Rumor states that for decades Area 51, a classified facility in the Nevada desert, has guarded the secrets of extraterrestrial intelligence and technology. Now AREA15, a mirror location to Area 51, has been “declassified” in Las Vegas to answer all our conspiracy theories. Are aliens real? Yup. Are they friendly? Yeah, pretty chill. Do they like modern art and cuisine? Absolutely! Do they also sell groceries? Let’s find out.
WTF is AREA15?
Think of AREA15 as equal parts permanent art installation, eclectic sci-fi playground, county fair on LSD, niche shopping mall, and nighttime entertainment venue. Located on Interstate 15 right on the border between the city of Las Vegas and the Strip, this venue consists of a series of warehouses, each housing a variety of immersive experiences.
You cannot help to conclude that this place was a former army compound that was taken over by the “inmates.” In fact, the 100-acre lot formerly housed a Mercedes-Benz dealership. New York real estate firm Fisher Brothers bought the area in 2005. However, they were unable to find use for it until they teamed up with Beneville Studios, an innovative (and very secretive) design firm founded in 2004.
Their creative endeavor opened to the public in September 2020 as “the world’s first purpose-built experiential art and entertainment complex.” Michael Beneville, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at AREA15, seems to be convinced that the future of entertainment lies in active, immersive experiences. “We set out to design something that has never been built before: a vast bunker to house the burgeoning experience economy,” Beneville explained. “Come curious and leave different!”
What Secrets Does AREA15 Hold?
The entrance to AREA15 seems lifted from an unreleased Stanley Kubrick film. You approach the main warehouse and enter it through a giant capital “A” guarded by two bright red dog statues (possibly wearing jetpacks).
Once inside, you encounter Shogyo Mujo (“Japanese mullet fish.”), a 12-foot-tall (4-meter) skull with 3D projection mapping. This creepy, wondrous art piece designed by Joshua Harker and Bart Kresa Studio, welcomes you to the Spine, AREA15’s main hall.
The Spine, a neon-lit dark room straight out of Avatar‘s Pandora or a blacklight poster, hosts most of the venue’s attractions and eateries. You can find the Oddwood Bar with its 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter) digital maple tree lit by 50,000 individually programmed LED lights. Right beside is the Wild Muse store with unique sustainable merchandise. There are also racing simulators, trippy museums, mind reading experiences, a virtual golf range and much more.
Like heights? AREA15 has two flight-related experiences. Haley’s Comet, a zip line simulator, soars visitors above the Spine. Whereas Birdly, a VR flight simulator, straps you in a bed with VR goggles and makeshift wings that control the sim.
You can also find other assorted wonders outside the Spine. A weird looking parked truck (military or fire rescue?) holds an eerie inscription: “AREA15 does not exist.” Mechan 9, a giant robot sculpture lying on the floor, evokes the Iron Giant, Star Wars droids and other famous fictional artificial beings. Liftoff Bar & Ride lets you enjoy a cocktail over 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground.
Shop Omega Mart If You Dare
AREA15 offers a variety of immersive experiences, most of which require a separate entrance fee. Probably the most viral of them all, the one that put AREA15 on the map, is Omega Mart. Meow Wolf, an underground art collective from Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States, created this walkthrough art exhibit and interactive story.
Imagine entering a supermarket where every single grocery item seems slightly skewed upon closer inspection. (Camel’s “sop”? Existential dairy? Ramen notes? Tattoo chicken?) Also, the store employees look textbook “sus.” Then you discover hidden passages around the store that lead to trippy backrooms. Some of these spaces appear like regular employee offices with skewed details, while others seem like otherworldly labs and factories.
You can explore Omega Mart at your own pace, as well as play around with its props and special rooms. For an additional three-dollar charge you receive an Omega Access RFID card, yours to keep, which lets you interact with devices around the store and further explore the backstory surrounding it. If you need a break from all this retail psychedelia, take a seat and order a weird drink at the secret Datamosh Bar.
Omega Mart admission starts at 49 dollars. VIP access, a behind-the-scenes experience and a special scavenger hunt are also available. You can even purchase some grocery items as souvenirs. Just don’t eat anything!
Roam Free at Virtualis VR
VR headsets have come a long way but are still kind of limited to how much uncluttered home space you have available. Not a problem at Virtualis VR, a free roam virtual reality experience.
Located on the Spine’s second floor, Virtualis VR has several immersive experiences that take full advantage of their open spaces, 4K VR headsets, and full body tracking technology akin to Ready Player One.
Available Virtualis VR experiences include escape-room-types exploration scenarios within ancient temples, co-op zombie survival horror games, and of course, a player versus player battle royale shoot-’em-up. Virtualis VR experiences start at 55 dollars.
Other AREA15 Experiences
Besides the Spine, two other warehoses round out AREA15.
One of these, the Illuminarium, consists of open indoor space surrounded by 360-degree multipurpose LEDs, movement sensors, and vibrating floors. A great place for dance raves and sports viewing parties, yet its main draw is the immersive shows. Wild: A Safari Experience transports you to the wild plains of Kenya, while SPACE: A Journey To The Moon & Beyond incorporates special effects with real life outer spaces images captured by the NASA’s James Webb Telescope.
The other, Lost Spirits Distillery and Circus, is a Los Angeles import that combines a liquor store with Cirque du Soleil. More than 40 performers dazzle guests with songs, acrobatics, burlesque numbers and more as they walk through an immersive theater with Victorian vibes. Bring the kids if you wish, but this treat is mostly for the grown-ups. Tickets start at 59 dollars.
Lest we forget, AREA15 also caters to the gourmands and socialites in its own irreverent fashion. We’ve mentioned Oddwood, Datamosh, Liftoff and Lost Spirits.
You can also get sushi at Kaia Handroll; coffee at Conduit Cafe; soda, and candy at Rockit Fizz; beer shots, pool shots, and arcade game shots at Asylum Bar + Arcade; soft serves, and boba tea at Dream Weaver; pizza, burgers, and more at The Beast by Todd English; an all-day twist on the American breakfast at Lumin Cafe & Kitchen; cocktails inside a volcano at Sanctuary Lounge; or your liquor of choice paired with an exciting round of hatchet throwing at Dueling Axes. (What could go wrong?)
Follow up dinner and drinks by going to a party or special event. AREA15 has a full calendar of concerts and dance raves, many taking place at its A-Lot outdoor venue. Musical acts like CloZee and Yves Tumor have featured here. The venue can accommodate for large gatherings such as Galactic Zoo and the upcoming New Year’s MasqueRave.
In addition, you can book many of AREA15’s spaces and attractions for group outings, weddings, corporate events, and more.
This Future’s Future
AREA15 has mesmerized visitors and social media in a very short time with its tactile, retro future spirit that distills FOMO. Expect even more in the coming months and years.
For instance, Universal is poised to bring Universal Horror Unleashed, a spinoff from its Halloween Horror Nights seasonal event, to AREA15. This permanent year-round installation will be the first Universal Horror offering outside its theme parks.
Also expect sister sites to pop up. Another AREA15 venue is under construction in Orlando, Florida to dazzle parkgoers and locals.
Verdict: Out of This World
We have high hopes for the Orlando expansion, but it will have a hard time topping its Vegas counterpart.
The original AREA15 fits Las Vegas like a glove. Its look and feel pay homage to the city’s neon roots, while its theme plays with Nevada’s myth and history surrounding UFO’s and nuclear tests. Whether or not you believe there’s “something out there” you cannot deny there’s something for everyone “in here” at AREA15. You owe yourself a visit to this darkroom playground.
AREA15’s open spaces are suitable for all ages and admission is free during the daytime. Nighttime visitors must be 21 years or older and must pay an entrance fee. Individual experiences have their own age restriction policies and ticket prices. You can purchase Experience Bundles starting at 49 dollars, which include admission to several experiences.
Where to Find It
3215 S Rancho Dr #100, Las Vegas, NV 89102