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Two new Fremont venues bring an alternative to the alternative

Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses perform at the Fremont Country Club at 601 Fremont St. PHOTO: BILL HUGHESBuy Photo
Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses perform at the Fremont Country Club at 601 Fremont St. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES

The Griffin didn’t open with a red carpet. Insert Coins didn’t invite celebrity impersonators or Mini Me to its opening. And Beauty Bar likely didn’t introduce itself with a Vegas lounge band.

But Fremont Country Club did all those things on March 6, when the delayed, 1,000-capacity concert spot attached to the already open Backstage Bar & Billiards officially joined the parade of venues on Fremont Street. Before anyone had ever entered the building, the message was sent: We’re doing things a little differently over here.

FCC co-owner Carlos “Big Daddy” Adley nearly said as much at the Backstage door four nights later. Though he had a hipster-friendly headliner (The Warlocks) playing his bar that night, his demeanor and appearance was decidedly less self-conscious than nearly anyone else standing on Fremont Street that night. His Dodgers ballcap tipped off his Hollywood roots, and his hospitality hearkened back to old-school Vegas (a notable contrast to the stone-faced doormen guarding Commonwealth behind ropes right across the street).

Adley’s come-as-you-are venues are the logical conclusion of the great Fremont East Entertainment District expansion. With only so many indie kids to go around downtown’s growing spate of urban lounges and Pabst-friendly bars, the ultimate success of the area depends on its allure to mainstream Las Vegas, and these complementary music rooms appeal to that demographic more than any other venue near it. Their presence not only rounds out the nightlife experience on Fremont Street, but brings the revitalized thoroughfare closer to being the Vegas answer to Austin, Texas’ beloved Sixth Street, an unparalleled avenue of live venues and watering holes that thrives on variety.

Fremont Country Club is the largest music venue on Fremont, an 8,300-square-foot, 800-person capacity room decorated with crushed velvet, cow print, horse sculptures and giant horseshoes, and antler chandeliers. It’s a clash of styles that still screams Vegas kitsch, which was amplified with Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses’ high-energy swing/rock set on opening night.

And despite the presence of pillars in the middle of the main floor, the space feels large. “It’s the big room for bands who don’t want to play a shit hole but can’t play the Strip,” says Adley. FCC’s upcoming calendar bears that out, boasting bands (Alkaline Trio, Escape the Fate, Streetlight Manifesto) that could fill a club but not sell out House of Blues. Also: Though the venue has a bar, it’s licensed for all-ages shows, which means the younger set important to downtown’s future can finally rock out on Fremont.

While that venue is expressly for concerts, Backstage is the hangout. In fact, Adley says he nixed his original plans to open the two spots simultaneously once Backstage was complete because he was impatient for “a place to shoot pool and drink.” On any given night, patrons can play some blue-felt eight-ball under black lights while a DJ pumps bro-friendly rock and hip-hop chestnuts (with the occasional Coachella anthem thrown in for the cool kids).

For live events, one of the pool tables is moved and the DJ booth gives way to a proper stage set-up. During the March 10 Warlocks performance, the band tested out the PA with a four-guitar jam (including former Warlocks/Pandas member Bobby Martinez). What had me initially reaching for my earplugs turned into an orchestra of fuzzbox euphony, projected through what might be the best sound system I’ve ever heard downtown.

That will appeal to serious music fans who might’ve otherwise written off the place. Its ostentatiousness and welcoming vibe — and that of its big-brother venue next door — will lure in everyone else. Fremont Country Club and Backstage Bar & Billiards 601 Fremont St., 382-2227,