‘Commentary’ Category

The Palms question

July 6th, 2006

A three-day party at the popular Vegas resort spawns questions about its future

While the Hard Rock Hotel changes hands from owner and founder Peter Morton to its new corporate owners – possibly jeopardizing its future as a hipster, boutique resort – George Maloof’s Palms Casino Resort continues to build on its status as the hottest property in Las Vegas. The latest addition to the resort’s arsenal of nightclubs, restaurants and over-the-top party suites is the fully-remodeled, $40 million Pool at the Palms.

Completed just in time for one of the craziest holidays in Vegas’ nonstop party, Fourth of July weekend, the new pool debuted to the public with a three-day bash celebrating the one-year anniversary of 944 Magazine.

Scott Weiland, (c) WireImageEvents at the resort included DJ Robert Oleysyck’s successful breaking of the Guinness World Record for longest DJ set (now 88 hours), a star-packed premier of Superman Returns at Brenden Theatres, a day-long string of live music culminating with performances by Camp Freddy and Panic Channel, fireworks, a declaration of “944 Day” by Mayor Oscar Goodman, and … man, we are running out of breath.

The Pool at the Palms features all sorts of nifty enhancements and adornments, including private tee pee-cabanas that overlook the pool area from a tall balcony, multiple bars (including one beneath a waterfall), table gaming, plush furniture and the coup-de-grace, a glass-bottomed pool and deck that rise above the table games and center bar.

On Saturday, however, the area was converted into a makeshift concert venue at which Dave Navarro’s latest musical projects were scheduled to entertain guests as part of the anniversary weekend festivities. This meant the pools were off-limits. Strictly. And amazingly, no one defied that unwritten rule, despite the heat that lasted well into the late evening.

The Palms is a study in the dichotomy of Las Vegas. On one hand, its is a popular locals casino, filled with copious (and supposedly loose) slot machines, which inevitably draws hundreds of senior citizens to its casino floor daily. On the west side of the property is a food court and the cinemas which – save perhaps for the week a year that CineVegas holes up at Brenden Theatres – cater to the lowest-common denominator.

It is on the east side of the resort where things gets interesting: Hart & Huntington Tattoo Parlor (star of cable TV’s “Inked”), ghostbar, Rain nightclub, AMP salon and spa, the entrance to the Fantasy Tower, and the aforementioned pool.

Maybe that’s why celebrities like the Palms so much. Unlike the Hard Rock Hotel, or even some Strip joints like Caesars Palace or Mandalay Bay, the average Palms gambler is mostly concerned with the three reels in front of him or her. There is no Circle Bar surrounded by mooks looking for loose women or famous faces. Heck, after Camp Freddy’s set ended, Navarro and his crew waltzed right in the front doors of the casino, no one noticing much and no need for security.

Of course, eventually the Palms will have to deal with its identity crisis. With the opening of the Fantasy Tower – home to the must-be-seen-to-be-believed Fantasy Suites and the penthouse Playboy Club – the Palms has thrown down a challenge to any other Vegas property to steal its thunder as the premier party spot in the valley. And when Palms Place — the adjacent condominium development from the Maloof mind – opens in 2007, it will be the part-time home to a number of A-list celebrities. Eventually, that cute, locals-oriented casino with the loose slots could be considered a liability.

The Last Gallery Au Go-Go Story Ever Told

November 27th, 2005

I wrote the first news story about Gallery Au Go-Go, Dirk Vermin’s three-year experiment as a semi-permanent gallery curator. He took the half of his Maryland Parkway tattoo parlor, Pussykat Tattoos, which was being leased by a photographer as her studio, and turned it into an honest-to-Sid Vicious art gallery.

It was a labour of love for the local punk rock legend and tattoo artist, something borne of a genuine desire to provide an artistic outlet for other artists that felt estranged from the increasingly insular Arts District scene happening downtown. He expected to make no real profit from the gallery, asking only a minimal commission from his featured artists to help cover things like free beer and bologna sandwiches.

“If we do OK, I’ll be happy,” Vermin told me before the gallery opened in May 2002, “it will have been a successful venture.”

Familiar names in the local art scene today – Mark T. Zeilman, Iceberg Slick, Dray, Carrie McCutcheon – all had early showings at Vermin’s gallery, often when other venues would refuse to show an artist. Dray was one of those, who ran into friction with an early showing at the Winchester Community Center. The first show of his arts collective, Five Finger Miscount, at Gallery Au Go-Go also featured the work of urban muralist and underground comic creator Vezun, who told me he had difficulty getting his work into stores because of the negative image many people hold of graffiti artists.

“People don’t want to touch that kind of stuff,” he said.

I owe as much to Gallery Au Go-Go as the artists whose careers were jump-started by Vermin’s flexibility and resolve to go against the grain. I was writing mostly about local music and nightlife for the CityLife before the gallery opened. But I’d known Vermin for years, both from the music scene (where he appears irregularly with his self-named punk band) and from sitting on the receiving end of his tattoo gun. That, and I’m pretty sure he was at my wedding. So I had an inside track on the forthcoming gallery, which gave me an opportunity to write my first “art” column for the weekly paper.

From there, Gallery Au Go-Go and underground art became somewhat of my “beat.” From May 2002 until Dec. 2003, I reported on a subject about which I knew little to start, but I learned a lot quickly. While the CityLife’s official art writer covered mainstream venues, new artists, new galleries and mainly new shows at Gallery Au Go-Go were my domain, sometimes to his chagrin.

In the last year or so, buzz has died down surrounding Vermin’s gallery. My guess is that the more defined focus on downtown as the official Arts District for the city has somewhat sucked the air out from beneath Gallery Au Go-Go’s wings. The artists that used to find refuge in the welcoming cinder-block walls of the tattoo parlor-cum-art gallery are now living in and operating their own studios downtown, or filling up space in places like the Art Bar. Once-legendary fire-code-breaking opening receptions at Gallery Au Go-Go became more quiet affairs, the same 25 people or so showing up at every opening.

Vermin did the noble thing – he left on a high note, before the gallery could become completely inconsequential. And judging by the amount of press the gallery’s closing received – major features in the Review-Journal, Sun, CityLife and Weekly – the influence of Gallery Au Go-Go on the local community remained strong to its end.

I attended the closing bash, appropriately named “Gallery Au Go-Go Must Be Destroyed!” Vermin seemed to be genuinely happy, almost relieved. He told me that he plans to claim the gallery space for himself, expanding his office by about 10 feet and creating a completely revamped tattooing studio, complete with custom stone tile and stainless steel fixtures.

“No more of this pink and black stuff,” Vermin said, pointing to his garishly adorned tattooing space.

You can read the papers for details about Vermin’s upcoming book about the 1980s punk scene in Vegas (which we’ve been talking about for three years), or about his plans to curate shows at other galleries downtown. I won’t reiterate. But I will say a last goodbye to the place that gave a proper shove-off to the local arts scene, to many an artist’s career, and to this journalist’s portfolio. Or, in true Vermin form:

“Fuck you, too.”

Streets: A refugee tale

July 15th, 1998

Originally presented in Five/One Magazine, Summer 1998


Well, by the time this article reaches print, it will have been eight months. Eight long, eventful, happy, sad, insane, full, calm, nonstop Washington-filled months. And some of you probably don’t know I’m gone. So in these eight months, what has this Five/One alumni learned from life?

Streets. I have learned all about Streets. Not 21 Jump Street, not the place where our house sits in the middle of, but the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the stone cold pavement in your town and mine. As I sit on my balcony and look at the street, I start to think about the sort of people that tread on that bumpy gravel. You’ve got the same people that you have in every town. The jocks, the hippies, the punks and the unaccepted. But something is different. So I start comparing this Washington street to the Las Vegas street I knew for nine years. It’s amazing what comes to mind.

When you look at a street, what do you see? What attitudes do you see? When I stare down at the street below me, I see every attitude in the world except one – mine. It is 20 feet away and as impenetrable as Elizabeth Hurley’s undergarments. Slowly my mind drifts back to the Las Vegas streets. I could almost melt right into that hot, rugged Maryland Parkway gravel. It is amazing that you can feel so out of place somewhere, leave, then realize you were in your element more than you would have ever believed.

That is what is unique to the Las Vegas streets. Anyone and everyone can dissolve right into them. You’ve got your great-great-great grandmother in Summerlin. You’ve also got that guy asking for change outside the 7-Eleven at Harmon Avenue and Maryland Parkway. Yet they both melt right into the streets and dance together in some sort of gravel-filled tango. Maybe none of you can see this, but I promise you – move somewhere where the streets resist your uniqueness and you will suddenly understand how open and almost engulfing the streets are in Vegas.

So does this mean I want to move back to Vegas? Unless it involves some combination of Cameron Diaz, hot caramel topping, and a chandelier, I would have to say no. But I miss almost all of you.

Well, my Five/One droogs, the time draws near to bring this rant to an end. I wish you all a pleasant summer and fall, and in the early winter I will be making my way back for some sort of matrimony celebration. Until then, keep your ears open to the welcome call of the Las Vegas streets.

Your favorite escapee,

Cap’n Bohab, High Ordained Reverend of the Church of Five/One