Photo by Cierra Pedro

Shut Up and Drink: An Oral History of the Double Down Saloon

Ass juice and assholes, take a trip down memory lane with the infamous dive bar after 25 years of pure chaos.

Las Vegas is known—hell, renowned—for nothing lasting very long. Whether due to the ephemeral nature of cultural trends or the tendency toward total destruction of our past, it’s rare for any establishment to keep its doors open for more than five years. Yet one punk dive has done what many luxury resorts and celebrity-chef eateries haven’t: The Double Down Saloon celebrated its 25th year in November 2017 as Las Vegas’ most notorious watering hole. With its strong drinks, loud music and amusingly grotty bathrooms balanced by its convenient location near the airport and friendly crowds, the Double Down has earned an international reputation and a devoted following. While the denizens of the Double could share a million stories—and have forgotten 2 million—here are a few they told to Vegas Seven. (Editor’s note: Last names of the patrons have been omitted in order to protect the rowdy.)

P Moss | Photo by Cierra Pedro

P Moss (owner): It was supposed to be on Sahara, by the Sahara [hotel-casino]. That deal fell through at the last minute. This place was available. It had been empty for a year. Nobody would buy it; it was a piece of shit. … But I open the front door, I’m looking out, and there’s the MGM. At the time, they were building it up huge. How could this not be a perfect location? I go, “This is amazing.” They all looked at me like I was fucking insane. I wasn’t.

Christy Larson (bartender): I knew immediately that this was my living room, this was my family, it was automatic. … The people who I met here are my best friends. … We’re all drawn together, we’re all assholes. I just knew it was my home.

P Moss: The very first day, of course, there’s nobody in there. … Office Bar across the street used to be a busy place, with blue-collar guys and bums. All of a sudden it emptied out and they filed over here. There must’ve been 30 of them. They all sat down and ordered beers. I’m looking around thinking, “Goddamn, I am really good at this!”

One of them says they brought this guy, Swampy. He was the janitor across the street. He was just a career drunk, a bad one, sleeping under the cigarette machine. They asked if we would hire Swampy to be our janitor. I got 30 people in there who weren’t there 20 minutes ago. I go, “Absolutely.” They go, “Great.” They finish their beers, file back across the street, and I’m left with Swampy. He eventually drank himself to death. One of his proudest achievements was, he got in a car accident—he wasn’t driving, of course. They took him to UMC and he was fine. Shortly after, there was an article in the paper about UMC. … It said that the person with the highest blood alcohol ever was .0528. He goes, “That was me! That was me!” Then he buys 20 newspapers and mails them back to Wisconsin, to his parents and everybody he knew.

Photo by Cierra Pedro

Tiffany (patron): The first time I came here [was] with my first husband for my 22nd birthday, which just happened to be the grand opening of the bar. … They had this big sign outside the Double Down that said, “Grand opening today, ladies drink for free.” So of course I made a beeline to the [bar]—maybe I’m not quite a lady, but I got a lot of free drinks that night.

Never a Cover

Goldtop Bob (musician): It’s the best place to play because it’s up close and personal, with real people—they can be rough, they can be friendly, they can be whatever the fuck they want to be. That’s very cool for a musician, to not be on a stage where you’re blinded by floodlights while you’re playing. But if it ain’t real up there, this is a rough crowd.

P Moss: People were bugging me forever to have bands—“No, my place is too small.” We’d been open seven months, it was July. This girl Patty who worked for me, she says, “This band, Man or Astroman? They’re supposed to play at this place called Rocket 88. They went there and the doors are locked, all the furniture’s gone, the light bulbs are gone. Can they please play here?” She bugged the shit out of me for three hours. Finally I say, “OK, fine.” Two hours later, there were 300 people in there, and everybody’s having a good time. I was never more happy to be wrong.

Photo by P Moss

Ian Roach (bartender): I moved here in ’94 when they were opening up the Hard Rock Hotel. I had my job waiting for me. The guys who I was going to be living with—when I got off the plane—they brought me directly here to the Double Down, and they were like, “Here’s home! Work is around the corner.” This was the first place I set foot in other than the airport.

Tiffany: One of my best times in this bar was the day some guy pointed a gun at my head. He came into the bar—it’s, like, 8 in the morning. His wife and his best friend are at the bar together—very together. He had a gun in his back pocket and I went, “Whoa, that guy’s got a gun.” Ryan [the bartender at the time] turned around, walked into the back and immediately called the police. The guy points the gun at my head—I’m the only woman in the room besides his wife. And I’m like, “Um, I’m not your wife. If you want to kill her, go kill her—don’t kill me, I have kids.” He got caught, but once he left the bar, Ryan handed me a bottle of Ass Juice and said, “This is your bottle. You own this bottle. You earned this bottle.”

The first murals of Double Down

Steven (patron): This dude came, and he was painting a mural on the wall—he used one of those things from when you’re in elementary school, a projector. He traced some anime bullshit and it totally didn’t fit. Everybody bitched about it so much that Moss covered it up with “Shut Up and Drink.” That’s where the motto of the bar came from.

Roach: I had been coming here basically every day for a couple of years. I had taken some time off to have surgery on my arm, because a one-armed bartender is pretty useless. I was sitting at the bar one afternoon, and Scott Siegel [former Double Down partner, now deceased] came through the door in a panic, looked at me and said, “Hey, Ian, do you want to work for me?” I said, “When?” He said, “I don’t have a bartender tonight, so in about three hours.” I put my beer down and got a bottle of water. I worked that night. … I did 36 hours at the Double Down in my first three days, and I’ve been working here ever since.

P Moss: It took five years. Five years. I had a stack of unpaid bills, past-due bills this high, that I couldn’t pay. I believed in what I did. I borrowed money, sold stuff, whatever it took, because I believed this was going to work.

Photo by Cierra Pedro

Mechanical Ponies and Other Questionable Characters

Misty (patron): This is where I come when nothing makes sense, when I’m having a really bad day and trying to work out the details. It’s also where I come when I have nothing but celebratory, positive feelings. … This is where I come to get my praise and where I come to get my life lessons.

Roach: I was working swing shift and this old, gray potbellied dude [Steve, former Double Down bouncer, now deceased] walked in with a Double Down T-shirt on and said, “I’m your new doorman.” I’m like, “What the fuck are you hiring this old bastard for?” So the band starts playing, there’s a pit going on. … I can tell this one dude is starting to get squirrely. Steve is standing over by the snack machine watching all of this go on, and before I can even mention “Hey, keep an eye on this guy,” he’s in front of the stage, grabs the kid by the back of his shirt and starts marching him toward the front door. He gets him all the way to the door, says, “It’s time to go,” cracks his head against the side of the doorframe and tosses him on the pavement. And he walks back in and I look at him and say, “You’re gonna fit in just fine around here.” That was the first time I met Steve the Liar.

Steve the Liar

Steven: I went to the bathroom and some dude is standing on my chair. Dude—that’s my chair. … He was part of a motorcycle gang, but I didn’t realize there were 10 more of them in the bar. Steve the Liar saved my life that night: They told him they were going to stab me in the bathroom, and the Liar stopped that.

He would see my car in the parking lot, call up the bar and ask if I would take him to go get KFC. Always. And after he saved my life, I always would.

Roach: After he had stopped working, he comes in one day, gets his Black Velvet and Coke. Out of his pocket, he pulls out a handful of crumpled dollar bills. And he’s straightening them all out on the bar and feeding them into the poker machine. He looks at me and goes, “67 years of careful financial planning.”

Goldtop Bob: For me, it was like a throwback to the South Jersey Shore in the ’70s, except that now everyone has tattoos, and back then they were kind of rare. Those places were everywhere back then. Now it was like, “Holy shit, I haven’t seen this in a loooong time.”

P Moss: The pony was great. His name was Alonzo. Say it was 15 years ago, we had a bartenders’ day out, a couple limos that loaded the bartenders, and we’d go drink, drink, drink ourselves around. We were at the Mountain Springs Saloon. There’s a pickup truck parked outside, and there’s this pony in the back. I go, “I want that.” I asked the guy: he would pick these things up from in front of supermarkets, and when they weren’t working, he’d leave another one. He wanted $4,000 for it. I go, “Are you out of your mind?” We had girls with us—they started talking to the guy, buying him drinks; by the time we were done, he had $400, and he agreed to deliver it later that afternoon. That’s how we got it. Girls would ride it, and it soon became the thing where you couldn’t ride it unless you were topless, and it became a whole big deal. 

Double Down’s Pony | Photo by Scott Berry SIXEIGHTSTUDIOS

Rex Dart (Bargain DJ Collective): I knew even before I came here that it was this legendary place that I wanted to be in. … So I turned 21, get in here with a few friends and I climb up on Alonzo, the horse. Somehow I survive, and the love affair began. It’s like a bar in old New York, San Francisco, New Orleans. All over the world, you can find bars like this, except there is no bar like this.

Misty: Toni James [Las Vegas drag legend and Double Down regular] is my favorite. I’ve met Toni James in character, I’ve met Toni James on a Tuesday afternoon when there were no fucks given, I’ve met Toni James casual. … If you ever have the opportunity to bullshit with Toni James, she will tell you everything from how to put on eyelashes to how to live your life.

Dave (patron): When Toni James is on fire. … I have seen her perform literal magic. She will take straight dudes out of that place like nobody’s business. Even if they’re with their wives—she just walks up to them and they’re gone. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

Dart: Best show ever in here? The Halloween show with Franks and Deans with Otis Day. Usually when there’s a band playing, there are people not paying attention, talking among themselves. This was the first show I ever saw where the entire crowd all focused on the show—when he started doing “Shout,” the entire bar got down on the floor and got back up. There was a Sailor Jerry party with TSOL. My favorite part was Toni James, a drag queen, next to me dancing her ass off. I’m like, “How are you digging this? I love that you’re digging this, but how?”

Bearing Witness to Weirdness

Kat (patron): I honestly can’t recall the first time I went to the Double Down, because it exists outside normal temporal bounds. It may have been at the end of the last century—but once you’ve extracted yourself from its gravitational pull, the sun and moon are probably in the opposite positions from when you entered, and honestly, seeing flying cars or winged hellbeasts wheeling about in the sky outside wouldn’t be much cause for surprise.

Photo by Cierra Pedro

But for all its genuine punk-rock trappings, the Double Down is welcoming to people from all walks of life, and it’s a delight to see straitlaced Midwestern retirees order a round of Ass Juices. No one needs to prove their cred to be there—it is conferred by walking through the doors. But you’d damned well better realize how lucky you are to be there.

Dart: I love meeting all the weird celebrities here, which we never make a really big deal about. Lemmy playing video poker. They come in here, they’re treated the same as everyone else. … Like when Tim Robbins came in or Billy Corgan came in, they just hang out.

Larson: David Cross came in in a goddamn tie-dyed shirt. It was like midday on a Saturday or Sunday. He’s sitting in the corner with his buddy. … We talked about music and he says, “I do like the Grateful Dead,” and I said, “Yeah, I can tell by your goddamn shirt.” And he laughed. But he stayed for an hour and the whole bar was staring at him—I was so proud of this crowd for not just going up to him. I mean, I talked to him, I actually gave him a book—I gave him Bomb the Suburbs because we talked about graffiti and tagging. He was really nice.

Dart: The most warped thing I ever witnessed at the Double Down was the night some girl climbed up on the pinball machine and started peeing and some dude squatted underneath the pinball machine and started drinking it as it was dripping off. … I’ve grown up in Las Vegas and I’ve seen it all. I can go anywhere in the world: I can see a donkey show, whatever’s happening, and it’ll be like, “All right. I’ve seen equal, if not worse, at the Double Down.”

Photo by Cierra Pedro

John (patron): Every September they had a pony rodeo, a singles and a doubles competition where girls would get up in bikinis and ride it. They would be judged and win, I think it was $500. The last year we had Penn Jillette as a judge—it was so packed you could barely raise your arms. The last year, the singles went fine; the doubles started, two girls got up there and got pretty frisky with each other, to put it mildly. Bikinis came off, the bar erupted. … The girls won, but shortly thereafter they got rid of the pony—I think it was Gaming. They also had to get rid of the porn.

P Moss: People tend to, for the most part, behave themselves. Didn’t used to be the case, but it is now. It’s nice. 

P. Moss | Photo by Cierra Pedro

Hansen (host of the Double Down’s TV Party monthly movie screenings): No matter what time of day, no matter what day of the week, no matter what week of the year, I can always walk into this bar and know somebody. I came in today to do something really quick and I’ve been here for almost four hours now, because every time I walk toward the doors, someone else walks in. You just get sucked into this vortex and you can’t escape.

P Moss: It was crazy when I first realized that people—from Europe, mostly—were coming. It’s not like, “Let’s take a trip to Las Vegas.” They say, “Hey, let’s go to Double Down.” After I’d heard that several times, I wanted to tell that to some of my friends, but I knew they wouldn’t believe it, because who would? I had a hard time believing it. I was flabbergasted when this shit started to happen. But any night of the year, there are people from a long way away. 

Ass Juice | Photo by Cierra Pedro

Goldtop Bob: I’ve got a lot of respect for Moss as a businessman. Ass Juice—he soaked up the stuff that spills on the floor of the bar, named it Ass Juice and sold a million dollars’ worth. 

Roach: One thing that I have heard consistently from locals, people who have moved here and tourists, when they walk into this place for this first time, is, “This is the most un-Vegas bar in Vegas.” Nothing is like the Double Down, but something about the Double Down reminds everybody of a bar back home.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name … or Pretends To

Sarah (patron): The summer of 2009, I was visiting a friend out here and the first thing, they took me up to the roof of the parking garage and pointed out the Double Down and said, “That’s the first place I’ll take you, this magical punk-rock bar.” I walk in, the bar is packed, Thee Swank Bastards are playing, Szandora is hula-hooping all over, and I look around and say, “This is a city I could live in. I dig this scene.”

Misty: I took a break from the Double Down. I was in a four-year relationship and I was not to come to this bar. … So when I got back from my four-year break, you know what was bizarre? I walked in and everyone fucking remembered me. They were like, “Hey, Misty, long time no see.” They remembered what I had drank. From four years earlier! Nobody fucking does that! Nobody!

Sarah: Wade [a former regular, now deceased] was my favorite character. He would just get shithouse drunk and he’d walk around like a bear and you couldn’t understand a word out of his mouth. Rrrgg! Grrrr! He genuinely cared about the place and he cared about everybody there, he just didn’t care about himself.

Steven: Wade was punk-rock Santa. He would put on the Santa suit for Christmas, give haircuts. But don’t touch Santa’s mohawk. And don’t sit on Santa’s lap.

Larson: Last Christmas I worked here, and we had a full spread—it was incredible. I made mashed potatoes—walked to the bar with 10 fucking pounds of mashed potatoes in trays—green bean casserole, I got two large vegetable subs, other people brought stuff in. A lot of people brought their favorite dishes for the holidays. Sharing food is kind of a family thing. You don’t have to be related.

Tiffany: This is my family. I am not a woman of low means. I have a house and a rose garden, but I will totally live in the parking lot of this bar to make sure everyone is OK. Also, they take my keys away from me.

Photo by Cierra Pedro

P Moss: So many bars have tried to copy what we do, and they all just wither and blow away because they don’t get it. … What you have to do, and they don’t understand that, you need to cultivate a loyal base of regulars, the regular guys who come in three, four, five, six days a week, who consider it their home. We have a very loyal base. We had the 25th anniversary party—say 100 people came up to me to shake my hand. Not one of them said congratulations; every single one said, “Thank you.” It meant a lot.

Lawan (patron): This place feels more like a home than any other place I could be, really. It’s like Cheers, punk-rock Cheers. I freaking plan on dying in here. I already came close a few times. …

Roach: After all these years, we’ve almost become an anomaly. We’re the freakshow that for some reason is still going on. Nobody knows why. But everybody wants to come and see it. We make a shit-ton of money off of tourists because of all of the press we’ve gotten. TV—that’s all fantastic for business, but the core of a little shithole bar like this is your regular customers. Somebody’s moving to town, somebody comes here on vacation, their friend will bring them here, and basically it’s the same statement: “OK, welcome home. You know the Double Down? This is home, now go out and explore the rest of Vegas.”

P Moss: I wanted to open a bar that I would hang out in. And I did.

Photo by Cierra Pedro