Inspiration Strikes Downtown

Dena Rash Guzman on stage opening night at Inspire Theater
Dena Rash Guzman on stage
Photo by Megan Edwards

Don’t ask the people at the Heart Attack Grill where the Inspire Theatre is. They do not know, even though it’s at the same intersection: Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street. Maybe they’ll catch on that there’s a cool new meeting place a short stone’s throw from their front door, but on Friday night when Inspire opened its doors for the first time, the Heart Attack Grill folks didn’t have a clue.

Part of the problem may lie in the design of Inspire’s sign. It’s skinny, vertical, and turned at the perfect angle to render it invisible to anyone peering out from inside the Heart Attack. I doubt that this is the real issue, however. People who frequent the Heart Attack Grill, I’m willing to generalize, have different sensibilities from those who are drawn to a place called Inspire.

Wayfarer Bar at Inspire Theater
View of Fremont Street from the Wayfarer Bar
Photo by Megan Edwards

Other than a lack of oversized hamburgers and waitresses in nurse costumes, I had no idea what to expect when I turned up at the entrance to Inspire last Friday night. Yes, I had read there would be a show of some sort featuring “The Three Wise Guys Plus One,” and I also knew that a ten-dollar donation was being requested to benefit the Outside Las Vegas Foundation, a local nonprofit.

I had also learned that Inspire is the joint project of Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh and Michael Cornthwaite. Cornthwaite owns the Downtown Cocktail Room, which is right next door to Inspire.

The first room I entered was the News Café. It has hardwood floors and plenty of places to sit, both chairs at tables and wide risers for a more relaxed, spread-out-your-stuff experience. Drew Cohen, manager of the News Café, was on hand to explain that the venue will serve espresso and drip coffee as well as pastries. Hundreds of magazines of all sorts will be available for sale.

Drew Cohen and Espresso book machine
Drew Cohen with the Espresso Book Machine
Photo by Megan Edwards

Before I headed upstairs to check out the second level, I noticed a machine hiding in the shadows under the staircase. “It’s an Espresso Book Machine,” Cohen told me. Although it’s not quite ready for action just yet, within a few weeks it will be printing and binding personal manuscripts and any work in the public domain. The price? Reasonable, Cohen assured me, for high-quality paper and binding. The cost for a book will depend on how many pages it has.

Upstairs, I found myself on the spacious mezzanine that houses the Wayfarer Bar. Doors open onto a balcony overlooking Fremont Street. A glassed-in private room sports a tall table that can seat a dozen people or so, and another glassed-in space is filled wall-to-wall with sofas. Are you thinking night club? Yes, that’s the vibe of the cushioned playroom.

Inspire boasts an additional bar on the roof. It’s called—wait for it—The Roof. The Roof, however, is not quite ready for business, so I didn’t get a chance to take a look. This may have been a smart management move, because I am definitely coming back to check it out once it’s open. The view from the second floor is great, which leads me to believe that The Roof’s view is spectacular.

Dayvid Figler on stage at Inspire Theatre
Dayvid Figler entertains the opening night crowd
Photo by Megan Edwards

I headed back downstairs, because I had yet to see the centerpiece of the venue, the Inspire Theatre. The design of the theatre is, for lack of a synonym, inspired. It holds about 150 people, and on Friday, night, every seat was taken. I’d estimate about 500 people showed up for Inspire’s opening, but the shortage of theatre seats was no problem. That’s because the back of the theatre opens into the spacious Inspire Bar, which not only has more places to sit and stand, but is also as beautifully appointed as any lounge you can name in Las Vegas.

I noticed, as I stood in the bar at the back of the theatre, that it looked like there was a balcony over my head. Because the show had not begun, I decided to climb back up the stairs to the mezzanine and see what I could learn.

Failing to find any obvious balcony, I asked a security guard whether the theater had such a thing.
“Well, there’s a VIP Room,” he said, motioning toward an unmarked door. “And nobody told me to keep anyone out.”

Not one to quibble about the quality of an invitation, I opened the unmarked door and stepped into a chamber that looks like a smaller version of the sky boxes at football stadiums and racetracks. It was furnished with chairs as well as a sofa and cocktail table. Only about five other people had found their way into this rarefied viewing space. I sat down in a chair with a perfect view of the stage and waited for the show to begin.

The show featured Las Vegas native Dena Rash Guzman, Vegas Seven writer Geoff Carter, poet Gregory Crosby, and attorney-poet-author Dayvid Figler. Each read original material, and most augmented their performances with slides and videos. They were an appropriate troupe to inaugurate a new downtown theatre, and provided a good introduction to its versatility and acoustics.

The Inspire complex is a delightful addition to the new landscape emerging in downtown Las Vegas. While theatres in general often have a difficult time staying in the black, this one has a coffee house and three bars to support it. Add in the enthusiastic community reflected in the crowd that showed up to baptize it, and I think Inspire is here for a good long run.

When you go, take a closer look at the sign. You’ll find a secret “D” at the bottom. The Inspire Theatre is also Inspired. Yes. It really is.


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