One of these refrigerators is not like the others. | Photo courtesy of Kate Russell
One of these refrigerators is not like the others. | Photo courtesy of Kate Russell
Travel

This Las Vegas Grocery Store Is Actually a Giant Trippy Funhouse

Meow Wolf's Omega Mart is not what it seems.

It looks like an ordinary grocery store, but then you examine what’s on the shelves: A sparkling drink called Liquid Death, a laundry detergent called Plausible Deniability, a Warhol-esque display of Camel’s Meal Substitute Sop. The steaks behind the meat counter are red, white, and blue. Walk past a toxic spill blocked off with caution tape and into the produce section, where you peer into one end of a kaleidoscopic squash. And over in personal care there’s an actual deodorant from a brand called Future Contact; this particular scent is “Initiation.”

“We wanted a real deodorant, and we wanted it to be human-scented,” says Emily Montoya, laughing. “The idea is that it’s a deodorant for aliens who are posing as humans.”

This is Omega Mart, a new dystopian installation from the Santa Fe-based arts collective Meow Wolf, of which Montoya is a co-founder and Senior VP of Brand. You’ll find it in Area 15, a futuristic adult Disneyland just minutes away from the Las Vegas strip. (Other attractions in the high-tech complex include a psychedelic barcade, flying simulator, and an immersive Van Gogh digital art show.) More than just an Instagrammable grocery store, Omega Mart is an amalgamation of 60 different environments created by 350 artists, with a soundtrack by musicians including Brian Eno and Beach House. Stumble through a refrigerator of Omega sodas and into an extraordinary alternate reality where nothing is as it seems.

Food to feed your cats and wolves. | Photo courtesy of Kate Russell

Saying that Meow Wolf (a name created by pulling two random names out of a hat) does “large-scale immersive installations” barely scratches the surface. These visionary misfits create whole new worlds, complete with elaborate (hard to follow, totally bonkers) narratives. Formed in 2008 by a rag tag group of artists trying to make a name for themselves in Santa Fe, the collective made headlines in 2016 with their first permanent installation, The House of Eternal Return. Opened in a former bowling alley and partly funded by none other than George R.R. Martin, the sprawling space holds 70 rooms of hallucinatory, interactive art loosely themed around a mysterious storyline—plus a bar and concert stage for live shows. 

It’s a must-visit in Santa Fe, and after an extended hiatus in 2020, they’ve finally reopened with reduced-capacity and Covid protocols. They’ve even integrated hand sanitizer into the design concept so as not to break the illusion: “We had artists paint over the hand sanitizer to make it look like a piece of ground floating, with mushrooms growing out of it,” Montoya says.

Slide around in the multi-level Dramcorp factory. | Photo courtesy of Omega Mart

Opened this February, Omega Mart is the second permanent installation to come out of Meow Wolf (a third will open in Denver later this year). But the concept dates back to 2009 when it was first executed in a Santa Fe warehouse. “It was like, let’s be irreverent. Let’s do this artist commentary on grocery stores,” explains Montoya. “The shelves were made out of plywood and cinder blocks, and we would save old milk gallons and fill them with rainbow paint water and write in Sharpie, like, ‘elk milk’ on them.” 

For its second iteration in 2012, the group rented retail space in a shopping center and collaborated with an educational outreach program to come up with the products. “The kids would create just insane things, like a ‘Giant Sponge in a Box for Cows that Have Been Abducted,’” Montoya recalls. “We would design them and put them on the shelves.” The collective even took out ads in local papers offering “Nationally Localized Products” and “Organically Recommended Produce,”  with no mention of Meow Wolf.  

“It was like ‘Omega Mart comes to Santa Fe!’” says Montoya. “And everybody thought it was real! We had actual grocery stores that were scared we would be their competition.”

Drink the blue whiskey cocktail... if you dare. | Photo courtesy of Laurent Velazquez

This Las Vegas Omega Mart is a tad more high budget. Meow Wolf’s executive team now includes former bigwigs from Goldman Sachs, Disney, and LucasArts; in 2019, they closed a $158 million investment round

But, it’s still Meow Wolf, so expect an over-the-top experience where accidentally-opened portals lead to sensory playgrounds with sinister subplots. “The whole story is that Omega Mart is America’s most Exceptional Grocery Store, and they’re portraying everything as if it is normal," says Montoya. "But what has actually happened is that they are a subsidiary of this bigger cyber-spiritual mega corporation called Dramcorp, and Dramcorp, in trying to innovate the supply chain, has introduced technology that has essentially opened a portal.” 

Entry costs $45 ($35 if you're a Nevada resident). Toast your victory over Dramcorp’s HR robot at the hidden Datamosh bar, serving cocktails like Old Fashioned Spray or the Meowjito. And take some Omega products home with you—like “Who Told You This Was Butter,” a home freshening spray scented like butter, or the P-2000 cracker spackle. “It will repair any kind of crack in the surface of any kind of a cracker,” Montoya says. “It’s also more commonly known as peanut butter.” She also recommends the nut-free salted peanuts. (Salt. It’s just a can of salt.)

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She would probably drink the blue cocktail.
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