Restaurants see vibrant scene growing in downtown Las Vegas

Restaurants see vibrant scene growing in downtown Las Vegas

Written by Heidi Knapp

It seems like a graduating class.

Another group of restaurants has opened in downtown Las Vegas Ñ primarily in the Fremont East corridor Ñ and the enthusiasm of the owners, managers and chefs is hard to miss.

ÒDowntown is a cool place; itÕs really starting to be a hip place,Ó said Bradley Manchester, chef/owner of Glutton at 616 E. Carson Ave. ÒItÕs getting cleaned up, and I really wanted to be part of whatÕs going on down here.Ó

Glutton was at the head of the new pack, opening April 10. Manchester said he was attracted by the energy downtown, and wanted his restaurant to feel like it was on a street in San Francisco, Chicago or Portland, Ore.

ÒThat was really important to me, in what the concept of the restaurant was going to be,Ó he said.

Cities in other places, and downtownÕs ability to eventually capture the spirit of them, also was an attraction for VegeNation chef/owner Donald Lemperle, whose restaurant opened April 22, also at 616 E. Carson Ave.

ÒIÕm from New York, and I kind of like the urban environment over here,Ó Lemperle said. ÒThereÕs a little bit of a vibe.Ó

ThereÕs more of a sense of community downtown, said many, including Brandon Trahan, chef/owner of Zydeco Po-Boys, which opened June 15 in the same building as Glutton and VegeNation.

ÒIÕve been here for seven years, and IÕve worked on the Strip and IÕve worked in Summerlin, and I live in the southwest part of the valley,Ó Trahan said. ÒEvery time I come downtown Ñ and maybe because of the Downtown Project and knowing some of the people and hanging around Ñ I felt like part of the community, which I didnÕt as much in other parts of the valley.Ó

Trahan said the Downtown ProjectÕs initiatives to develop new businesses downtown also attracted him to the location.

ÒWith all of the development going on down here, I thought it was a good opportunity to get in, I guess, while there still was a chance to get funding and do something downtown,Ó he said.

With so much going on, are the business owners a little nervous about competition? No, they said; each one described the new development as Òexciting,Ó with a couple of them reiterating the adage, ÒA rising tide raises all boats.Ó

ÒItÕs exciting for me to see local chefs open restaurants downtown Ñ getting out of the corporate world, if you will, and stretching their legs,Ó Manchester said. ÒItÕs exciting to be a chef/owner downtown right now. Las Vegas is really starting to catch up to whatÕs going on around the United States.Ó

Some of the new restaurants come from not-so-new names. Therapy, which opened Thursday, is owned by a partnership between the family of political power broker Sig Rogich and investor Jared Weiss.

ÒSig Rogich, as a longtime resident of Las Vegas, wanted to be part of revitalizing the downtown area Ñ bringing something downtown that the locals can call home,Ó said Roger Seaholm, regional vice president of operations of MotionCorp, which developed Therapy. ÒMore of what you see in some of the more established older cities.Ó

Ryan Doherty, a partner in Corner Bar Management Group, which opened Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whisky in collaboration with the Downtown Project in mid-April, was an early adapter whose belief, and stake, in downtown has grown. Doherty said he first became involved in the Downtown Project as part of the print team behind the ÒmagalogÓ of Zappos, founded by eventual Downtown Project creator Tony Hsieh, who bankrolled the projectÕs $350 million investment in redeveloping the Fremont East corridor.

ÒTony had spoken to us about the downtown renaissance; that was when it was just an idea,Ó Doherty said. ÒWe said, ‘WeÕd love to be part of it. Maybe someday weÕll do something.Õ Ó

The first something would be Commonwealth, a lounge that opened in December 2012.

ÒWe liked the building Ñ the corner location,Ó Doherty said. ÒWe started envisioning the rooftop,Ó which became an open-air bar.

And then the building just off the corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, which had been a hookah bar, became available. Doherty and his partners heard that it was to become a Steak Õn Shake Ñ complete with drive-thru.

ÒNothing against Steak Õn Shake, but itÕs just a chain restaurant,Ó he said. They started bidding for the property.

ÒWe were thinking weÕd have two corners, that it would be controllable from a brand standpoint,Ó Doherty said.

Park on Fremont Ñ its name inspired by a leftover sign found on the property that instructed customers to, yes, park on Fremont Ñ opened in April 2013.

ÒThen we just fell in love with downtown,Ó Doherty said.

ÒDowntown reminded me of where I grew up,Ó he said. ÒI was an inner-city kid, on some level, in Boston. We took public transportation, didnÕt have to go very far for anything. When I moved here I lived in Seven Hills; I never walked anywhere.Ó

In much of Las Vegas, Doherty said, we tend to implode our history instead of preserving it.

ÒIt does have some character, and I like being around the little history that we have,Ó he said of downtown. ÒThereÕs an attraction there. ThereÕs a romance.Ó

Alex Epstein didnÕt choose her downtown location, but sheÕs emphasizing its history through the new SiegelÕs 1941 at the El Cortez, where Epstein is vice president. SiegelÕs 1941, which opened June 15 and whose name refers to the year the hotel opened, grew out of the Flame Steakhouse and Cafe Cortez, which themselves had replaced RobertaÕs Steakhouse and Careful KittyÕs cafe. ItÕs named after Benjamin ÒBugsyÓ Siegel, an early owner of the El Cortez.

ÒObviously, downtown dining has changed, not only in our fellow hotel and casino competition, but also Fremont East has exploded with restaurant options,Ó she said. ÒWhat we had offered was really traditional Ñ a steakhouse and a coffee shop. We wanted to offer something that was a little more contemporary, a little move evolved.Ó

SiegelÕs 1941, she said, serves upscale comfort food in a brasserie-type setting. And the historical reference, she said, was a natural.

ÒAt the El Cortez, we always say we donÕt have a lot to sell,Ó she said. ÒWe have our rooms, our value and our location. Most of the value is the history that we have as the oldest continuously operating casino and the only casino on the National Register. We really value that.Ó

Like Epstein, Doherty said they gave a lot of thought to the competition before opening Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whisky.

ÒWe wanted to stay away from anything else that was downtown,Ó he said. ÒWe didnÕt want to try to do something better than somebody else was doing, we just wanted to do something different than anybody else was doing.Ó The restaurant was named for the appearance of a ball of ramen before itÕs cooked.

What does everybody else bring to the party?

ÒItÕs a 100 percent plant-based menu,Ó Lemperle said of VegeNation. ÒWhat I call global street food; it really makes you feel good.Ó

At Glutton, itÕs Òhow we source our ingredients,Ó Manchester said. ÒAll of our ingredients are sourced locally or regionally.Ó

ÒWe developed our place with a social-plate atmosphere,Ó Seaholm said. ÒSharing makes us stand out.Ó

ÒItÕs rural Cajun Louisiana,Ó Trahan said. ÒIÕm from southwest Louisiana, so my cooking isnÕt necessarily what youÕd find in New Orleans.Ó

Next up: FlippinÕ Good Burgers and Shakes, which is scheduled to open in mid- to late August and whose mission should be obvious.

ÒWe canÕt welcome it enough,Ó Doherty said of the new competition. ÒI wish there were 20 more coming.Ó

The area, he said, is Òprobably two years from being good and five years ahead of being great. We like being in the infancy state.

ÒRight now you can kind of make a night of it, but four or five bars does not a barhop make. Once thereÕs 10 new restaurants, 20 new bars, it really does become East Village, Gaslamp. ItÕs exciting.Ó

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Find more of her stories at and and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
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