Desert Companion

Best of the City: Shops + Services, People + Places + Community


Veggie delivery
Make a contribution to the Bountiful Baskets Co-op at the beginning of the week, and by week's end, a basket full of produce arrives at your designated pick-up location. Although not as local, organic and sustainable as other community-supported-agriculture options (e.g., Quail Hollow), Bountiful offers better variety and prices, according to those who've tried both. - H.K.

Recreational gear
Brand-name, brand-new bike tubes, GPS units, headlamps and wetsuits are for city-slickers. Authentic outdoorsy types get their gear at the irregularly recurring, and not widely publicized REI Garage Sales. Stuff is "gently used" or from overstock, and for members only (but the membership is worth it). The most recent garage sale took place in November; keep an eye on the "Events" pages of the Las Vegas stores' websites for the next. - H.K.
[710 South Rampart Boulevard, 951-4488 (Boca Park); 2220 Village Walk Drive, Suite 150, 896-7111 (The District),]

Auto detailing
The Car Butler (Brian Fastow) comes to your house and pretties up your ride using sustainable products and methods. Sure, lots of companies do this, but Fastow's 12-year-old business is an outgrowth of his passion for everything auto, which drives him to help clients solve almost any car-related problem, from pumping gas to minor repairs. Case in point: "I had a customer who was short-selling his condo at the LV Country Club," Fastow says, "and I helped him sell all his cars." - H.K.

Support comes from


Local deal website
Promoted by the radio station Mix 94.1, website sells gift certificates to locals at half their cash value (e.g., a $50 gift certificate for the Queen Victoria Pub on sale for $25). Participating vendors are all over the board: frozen yogurt, hair salons, dance lessons, Strip shows & The only drawback (unless you're the owner of the site) is that you have to check often to find specific items you've got your heart set on. - H.K.

Place to score style bargains
The vintage clothing renaissance has made us all a little more willing to embrace secondhand style for the sake of a sweet deal. The sweetest deals in town are found at Buffalo Exchange, the city's principal outpost for previously adored designer jeans, vintage dresses, high-end jackets and more. Since the secondhand scene isn't exactly raging in Las Vegas, the Buffalo tends to be the default destination for locals with overcrowded closets, making it much easier to find a great variety of high-quality clothes, often only gently worn, sometimes even with price tags still attached. Will you have to do some digging? Yes, but just think of it as a slightly easier-than-usual treasure hunt. Tip: head first for the vintage section along the right side wall, where you're practically guaranteed to find a darling dress or two. - S.N.
[4110 S Maryland Pkwy # 1, 791-3960,]


Designer clothes deals
Since 1975, when it opened on Park Paseo downtown, the ultra-high-end Refinery Celebrity Resale Boutique has been gathering cast-off clothing and accessories (sometimes with price tag still attached) from well-heeled residents and travelers, and reselling them at a fraction of their original cost. For instance, owner Carolyn Kirson says, she recently sold a brand-new Hermes handbag for a mere $7,000. Other steals: Dennis Basso furs starting at $10,000, men's cashmere sweaters at $1,000 and Christian Loubouton pumps at $700. - H.K.
[3827 E. Sunset Road, 384-7340,]




NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Maureen Gregory and Sara Nunn square off on the best mall in the city

The 2 million square-foot mall boasts, "Fashion Show: At the Edge of Fashion, in the Heart of Vegas." And the mall deserves such a grandiose slogan. With more than 250 shops and restaurants -the Levi's Store, Louis Vuitton, BCBG Maxazria, Nail Art, Maggiano's, Chinese Laundry, to name a few - the Fashion Show is most diverse mall in Las Vegas. The newly renovated Forever 21 alone is mind-boggling, stretching over the two stories that Dillard's once occupied. If Forever is a little too 21 for you, Nordstrom has one of the valley's best shoe and clothing selections. You can splurge on Jimmy Choos on the first floor and snag a few Pima cotton tops on the third floor. Afterwards, grab a bite at Nordstrom's delish café, or head to the south end of the mall to Neiman's Café and dine on the best calamari salad you've ever had. Just don't get sucked into True Religion across the way.
[3200 Las Vegas Blvd S., 862-2525,]

Native cred: Maureen Gregory misses being dropped off at Scandia and Wet 'n' Wild after finals at Bonanza High School.

For a former Northwestern suburbanite like myself, there's nothing more delicious than saying, "I'm going to the mall" and meaning the grand temple of excess known as the Forum Shops. So much better than the drab, two-story model of mall that's held sway over the less citified of us for decades, the Forum Shops offers a variety of outlets both intensely necessary (The Gap, the Apple Store) and harder to find (Marc Jacobs, Harry Winston), all in an atmosphere combining the decadence of ancient Rome with ... well, the decadence of contemporary Las Vegas. The massive size means you'll get a good workout making your way from Agent Provocateur to the Cheesecake Factory, with places aplenty to stop and contemplate whether there's any truth to that Atlantis myth. It's the sweetest mall experience I know of, and not only because you can always get free samples at Vosges Haut-Chocolat. - Sara Nunn
[3500 Las Vegas Blvd S., 893-4800,]

Newbie cred: Since moving to Las Vegas in 2008, Sara Nunn has shopped the valley from the Strip's sparkling monuments to designer egotism to the dustiest vintage clothing sections in hidden antique malls.


Bibliophiles will find a cedar-scented haven amid the many wooden shelves of Plaza Books. A veritable rabbit warren of nooks and crannies, its maze-like layout cossets everything from first editions to manifold play scripts. Mysteries, suspense novels and especially science fiction enjoy robust representation, although no genre is slighted. (My last visit snagged a vintage, hard-to-find paperback edition of a thriller by German author Hans Hellmut Kirst.) Religion, history and contemporary affairs are in bountiful supply, too. While many secondhand stores are catch-as-catch-can, owner Ann DeVere's selectivity ensures a catholic selection and high quality. If you can't find it at Plaza Books, she'll be happy to refer you to the Valley bookstore likeliest to have what you seek. Frequent paperback purchasers can take advantage of a trade-in program whereby credits from your last sale are rolled into your next purchase. Thrift, Horatio! - D.M.
[7380 S. Eastern Ave. Suite 102, 263-2692]

Trust a tailor who will tell you no: Joe Milano at Milano's Fashion will tell you if the sleeves on a French cuff shirt are fine the way they are (they are), or if the massive reconstruction on that jacket you found for cheap on eBay is worth the hassle (it isn't). I've been going to Joe for alterations minor and otherwise for five years, and have never had a problem he couldn't fix. Joe's a master tailor, a tailor's tailor, much like cops in "The Wire" praise each other for being "natural police." My girlfriend went to Joe to get some pants hemmed and was surprised that sizing was a blur - one look, one chalk stroke, and done: a perfect hem, a perfect break. He's been at it for more than 30 years, and his prices do run a bit higher than most, but I once took a shirt elsewhere, and it returned a wreck, cuff points twisted up and threads disintegrating. When Joe alters a French cuff sleeve, it's as though the shirt had always fitted you properly. So yes: Joe is totally "natural tailor," which is a term you'd use if you were doing a gritty drama about tailors. - Juan Martinez
[4155 South Maryland Parkway, 735-6866]






VetKNOW-IT-ALL: Expert Steve Friess on the best veterinarian in the valley

There are hundreds of vets across this fine, pet-loving valley of ours, but Dr. Tawny Schlesener at Green Valley Animal Hospital has a special touch with the animals - and their humans, too. It's not unusual for Dr. Tawny to call on weekends or when she's out of town to follow up on patients in acute situations, checking on changes and answering the same questions a zillion times if it means reassuring worried pet owners. A Kansas State University graduate who opened the Green Valley Animal Hospital at 6150 Mountain Vista St in Henderson, she strives to make the pet owner a part of the decision-making process rather than dictating the outcome. Perhaps the best testimonials come from the furry friends she sees, though: Even after uncomfortable procedures in her office, pets continue to sidle up to her. - Steve Friess
[6150 Mountain Vista St., 795-4440]

He should know: Steve Friess is a Vegas-based freelance journalist who co-hosts the weekly animal-affairs podcast "The Petcast" and lives with his three dogs, Black, Jack and Aces.


iPhone repair
When Steve Jobs has nightmares, do they feature Joe Vandewalle and Wookie Nguyen? The Desert Wireless duo - or one of their tech geeks - will repair your iPhone for around $50, depending on the breakage (compared with around $200 at the seller). Demand has led to the opening of four Desert Wireless locations around the Las Vegas Valley, and Nguyen says they've branched out into other phones now, too. - H.K.

Massage on the cheap European Massage Therapy School Student Clinic
In order to complete their certification requirements, students at the European Massage Therapy School have to give dozens of massages to the public in the student clinic. Under the guidance of a licensed, experienced massage therapist, a student who has completed her course work will give you a 50-minute massage for $25 or an 80-minute massage for $40. That should feel pret-ty darn good. - H.K.
[8751 W. Charleston Blvd., Suite 295, 202-2455,]

Political ActivistPolitical activist
Little more than two years ago, Derek Washington was an unknown. Then the Review-Journal minted a star with its front-page feature chronicling the openly gay, HIV-positive black man's struggle to afford his trip to the Democratic National Convention in Denver for which he had been elected a Hillary Clinton delegate. He got to go and returned to help Obama win, but Election Night brought a confusing mélange of glee and devastation when Obama's triumph was sullied by the passage in California of Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage. By early 2009, Washington took control of Stonewall Democrats, a heretofore sleepy gay group best known in Nevada for hosting genteel meet-and-greet coffees with legislators and candidates. Under Derek, it started doing what real activist groups do: agitate and organize.

Derek's assets can also be his liabilities - he's frequently combative, persistent, irritating, vainglorious and inappropriate - but he's undeniably effective. Proof? How about the astonishing, improbable fact that U.S. Sen. John Ensign was one of eight GOP senators to vote for repeal of the ban on gays serving opening in the military? We don't know what specifically pushed Ensign to favor repeal, but most Vegas progressives - and pundits! -figured it was a waste of time to even try him. Washington and his posse called and visited Ensign's offices incessantly leading up to the vote. Perhaps they succeeded because they didn't know they should have failed. - Steve Friess

Place to take your kids and maintain your hipster dad cred
You love your wife. But when she comes at you with, "Let's take the kids to Springs Preserve today!" for, like, the hundredth time, don't you want to reclaim your ecologically insensitive testes? Also, what if you need to hit Lowe's and only have a small window of opportunity for entertaining the little beasts?

One place that's fun, free (to look) and won't take all afternoon is La Joya Auto Sales at 2520 Fremont St. just off Charleston. The lot is a slice of muscle car heaven, from the 1972 Dodge Challenger (swap stick) to the 1968 Plymouth GTX (power disc brakes). La Joya proprietor Rick is a cool dude. Ask him nicely and he may let you indulge your inner gearhead by test-driving a gas-guzzler around the block with your kids bouncing around in the backseat ... you know, like kids used to.

That's not exhaust you smell; it's the odor of reinstated masculinity. Or maybe your toddlers need a bath? Whatever. Just don't forget Lowe's. - Jarret Keene.
[La Joya Auto Sales, 2520 Fremont St.]









KNOW-IT-ALL: Expert Sarah Flake on Las Vegas' best Etsy crafter

It's everything I love about Etsy: Recycled, trendy and cheeky, Marlene Stidham of Island Girlz Jewelry taps into my pleasure center and runs amok. A one-woman production, she specializes in staying on top of the latest and greatest trends in pop culture through her line of jewelry, keychains, bags and accessories. Want to rock a Justin Beiber charm bracelet? Don't have your Dumbledore's Army key chain yet? Or maybe you never lost your rabid devotion for Elvis. Whatever your bliss, Marlene's got you covered.

Using recycled objects she finds at thrift stores or scrap heaps, your over-the-top bling is made from unlikely objects like Scrabble tiles, rubber tires, cigar boxes, soda cans, paper bags and more unlikely bits. She calls it "Fashion with a Conscience," and being green never looked so good. Putting her money where her mouth is, she's also led multiple fundraisers for environmental causes. She's also an active leader in the Vegas Etsy team, Handmade in Vegas (disclosure: I'm team captain), and is quick to share her advice and enthusiasm for greener living. See for yourself and indulge in your latest mania. - Sarah Flake

She should know: Sarah Flake is the creator of an abnormal plush toy line called Flaky Friends and is also the captain of Vegas' first and only Etsy team, Handmade in Vegas which incorporates over 250 local Etsy sellers.


Beat reporter
It's hard to imagine how the Las Vegas Sun would fill its front pages without the indefatigable Liz Benston, whose byline sometimes appears as often as five times a week out front with textured, insightful looks not just at how the gaming business works, but also how real people perceive and interact with it. She seems to spend a lot of time talking to tourists and resort workers as well as to gaming executives, and the stories she comes back with - about everything from problematic pedestrian flows at Aria to the drama over tip-sharing - are as enlightening as they are well-written. Also, Benston clearly has a touch of the geek gene, what with her constant attention to developments in mobile gaming and social media. - Steve Friess

(Disclosure: Steve Friess writes a column for the Las Vegas Weekly, which is owned by Greenspun Media, publishers of the Las Vegas Sun.)

Facebook friend
Is there a more fragmented, up-for-grabs Best Of category than this? No. You into politics? Send a friend request to ace pundit Steve Sebelius or join Jon Ralston's fan page. Love nightlife? Look up Sammy Aguilar. Culture? Local artists galore on Facebook. But here's my pick: Local curator Brian Paco Alvarez. First, he's indefatigable. Dude reads widely, posts frequently, and in many areas: politics, culture, social life, and with a curator's eye for what matters. He's often one of the first to pick up Vegas-related tremors in other places - it was from him, for example, that many of us first learned that Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn had attacked the Neon Museum. And second, he operates out of a deep love for Las Vegas, which means that he celebrates or is outraged in all the right ways. As of this writing he has 1,436 friends - plenty of room for you. - Scott Dickensheets

Voice of reason
Transparency alert: Review-Journal columnist Geoff Schumacher is my friend. While that may call his judgment into question, your faith in his worthiness as our Voice of Reason will be restored immediately upon reading his Friday columns. Week after week, in one of the most right-lurching op-ed sections in America, Schumacher patiently stakes out positions that some R-J readers think are flagrantly liberal but which, upon actual reading, are usually pragmatic-centrist, with a modest leftward tilt. Context is vital, of course - there are times when Barry Goldwater would seem centrist amid the government-haters, climate-change deniers and other flat-earthers who often decorate the section. But while Schumacher does function as the R-J's token liberal, his is really a post-ideological instinct for the middle ground, the workable consensus, the humane solution. All of which makes him a necessary counterbalance on the state's largest opinion platform. If only he had better taste in friends. - S.D.

Place to eavesdrop
Here's the thing about great places to eavesdrop: You don't go there to eavesdrop. I mean, you're not some kind of creep, are you? So there has to be a good reason you're there. For quality listening-in, the setting should be intimate, confined, which is why excellent people-watching spots rarely suffice. A restaurant, then. One with tight quarters. Casual, too, so the other diners are easygoing and talkative. Best place I know: The Omelet House downtown. Small, closely packed, serving a very diverse clientele. Last time I was there, the two guys behind me talked in great detail about an FBI raid on a hospital. (Which hospital? I dunno, they didn't say.) The old couple to my left talked sadly and frankly about his illness. See, breakfast is a great leveler - almost everyone eats it, so the line to get in on a Saturday morning is a mix of culture, class and wildly varying status. (A friend and I once wracked our brains trying, unsuccessfully, to identify what we believed to be a hip-hop artist we should've recognized.) They'll serve up generous portions of their lives - if you can tear your attention away from the delicious omelets. - S.D.
[2160 W. Charleston Blvd., 384-6868,]









NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: James P. Reza and Steven Mason face off on the city's best place to hang

The Newsroom. Enigma Cafe. Espresso Roma. Cafe Rainbow. Copioh. All lost coffeehouses, each a critical component of the Las Vegas cultural scene. In these vaguely European, often bohemian and definitely contrarian shrines to the fetish of espresso, books were studied, bands were born and artists unleashed performance pieces on diverse audiences united in their desire to reach beyond the obvious Las Vegas experience.

Like Macy's (Flagstaff, Ariz.) and Swami's (Encinitas, Calif.), good Vegas cafes were organic representations of local culture, places where the bumper stickers and bulletin boards were as vital to the experience as the food. Such cafes are a rarity today, when personality and localism are often shunned in exchange for calculated sterility.

In steps The Beat to reintroduce the free-spirited cafe to Las Vegas, embellishing it with a quality food menu born of passion. Like all good cafes, The Beat fosters comfortable familiarity on both sides of the counter, welcoming a cadre of students, creative spirits, adventurous attorneys, and off-center office drones, all downtown denizens with stories to share.

Aspiring anthropologists offer harried casino execs a Slap & Tickle (a peanut butter, jelly, bacon and jalapeno sandwich). Some folks set up laptops every day, scrambling only to use the restroom. If you want legal advice, help with your English Lit final, to discuss conspiracy theories or join a vegetarian knitting circle, you are likely to find it here. And because it also serves as the "kitchen table" of the Emergency Arts collective, interesting people are always coming and going. Like Margaret Cho, for instance. Or NPR's own Liane Hansen. True story.

The Beat is the kind of place that sprouts naturally to nurture an urban population in need of a gathering spot. As such, it is instantly familiar and comforting to anyone who has favorite cafe "back home," even if that home was Las Vegas circa 1993.
[520 Fremont Street, 300-6268,]

Native cred: James P. Reza is a native Las Vegas writer who concocts his very own Spring Fever Fizz, in memory of Enigma's Julie Brewer, every spring.

Lots of coffeehouses drink so deeply from the anti-Starbucks vibe that they've become caricatures of anti-corporatism. Fair trade? Check. Organic? Double check. Che Guevara posters? Venti check. So whether you're traipsing around Greenwich Village or San Francisco's SoMa district, finding a coffeehouse that creates an oeuvre and owns it - instead of proffering over-roasted coffee and overpriced imitations of food - is next to impossible. But that's all because you're not looking right here in Las Vegas (Boca Park, to be exact), where Sambalatte Torrefazione serves world-class java for the true enthusiast, freshly roasted, ground and brewed (French press, vacuum brew, chemex, aero press or single brew), tea, foodie salads and sandwiches like their caprese; pastries flown in from Paris; comely desserts; and palate-cleansing gelatos. All in a two-story, spacious environment, walls adorned with photos of coffee in various stages of production; communal teak tables; the requisite Wi-Fi along with a bevy of rechargeable Wi-Fi stations; books and magazines; room for the impromptu business meeting or understated art of the pickup; live Latin and jazz music on many nights; unobtrusive but substantive music the rest of the time; and an eclectic mix of cool, personable coffee-lovers (as customers, baristas and servers). When it comes time for my dictionary, Sambalatte has got first dibs on the word "oasis."
[750 S. Rampart Blvd. Suite 9, 272-2333]

Newbie cred: Steven Mason, brand strategist, ADHD connoisseur, and megadose consumer of caffeine, has lived in Las Vegas for 15 months.


Best green initiative
First, let me pummel you with some numbers: Organic waste - that's everything from your leftover Hot Pocket to your lawn clippings - takes up about 26 percent of a typical landfill, second only to paper. It smells for a reason: Organic material slowly decomposes in a landfill through anaerobic processes (i.e., without oxygen) to create methane, a greenhouse gas that's 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Thankfully, recycling efforts in Las Vegas have reached a new level with the continued growth of A-1 Organics Nevada. Since its launch in 1974, the Colorado-based company has diverted about 8,000,000 cubic yards of green waste from the landfill. After branching out further west, A-1 Organics Nevada began accepting Southern Nevada's green waste in 2006 and food waste in 2009. Since then, numerous hotel-cacasinos, restaurants, grocery stores and landscapers have hopped on the mulch wagon, either dropping off material at A-1's transfer station or contracting A-1 to collect the materials. Since 2009, they've turned 120,000 cubic yards of Southern Nevada's green waste into a high-grade of compost and mulch. (Plug: At UNLV, we've diverted more than 100 tons of food waste and about 850 cubic yards of landscape waste to A-1 Organics in 2010.) The finished product is sold at A-1's facility near Nellis Air Force Base, as well as at local nurseries and rock/gravel companies.

A-1's recycling system isn't just good for the earth - it's, well, good for the actual earth. Their products improve the health and structure of the soil, boost drought resistance, and shrink or eliminate the need for supplemental water, fertilizer or pesticides. People talk about closed loop recycling and sustainability, but A-1 Organics has achieved it. - Tara Pike






Historic building
NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Brian Paco Alvarez and Martin Treinen settle a score on the city's coolest old building

One of the finest examples of Mayan Revival or Mayan Art Deco architecture in the American Southwest, the original Las Vegas High School downtown is the city's best historic building. Taking clues from pre-Columbian Mayan culture and Art Deco, the main building that faces Seventh Street is beautifully adorned with intricate friezes depicting figures, flora and fauna.

But the company the school keeps only enhances its beauty. The elegant three-story building stands in stark contrast to its surroundings of small houses and modern office buildings. Originally opened in 1931, the school and surrounding neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the school is the home of the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts, a magnet school of the Clark County School District. Hopefully this building that forms future artists instills them with a respect for our valley's past. - Brian Paco Alvarez
[315 South Seventh Street]

Native cred: As curator of the Las Vegas New Bureau, Brian Paco is up to his elbows in history every day in the form of millions of classic Las Vegas images.

After three years in Las Vegas, I'm still discovering the community's treasures. One unlikely discovery is on the Strip itself, north of the Encore. Set back from the street, obscured by landscaping and strip smalls, is the Guardian Angel Cathedral. Unless you're a visiting Roman Catholic searching for a place to worship, you might never discover this gem in the desert - there are no 20-story signs calling out to announce this simple, easily overlooked building out of the '60s. But a closer inspection reveals not just a building, but an entire experience designed by renowned architect Paul Williams with artwork by Edith and Isabel Piczek.

A main component of the Guardian Angel Cathedral experience is the generous exterior mosaic, and the numerous stained glass windows and murals in the interior. The style is "Mystical Realism," which I would describe as El Greco meets Mary Blair. The visual language is made up of angular sections and elongated forms of sharp planes filled with intense color, many in colored tiles and stained glass. These are colors that can only be experienced as light filtering through panes of colored glass - modeled, bubbled, rough, etched and stained.

This remarkable architectural collaboration can only be experienced in person. When I enter the space, I'm transported off the Strip to a place of repose. The Guardian Angel Cathedral is so wonderfully envisioned, designed and constructed to create a totally unique place in Vegas - and a wholly unlikely one on the Strip: a space created for reflection. - Martin Treinen
[302 Cathedral Way]

Newbie cred: Transplant Martin Treinen is a designer and artist who has worked for the Wynn, Encore and Mandarin Oriental.





SW Gas

KNOW-IT-ALL: Expert Eric Strain on the city's best building

Las Vegas has two worlds of architecture: global glitz and glamour on one side, and on the other side - a search for identity. You see expressions of that search here and there: The simply stated concrete masonry unit homes along St. Louis Ave., the old SIIS building on Shadow Lane, the original Life Science building at UNLV and the Springs Preserve. What these projects share is a common search for materials that weather the desert environment.

One of the city's best examples is the Southwest Gas building. Earthy, understated and even noble, it's a collage of building along Spring Mountain that respects the street. Landscape and buildings front the road. Parking is ushered for the most part to the back of the property, out of sight. Buildings cluster around an elegant courtyard, well done in form and with a simplicity of plant materials. Large overhangs help screen direct sun, but enable filtered light to reach into the core of the buildings. Materials are earthy, meant to withstand the extremes of our desert climate, but - again - simple in contrast to the overexuberance of many of today's structures. Masonry and weathered steel form the visual appearance of a structure that's aged well in this environment.

It is a building we expect to last, one that will survive both the economic wake and the test of time. It is an elegant structure long forgotten in design circles, but one we should re-evaluate as we discuss how Las Vegas should progress. - Eric Strain
[5241 West Spring Mountain Road]

He should know: Architect Eric Strain is principal of Assemblage Studio.


ArchitectNew architect to watch
"If you want to have a design office, open that office in Los Angeles or New York." That's the advice I received 15 years ago. Building an architectural craft shaped on design developed from within our own community seemed like wishful thinking, and at times it still does. Architecture has long been regarded as an elderly gentlemen's profession where plum commissions are reserved for men of distinction - or, in layman's terms, men with white hair.

But as we emerge from this economic pause, can't we turn to new ideas and new voices? UNLV's School of Architecture has started producing the next generation of voices worth listening to: Drew Gregory, Glen Curry, Clemete Cicoria, Vince Novak and Dan Chenin.

In the meantime, another voice has entered the discussion. Educated at UCLA, Jason Strodl has returned to Las Vegas and decided, against all odds, to start up his practice during these troubling times. He's experimenting with recreating the idea of home, offering alternatives for redoing and remaking what we've long thought a residence should be. His voice should be encouraged, amplified and added to the chorus we need to listen to as we remake Las Vegas into the community it should be, the community it can be. - E.S.






More Best of the City: From neighborhoods to bike rides to ... bureaucrats? Yes!   Bonus





Best neighborhood

NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Ryan Reason and Sarah Kokernot rumble over the city's greatest 'hood

When the American Planning Association names the John S. Park Historic District as one of the Top Ten Great Neighborhoods in the country for 2010, there must be something special happening there. In a town where most people don't even know their neighbors by first name, the residents of John S. Park are striving to set the new standard of community in Las Vegas. Not only do they know their neighbors, but they know their neighbors' neighbors as well. Situated in the heart of downtown, just off Charleston and Las Vegas Boulevard, John S. Park is an island of community in what is otherwise an ocean of celebrated anonymity. The APA not only recognized the committed and engaged citizens, but also the community's distinguished residential architecture, easy access to public transportation, and the plethora of mature trees that stretch out over the neighborhood. Built between the early 1930s and 1950s, these well-maintained Ranch and Minimal Traditional style houses are individually charming -- but as a neighborhood, they are inspiring.

Native cred: Photographer Ryan Reason is a native, but not quite "historic." Yet.

I live just east of UNLV and, except for maybe Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah, I wouldn't live anywhere else. Some of my reasons are sentimental: The mix of homes and businesses vaguely reminds me of where I grew up (squashed between a halfway house and a nursing home). I have a soft spot for ragamuffins who play kickball in the street and a stubborn dislike of HOA regulations. Some reasons are practical: No handwritten reminders about what color begonias you can plant in your yard. No long commute to the Strip or, indeed, most places, including the Clark County Public Library and Paradise Park. I can ride my bike to work on Harmon Avenue, which has one of the few bike lanes I've seen in the city, and I'm surrounded by some very pretty Midcentury homes, tasty and cheap places to eat, and a handful of grocery stores.

Newbie cred: Sarah Kokernot grew up in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky and has been living in Las Vegas for two and a half years. The white fences and grazing thoroughbreds of Casa de Shenandoah make her feel less homesick.





Best bike ride

NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Jacob Snow and Heidi Kyser take a run at the best place to pedal hard and fast

The River Mountain Loop Trail in southeastern Clark County is 37 miles of smooth, paved asphalt bliss, completely dedicated to cyclists, pedestrians and the occasional horse and rider or rollerblader - and it's the best cycling route in Southern Nevada. No cars, no trucks, no buses, not even a moped to cut you off (or crash into you). And no, you don't have to worry about rude, negligent, incapacitated or otherwise impaired drivers madly texting, shaving, eating or talking on their cell phones (or doing all of them at once). For almost the entire route, you're hundreds of feet away from any motorized traffic.

And it's scenic. Most of the east portion of the trail provides great views of Lake Mead. The west portion offers stunning views of the entire Las Vegas Valley - from Henderson, of course. And, unlike the Red Rock cycling route, if you enter the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the River Mountain Loop Trail, there's no requirement to pay a $5 entrance fee. - Jacob Snow

Native cred: Regional Transportation Commission General Manager Jacob Snow was born in the old Boulder City Hospital, and went to school in the building that is now the City Hall of Boulder City.

Those (like me) who live downtown have the rare urban luxury of being able to leave home on their bikes and ride as much as 50 miles (round trip, depending on how far into Red Rock National Conservation area they go) on the downtown to Red Rock bike trail on Alta Drive, a city-designated bike lane and wide-shouldered highway through gorgeous scenery. People who've ridden here a long time get sick of Red Rock rides, but that's because they usually start somewhere on Charleston Boulevard. The urban-meets-wild nature of the Alta route makes it a lot more interesting. Tip: Leave by 5 a.m. to avoid heavy traffic and long waits at signals.

Newbie cred: Jock chick wannabe Heidi Kyser had an airtight cover story (work) for moving from L.A. to Las Vegas in 2004, which she actually did so she could ride bikes and hike with her Vegas-based boyfriend whenever she wanted to.





Unsung bureaucrat

KNOW-IT-ALL: Retired County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury sings the praises of a tireless public works wonk

In my 28 years as a Clark County Commissioner, I had the privilege of working with several high-profile government officials well-known for their abilities and accomplishments. But there are other outstanding leaders such as Denis Cederburg, the Clark County Director of Public Works, who toil in virtual obscurity. His job is to build, repair and maintain the 215 Beltway and a vast network of county roads and flood control projects. When I was in office and trying to fast-track the county's transportation plans, Denis was the guy in charge of tearing up every damn road in the county to make it happen.

Ask Denis about any public works issue in the Clark County community, going back 20 years, and he'll recite chapter and verse in every detail. He's soft-spoken and shuns the limelight, but he achieves remarkable results in one of the toughest jobs in Southern Nevada. - Bruce Woodbury

He should know: Bruce Woodbury served as a Clark County Commissioner for nearly three decades, leaving office in 2009.





Best place to take relatives to prove we've got more than just gambling

NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Jim Gentleman and Glenn Truitt pick where to take Aunt Judy when she doesn't want to gamble

Mt. Charleston is the place that garners the most responses of "I had no idea this was here!" and "I feel like I'm a thousand miles from Las Vegas!" when you share it with family or friends the first time. It's got everything the city doesn't: wildlife, verdant landscape, picturesque hiking trails and - perhaps most importantly - cooler temperatures. Those visitors lucky enough to make an extended stay can take advantage of everything from summer picnics in Kyle Canyon to sleigh rides near the Mount Charleston lodge to hiking adventures such as Bristlecone Trail and Robber's Roost, as well as one thing you won't definitely won't see in the valley: thrilling, postcard-perfect snowfall scenes.

Native cred: Jim Gentleman is an executive with SK+G Advertising and knows what happens on Mt. Charleston stays on Mt. Charleston. (Just be aware of the echo.)

Hidden in plain sight - a mere mile from the Strip - there's a place where you can travel back to a time when Vegas wasn't the only city where people gathered in rooms lit by blinking lights, video screens and colored displays. The Pinball Hall of Fame has all the kitsch of old Vegas - without the desperation, ill-fitting clothes and smell of stale beer. Sure, you'll still hear coins clinking and those all-too-familiar beeps and bells. But rather than a soundtrack to lost fortunes and broken dreams, here they're a reminder of our desert's real power: to preserve old, forgotten things just as we remembered them.
[1610 E. Tropicana Ave.,]

Newbie cred: Glenn Truitt, a local attorney recently transplanted from L.A., can be found holding court at the Pinball Hall of Fame's Indiana Jones machine, pursuing the elusive 8-ball multiball.







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