes to the antiquing world, I’ve played in the minors…maybe. But, what I had hoped to gain from this excursion was a Vegas memento that hadn’t been snatched up by the wild world of eBay or at a very minimum, an unrivaled historical snack.
A quick Google search and 10 minutes later I was at the first listing: The Attic Vintage Clothing Company. Feeling like Austin Powers’ walk-in closet, the instant I set foot inside this fine and funky palace it was love at first sight. Intense purple walls, neon wigs, dangling vinyl and the pleasingly offbeat threads you could dream of were just some of the amazing finds. The groovyness didn't stop with apparel, either. There were crushed velvet bean bags, glimmering disco balls, kitschy home goods, Miller Geunine Draft neon signs, and something I couldn't get past without a good belly laugh: 1970s porno tapes…with a very clear note saying you could rent them but they were NOT available for purchase. You can’t make this stuff up.
Antique store, maybe…vintage store? Definitely. Picturing Sharon Stone perusing the aisles of Attic Vintage for her next Casino golden palazzo pants getup, the shoe fit. Either that, or a colony of psychedelic bats was going to melt through the walls and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ Oscar Acosta was going to screech down the hall. It was a cool spot, and with imagination totally soaring I headed for spot No. 2: Medusa’s.
With The Attic being the northernmost spot on the map, I jumped in the car and parked in the thick of Antique Alley, where the remaining stores would all be within walking distance. With tons of spots, I narrowed my selection down to three other shops I wanted to check out before heading back to the Strip.
Medusa’s caught my attention, mainly because of the superstructure towering in the background behind it: the iconic Stratosphere. That, and the 6-foot dice and crazy murals were practically screaming my name. With one foot in the door, it was clear that this place was kicking it up a notch with some high-end home furnishings. A charming roman goddess statue stood at the door, almost welcoming me in, and it wasn't long before the owner greeted me and my historical hunt resumed.
With an undeniable manly vibe, robust, custom-made furniture was impressive to say the least, and vintage lamps sucked me in big time. Dozens of super-cool paintings lined the walls, and I spotted some hard-to-ignore car collection finds. Seeing the glistening leathery sectionals, classic camera gadgets, and immaculate barware, it was like I had just entered Sean Connery’s lair in Diamonds Are Forever. It was darky, swanky, and a little bit seductively mysterious and I was into it.
Stop 3 was practically next-door at Patina Décor and was a complete decorator’s pipe dream. Straight-up vintage heaven. If this was considered to be antiquing, consider me all in. Luxurious items lined the walls, making it hard to believe that everything wasn't brand new….it was obvious these things had been very lovingly cared for throughout the decades. And the glassware! From barware, to figurines, to perfectly pink 6-foot vases, it blew my mind. I wanted all the things. It wasn't just the glassware that had me in a frenzy, it was the furniture, lighting, jewelry, artwork…you name it. Seriously, my mind was racing trying to figure out how to get my hands on a semi to take everything in Patina back home.
Do yourself a favor and envision a typical Las Vegas showgirl. Glitteringly beautiful, polished, and irresistibly magnetic, right? Each minute spent in Patina felt more and more like I was inside a showgirl’s personal abode. It was hard not to get carried away, imagining her coming home to rest her shimmering bodysuit and feathered headpiece in her chiffon-lined boudoir before slinking into a satin robe and kicking back for the night atop her chaise lounge, sipping on a dirty martini. Hands down, one of the most immaculate treasures I’ve ever come across.
The last and final stop was just across the street at Vintage Vegas and my last chance to drop some coin on some fascinating historical pieces. I had hoped for some old signs, and boy did Vintage Vegas deliver. The front window was littered with old neon from days come and gone, and it was so fun to see these things ‘in the wild,’ versus a museum or a website where prices had been marked up a bazillion percent. You actually could touch these things, they were tangible, real items…practically begging to be purchased.
As I meandered through aisles of signage, intriguing items popped out like books, vintage luggage and furniture that appeared to have come straight from a recently imploded iconic Strip hotel…salvaged just in the knick of time. While it was easy to get wrapped up in imagining all the people who’d carried the luggage, or the décor that lined the halls of a formerly posh hot spot, a room in the back flashed in front of me and was a total game changer. Like a moth to the flame, I was sucked into a cave of totally perfect, completely mesmerizing Las Vegas vibrancy. I mean really, WHEN are you able to stand in a room completely illuminated by neon. Vegas neon. Talk about a totally different kind of thrifting or antiquing, it was amazing.
Although I didn't walk away with any mementos that day, I did walk away with one immersive dose of history. What a unique, gritty trek though a city’s history that completely changed my perception of antiquing. In this case, it wasn't digging through dusty old boxes of junk, but instead browsing furniture, hotel staples, neon…you name it. And how cool that an entire region of the downtown, the historic section of downtown where these items held actual relevance was devoted to it!
Although it was a gamble with time…not to mention risking your own cash to lock down some one-of-a-kind retail, it was soooo worth it. Plus, aside from a unique retail fix, it was like a living, breathing, admissionless museum that is hard to imagine in a lot of other places. The best part of all was just when I thought I was getting away from it, I realized I had really left…but instead had delved deeper into it. An afternoon in Antique Alley is an entirely bewitching way to experience downtown’s retro Vegas that most definitely changed my perception of Sin City…certainly a few hours well spent.