From EDC to Life is Beautiful, Viva Las Vegas to Sick New World, Las Vegas has become known for festivals nearly as much as gambling. With this Memorial weekend’s Punk Rock Bowling event boasting its biggest lineup yet of hardcore favorites in Downtown Vegas, a substantial contingent of Angelenos will once again trek to the original Sin City for a weekend of wild times and riotous music.
L.A.’s “Big Daddy” Carlos Adley and Ava Berman will be, as always, hosting the banner-worthy bashes, with lineups that complement and rival those on the festival stages. The pair, best known for hot spots like Velvet Margarita, Glam Slam and The Dragonfly in L.A., opened adjoining nightclubs Backstage Bar and Billiards and Fremont Country Club 12 years ago, setting out to turn what was once disparagingly referred to as “the Old Strip” into a new, world-class nightlife destination. And they’ve succeeded, with bookings featuring popular touring bands weekly, and festival-adjacent parties that everyone wants to get into.
“We’re making a conscious effort to bring the elements of classic Hollywood and the Sunset Strip to Downtown with music, bar crawls and entertainment in general,” says Adley. “The festivals are a part of this and the two venues on our property host after-parties and events with more of these than any music venue in Las Vegas.”
Filling a void for music spaces beyond giant casinos or dive bars, Backstage and Fremont are essentially the Whisky and the Roxy of Downtown Vegas. They not only get the most popular touring artists to play both, they get them to party too, with events before and after their shows. During Punk Rock Bowling, their lineups have been the hottest tickets in town since they opened. So much so that in the last few (non-COVID) years, they realized they needed to expand during PRB.
BBB’s outdoor patio sort of became a gathering place for rockers and their friends, so Carlos and Ava decided to expand it, making use of all of their property for an outdoor carnival behind the clubs that Adley says is meant as a gift to fest-goers, especially L.A. people who make up a large portion of the patronage. They’ve made it open to those who can’t get into their sold out club bashes inside, so anyone with a festival ticket gets to hang in the lively outdoor fiesta featuring DJ Lethal (House of Pain), food trucks and more.
On a much larger scale, the amusements bring to mind the pairs’ pumping outdoor patio at Velvet Margarita on Cahuenga, a venue that is much-missed since it shuttered during the pandemic. Berman sees a parallel between their old venue on the popular boulevard and what they are doing now in Vegas.
“Our part in the renaissance of Downtown is a lot like what we did on Cahuenga when we bought our building there,” says Berman. “We built the back patio and got people coming to the area regularly alongside the other venues there. The mayor dubbed it the ‘Cahuenga Corridor’ and the entertainment district of Hollywood… that’s what we’re doing in Downtown Las Vegas.”
Along with their original partner Tony Hsieh the couple have been involved with what was first called “The Downtown Project” with initiatives to bring residential and commercial business to the area that first attracted visitors in Vegas’ heyday, before the massive casino procession opened up on Las Vegas Blvd.
Downtown Vegas is still in a state of change and improvement. Many visitors think of the Fremont Experience –the covered lightshow walk-thru known for tourist shops, street performers and a zip-liner ride spanning a sizable portion of the walkway– but the region has a lot more to offer (see list at end of this piece).
And it promises to keep growing, thanks to figures like Derek Stevens who opened slickly sophisticated new properties such as The D and Circa hotels in the area and the Downtown Events Center, where many festivals are held.
Punk Rock Bowling was held at the Events Center too, but this year it will take over the same area as the highly successful Life Is Beautiful fest (entrance at 6th and Stewart streets), and at several clubs throughout Downtown including The Downtown Grand, The Place on 7th, The Usual Place, and The Sand Dollar Downtown at the Plaza Hotel. But the biggest shows –featuring The Dead Boys, Save Ferris, Zeke, Youth Brigade, The Avengers, Angelo from Fishbone’s Dr. Madd Vibe, L7, The Dickies, The Briefs, The Beltones, Punk Rock Karaoke and surprise guests at Backstage and Fremont.
PRB is a festival that highlights Downtown Vegas and encourages patrons to absorb their surroundings, which are clearly in a state of major growth once again after the pandemic. It should be even more of force this year with events in conjunction with the brand new Punk Rock Museum.
Beyond festivals, Backstage Bar and Billiards and Fremont Country Club are in many ways the centerpieces of this thriving part of town year round, especially for people who come to Vegas looking for entertainment beyond pricey pop star residencies or Cirque du Soleil shows.
“We are booked solid because so many bands that have never played the Vegas market are coming here now,” Adley and Berman –whose next project is a hotel in the area– tell LA Weekly. “We came down here because we saw the potential of what could be and the renaissance that is happening is actually more than we imagined.”
More Nightlife and Fun in Downtown Vegas:
Circa is the newest resort in downtown Las Vegas and it’s a must-visit, even if you’re not staying there. Vegas Vickie’s lounge, featuring the famous neon cowgirl sign (her boyfriend Vegas Vic is still lit up out on Fremont street) offers whimsical cocktails and a great old-timey ambiance. The owners acquired the vintage sign in 2016 and it goes perfectly with the bar’s mid-century design and retro Vegas vibes.
There’s also the Legacy Club, a rooftop drinking spot featuring signature and classic cocktails, and a rooftop locale on Circa’s 60th floor with panoramic views of the Las Vegas skyline. Last but not least, check out Stadium Swim, Vegas’ only year-round, multi-level pool amphitheater with a high-resolution, 143-foot diagonal, 14-million-pixel screen and six temperature-controlled pools (touted cleanest in Las Vegas). (circalasvegas.com)
Golden Nugget’s Troy Liquor Bar sees a packed dance floor on weekends but many come for the view of downtown walking crowds provided by its second-floor balcony, while Ice Bar offers a cool scene overlooking the Nugget pool and epic shark tank (goldennugget.com/las-vegas/nightlife).
Inspire Nightclub offers a three-level bar, lounge and nightclub with DJs spinning dance hits ranging from hip-hop to pop. (inspirelasvegas.com), while a vampy vintage vibe awaits at Commonwealth where craft cocktails and dancing from touring DJs make for lively good times (commonwealthlv.com). Also visit Don’t Tell Mama at Neonopolis, a piano bar where the bartenders and servers take turns serenading guests between waiting on them (donttellmama.com).
There’s plenty of places to eat in Downtown Vegas but our favorite by far is the equivalent to a dive bar, only with great food and loud music: Evel Pie, pictured, is a sticker-slathered haven for hot pizza with hilarious names (Cheesy Rider, The Barry White Pie, The Gang Green/pesto) and cold beer, with a rockin’ vibe and decor celebrating motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel (evelpie.com).
Read our Guide to What’s New (and Old School) in all of Las Vegas from 2022 HERE:
Vegas Baby! A Guide to Sin City’s Biggest and Best New (and Old School) Destinations
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