Dive Bar Deep Dive

Dive BarDive Bar

Guest Writer Scott K. dives headfirst into some of Las Vegas’ most infamous dive bars. 

I attempt to give life purpose by “theming” my Vegas expeditions. In the past, I have explored the happy hour universe, the buddy circuit, kids turning 21 with the old man tour, Bloody Mary crawl, high expected value video poker, Bull Riding World finals week activities, LVA coupon book spree, gourmet corned beef hash survey, and Vegas on the cheap (you may think I’m a little snooty, but I draw the line at picking up abandoned, unfinished drinks). I previously dabbled in the realm of dive bars as a casual observer, but now I believe they deserve their own special investigation with personal research and unbiased evaluation.

The obvious question is “What defines a dive bar?” Wiki explains that Dive Bar is a colloquial term for a disreputable bar. By reading Yelp reviews and jotting down my own alcohol tinged memories, I ponder the characteristics and adjectives associated with some of my favorite places like the Stage Door, Huntridge, and Double Down.

I remember staying at Bill’s Gamblin Hall (now the Cromwell at literally 10x the rate) and walking past the Stage Door. The place looked like it was about ready to go out of business; contrary to the marquee indicating that they had 26 years left on their lease. Among other signs warning about pulling up your pants and no do-rags being permitted, I was not encouraged to go beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone. On one occasion, a friend and I gathered up the courage to enter this seedy, demon’s den. To our utter surprise, the place was jammed with colorfully outfitted soccer fans yelling and cheering at the TVs showing some tournament. (Sorry boys, but us Yanks cringe when you call the sport Football.) After negotiating our way to the bar, we sampled some inexpensive, well-chilled alcoholic refreshments. The clientele were regular folk, and we fit right in, minus the bright jerseys. After that encounter, my Vegas trips did not officially begin until first visiting the Stage Door. I have not witnessed any subsequent colorful gatherings, but the experience served as my ice-breaker to the dive bar cosmos.

Dive Bar

Dive Bar

First Impressions. Is the outside appearance the result of willful neglect or a deliberate distressed design that denotes “dive bar”? Signage is typically old and faded, likely cracked, with non-functioning bulbs. Call me a snob, but if there are broken bottles, litter, and incapacitated customers adorning the entryway, the impression is more Dump than Dive.

Entering the main room, one may be overcome by blinding darkness and a waft of cigarette smoke. The eyes will eventually adjust to the dark with the bar lighting acting as a beacon. Dive bars are actual for-profit businesses, so my expectation is a warm welcome from the bartender. Right or wrong, my overall opinion of the place is strongly influenced by the service. Fast, attentive, and friendly are the key factors in making any bar successful with happy, repeat customers.

The condition and general look of the bar contribute to the classification of dive. The bar top may have some dents and cigarette burns. The old bar stools are cracked and split; leather aged to a fine patina accented with stains from unknown origin. The lumpy and uneven seat padding is as depressed as some of the self-medicated guests. A cigarette machine would not be out of place in this politically correct be damned world. Only go to the bathroom out of extreme necessity as cleanliness, locking stalls, and privacy is optional. The floors may be slightly sticky from spilled drinks.

Dive Bar

Dive Bar

Of course, some qualities are more variable and have a range of descriptors. For example, smoke levels from worst to best are “Choking and tearing”; “Hacking and rubbing eyes”; ”Coughing and watery eyes”; “Throat clearing and frequent blinking”; and “Clear sailing” with smoke-eaters cranking full blast.

Odors can be described using wordsmithing found in fine wine reviews: Overtones of menthol cigarette butts, a bouquet of stale beer, and subtle fragrance of rotten egg from floor drains. Maybe your nose detects the delicate aroma of a B.O. and urine mixture against a contrasting milieu of pine disinfectant used to clean up puke. Another exceptional vintage reminds one of old hot dog steam scent and wall paneling emanating years of cigarette smoke. Perhaps your finely tuned senses note a hint of sickly sweet perfume balanced with the essence of nacho/bean dip fart. It’s a full sensory experience. You know it when you smell it.

Dive Bar

Dive Bar

However, the most important element is the booze. We are talking about bars after all. The biggest differentiator to label “dive bar” is cheap liquor.  Any happy hour should be long and liberal. But cheap hooch should be available anytime at a dive bar. Heavy pours are typical. Mixed drinks are rarely measured and never more than three ingredients. Drink specials include Double Down’s Ass Juice or the Yukon bar specialty cocktail garnished with a pickled human toe (that’s one way to bring in gross revenue). The most cost-effective drinks are a basic PBR, Fireball shot, or some plastic bottled well liquor. The bar may be cash only, potentially discriminating against electronic currency oriented Millennials. Also, it would not be uncommon to find co-located packaged liquor sales for souvenirs to continue the party at home.

I would not be doing my due diligence without mentioning the clientele. A dive bar’s diverse crowd includes day drinkers, neighbor types that may stumble home, enthusiasts who read about the place in some weird web posting, conventioneers easily identifiable by their lanyard name tags, and other eclectic folks who appreciate the value proposition while seeking alcohol inspired enlightenment and salvation. Everyone is welcome, especially those who don’t quite fit in anywhere else.

Double Down Saloon

Double Down Saloon

Double Down Saloon 

$4 Ass Juice, 2 for $9

Happy hour 12-5 weekdays, everything $2

Smoke level: Throat clearing and frequent blinking

Best of bar: Terrific art and graphics; bacon infused vodka Bloody Mary with Slim Jim garnish

Worst of bar: Bathroom, don’t touch anything but yourself

Unique qualities: pool tables, jukebox with ton of punk

 

Huntridge Tavern 

Smoke level: Coughing and watery eyes

Best of bar: Good IPA on tap, chill hangout place

Worst of bar: Prostrate over-indulgers closely examining the front sidewalk

Unique qualities: Cushy bar seats. More characters per capita (they seem to find me)

Champagne’s

Champagne’s

Champagne’s  

Smoke level: Clear sailing

Best of bar: $5 Clase Azul tequila

Worst of bar: Challenging turn off from busy street

Unique qualities: Vintage wallpaper. Fun, old school dive bar with friendly guests

The Dive Bar

The Dive Bar

The Dive Bar  

Smoke level: Coughing and watery eyes

Best of bar: Friendly bartenders

Worst of bar: Loud music

Unique qualities: Food truck parked in front, lube wrestling event

 

Stage Door 

$1 PBR bottle, $2 all beef dogs

Gaming special: progressive VP

Smoke level: smooth sailing

Best of bar: friendly and fast bartenders

Worst of bar: bathroom drain flies

Snoot level: $12 Don Julio 1942 tequila

Unique qualities: Easy walk from the Strip. Entry level dive bar for the uninitiated and seasoned hobbyist

Starboard Tack

Starboard Tack

Starboard Tack  

Smoke level: Clear sailing

Best of bar: Friendly, informative bartenders. Tasty and different kitchen items.

Worst of bar: No IPAa on tap. A little pricey as they try to transition from neighbor dive bar to nicer place.

Unique qualities: Locationally challenged, nautical decorating motif

Dino’s Lounge

Dino’s Lounge

Dino’s Lounge  

Smoke level: Coughing and watery eyes

Best of bar: Easy parking, attentive bartender, tasty draft beer

Worst of bar: Ammonia vapors from floor cleaner

Unique qualities: Chill place to hang for a few hours; pool tables

Dispensary Lounge

Dispensary Lounge

Dispensary Lounge

Smoke level: Hacking and rubbing eyes

Best of bar: Nice mix of male/female, young/experienced

Worst of bar: Too smoky

Unique qualities: Time travel to the 70’s. Food and music reported good, but not tested on this day time visit.

Rebar

Rebar

Rebar

Smoke level: Clear sailing

Best of bar: Interesting knick-knack crap that would be perfect in my man cave.

Worst of bar: Interesting knick-knack crap that I don’t need in my man cave.

Unique qualities: Is it a thrift store with a hip bar, or a bar that sells memorabilia and garage sale items?

In the final analysis, I was overly ambitious thinking I could both experience the moment and remember any specific details for the reviews. By default, ratings are based primarily on atmosphere and comfort level. These reviews are for information purposes only, do not attempt this at home. This is a tough job, but somebody has got to do it. The list of bars is incomplete, as I was inadvertently detained at a couple of establishments.

[Photo Cred. Scott K.]

4 Comments on "Dive Bar Deep Dive"

  1. CousinsAPlenty | December 20, 2017 at 7:37 am |

    Scott,

    Great post! So well-written and informative! I really hope we get to read more of your Vegas themes. You’ve made me less afraid of dive bars, and that’s saying a lot.

  2. ChrisinNashville | December 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm |

    Fun write up! Man, those toilets are enough to make me hold it until I get home no matter how much I’ve had.
    Fun times, VIVA!

  3. Dude this was excellent. Funny, irreverent, informative. You have a knack for making us feel we are there. I look forward to more reviews from you and maybe a future book!

  4. Geez, I can’t decide if that bar’s bathroom is awesome or repulsive, lol. But I can safely say I’d be looking to get in and get out of there ASAP!

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