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Drinking in the classics
by James P. Reza | posted May 14, 2014
Editor's note: Our martini glass runneth over. If you've sipped and chugged your way through our 53 Best Bars feature, here's some liquid extra credit: a tour of classic cocktails in their native habitat.
Like most modern visitors to Las Vegas, you likely suffered misty-eyed barstool yarns of Old Vegas, that nostalgic notion of a town where the gambling and bawdy shows were an all-night affair. A place that was so much classier (and, of course, safer) when The Outfit ran the joint. Partially myth and entirely awesome, Old Vegas was where the hotel rooms were cheap, the food was cheaper and the booze was free.
Authentic or embellished, those days are long gone, chased out by Sin City's many reinventions. But you can still sneak a taste of that classic Vegas ethos, if you know where to look.
Given its wealth of land and cash, most of the old Strip casinos are imploded and buried. Not so in cramped downtown, where, despite recent attempts to erase it, the Vegas of pack rat postcards survives. Some of the casinos (Golden Nugget, Downtown Grand) have undergone extensive updating, while others (Binion's, the Golden Gate) remain old school. And if it's old school you want, the El Cortez, holder of the city's oldest gaming license, is a great spot to experience that old black magic of "Vegas, baby!" From the low ceilings to the smoky, smallish gaming floor; from the occasional Elvis impersonator to some of the cheapest drinks on its revitalizing block, the ElCo is the place to go. We often find ourselves corralling a cozy corner at the Parlour Bar, sipping a whiskey-heavy Old Fashioned and recounting stories of the good old days.
Just as time has taken many of our classic casinos, finding a surviving restaurant can be just as difficult (even our city's longest operating eatery, El Sombrero, recently shuttered). Thankfully, joints like Bob Taylor's Ranch House and The Golden Steer are still grilling up the grub our grandfathers enjoyed, while a handful of new places (Herbs & Rye, the Barrymore) do what they can to continue the tradition. For our bankroll, Piero's is the place. It came of age in the Las Vegas fictionalized by Martin Scorcese's "Casino" and feels like it never left. Don't want to splurge for the whole Osso Bucco? Plant yourself at the bar, grab a gin martini, and submerge yourself in the appetizers and old school attitude.
Ready for a nightcap? Much has been made about the bevy of new bars populating downtown, concentrated in the East Fremont and the Arts districts. This new collection of boozeries bring a welcome, updated energy to what was until recently a stagnating nightlife scene. Still, Old Vegas they are not. And while we love the Strip's Peppermill and its 1970s disco-fern bar vibe, it's Frankie's Tiki Room that swings us with its '60s swagger.
Located a mile west of the Arts District, the freestanding Frankie's has held ground for decades. Outside, the bar shines with original "Frankie's" neon. Inside, the cozy cove was remade into a lively Polynesian lounge, featuring a tantalizing menu of power-packed rum punches -- enjoy the sugary kick of a Fink Bomb (pictured) a classic Navy Grog, or its updated cousin, Three Dots & A Dash. An impressive jukebox (garage, lounge, Sinatra), attentive service and bar-top gambling round out a classic Vegas scene. For this Sin City native, disappearing into the booth at the back on a quiet midweek night — letting the sights, sounds and smells of Frankie's wash over me — takes me back to a nostalgic spot that I rarely get to experience in this era of mega-resorts, mega-clubs, tech funds and relentless reinvention. Old Vegas is dead; long live Old Vegas!
Pick up your Desert Companion today at one of these Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or Jamba Juice locations.
Also available at Clark County and Henderson libraries.