Now Pouring: Starboard Tack

Follow the rum trade to an old Vegas bar that has regained its sea legs in the hands of two local bartenders.

Photos by Xania Woodman

When Starboard Tack opened in 1971, it was the perfect specimen of its category: a 24-hour gaming bar where anyone could drink together or alone in lowbrow old Vegas. Video poker gently separated people from their money while booze eased the pain. Big sister Port Tack came along a few years later on West Sahara and completed the nautical set, the buildings owned for all but a handful of years by the Kostelecky family, most recently Milo Kostelecky. Starboard sailed true until 2000, when it became Gilligan’s Hideaway until 2016. The latest tenants, local bartenders Bryant Jane and Lyle Cervenka, say they have no desire to make the second coming of Starboard Tack anything but what it has always been: a comfortable, low-key hangout for industry members, locals and gamers. The beverage program, décor and kitchen—all decisions are informed by the historic rum trade in the Caribbean and South Pacific, and in a word, “Aye, she’s yar!”

To reach the one-story, 5,000-square-foot ranch-style tavern, pull off East Sahara onto Atlantic Street, pass through the twin oracle of collision shops and look for the exceptionally tropical marquee—you have arrived. Only the volume of cars in the parking lot can really indicate what sort of crowd might await you inside. The understated door is a portal to a simpler time, when all you needed was a wide wooden bar, a sturdy barstool, a cold beverage and some good conversation with the barkeep. 

We envision the space as a 24-hour bar-restaurant with proper service during the lunch and dinner hours, and on the casual side for late-night with most of the service coming from the bartenders.” – Bryant Jane

Those trappings remain, as do the brick pony walls that separate the dining area’s booth and central kitchen from the lounge with its built-ins and seating groupings. Décor includes a mélange of original, old and new. Near the brick fireplace, worn captain’s chairs and card tables are not tolerated but welcomed as old friends; indeed, they belonged to the original Starboard. In the lounge, other furniture dates back just as long. On the walls, palm fronds and exotic pink flowers bloom eternal on wallpaper so at-home here it’s hard to tell if it’s original or homage. Art is currently limited to three flatscreens TVs, murals by local artists Spencer Olsen and Craig Feinberg, and in the ladies room, framed patent drawings advertise old-timey bathing costumes.

Xania V. Woodman | Vegas Seven

At the 20-seat bar is where Jane and Cervenka hold court with a veritable seawall of rum behind them—more than 200 bottles at last count, with another 100 on backorder. Labels range from the incredible splurge of Black Tot and the underrated Scarlet Ibis to the undervalued Panamá Pacific. And you can have yours neat, on the rocks or in any of 12 classic and original cocktails—all $8. Cool down with a frozen mango Chi Chi (served in a ceramic panda, natch) or frozen “I-seriously-can’t-believe-there’s-alcohol-in-here” Jamaican Me Rum Coffee. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rough Seas Ahead is as complex as it gets, with Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Gran Classico, Mexican fernet and XTA, a Yucatecan honey liqueur from Casa D’Aristi. The Starboard Taquiri frames everyone’s favorite pineapple rum in a Pernod-rinsed daiquiri (divine). And the national drink of Jamaica—Wray and Nephew Light Rum and Ting grapefruit soda—makes an appearance here as the Ting ’n’ Sting. The price drops to $3 and the “sting” increases to Wray’s Overproof expression when Shabba Ranks’ song “Ting-a-Ling” comes on in a soundtrack that includes reggae, old-school hip-hop and more.

Don’t be afraid to go off-menu, either—the venue and the rum aren’t the only thing with serious pedigree. Before Starboard Tack, Jane and Bryant were working on Downtown’s impending King Hippo bar (which Jane says is still on, but has been crippled by construction delays). Prior to that, Jane, a born-and-raised Las Vegan, worked at Atomic Liquors, and Philly native Cervenka and Jane both did stints at Velveteen Rabbit before coming together to open the Downtown amaro bar Retroscena that operated briefly behind what is now Evel Pie.

Beers are nautical themed wherever possible (Full Sail, Ballast Point), but also include Tiger (“Malaysia’s No. 1 brew,” Jane says), as well as Red Horse, Singha and San Miguel. And it’s safe to say this is the only serious mixology bar where you’ll encounter Yacht Club Vodka. All non-cane-based spirits and modifiers occupy a bookcase off to the side, sending the not-so-subtle message: “Here be a place for rum drinks, Matey!”

Starboard Tack is a place for eating, too! Appetizers (“Pu Pus”) and entrées (“Fo da Haoles”) take their cue from the beverage program, whisking your favorite bar snacks from Polynesia and Southeast Asia. For $9 you can enjoy a solid bar burger or, for $10, a deceivingly spicy chicken sandwich with a pile of tasty fries. Ten dollars also gets you San Miguel beer-battered fish and chips or a Mongolian cheesesteak. Skewers of grilled proteins and Asian-style veggies come with a side of rice, $3.50 each or four for $12. “We envision the space as a 24-hour bar-restaurant with proper service during the lunch and dinner hours, and on the casual side for late-night with most of the service coming from the bartenders,” Jane says. And late-night is definitely when the bar hits its peak.

Starboard Tack quietly unfurled its sails on St. Patrick’s Day. The city’s bartenders, industry members and hip young things have already bookmarked the address in their Lyft and Uber apps. Occasionally, former regulars from Starboard’s early years come a-knocking, agog that their watering hole is once again flush. It’s a place that takes a cheeky note from the Dark Ages of drink (think early TGI Fridays and Tom Cruise in Cocktail). Still, it’s a seaworthy upgrade, with smart and fresh spirit-forward offerings. This month, Jane and Cervenka expect to receive their gaming license and will subsequently restore video gaming and go 24/7.

A grand opening celebration is tentatively slated for May 26, Jane says, “Kind of a kickoff to Punk Rock Bowling,” but if they should have to shift it, I’m sure their new-found devotees will roll with the tide.

NAME: Starboard Tack

SERVING: Retro-modern rum bar with food, craft cocktails and gaming.

OPENED: March 17, 2017

WHO’S BEHIND IT: Local bartenders and proprietors Bryant Jane and Lyle Cervenka.

DID YOU KNOW: You won’t find it on the menu, but you can order Centerba—the traditional Italian herbal digestive meaning “One Hundred Herbs”—by name.

LOCATION: 2601 Atlantic St., 

HOURS OF OPERATION: Beginning April 11, hours are 5 p.m.–midnight Sun–Wed and 5 p.m.­–late Thu–Sat. Open for lunch in the next few weeks, then 24/7.

CONTACT:  702-684-5769

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