I thought Bourdain’s coverage of Las Vegas was pretty good,
but no one gets Local Vegas totally right.Most stories about Las Vegas paint a twisted picture of the
city. Outsiders tend to see only the Strip, and they conclude the entire city
is a phony, cynical place. They think “local” Las Vegas is a collection of
gritty neighborhoods bordering the Strip and beyond that, a cookie-cutter
suburban wasteland. Residents are portrayed as a sad collection of hotel
employees, gamblers, crazy people, and strippers.
I commend Anthony Bourdain for not interviewing any
strippers in this season’s “Parts
Unknown” show on Las Vegas.
Bourdain got a lot right about Las Vegas. He started off his
show at the Huntridge
Tavern, a bar not far from where I grew up, a bar my uncle liked back in
the days when it was considered run-down instead of trendy. My dad tended bar for
a while at a bar called The Pink Panther, a cop hangout about a half a block from
the Huntridge Tavern. I spent a lot of
time in that area when I was a teenager, perfecting my Galaga skills at a cool
video arcade (dimly illuminated with black lights, no less) on the west side of
the Huntridge Theater.
It was nice to see Bourdain give the city its due, so to speak,
by starting out his show in Old Local Vegas.
From a barstool at the Tavern, Bourdain asks the bartender (who
says she’s a third generation Las Vegan) if she thinks people are basically
good. “About half,” she answers. (Sounds about right for a bartender to me,
although I don’t my old-school barkeeper Dad would have gone that high. Maybe a
Bourdain goes on to tell his drinking companion that he
thinks that side of Las Vegas, that crusty old side, has a dim world view. “Even
more dim than me,” he says.
I can understand that. Long-time Las Vegans are a suspicious
bunch. We’ve seen a lot of cons, crooks, and cranks. Vegas can be a hard place
to find friends.
We have our fair share of sketchy neighborhoods where the
houses have bars on the windows, where “gritty” is the nicest thing you can say
about the surroundings.
But the truth is that a whole lot of Las Vegans are living
in neighborhoods where speeding cars are the biggest danger.
I’ve lived and worked all over Las Vegas, and the absolutely un-newsworthy fact is that if you take away the five miles of the Strip and the 40 million visitors, we’re pretty much like any other city in the Southwest these days. (Okay, except for the slot machines in the grocery stores. I’ll give you that.)
In today’s Local Vegas, you’ll find bunches of us who don’t work in casinos or bars, don’t gamble excessively, and know not a single (living) mobster—we even have Girl Scouts, for God’s sake, actual cookie-selling Girl Scouts. All of that, however, is simply too boring to write about or put on TV, no matter how many big-name chefs open up restaurants in the ‘burbs.
For years it bothered me that the real Las Vegas, the place I lived, was never featured in an article or story. It’s a city that attracts people from all over the world, and that’s one of the things I find the most intriguing. You never know when your next-door-neighbor will be an Iranian dentist, or a Palestinian refuge, or a family of Russians who dig up the landscaping (including trees) and take it with them when they leave. Las Vegas is full of characters.
I liked Bourdain’s show. It’s always interesting to see Vegas though the eyes of Outsiders, and I was glad to see he stayed away from the “Sin City” label. He showed everyone the villa on the Strip, the eccentric artist, the professional gamblers, and the amazing restaurants. He took a stab at Local Vegas, even talking about our water woes.
And, thank God, no strippers.
Did you see Anthony Bourdain's show on Las Vegas?
Photos courtesy of: Las Vegas by Daniel Ramirez at flickr, Downtown Las Vegas by P-a-t-r-i-c-k at flickr, and suburban Las Vegas by Terrisa Meeks.