The Lost Bars

Sadly, several dear classics have departed in recent years. Here’s to six of them … and their Barovian spirit

My friend Ted Haigh knows a thing or two about cocktails. He was a key consultant for the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, not to mention a fine mixologist himself. He also coined a term that has allowed me to appreciate, on many levels, the wisdom to be cultivated in a good, divey bar: “Barovia.”

Barovia is a bar that is symbolically an island, where, for patrons, all the world’s events don’t exist. The bartender creates the language, the barflies, the philosophies.

I’ve been thinking about Barovia a lot because the city has recently lost a fine collection of intriguing bars, places that oozed their own unique brand of escapism and were able to generate character—and characters—for generations. I’ve listed here the ones that have either been sold, abandoned or bulldozed in the past couple of years. For me, these bars weren’t about the loss of brick and mortar or a good happy hour, but about reclaiming a needful state of mind.

Odyssey Lounge

1930 Fremont St.
Established: circa 1975
Last call: summer 2009

This bar had a casual, rustic style, but its chief quality was a deliberate, laid-back pacing—so much so that I felt at times I was in the middle of a Claude Chabrol film. Originally known as Odyssey 2001 (that sounded more futuristic back in the mid-’70s), it became a great spot downtown for tourists and locals to unwind, since no one ever did a double-take when you walked through the door. In 1992, they added a pizza joint, which only encouraged you to hang out until dawn. Also, some of the best dart men were there, and competition was pretty fierce, with running bets on the game always a Saturday night highlight. All told, Odyssey embodies Barovia in the best way, and it now haunts my mind in a minor key.

Atomic Liquor Store

917 E. Fremont St.
Established: circa 1953
Last Call: December 2010


This classic dive bar also had a brilliant sign, which was splashy red with the word “ATOMIC” in a bomb burst overhead. It didn’t take any more than that to attract me. On my first trip there, more than 20 years ago, there was a Buick parked right outside with four flat tires and some weeds growing out of the hood. “How could I go wrong?” I asked myself. I rarely did, thanks in part to the midnight-to-dawn character studies. The patrons, from the retired Strip performer to the budding writer of graphic novels, fit right in with that great retro jukebox (featuring Mel Torme), creaking bar stools and slow twirling ceiling fans. Form and content were in tight harmony. I didn’t want it any other way. For those interested, there is a growing movement to reopen the bar. Applaud the effort, because every city needs an Atomic for the sake of balance and integration. Stay tuned …

Ukulele Lounge

620 Las Vegas Blvd. North
Established: circa 1972
Last call: late 2008


Despite the Polynesian promise of its name, this bungalow-style bar with a simple sign was nondescript. While no amount of revisionist history will ever make this place a hip artifact of Las Vegas, Ukulele was nothing if not consistent. It was 24/7, they served good burgers and you’d get happy-hour specials long after happy hour was over. The mood could be captivating late at night, with the dim lighting (the flickering light of a Budweiser clock and some scented candles was it) and the Dadaist dialogue from some of the patrons. (A man with a big handlebar mustache once asked me, “Ties are pointless, this decorative cloth hanging down from your neck. Why? In the name of all that is holy, why?!”). They tried karaoke for a while, and I wish I had a video phone then—YouTube would have benefited.

Philly Pub

2202 W. Charleston Blvd.
Established: circa 1980
Last call: summer 2010

It might have lacked the wacky, unpredictable aberrant qualities of some of the other places listed here, but it was a solid neighborhood bar. That it was on the corner of Charleston and Rancho, near University Medical Center and a collection of interesting businesses, provided a great cross-section of people (from cabbies to scrubs) that was as diverse as a swap meet. This bred a wide range of conversations, from the kid who just finished his residency to the gent who had just been diagnosed with lung cancer (I spent six hours keeping him company, chatting about his cats and their future). It was never boring, and the skills and sense of the bartenders were on the mark. I already miss the cocktail called the Aberdeen Angus.

Gabe’s Bar

1622 Las Vegas Blvd. North
Established: circa 1954
Last Call: autumn 2008


Located just a block away from Jerry’s Nugget, Gabe’s was the gem of North Las Vegas. The barred windows and the smoke-laden vestibule (you’d wait minutes before you’d get buzzed in) might have been a bit brooding, but once inside, Barovia took over. Gabe’s, whose incongruous décor ranged from fake palm trees to pictures of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, was only slightly bigger than a room at a youth hostel, and the tight confines forced conversation among patrons. I remember, on one packed Saturday night, people sitting Indian-style on the pool tables exchanging horoscope predictions. This bar was patron-friendly enough that, if it was busy, you could jump over the bar and make your own boilermakers. The building was bulldozed in 2010, and I’d like to know if the quaint, neon sign with the lounge-bait font and orange backdrop is preserved somewhere.

Pogo’s Tavern

2103 N. Decatur Blvd.
Established: July 1968
Last call: January 2010

A renovation in 2008 had already gutted its nuance and character. It was better with the minimal decor that included some white Christmas lights and a few petunias dotting the bar. Pogo’s was a haven for local musicians who had worked downtown and the Strip. Every Friday, from dusk through the midnight hour, all the old cats played the standards—Stan Getz, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Thelonious Monk. The drinks were cheap (if the barmaid liked me, sometimes one was on her), the help-yourself popcorn was nonstop. If it was crowded, strangers would invite you to sit in their booth. In short, Pogo’s was a place you could see gyrate from blocks away.