Las Vegas may forever conjure images of neon lights and foot-tall frozen daiquiris, but an evolving cocktail scene has been steadily taking root over the last decade-plus. For our November/December 2019 issue, we set out to explore the city’s current cocktail offerings. And while many of the pioneering bartenders and programs on the Strip are still going strong, we found a flourishing drinks scene in thriving neighborhoods across the city. One such area, the Arts District, was in serious need of rehabilitation when sisters Pamela and Christina Dylag opened their bar, Velveteen Rabbit, in 2013, but today, new breweries, restaurants, cafés and bars dot the neighborhood’s streets. “It’s the wild west out here,” says Pamela. “You can create so much because it just hasn’t happened before. In the last 10 years it has come a long way.” Here, the Dylag sisters take us on a tour of their perfect day in Vegas, off the Strip.
First thing’s first: Coffee (and a snack)
“We have our priorities straight first thing in the morning. Close to home, our caffeine-laced cravings are easily satisfied by Writer’s Block or Vesta.” A locally beloved bookstore and coffee shop, The Writer’s Block recently re-opened in an expanded space in Downtown Vegas, where the sisters like to grab a cold-brew and peruse the selections. “After we peel ourselves away from the fiction section, we’ll drift over to Vesta for a matcha tonic.” Vesta Coffee Roasters opened at the end of 2016 in the Arts District. In addition to roasting a wide selection of single origin beans, they get crafty with their house drinks, such as the Orange Coconut Nitro coffee and the aforementioned Matcha Juniper Tonic. “We’re likely to grab a ‘Basic’ avocado toast while we’re there, because stereotypes exist for a reason and we never back down from a well-executed mid-morning avocado snack.”
Next: More Snacks
“After we spend an hour or two antiquing for hidden treasures around the Arts District, we’ll wander over to PublicUs.” Located in the Fremont East neighborhood of downtown, PublicUs bills itself as a canteen-style restaurant and coffeehouse, but it was also one of the first spots to offer community-focused coffee culture to Las Vegas when it opened in 2015. The expansive offerings include everything from house-made coffee sodas and espresso Old Fashioneds to a globally influenced food menu. “We love this place because not only is it impeccably designed, but they offer a wealth of vegan/vegetarian options, like the Freekeh Bowl or Tofu Veggie Curry Bowl. And because it’s our perfect day, we somehow missed the all-day rush!”
“Next up, we’ll head over to Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in Vegas.” Opened in 1952, Atomic attracted crowds who would gather on the rooftop to watch the atomic blasts from the Nevada Test Site. The bar remains just as popular today with a solid drinks program managed by New York transplant Tonia Guffey-Stamper. “Their beer selection is wide-ranging and constantly in rotation, so every visit presents something new to enjoy or explore. Next door at the Kitchen [helmed by Tonia’s husband, chef Jackson Stamper], we’ll grab an appetizer before heading off to dinner. We can’t resist the Bone Marrow, the savory-sweet dish of our wildest ethereal fantasies. We’d pair it with something easygoing like the Spritz Carlton, which is rosé wine, Aperol, peach, lemon and grapefruit soda. Tonia is a cocktail wizard over there.”
“Kabuto, the best traditional sushi in town, never disappoints. We’ve made reservations because this 20-person spot fills up way ahead of time.” Opened in 2012 in the Chinatown neighborhood two miles west of the Strip, Kabuto is regularly hailed as having some of the best sushi in the city, if not the country at large, with a menu that changes daily. “We go with the five-course tasting menu and marvel at the precise, delicate craftsmanship of the chefs, who construct all provisions right before us. And, of course, we add the sake pairing. After dinner, we’ll hop next door to Raku Sweets, the cutest dessert haven in town. Their intricate, edible works of art are almost too whimsical to consume. Almost.”
Post Food-Coma Drinks
“We’re at our limit food-wise, but there is always room for another liquid meal. We’ll head over to Bunkhouse, a local venue for all the best indie/alternative rock shows.” Back in Fremont East, the Bunkhouse Saloon originally opened in 1953 but recently saw renovations as part of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. Live music still hits the stage nearly every night of the week, while a take-out window on the sprawling patio serves food from Gaucho’s Sacred Flavors. “We’ll grab a Vegas microbrew—probably the seasonal offering from Lovelady Brewing—to properly accompany the sensory experience.”
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