As it turns out any doubt and questions surrounding the Smith Center were eliminated as soon as the public got its first look at the facility. Before the first curtain even dropped, a preview tour had us calling the city's first major cultural center a world class venue. Every detail in the building's design was well thought out and carefully implemented. But, would an extraordinary stand-alone building be enough once the doors were open, the lights turned down and the curtains raised?
In short, yes. It was love at first note. The sound, stage and production quality were on par with the most historic of theaters we've been inside. There are many venues we promise to return to often and never get around to, but in the case of The Smith Center we've been back several times and the new theater smell hasn't worn off in the slightest. That's why VegasChatter's 2012 award for Best New Opening easily goes to The Smith Center.
Runner Up: Neon Boneyard
Much like The Smith Center gave Las Vegas an opportunity to reveal its cultural side, the official opening of the Neon Boneyard saw the city embrace its history. Some would (correctly) argue that the Mob Museum also captures a well-known part of Vegas' past and should be considered amongst the year's best openings. While the Mob Museum is a well-known and well-placed piece of the city's cultural and historical puzzles, the mob isn't limited to the valley's borders whereas neon and Las Vegas are synonymous.
The opening of the Neon Boneyard marks a graveyard where Vegas' past goes not to die, but to be honored. Famous, but long retired signs from such hotel-casinos as the Stardust, Frontier and Binion's Horseshoe have been fully restored, many to working order, alongside lesser known, but no less awesome artifacts from the Fox Theater, wedding chapels and other local businesses.
It may not be the Freedom Trail, but the Neon Boneyard is literally a one-of-a-kind, only in Vegas (but in a good way) opportunity to walk through the city's past. We dare anyone to walk out from a guided neon tour not feeling enriched. A feeling not every museum can fulfill.
(PHOTOS: VegasChatter, Neon Museum on Foursquare)