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This quaint southern town takes the gaming out of Nevada, but not the action.
Photo: Gary A. Reese (above); Susanne Reese (below)
The Western and Mexican Center in downtown Boulder City is one of those roadside tourist shops that makes you grin, advertising its leather goods with a big outdoor sign that reads: “Dead Cows on Sale Here.”
Customer Svetlana Ermeeva, 38 and petite with reddish-brown hair and large brown eyes, is lingering near the front door by a table covered with paperweights made from tarantulas mummified in domes of glass. In terms of Western curios, it doesn’t get much better. But the real find for Ermeeva on this spring afternoon seems to be the peaceful little enclave of Boulder City itself.
“We’re from Russia. We’re staying in a hotel on the [Las Vegas] Strip and drove here this morning to see Hoover Dam,” says Ermeeva, who is traveling with her brother, aunt, and mother. “It’s very different here. This is a little, cozy town. I would say a typical American, real town.”
Boulder City is 23 miles southeast of Las Vegas, but it has about as much in common with its hyperkinetic neighbor as do penny slots and high-stakes baccarat. It is the only Nevada town where gambling has always been outlawed, taverns are rare, and growth is strictly controlled by an ordinance that requires voter approval for the sale of city land exceeding an acre.
The city, which has a population of about 15,000, was created during the Great Depression to house Hoover Dam workers and their families. It was supposed to be a temporary government settlement. Each tiny wooden house could be built in a day and was designed to be torn down once everyone left. But many of the families decided to remain, and by 1960 the little desert outpost became an incorporated city.
Drive the tree-lined main street, Nevada Way, and you get a feel for what it was like in the hamlet’s earliest days. Some of the original buildings stand much as they did in the ’30s, with long breezeways and arched entries that loop business to business. Mel’s Diner, which serves tasty steak and eggs, is located in what was once the Browder Café, where dam workers were fed more than seven decades ago.
The gem of the downtown historic district is Arizona Street’s Boulder Dam Hotel, a two-story Dutch Colonial building constructed in 1933 that served as lodging for visitors to Hoover Dam, including an amazing collection of corporate VIPs, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities. A list of famous guests available at the hotel’s front desk bears names from James Cagney to Pope Pius XI.
Visitors are welcome to tour the hotel’s lobby, which is wrapped in rich Southern-sweet-gum paneling and highlighted by a grand piano and the original brick fireplace. Some of the upstairs rooms have been converted into shopping space that includes a gallery run by the Boulder City Art Guild. There also is the highly regarded Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, which displays an old telephone switchboard where visitors can plug into actual recordings of the city’s founders reminiscing about the early days.
But the beauty of Boulder City is that it isn’t just about its past. Recent additions to the downtown area, for example, include the English-style Treasured Times Teahouse, the Boulder Dam Brewing Company, and Goat Feathers Emporium, a giant gift and antique store. At Goat Feathers, a glassblower demonstrates his craft almost daily, and an entire section looks like an old-time grocery, right down to the barrels of penny candy.
A popular bistro, Milo’s Cellar, recently added an upstairs bed and breakfast. The four Tuscan-inspired rooms include details such as burgundy-colored down comforters and marble fireplaces. Each room has access to the courtyard, a tranquil escape where guests can receive massages near the Koi pond fed by a fountain.
Take a walk along Nevada Way on any given Friday or Saturday night, and you’ll see tourists sipping wine and eating lasagna at Milo’s outdoor café or on the breezeway outside Tony’s Pizza. It’s all one big party—OK, maybe one big laid-back party—and not a lick of neon to be seen or a clang-clang-clang from a slot machine to be heard.
“Down the hill people can tend to focus on gaming and not each other, and what I like about this town is everybody knows everybody,” says David Rivera, a managing partner at Milo’s. “Vegas is such a fast-paced mentality; you get over here and life just slows down.”
Southern Nevada has become a wine destination, attracting a quarter of the master sommeliers in the country. Not many of them are women, however. Cameron Sisk, who creates the wine program for Milo’s Cellar, is the eighth female out of 90 master sommeliers in the world. Far from stuffy, the unpretentious sidewalk café has become the place to meet and greet friends in Boulder City while sipping on wine from around the world. Cheese plates, sandwiches, and creative salads (almost all less than $10) round out the menu, but spirits and spirited discussions are the real draw. In addition to wine by the glass, guests can browse through the extensive retail wines and uncork a bottle for a $10 corkage fee. Considering that I recently scored an incredible wine with a 90 rating for $10, it makes sense to grab a bottle to take home. Join locals and regulars who make their way over the pass for Martini Mondays; Wine Tasting Tuesdays ($15, reservations highly recommended); Lady’s Night Wednesdays (ladies receive half off on drinks after 4 p.m.); and PIG Night Fridays (Professional Intellectual Gentlemen receive half-off drinks after 4 p.m.). 538 Nevada Highway, Boulder City; miloswinebar.com, 702-293-9540.—LYNN GOYA
City of Boulder City
Boulder City Chamber of Commerce
Boulder City Online
WORTH A CLICK
Read about Nevada Commission on Tourism’s David Lusvardi’s wild ride on Bootleg Canyon Flightlines at blog.travelnevada.com.
WORTH A VISIT
Nevada State Railroad Museum
600 Yucca St., Boulder City
STAY & PLAY
Houseboat reservations: 800-255-5561
Also offers guided river tours, watercraft rentals, & RV park
BOULDER CITY EVENTS
Damboree Celebration, July 4
Boulder City Blues Fest, Sept. 6
Chautauqua, Sept. 13
Worstfest, Sept. 27
Art in the Park, Oct. 4-5
Bantam Society 40th Annual Car Show, Oct. 9-11
Discover Aviation Show, Oct. 18
Winterfest Art Show, Nov. 8-9
Santa Train, Dec. (date TBA)
Parade of Lights on Lake Mead, Dec. (date TBA)
Christmas Tree Lighting, Dec. 5
Santa’s Picture Party, Dec. 6
Electric Night Parade, Dec. 6
Luminaria, Dec. 12
“The Nutcracker,” Dec. 12-14
Dam Short Film Festival, Feb. 2009
Boulder City Fine Arts Festival, April 2009
Best Dam BBQ, May 2009