Every time I leave, I swear I’ll never go back.
But a family situation arose, so I went to my hometown, Las Vegas. After a week sequestered in the house—thanks to my lapsed driver’s license—I finally made it to one of the only enclaves where normal people hang out. By normal, I mean women who aren’t tanned to a nice shade of orange, women who don’t have skin the texture of dried leather, women who don’t have more breasts than dress, women who don’t see PAMELA ANDERSON and think, “Gee, I should copy that look.” By normal, I mean men who use less hair gel than I do, who don’t pluck their eyebrows, and who don’t wear their shirts in that time-honored Vegas tradition—open at the collar.
At the Las Vegas branch of Beauty Bar, which opened just a week before my arrival, I saw regular folks: people with pasty faces, black-dyed hair, and tattoos galore. I wanted to kiss every single one of them, I was so relieved. The classic hair dryer seats were a familiar and welcome sight, even if the larger, open, lighter-colored room seemed foreign, since we are so used to small, cramped, and dingy. Hey, it’s new. Give it a few years to look like a well-designed dive.
I was sent to the Vegas Beauty Bar by none other than Lotus’s DAVID RABIN, and for that he gets an air kiss, even if he still likes the cabaret law. It was Saturday, but it was a slow night. The locals have yet to make it a regular thing, but given the options, I predict it won’t take long. There’s really only one counterculture option right now—the Double Down Saloon, a place so punk rock there’s a fight every night and so rough around the edges it makes Siberia look like Marquee. “There are dive bars that kids throw parties in because they have no other options. They have to bring their own sound system,” says Beauty Bar owner PAUL DEVITT. “There’s a need for it. In a city with 1.8 million people there are probably some cool kids that grew up here that still like it, believe it or not.” (No, I can’t.)
To make things go smoothly, the owners brought staffers from their other branches in L.A., New York, and San Francisco to help run the ship. The manager, San Francisco import BEN MATSUNAGA, was still in Vegas culture shock after two months. Devitt showed me the cool light fixtures he got from the now defunct early-’50s hotel the Algiers and said he’s been hoarding the hair dryers he bought from a salon called Capri Salon of Beauty in New Jersey for five years. “That’s a lot of storage bills. But I knew someday that beauty salon deserved to be somewhere.”
He took me to the back parking lot area, where he’s going to have bands play for the First Friday art festival (yes, Vegas has an art fest)—the next one features L.A. bands the ICARUS LINE and the GUN SHYS. They don’t have to worry about pissing off the neighbors, because there aren’t any neighbors to piss off. You can smoke inside, you can dance freely to local DJ JOHN DOE‘s funk and soul or DANNY BOY‘s indie tunes (two people were indeed doing the twist), and no one’s gonna bust you for doing either one of them. Life is so unfair.
Devitt told me the place was packed on opening night, and there was a line around the block. THE KILLERS have already stopped by, and the Vegas versions of me from Las Vegas City Life—MATT KELEMEN and KEVIN CAPP—were hanging out when I was there. Mid June, Hogs & Heifers will be moving in just around the corner from Beauty Bar in the downtown district, giving Vegans who don’t look like they belong on a porn set yet one more New York-centric option. If HILLY KRISTAL does a CBGB there, they might have to draw straws for the rights to the 500 cool locals. Or they can duke it out at the Double Down.