Las Vegas will always appeal to vacationers interested in decadent fun. The massive pool parties, smoky hotel casinos, all-you-can-eat buffets and foot-tall margaritas you can drink on the street almost guarantee it.
But there’s been a subtle shift in Sin City over the past few years. Many visitors are less interested in indulging their vices and are more inclined to seek out the sophisticated pleasures of fine dining, music, theatre and world-class art galleries.
Hotel lobbies feature contemporary art installations alongside the blackjack tables. Guests can go on fine-art walking tours, shop for Warhols and sip wine paired with famous paintings.
The city’s budding arts and culture scene is happening off the Strip, as well. Downtown boasts the burgeoning 18b Arts District, weekly outdoor festivals and a state-of-the-art concert hall, and plans are in place for a world-class contemporary art museum.
From the Strip to downtown, this is Las Vegas for art lovers.
The City Center complex is one of the Strip’s chicest destinations. The mixed-use property includes three hotels, like the elegant Aria Resort & Casino, retail therapy at The Shops at Crystals and private residences at Veer Towers. The 76-acre compound also boasts an extensive fine-art collection, from large-scale sculptures to paintings, on display in its public spaces, so you don’t have to be a guest to view the art. Head to the concierge desk and ask for a complimentary copy of City Center’s fine-art walking tour guide. Highlights include Big Edge, a large-scale sculpture of interconnected repurposed boats by Nancy Rubins, the evocative large-scale painting Zeus by Julian Schnabel, and Jenny Holzer’s streaming LED installation,Vegas.
For Vegas vacationers hungry to spend money – but not on a roll of the dice – world-class commercial galleries have sprung up on the Strip. Shoppers can invest in the fine-art photography of Jeff Mitchum at the Bellagio, buy a limited – edition Andy Warhol print at the Martin Lawrence Galleries at The Forum Shops at Caesars and find Irish artist Graham Knuttel’s colourful, mischievous figurative art at the Knuttel Gallery inside the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian.
It’s easy to get distracted by Fiori di Como, the 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, sculpted by Dale Chihuly, scattered across the lobby ceiling at the Bellagio Hotel. Granted, you’ve made it past the Fountains of Bellagio, the dancing water feature out front. But keep walking; the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is tucked toward the back of the property and is well worth a visit. Opened in 1998, it has exhibited works by Monet, Warhol, Picasso and others. On the second Wednesday of every month, BGFA hosts Art & Wine: A Perfect Pairing. The Bellagio’s master sommelier, Jason Smith, pairs wines and sometimes cocktails with the artwork featured in the current exhibit. Sip and stare with pleasure.
The Arts District at 18b in downtown Las Vegas is packed with art galleries, unique shopping – including the more than a dozen vintage shops that make up Antique Alley – and restaurants and bars like the ultra-hip Velveteen Rabbit. If you’ve spent most of your holiday on the Strip, 18b is a decidedly different, and very cool, side of Vegas. The district is a rough rectangle between Commerce and 4th Street, with a chunk of Las Vegas Boulevard, plus Hoover and Imperial avenues. If you’re planning a visit to Fremont Street, downtown’s historic casino corridor, you can easily walk to 18b – it’s about six blocks south. Look for the two 45-foot-tall glowing metal paint brushes, designed by Dennis Oppenheim, on Charleston Boulevard.
The Arts Factory is the thriving centre of 18b. The mixed-use space, housed in a 50-year-old warehouse, features multiple galleries, including Sin City Gallery and Trifecta Gallery, Blue Sky Yoga Studio, Bar + Bistro Latin-fusion restaurant and one-of-a kind shopping – Hiptazmic has funky jewellery and accessories made from recycled materials.
During the day, take a self-directed wander through 18b and explore the outdoor street art murals displayed on buildings throughout the district, interspersed among the auto-repair shops, used-car lots and bail bond shops (what happens in Vegas …). Local artist Ras One curates the street art and regularly invites international artists to display their signature work, so the murals are constantly changing.
Held on the first Friday of every month, the First Friday street festival is 18b’s arts, culture and food extravaganza. The free festival is so popular, it has been extended outside of the Arts District to include Fremont Street. From 5 p.m., you’ll find local artists selling their work, food trucks, live music, art installations, performance art and a special zone for kids.
Take a fascinating guided tour through the Boneyard, an outdoor collection of the city’s colourful historic neon signs.
Learn about the intriguing and sordid history of organized crime in Las Vegas from the perspective of the mobsters and law enforcement.
The exhibition at The Venetian features interactive replicas of the artist’s famous inventions, his designs for the first helicopter, as well as prints of his most well-known paintings.
Picasso restaurant at the Bellagio features original works by Pablo Picasso displayed around the room. French and Spanish cuisine inspire chef Julian Serrano’s menu. It’s a mini-museum with amazing food.
Diners at Mastro’s Ocean Club at The Shops at Crystals can enjoy award-winning surf-and-turf inside The Tree House, an 80-foot-tall wooden sculpture in the middle of the shopping mall.
Find Bin 702 a block from Fremont Street in the funky outdoor shopping and dining destination Container Park. The artfully stacked shipping containers house locally owned and operated businesses. Bin 702 serves regionally produced cheese and charcuterie and wine on tap.
The Chandelier at The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino is a three-storey bar and lounge surrounded by a giant chandelier. Strands of 2 million crystals drape from floor to ceiling. It’s beautiful, and the cocktails are complex and very tasty – ask for the Verbena, a lemon-ginger concoction topped with a tongue-tingling Szechuan button flower.