There’s a new breed of bar in Las Vegas, and I’m hoping it multiplies. Velveteen Rabbit tried to open quietly on May 1, but a few devotees were just too excited to let the moment pass, myself included. So we flocked. I’ve been here three times since, and with each visit I notice a new detail, something that confirms my suspicion that this place is poised for success: the daily punch that keeps me guessing, the latest art added to the walls, the reasonable prices.
Sisters Christina and Pamela Dylag seem to have founded their tiny Arts District bar on three principles: community, originality and respect for craft, be it craft cocktails or craft beer. “We definitely did not want it to be pretentious,” Pamela says. Mission accomplished. Bucking the exclusivity fad, the door is wide open while the weather holds. Artisan spirits sit alongside their big-brand counterparts, inviting the willing to drink in uncharted waters. Ever tried genever?
The cocktail menu shows incredible care and restraint. “We had a lot of time,” Christina says, laughing. It took more than two years for the Rabbit to come to life. So the seasonal menu has been formulated again and again; this one should stick awhile. So far, the top sellers (all $8) include Crucifix in a Deathhand (inspired by the Bukowski poem) and Resurrection, which features house-made jalapeño oil. (Yes, oil—soon to be the new bitters.)
Not in the mood for spirits? There are 12 beers on tap ($2-$8), 12 in bottles ($3-$18)—some from local craft breweries!—a small selection of wines and free bar nibbles.
But it’s not just what the Dylags are doing at the Rabbit—it’s also about what they are not doing. They don’t proselytize, or haze the PBR crowd for not downing $13 sour beers (though the bartender/proprietresses might turn them on to Schlitz). They are not beholden to any one distributor, and there is an admirable lack of branding from beer taps to barware. And they didn’t suckle any funding from the Downtown Project teat. Rather, they took advantage of the City’s Urban Lounge incentives, and invested their own hard-earned hospitality industry savings.
Don’t be surprised if the place seems a shade unfinished. The Dylags are still waiting on their chandeliers, the parking lot needs paving and the back patio, slated for a midsummer debut, is a work in progress. But the crowd—a healthy mix of hipster, lawyer and the cocktail cognoscenti—doesn’t seem to mind one bit. They focus instead on the thoughtful touches: the chalkboard menu, the natural mural (leftover from the inferno that gutted the former furniture store) and, above all, the balanced cocktails. It’s one small sip for Las Vegas, but a giant hop forward for Downtown.