Writing this trip report is bittersweet and I’ve had a difficult time working up the energy to write it. A few months ago, we lost my mother-in-law, Jan. It was unexpected and I still can’t believe that she is no longer with us.
She visited us last fall and the two us us went on a walking tour of the Downtown Las Vegas Cultural District. It was a strange and wonderful day. I was lucky to see her in January, but this day in September was really the last adventure that we took together. I’m blessed to have built many amazing memories with Jan. She was always willing to go on excursions with me and to explore new places. We had a shared affinity for many of the same authors. We both loved art museums, movies, and theatre. I may not have had many years to know Jan or my incredible father-in-law, Dave, but what was missing in time, was more than compensated with quality conversations and experiences. They are both much loved and missed.
So this last real adventure took place on the morning before Jan flew home to England. Dan had to work, so I had arranged for Jan and I to take a walking tour of the Las Vegas Cultural District that was hosted by a company called Urban Adventures. In my mind, the primary focus of the tour would be street art, such as murals, and although that was part of it, the tour ended up going directions that I could have never anticipated.
The morning got off to a dicey start, with our Lyft driver nearly refusing to drop us off in a rather seedy part of downtown Las Vegas. The cultural district is “up and coming” = emphasis on still coming. Liking to arrive early, we showed up an hour before the start of our tour, to find ourselves in an industrial part of town with shuttered businesses and empty streets.
A search on my phone led us to the nearby Vesta Coffee Roasters. This trendy and friendly local coffee house was a great find. We enjoyed lattes in the sanctuary of this eclectic haven.
The starting point for our tour was the corner of 1st and Boulder. We found a cute courtyard with a theatre and benches nearby.
Our Urban Adventures guide was Rosie, also known as “Knowsie Rosie,” since she is both knowledgable and nosy about learning new things. Rosie was a lovely tour guide, very enthusiastic and filled with facts. We happened to be the only people on the tour, so we had Rosie to ourselves!
The tour started with street art, including large scale murals and a sculpture of a cat called “Snowball in Vegas.” I love Snowball! This area is home to an art centric street fair called “First Fridays",” held on the first Friday of every month.
We popped into the Burlesque Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to the art of burlesque. The tour didn’t allow the time for a real visit to the museum. Instead, we had a quick talk with the proprietor explaining the museum. In true burlesque fashion, they gave us a teaser so that we’d come back for more! In all seriousness, I think this would be an entertaining museum for a future Vegas holiday. It was a little awkward standing next to my mother-in-law, while being given a sales pitch to take their strip tease classes.
Next stop was a bunch of buildings absolutely covered in graffiti. I do think that some graffiti can be art, but I’m not sure where the line is drawn. Many of the buildings had tributes to the mass shooting that occurred at the Route 91 concert in 2017, inspiring the “Vegas Strong” movement. We couldn’t linger or get too close to the buildings, because of the locals hanging around.
Next we headed to a local art collective and toured several galleries that are housed in a multi-story building. If you love art, this area is definitely worth a visit to check out the local talent. There was a wide range of styles and mediums. I could have spent hours exploring the art collective.
The last part of the tour was a trip to South Main Street, which has several vintage stores and some very eclectic businesses.
We stopped for a quick refreshment at Rebar, a business that is part dive bar and part antique store. There is a dizzying amount of items to look at in Rebar. As part of our tour, we were given a cocktail, a Sailor Jerry Rum concoction for me and a white wine spritzer for Jan, plus some bar snacks. Urban Adventures Tours always include a refreshment stop, which was a welcome break in the Vegas heat. Rosie used the break to share more local history, including vintage photographs.
A unique aspect of Urban Adventures Tours is they way they introduce you to local business owners, who all share their reason for either having relocated to Vegas or their perspective of having sin city as their hometown. It’s a nice personal touch for the tours.
This part of town has several nods to the atomic age of the 1950’s, including amazing retro find in the vintage stores. There is also a salon, called the Atomic Style Lounge, that is housed in a building that used to be an info center to reassure locals that the atomic testing in the desert was safe. Here are some picture of the South Main.
To recap: I took my mother-in-law on a walking tour that involved a burlesque museum, derelict buildings covered in graffiti, and a dive bar. She was a trooper, but the last part of the tour is when things got uncomfortable. First, we were chased down the street by a business owner with a chain saw wearing a clown costume. I was freaked out and Jan told him off, because she is no-nonsense like that. This was a good month before Halloween.
However, we then crossed the street and visited Las Vegas Oddities.
Las Vegas Oddities specializes in the “Dark Arts” and is filled with taxidermy and other curiosities. It’s part museum and part shop. The stuff in the shop doesn’t bother me, so much as I find it silly. However, I could feel the uneasiness from Jan. The owner came out to talk to us and explain her business. To be fair, the owner was very nice and definitely enthusiastic about her business, if not a little intense. I need to explain that Jan was a vegetarian for most of her life. coming from a place of loving animals. She stood there, with all of the glass-eyes of dead animals watching, as the owner explained her love for not only dead things, but how she legally acquires human bones to create jewelry that she sells. Jan had to be mortified, but she politely feigned interest and asked questions: I mean, what bones make the best bracelets?
It was so awkward.
I tend to giggle when I’m uncomfortable and it took every ounce of will-power to maintain my composure. I am so working this into a story one day.
I was certain that Jan would go back to England and tell everyone about this bizarre tour that I had arranged for us. But she said nothing. When she mentioned her trip , her biggest take-away was looking at model homes in Palm Springs. Model homes decked out with Alexa technology. Jan hated technology. This shouldn’t have been a surprise.
We bookended our morning with lattes at Makers & Finders Urban Coffee, located on South Main. Makers & Finders is another gem and they have an amazing lavender infused latte, which is a must try. It’s worth heading off the strip for a lavender latte and if you’re so inclined, you can buy some pinkie bone earrings a few doors down!