Admittedly, I might be a little biased. Art-filled, illuminated, experiential techno playgrounds are my natural habitat. That said, visiting AREA15 in Las Vegas earlier this year was a breath of fresh air. Even for a seasoned blinky-lights spectacle connoisseur like myself. Especially when you consider AREA15 in contrast to the retro thematic casino circus which fills much of the Vegas strip and downtown areas.
I did not mention much about AREA15 when I posted 2 previous articles about my visit to Meow Wolf’s opening in Las Vegas. That’s because AREA15 deserves it’s own article, if not several.
For those who are not familiar, AREA15 is the hottest new venue in Las Vegas. Located just a few minutes drive off the strip, it’s large opaque quasi-industrial structure does not give away much about the contents inside. If it weren’t for the rectangular entrance plaza out front, filled with sculptures that are instantly recognizable as playa art for many of us who have attended Burning Man, you might not have any idea of the delights waiting to be discovered inside.
I wouldn’t call it a shopping mall. I wouldn’t call it an art gallery. I wouldn’t call it an arcade, although there is one inside. AREA15 is more like an indoor techno-flavored modern day theme park. There isn’t a roller coaster, but you can zipline around the top of the main hall. Instead of a tilt-a-whirl, you can fly like a bird in a VR headset. There is a 360 projection theatre, indoor virtual driving ranges, axe-throwing, glowing machines which will read your mind, and a whole lot more.
I was at the venue on 3 different evenings during a trip to Vegas, twice for the opening of Meow Wolf and once for the opening of the immersive show "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" inspired by Pink Floyd at the Gallerie 360. I dove into the venue's offerings and barely scratched the surface of all the fun that is available.
Like a theme park, there are candy stands where you can find psychedelic rainbow lollipops and other guilty pleasures, but there is also a glorious offering of grown-up food at The Beast by Todd English. I ate at The Beast three different times, and even as a selective paleo-gluten-free-anti-inflammatory eater, on each visit I was still finding new food and drink delights on the expansive menu. (Confession: The cauliflower korean wings were so good, I had them on each visit, and have been unsuccessfully trying to recreate them at home.)
And, let’s not forget the immersive experiences. There is the huge anchor tenant, Meow Wolf. Former Blue Man group Co-Founder (and Burner), Chris Wink, created Wink World, which portals you through a fun series of glowing neon animatronic infinity mirror vignettes. (Pro Tip: Get the special 3D glasses offered for a few bucks as an add-on and wear them all over AREA15 and Vegas for the next few days.) The Museum Fiasco “Cluster” by Playmodes Studio felt like being in a hard-core industrial rave in Berlin, and it was oh-so satisfying to dance in a room that felt like a nightclub after a year of Zoom dance parties and Twitch streams.
My new purple sequin hat is off to CEO Winston Fisher, CCO Michael Benneville, and later addition CTO Mark Stutzman, and their teams, for pulling off a miracle. Not only did they open the hottest new venue in Las Vegas, but they also did it in the middle of a pandemic. It’s a little bit crazy, but a lot of bit genius.
AREA15 opened back in September, when most of us could barely imagine leaving the house, let alone launching a venue. They opened with limited capacity and just a few of their experiences and event spaces operational. They have been adding content and tenants ever since. This allowed them to do a series of soft-opens, and to iron out pandemic processes and other complex operations as their attendance and complexity grew along the way.
I’m glad they took the leap, and took the lead in proving that we could still have fun during a pandemic, and do it safely. The combination of Winston’s family expertise in commercial real estate, Michael’s creative agency and studio work, and their love of big art and participatory experiences - which must be jet-fueled by their numerous trips to Black Rock City for Burning Man, has created my new favorite clubhouse in Vegas.
I didn’t manage to see and do everything at AREA15, even after visiting for three nights. More experiences and tenants are being added or rotated all the time, and they are building a 20,000 person event venue on adjacent land. I’ll be back as often as I can. I’m eager to see what else they bring to the playground, and to get another plate of those cauliflower wings.