Drinks, politics mix at Classic Jewel
Drinks, politics mix at Classic Jewel
February 20, 2023
Black-owned downtown lounge becomes vital spot for community
By Sabrina Schnur
A lounge at the base of a downtown Las Vegas high rise has become a staple for tourists, politicians and upstairs neighbors.
Classic Jewel sits on a block between East Bonneville Avenue and South 3rd Street, on the first floor of the Juhl high rise condos.
In the morning, the neighborhood is quiet.
But at night, music from the club bounces into the street. Colorful cocktails of cognac or tequila are paraded around the lounge by bartenders and waiters and the aroma of sizzling burgers and wings fills the pub.
“Most bars and lounges have a life span of three to five years,” said co-owner Ryan Brown. “Just because you have to reinvent yourself, you have to change the name or bring in new management. We really value the relationships and the team that we’ve been able to build here.”
Before the boom
Brown, 36, begin leasing the workspace at the bottom of the Juhl condos in 2015 with her sister Selina Melhado, 32, and their parents, Jerome Harry, 53, and Sherri Lewis, 56. Brown and Harry said it was Lewis, who owns Vegas Living Realty, that put downtown on their radar.
Harry and Lewis moved from Centennial Hills to downtown in 2009, because Lewis was convinced Las Vegas would one day have a booming downtown, like other big cities. The former Los Angeles residents knew downtowns were typically the busiest areas in most major cities, so the two entrepreneurs wanted to be in downtown Las Vegas before a boom in business that Lewis predicted.
The family opened Classic Jewel in June 2015 and doubled their space in 2017 to what it is now.
“A lot of people didn’t think we was going to make it this long,” Harry said. “Classic Jewel is a place to meet up with all walks of life.”
The bar was named as aplay on Juhl condos and in honor of the bar’s mascot, Harry’s 1965 convertible Ford Falcon. Old black and white pictures of the classic jewel Falcon line the walls. In 2019, the four family members bought the space they had been leasing for Classic Jewel, and several more condos in the Juhl, in what was becoming a busier neighborhood.
“We see where Tony Hsieh kicked it off,” Harry said. “I love it when people go on the radio and say, ‘We go downtown. It’s clean. We feel safe going to Classic Jewel, coming in, going to our cars.’ We feel proud from when we first started downtown to now.”
Hsieh, the former Zappos CEO who died in 2020, founded the Downtown Project in 2012 with $350 million dedicated to redeveloping the East Fremont corridor and financing popular downtown events, including First Friday and Life Is Beautiful.
Brown attributed much of the bar’s success during the pandemic to upstairs neighbors and regulars who continued to eat and work in the space despite state-mandated capacity restrictions. The bar’s owners are members of the Downtown Vegas Alliance, the Urban Chamber of Commerce and Battle Born Progress.
A record of winners
The lounge has hosted dozens of local and national politicians, including President Joe Biden, Attorney General Aaron Ford, Rep. Steven Horsford, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, former Gov. Steve Sisolak, former and current mayors Oscar and Carolyn Goodman, as well local attorneys, city councilmen and judges.
“It would be easier to name a list of politicians that haven’t been here,” Brown said.
Councilman Cedric Crear said the bar has become a vital spot for Black residents because of the welcoming atmosphere and friendly regulars.
“It has become a focal point of our community,” Crear said. “Many events that people are having, announcements for things, they do at Classic Jewel. It’s become our spot for our community downtown.”
Crear, who is originally from Las Vegas and owned several businesses, called Lewis and Harry “smart business folk,” for the way they slowly and strategically expanded in 2017 into the two doorways they have now and ultimately purchased the venue in 2019.
“Having abusiness myself, a small business, I know how hard it is,” Crear said. “What him and Sherri are doing is awesome.”
Brown said none of her family members are interested in running for office themselves, but they host voter registration drives and help their community reach elected officials by offering the venue for campaigning.
“Everyone who had afundraiser here, they pretty much win!” Harry noted.
The future of downtown
Brown, a Centennial High School graduate who left a marketing job in New York to open Classic Jewel, said she will likely always remain in Downtown Las Vegas. She predicts more people will move in from other major cities as staples like housing and a grocery store move in.
“We’re very much committed to downtown,” she said. “If you’re living downtown, it’s not because you want to spend your weekends in the backyards in the ‘burbs. We’re out running and barhopping. You get to know your neighbors because you see them everywhere.”
Harry, who was originally from Los Angeles, quit his job at High Desert State Prison and took his retirement money out when he and Lewis decided to open Classic Jewel.
Now he takes a 45-minute drive around downtown each morning to look at the new developments. He plans to open a cigar bar, a gym downtown and an electric vehicle charging station near Town Square within the year. His advice to residents and tourists alike is the same: buy property and invest in Las Vegas sooner rather than later.
“So many things are going to be popping up in the next year to two years,” he said. “That’s what we’re telling everybody right now. I want people to invest, not just rent or lease. What’s going to happen is the square footage is going to go up. You will feel like you got pushed out when you didn’t take advantage of the time. I want people to invest and see what the equity be in the next five years.”
As for the future of Classic Jewel, the four owners, their 12 employees and dozens of independent contractors are thankful they will be sustained by regulars and visitors who have heard of the Las Vegas staple and might want to try something different.
“We understand there’s a lot of options to get cocktails in Las Vegas, including your living room,” Brown said. “We want to make it easier for people. We want people to come in and not have to be mixologists. You like tequila or the color blue? That’s fine. Order off menu.”
Harry called their consistently packed bar a testament to their atmosphere, which features different DJs every night and mixologists that travel for bar shows and conventions to expand their repertoire.
“Las Vegas is saturated,” he said. “Bars, liquor stores, grocery store, but people drink it here. We’re competing with everybody and it feels good that people are still choosing us after seven years.”
Contact Sabrina Schnur at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.
‘It has become a focal point of our community. Many events that people are having, announcements for things, they do at Classic Jewel. It’s become our spot for our community downtown.’
Las Vegas City Councilman