Blasting Back

“This door always used to be locked because of the crowd the bar attracted, but we’ll keep it open,” Derek Stonebarger says. “We want people to use our back parking lot and begin their night here.”

“Here” is the back door of Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas (circa 1945), and a true movie star: Scenes from Casino, The Hangover and many other films were shot here before the bar closed in 2011.

Stonebarger (owner of Theater7, an Arts District gallery and art-house cinema) and his partners—attorney Lance Johns and commercial real estate broker Kent Johns—recently purchased Atomic from Ron Sobchik, son of the bar’s original owners Joe and Stella Sobchik. They plan to restore and update the bar (“But not too much,” Stonebarger promises), and reopen in December.

As we poke through the dusty rooms, treasures manifest themselves: old documents in Stella Sobchik’s tiny office (“She used to sit right here and have conversations with Barbra Streisand,” says Stonebarger), a call sheet for a straight-to-video B movie (Holes in the Desert), and a vintage Coca-Cola cooler.

The new owners hope to keep as much of this stuff as possible, only making changes where necessary—the bathrooms, for example, need to be expanded to meet ADA requirements. Later, they plan to create a beer garden and performance space in the vacated garage next door.

But for now, Stonebarger and the Johns brothers are concentrating on the Atomic itself—screwing in light bulbs, unplugging faulty equipment. And they’ve reset the timer on an icon: Once again, Atomic Liquors’ classic sign, a star of movies and television shows, will be illuminated every night.

As the sign is turned on, Stonebarger grins wide.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he says.