The Bleacher Report's Lisa Horne may not think El Paso's very cool.
But Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder does.
During a sold-out show Nov. 7 at the same Plaza Theatre that blogger Horne dissed as a mere "movie theater," Vedder praised the beauty of the restored 1930 movie palace and wondered why his band had never performed in the Sun City before.
"I'm having one of those moments," he said. "It's one of those what-the-f--- were we thinking moments. It's beautiful here."
We'd bet that many of the 2 million people who live in the El Paso-Juarez metropolitan area might agree.
Sure, we're no L.A. We don't have Disneyland, a TV or film industry, nor do we have miles and miles of bars and other watering holes that Horne so obviously wishes we had.
But we are a growing city with plenty of things to see and do here. And some of those gems are included in the tripadvisory.com list that Horne picked up and didn't like.
Horne's column picking fun at El Paso's attractions that could be visited by University of Southern California fans during the Sun Bowl appeared last week on the Bleacher Report, a sports website that includes numerous blogs, but was promptly removed.
Saying all that, here are some local sites very much worth seeing, especially if you are new to El Paso or coming in for the Sun Bowl to see USC and Georgia Tech.
-- Plaza Theatre: It's no mere "movie theater." It's a historic movie palace, restored for more than $30 million in 2006, an effort led by the El Paso Community Foundation. It has working stars on the ceiling, not to mention unique Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
The 2,000-seater is the home of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra -- the state's oldest (and it's a big state) -- and the world's largest classic film festival in the Plaza Classic Flm Festival. It features a busy slate of Broadway touring shows, which included a sell-out run of "Wicked" (the show came here in February after playing Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre).
The Plaza Theatre also hosts concerts by the likes of Michael Buble, Tom Waits (who got the key to the city), Willie Nelson, Chicago, Dave Koz and the aforementioned Vedder, who praised the community effort that saved and restored the theater from the wrecking ball. "It's so important to keep treasures like this alive," he said.
-- Night life: For those younger USC fans, there are plenty of watering holes, most of which aren't far from the Sun Bowl. There's the Cincinnati entertainment district, a small cluster of bars and eateries right across North Mesa Street from the University of Texas at El Paso campus, including live music havens the Lowbrow Palace and Black Market. You can also hop in a cab and take a short ride to the Union Plaza entertainment district Downtown, just west of the city's convention center.
Thanks to Juarez, El Pasoans were into electronic dance music before anyone knew who Skrillex was, and most of the clubs and nicer restaurants in the Union Plaza area, including the Black Pearl, 1914 Lounge and The Garden, cater to that crowd early into the morning.
Not far away are Tricky Falls and its upstairs Bowie Feathers bar (where Atlanta rapper Lil Scrappy performs New Year's Eve), owned in part by Jim Ward of At the Drive-In and Sparta. Get here early enough and you can probably score a ticket to the town's biggest EDM dance party of the year, Audible, featuring one of its biggest artists, Deadmau5, and one of L.A.'s rising stars, Audrey Napoleon, at 9 p.m. Dec. 29 at the convention center.
-- El Paso Museum of Art: It's not the Getty, but some of the Getty staff have spoken at the museum, which is fast gaining a regional reputation for its impressive touring shows. They include the current "Rembrandt, Rubens and Golden Age Painting in Europe 1600-1800," which may be the perfect show to which those wives among USC fans can drag their reluctant husbands. With 71 works by the Old Masters, including Rembrandt, it's a feast for the eyes. It's up through Jan. 6 and tickets are only $10, a fraction of what you'd pay at a SoCal museum. -- Wyler Aerial Tramway: There's a good reason lovebirds make marriage proposals up there. It's more than 5,600 feet up, at the top of Ranger Peak in the sprawling Franklin Mountains State Park, a haven for hikers and people who'd rather soak up natural beauty than another drink. Take the four-minute, 2,600-foot ride from the parking area to the top of the peak, then linger at the station, with its 7,000-square mile view of three states and two countries, which offers photo opps and draws visitors from all over the world. I never went on the ride as a kid, but when I moved back after 25 years, I made a point to go. -- Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino: Paying a visit to Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino offers visitors plenty of options for their entertainment dollar. After a day of gambling on live horse racing, which runs through mid-April, you can dine at Ventanas, a Las Vegas-style buffet, or in Riley's Restaurant. Ventanas offers a variety of delicious food and desserts to fulfill your appetite, while Riley's features great hamburgers and sandwiches to choose from. There is also the Jackpot Grill and Tecate Cantina.
If horse racing doesn't interest you, the casino is a popular spot for visitors to pull the slots and take their shot at winning some money. The casino opens up at 9:30 a.m. daily and offers a variety of daily promotions for players.
Visitors can also check out the variety of entertainment that is available throughout the year, including car shows, concerts and live music in Franklin Lounge every weekend.
-- Casino Crown in Juarez: A unique attraction is just across the border, offering 200 to 300 push-button slot machines and a sportsbook area. Visitors enter the place through a metal detector (no Glocks or Uzis allowed). Wagering is allowed in U.S. dollars or pesos on major U.S. sports leagues (NBA, college basketball, NFL, college football, etc.) and select U.S. horse and dog tracks (Philadelphia Park, Beulah Park, Zia Park, Gulfstream, Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Derby Park, Southland).
Longtime border residents will remember the Crown Casino site as the former Electric-Q nightclub at the corner of Americas and Malecon avenues. It is easily accessed from El Paso via the Bridge of the Americas. If crossing the Paso del Norte Bridge, go a block into Juarez to Juarez Avenue and then a block east to Malecon and Francisco Villa streets, where buses stop every few minutes. Take Route 8-A (the root beer brown and white bus) for a 5- to 6-minute ride to the casino, going parallel to the border and skirting Downtown El Paso's skyline most of the way. Return to the Downtown bridges area on Route 8-B (turquoise and white bus). Bus fare is six pesos or 50 cents U.S.
A van shuttle recently began operating from the casino to Juarez Avenue and Azucenas Street near the bridge, but free tickets for the shuttle are only available at the casino. It makes five roundtrips daily beginning at 10 a.m. (El Paso and Juarez are on the same time zone.)
As you can see, you have only yourself to blame if you suffer from boredom in El Paso, because your options are endless.
On any given night you can check out some live music at Tricky Falls or Lowbrow Palace or soak up El Paso's DJ culture and go dancing at Union Plaza on the weekend. You're also welcome to tear it up at Souldies, a record party that features some of the best soul and funk on vinyl at the Black Market in the Cincinnati entertainment district, or spend a more mellow night at Eloise where you can sit and enjoy a cup of French-pressed coffee or take a shot of green chile infused tequila.
El Paso is an island of creativity in the middle of the desert and we don't need anyone to designate us as cool. We are real and so is the art, the music and the people who live here. Artists take it upon themselves to create venues to show their pieces through our pop-up art galleries and artfully decorated alleyways. You can find art anywhere -- vacant lots, old buildings and on the sides of warehouses.
The Late Nite Social Club always has a party or a show ready to liven you up. If you're a night owl, check out their all-night dance parties.
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