Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Did Anthony Bourdain Get Las Vegas Right?

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 quarter.)

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? 

1 comment:

Helena said...

Hi! Just found your blog today - was searching for more information about Red Rock Canyon and found you. :o) I guess Vegas to us outsiders is the strip because it's the only bit that we know about from tourist information. We don't often hear about the other parts and I'm sure there is loads to see. My favourite places are Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire up north east from Vegas. Death Valley is unbelievable but a bit further away of course. I love the outdoors but I also like social things, Margaritas!, seeing people, walking aimlessly... Love your blog! From Helena in England.