After sparing no expense to send you to Mexico in our last roundup, we’re back with budgeting advice for a Las Vegas trip, whether real or imaginary. Creatives must make the most of every dollar. Otherwise, few films would get made!
We’re sure you’re familiar with a few ways to spend money in Sin City. We won’t name them – the vice patrol could be listening! Before spending all your hard-earned wages in the deservedly famous casinos, though, we’d like for you to consider additional opportunities.
Since the Las Vegas Strip already attracts tourists from around the world, we’re devoting this roundup to lesser known but nonetheless amazing local artists, as well as unique places they have helped to create.
Graceland Wedding Chapel (est. 1977), Elvis Impersonation Venue
More than 300,000 marriages or recommitment ceremonies have been performed at the Graceland Wedding Chapel since 1977, when the small church began to employ Elvis impersonators in honor of the King’s 1967 visit and his 1977 passing. Previously, the venue had been named after Gretna Green, a Scottish border village where blacksmiths commonly presided at ceremonies for English elopers from 1754 to 1940. Engaged couples and impulsive new acquaintances are strongly advised to consider an Elvis-themed wedding package while in Las Vegas. Trust us – you can’t get the same quality of musical performance when eloping to a Scottish smithy.
Amanda Skenandore, Writer
After learning about Amanda Skenandore, the registered nurse who won the American Library Association (ALA) award for historical fiction in 2019, we were inspired to praise her in an ode. It should sound familiar.
Reading books without restriction, judging them by plot and diction,
We were surely led to fiction by Amanda Skenandore.
When not working as a nurse, this Vegas writer gives attention
To old facts that merit mention, ones that ground her bold invention,
Like the cures of ages past, depicted in her novels four.
Who was muse or dear companion while she penned these novels four?
’Twas her turtle, named Lenore.
Although Lenore is most recognizable from “The Raven,” Skenandore has yet to write a novel about Edgar Allen Poe. She has written about other macabre topics – for instance, embalmers in post-1865 New Orleans and leprosy treatments in early twentieth-century Los Angeles.
In 2019, Elizabeth Quiñones-Zaldaña published her first chapbook, Bougainvillea, which refers to South American flowering vines. We won’t attempt an ode in a professional poet’s honor (now that would be silly). Instead, we’ll quote a reviewer, who called Bougainvillea’s poems “lush, appreciative paintings of our world and our lives.”
“Quarantining With You” likewise shows a poetic mind at work. While Quiñones-Zaldaña was writing it, we were just glad to be childfree during a toilet paper shortage. Since Quiñones-Zaldaña once recommended daydreaming over a green tea latte at a local business, Gäbi Coffee & Bakery, we wonder if such uncustomary measures might raise our thoughts to her poetic heights.
Keith Lee, TikTok Creator and Restaurant Critic
Since Keith Lee began vlogging in 2020, he has become famous for driving crowds to small, family-owned restaurants. An early video to generate enthusiasm was his review of 303 in the Cut. Lee promised to rate the food truck on a 10-point scale, but he also provided vivid descriptions: The owner “was super dope and super personable.” The crinkly fries were “crispy and amazing.” Most memorably, the dessert elicited an exclamation of “MMMM!” (We thought Lee was in pain, but he was experiencing food-borne ecstasy.)
Lee’s frank, unpretentious reviews have enabled him to grow his TikTok account from 1.5 million followers (ONLY) in November 2022 to 11.7 million followers in mid-April 2023. Meanwhile, Lee has transformed financial prospects for numerous restaurants. Though overwhelmed by long lines, local business owners are cheerfully swapping stories about “the Keith effect.”
Contemporary West Dance Theatre (est. 2007), Modern Dance Company
Founded by celebrated dancer Bernard Gaddis and ballerina Charmaine Hunter, the Contemporary West Dance Theatre is on a mission “to continue the American Legacy of excellence in dance by creating opportunities to nurture, educate and advance future artists.” To that end, the dance company runs an educational program for teenagers during the school year and hosts 10-day workshops on ballet, jazz, hip hop, and other genres during the summer. Of course, the company also performs original dances by Gaddis or other modern choreographers. An 8-minute trailer shows examples, but we were particularly delighted by a performance in which dancers skillfully imitated frogs.
Partage (est. 2018), Local Restaurant
Located in Chinatown, Partage (French for sharing) is a beautiful and classy French restaurant, which advertises 5-course, 7-course, and even 9-course surprise menus. Optionally, each course may be exquisitely paired with a glass of wine, at either the standard or premium level. Quelle décadence! The restaurant is run by four friends, three of whom moved to Vegas from France with only “their backpacks and savings.” The head chef, Yuri Szarzewski, was featured on Chopped with Martha Stewart judging. Since opening in 2018, Partage has twice expanded, adding French Cellar and Grand Cru (an elevated dining experience) to its offerings.
Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart (est. 2021), Immersive Exhibit
In this demented grocery store from the creators of The House of Eternal Return, with help from local artists like Eric Vozzola, the cereal boxes may or may not contain spiders. The root vegetables might be people. And secret doors could lead just as readily into an alien refrigeration bank as into a night club. (Actually, we’re okay with the last one.) Since Omega Mart paralyzed us with fear during the day, we were delighted to discover that it has been hosting Night Shift events for foolhardy people aged 21 and over on Thursday evenings. At least, we may take comfort in knowing children are safe at home while adults risk their sanity after sundown.
Salt & Spoon Gourmet Kitchen (est. 2021), Local Restaurant
Unassuming yet tasteful – do you see what we did there? – Salt & Spoon makes food from scratch out of local produce, creating “a casual gourmet experience.” The restaurant opened in 2021, with the kitchen staffed by chefs Jess Medina and Andrew Ye. Near the restaurant’s one-year anniversary, Las Vegas Weekly fondly criticized it for saddling guests with a “culinary conundrum”: “[I]t’s tough to choose just one dish from a healthy menu offering soups and salads alongside Asian, Italian, French and American comfort-food entrees.” We salivated upon reading about the carrot risotto, which didn’t appear on the online menu. We hope Salt & Spoon will still make it for us because – full disclosure – we’re friends with the owner, a wonderful supporter of creative communities.
That’s our Las Vegas roundup! We hope you learned something interesting and unexpected about this famous city and its creative people.
We’ll be back soon with another roundup – unless we elope to Graceland Wedding Chapel, camp out at one of Keith Lee’s favorite restaurants, or disappear into the walls of Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart.
Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can. Stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative