From dive bars to cocktail lounges, where to imbibe in Sin City.
There are various types of watering holes here in Vegas, from down to earth pubs flying the St George cross to raucous sports bars, bars within restaurants, casino bars, bars that think they’re clubs and – the latest trend to hit Vegas – bars with mechanical bulls.
A bar isn’t a bar in Vegas unless it has a theme – Mexican bars, frozen drinks bars, champagne bars, sports bars – they’re all here. My favourite sports bar is PUB (3720 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 798 8115, www.toddenglishpub.com) in the Crystals shopping mall in CityCenter. It’s very classy – it’s a restaurant as well as a bar, and the food is fantastic. And the bar’s actually better than the restaurant, because you don’t have to deal with the service issues that can crop up in the restaurant.
The day to go to PUB is a Tuesday, when it runs Nickel Beer Night – when a plastic cup of beer (about half a pint) costs just five cents, or three pence. You can order as many as you like, and you’re under no obligation to buy any food (some friends of mine tested this out by ordering 20 beers and no food, and nobody made an issue of it). If you’re not around on a Tuesday, you can still drink at a discount by taking the bar challenge – down your pint (there’s an exceptional selection of beer) before the egg-timer runs out (it takes seven seconds) and you get a second one for free. You can do it up to four times before they kick you out.
Of the many Mexican bars along the Strip, I’m partial to Cabo Wabo in the Miracle Mile shopping mall at Planet Hollywood (3667 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 385 2226, www.cabowabocantima.com). And if you’re in the mood for a frozen cocktail but aren’t bothered about collecting the souvenir cups that you’ll see people proffering all over the Strip (guitars, Eiffel Towers, footlongs, and more), you should definitely hit up Numb (3570 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 731 7110, www.caesarspalace.com), which opened on the middle of the casino floor in Caesars Palace this summer. It serves frozen drinks which actually (and unusually) taste good, as well as properly chilled beers and a small but good cocktail menu. There’s another branch scheduled to open by the end of the year in Harrah’s casino, too.
Finally, while there may not be a UK-themed hotel, Vegas likes its pubs. The best known is the Crown and Anchor (1350 E Tropicana Ave, 702 739 8676, www.crownandanchorlv.com), a seven-or-so minute drive off the Strip but this summer, the Queen Victoria opened up inside the Riviera hotel on the Strip (2901 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 794 9260, www.queenviclv.com), and it’s swiftly challenging the Crown for its crown, so to speak. Both are the places to go if you’re in town when an England game is on.
Of course it’s nice to enjoy the glitz while you’re in Vegas, but on no account should you miss the dive bars – they’re always the places where I have my most memorable nights. On the Strip, directly opposite Caesars, O’Sheas (3555 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 697 2711, www.harrahs.com/osheas) is unbeatable. It’s an Irish pub (though very much in the American interpretation of that) and casino, open 24 hours. The bar itself is pretty small but you can take your magnificently cheap drinks (US$2 beers, $3 shots) and fan out around the casino, either to the tables, the live music stage or, round the back, the area devoted to the brilliant drinking game, beer pong.
If you have transport or you’re willing to shell out for a taxi, the Double Down Saloon (4640 Paradise Road, 702 791 5775, www.doubledownsaloon.com), near the Hard Rock hotel, is a perennial locals’ favourite (celeb chef Kerry Simon likes to hang out here) with live music, a great atmosphere and drinks for the brave including a bacon martini (no, I’ve not yet dared try it).
Another popular bet is cowboy bar Stoney’s (9151 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 435 2855, www.stoneysrockincountry.com) three miles down Las Vegas Boulevard below the Strip proper. It’s packed with locals and tourists wanting to meet them, and you’ll either love it or hate it depending on whether you want to get stuck into the yee-haw, let’s have fun attitude. Personally, I’m not a fan, but my male friends can’t think of anywhere they’d rather be.
If you’re after something a little more formal than a bar but stopping short of the full clubbing experience, try a lounge. Gold Bar at Aria (3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, 866 359 7111, www.arialasvegas.com) is a good one – it’s run pretty much as a club (velvet rope included) and the decor inside is deliciously over the top. Blush at Wynn (3131 Las Vegas Blvd S, 877 321 9966, www.wynnlasvegas.com) is another popular one, although personally I’ve found that staff can be quite rude, and Revolution at the Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 791-7111, www.mirage.com) is great, laid back, and runs a popular gay night on Sundays. I love the retro kitsch of Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace (3570 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702 731 7110, www.caesarspalace.com). It calls itself a club, but it’s a tiny, open room off one of the corridors that has live music and DJs in the evening. And yes, the dancefloor is actually a barge, floating on a little pool. On Fridays and Saturdays, Matt Goss (yes, the one who used to be in Bros) performs a Sinatra-style show, but it’s pretty pricey – US$40 – and lounge shows in Vegas are traditionally free. If you’re not bothered about watching him and his sexy dancers, sit at the bar outside instead, where you can hear the music but you won’t pay a penny.
Where to stay
You can see my full list of recommendations here – Las Vegas Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Las Vegas.