The winners, in alphabetical order:
Double Down Saloon
Downtown Cocktail Room
When the time came to put together our annual bar guide, we found ourselves going through the motions—another year, another listing exercise. Yawn. That’s when the 1,000-watt light bulb went off: The Las Vegas Bar Hall of Fame!
It was a genius idea—honor 50 of the city’s best bars, and induct the top 10 using reader input. And then we woke up, saw the empty bottle of scotch on the table and wondered what the hell we got ourselves into. How do we decide who’s in and who’s out? What’s the criteria? Most importantly, what’s our response going to be when loyal patrons of those bars that don’t make the cut come at us with torches and pitchforks?
After our IV hangover treatment, we came up with some answers.
The first step was forming a committee, which included several seasoned bar experts both on staff (including our drinking guru, Xania Woodman) and off (including “Ask a Native” James P. Reza and the city’s foremost bar examiner, Anthony Curtis of the Las Vegas Advisor). Then we hit the bars to research and debate the contenders until we settled on 50.
Our criteria: Each nominee had to contribute something significant to the city’s bar culture, and each had to be at least 5 years old (and still in business). The result on the following pages is a diverse nominee list that ranges from a classic hole-in-the-wall that’s been standing since the 1950s to the place that ushered in downtown’s bar renaissance 5½ years ago.
Of course, as with any subjective endeavor, there’s bound to be controversy. And that’s where you come in: Through July 4, we invite you to vote for your favorites from our list, or submit write-in candidates that meet our criteria. Then in the July 12 issue of Vegas Seven we’ll raise a glass to the 10 inaugural inductees—followed, of course, by a booze-filled celebration that would bring Don Draper to his knees.
Fremont East was still East Fremont when this hipster hangout arrived in 2004, and thank God it did. Beauty Bar’s success paved the way for a complete revitalization of what’s now an official entertainment district. And this is Las Vegas’ ground zero for trendy 20-somethings looking for cheap PBRs and MGDs amid vintage hair dryers from a 1950s New Jersey salon. The bar’s large back patio is the top venue in town to see touring indie bands, and DJs regularly keep things jumping inside. Oh, did we mention Nickel F*cking Beer Night every Tuesday? 517 E. Fremont St., Suite A, 598-1965, TheBeautyBar.com.
We could’ve justified Big Dog’s inclusion on this list by mentioning that its logo—the stoic face of a black lab—is the envy of every bar in town. And that the Midwestern hospitality found at both locations—Big Dog’s Draft House (est. 1988) and Big Dog’s Café & Casino (1992)—is unmatched in the Valley. And that it’s Las Vegas’ “original hometown brewery.” Any of those would’ve done the trick. Or we could simply point out that Big Dog’s handcrafted brews—from the Leglifter Light Ale to the Dirty Dog IPA—are damn good. Big Dog’s Draft House, 4543 N. Rancho Drive, 645-1404; Big Dog’s Café & Casino, 6390 W. Sahara Ave.; 876-3647, BigDogsBrews.com.
Bootlegger Italian Bistro
They say Old Las Vegas is dead. Clearly, “they” have never bellied up to the bar at the Bootlegger, where the vino and cocktails flow, and Vegas nostalgia headlines seven nights a week in the adjacent dining room (think dinner and a show, except you only pay for one). Stop by late on a Monday for open-mic night, when you’ll catch crooners both professional (recent visitors include Frankie Valli, Clint Holmes, and Steve and Eydie) and amateur (like a vibrant grandmotherly tourist from Australia) belting out a classic while accompanied by a pianist. (This ain’t karaoke, kids!) Along with your libation of choice, the full menu—from the kitchen of 94-years-young chef Mama Maria—is available 24 hours at the bar, where you just might rub elbows with such regulars as Holly Madison, Carrot Top and Antonio Fargas (a.k.a. Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch). 7700 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 736-4939, BootleggerLasVegas.com.
If any Las Vegas bar could aspire to be Sin City’s answer to New York’s CBGB, the Bunkhouse might have the best shot. As a straight-up bar, it’s nice enough—thorough but not overwhelming Western décor, nice cheap beers and a healthy selection of whiskeys—but as a bar that hosts shows, the Bunkhouse has developed powerful ambitions over its more than two decades. Excellent punk, ska, reggae and rockabilly bands, both local and national, play here regularly—and the cover rarely tops $10. 124 S. 11th St., 384-4536, BunkhouseLV.com.
Champagne’s Café – WINNER
Much of this red-lit Paradise Palms neighborhood bar is shrouded in something. The walls are covered with flocked red-velvet wallpaper, the air is weighed by a faint smell of old sins, and its history is immersed in rumors that both the Rat Pack and Tony “The Ant” Spilotro hung out here, back when it was still called The Old Inner Circle. It was converted to Champagne’s in 1993, and there’s been a pleasant mix of young hipsters and old drunks ever since. No, Casino was not shot here, but Robert De Niro supposedly dropped in during filming (probably hoping to soak up some of that Vegas mob vibe or looking for a café, which doesn’t really exist). New owners recently took over Champagne’s, so if history and authenticity are what you seek, snag a red booth and soak it up, because who knows what comes next. 3557 S. Maryland Parkway, 737-1699, ChampagnesCafe.blogspot.com.
It first opened in 1971 at Eastern Avenue near Desert Inn Road and was a favorite casino-employee after-shift drinking spot famous for serving wild game, including elk, boar and rattlesnake. After undergoing a series of changes in the ’90s, it remained a hangout for those in the know until it closed over ownership issues in 2004. It reopened in 2006, minus the boar and rattlesnake, but with live lobster dinners served ‘round the clock. Lobster hours ebb and flow, but the current 7 a.m.-to-midnight window is impressive enough (1½-pounders for $32.95). Coachman’s retains its supper-club atmosphere, but plenty of bar patrons still come only for the libations. You’ll know you’re there when you see the lit-up Christmas tree (even in mid-July), someone sitting at the bar that you think you recognize (but just can’t place), and Ray, the swing-shift bartender who serves up the driest humor in Vegas, along with cold bottled beers starting at $3.50. 3420 S. Eastern Ave., 731-4202.
Craftsteak – WINNER
This is a steak town—always will be. And good steak requires a good scotch menu. Well, nobody does that combo better than Craftsteak at the MGM Grand. If there’s anything better than Tom Colicchio’s menu, it’s waiting to peruse it at his bar. It’s a long, handsome number that features 197 bottles of dead-sexy single-malts on the backlit wall, and amazingly knowledgeable and passionate bartenders to help you pick one that’s right for your palate (smoky and peaty, please) and your wallet (from a $23 Bunnahabhain to a $2,000 57-year-old Macallan). Even the ice—the bar’s special Hoshizaki machine makes a dozen 2-inch crystal-clear cubes an hour—is worth writing home about. In MGM Grand, 891-7318.
Crown & Anchor
Launched in 1995 as a college pub, the British-themed Crown & Anchor has held its own while scores of UNLV watering holes have waxed and waned. Visit the original Tropicana Avenue location on a fall Friday night, and you’ll have to press through a crowd of unpretentious undergrads to get your booze on; sneak in on a Sunday afternoon, and—unless a big “football” match is on the telly—you’ll enjoy a relaxed lunch, one that pleases even picky English expats. This place has all the bar essentials—pool tables, darts, an Internet jukebox, 24-hour grub—but it’s the brash beer selection (30 on tap, dozens more by the bottle) that keeps us coming back. (Good thing on the beer selection, given Crown & Anchor’s liquor license limits hard alcohol to table service.) 1350 E. Tropicana Ave., 739-8676; 4755 Spring Mountain Road, 876-4733, CrownAndAnchorLV.com.
Not only is Decatur Tavern (born in 1963) one of Vegas’ oldest bars, but one of its oldest institutions, period—three years older than Caesars Palace (which doesn’t have an adjoining pharmacy/diner) and only 108 years younger than the Mormon Fort (which doesn’t serve $2.25 pints). Cavernous and almost completely upholstered in domestic-beer advertising materials, this is a deeply casual dive, peopled by service-industry folk both active and retired. Somehow, it feels unstuck in time. 546 S. Decatur Blvd., 870.2522, DecaturTavern.com.
Remember the Y2K scare, when the world’s computers were all going to fail at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, ushering in the next age of cave dwelling? We wish we’d thought ahead and moved into Emeril Lagasse’s cavernous maze of steak and whiskey when it opened earlier that year. Call it subsistence living, but in the decade-plus since the world didn’t, in fact, fall apart, every night’s been a bacchanalian celebration of—you guessed it—steak and whiskey (and we’re talking one of the largest whiskey collections in Las Vegas, presided over by mixologist Max Solano). Don’t mind that the bar is sparsely decorated; you’ll be ogling the back bar, stuffed to the gills with the water of life. In the Venetian, 414-3737.
Dino’s – WINNER
It calls itself “The Last Neighborhood Bar in Las Vegas,” and while some colleagues on this list might dispute that, Dino’s says it in neon. And, as any downtown resident will tell you, does an outstanding job of backing it up. A dozen or so competitors have opened in recent years, but Dino’s has been doing this dance since 1960. Opened as Ringside Liquors by gangster Eddie Trascher, the joint was bought by the Bartolomucci family in 1962, and they’ve held it ever since (current operators are sisters Casey and Kristin). Add to its rich history some live music, a playfully infamous “Drunk of the Month” poll and some of the city’s most entertaining karaoke (Thursday-Saturday) and, well, Dino’s may not be the last neighborhood bar in town, but it’s unquestionably one of the best. 1516 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 382-3894, DinosLV.com.
The Dispensary opened its doors in 1976, and looks it. With its subdued lighting, earth-tone walls and furnishings, yacht-rock soundtrack (“Baker Street,” our old friend) and softly churning waterwheel, this is a classic fern bar trapped in amber. Here, servers dressed in short skirts and leggings serve up strong drinks with half-pound burger chasers. And the ever-present cloud of cigarette smoke is practically a security blanket. If he still made crime dramas, Quentin Tarantino might be tempted to shoot here. 2451 E. Tropicana Ave., 458-6343, TheDispensaryLounge.com.
Double Down Saloon – WINNER
Although owner P Moss would likely bristle at the words “venerable” and “institution,” there’s no better way to describe this punk-rock dive bar near UNLV. The Double Down Saloon, which has been a goddamned pillar of our community since 1992, is a credit to Vegas in its every detail: the psychedelic murals, the punk and garage bands on its tiny stage and the wildly eclectic selection of music in its jukebox. And then there’s Ass Juice, the magical shooter served in miniature toilet bowls. No wonder New York City asked for a Double Down of its own—and got one. 4640 Paradise Road, 791-5775, DoubleDownSaloon.com.
Downtown Cocktail Room – WINNER
Everything and nothing has changed under the red “Downtown” sign since January 2007, when Michael Cornthwaite’s speakeasy-style watering hole appeared like a desert mirage to cocktailians thirsting for a proper Sazerac, aviation or hand-shaken daiquiri. Those successfully able to locate the door walk inside and are treated to a most intoxicating combination of dim lighting, inspiring artwork, an original, seasonal cocktail menu, and a groovy, bohemian vibe. Pick your poison—absinthe, gin, a post-work glass of wine—then sink into a booth in the back room or hold court at the bar. You’ll join the ranks of the elite regulars—from world-renowned mixologists and downtown scenesters to academics and even Zappos don Tony Hsieh—in no time. 111 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 880-3696, TheDowntownLV.com.
Fireside Lounge – WINNER
If the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation time-traveled back to December 1972 to hold a swinger’s party, this dark, sexy sci-fi make-out chamber would result. People come from all over the universe to drink bowl-size cocktails (such as the mighty Scorpion) around the pit of firewater. The servers wear long black gowns and sit down to take your order—a classy touch—and televisions abound; they were reportedly installed because of rampant exhibitionism. (Worf, Troi: Behave yourselves!) In the Peppermill, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 735-4177, PeppermillLasVegas.com.
The privilege of paying four figures a year (for a card that gained you and three friends access to the 43rd-floor rooftop of Mandalay Bay) has been recession-reduced considerably since summer 2009. In fact, entrance to the dark and intimate Foundation Room—considered the most exclusive drinking spot in town when it opened with the hotel in March 1999—is now as easy as dressing the part and (sometimes) paying a cover. Although the decision to let the hoi polloi pay for the view wasn’t unanimously embraced by longtime members, we applauded it (perhaps because we are the hoi polloi). The Buddha-voodoo decor remains seductive, and, as the Strip has risen up and filled in, the amazing balcony view has actually improved. Compared with other nightspots, it’s hard to find and under-promoted, which keeps The Room semi-exclusive—except for DJ weekends, when it attracts a rather excitable dubstep crowd. In Mandalay Bay, 732-7614.
This 35-year-old bar is the template on which other Vegas sports bars are built. Its namesake kegs are always full of cold domestic beers (all priced to move), and its kitchen serves up two remarkable items: hearty Stromboli sandwiches and a plate of chicken wings hot enough to shame the sun. And yes, games screen constantly on multiple TVs; silence has never been known to occur here. Listen carefully, and you can hear the shouts of the previous night. 276 N. Jones Blvd., 870-0255, FourKegs.com.
Four Mile Bar
Located on Boulder Highway some four miles away from downtown (get it?), this 62-year-old bar is a true-blue roadhouse—pure Americana, from its genuine brick walls to the sign that says “Bikers Welcome.” Patrons sing heartfelt karaoke renditions of classic country songs, and the cheap domestic beers (pitcher of Hamm’s, anyone?) keep everyone’s pipes nice and lubricated. This is one of those rare bars where you arrive as a stranger and leave as a friend … in a cowboy hat, pardner. 3650½ Boulder Highway, 431-6936.
Even Willy Wonka can’t top the hospitality of UNLV-professor-turned-college-bar-proprietor Adam Carmer. And he ain’t shy about it. Since mid-2003, devoted beer nuts have sworn by the house’s beer bible, a doorstop of a binder stuffed with the contents of Carmer’s two maze-like beer fridges, and listing the ever-changing drafts. And the Prof out-geeks ’em all, bringing in the world’s best (if only to challenge himself) and serving it alongside honest bar grub to soak up the goods. Nothing is too obscure: One-of-a-kind European cask ales? Yep. French beer that tastes like a Three Musketeers bar? Check. (Bière Au Nougat by Brasserie Bourganel, if you’re curious.) Appointment-only whiskey-tasting lab upstairs? You know it. (Unfortunately, there’s no glass elevator, so navigate those stairs carefully.) 4700 S. Maryland Parkway, 597-9702, FreakinFrog.com.
Golden Steer Steakhouse
“You want a what?! What’s in that, son?” Don’t make the mistake of being hoity-toity here, Cocktail Boy. This is a place that’s been pouring its spirits neat, up or on the rocks for locals (celebrities included) since 1958. And the only thing “skinny” here is the dame giving you the come-hither look from the corner seat. Buy her a spritzer; chivalry still lives within these aged walls, where some of the staff’s been around longer than the furniture. 308 W. Sahara Ave., 384-4470, GoldenSteerSteakhouseLasVegas.com.
Gold Mine Tavern
A fixture in downtown Henderson since 1965, this small, classic dive has made a big comeback—like other parts of Water Street recently—after doing time as a down-and-dirty biker bar. The owners have spruced it up, keeping the original bar and back bar but cleaning up virtually everything else, turning it into a friendly beer-and-shot stop for the old-school crowd. A side patio gets jumping on weekends with live music and a taco wagon, but we prefer coming here simply to shoot some stick and crank a little classic rock on the jukebox. 23 S. Water St., Henderson, 478-8289, TheGoldMineTavern.com.
Everything you could possibly want in a classy steak-house bar can be found at Hank’s: a sleek backlit onyx bar top, a massive rectangular Swarovski crystal chandelier overhead, a wine display that runs the length of a wall, an intimate seating area, a piano man who seamlessly moves from jazz to “Rocket Man” five nights a week and an attractive and attentive wait staff that’ll pour you a stiff gin-and-tonic. But here’s the best case we can make for it: It’s mere steps from the ring-a-ding-ding of hundreds of video-poker and slot machines—and has been since it opened in 2005—only you’d never know it, thanks to floor-to-ceiling double-glass doors that block out the adjacent casino clatter. Sinatra would’ve hung here. So would’ve publisher/developer Hank Greenspun, the restaurant’s namesake. In Green Valley Ranch Resort, 2300 Paseo Verde Parkway, Henderson, 617-7515, GreenValleyRanchResort.com.
What makes a blue-collar joint in a nondescript gray stucco building on Industrial Road Hall-of-Fame worthy? Maybe it’s the huge sign on that building that screams “Smokers Welcome.” Or the bartenders who never measure their shots. Or the mural behind those bartenders that takes you back to Vegas circa 1912 … a mural that was painted by Frank Bowers in 1962 (the same Frank Bowers whose work once graced the freeway walls in downtown L.A.) … a mural that Bowers traded to the Hard Hat in exchange for beers. Or maybe it’s because on a recent visit, we weren’t there more than 15 minutes when Augie hit a jackpot and bought a round for the bar. Then, after we downed those drinks, the bartender picked up our next round. Or maybe it’s all of the above. 1675 Industrial Road, 384-8987.
Hard Rock Center Bar
Look at all the people here tonight!
Back in the day, Van Halen front man David Lee Roth would pull this line out of his bag of “Rothisms” at each and every concert. And back in the day at the Hard Rock Hotel, Roth’s line could be heard nightly in reference to the spectacle that was (and to some degree still is) the Center Bar.
Despite being a mile removed from the energy of the Strip, the Hard Rock quickly became the go-to spot for the young set when it opened in 1995. And the go-to spot within that go-to spot was a circular space smack in the—hello?—center of the casino floor. No matter the date on the calendar—a Tuesday night in March, a Saturday night in August—and no matter the cost of the booze (not cheap), after the sun went down, the Center Bar always filled up. And usually with patrons who looked like they walked off the pages of a fashion or swimsuit magazine.
So successful was the Center Bar that its concept was quickly copied by casino properties both on and off the Strip—and even by the Hard Rock chain itself. The brand’s outpost in Biloxi, Miss., has a Center Bar. As does the one in Hollywood, Fla. And the one in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Heck, the Hard Rock Las Vegas was even recently plagiarized by … the Hard Rock Las Vegas, which constructed a second Center Bar in its new HRH Tower. Version 2.0 sits about a 100-yard dash from the original.
Alas, 17 years is an eternity in the Vegas bar scene. It can be difficult to age gracefully, especially when matched up against the sleek, sexy new kids around the block. Still, the Center Bar continues to hold its own. (There’s something to be said for a cagey cougar.) In the Hard Rock Hotel, 693-5000.
Hitchin’ Post Saloon
This Western joint, located in a building that was erected in 1953, closed in 2007 for an extensive remodel. But when it reopened a year later, its charm continued to seep through the freshly painted walls. Indeed, the Hitchin’ Post isn’t selling Old Vegas nostalgia; rather, it is of Old Vegas, and that makes a heap of difference. Inside, wash down tasty grub with one of the 10 coldest taps in town (including Blue Moon, Newcastle and Fat Tire). And when you’ve finished your game of darts or pool, head out back to a comfortably misted and shaded beer garden that offers respite during a lively game of horseshoes. Your opponent could be a Nellis airman or someone who just drove up on a Harley—in other words, this authentic Vegas spot welcomes all. 3650 Las Vegas Blvd. North; 644-1220, HpssLV.com.
This is a true neighborhood bar, and has been for a half-century. Patrons from the Huntridge and John S. Park neighborhoods, along with everyone from bears to rockabillies to Zappo-nistas, congregate here to enjoy atomic-strength drinks on the cheap. At the risk of sounding sappy, there’s love in these chocolate-brown walls: While the flocked wallpaper, wood paneling and swooping drop ceiling above the bar look old, they don’t look beaten. The neighborhood takes care of its own. 1116 E. Charleston Blvd., 384-7377.
At first glance, the Inn Zone looks no different than your run-of-the-mill locals tavern: video poker at the bar, games on the TV, friendly bartenders pouring your drink of choice. Hang around for a while, though, and you’ll discover why this place has maintained a loyal following for more than 20 years: Loose video poker at the bar (the average 96.5 percent payout is among the highest in town), games on the TV and games you can play (high-def Golden Tee, pool, mini bowling), and that friendly bartenders pouring your libation of choice on the cheap (there’s a $1 shot menu and daily drink specials). True, a couple of locations are showing their age, but that’s part of the charm. Besides, would you prefer a fresh coat of paint or a few extra bucks in your pocket? Multiple locations, InnZones.com.
Some might argue this is more restaurant than bar, and indeed the pizza scores high marks while the wings taste like they came straight from Buffalo (perhaps because that’s where owner John McGinty is from). But the main reason Johnny Mac’s has survived for 28 years in a Boulder Highway strip mall is because of its bar-like sense of community. Whether it’s casino workers enjoying post-shift cocktails, the men’s softball team gathering late night for a couple of postgame pints of Guinness or the hordes of Buffalo Bills fans who pack the place on an NFL Sunday, Johnny Mac’s has maintained a loyal clientele for a simple reason: It treats that clientele like family—right down to sponsoring local Little League teams. 842 S. Boulder Highway, 564-2121.
Yes, it’s part of a chain, and yes, it has been a bit of an Ex-Housewives of Summerlin pickup joint since it opened in 2001. So? It successfully fulfills a need that few other watering holes in town do. The indoor-outdoor bar attracts diverse crowds thanks in large part to an east-facing shaded patio (heated in the winter; misters in the summer) that brings the outdoors in. (If all the cookie-cutter bars/restaurants in the Valley would only copy this blueprint, we’d all be better off.) The best time to stop in? That would be during happy hour, when you can enjoy what are simply among the best sliders (only $6) found anywhere within the city limits. 750 S. Rampart Blvd., 547-5552, KonaGrill.com.
McMullan’s – WINNER
Yes, we’ve done a good job of importing “authentic” pubs to Las Vegas, but this place is a favorite because it feels authentically authentic. McMullan’s was built in Dublin by the owner’s pub-building company in 2002, and it proudly wears his name and features family photos that date back more than 100 years, to when his grandfather ran a real live pub in Northern Ireland. It also feels correctly broken in—like an old shoe, it just fits right. The pub’s little compartments make it cozy and conducive to small, intimate gatherings, yet it flows well enough to host boisterous parties and events (including the group viewing of both kinds of football). Unlike a lot of replicas in Vegas, this one—which has no connection to a casino—not only makes you feel like a regular, it inspires you to actually be one. 4650 W. Tropicana Ave., Suite 110, 247-7000, McMullansIrishPub.com.
Everyone comes to Money Plays (born in 1989) to see “Big Stan,” the dreadlocked owner/bartender, who describes his lively joint just west of the Palms as “the best place to slum it in Vegas.” No argument here. There’s shuffleboard, foosball, darts, Golden Tee and a top-notch jukebox that’s always playing—unless it’s one of Money’s live-music nights. Because of a limited liquor license, this is officially a beer bar, but who needs spirits when a specialty brew (like Brewdog Sink the Bismarck) packs a 40-proof punch? And specialty brews they have—at last count there were 17 drafts and 96 beers in all. And many of the “master” brews cost significantly less here than what you’ll pay elsewhere. Hungry? Step through the doorway to the 24-hour El Taco Feliz for $1.50 beef or chicken tacos that are guaranteed to cure the munchies. 4755 W. Flamingo Road, 368-1828, MoneyPlaysLV.com.
N9NE – WINNER
Opened with the Palms in November 2001, the two spacious bars at N9NE were among the first to capitalize on the trend to attach nightlife-quality lounges to restaurants. The steak house itself is loud and pretty, a true see-and-be-scene joint, so it was a no-brainer to cast comfy club chairs, sofas and loungers in the slightly elevated bar area (and barstools at the round bar in the dining room), thus integrating a vibrant nightlife scene with no lines, no cover and (hallelujah!) no bottle service. The nightclub crowd uses it to pre-game before heading up to Moon, while the more mature diners hang out after dinner, but everyone who visits enjoys the extensive wine list, the scenery and Johnny O, the venerable bartender who knows everybody’s name. In the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road, 933-9900, N9NEGroup.com.
None other than Tony Abou-Ganim, the master mixologist and menu adviser to some of Vegas’ best cocktail programs, has said that the bar at Nora’s Italian Cuisine makes “some of the best cocktails anywhere”—and we wholeheartedly concur. In fact, Nora’s could be credited with reintroducing proper cocktails to Las Vegas when it opened in 1991, around the time some of our city’s bartenders were born. That they back up their masterful Manhattans, sublime Side Cars and narcotic Negronis with delicious Italian fare also served at the bar (try the spinach-farro salad) makes Nora’s a sure thing in a city that has precious few. 6020 W. Flamingo Road, Suite 10, 873-8990, NorasCuisine.com.
Act 1 (in which you arrive at Wynn): First order of business is a cocktail. Seating at Parasol Up is plush, cocktail servers winsome, the bartenders on point. Second order of business is meeting up with the comrades. Luckily this upscale casino lounge is near high-end retail stores, gaming, nightlife and dining, with views overlooking Steve Wynn’s Lake of Dreams—they can’t miss you. Now, for that drink: This is the origin of some of the city’s best cocktail innovations, so whether you’re in the mood for a modern original or an updated classic, property mixologist Patricia Richards has you covered, and always with her organic, earthy touch. Act 2: The gang’s all here—time to go a little deeper. Down the grand escalators and not an olive’s throw away, Parasol Down offers the same menu with a more intimate feel beneath inverted parasols, plus a terrace that puts you nose-to-waterfall with Mr. Wynn’s lake. You always wondered what a billionaire dreamt about—apparently it’s nude women walking on water and a frog that sings like Garth Brooks. In Wynn, 770-3392.
Petrossian – WINNER
If the lobby bar is a casino’s welcome mat, this piano lounge is the red carpet. Open 24/7, Petrossian has greeted guests since Steve Wynn’s masterpiece, Bellagio, opened its doors in 1998. Here, a long legacy of serious, award-winning bartenders in white coats lure guests to its club chairs for afternoon tea, a cigar or cocktails ranging from the classic to the avant-garde. World-class pianists on the Steinway include David Osbourne, who has played for at least four U.S. presidents. While many hotels have succumbed to the pressure to stay young by bringing in DJs and bartop-dancing cocktailers, Petrossian is an island of adult pursuits. No matter how tastes have changed over the last decade and a half, taste itself remains. In Bellagio, 693-7111.
Ram’s Head Bar
In the center of a massive glass atrium in Sam’s Town, at the heart of an indoor “forest” called Mystic Falls Park, this bar is a hallucinogenic episode that has beguiled unsuspecting drunks since the mid-1990s. It would be a basic casino bar if not for its proximity to Sunset Stampede, an automated extravaganza packed to overflowing with fountains, lasers, fog machines and—hey, why not?—an audio-animatronic bear. Order beer, wine, gin, whatever—it’s the free entertainment that’ll make your head spin. In Sam’s Town, 5111 Boulder Highway, 456-7777, SamsTown.com.
A Russian-red illuminated back bar. More than 200 frozen vodkas—from Absolut to Zyr—all served at a crisp 5 degrees. On a frozen ice bar. A vodka vault (for members only). A massive headless statue of Lenin out front. The Best Bar in America (so said Playboy in 2000). Need we say more? Nyet! In Mandalay Bay, 632-7407.
In a land of bland neighborhood joints, this trio of saloons instantly gave us new faith in bar-chitecture when it opened in 1991. The sturdy, whimsical buildings made of steel, wood and stone feature wide-open spaces inside and—in what may be the best beer-drinking patio in the Valley—out, making each venue a long-favored gathering spot. What’s more, they’re among a handful of places that look indigenous—like the roadrunner itself. The motif is 21st-century Vegas Ranch, and while the decor is surely “COWBOY,” as the giant sign outside advertises, it’s all done with a wink, as if designed by Lyle Lovett. Over the years the service, talent (nudge nudge) and beer selection (what in tarnation happened to the Shiner Bock on tap?) have varied, but somehow Roadrunner works, continuing to draw as diverse a Vegas audience as you can imagine. 9820 W. Flamingo Road, 243-5329; 2430 E. Pebble Road, Henderson, 948-8282; and 921 N. Buffalo Drive, 242-2822, RoadRunnerLasVegas.com.
Golden Gaming is the largest tavern owner and operator in Southern Nevada with 40 locations, including the ubiquitous PT’s Pubs. But it’s the company’s Sierra Gold offerings (which opened here in 2006) that really make a statement—one that says that “interior design” and “Vegas tavern” are not, in fact, oxymoronic. Neatly adorned with dark woods, decorative stone trim, gold inlay in the ceiling and even a fireplace, Sierra Gold combines the elegance of an ultra-lounge with the casual comfort of a neighborhood bar. The biggest difference between it and PT’s, however, might be the expanded menu that features items not found in many bars, such as tenderloin sliders, seared rare ahi tuna and shrimp skewers. 6515 S. Jones Road, 221-4120; 1341 W. Warm Springs Road, 547-0142; 6929 Aliante Parkway, 658-2593, SierraGoldLV.com.
Las Vegas’ oldest operating gay bar is also its best-preserved dive. Founded in 1976 by Ralph Vandersnick—who adorned the walls with cartoons of pink elephants, one representing him and the other (the one with long eyelashes) his partner—Snick’s is a dark, mellow place with an innate elegance. The back of the bar is small, which means that bartenders prefer serving beer to cocktails—tough to do on First Friday, when Snick’s fills up with “straights” demanding martinis. 1402 S. Third St., 385-9298, SnicksPlace.com.
How’s this for history? Sonny’s once stood on the spot that’s now the Fashion Show, and it earned a place in infamy as the ransom drop-off location in the 1993 kidnapping of Steve Wynn’s daughter, Kevin. Known back then as a hangout for off-shift casino employees, not much changed when Sonny’s, around the time of its 21st birthday in 1997, moved across the street to its current location behind Treasure Island. Rush hour still begins around 11 p.m., with a mix of old-timers, dealers, dancers and other, ahem, working types making for amazing people watching. There’s no draft here, but Sonny’s may have the coldest bottled beer in town. And like any classic dive, they have pints of the hard stuff to go. The icing is that the Diamond Chinese restaurant serves a full menu 24/7, including the compellingly named “Fukien Fried Rice” (really!), and you simply walk through a hole in the wall to get there. 3449 Industrial Road, 731-5553.
This self-proclaimed “Nevada Style Pub” made its debut in the northwest in 1998, when Las Vegas was in the midst of a population explosion. Soon two more Steiner’s locations were added, and despite the tough times, all have managed to thrive because of their ability to be all things to all customers. Stylishly resembling a European pub with forest-green walls, warm wood trim and brick columns, Steiner’s is a great environment to watch a ballgame, quaff more than 50 bottled and 20 draft beers (a couple of which you can pour yourself at select tables), meet for a power lunch or enjoy some video poker at the bar. Not only is the food a cut above most taverns, but the menu item names stay true to the pub’s motto: They’re named after Nevada landmarks. (Searchlight Caesar salad or Flamingo chicken sandwich, anyone?) 8410 W. Cheyenne Ave., 395-8777; 1750 N. Buffalo Drive, Suite 115, 304-8084; 8168 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 214-6700, SteinersPub.com.
Wait, Tabú isn’t a bar; it’s a nightclub! No, actually, it’s an ultra-lounge. More specifically, it was the city’s first ultra-lounge. In fact, the sexy MGM Grand venue essentially invented the term—and ushered in the ultra-lounge craze—when it opened in 2003. Sure, it may be the only place on this list that offers bottle service, international DJs spinning house music, interactive projections on tabletops, a cocktail program and servers who are (or were) models delivering those cocktails. Still, Tabú retains a bar-like quality thanks to intimate confines (maximum occupancy: 400) and a sound system whose decibel level is such that a nice-looking guy can walk up to the bar and offer to buy a beautiful lady a drink—and she can actually hear him. In MGM Grand, 891-7183.
Tap House – WINNER
If the walls here could talk, well, let’s just say they’d never talk again. Capice? Vegas “operators” of all ilk—from wise guys to guys who are wise to them (i.e. columnist John L. Smith)—have gravitated to the Tap House since it took over from the old Black Whale in the early 1980s. And while the nefarious aspect has diminished somewhat since the closing of sister restaurant Fellini’s next door, certain Tap House truths remain self-evident: The place will fill up for every Cleveland Browns game; your pizza, stromboli and chicken wings (spice lovers order ’em twice-baked) will rival any other in town; and money will change hands nightly over its venerable shuffleboard table. Proprietors Bob Harry and Jim Gerard are often on the premises, especially on Mondays when “The Vegas Underground” open-mic night draws standing-room-only crowds. 5589 W. Charleston Blvd., 870-2111, TapHouseLV.com.
Tenaya Creek Brewery
Here’s how seriously the owners take their craft beer: Four years ago, they ditched their kitchen (which opened with the brewery in 1999) in order to “move forward with our real passion: brewing beer.” We’ll raise a couple of glasses to that—glasses of Calico Brown Ale and Hop Ride IPA, to be precise. And we’ll enjoy it at the horseshoe bar. Or while shooting pool in an adjacent room. Or on the small outdoor patio. Or at home (Tenaya Creek sells 22-ounce bottles, 64-ounce growlers and 5- and 15½-gallon kegs to go). And if you’re famished, fear not: Food trucks stop by regularly. Or you’re welcome to BYOG (bring your own grub). 3101 N. Tenaya Way, 362-7335, TenayaCreek.com.
The Cellar Lounge
In a city that revels in replication, it’s rare to happen upon a place that can truly be labeled unique. Enter The Cellar Lounge—and do so by first walking down a flight of stairs. That’s right: The place, whose roots date to the ’70s, is an actual cellar, a down-and-dirty underground bar whose clientele can best be described as diverse. Open the door, and you’re likely to find a construction worker sitting next to a businessman sitting next to an intellectual sitting next to a tourist sitting next to a divorcée. They come for cheap cocktails and traditional (pizza) and nontraditional (Texas barbecue) bar grub, and they stay for the music. Ah, the music: There’s house band Billy Ray Charles & The Boys in the Parking Lot, veteran blues and R&B musicians (Monday and Thursday-Saturday), reggae night (Tuesday), the acoustic showcase (Wednesday) and open-mic night (Sunday). The only drawback to The Cellar? It’s set back off Sahara Avenue and hidden within a strip mall, making it tough to find—which in itself is unique. 3601 W. Sahara Ave., 362-6268, Facebook.com/thecellarlounge.
Topping the list of places that feels the least like Las Vegas—“Am I in Boston? Brooklyn? Denver?”—The Griff (opened in February 2007) offers the charmingly disorienting amalgam of exposed brick, dark wood, fireplaces and one of the best jukeboxes in town. Throw in a not-overpriced Johnnie Walker (neat) and a pint of Speckled Hen, and you have a sophisticated evening sure to be filled with intellectual conversation and—crap, here come the hipsters. Truth be told, if hipsters were aliens this would be the mother ship. We just kick back in a booth—with a $1 Hamm’s during happy hour—and try to blend in. 511 E. Fremont St., 382-0577.
For many establishments (see The Cellar Lounge), the name says it all. However, we’re not exactly sure what The Lift was going for with its appellation. Nor do we care. We just know it’s a cool hang, a 5,000-square-foot space that’s blue collar through and through. By that we mean when you step up to the bar, it’s possible the guy to your right helped build your house, while the lady to your left might’ve dealt your last blackjack hand. The food (served through a window) is as good as it is cheap (one of the best burgers in town will run you $5, as will a 6-ounce Angus-beef steak sandwich). And while this is not technically a sports bar, you wouldn’t know it by the dozens of flat-screen TVs (including several in a lounge area that features leather couches and comfy chairs). Among other sports, those TVs air all NFL games and UFC cards. Yes, there’s a $10 cover on fight night, but that includes two drinks. 3045 S. Valley View Blvd., 364-0306.
Featuring almost two separate environments under one roof, this longtime local chain offers the option of quietly enjoying some drinks and video poker at the bar, or taking the family out for an affordable, quality meal in the dining area. The first Village Pub opened in 1968 where Ellis Island Casino now resides, and all nine locations offer the same menu as Ellis Island, including the signature fish and chips and off-the-menu steak special, along with all five beers brewed at Ellis Island. Nothing fancy, just quiet consistency. Multiple locations, VillagePubCasino.com.
Although it’s been around for just 15 years, Voodoo Lounge can already lay claim to being a modern classic. Whether it was trying out stints as an afterhours joint with parties raging till late-morning (“daylife” before its time, perhaps?), an upscale cigar lounge, a nightclub complete with bottle service or a rockin’ live-music venue, Voodoo has always at its core been a flair bar of the first order. Opened in 1997 with a Cajun restaurant downstairs and a lounge upstairs (the exterior staircase came later), Voodoo sprung from an idea drawn on the back of a beverage napkin at 30,000 feet. Right off the bat, it became the flair center of the world, thanks to its cast of four original flair bartenders cherry-picked from Disney World’s Pleasure Island entertainment zone: Todd Connell, Ken Hall and Steve Busur, and Alan Mays from TGI Fridays. Those guys have moved on, but the flair—and the house’s signature smoking Witchdoctor cocktails—goes on. In the Rio, 777-6875.