BOB BASKIN PARK
A park doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Give us an open space for picnics and games, a couple of tables and a crusty old grill, and we can make do. But a park is just a park if it doesn’t have trees.
We’re not talking about wispy little saplings or a decorative windbreak. We want real trees with broad, sheltering limbs and leaves as big as your palm. That’s the only kind of tree that keeps out the punishing Southern Nevada sun.
Bob Baskin Park has those trees. Tennis players and dog walkers flock to the shade like bees to flowers.
On a recent Saturday morning, several Filipino tennis players fired up a grill and whipped out a ukulele. The sounds of spitting meat, island songs, tennis games and dog collars mingled in a kind of beautiful recreational chorus. My family and I sat in the shade and soaked it all in, feeling pretty positive about our little corner of Las Vegas.
Baskin Park is small and deep, less than six acres and barely wider as a ranch-style home. It’s got water features, playgrounds and a clearing that’s big enough for a makeshift soccer game. It also has a whale slide, which is almost as great as all that shade. AMY KINGSLEY
I’m still not used to sitting at tables for a concert. I’m not a lounge kind of dude. But I’ll happily pull up a chair for a good jazz gig — something that was virtually nonexistent before the opening of Cabaret Jazz, the smaller music room at the Smith Center. Already, the 250-seat venue has hosted two of my favorite concerts of 2012: SFJazz Collective, which broke in the place in mid-March with its original modernist compositions and imaginative takes on Stevie Wonder songs, and New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, an equally bawdy and delightful crew that had people dancing wherever they could find space. Heck, one brazen woman even bopped her way onstage, a relatively easy feat since it’s so low and close to the audience, with nothing but a large window overlooking downtown behind it. Which reminds us to stop pinching ourselves — this is happening in Las Vegas. MIKE PREVATT
Netflix streaming. The stack of books beside the bed. A gossip-friendly roommate. All wonderful distractions from whatever tasks at home I need to complete. Even with my back turned to all of these things and the iTunes turned off, I still can’t focus long enough to get any work done at home. And just as I throw my laptop into my bag and reach for my car keys, my problem becomes compounded: It’s 11 p.m., and the valley’s non-casino coffee spots are closed.
Except the West Desert Inn Road location of Madhouse Coffee, an independently owned coffeehouse. It’s there I find plenty of workspace, working and free wi-fi, music that doesn’t sound like Norah Jones, chai lattes with Adderall-like power and toothsome cinnamon rolls. Know the one thing I don’t find there? Diversions. Two or three hours later, I’m out of there, my checklist completely crossed out. And now that I’m done with my work and wired from that tasty beverage, I can now plow through that opus calling to me from the nightstand. MIKE PREVATT
THE ARCHITECTURE AT BONNEVILLE AVENUE AND GRAND CENTRAL PARKWAY
Thanks to the Strip, Las Vegas offers more than a few moments of pleasing architectural disjunction. You know, those spots where wildly different, merrily incompatible styles shoulder up against each other and create a nice sense of aesthetic dizziness. Trop and the Strip, for example — the blunt green mass of the MGM Grand, the down-scaled skyline of New York-New York and the cartoonish castle of Excalibur, each of them frantic for your eyes. There’s a definite energy to that kind of juxtaposition.
My favorite such spot isn’t on the Strip; it’s downtown, at Bonneville and Grand Central. Left to right, that crossroads is home to the huge cubes of the World Market Center, the crumpled metal trellis of Frank Gehry’s Lou Ruvo Center and the red desert modernism of the County Government Center; farther back, the Smith Center. (Let us not speak of the outlet mall on the fourth corner.)
Now, I’m not arguing that each is a great building, although I’m sure the Gehry joint has its brand-loyal advocates. Rather, I’m saying that here, among these buildings, the stylistic jostling is deeper, more subtle. It touches different pleasure centers than the surfacey bombast of the Strip. Instead of outrageous neon and commercial imagineering, this spot is about the differences in scale between World Market and the Ruvo Center (made more playful by the former’s free-standing signage), in the contrast of materials between the shiny, futuristic Ruvo and the nature-evoking, desert-red county building. If the Strip’s buildings are woofing Let’s party! at one other, this is more of a grown-up conversation. SCOTT DICKENSHEETS
Beyond the hustle of the Vegas lifestyle and the lustrous glow of the Strip lie a multitude of outdoor escapades. Red Rock Canyon, of course. Mount Charleston.
And then there’s the isolation and natural beauty found in the Colorado River’s Black Canyon. It offers 12 miles of aquatic domain, perfect for a day trip of kayaking, canoeing, hiking, hot springs, waterfalls, swimming and tanning.
Plenty of options are available, from costly, fully structured adventures beginning at the base of Hoover Dam, to free, self-guided journeys down river at Willow Beach. Cool, hidden places such as Sauna Cave, Gold Strike Canyon, Boy Scout Canyon and Hot Springs, Arizona Hot Springs, Emerald Cave and others offer a little bit of escape from the daily pounding. NIKKI VILLORIA
THE NEW BIRTH OF MAIN STREET
As a new Vegas transplant, I spent a solid 30 minutes driving around Main Street and the blocks it touched, my heart sinking as I looked at my environment. Tire shop. Smog check. Oil change. Knickknack outlet. The bones of a neighborhood not readily identifiable as the Downtown arts district, save a couple gallery spaces seemingly unwelcoming until the first Friday of the month.
But after a recent stop at Chrome Werewolf, a recording studio on South Commerce, I started noticing new things around it. More art galleries. Creative spaces. A coffee shop (coffee shop!) almost ready to open. And then the most promising part: Buildings mid-construction — the sign of progress. The Main Street area is one of my favorite Vegas neighborhoods based on layout alone, easily pictured as a sure thing for a Sunday sandwich or an early evening bout of improv. With the impressively fast move-in of things that don’t involve treadwear grade or ceramic Elvises, that picture’s ready to become reality. Long live Main Street. MAX PLENKE
THE RED DUCK CURRY AT PAN ASIAN
At a restaurant called Pan Asian, on South Decatur, they make the best red duck curry I’ve ever had. The place is a bit lesser known, but this dish especially can stand up to anything on or off the Strip. The most important part, the crispy duck, is absolutely perfect. Its flavor is warm, rich and full-bodied, just the way duck should be. It’s amazing, especially with the northern-style curry. I like mine at around an 8/10 in spice, it balances well against the coconut milk and the grapes they cook into it. They also include sweet Thai basil, cashews, white onion and red bell peppers. It is a very complex and very well balanced curry.
The one thing that really puts Pan Asian over the edge for me is the quality of ingredients. It never does that kind of canned, flavorless, stereotypical vegetable medley of carrots, bamboo shoots and baby corn. Chef Lisa is very particular about quality, and she makes it all to order, fresh. She and her host are very friendly, and they like it when they have guests who appreciate Thai-level spice. I know everyone with an opinion on Thai food will be different, and we’ll all have some special quality to make it our favorite. For me, the balanced flavors, quality ingredients, and perfect preparation makes this the one dish I could run out and have any day, any time. MITCHELL WILBURN