As Fortini points out, Vegas is by no means some utopian tale -- its public schools are poor and underfunded, the city has the 10th highest rate of homelessness in America, the Latin East Vegas neighborhoods have many of the same stagnant development issues that plague the Westside, and no one seems to know how the recent relaxation of rules around gambling across America will impact tourism. And if recent development trends continues, Vegas could suddenly stop being affordable for service professionals -- or Las Vegas natives, for that matter -- to buy homes. At $266,000, business forecaster Kiplinger currently sits Vegas between Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Providence, Rhode Island, in terms of median home price, but also notes that, over the last six years, its prices have risen faster than any other city in America.
There is a Mystique-esque chameleon aspect to Vegas, in which we think it takes on whatever form we want it to be, whatever titillates our sense of sin, of letting go. For me, this took the form of a Dionysian food tour: Sashimi and a sesame-washed shochu cocktails at Dan Krohmer's Other Mama. Glass noodles and imperial rolls at Jamie Tran's The Black Sheep. Paid in Full's silly good Mapo tofu Frito pie. Jammyland's habanero pepper jelly finished ribs. Harold Rose Jr.'s fantastic cinnamon rolls at Homies. Everything at Broadacres Food Fair (but especially Tacos Tijuana's lengua tacos, La Botana Carnitas Michoacanas's carnitas, and the fermented corn drinks at Guerrero Azteca Tejuino Jalisco Style). The Koong Char Num Plar at Saipin Chutima's legendary Lotus of Siam. Sheridan Su's Hainanese Chicken Rice at Flock & Fowl. Cocktails at Starboard Tack, Sand Dollar Lounge, and the Velveteen Rabbit. Sour beers at Atomic Liquors. Something called a "Brookie" at Honey Salt.
In reality, of course, Vegas's time-server reputation is just a projection, the invention of some incredibly successful marketers. Vegas is merely a city, with a workforce and residents with hopes and dreams and opinions about the size of their neighbor’s hedges. But to say it’s just like any other city would be wrong too.
Las Vegas's alchemy -- Hsieh's grand city experiment Downtown, the energy of the Arts District, the culinary majesty of Chinatown, the fascinating history of the Westside and its impact on the city's character, the colony of talented cooks who've planted flags here -- isn't replicable. And maybe that's the point. The less you try and think of Vegas as a Jeff Speck case study other cities can learn from, the more you can just appreciate it for what it is: one of the few truly unique, utterly American cities.
After her mother finished knocking me down whatever could be considered a lot of pegs, Manchev shrugged, smiled and brought down a bottle of Bulgarian fruit brandy, Rakija. "My mother is very wise," she said as she poured each of us a shot. We held up our glasses, and Manchev gave the standard Bulgarian toast, "Na Zdrave!" (To your health).
Her mother gave a wry, knowing smile, and looked right at me. "And to Vegas.”