Writing about the eclectic, possibly cursed complex of peculiar businesses on Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard is invariably as chaotic as the experience of going there.
Welcome to Neonopolis.
Quick history: Cost $100 million. Dysfunctional, closed-off, open-aired, three-story rotunda design. Scores of businesses closed since it opened in 2002. Long-derided property management. Scandals. When it debuted, then-mayor Oscar Goodman said, “Neonopolis is going to be great for downtown, the keystone of our renaissance.”
Yet it perseveres with a compelling anti-charm that makes the Commercial Center look like the Bellagio — before they cut down the trees. Neonopolis is a hard sell, I know, but in any of the 20 still-operating businesses are people doing yeoman’s work to give you something good (hello, Don’t Tell Mama and The Nerd bar). It’s a formula for random moments of unique enjoyment nonexistent anywhere else in Las Vegas.
And while I can’t guarantee you’ll catch one of those moments on a visit to this vortex of disorder, I can say that Neonopolis is the hottest trainwreck in Las Vegas, and it has everything:
A wedding chapel inside a 24-hour Denny’s with newlyweds enjoying champagne alongside Moons Over My Hammy.
Demeaned customers made to wear hospital gowns by vinyl-clad nurses in a restaurant called Heart Attack Grill, whose mascot famously died of a heart-attack.
Axehole, an ax-throwing place.
A different wedding chapel.
A different restaurant with an intentionally obnoxious staff that purposely demeans customers and provides bad service.
A tattoo parlor next to a toy store.
An “international” food court that smells like every deep-fried food in history ever made all at once.
A “country show” advertised by a poster of a bare-chested man in a tuxedo jacket wearing a cowboy hat standing in front of a ladder.
Every escalator blocked off.
Massive signage for a 2013 nightclub that only lasted two months.
The “Movie Prop Experience.” That’s it. That’s what it’s called. No clue.
GIANT, EMPTY STOREFRONTS.
A third wedding chapel, specializing in “fake Vegas weddings to scare your family.”
But don’t you be scared. Embrace the chaos and joy that is Neonopolis!