Lifestyle

A New LGBTQ+ District Is Taking Shape in Las Vegas

Queen has drag brunches, bottomless mimosas, and the spark for something big.

Photo courtesy of Queen Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of Queen Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of Queen Las Vegas

Between Liberace and Siegfried & Roy, Las Vegas has never been shy about welcoming gay entertainers to its Strip showrooms. Even drag shows date back to the early 1950s, when Lynne Carter had a regular gig at the El Cortez, setting the stage for Frank Marino, RuPaul’s Drag Race Live, and other resident performers. However, gay culture and nightlife have long been relegated to the outskirts of the Strip, with bars and other businesses in weathered shopping plazas like Commercial Center and a district dubbed the Fruit Loop near the airport.

“When I came to Vegas in 2008, there wasn’t anything big for gay representation on the Strip,” Q Hospitality Group CEO Eduardo Cordova says. “Everything was on the sides and in dark alleys ‚Ķ We have a beautiful community, but we didn’t have something centrally located.”

Cordova is hoping that will change with Queen, which operates on a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard where the Strip merges with Downtown. The venue promises to be a bar, restaurant, nightclub, and hotel in one, following a slow-motion takeover of the Thunderbird, a retro boutique motor lodge that dates back to 1948.Judging by the drag brunches that draw packed crowds on weekends, the concept is already off to a good start. Tickets include an entree, such as a chicken and waffle sandwich, avocado toast with beet hummus, or red salsa chilaquiles, and bottomless mimosas, while drag performers work the room and lip-sync hits by Taylor Swift, Whitney Houston, and other entertainment icons. Bring plenty of singles. Tipping is part of the fun. So is singing, dancing, snapping hand fans, and interacting with Kimora Blac, the raunchy host who keeps the show moving.

Queen kicks off brunch at noon on weekends in the former Thunderbird Lounge, now reimagined as a lively, colorful space with rainbow flags, pink lights, and an illuminated corridor leading to a world of endless possibilities-and a digital photo station. A DJ works the room from a booth that resembles the bottom half of a disco ball-a decoration worthy of any queendom.

On the other side of that hallway, a nightclub welcomes the general public on Friday and Saturday nights with 30-foot-tall ceilings, 50,000 LED lights, lasers, CO2 confetti cannons, and a stripper pole for good measure. The music leans toward Top-40 and pop remixes with every beat felt over a booming sound system. The club is available the rest of the week for private bookings and special events, although Cordova would eventually like to have a residency show-“ideally something gay that will feed into what I’m doing here,” he says.

The Thunderbird’s wedding chapel is being split up. Part of it will be the first and only gay wedding chapel in Las Vegas, with Lance Bass, a certified officiant, already offering his celebrity services, while the rest will be reconfigured as a lounge for Latin music.This is just the beginning of what Corvoda hopes will be a new definitive LGBTQ+ neighborhood in the spirit of West Hollywood and Chicago’s BoysTown. He’s been in contact with the mayor and other city officials to encourage business incentives and development‚Äďplus a rainbow-colored crosswalk across Las Vegas Boulevard. It’s a gritty part of Vegas, known for bail bond services, adult shops, old motels, and vintage wedding chapels. Yet it’s ripe for a resurgence with a location sandwiched between other up-and-coming neighborhoods like the Gateway District, Huntridge, and Beverly Green.

“I love a challenge, Cordova says, describing the area as “a little gem that could be polished ‚Ķ We’re already seeing a change in the demographic. We’re excited.”The early success of Queen reflects a growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ culture in Las Vegas. Krave, once the gay community’s most high-profile nightclub, survived at Planet Hollywood for eight years-technically on the Strip, but around the corner with an entrance on Harmon Avenue-and fizzled out after moving Downtown in 2013. Since then, the Las Vegas Pride Festival & Parade has gradually grown in stature, drag shows are thriving in tourist spots like the Neonopolis and Treasure Island, and The Center (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada) renamed itself while expanding services. Temptation Sundays, a concept led by Cordova, just celebrated 13 years at the Luxor as the longest-running LGBTQ+ pool party in Vegas. The Sahara introduced a similar concept, Elevate, for Saturdays last year.

Before Queen came along, Cordova struck gold with the Garden, giving the gay community a cocktail lounge in the booming Downtown Arts District. Opening in a difficult time during the pandemic in 2020, the venue was unapologetic about its identity yet blended effortlessly with its surroundings while drawing a diverse audience.

“We’ve gotten a lot more traffic because the area itself has become busier,” Managing Partner Edith Castillo says, citing a synergistic effect between new developments like the English Hotel and events like First Friday. “Yes, we are an LGBTQ+ bar and lounge, but everyone that comes in here feels welcome, whether they’re part of the community or just happen to stumble upon us.”Castillo helped open the Garden, left the operation, and is now back in the fold, leading efforts to update the weekend brunch menu, shift the dinner into a tapas format, and bring in new entertainment, from an expanded schedule of drag performances to a growing lineup of international DJs. As the Garden operates under new management, Cordova remains a now-silent majority owner while negotiating a buyout. Regardless of how things turn out, Queen “is my baby,” he says.

Castillo believes there’s room for both the Garden and Queen-as well as new businesses to come-in the local LGBTQ+ scene. “The more places that we have to offer the community, the better,” she says. “I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”Queen is off to a rousing start, but some challenges have emerged along the way. An early September grand opening was delayed due to equipment damage during a rainstorm, and a dedicated parking lot across the street is still in development after Cordova was hoping to have it ready by Las Vegas Pride Month in October. Guests are currently welcome to park in the hotel lot or next door at the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel.

In the months ahead, Queen will develop a series of themed hotel suites at the Thunderbird with plans to rebrand the entire hotel within two years. Queen is now open daily until 5 am, and Cordova plans to make it a 24-hour destination with 15 gaming machines in the bar once a license is finalized. Dinner follows a supper club format with sporadic pop-up atmosphere performances between 8 and 10 pm.

Expect to see more special events and themed evenings. Cordova brought in national drag act Fantasia Royale Gaga as a resident performer, stealing the show during the weekend brunch and headlining Girls Nights on Mondays with a drag king and Trans Nights on Thursdays. Kataluna Enriquez, the first trans woman crowned Miss Nevada in 2021, will also make appearances.

Cordova has a grand vision for Queen, with great things to come as other LGBTQ-friendly businesses emerge around it. “I just love having that sense of community,” he says, describing a neighborhood where, “you walk your dog, bring your mom. It’s not so dark and hidden.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†TikTok,¬†Twitter,¬†Facebook,¬†Pinterest, and¬†YouTube.

Rob Kachelriess¬†is a full-time freelance writer who covers travel, dining, entertainment, and other fun stuff for Thrillist. He’s based in Las Vegas but enjoys exploring destinations throughout the world, especially in the Southwest United States. Otherwise, he’s happy to hang out at home with his wife Mary and their family of doggies. Follow him on Twitter¬†@rkachelriess.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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