The mall is not a mall. It’s also not a mall, although in a 2016 Vice article, writer Steve Friess dubbed it “The Weirdest, Weirdest Mall in Vegas”.
We can’t call it that for the simple reason that this nearly 60-year-old cluster of malls—configured, in an almost perfect square, around thousands of unshaded parking spaces—is owned by several different owners. It’s actually a bunch of malls, just to hang out. Ideally, Vice also called a ‘district’ mall and at a whopping 38 acres – sure, why not?
Vice was also right about the diversity of the mall. Here you’ll find Lotus of Siam, an internationally acclaimed northern Thai restaurant (although still temporarily closed for renovations); the Green Door, an 18,000 square foot swingers club with “voyeur” areas and “orgy beds”; the Vegas and Nevada halls, two showroom-supper clubs; a wide variety of casual restaurants, from a Colombian bakery to a Mediterranean bar and grill; the Sahara Event Center, a cavernous roller-skating and events space where Led Zeppelin and the Doors once played; and like Vice promised, a good number of LGBTQ businesses, including the venerable Spotlight Lounge and Badlands Bar.
Then there’s New Orleans Square, the property on the southwest corner of the mall. It’s visually different from other shopping complexes — two stories, with its own interior courtyard, Big Easy-inspired wrought-iron flourishes, and murals by local artists including Recycled Propaganda and Gear Duran. And, somewhat inexplicably, this self-contained commercial plaza, independent even of the mall itself, is quickly becoming the hottest arts and culture district in the valley, with multiple galleries and performance spaces, a 1990s-style cafe , a 1970s-inspired bar and more, all thanks to a father-daughter trip to Black Rock City.
“My dad was a big businessman in commercial real estate for 30 years,” says Chelsey Kelly, COO of McMenemy Investment Services, current owner of New Orleans Square. His parents, Ron and Judy McMenemy, bought NOS in the middle years because of his courtship, Kelly says. “They loved that he had his own private little space where things could happen, and things do are currently occurring.
These backyard events — movie screenings, art walks, and other social-friendly cultural events — happen because, about five years ago, Chelsey took Ron to Burning Man, and he was thoroughly impressed with it.
“He fell in love with the art world and was like, ‘Wow, this is what we have to do,'” Kelly says. “So we started to turn it all around, to attract more of the artistic community here, to create what we call a family. It’s not just a place where artists and tenants come and have a great place to hang out; it’s a place to get involved… to enjoy being around your neighbors, working together and building something better than just “hey, my shop is here”.
The McMenemys’ drive to attract arts-friendly tenants coincided with rising rents in the arts district, which attracted a number of galleries and arts-focused businesses that couldn’t find affordable properties among downtown brasseries and upscale restaurants. New Orleans Square, with its downtown-adjacent location, abundant and easily adaptable spaces, and arts-friendly ownership, could hardly be a better fit.
“I couldn’t afford the square footage in downtown, and I really can’t afford it now,” says Nancy Good, whose Core Contemporary gallery occupies a large space on the second floor of NOS. “And it’s such a unique and historic property; it was the place to be and be seen. You know, there was art, there was designer clothes, there were furriers and jewelers, gourmet restaurants and all that. And where in town has more than a thousand free parking spaces? It was the place to be years ago, and I consider it the place to be now.
When you first visit NOS, the galleries are actually a great place to start. Basic Contemporary (corecontemporary.com) features Good’s detailed and trippy works—in fact, when you visit, she’ll likely be working on several at once—as well as works by other local artists. A small stage hosts performance art pieces, such as 2018 by Clarice Tara Dissonance. And performance is the main driver of The point of truth, a “poetry gallery” that presents Spit Your Truth open-mic Sundays at 7 p.m., and is known for occasionally presenting music showcases; the website contains details of thetruthspotlv.net/events.
Space art projects availableWhere as quickly as possible (availablespaceartprojects.com), is a small gallery that hosts quirky pop-up shows from established local artists such as Pasha Rafat, Jennifer Henry, Alisha Kerlin, Nima Abekenar and Krystal Ramirez, experimenting with things they aren’t used to. ‘try. Formerly located in the Quartier des Arts, Photo Bang Bang (photobangbang.com), the studio of endlessly creative model photographer Curtis Joe Walker, displays dozens of his surreal and sexy photos in its windows.
And there’s more to Jessica Oreck’s quietly sublime Collection and design office (officeofcollecting.com) that can be said here. Suffice to say there is absolutely nothing else like it in this town, nothing at all. Anyone who owns a copy of Atlas Obscura should schedule a visit immediately. (The gallery is largely for appointments only, though Oreck keeps regular Wednesday hours; see the website for details.)
The commercial offer of New Orleans Square is just as artistic as its art. The Science Fiction Center (thescificent.com), an institution that has a broad enough cultural footprint to have made the Weeklyin 2015, is not just a comic book and toy store; it’s a blast of non-judgmental sci-fi, superhero, and horror fandom that fits its owner, William Powell, like an exo-suit of pure enthusiasm.
Speaking of horror, HellBound Horror Collectibles (hellboundhorror.com) stocks it in abundance, with a huge selection of dolls, artwork, and other genre collectibles for discerning fans. Everyone from Beetlejuice to Freddie Krueger to Baphomet are here and eager to go wild on your suburban home.
Recently featured in the Weeklyspecialized bookstore avant-pop (beforepopbooks.com) surprises you at virtually every turn, delivering treasures in the form of offbeat art books, subculture titles, and even obscure zines. (Avantpop even publishes its own titles, which they link internally.) Flowery memory (bloomingmemory.com) is a local, full-service florist and family-run gift shop that offers same-day local delivery. And Anthology puzzles (anthologypuzzles.com) offers truly unique gifts: bespoke wooden puzzles created from photographs and artwork submitted by customers.
But what makes a place worth lingering over are its drinks and restaurants, and New Orleans Square has two of the Valley’s most interesting new neighborhoods. Fort Bedlam (fortbedlam.com), a Seattle-born cafe that moved to Vegas amid the pandemic doldrums, is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, evening, or hopefully a lifetime; Anyone with fond memories of the long-gone Vegas cafes Copioh, Enigma, or Espresso Roma will immediately feel at home here among weathered tables, board games, and quirky art. The coffee is pretty darn good too. And the Sci Fi Center now holds many of its screenings here, including upcoming viewing parties for game of thrones prequel series Dragon House. It’s known.
You can really feel the love that went into creation square bar (squarebarvegas.com), a space that strongly evokes the opening of New Orleans Square in the mid-1970s. It’s what Nancy Good calls a “it takes a village” project: the McMenemys designed it, Good painted its murals indoor and outdoor geometrics, and Phil Kotler, whose acclaimed local improv troupe Bleach is eyeing an NOS space, is the bar’s entertainment director. , bringing a mix of comedic, slapstick and musical acts to Square’s intimate stage. The kitchen serves bar bites and “Wake n Bake” breakfasts 24 hours a day, an old-fashioned stand provides take-out reminders of your visit, and gender-neutral bathrooms are covered in wild murals. (Kelly and Good have personally painted stalls; they’re Instagram-worthy.) The Square Bar feels grounded, both in its historic location and in the collective of like-minded people that neighbor it.
There’s even more to New Orleans Square: the offices of Nevada Gender Justice; several health and beauty services; and various other galleries and arts organizations that I didn’t have time to visit, including the home of the Vegas chapter of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
(Between the Sisters, Fort Bedlam, and the gay bars in nearby plazas, one could argue that Commercial Center is a scaled-down simulacrum of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, or at least as it was before gentrification.)
And Sista Kim’s Kitchen (sistakimskitchen.com), a brick-and-mortar version of the popular Southern-style food truck, is set to open soon.
Hopefully what started in New Orleans Square in recent years will continue. It’s entirely rational to worry about what happens to rents – and to those buildings themselves – when the mall reaches Arts District levels of commercial success. And another, immediately pressing concern surfaced: At the start of this story, it was learned that NOS, the entire place, was now on the market. It’s an unfortunate fatality due to the heartbreaking loss of Ron McMenemy last May and the passing of Judy McMenemy almost a year prior.
Either way, Kelly says she will keep her stake in Square Bar and hopes whoever buys NOS will keep her as an operator.
“It’s very important these days to have management that cares about us, that likes to be part of the community,” she says. “I hope to continue leading this [New Orleans Square] family.”
NEW ORLEANS SQUARE 900 E. Karen Ave., nosvegas.com.
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