The first thing you need to know about Hammer & Ales is that the entrance is fake—the double doors, the healthy-looking ferns, all fake. The entrance is the more understated door in the corner of the parking lot at 3990 W. Russell Road. The next thing you should know is that it’s around the corner from my office, so if you owe me money, steer clear. And the third thing you should know is that Hammer & Ales was recently the subject of an episode of Spike TV’sBar Rescue, airing 9 p.m. September 8. But I didn’t know that when the formerly forgettable Hammer Bar’s new name and signage caught my eye and drew me in twice last week for cold draft beers and tasty burgers.
I have no idea what the bar’s former incarnation was like, but the improvements have yielded a pleasant local watering hole. Inside, it’s smoky, but not so much as to drive me out. (Oh, how I long for a smoke-free Las Vegas where I don’t have to say things like that!) A handful of gaming machines dot the zigzag bar top. The burly, bearded bartender is adorably honest about being a vegetarian, and offered that the veggie patty gets his vote. The beer list gets mine: 24 diverse beers on draft and 75 in bottles, including 15 bombers and other larger sizes. As a new fan, I can’t tell what is Taffer’s doing and what credit is due to owners Chris Sarret and Mitch Watson, but I will enjoy the result just the same.
Meanwhile, tequila and mezcal are the spirit of the moment. For me, it all started August 16 with a private tasting with renowned agave specialist and Montelobos creator Dr. Iván Saldaña at T&T Tacos & Tequila. Events such as these have the power to change what’s in your glass as the bartenders who leave these events do so bursting with new knowledge and flavors in mind; menus soon change accordingly. So look for this smoky, cocktail-friendly artisanal mezcal on menus around town.
On August 18, I judged the Crescent Bartending School Margarita Competition, where students Noah Lemmons, James Grice and Nick Schmitt competed for placement on Cantina Laredo’s Tequila & Turntables menu, available 9-11 p.m. Sundays. Grice’s Tamarita dominated thanks to a house-made tamarind syrup better than anything available on the market. Look for his winning cocktail on the menu soon.
And on August 26, I left Old Homestead’s Herradura Tequila Dinner with a few precious sips of Caesars Palace’s private selection Double Barrel reposado in my flask. The four-course dinner was the start of a new series highlighting a particular wine or spirit every couple of months. But it turns out the flask was overkill; this gorgeous tequila, hand-selected by F&B director Jean-Pierre St. Claire, is available property-wide. Win-win!