The Third Degree
Featuring Wes Myles
Occupation: photographer, real-estate developer, agitator
In Vegas since: 1987
Resume: Owner, The Arts Factory (1991-2015); Owner, Studio West Photography (1987-present); Project Designer and Bar Manager, the Thunderbird Hotel & Lounge (2015-present)
Favorite downtown haunt: Casa Don Juan
Favorite drink: bourbon
Q. After moving here in the late ’80s, what drew you to downtown Vegas?
I’m an urban person. I need to feel the energy of people and the excitement of the city. Anywhere I go I gravitate to the downtown area. I can’t be in places where everything looks the same. It’s an age-old artist thing: be in the heart of the culture.
Q. Was there anything in particular about downtown that you found different or attractive?
Artists look for those large warehouse spaces. We don’t care about the grime or the homeless or any of those things. It’s all about having the space to do what we want to do and the freedom. Again, that’s a common scenario for people who are actually artists. Not people who talk about it or play it on the side, but people who do it for a living.
Q. Compare the downtown art scene now to when you bought The Arts Factory in ’91.
When I first moved into The Arts Factory the scene was really fragmented. You had NICA in one part of town, the CAC in another. There was no one location where things were gathered. What The Arts Factory did was provide that concentration where people knew that was the area to go for art. That was a huge leap forward.
Q. You’ve been a somewhat controversial figure downtown. Why do you think that is?
Because I don’t accept someone telling the way it is. I’m an intelligent person. I have an education and I don’t accept any bullshit. I demand an equal playing field. I demand fair rules. I stick up for things I believe in.
My parents were immigrants. I’m first generation American. My father taught me to question authority and educate myself. When someone tells me I can’t serve a glass of wine at an art opening because of the city code, that’s not God telling me what to do. That’s you and your bullshit rules.
Q. How do you look back on your roughly 25-year ownership of The Arts Factory? Fondly or otherwise?
Absolutely fondly. I feel that I’ve helped change the culture in Las Vegas. I think I’ve been an important part of changing the perception that it is a cultural-less city. When I moved here that’s what people were saying: Vegas lacks culture. People aren’t saying that as much anymore. It may not be the culture I planned, but it’s far in advance of what it was.
Q. What’s your biggest regret as owner of The Arts Factory?
Not being able to influence our city politics a little more in favor of the arts community. That’s my biggest failure. I didn’t stand up enough to the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Q. How did the Thunderbird opportunity come about?
The owner, Ilan (Gorodezki), is a close friend of a friend of mine and my friend introduced me to him about three years ago. Ilan loved what we had done with The Arts Factory and asked me if I’d help him with this project. We’ve been working on it ever since. He’s been a great partner, giving my carte blanche. It’s been a positive experience.
Q. What are your plans for the property?
We have a unique history here. The Aruba, which was the prior use of this property, was known for many years for hosting local bands. It has an amazing showroom. It also has this pool house that I want to turn into rock-star suites. I want to make it possible for, say, Fleetwood Mac to hang out in the rock-star suites and perform in our showroom. I want it to be the cool place to play. Yes, they’re coming to Vegas to do a show at the Hard Rock or MGM, but they’re also going to hang out and play where the cool kids are. That’s my goal for this place.
Q. How do you see the property fitting in with the rest of downtown?
This portion of Las Vegas Boulevard has been neglected for many years. We’re one of the first to come in and do something serious in this area and I see that development continuing. This is the ’50s part of downtown. The John S. Park neighborhood has been restored and I think you’re going to see this part of the boulevard become the true retro area. I think you’re going to see it embrace that old, swanky Las Vegas culture.
Q. What are your thoughts on First Friday and will the Thunderbird participate in the event?
First Friday keeps growing. It’s more and more of a party and less and less about art. I lost that battle a long time ago, but we are participating in two ways: We’re going to have entertainment here and be a friend of downtown to encourage the culture; and we have a lot of parking and are going to offer a shuttle to First Friday and encourage people to take it there and then come back here. We want to focus on the after-party scene, but more for locals than tourists.
Q. Why do you think you can succeed with this property where others have failed?
Have you seen my history? I mean, without sounding too egotistical, I represent the counterculture here. I understand it. I’m part of it. I will put on events and do shows that others will not. I will think of things that others will not. I’ll serve drinks that others will not. That’s what makes us different: my ability to draw and understand the artists and the avant-garde.
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Q. What’s one question I should ask that I didn’t?
Well, we’re in a tough position as a bar, because I have a love for fine cocktails and the employees have a passion for them, too. Can we compete with the mixology bars? Our desire is to have this amazing cocktail menu, but be able to serve the sixty-person wedding party that pops in. So what we’re going to serve is going to be interesting.
Q. How do you find that balance between discerning local drinkers and non-discerning tourists?
We have to draw a fine line. Our cocktail menu is going to have six amazing cocktails and it’s going to give you an education on how to order a specialty cocktail. Is that going to stop the average tourist from coming in and ordering a rum and coke or Sex on the Beach? We may have to be willing to be flexible.