Top 10 Bars in Downtown Las Vegas
Get More Booze For Your Buck When You Drink Downtown!
Before the turn of the millennium, Las Vegans’ off-Strip choices for drinking establishments were limited. Small-chain sports bars dominated. Sure there were a handful of British and Irish pubs, and restaurants like the now-defunct Rosemary’s put some craft in their cocktails. But San Francisco and Manhattan this wasn’t.
Then, the 2000s saw a renewed interest in downtown Las Vegas.
It’s a renaissance that continues today, fueled largely by The Downtown Project, a $350 million community restoration effort driven by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. The project is focusing on education, tech startups and real estate. With the effort comes a growth in food, arts, music, and, of course, nightlife.
Here’s a take on the Top 10 bars of downtown.
1. Downtown Cocktail Room, 111 Las Vegas Boulevard
When Michael Cornthwaite, the unofficial “Mayor of East Fremont,” opened the DCR at the beginning of 2007, he saw downtown as an untapped resource and a big opportunity.
“Way back in the ’90s, to me downtown represented a clean slate,” Cornthwaite said. “It really was just a bunch of disconnected businesses. But it was located in an urban core of a world-renowned city”. So I thought, ‘This will eventually come back and be fun to be part of.”
The DCR sits on a dark section of Las Vegas Boulevard, 100 feet from Fremont Street. The entrance presents some first-time patrons with a test of sorts: Where do I push on the glass to open the door? (Hint: The metal door is on your left.)
Inside, the glamorous interior and soft lighting give off an upscale ambience. Tables and couches are candle-lit and comfy. Around the corner of the bar is another room with booths and couches. The DCR was the first barroom in Las Vegas that would seem right at home in San Francisco or Manhattan.
There are no bartenders at the DCR. The seasonal cocktail menu is crafted by the mixologists who serve them. Some advice when ordering: Trust the mixologists. A usual fixture of the creative menu is the DCR’s signature drink, the Downtown Dill; think Bloody Mary served up with gin subbing for vodka, and, of course, dill. And if you’ve just come from a Strip hotel bar, you’ll find the prices exceedingly reasonable.
Beyond the delicious cocktails and Bohemian-Speakeasy ambience, perhaps the DCR’s No. 1 asset is its staff. Cornthwaite created an establishment with a friendly atmosphere with mixologists and servers who remembered customers’ names and drink preferences. “Too me it was just normal,” he says. And the number of regulars — the familiar faces are on both sides of the bar — is a testament to Cornthwaite’s vision.
2. Atomic Liquors, 917 Fremont St.
This recently reopened spot sits farther east on Fremont, among rundown motels and the shuttered Western Casino. Atomic Liquors was run by it’s previous owners from 1952-2011, when it was closed after their deaths. Legend has it that entertainers such as Burt Reynolds and the Smothers brothers were patrons, and the bar had cameos in “Casino” and “The Hangover.”
The new Atomic Liquors got a bump earlier this year when writer-world traveler Anthony Bourdain arrived for his CNN travelogue “Parts Unknown” for the show’s Season 2 finale. Las Vegas’ oldest freestanding bar — and non-Strip Las Vegas — was suddenly in the spotlight.
The place has been remolded in a classic motif, playing off Nevada’s atomic history (the signature drink is the F-bomb).
3. The Griffin, 511 Fremont St.
It can be argued that The Griffin led the revitalization of the downtown bar scene.
With it’s medieval cave interior, graced with two large fireplaces, and its hipster clientele, all knit caps and facial hair, looking like they just arrived from Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, it’s immediately obvious this isn’t your father’s Las Vegas bar.
While this isn’t the place for cocktail snobs, the beer and liquor selections are quite good. The main room — spacious, with plenty of seating, and arguably Las Vegas’ best jukebox — can fill up in a matter of minutes, as if busloads of 20-somethings were just deposited outside, sometime after 9 on Friday and Saturday nights. By 11:30, the bar can be four-deep.
The back room features a smaller bar and a dance floor.
Like most of the establishments on this list, Griffin patrons tend to be locals. But thanks to its notoriety — it has made Esquire’s best bars in America list — The Griffin attracts tourists looking for the Las Vegas beyond The Strip.
4. Artifice, 1025 1st St., Suite 3
Nestled in the heart of Las Vegas’ Arts District, the at-first-hard-to-find Artifice (it sits behind Bar+Bistro) is a nice addition.
Friendly bartenders serve two lounges adjoining lounges in this spacious watering hole that also features on stage and dance floor. Many spots in the bar provide views of the entire place.
The vibe, the lighting and the interior decorating all contribute to a great night-out experience.
5. Velveteen Rabbit, 1218 S. Main St.
A new addition for the cocktail crowd, the Rabbit — named after the 1920s children’s book — opened in May in a former Arts District furniture store.
The menu features craft beers and cocktails alongside the usual fare, plus a nice bonus: reasonable prices. Try the Crucifix in a Deathhand (the name comes from a Bukowski poem), a strong mix of Irish whisky, absinthe and bitters.
The dimly-lit interior is part of the draw: a check board menu, antique-looking couches and chairs, walls worth staring at.
This place is an up-and-comer in the scene.
6. Don’t Tell Mama, 517 Fremont St., Suite A
Small, dark and sometimes smoky, this piano-karaoke bar sits in the middle of East Fremont. Despite its size and sometimes raucous crowds it’s usually not hard to find a seat.
Unlike some of it’s neighbors, the drinks here are not the main attraction; it’s the music. Among the impressive singers who grab the mic are the bartenders who’ve just served you. Especially not to be missed is Dre Whitt, see here
7. Huntridge Package Liquor, 1122 E. Charleston Blvd.
This dingy dive bar doesn’t have the luster it had when the Huntridge Theater — across the street — was an operating concert venue. But the drinks are cheap and the regulars — locals, of course — are friendly.
8. Vic & Anthony’s, Golden Nugget
Another reason to venture to the west of Las Vegas Boulevard, this modern steakhouse in downtown’s top hotel is home to one of the best wine bars on Fremont Street. The setting is nice and modern, and the service and wine selection are impressive.
9. Insert Coin(s) ** CLOSED ** , 512 E. Fremont St.
East Fremont’s No. 1 spot for gaming — no, not that kind; like its nearby brethren, the bar has no slot machines — Insert Coin(s) mixes cocktails and video games.
Video screens above the bar track old- and new-school gamers’ progress. From Galaga to Call of Duty, the games are varied. The drinks are mostly standard fare, aside from a few specialty drinks; care for a Ms. Pacman?
10. Hugo’s Cellar, Four Queens
Hugo’s Cellar, the Four Queens’ old-timey steakhouse, might seem out of place on a list dominated by East Fremont hipster hangouts. But the martini service alone earns it a spot.
The bar — just three or four seats and a couple of small tables — sits at the restaurant’s entrance, a half flight of stairs below the casino. The fireplace and low light imbue the place with the old-time Las Vegas feel it’s earned over the years.
Oh, the martini service? They’re stirred (not shaken; sorry, Mr. Bond) vigorously. The portion that doesn’t fit in your cocktail glass is poured into a carafe which is packed in ice. Be careful: You end up with almost two full martinis.
Did we miss your favorite watering hole? Join the discussion and let us know your favorite spot to drink in downtown Las Vegas.