While I sipped a designer cocktail, a naked couple shrouded in fog peered out from a row of columns. Their delicate movements were so mesmerizing that I almost forgot I was waiting for my friends. I’m sure that was the reaction the designers anticipated when creating a check-in lobby for the newest and arguably coolest addition to Las Vegas Boulevard. Everything about the Cosmopolitan oozed contemporary chic- from the mood lighting to the sensual video art to the figures on the restroom signs with their catwalk swagger.
The Cosmopolitan is owned by the art-crazy Deutsche Bank, which means there were a lot of great contemporary paintings and sculptures. However, what caught my eye the most were the Artomactics-vintage cigarette machines converted into miniature-art dispensers. It was such a novel idea and for $5 I became the owner of a handmade lino print.
The Strip wasn’t the only place that had changed. My friends had been developing their careers and it was exciting to see them become ‘the people to watch’. The week I was there the Las Vegas Weekly published an article that included my friend Mikayla. Then the week after I left my friend Jen had an editorial about her burgeoning Fremont Street gallery- Kleven Contemporary.
Way across town, my friend Favi was preparing a mixed media exhibition inside his uncle’s convenience store- El Porvenir. It was located inside a sleepy strip mall with a largely hispanic clientele. The opening reception was approaching and not all of the artwork had been installed. That was normal though. Even in college Favi was the kind of guy who lived on short deadlines and massive amounts of work.
While I photographed the pinatas, Favi fielded interview questions from a journalist at the junction between the candy aisle and the refrigerated soft drinks.
As Favi described the artwork that was going to be ‘stocked’ on the shelves, he attached woodpecker stickers onto the crucified body of Jesus Christ. He might have felt anxious about running out of time, but it never showed. He had a carefree way about conducting business that made people like me look like nervous wrecks.
“Hey,” Favi turned round to Jen and I after the interview. “What did I say was going to be installed?”
Aside from careers, my friends were also purchasing homes. I am not sure yet if that makes me feel mature by proxy or immature because I haven’t made such an investment. Either way, while in town I got to enjoy Jen’s solid foundation for adulthood.
Her house was built in the 70s for whom I believe was an amateur pornographer with a thirst for fresh juice. Jen claims the previous owner was a solitary man with a missing leg, but I don’t see why both can’t be true. I mean legs just don’t fall off if you’re reading a book, right? Either way, the interior had been covered in mirrors. And if mirrors or wood paneling didn’t work for a cinematic backdrop then there were murals.There was a desert scene in the garage, a French pantry in the kitchen, a coastline silhouette in the garden, and a lobster shack behind the garage.
Now I knew the past owner had a penchant for wheat grass in between scenes because the kitchen counter had a built-in juicer motor. In case you were wondering about the attachments, they had their own custom storage shelf underneath. The cherry on top, however, was the large wooden carving in the front yard. It looked like Davy Crockett and had the Frontiers-y feel that every first time home owner needs.
Before I left for Las Vegas, I had read about a restaurant that intentionally makes the most unhealthy food in the US. It was the kind of place where people who weigh more than 350 lbs were rewarded with free meals. So when I learned that the infamous Heart Attack Grill had opened in Vegas I thought:
1. Of course.
2. I need to go.
Upon entering the restaurant a sullen ‘nurse’ gave us medical bracelets and hospital gowns. After we put them on, another nurse in a racy uniform led us to our table. It was a quiet afternoon and the place was mostly empty. The ‘doctor’ strolled back and forth behind the bar counter waiting for a drink order to come in.
“How are you doing?” Our waitress asked as she passed out menus.
“Good. I’m just glad we aren’t sitting by the window,” Jen replied while anxiously scanning the room. “I am embarrassed to be seen here. I work down the street.”
The waitress gave Jen a puzzled look but quickly bounced back into the role of the junk food seductress.
“Well, I think the fries are so much better cooked in lard. They have more flavor and they reheat really well.”
We ordered the Flatliner Fries and decided to try a Butter-fat Shake and a Single Bypass Burger. The shake was made with the equivalent of a stick of butter and arrived with an additional pat of butter on top. Aside from an extremely silky texture, it was so thick that you couldn’t drink it with a straw. I probably could have finished it if I hadn’t known how unhealthy it was.
The burger and fries arrived shortly thereafter. Jen and Favi decided the burger was good, but not good enough to risk their arteries or their dignity. On the other hand, we all agreed that the french fries were disgusting. Because they had been cooked in pure lard they were soft and tasted way too strongly of meat. Not even a good dollop of ketchup could mask the pork flavor.
I had convinced myself that the Heart Attack Grill would be a kitschy gem- something so bad it was good. Turns out I was wrong. It just feels sad to eat in a room with an industrial strength scale.
Despite the economic downturn, I was surprised and excited to see how well Vegas was looking. There was so much new development downtown- like the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, whose impossible shapes were designed by Frank Gehry. As Jen continued on with her architectural tour I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. It felt so natural to be cruising down the oven-baked asphalt streets again, a million hair dryers blowing in our faces. It was as if I had never left and that was the nicest feeling to have after two years abroad.
How to get to the –
Cosmopolitan: 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, Nevada
Kleven Contemporary: 520 Fremont Street (NW corner of 6th & Fremont)
El Porvenir: 1610 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite – 140,Las Vegas, NV
Heart Attack Grill: 450 Fremont St, Las Vegas, Nevada
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: 888 W. Bonneville Ave. Las Vegas, NV