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It’s our 11th annual Best of the City issue, celebrating the best Las Vegas has to offer in everything from dining to entertainment to family fun! Also in this issue: Making sense of the Whitney Hologram Experience | An activist fights Big Solar with … poetry? | Writer in Residence Krista Diamond considers The Real World’s infamous 31st season | How America’s Got Talent is changing Strip entertainment | And more!Read the digital editionDownload the full issue as a pdf

Best of the City: Arts & Entertainment

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Photo courtesy Lucky Day
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Sonidero dance night at Lucky Day in Downtown Las Vegas

 Best Strip ResidencyBruno Mars


New-Vegas residencies by the likes of Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera call back to the era of overstuffed showgirl spectaculars. Bruno Mars counterbalances them by mining a different side of old Vegas: the big-personality headliners who didn’t need big productions. Mars and his band The Hooligans spend their whole Dolby Live set in front of one giant prop, the letters spelling out his name. That lets us focus on the throwback funk and Apollo Theater barnstorming, with Mars’ familiar pop hits taking on a rough edge and a loose, in-the-moment exuberance that would make James Brown smile. MW
At Dolby Live in Park MGM, parkmgm.com

Best Strip ShowMat Franco
“I feel bad you missed that helicopter,” Mat Franco jokes to latecomers, playing off the absence of what he calls “hokey boxes” and “contraptions” from his six-year magic showcase at The Linq. The 2014 America’s Got Talent winner prefers a minimalist stage decorated mostly with videos panels, to display his more skillful feats of sleight-of-hand and playing-card manipulation. And also, that smile. There will come a day when Franco needs to push his magic forward to hold his ground in a city flush with magicians. But for now, being 33 years old, likable and relatable to younger magic converts is enough. MW
At the Mat Franco Theater in The Linq, matfranco.com

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Best Variety ShowAmerica’s Got Talent Las Vegas Live
After 15 years of codependency, NBC’s talent show and Las Vegas got serious just when it seems like the Strip could use something that’s both new yet familiar. True to the purest definition of “variety show,” the mix of nine acts jammed into 90 minutes at Luxor can be jarring — Knife-throwing! Mentalism! Spoken-word poetry! — and the talent is uneven. But the production design is sumptuous and unifying: Taiko drums in the aisles punch up the power-couple acrobats of Duo Transcend; Jimmie Herrod sings to the shadow dancing of The Silhouettes. It’s a lively stew that makes previous AGT Live attempts in 2009 and 2012 seem modular and halfhearted by comparison. MW
At Luxor Theater in the Luxor, luxor.com


♦ HALL OF FAME ♦
Best Strip Mainstay

It would probably be a good thing if is one day stripped of bragging rights as the biggest-budget production show on the Strip ($165 million, and that’s just what Cirque du Soleil owned up to). But that seems unlikely in this new phase of concert stars, so stands as a monument to that high-flying Vegas 2005 era of derivatives and subprime mortgages —  when neither Cirque or the Strip could be held back, and all it took was money to free the very stage from gravity. It helped that artistic director Robert Lepage brought a unifying vision and a pioneering use of video-mapping. has a heartbeat beneath the spectacle, and has outlasted what was both a proud point and a liability — that it’s an original story not based on a movie or whatnot — to unlock a new tier: inspiring its own dedicated fandom. Now it nestles right in with the Comic-Con and Game of Thrones crowd that it just had to wait for. MW  
At the MGM Grand, cirquedusoleil.com


Best New Local BandMorosis
Morosis calls its sound “nu-gaze,” a twist on the subgenre of shoegaze: Droning riffs, dreamy vocals, and distorted tones blend together in a harmony of epic, crafted noise. On its latest EP, Saturnine, Morosis is moving toward a more serious sound. The must-listen track is “Open Hands,” with its gorgeous waves of shimmering darkness and ethereal vocals. Keep your eye (and ear) on this talented local band; Morosis is just getting started. GR
Morosis.bandcamp.com

Best DJNight Weapons
Night Weapons is quickly becoming a household name among the regulars at certified cool-kid bars such as Berlin, Oddfellows, and The Griffin — and for good reason. Spinning vinyl slices of everything from New Order dance-floor classics to deeper cuts from current darkwave artists such as Boy Harsher and Light Asylum, Night Weapons’ notoriously intense DJ sets please ’80s throwback fans and contemporary synthpop addicts alike. GR
instagram.com/night.weapons

Best New Local AlbumWalt Haleigh, self-titled record
Like many local artists, Adam Christopher Smith — aka Walt Haleigh —

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used the isolation of COVID as an excuse to freely create. The local singer-songwriter even challenged himself to pen 100 songs. A temporarily stymied career, a delayed move to Los Angeles, and a breakup fueled his writing spree, but as the final, seven-song survey of guitar-forward indie rock demonstrates, none of that frustration prevents Smith from projecting exuberance, poise, verve, and a charming earnestness. Should another shutdown happen, Walt Haleigh will keep harmonious company. MP
linktr.ee/WaltHaleigh

Best Vegas BreakoutBaby Keem
When rap juggernaut Kendrick Lamar headlined this year’s Day N Vegas festival, he welcomed surprise guest Baby Keem to the stage, saying: “Vegas, your hometown hero is here.” The 21-year-old Vegas resident has had a breakout year with his debut album, The Melodic Blue, and a high-profile appearance on Kanye West’s Donda. Sure, it helps that Kendrick and Keem are cousins, as solidified on Keem’s explosive single “Family Ties,” but his rapid ascent is more than nepotism. Named one of NPR’s best albums of the year (at No. 16, just two notches behind Adele’s 30), The Melodic Blue sees Keem casting his own monolithic shadow with an experimental rap opus that showcases his masterful wordplay, ear for bombastic production, and flow-switching agility. His success might just kick open the door for the rest of Vegas’ untapped talent. ZM
themelodicblue.com

Best Vegas Breakout CandidateBeverly Chillz
Multigenre singer-songwriter Beverly Chillz can rock an open mic with just an acoustic guitar accompaniment; bang out a midtempo electro-R&B ballad like 2021’s “Wait Around”; organize an artist’s camp to inspire his creative peers; and produce an entire musical in the middle of the desert, as he did late last year with his Heaven Oh Two performance during the Bullfrog Biennial near Beatty. It is the sum of his talents — as well as the conviction with which he deploys them — that makes him worthy of success beyond Las Vegas. MP
soundcloud.com/beverlychillz

Best-Kept Musical SecretPapichuloteej
If there are any rules to making music, Papichuloteej didn’t get the memo. The 24-year-old Air Force veteran makes music without boundaries, effortlessly shifting his sound with every song. He can kick a bouncy, heartbroken pop ballad (“Do Better”) as easily as he can craft a head-nodding R&B bop (“S.O.S.”). When you think you’ve got him pegged, he pitches a grunge curveball with “Stockton,” full of heavy guitar riffs and abrasive raps. Put him in any lane, and he’s outpacing everyone at light speed. ZM
instagram.com/papichuloteej

Best Alternative NightclubOddfellows
This unassuming Downtown bar hides one of hottest local dance floors in Las Vegas. Oddfellows is like a musical gelato shop; picking which night to go is like having to pick your favorite flavor — but whether you hit this club for old-school hip-hop, indie dance, Latin alt, or dark electro, you’re sure to find your new favorite flavor. Best of all, unlike at the touristy megaclubs, at Oddfellows, you’ll never feel like a greasy pig trying to awkwardly shuffle in a packed pen. ZG
150 Las Vegas Blvd. North, #190, oddfellowslv.com

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Best Themed Music NightSonidero

Be sure to bring a partner to Sonidero — because you’re guaranteed to be hitting the dance floor hard. Edwin Lazer and guest DJs host this Thursday night event at Lucky Day Tequila & Mezcal House, dishing up reggaeton throwbacks, cumbia classics, and rock en español jams. If you’re self-conscious about your moves, don’t worry: Attendees regularly hype each other on the dance floor whether they’re smooth or not — a testament to the venue’s welcoming vibe (and the free-flowing tequila). GR
instagram.com/soniderolv

Best KaraokeNinja Karaoke
For some of us, karaoke is the public form of humiliation we missed most during the pandemic. If belting out Aretha, Creed, or Prince is your definition of a good time, Ninja Karaoke off Main Street boasts private rooms, flavored Soju, and a 150,000+ songbook. Easily select and queue up your setlist from an iPad and even change your preferred key to take your performance to the next level. Bottle service and hookah are also available. Check in before 6:30 p.m. to get Ninja’s $20/person happy hour rate, which includes a two-hour room rental and two drink tickets (two-person minimum). BB
1009 S. Main St., 702-487-6213, ninjakaraoke.com

Best Tiki LoungeTiki di Amore

With kitschy decorations, boozy cocktails, and a full schedule of live music, Tiki Di Amore has all the required essentials of the best tiki lounge. It’s located on the back patio of Casa di Amore, so the faint sounds of nearby traffic could almost be mistaken for the sea. Tiki Di Amore’s bamboo bar, fake greenery, colored lights, and oversized sea creatures are unapologetic in their cheekiness. If you let them, they will briefly transport you away from a dingy Tropicana Avenue strip mall to an imaginary tropical locale. Sample the full menu of rum-heavy cocktails garnished with flowers, swords, and the occasional alien doll while enjoying Casa Di Amore’s full Italian menu. Before you leave, don’t forget to look up to see the huge gorilla keeping watch on the roof. BB
2850 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-433-4967, tikidiamore.com

Best LoungeStar Piano Cocktail Lounge
Responsibility comes with morphing an old-school joint (Sonny’s Saloon) into the Star Piano Cocktail Lounge. Credit former Strip promoter Eduardo Cordova, as his new lounge feels at once classic and contemporary. The bones remain familiar, but the space has been magically transformed in such a way — dark colors and comfy seating boosted by impossibly complimentary lighting from chandeliers and string lights — that suggests the Rat Pack (or the cast of Legends in Concert) may have thrown back a few at the horseshoe-shaped bar. A creative cocktail menu and nightly live entertainers make Star the perfect place to surprise out-of-town friends (or a Vegas-jaded date) with a taste of those ever-elusive Old Vegas vibes. JPR
3449 S. Sammy Davis Jr. Dr., 702-476-5328, starloungelv.com

Best Gay BarThe Garage
Oh, pit crew! The Garage is not your typical gay bar. Instead of pictures of hunky models and rainbow flags on the walls, there’s car culture paraphernalia and bartenders dressed as mechanics ready to service a good time. Unlike many gay clubs and cocktail lounges in town, at any given hour The Garage has unique steals on great drinks. (One recent trip resulted in four large vodka cranberries for only $10.) And once you’ve gotten your drink on, it makes sparking a conversation with The Garage’s attractive clientele less daunting. Whether you know it or not, it’s time for a tune up. ZG
1487 E. Flamingo Road, 702-440-6333, thegaragelv.com

Best Theater CompanyMajestic Repertory Theatre
The artistic chops of Majestic founder Troy Heard have been apparent since his 2016-17 inaugural season. That year’s lineup, featuring the 1956 dramatic thriller The Bad Seed alongside Carrie the Musical, telegraphed Majestic’s now-familiar MO: an idiosyncratic blend of creepiness, nerve, and skill. But in 2020-21, Heard and company demonstrated something new, an astonishing capacity to tailor their talents to ever-changing restrictions in public performance brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by a dogged determination to keep theater (or at least Majestic Repertory Theatre) alive. As if Instagram plays, parking-lot shows, and drive-through theater weren’t enough of an accomplishment, Heard capped Majestic’s current season by presenting the U.S. premiere of the musical The Sandman to rave reviews. If this is Majestic in adversity, then just imagine what better times will bring. HK
1217 S. Main St., 702-423-6366, majesticrepertory.com

Best ActorMolly Bernard
Las Vegas Academy graduate Molly Bernard has been acting professionally since appearing in the Las Vegas-set drama Pay It Forward at age 12, but 2021 proved to be her breakout year. After six seasons of playing offbeat publicist/visionary Lauren Heller on Younger, she was rewarded with a more significant storyline on the show’s seventh and final season. She also scored her first leading film role in the indie dramedy Milkwater, playing another quirky NYC hipster, who embraces surrogate motherhood like it’s the latest fashion trend. Bernard makes these potentially insufferable characters into charismatic weirdos who are a joy to spend time with. JB
Younger , Hulu and Paramount+; Milkwater , Netflix

Best Use of Las Vegas OnscreenHacks
Although very little of this dramedy’s 10-episode first season was actually shot in Las Vegas, it still captures a quintessentially Vegas fixture in Jean Smart’s veteran comedian Deborah Vance. An old-school Vegas headliner who’s increasingly out of place among resident DJs and pop stars, Deborah holds onto the crowd-pleasing virtues of her time-tested act, even as young comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) pushes her slowly toward modernity. Deborah’s professional life is split between the Strip and strip malls, embodying the unique grind of Vegas entertainers both legendary and aspiring. JB
HBO Max

Best ComedianButch Bradley
Keep an eye on the back of the room during any of Butch Bradley’s performances at L.A. Comedy Club in The Strat: The wall will be lined with other comics, both local and visiting, taking in yet another unpredictable show from one of their favorites. Fans and peers love Bradley — who’s as much a storyteller as a comic — for his ability to mine hilarity from whatever’s happening in the moment. (“I can’t believe they got rid of the Confederate flag. That was the only way to know who the crazy f---ing white people were!”) He’s also renowned (sometimes begrudgingly) for his crowd work; I’ve seen Bradley just eviscerate entire audiences — and they still love him. That’s a skill few comics have mastered. JH
butchbradleycomedy.com

Best Art GalleryASAP

Playful artistic experiments on deck! ASAP—Available Space Art Projects—specializes in one-of-a-kind exhibitions. As Las Vegas’ only artist-run project space, ASAP invites artists to conceive, execute, and display their work for short, 10-days-or-fewer shows. The brainchild of artists Homero Hidalgo and Holly Lay, ASAP delivers fresh creativity in its cozy Commercial Center space. No recycling old works here. Ditto for limits on artistic medium or concept. Artists have free rein to test new ideas while viewers enjoy results at openings, closings, and by appointment. Exhibitions by JK Russ and Aaron Sheppard coming this spring. DMB
900 Karen Ave., C-214, availablespaceartprojects.com

Best PoetJennifer Battisti
Jennifer Battisti’s most recent book, Off Boulder Highway, combines memoir, lyric essay, and poetry to paint an unforgettable picture of growing up in east Las Vegas. Both a coming-of-age and becoming-adult story, Off Boulder Highway carries readers across the valley, where galaxies form under the eaves of 7-Elevens and eternity is found outside an AutoZone. Battisti’s interwoven mural of addiction, divorce, motherhood, and recovery captures what few other writers understand about this city: That we are as beautiful as we are broken, and to heal, we must fall in love with both. BB
jenniferbattisti.com

Best Figure in Local CultureFawn Douglas
In 2021, Fawn Douglas produced an ambitious art exhibit at UNLV titled AH’-WAH-NEE, a Paiute word for “balance.” It doesn’t get more metaphorically apt than that: Douglas herself performed a grand balancing act in curating the art, producing work for the show, and putting on a symposium to discuss the exhibit’s core subject — the complex, kaleidoscopic roles Indigenous women play in family and society. AH’-WAH-NEE also represented the fruition of what has made Douglas such a vital figure in local culture, which is her natural penchant for insistently expanding art’s usual scope of discourse to creatively entangle with — and not just be “about” — Indigenous issues, social justice, and environmental activism. She’s been doing this for years. It’s just that now, she’s marshaled the resources and the clout to do it on a larger scale, with exhibits such as AH’-WAH-NEE, with spaces such as Nuwu Art + Activism Studios, and with potent, challenging — and beautiful — art of her own. AK
nuwuart.com

Best Instagram Feed@vegasissues

The best part about an inside joke is knowing that only you and your friends are in on it. When it comes to poking fun at our uniquely Vegas quirks, the @vegasissues Instagram feed goes no-holds-barred, with jokes about everything from the endless road construction to Summerlin
moms to drivers on the 215.
@vegasissues provides its own staunch humor alongside curated posts of the best tweets, commentary, and tips from other local social media voices. In addition to casino industry updates and Las Vegas meme gold, the feed also offers more serious moments of reflection on important community milestones. Overall, this feed doesn’t feel like the work of an influencer, but someone who wants us to cope with our issues (and laugh at them) together. BB
@vegasissues

Best Vegas Social Media Channelr/vegaslocals
I don’t know exactly when Nextdoor turned into an all-caps rage generator, but, yeah, big nope to that caterwauling viper pit of poisoned souls. And, sure, Facebook can be decent for local intel if you don’t mind hopscotching around the touch-deprived ratchets who often burrow into otherwise civil threads. No thanks. Instead, I’ve been turning to the r/vegaslocals subreddit for my dose of Vegas insight. Because r/vegaslocals is more actively moderated, the fungal lunacy that typically thrives in social media is *sigh of relief* minimal; better yet, the subreddit’s posts and comments are often useful, practical, uplifting, and funny. Vegas Redditors cheerfully — even graciously! — trade info on everything from job opportunities to restaurant recommendations, and the sometimes surprisingly thoughtful opinions on education and local politics read better than whatever paleoconservative cave painting the R-J is currently splashing on its op-ed page. R/vegaslocals is social media that’s refreshingly sociable. AK
reddit.com/r/vegaslocals

Best Twitter Feed@VitalVegas
In a social-mediaverse often characterized by toxic feeds full of one-upmanship and muckraking, VitalVegas (run by Scott Roeben) is a welcome antidote. An unapologetic Vegas-lover, Reoben has built a network of reliable insider sources who help him break legitimate news about our neon city’s primary industries faster than traditional media can. What distinguishes VitalVegas from other Vegas-centric tweet-feeds is that his isn’t full of polarizing hot-takes just for the sake of it. Roeben’s restraint shows a genuine interest in (and appreciation for) Las Vegas — with a little tough love (and good humor) thrown in as necessary. When he’s not breaking news, he’s out on the town, dropping photos of food and drink from the places he loves. And why not? We all could use a feel-good feed now and then. Especially on Twitter. JPR
twitter.com/vitalvegas

Bruno Mars courtesy MGM Resorts; Album courtesy of Walt Haleigh; Sonidero courtesy Lucky Day; Tiki Di amore: Linda Evans; Art Courtesy of ASAP; KA courtesy MGM Resorts; @VegasIssues: Christopher Smith