Container Park From shipping to shopping, park promotes play

July 11, 2018

Los Pinches offers Mexican cuisine at an affordable price

By Rachel Merino-Ott | Sage Creek High School, Shawnee Rivera | Homestead High School and Kathryn Wilkins | Kearns High School

Photo collage by Rachel Merino-Ott

I’ve been coming to Vegas for 15+ years and I have never even heard of the downtown scene. The Deuce will take you for $6, or for $14 (depending upon the time of day) you can catch an Uber to the Fremont Street Experience. The promenade is packed with shops and restaurants that are weird and interesting but that still focus on the tourist: a restaurant that boasts free eating for patrons 350 pounds and over and street vendors and artists. Sitting at the end of all this is Container Park.

One square block of restaurants, shops and at the center of it all - an enormous structure for children or the child in all of us to climb and run around until we are forced to grab a beer in one of the bars facing the structure. At one end of the park, a tattoo parlour, at the other a fire spitting praying mantis kicked off by a drum circle lead by employees of the park. Container Park feels like an oasis in the suburban backyard. An appealing venue for the hipster demographic. Within the gated park, several restaurants and bars cater to the crowds with tasty morsels and drinks.

Winding your way through this park, you will happen upon Los Pinches. This Mexican restaurant boasts food made by real Mexicans. Every employee has close ties to authentic food via Michoacán, Jalisco, and El Salvador. The food is created as you order, down to the tortilla! Fresh tortillas are hand made with masa that was mixed that morning. The corn tortillas are cooked that way my abuelita used to make them on a silver blackened grill. The flour tortillas cooked over the fire burners, flipped with fingertips unaffected by the heat.

Photo collage by Rachel Merino-Ott

We sat down in the tiny restaurant surrounded by Dia de los Muertos decor and rustic painted exposed brick. The menu exhibited typical Mexican fare, but catered to the hipster and tourist population by including things like the Gringo Taco. A tender, juicy shredded beef taco that delighted with spicy flavor and offset with tomato.

The pollo enchiladas surprised even the connoisseurs when the employees expertly pressed and cooked handmade tortillas, rolled them around shredded chicken, and served it all up in a spicy mole sauce.

Perhaps the highlight of the meal was the elote. This corn on the cob was no ordinary maiz, but highlighted the sweet and savory flavors of Mexico. The flavors and textures of the elote satisfied my need for tender bits of corn, sweet and savory, covered with cotija cheese, butter, a slightly spicy Mexican cream cheese, and chile. Yum!

Once done with your meal you will be forced to leave the delicious air-conditioned and cozy restaurant and head into the stifling heat of Las Vegas. But you will do so satiated from your meal but wanting more in the near future.

Photo collage Rachel Merino-Ott

Find your way around container park

By Kelly Neiman

Photo by Kelly Neiman

Toy curator shares her life's work

By Julia Satterthwaite | Monta Vista High School

Lizzy Newsome, 34, of Las Vegas is a toy curator of Kappa Toys. Photo by Julia Satterthwaite

Lizzy Newsome, 34, didn’t know when she got a job at her favorite toy store in college that it would become her life’s work. After graduating from University of Texas at Austin with English and Japanese majors, Newsome continued working in the business and is now a toy curator at Kappa Toys.

“It’s one of those industries that – once you get into it – you get really hooked and it spoils you,” Newsome said.

Four years ago, Newsome founded Kappa Toys, a store that’s tucked in the back corner of Downtown Las Vegas’ hip Container Park. This shipping container turned toy store is packed to the gills with unique pop culture items for all ages, but especially for their typical customers: 25- to 45-year-olds.

“Obviously kids love coming in here, but Vegas isn’t necessarily the biggest kid-family city,” Newsome said. “We find that in a park that has so much young adult energy that age group can come back more often.”

Newsome said she prefers the feel of Downtown Las Vegas over the Strip because of the history and the vibe. All of the pre-60s Vegas films were filmed Downtown as the Strip wasn’t built until the 60s, when developers wanted to set up their own rules and taxes, so they moved outside the city.

“The Strip is a separate entity,” Newsome said. “For that reason, you really feel like the casinos are in charge. You can really feel that if you live here. Here the city still fundamentally is still in charge. You see a lot more police, and at the casinos you see the casino security. A lot of people don’t know that – the whole do anything you want, drink wherever you want – that doesn’t apply in Downtown because it’s inside the city limit so you have limitations about where you can have an open container.”

Container Park is one aspect of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, which was founded in 2012 and aims to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas. It offers a collection of shops, restaurants and bars, and a variety of entertainment options – from the Dome to Ms. Mantis shooting fire in the evenings.

“[Kappa Toys] is one of the oldest remaining stores in the park,” Newsome said. “It is a little bit like working in a fish tank, but overall – other than the storage limitations – there’s nothing wrong with it. Customers aren’t used to going to a toy store that doesn’t have a back. People are always like, ‘Do you have it in the back?’ and I’m always like ‘Where is this back?’”

One of Newsome’s favorite tasks is selecting the toys. From Rodys from Italy to an impressive secret box collection from Japan, Newsome’s shop carries an eclectic mix. And Newsome has the opportunity to use both her English and Japanese degrees – the former when editing postings, emails and communications for the business and the latter when she travels to Japan every few years to maintain relationships with toy vendors and get a feel for what’s likely going to be popular in America.

Photos by Julia Satterthwaite

“[I like to keep] a good eye on the toy industry in Japan because the stuff that’s cool there will be cool here in two years,” Newsome said. “It’s giving us an advantage to know what to buy and what not to buy.”

As someone who is living in her twelfth city, Newsome said she doesn’t have a city that feels like home, but enjoys her 20-minute walk to work at a job she loves.

“Vegas is a city that pretty much no one expects to live in – especially if you don’t have a hospitality or entertainment related job,” Newsome said. “It’s surreal, but it does have a lot of comforts that a city this size usually wouldn’t have. You get really spoiled with 24/7.”

In addition to not needing to think about when businesses close, Newsome says she appreciates that many of those who work in restaurants and hotels are well taken care of.

“Something a lot of people don’t realize it they can make a six-figure income that you would never make doing that job in another city,” Newsome said. “There are bartenders who make that much money … there are so many tourists all of the time.”

Newsome is feeling excited for the future of independent toy stores like hers. She said she suspects there will be a lot of changes in the coming years, and with Toys ‘R’ Us closed, Newsome predicts that independent toy stores will get stronger as a result.

“You can’t replace that experience you know, if you have a 3-year-old and you want to buy them a toy, it’s way more exciting to show them the possibilities than to click around online and try to get them to interact,” Newsome said. “There’s nothing that quite replaces when I’m standing near the door and I see a family come in and I hear that 3-year-old come in for the first time and you hear that ‘wow!’ because they’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Whoa That’s Fun brings ‘slightly inappropriate’ novelties to Container Park

By C.E. Sikkenga | Grand Haven High School

Sitting behind the counter of Whoa That’s Fun, a novelty store on the second story of the Container Park development, owner Anthony Montisano studies up on the latest strategies for search engine optimization. Montisano says he decided to open a brick and mortar companion to the online version of the store in part because of the flexible lease terms offered by the Downtown Vegas Project, owners of the Container Park Development. Photo by C.E. Sikkenga

On an unusually humid, if not-especially-hot day (for Las Vegas), Anthony Montisano sits behind the counter at the back of the small novelty shop he and his wife started on the upper level of the Container Park development three months ago. A brick-and-mortar extension of an online store, Whoa That’s Fun is home to a humorous menagerie of mugs, socks, flasks and other products that deliver on the website’s promise of slightly inappropriate gifts.

With his youthful appearance and backward hat and golf shirt, at first glance he comes off more like a customer than an aspiring entrepreneur. However, as he shares about boning up on the latest trends in search engine optimization (SEO) and discusses his business strategies it’s obvious that he’s a serious and savvy businessman, the type who have made the eclectic collection of micro-businesses in the park a vibrant part of the downtown scene. Here’s what he had to say about his shop and being a part of the Container Park scene.

On the decision to start a novelty shop in a town that has one on seemingly every block?

I would say one of the things that I actually wanted to do a little bit different is we have novelties and some gag gifts but everything in here has a very functional purpose to it. So it's something that you can actually use over and over again and not something that you will toss in the dresser or like a whoopee cushion or something like that.

On what, besides the functionality, differentiates WTF from every other novelty shop?

Well based on the the branding and the name, we do get to press into some borderline gray areas. Some of our best-selling products are things actually do have an F-word on it so that's one easily easy differentiation.

On why he enjoys being part of the Container Park community.

I love the atmosphere of the park for sure actually love having a lot of tourists come in and be able to see where everybody's from and have conversations with people basically from all over the world.

Some of Whoa That's Fun's most interesting offerings. Photos by C.E. Sikkenga

There’s never dull moment you know, especially the tourist aspect. I've been here close to three months. A lot of people coming into the bars to drink and they stop into the shop. They have plenty of events going on. The Life is Beautiful festival is coming up here soon (Sept. 21-23). They're gonna close down this whole area, and then you actually need wristbands. But since we work here basically get the three-day festival experience for free.

On the role of Container Park in his decision to start the business:

That’s really how we were born. We were going to be online only but because Container Park was small, business friendly and allows short term leases that we decided to give it a shot with a brick and mortar store and it’s been working out pretty well. I think we're off to a good start but we’ve got a lot of work to do and that's what I'm reading about SEO (search engine optimization) and trying to figure out how to get those Google rankings up so that we’re competing more online but I think we’ll do well here.

Video: Ms. Mantis at night

By Adam Dawkins | Regis Jesuit High School and Jon Reese

Oak and Ivy provides a flaming drinking spectacle

By Phil Helt | Rockhurst High School

Let’s be honest: Las Vegas swims in alcohol. While the casinos offer fountains of cheap beer and breezy daiquiri, journeying away from the Strip can help you find some of the hidden drinking gems Las Vegas has to offer – and one of the best is Oak & Ivy, located in the Downtown Container Park.

Photos by Phil Helt

Established in 2004, Oak & Ivy is an American craft whiskey cocktail bar dedicated to classic mixology, unique handcrafted drinks, and high quality ingredients. Like the rest of the Container Park, this watering hole is housed inside a former shipping container, but the interior atmosphere and décor of lush wood accents, shelves of ornate bottles, and period staff uniforms make this place a classy affair.

Photos by Phil Helt

For my morning visit, I was the first customer of the day, and was warmly greeted by the bowtie-wearing bartender Erik. After taking a stool, I was handed the menus showcasing an extensive assortment of rare beers and fine wines. Whiskey, though, is the showgirl at this Vegas establishment. There are plenty of ways to enjoy whiskey at Oak & Ivy, including “Journeys” that serve a wide sampling to satisfy the tastes of newbies and connoisseurs alike.

I wanted to try one of the unique handcrafted drinks. As a self-proclaimed indecisive bar drinker, I asked Erik to make me what he considers the best drink at Oak & Ivy. He selected the Apple Pie Harvest ($13), a whiskey cocktail made from apple scented Clyde Mays, Bar Keep Apple Bitters, and Allspice Dram. Erik calls this “a staple drink of Oak & Ivy – it’s one of our organic creations.”

Photos by Phil Helt

The making of this drink is a spectacle. After using a shaker to mix the cocktail, Erik takes a slice of Granny Smith, sprinkles on a large amount of apple butter brown sugar, and uses a culinary blow torch to caramelize the fruit. Then, for the grand finale, he grates on some cinnamon and nutmeg and torches the apple slice again. The finished drink is presented with the caramelized apple slice atop and a straight pipette of Becherovka, a herbal spiced liqueur. To properly experience this libation, Erik instructed me to drip, sip, and bite: to drip a bit of the Becherovka on my tongue, to sip the cocktail, and to bite the apple.

Wow. This drink is just wow. This was just the first word that came to mind. I honestly cannot recall the last time I so enjoyed a cocktail. The drink itself is not too sweet, with more of a whiskey sour taste. The apple slice was the perfect complimentary snack.

I only had time for this one drink, but it was enough to make me thirst a second visit. As Erik boasted to me, Oak & Ivy has “the best cocktails in Las Vegas.” I agree.

Oak & Ivy is located at 707 Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Opens daily at 11:00 a.m. Open until 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Delloyd Robertson, 10, traveled to the park from Ft. Calhoun, NE, and thought the mantis was "ridiculously cool." Photo by Jon Reese

Art in the container park

By Erin Burden | Mountain Home High School

Continuing developments pull families east of Fremont Street Experience

By Allen Manalo | Capuchino High School

The open-air Container Park, located in downtown Las Vegas, is home to a unique collection of stores, restaurants, and bars, surrounding a massive treehouse-inspired play structure at the heart of the park. Even underneath the July sun, children are running, climbing, and sliding their way through the three story treehouse as their parents watch from a collection of benches and chairs.

Though some of these benches and chairs are perched immediately surrounding the play structure, parents are also able to keep an eye on their child from the comfort of the patio areas of Bin 702, a wine and cheese bar specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches, and Oak & Ivy, a hip craft cocktail bar with a host of barrel-aged cocktails. The juxtaposition of these establishments against the background of the playground offers a glimpse at a larger shift towards a family-friendlier downtown Las Vegas.

Tressa, a bartender at BIN 702, has seen firsthand how the downtown area has changed over the course of the years. A resident since 1992, Tressa noted the revitalization of the neighborhood through the Container Park as well as other endeavors that fall under the Downtown Project umbrella headed by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, an online clothing and shoe company. Though there has been an influx of businesses and new developments in the area, the neighborhood outside of Fremont street has remained largely unchanged.

“There’s security at the door… there’s a monitor that watches the kids, and there’s security at the front gate too,” Tressa said. “That stops a lot of the riff-raff that comes in you know what I mean, because we’re still downtown.”

Ronnie Pless, a local artist preparing to display his art at an upcoming Second Sunday art exhibition, echoed the sentiment regarding Downtown Project, as his apartment building has been part of these same developments. He noted an increase in family oriented activities at the Container Park, such as a weekly movie night in the playground and a board game night hosted by Bin 702.

These developments have made the downtown area more welcoming, though there are still plenty of streets that locals recommend avoiding, especially at night. Fremont street itself continues to undergo slow development towards something more palatable for families in the area. For many visitors to Las Vegas, finding a great place to take your family across the street from a casino may come as a shock, but this art-inspired, enclosed space offers a unique, relaxing atmosphere for both parents and children.

Photos by Julia Satterthwaite
Go, team E! <3

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