Nightlife in Las Vegas: where to drink

by Julia Buckley

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.

Themed bars

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.

Dive bars

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.

Lounges

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.

You can also read advice on Nightlife in Las Vegas: the club scene or visit Nightlife in Las Vegas: the shows.

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.

Julia Buckley

I edit VegasChatter, Conde Nast’s Vegas blog, and work as a freelance journalist for newspapers such as the Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday, Guardian, News of the World and various websites and magazines.

Ironically, I’d never had any interest in going to Vegas but when I took a road trip across America last summer, I thought I may as well pop by for three days. Ten days later, I forced myself back on the road, obsessed about Vegas all the way across America, and was over the moon when, somewhere in Mississippi, I found out that the newspaper that I worked for was to be closed down. Instead of looking for another job in London, I came home, packed up my stuff, and caught a plane back to Vegas to start life as a freelance.

My Vegas

Where I always grab a coffee: On the terrace at Serendipity 3. The service is great, the views of the Strip are spectacular, and if I’m tempted to grab some food, too, I have a two foot high menu to choose from.

My favourite stroll: The Moenkopi loop at Red Rock Canyon. It’s a short two mile trail from the Visitor Centre and back, across desert land and up onto a limestone bluff that was once a seabed millions of years ago. There’s hardly anyone there, the views are extraordinary, and you feel completely disconnected from the craziness of Vegas. When it’s not too hot, I’m there every day.

Fiction for inspiration: There are many, of course, but my favourite is probably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S Thompson – it really encapsulates the spirit of the city and the freedom it unleashes in people (you don’t have to be on a shedload of drugs to relate to this!). I’m also really fond of Divas Las Vegas, by Belinda Jones – it’s a fun chicklit book, and although I’m not usually into that genre at all, I have yet to find a better introduction to the city - she used to live here and her love for the place is really infectious.

Where to be seen: Encore Beach Club – the private pool at the Encore hotel (even guests have to pay to get in) was the biggest opening this summer, and it’s still the place to be seen. If you’d rather go out at night, rather than lounge by a pool, you’ll be pleased to know that at nighttime they open up an adjacent room and turn it into a poolside nightclub called Surrender. It’s definitely where all the cool kids are going this year.

The most breathtaking view: On the way back from the Hoover Dam (or the Grand Canyon) on the 515 highway from Boulder City, there’s a point, as you swing round past Henderson (a suburb of Vegas) where the Strip, with the mountains behind it, suddenly comes into view. It makes my eyes prickle every time – and as you get closer, switching onto the 215 west, the views only get better.

The best spot for peace and quiet: The gardens at the Flamingo Las Vegas – and no, you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them, as you can walk straight in. Lots of grass, plenty of nooks, and bright pink flamingos stalking by.

Shopaolics beware: I spend far too much time at Nordstrom Rack, the cut price outlet version of the posh department store, Nordstrom. It’s a 20 minute drive from the Strip in the suburb of Henderson, but if you buy a few things, it’s worth the taxi ride or the cost of the car hire. I’m also addicted to America’s Primark, Century 21 – the new flagship store in Fashion Show Mall is like a second home to me, and prices are so low that my credit card barely registers my presence there.

City soundtrack: So many options! To remind me of Vegas as I like it (laid back but elegant), anything by Frank Sinatra. And if you want to experience the thriving rock music scene here, you can’t do better than The Killers.

Don’t leave without… Going into the desert, and seeing a show. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sporty, or you don’t like musicals – the desert will floor you, and the shows are so infectious you can’t not love them. My favourite at the moment is Vegas! The Show at the Miracle Mile mall.