Atom Miller and Kevin Schanda are Las Vegas kids. The two grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, running around the Montara neighborhood off Tropicana and Pecos. Miller’s single mom worked at the Horseshoe Casino—her aunt once owned a lease on some ground under the fabled property. Schanda’s dad was responsible for one of the city’s firsts when he pioneered time-share sales at the Hacienda.
The duo has had their share of Stand By Me moments. Like the time Miller told a gang of kids they’d better run fast if they didn’t want to get tagged with a BB gun. Schanda was the stubborn one in the bunch. He wouldn’t run until it was too late. Miller was true to his word. “I had to shoot him then,” he says.
They told the story as carpenters fitted the custom booths in their new pub, Midtown, just before it opened in December. After careers that took them in very different directions, the two are ready to be the center of a classic Vegas neighborhood again. The coffee-to-cocktails bar sits at 953 E. Desert Inn Road, across the street from the Country Club Towers (where Schanda’s dad now lives), next to a huge parking lot for convention center workers, and up the street from a major police substation. “It’s going to be interesting to see which group sticks,” Schanda says. He’s hoping the place becomes a central meeting spot for people on opposite sides of town.
Schanda, a mortgage broker, has been the moneyman. He brought in financing from two more Las Vegas kids—brothers Chris and Coleton Hanna, whose grandfather owned car dealerships here. And he managed the gutting of the place, formerly the Office Bar #2. It was a dive, painted Cookie Monster-blue, with layers of nicotine on the walls. Schanda loved its central location and that the bar is grandfathered into a package liquor license (you can get a bottle of Las Vegas Distillery’s Nevada Vodka with your lobster tarragon pizza).
Miller’s job is in the kitchen, where he’ll run the daily operations. He planned a music career until a potential girlfriend’s dad said no dating until he got a job. He started at Circus Circus and developed his kitchen chops all along the Strip. He’s adding gourmet touches, such as Benton’s Smokehouse bacon, to the upscale pizzas. “My career and my years on the Strip are coming together. It’s not just template cooking. It’s a place where we’ll cook for you when you walk in the door,” Miller says as he namedrops his influences—Daniel Boulud, Gustav Mauler and Domenico Cornacchia.
To keep the pub very Vegas, they brought a girl from the neighborhood, Kristin Stoops, to run the front of the house. “We needed that feminine perspective,” Schanda says. Local artist Jerry Misko did the art and painted the bar’s logo on the exposed brick wall.
Schanda drew from his years spent in New York to develop the tavern like those Midtown Manhattan bars he stopped at on his way home. The shotgun building is lined on one side by a banquette of tufted leather and the other with a bar.
“I can’t say that we always knew we’d end up in business together,” Schanda says. “But what guy doesn’t want to own a bar with his friends? It’s a Cheers kind of thing.”