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Welcome to Desert Companion's first-ever (and we hope not last!) love issue! Inside, find stories about Nevada's history as a marriage — and divorce — mecca, chocolatiers making the best sweets for your Valentine's sweetheart, and more.

The Other Strip: Liberty Plaza

Liberty Plaza's Lady Liberty statue against a blue sky
Brent Holmes
Brent Holmes Photography

Where better to start than the strip mall that is home to the second-largest Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas, second only to the one that guards New York-New York on the actual Strip, which is itself, of course, second to the real Statue of Liberty in the real New York, New York. Here, we celebrate third place in all its glistening banality, fitting for this series looking at the true icons of Las Vegas: strip malls. I’ll guide you through our concrete oasis pedestrian-style, so that you can zoom by in your car as usual, going to the places you always go, perhaps missing what’s right there outside your window. Don’t worry, I’ll do the walking for you.

This statue was built sometime in the 1980s as an advertisement, almost a decade before the bigger one went up on the Strip. Today, her base holds a FOR RENT sign, the number to call faded away and obscured by a graveyard of dead bees. What she was originally advertising may have been slices of Liberty Pizza (according to keeper of local lore James Reza). Today, there is a Liberty Tax here, as well as other practicalities, such as places to get signs printed, cell phones repaired, checks cashed, nails done, and to buy any part you may need for your off-road buggy.

On the flipside of practicality is extravagance, and this strip has that, too, in its stores selling wigs, heels, and bikinis — Sweet Seduction Bikinis, Exotic Shoes, Red Shoes, Ana Wet Lace Vegas, and Studio Lites Wigs & Fashions — all supply stores for the dancers in Vegas, where you can buy everything neon colored and barely existing, all glittered or feathered to the extreme. They do custom.

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“You could get a whole look on this one strip,” my friend says, as we sit at The Pheonix accidentally witnessing a drag show. They, like the queens, are on point. The Pheonix is a gay bar that is in all ways charming, from its mid-Sunday afternoon programming that has filled almost all the tables on the stage side of the bar, to its overloaded Christmas decorations, to its unusually gender-diverse crowd. Inside its windowless 24-hour hug we become charming, too, ordering strange combinations off the long menu — root beer float, blue moon, fish tacos — standing on our chairs’ footrails to try to see the show over the bar, taking pictures in front of the lighted sign with two letters blocked out, whether accidentally or on purpose, to spell “A SLUT.”

We are also charmed while picking out crystals at The Realms Within by the person behind the counter repeatedly calling us “baby” in the way that evokes the warmth of the right rock in your pocket. This place has them all in their chromatic mineral variety, as well as things to burn, divine, read, cast, and carry.

I leave Grand Yunnan Tea with a single-serving packet each of red tea, white tea, raw pu’er, and aged pu’er, which can all be steeped between 14 and 32 times depending on the type, and an instruction sheet on brew times and temperatures. Their loose-leaf tea is all produced by one factory in China, the salesperson tells me, from plants more than 100 years old, and some up to 2,000.

Ariana Market, on the other side of this strip, also has a wide selection of tea, plus fresh Afghan bread, Persian sweets, and lots of dried fruit and spices that can be difficult to find at big supermarkets.

We burst from the fire-adorned doors of The Pheonix and stand beneath the littlest Statue of Liberty at the golden hour, when the mountains to the west and the Strip to the east are saturated with late-afternoon light. Decidedly, we’ll take the strip we’re on.

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