Small Town? Downtown

A piece I did for the Downtown Project website. We’ll see if I find the motivation to write an original piece later tonight. http://downtownproject.com/2012/small-town-downtown/

I went back to Tuscaloosa for Thanksgiving, and there was the expected comfort of being back. I left Tuscaloosa because I grew up in Alabama and was looking for new opportunities. I can say I have had many adventures since then, but there is something in Tuscaloosa that is hard to find in other places. When I go back during the summers and make it a point to visit Summer Snow, the local sno-cone purveyor, the owner Sammy Sanders still remembers my usual order (large blue raspberry and tiger blood) despite the fact I see him at most twice a year now. On this recent trip, I went to Hooligans for dinner with some of my high school friends, and ran into another friend who I had not really seen since high school, but spent half an hour catching up. These small random interactions are a hallmark of hometowns everywhere, and, surprisingly enough, they are becoming commonplace in Downtown Las Vegas as well.

I recently took a friend to lunch at eat, Downtown’s newest restaurant. It was my friend’s first time there. At this point, I am pretty sure I have eaten every single item on the menu at least once, (breakfast, lunch, and brunch) and have gotten to know half the staff by name. I can walk in and greet Natalie Young, the restaurant’s owner and chef, a finalist for vegas.eater.com’s Chef of the Year award, with a smile and a hug, be given my preferred drink of choice (water with a slice of lemon) before I take a seat, and inevitably see people I know.

As we were wrapping up our meal, my friend asked about the story of eat’s genesis. Instead of trying to explain that epic story, I flagged Natalie down. She made herself comfortable by not-so-gently pushing me further down the booth, talked about the different acts of kindness of the community to bring everything together to create Vegas’s newest “So Hot Right Now Restaurant,” and then proceeded to give us both (un-needed) dating advice. How many people can say they have that kind of relationship with a truly local restaurant in Vegas (or anywhere for that matter)?

Another night I was meeting another friend at Le Thai for dinner. She was running a little late (typical) and I was a little early (also typical), so to kill some time I went to hang out with Hannibal Nisperos, the proprietor of Coterie, a fashion boutique that recently opened on Fremont Street. Who was there but Dan, the chef and owner of Le Thai, who had recently been named the Best Chef (Off-Strip) by Vegas Sevenmagazine. Le Thai has since joined the illustrious company of restaurants like Le Cirque in the guide Eating Las Vegas: The Fifty Essential Restaurants. It was also named Best New Restaurant by Desert Companion magazine. Before Eat opened, Le Thai was my most frequent haunt Downtown. There have definitely been periods where I have eaten Le Thai every day of the week. It is one of the cornerstones of Downtown despite being just over a year old. That last tidbit was news to me. I got to hear Dan’s story about how he came to open Le Thai, and it was another one where there was a progression with community coming together.

Seeing how integral Le Thai and eat have become to the Downtown community after being open for such short periods of time, I can only imagine how much more the area will benefit from having more restaurants and businesses open. It is quite an adventure being a part of this community and creating it, too. I hope that many more Las Vegans will come be a part of this resurgent neighborhood as well. Downtown may not be ideal for every person, but Michael Cornthwaite put it well recently, “You have to be a city person who enjoys walking, riding your bike, knowing who your neighbors are, running into people that you know on the street.” You may not know anyone the first time you come visit, but go ahead and stay a while. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find on your first visit, and more by what you’ll find in your subsequent visits: a growing community with a small town feel in Downtown Las Vegas, the place you might expect it the least.

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