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The Man with the Neon Fists

It’s a tale as old as time: some rivalries can’t be compromised. You’re either an Android user or an iPhone enthusiast. You’re either team Tupac or team Biggie. Netflix vs. Hulu. Nike vs. Adidas. Lakers vs. Celtics. Xbox vs. Playstation. Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. And when you’re a Las Vegan, you’re either Downtown or The Strip. 

It’s true that The Strip held its reign as the preferred destination for both tourists and locals for much of the 20th century. But as our population increased, a grassroots community in downtown Las Vegas slowly began to develop. 

In 1998, the Las Vegas Arts District became an officially designated area. It gave local artists and independent business owners a place to spark a cultural revival in a part of town that had been neglected for decades. In 2002, the city of Las Vegas established the Fremont East Entertainment District (FEED), adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience. 

Zappo’s ex CEO Tony Hsieh, who recently passed away, saw the magic in Fremont East. He started the Downtown Project in 2012. The idea behind the project was to grow Las Vegas’ urban core with investment projects, business incentives, and creating a central hub for the local community. Large investments were made downtown towards real estate development, tech startups, music venues, independent restaurants + bars, and the redevelopment of existing structures. 

By the late 2000s, Beauty Bar, The Griffin, and Downtown Cocktail Room lined Fremont East’s sidewalks. These bars catered to the niche sensibilities of the hipsters who frequented the Arts District’s monthly First Friday festival. 

In 2012, Commonwealth opened on the corner of 6th St. & Fremont St.; that’s when the downtown bubble officially burst. Fremont East was no longer only catering to the counterculture – it became the culture. Locals were no longer meeting up with their friends at their neighborhood PTs on a night out. Fremont East became the centralized epicenter for local nightlife. 

Commonwealth was more than a bar; it was an experience. The 6,000-square-foot tavern features an iconic rooftop bar + dancefloor, and an underground speakeasy, The Laundry Room, where mixologists expertly make custom creations for its patrons. Its lush interior design sends you into a “Boardwalk Empire” fever dream. The opulent ceilings are draped with elegant crystal chandeliers, and exposed brick lined the walls. 

Commonwealth was the brainchild of Ryan Doherty. The Corner Bar Management founder worked alongside Hsieh to build Fremont East into the neon Garden of Eden it is today. Doherty is more than an entrepreneur – he’s a visionary. 

In 2013 Doherty opened Park on Fremont, the bar & restaurant located on the corner of Fremont & Las Vegas Blvd. features eclectic art and modern interpretations of classic dishes. Its enchanting outdoor patio immerses patrons down the rabbit hole into a world reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. 

He previously served as Chief Experience Officer for downtown’s Life is Beautiful music festival. The festival, which launched seven years ago closed the streets of 15 blocks on Fremont East for three nights of music, food, and culture. Most music festivals are built on a blank canvas; a desolate plot of land, a motor speedway, or large amphitheaters. Life is Beautiful was built in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, incorporating the city’s infrastructure, parking lots, buildings, and backdrops.

One of Doherty’s longest-lasting footprints on the city is the murals and sculptures he commissioned as the festival’s Chief Experience Officer. Now, over 18 blocks of downtown Las Vegas serve as an open-air museum. His initiative enlisted works from both established international artists and up-and-coming local artists. 

Doherty had big plans for 2020: he ambitiously set out to open four new bars and lounges. The COVID-19 pandemic set many unexpected hurdles, but as the year is closing in, Doherty managed to open all of his proposed projects despite setbacks. 

Two of the newly opened ventures on Fremont East include Lucky Day Tequila & Mezcal House and Discopussy. The 3,000 square-foot bar Lucky Day replaces Vanguard Lounge. It was created from a salvaged church pulpit, the dance floor features Latin music, and its food menu offers house-made tortilla chips, signature salsa assortments, and guacamole flights. 

Located next door to Lucky Day is Discopussy, downtown’s newest nightclub that specializes in house and techno music. The club has room for 500 people and features a massive “disco octopus” light hanging over it. The impressive structure features 10,000 laser-cut components and 5,000 light diodes. 

Not limiting his projects to solely downtown, Doherty’s Corner Bar Management recently opened two new concepts inside Las Vegas’ new experiential retail and entertainment complex, AREA15. Oddwood, the open-space cocktail bar, and the interactive Museum Fiasco, located on AREA15’s mezzanine.

Oddwood is centrally located inside the venue. The bar sits underneath a canopy of an impressive 25-foot-tall digital maple tree. The sculpture made by Symmetry Labs illuminates with over 50,000 individually-programmed LED lights on 5,000 artificial leaves. Area15 describes itself as a “lost forest where only odd, digital seeds remain.” Oddwood’s twinkling maple tree serves as the venue’s spine. The bar offers an involved specialty cocktail menu and shared plate options. 

Museum Fiasco is a prestigious showcase of futuristic exhibits, audio-visual experiences, art, and hospitality. It’s first featured installation, ‘Cluster,’ is an award-winning project conceived by Playmodes Studio. Cluster is described as “an immersive audiovisual installation that explores relationships between space, time and perception. Through a carefully crafted synchronization between sound and light, and a will for exploring the limits of human perception, a very special experience is created which transports you into a psychic journey of abstract geometry.” It will run through 2022.

By next spring, Doherty plans to open two new venues on Fremont East. The vaudeville showroom Cheap Shot, and the two-story nightclub and Ice Cream parlor, We All Scream. The latter will be located at the former Beauty Bar venue.