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Fifth Street

August 12, 2021

In this issue: Are We About to Have an Indie Film Renaissance Up In Here? | See Hear Do: Dog Days at the Pool, Plus Musical Theater | A New Food Delivery App Is ‘LoCo’ About Fairness | Media Sommelier: On the Bleak Futility of Productivity Apps


IT'S A TUESDAY night in July, and about half of the 18 parking spots at Snappy Burger are filled, while on a giant screen overhead, Ray Liotta reminisces about how as far back as he can remember, he always wanted to be a gangster. We’re all here to eat burgers and watch Goodfellas, at one of a handful of new and upcoming venues that are attempting to reinvent moviegoing in Las Vegas.

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Located on North Decatur just off the 95, Snappy Burger opened under the name Burger 51 in July 2020, the brainchild of Heart Attack Grill owner Jon Basso. Originally conceived as a drive-thru version of Heart Attack Grill, the restaurant shifted focus when Basso’s wife noticed something about the video screen he had planned for showing music videos. “When we were drawing it, we kind of realized, this looks like a drive-in theater,” Basso says. That sparked an idea, what he calls “a boutique drive-in movie theater.”

Snappy Burger started out showing local independent short films and the sci-fi B-movies that Basso grew up on, before evolving to its current slate of mostly familiar vintage Hollywood movies like Goodfellas. Patrons drive through to pick up their food, then park and watch the movie for free.

Basso is always experimenting with programming, like the stoner staple of The Wizard of Oz featuring Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon as the soundtrack, which Basso says was his most popular show yet (“People were parked across the street and sitting on the hoods of their cars”). He eager to return to showing independent films, and he offers an open invitation for local filmmakers to submit their work. “Give me any indie film,” he says, “and I'll give you a time slot.”

Just a few miles away in downtown’s Arts District, Art Houz Theaters now occupies the former Eclipse Theaters space on 3rd Street. Like Eclipse, Art Houz is a full-service luxury movie house, complete with an expanded restaurant and bar. Since opening in May, Art Houz has been programming a mix of new-release Hollywood movies and smaller indie fare. “The actual goal is, yes, we want to be an artsy, indie, classic, throwback movie theater,” says operations manager Shawn Barrack, “but if you’re not showing the first-runs like Black Widow, you’re really kind of hurting yourself, because those are what pull so much revenue.”

Art Houz hosted a reception for the Nevada Women’s Film Festival in June, and Barrack expects that festival to return next year, potentially alongside other local film festivals. “The great thing is we have the ability to program whatever we want on top of what the studios ask us to play,” he explains. “We’ve already had two or three movie premieres from independent producers.”

Future possibilities include showings of classic movies, Bollywood and Spanish-language cinema, The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a live shadow cast, and more broadcasts of sporting events, which has already been a success with Golden Knights games. That might make Art Houz seem closer to a sports bar, but for Barrack, expanding the perception of the venue is important. “I like to look at it as more of a restaurant and bar with the amenity of a theater,” he says.

If Art Houz is looking ahead to movie theaters as integrated elements of overall luxury venues, The 35 Cinema is doing the opposite, striving to meticulously recreate the moviegoing experience of the past. The 35 began inside Neonopolis bar The Nerd, with a brief run from February to April. But CEO John Lohmann has bigger plans for The 35, which is tentatively set to reopen in a much bigger location in Commercial Center on October 1.

A veteran of the movie-theater industry, Lohmann moved to Vegas last year with a vision for a theater exclusively showing movies projected on film, rather than digitally: “Actually seeing the projector, actually hearing the projector running, seeing the flicker. Even the damage, the lines, the little pieces of dirt—it adds character to the film.”

The 35’s new location will include three auditoriums, showing well-known classics like Star Wars or Superman in the larger space, with cult films or midnight movies in the smaller rooms. In addition to 35mm film, The 35 will be set up to project 16mm and 70mm formats, and Lohmann has plans for various events, including Q&As with filmmakers and celebrities, weekend-morning cartoon lineups for kids and families, 3D movies, a string quartet playing movie themes in the lobby, and, like Art Houz, showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a live shadow cast.

For Lohmann, there’s an added effort just in acquiring film prints and running the equipment to project them, but it’s worthwhile to give audiences the authentic experience. “Right before we closed the original location, we were getting inundated by people coming in and watching stuff,” he says. “I can’t wait for the new location to open. When you walk in the theater, it’ll feel like you’re walking into a 1930s retro movie theater.”

Further into the future is the most ambitious and well-funded of these new alternative movie theaters, The Beverly Theater, set to open in mid-2022 in a newly constructed building on 6th Street next to The Writer’s Block. Supported by the Rogers Foundation, The Beverly will feature theatrical and literary events in addition to movies, although creative director Kip Kelly says that movies will be the main focus: “We will be anchored by indie film, because it’s our goal, and it’s my mandate from Beverly (Rogers), that we’re open eventually seven nights a week.”

Although plans are still fluid, programming will include new indie releases as well as classics, local films and film festivals (Kelly has had brief talks with the former organizers of beloved local festival CineVegas). “We want to try some unique things that keep us relevant and keep us fresh while doing the standard things that we know work,” Kelly says. “We’re going to hit those fundamental aspects, but we’re going to have fun with it, too.” Like The 35 Cinema, The Beverly Theater will have the capability of projecting movies on film, although Kelly anticipates that most showings will be digital.

These venues are all operating independently of each other now, each focused on their own unique approach and cultivating their particular audiences. But, as Kelly points out, the success of any of them means success for arthouse cinema in Vegas: “If we do this right and we attract more attention and we’re able to put mainstream focus on independent voices, then it raises all ships.”

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Alice in Wonderland
Sundays in August 2021
Family-friendly theater

Every Sunday in August, The Space Las Vegas invites viewers down the rabbit hole with its unique twist on Alice in Wonderland. The company worked closely with DLUX Puppets and Axtell Expressions to create a show featuring life-sized puppets of particular characters and digitally-projected scenery. Las Vegas-based DLUX Puppets, founded by Derek and Lauren Lux, specializes in puppetry for live theater, advertising, film, and television. For this production, they designed and fabricated life-sized puppets of Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Steve Axtell’s digital set, with embedded music and 3D characters, brings the stage to life. Axtell created a movie-like background that makes it possible for characters to believably walk from room to room, climb trees, fall down the rabbit hole, walk in the forest, and grow and shrink. Together with the actors, the puppets, and digitized set, this version of the classic story promises a wonder of an experience.

Show starts at 2 p.m., doors open at 1 pm. All tickets $25 at thespacelv.com Rachel Wilson

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The Work of Keith Mikell
August 12-September 10
Art exhibition

This is the first major show for 60-year-old artist Keith Mikell, but don’t call him a late bloomer. He’s been painting for decades; it’s just that his style of work couldn’t break him into the gallery circuit. “When I showed it to a white-owned gallery, it was ‘too black,’” Mikell says. “When I showed it to a black-owned gallery, it ‘wasn’t black enough.’” Mikell’s work playfully vamps among different modes — rich, color-drenched expressionism; dynamic abstraction; brash doses of silliness and satire — but what they have in common is his almost reckless, sensual devotion to bold colors in vividly portraying Black life.

“As you can see from my work, subtlety is not my forte,” he says in his bio. “My themes are primarily heavily embodied subjects with vibrant colors: They are raw and unbridled in their symbolism and messages.”

The boldness of his work might be matched by the boldness of the venue, Conrad West Gallery, which dared to open in the deep COVID winter of January, and boasts a roster of wildly diverse artists whose work ranges from sculpture and classic oil portraiture to street artists and mixed-media collagists. Free, reception 6p Aug. 12, 15 W. Colorado Ave., conradwestgallery.com Andrew Kiraly

Beyond the Neon
Reception August 18; exhibit through September 30
Art exhibition

A diverse group of 18 painters, photographers, and sculptors from across the Southwest contributed 60 works to this show celebrating the flora, fauna, and landscapes of the Mojave Desert.  Visitors can meet some of the artists at the reception Aug. 18, which begins at 5 p.m. The exhibit is on display through September 30, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the Henderson City Hall Art Gallery. Visit cityofhenderson.com for artist bios and reception registration. Heidi Kyser

Wonders of Nevada
Through September 22
Exhibition discussion

If you miss Beyond the Neon, there’s another opportunity to celebrate the desert. Every year, Nevada Humanities does a Nevada Reads project. This year, the theme was Wonders of Nature, inviting participants to read Kendra Atleework’s Miracle Country: A Memoir and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments, and then workshop the books together in community groups. Related to that, Nevada Humanities engaged artists and naturalists to submit works focusing on the state’s natural beauty. A selection of these works is curated in the online exhibition, Wonders of Nevada: Nature as the Artist’s Muse, and can also be viewed in person by appointment at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery through September 22. (At right, Maria Arango Deiner’s color woodcut, “Call of the Desert.") Appointments are available Tuesday-Thursday, 1-4 p.m. Viewings are free. Details are at nevadahumanities.org or by emailing bahowell@nevadanumanities.org. HK

Annie
September 3-5
Musical theater

Broadway in the Hood sprinkles all its presentations with some community flavor, and you can get a taste of it in teasers for their Labor Day weekend production of the Tony Award-winning musical Annie. The iconic red lettering of the title character’s name is replaced with a rainbow-colored collage; the silhouette shows a young girl with her hip cocked sassily to one side and curls piled high on her head; and instead of a puppy peering over the letter “i,” there’s a little boy — that would be the character Andy, Annie’s twin brother and sidekick, added for this version. The kicker is the tagline: “It’s a hood-knock life.” Clearly, this will be an Annie with attitude, but the production also carries a positive message. It’s dedicated to youth with autism, such as BITH founder Torrey Russell’s own sister, who, he said in a June casting announcement, would love the “colorful, loud, and crazy” show. Curtain lifts at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. It’s free with tickets, which will be distributed starting an hour before showtime, at the West Las Vegas Library Theater. For more info visit broadwayinthehood.org. HK

Dog Daze of Summer
September 11, 7-11 a.m.
Puppy pool party

Who wants a swimming pool full of dog fur and puppy slobber? No one. And yet. It would make Spot so happy to take a dip with his fellow canine cannon-ballers while it’s still 100-plus degrees. That’s why Clark County waits until the tail end of summer, just before closing Desert Breeze’s outdoor water park to humans, to turn it into an aquatic dog park. Besides open swim, there will be raffles, contests, and a pet product fair. Owners have to show proof of vaccinations and sign a liability waiver. Small dogs (30 pounds and less) can swim 7-8 a.m, medium dogs (30-65 pounds) 8:30-9:30 a.m., and large dogs (65 pounds and up) 10-11 a.m. A required pre-registration costs $5 per dog. It’s at Desert Breeze Aquatic Facility, www.clarkcountynv.gov/parks. HK

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1. Per Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. He was likely referring to people who attempt and never finish the New York Times crossword puzzle. But lately, that quote loops in my head like a bad techno sample when I think of the to-do list I write on scratch paper every single morning. My therapist goes full Thoreau when reminding me that my daily rundown of duties needs to be radically simplified (“Try limiting it to three items,” he says with a straight face). But what he’s clearly overlooking — besides my inexplicable desire to do everything — is the potential of task management software.

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A quick scan of to-do apps and software would suggest there’s at least one that will enable sufficient carpe diem, as does the first half of Clive Thompson’s utterly humbling Wired piece on the futility of productivity tools. After he rattles off a fat handful of to-do apps unbeknownst to me, I become ascendant with unchecked optimism. But before I can open the Google Play store, the terra firma splat: The apps fail us, and so does our ambition. “Rarely is a category of software linked to such vistas of despair,” Thompson writes, later adding that “with to-do apps, we are attempting nothing less than to craft a superior version of ourselves. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that when we fail, the moods run so black.”​​ It doesn’t help that the apps make it so easy to file away tasks that randomly come to mind, but offers no guidance on how to plan their execution — or, as one app developer who has never opened Urban Dictionary calls it, snowballing. At one point, Thompson references one of my therapist’s suggestions to “time-block” my tasks — natch, it didn’t work — but he eventually tells me exactly what I want to hear: Paper to-do lists are superior. That may sound like a spoiler alert, but the 4,000-word psychological pep talk leading up to it is too good to pass up.

2. From the limits of technology to the limits of transportation, we go to Tech Crunch, where reporter Mark Harris delves into and parses the public records on The Boring Company’s Loop, where modified Teslas are currently burrowing under the Las Vegas Convention Center. You can always rely on Las Vegas to faceplant on public (or, in this case, public-ish) transportation, and Elon Musk’s constrained and remarkably hundrum people-mover system is no different. What is noteworthy about the Loop is the spin drivers are strongly suggested to regurgitate should riders interrogate them. “So, Dave, how long have you been driving Teslas for us conventioneers?” Dave’s suggested response: “Long enough to know these tunnels pretty well!” In general, drivers are instructed to minimize or altogether quash chit-chat, but when it comes to queries about Musk, Orwellian adoration is the order of the day. Here’s a hat trick of approved fawnage: “He’s awesome/inspiring/motivating! He’s a great leader! He motivates us to do great work.” The irony of Clark County not allowing self-driving cars to populate the Loop is that Boring is hired robots to man them anyway. 

3. I dug into and absorbed with great delight the recent New Yorker interview with Michael Stipe, the former R.E.M. singer and sole gay figurehead I looked up to between adolescence and my post-collegiate coming out. What’s immediately curious about this discussion is that it actually took place in 2019, near the release of one of Stipe’s photography books. Journalist Joshua Rothman put it on pandemic ice, and yet saw something in the two-year-old exchange that, to him, still felt very of the moment, even without any references to Covid. “His thoughts seem no more dated than if he shared them yesterday, or a few years from now,” writes Rothman. Some of that rings true, and some of that feels like code for “Michael’s people didn’t grant us a follow-up.” Nonetheless, the Q&A is a lovely, if sometimes disjointed conversation. Rothman seizes the moment and gets Stipe to open up about things he would have obfuscated or outright evaded two or three decades back, a once-guarded, semi-private frontman turned into a humble but emboldened sage. Longtime devotees will delight in the walking-meditation origin story of the 1993 chestnut “Man on the Moon,” but nonfans can sink their teeth in how Rothman tracks the evolution of an artist. After I finished reading Stipe elucidate the importance of being lyrically mysterious and artistically imperfect — also how I describe my sophomore year chapbooks — I thought about which millennial pop figures I’d like to see get the same New Yorker treatment. A shortlist: Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Sufjan Stevens and not-currently-a-Las Vegan Brandon Flowers, whose maturation has mercifully kibosh’d the headline-seeking hot takes of 10-15 years ago. In the promotion of The Killers’ new Pressure Machine album (out tomorrow), I’m hoping there’s an interviewer out there able to chart Flowers’ artistic progression half as well as Rothman did with Stipe.

4. Finally, and in brief: Any Nevadans thirsting for some Golden State schadenfreude should crack open Conor Friedersdorf’s eulogy for the California dream, otherwise resplendent with transporting coastal imagery and historical sweep. But don’t pant too hard — all those woke, seltzer-swigging post-grads who can no longer afford a studio in now- depressingly gentrified Venice Beach have to relocate somewhere — like maybe the lofts overlooking your new Downtown beer district. Cheers! Mike Prevatt

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WHEN THE HERCULEAN TASK of microwaving Trader Joe’s orange chicken is just too much, I find myself scrolling through food delivery apps, fantasizing about what treats could be delivered to my door ... for a six-dollar delivery fee. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, food delivery apps such as Uber Eats and Doordash have skyrocketed in popularity — that is, in popularity with users, but often to the detriment of restaurants.

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Last November, Desert Companion’s Heidi Kyser explored how third-party apps’ exorbitant fees cut into restaurants’ profits. In that story, Kyser spoke with Tacotarian cofounder Kristen Corral, who believed that in order for restaurants to maintain streamlined pick-up and delivery options without losing profits to third party apps, “restaurant owners (needed) to create their own delivery system.”

This summer, Corral led a campaign to bring the delivery app LoCo to Las Vegas. I caught up with Corral to hear how this app differs from other third-party food service apps.

What is LoCo?
In Corral’s words, “LoCo is a food delivery co-op. The goal is it will always be owned and operated by local restaurants, it can never be sold. Any profit that's made goes back to all of the restaurants in the co-op.” By owning the app themselves, restaurant owners are no longer burdened with the fees third party apps charge for their services.

Vegas is not the first city to have LoCo. The app is also available in four other midsize to large cities: Richmond, Virginia; Knoxville, Tennessee; Omaha, Nebraska; and Tampa, Florida. Corral connected with Jon Sewell, an Iowa City restaurant owner and founder of LoCo, through advocacy work. “He created LoCo as this kind of franchise model,” Corral explains, “Most of it's already pieced together and just handed to you.”

Where is LoCo available in Vegas?
Thirty-two Vegas Valley restaurants currently use and co-own LoCo, while several establishments are listed as “Coming Soon!” on the app’s landing page. These eateries range from coffee and tea shops such as Golden Fog and Boba Hut to downtown favorites such as Vegenation, Soul Belly, and, of course, Tacotarian.

“We have not covered the whole valley yet because we’re strategically working our way onto adding restaurants,” Corral says. “I promise we will get to Henderson and Aliante. It's just a lot of work that we've kind of taken on, and it'll be worth it in the end.”

Is it as easy to use as other food-delivery apps?
LoCo is free to download and works like any other food delivery app; the main difference is who owns the app. In theory, LoCo does have its own fleet of independent contracted drivers. According to Corral, “They go through a background check, and then we have some additional training that the other apps don’t require.”

However, in my brief test run, I was only able to use LoCo’s pick-up option. I tried opting for delivery from multiple LoCo restaurants — including the five closest to where I live — and consistently received the message: “It looks like your address is outside of our delivery zone.” Whether it’s a software bug or a service limitation is unclear. I reached out to Corral about the delivery issues, but didn’t hear back before this was published. In any case, assuming launch issues get worked out, LoCo should offer Las Vegans an alternative option for getting grub from their favorite restaurants — and for putting a few more dollars back into the local economy. 

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Photos and art: Snappy Burger, Art Houz: Mikayla Whitmore; Dog Daze: Courtesy Clark County; LoCo: Christopher Smith

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