It wasn't but a few years ago when you'd be hard pressed to find many options for decent cocktails in Las Vegas. During a visit back in '09 a friend and I ended up at the bar in the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at The Paris. I think that was the only place we could come up with in that area that had any sort of cocktail program.
Thankfully, this has all changed. The improbable explosion of new hotels and casinos, and the influx of celebrity chefs' restaurants, have brought with them lots of opportunities to drink very well in Vegas. The Cosmopolitan alone has several great options, not least of all being Comme Ça, which also has an excellent burger I should note. The bar at the Mandarin Oriental is no slouch, and offers spellbinding views of the strip. At the bars and restaurants right off of the casino floor at Aria you will find tequilas and cocktails and glorious fun oh my. If you find yourself at the Paris, skip the Eiffel Tower Restaurant bar and go directly to Gordon Ramsay Steak, for fine cocktails indeed (and, as it turns out, another excellent burger).
This is all well-and-good if you want to drop 14-18 bucks a drink, and putter around the strip. But if you're looking for something a little more low-key, a little more organic, a little more less corporate, a lot more less expensive, then you might want to check out Velveteen Rabbit, in what is called the Arts District, near downtown (old Vegas). A reader tipped me off to this place and off I went.
The narrative is compelling. Two young sisters, working in the business, decide to break out and have a go at it on their own. They buy this old building in the artsy part of town, and transform the space into a cool, funky, cocktail bar, with a big outdoor patio and a perfomance space for bands. The kind of place every neighborhood should have.
We arrived at about 5:30, and were greeted with a full bar--and lighting that was not conducive to photography (at least when you operate at the level that I do). There were just two spots left at the bar, so on the stools we went. They were clearly overwhelmed, as only one sister was there, and she was the only bartender. And these aren't shots in sodas cocktails. They are somewhat complex, always interesting, and only 8 bucks a pop. 8 bucks.
Support showed up and the cocktails started flowing a little more quickly, which is a good thing, because I sort of wanted to drink my way through the entire list (I didn't...as far as you know).
I'd be lying if I claimed to remember the nuances of every drink I had. What I do recall is that they were all very unique, with respect to each other and in the context of cocktails in general.
Some were a little sweet, but balanced with acid.
Some were quite boozy, appropriately.
Some were served in receptacles more suited to votive candles than cocktails. And ya know, I liked that.
In addition to those cocktils, there's a very respectable beer selection at Velveteen Rabbit.
And, of course, music is on the sound system. Music that I had never heard (although I'm getting old and out of touch, I will admit). I don't think I recognized one song/act/performer/whatever. A great vibe overall. But yet another sign that I'm becoming old and tragically unhip.
Yeah, there's a lot here that would make me into a regular. Including the friendly regulars, who struck up a conversation with us, even though one of us had a camera and was taking pictures of things. Even though we were clearly not locals and probably wouldn't return for a year or 5. Even though we had nothing interesting to say, I'm sure.
That brings me to another aspect of Vegas that I've wanted to mention. The good service. In Vegas you have an army bartenders and servers who are incredibly friendly and accommodating, knowing full well they aren't building regulars. There simply has to be an assumption that I, or the guy next to me, may, might, will perhaps be back in 12 or 24 months for another industry show, or may come back in 3 years because he likes to gamble. Yet, without the prospect of a return visit any time soon, overall, these folks are charming, helpful, and friendly.
Now I don't want to get on the typical New Jersey or NYC server, but, they could learn a lot from this type of approach to customer service: be the best you can. The folks at Velveteen Rabbit certainly understand that. Everyone was exceedingly friendly and accommodating.
When considering a trip to the Velveteen Rabbit, one must factor in the fact that the taxi trade in Vegas strongly revolves around picking up and dropping off at casinos/hotels. So while you will have no problem getting to Velveteen Rabbit, you may have a tough time getting back to the strip. They called a taxi for us and the guy promised to come by. After 40 minutes it was looking dismal. Luckily we were able to flag one down on the street. Even the cabbie didn't seem to know if that was legal or not. But, don't let that frighten you. Get over to Velveteen Rabbit.
Velveteen Rabbit : 1218 S. Main Street : Las Vegas, NV