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Fifth Street

July 22, 2021

In this issue: Commercial Center Gets Another Horror SciFi Attraction | How Italian Eateries Have Kept Friends Close During COVID | Media Sommelier: Logging On and Lashing Out

A MASSIVE SWORD and suits of armor line the walls. At another turn, I run into a pair of disembodied hands and a ghostly wedding dress. No, I haven’t stumbled onto a cult sacrifice or fraternity hazing; I’m wandering around Cineloggia, a newly opened horror and sci-fi movie memorabilia museum housed in Commercial Center.

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Marla Benson, co-owner of Cineloggia, walks me around the displays, dropping factoids and personal anecdotes. “You know, I'm a total geek at heart. The geeks are the future,” Benson says as she shows off Cineloggia’s artifacts. She points out the “fly” on Hellboy’s suit that costumers added so Ron Perlman could relieve himself easily on set, and she talks about the nightmares she used to get thanks to the Missionary, the blade-headed monster from Silent Hill. The Missionary costume now lives at this shrine to horror-flick props.

Benson’s favorite word to describe Cineloggia’s displays is “bitching.” Riddick’s Necromonger armor: “bitching.” Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head sword:“bitching.” And Benson’s not wrong, Cineloggia is bitching. Even if the string of words “Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head” means nothing to you, any cinephile should take a trip to Cineloggia.

I am no horror fanatic. I can only stomach American Horror Story episodes when Lady Gaga guest-stars. However, the Bensons’ infectious enthusiasm for cinema history paired with their vast collection and attention to detail make Cineloggia a treat for anyone interested in pop culture or moviemaking. Where else in Vegas can you find Ewok pelts mounted to the wall only to turn around to a delectable, albeit plastic, meat pie from Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd? But to me, the most unique piece currently on display are two fleshy discs that served as butt pads for Keanu Reeves on Bill and Ted Face the Music. Cineloggia has a cavalcade of costumes from the 1991 cult film, the pale, gelatinous butt implants standing in stark contrast to the psychedelic costumes created for the film’s setting of 2691 A.D.

With the recent openings of Nightmare Toys in the Arts District as well as Hellbound Horror and the Sci Fi Center, both in Commercial Center, Vegas is experiencing a microboom of horror-centric destinations. What sets Cineloggia apart is the sheer magnitude of movie props and costumes the space has access to.

“I've never made a count, but it's somewhere around 4,000 in total that I have,” James Azrael, Cineloggia’s curator, estimates. “There’s roughly 245 (pieces) at Cineloggia right now.” 

Azrael and his vast collection are based in Chicago. When I Zoom with Azrael, he pops up into the window with a posse of serial killers behind him. Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and Leatherface all eavesdrop on our conversation. “My turn-around is even better,” Azrael says as he whips around his webcam to reveal a room packed with masks, mannequins, and weapons, as if a kid’s toy collection have all grown to life-size.

Azrael, founder of the Horror Sci Fi Prop Preservation Association, has just completed the cross-country road trip from Las Vegas back to his home in Chicago. While in Vegas, he helped install a fraction of his macabre movie collection at Cineloggia.

With thousands of artifacts in their arsenal, Cineloggia promises to stay fresh, rotating in new exhibits around every six months. According to Benson, “It's going to take people roughly eight years to see everything that we have.” 

Marla’s husband, Nick Benson, first connected with Azrael while Azrael was running a bakery in Phoenix, Spooky Swirls, that served as a makeshift gallery for pieces from his vast collection. Marla, who owned and operated a gallery in LA, remembers thinking, “We need to have this in Vegas.”

“This really is her brainchild,” Azrael says of Benson. The couple kept in touch with Azrael for years as Marla and Nick searched doggedly for a home for Azrael’s collection. “And two and a half years later, here we are,” Benson says.

Although the pandemic affected their original October 2020 opening date, Cineloggia has seen an uptick in visitors as more locals and tourists return to in-person activities. Museum co-owner Dean Street says, “Everyone's being released from their homes. The entertainment industry is going to be booming. Anything that has to do with entertainment, getting yourself out of the house, putting you in a different zone altogether, is getting a huge influx of activity.”

Not only does Cineloggia pride itself on its eclectic mix of props and costumes; it’s also committed to authenticity. “Everything here is guaranteed to be authentically used in the film, worn by the actor,” Benson says, “James doesn't let me clean or iron or steam. Nothing. I can't touch it. If it's wrinkled, if it's got dirt on it, it has to stay that way.” In this way, Cineloggia is a time capsule, transporting its patrons back to simpler times.

“It takes you back,” Benson says, “People say, ‘Oh my god, I was 12 years old when I saw that.’ And next thing you know, you're talking to the 12-year-old.”

Similarly, Azrael sees his work as a curator as a nostalgia-trip travel agent. “Those in my age area, or whatever generation we are, that grew up on ‘slasherdom’ are now in that position to own and run stores,” Azrael says. “So I think it's kind of like the kids have grown up, and this is what we wanted as kids.”

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TOMATO SAUCE MUST BE in Southern Nevada’s DNA. As a growing Las Vegas began to stretch beyond Downtown and the Strip, Italian restaurants popped up like ragù-red roses across the valley, including ever-popular stalwarts like Casa di Amore, Nora’s Cuisine, and Pasta Shop Ristorante. Even more, in recent years there’s been a flowering of high-profile eateries opening beyond casino corridors: Esther’s Kitchen in the Arts District and its Tivoli Village siblings Al Solito Posto and Ada’s Wine Bar; La Strega in Summerlin; Locale on Blue Diamond Highway; Monzú Italian Oven + Bar in Spring Valley; and Osteria Fiorella in Red Rock Resort. Pasta is surely a perennial crowd-pleaser here in the Mojave Desert.

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Beyond these fine destinations, though, there’s a surprising number of additional Italian restaurants that have bloomed across the valley. Here’s a delectable selection of some (but certainly not all) of our current favorites that might have gone beneath your epicurean radar. Mangia!

Aromi Italian Restaurant

Newest on the scene, Aromi Italian Restaurant (2110 N. Rampart Blvd.,) has created a buzz with its array of cicchetti (the Italian take on tapas originating in Venice). The restaurant's snack-sized plates range from Kobe beef meatballs in zesty Amatriciana sauce and tuna tartare with green olive tapenade to an exquisite fregola salad (pearl-like semolina noodles reminiscent of Israeli-style couscous) with Manila clams. It also offers a three-course lunch menu, something uncommon in Italian establishments. On the dinner menu, fragrant cioppino brimming with seafood — including lobster and branzino — is a startlingly good stew. (Pictured above: spaghetti neri, squid ink spaghetti with lobster, scallops, and arrabbiata sauce)

D’Agostino’s Trattoria

Chef Dan and Brandi Thompson helm D’Agostino’s Trattoria (4155 S. Buffalo Dr.), a cozy westside spot. It's filled with family-style friendliness to match the 120-year-old Southern Italian recipes that Dan inherited from his great-grandfather. The open galley specializes in a wide variety of stuffed pasta with an emphasis on seasonal ravioli in exuberant varieties like wild mushrooms in sherry cream and three cheeses in pink vodka sauce. Dinner plate standouts include lively chicken piccata and a satisfying eggplant Parmigiana. To finish, a towering slice of cheesecake with an espresso makes for a perfetto combo at this dining gem.

Spaghetty Western

Mosey on down to Spaghetty Western (10690 Southern Highlands Parkway) for one of the liveliest pasta parlors in the Las Vegas Valley. Filled with cool Sergio Leone-esqe movie posters and dark, Wild West wood tones, it doesn’t look a bit like your nonna’s favorite spot back in New Jersey. Handcrafted dishes like orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe; baked mostaccioli; and veal saltimbocca, however, reflect Old Country culinary cred. The bar also has one of the most advanced and adventurous mixology programs to be found in the thirsty Vegas hinterlands, including the Coop’s Corner, an Italianate take of the Old Fashioned in which rye whiskey meets an herbal amaro and chocolate bitters.

Spaghetto Italian Kitchen

Located in the bustling Park Place shopping center in Henderson, Spaghetto Italian Kitchen (9570 S. Eastern Ave.) is a welcome surprise. Inside, it looks nothing like its strip mall exterior might suggest. A high-vaulted roof and an airy, stylish room accented with vintage black-and-white photo tones make for a welcome oasis from the glaring, hyper-colored suburban hubbub outside. Of course, spaghetti is the house specialty, and the house-crafted strings are made with egg for an extra-firm bite and are bronze-cut to make for sauce-absorbing texture. A great introduction is the spaghetti pomodoro with its sautéed fresh tomato chunks, onion, basil, and olive oil — simple but totally pleasing (especially with a little grated Parmesan cheese for a finish). Beyond pasta, the menu is replete with choices from crispy calamari with marinara dipping sauce for an appetizer to fragrant risotto topped with scampi for an entrée. For a sweet end to a meal, the eatery’s tiramisu and cannoli are beautiful delights.

Chef Piero’s Roma Kitchen

Chef Piero Broglia has been cultivating upscale Italian cuisine in Las Vegas for four decades at numerous restaurants. Now, with Peggy, his charismatic wife, running front-of-house operations, his name is glowing on the marquee at Chef Piero’s Roma Kitchen (1550 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy.) in a quiet but posh slice of Henderson close to MacDonald Ranch and sky-high Ascaya. The comfortable eatery is framed with big windows, and favors light-toned table settings throughout the bright dining room filled with flower arrangements and indoor greenery. The menu is rich with classic recipes like lemony orange roughy francese and alluring chicken marsala. Lasagna Bolognese — the house magnum opus — is worth a reservation alone. Plus maybe some pistachio gelato and an espresso for and end-of-dinner flourish.

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1. WELCOME TO THE META Meta meta echo Edition of Media Sommelier, in which we cite stories from the internet about the internet in order to investigate the internet! So, in recent years, the “What the hell happened to the internet?” essay has rightfully ripened into its own plump genre, and Media Sommelier could easily serve up a sizzling plate of thinky misgivings du jour any day of the week. But there’s something about Roxane Gay’s recent New York Times opinion piece, “Why People Are So Awful Online” — maybe its tone of solemn exhaustion, maybe its stolid resignation, maybe its painfully precise litany of the petty psychopathologies we all lug along whenever we log on — that just hits different.

Or maybe it’s the uncomfortable accuracy of her core argument, which is that we flail violently for illusory certainties on the internet — justice, revenge, payback, moral triumph, validation — because the real versions of those things seem increasingly difficult to achieve in the offline world: “In real life, we are fearful Davids staring down seemingly omnipotent Goliaths: a Supreme Court poised to undermine abortion and civil rights; a patch of sea on fire from a gas leak; an incoherent but surprisingly effective attack on teaching children America’s real history; the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act; a man whom dozens of women have accused of sexual assault walking free on a technicality. At least online, we can tell ourselves that the power imbalances between us flatten. … At least online, we can use our voices and know they can be heard by someone.” Often, unfortunately, IN ALL CAPS.

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2. Like you, I subscribe to 1,317 email newsletters. In fact, my “main” (!) “personal” (!) email address has gradually devolved into functioning as a mere wide-gauge burner account for ingesting all my newsletter subscriptions (as well as the barbarously punctuated, unaccountably shouty posts from an ill-advised Nextdoor account I lost the password to, what, like six years ago now). But I can’t keep up with the newsletters, and now I avoid opening that email account altogether, fearful that it’s inexorably accreting into some dangerously tumescent digital tower of newsletter Babel that will explode if I log in again. Anyway, in her essay for New York Magazine, “The Sound of My Inbox,” Molly Fischer helped me understand why I subscribed to 1,317 email newsletters in the first place and why I ultimately recoiled from them* — because she did the same thing: “I had, I realized, transformed my inbox into the rest of the internet. The great hope of newsletter writers seems to be some escape from the internet as it exists now — escape into nostalgia for a bygone era of blogs or into a past when liberalism reigned.” (Having fled newsletters, now I just regularly scrape what’s left of my brain against the velvet cheese grater known as Reddit.)

*except Fifth Street

3. (This item is from a newsletter lol.) And yet — amid all this discussion of banshee-screaming incivility charring our precious internet — how to account for the surprising relative wholesomeness of YouTube comments? That’s something that Drew Austin over at Kneeling Bus noticed recently, inspired by the comments on, randomly enough, the YouTube video for “Heaven or Las Vegas” by the Cocteau Twins. His short essay that considers this unlikely phenomenon of chill niceness on the web draws an interesting psychological distinction between online spaces that demand our “whole self” (Facebook, Twitter), and those that can accommodate a lighter, more incidental presence. YouTube, he writes, “might offer a healthier alternative to the parasocial jungle of Twitter, where everything feels more real than it actually is, and consequently becomes more real than it should be. We rarely (if ever) exist online as complete people, and when it seems like we do, it’s usually an illusion. Maybe — especially right now— we’re better served by digital environments that prevent us from fully inhabiting them.” See your not-quite-you avatar in the comments section!

4. When is a lie a lie, and when is it instead a falsehood, misinformation, a misleading statement, or … *raises dinner cloche with gloved hand to reveal steaming entree* … an untruth? Mainstream media can’t seem to decide, and I attest that half the collateral damage wrought by Trump & Co. stemmed from waffling news outlets amplifying his lies by repeating them — to be sure, lies that were dutifully and soberly (and feebly) identified as false, but, really, who do you think the Duck Dynasty Teletubby putsch clan of Jan. 6 is gonna believe, Trump or CNN? Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper recently decided to stop quoting politicians’ lies altogether in favor of just straight-up ignoring them. The experiment was put to a test when Trump recently attended a rally in Wellington in support of Ohio Republican Senate candidates desperate for his endorsement. The Plain Dealer’s commitment required its journalists to be disciplined and focused, reporting on the event’s political ramifications without dipping into the turbid slurry of Trump’s nonstop election lies. “So, we were not going to quote Trump making his absurd claims about the election. We weren’t going to quote any of his many false statements. We were not going to give them oxygen,” explained Chris Quinn, the VP of content at Advance Ohio and editor of Cleveland.com, the Plain Dealer’s sister company. The verdict so far: “Readers responded quite favorably to what we are doing.” Looks like alt-truthers and conspiracy theorists who want to keep feeding their aggrieved narcissism will have to rely on that old standby for their outlandish lies: the rest of the internet. Andrew Kiraly

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Photos and art: Cineloggia: Christopher Smith; Aromi, spaghetti neri: Sabin Orr

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