Here’s a fact of life in Las Vegas: Most locals avoid the Strip. Yes, the Strip is dazzling, especially for first time visitors, but if you want to eat, drink, and play with the locals, you have to explore some of the outlying towns and neighborhoods like Summerlin, Henderson, The Fruit Loop, Downtown Las Vegas (DTLV,) and Huntridge, to name a few.
Over the years, I’ve made many friends here; among them my publishers Russ and Garrett, Ellen and Rudy - a sweet retired couple, Joey, who lives outside of Vegas proper, Rhiannon, and Brett - born and raised in Las Vegas. Through them, I’ve discovered the world beyond the Strip.
My guide for this exhausting, fascinating, and slightly inebriated day of research, was my Sin City sister, Rhiannon.
Our first stop was the historic Huntridge District, a residential and commercial neighborhood marked by the presence of the Huntridge Theater, a striking old movie palace designed by S. Charles Lee in the art deco style called Streamline Moderne. Opened in 1944, the structure sports sleek, geometric lines, and an enormous rectangular “fin.” In 1993, the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places, but these days it sits empty and in disrepair. Still, this gorgeous relic speaks of a time when going to the movies was an event!
Across from the theater, a soon-to-be renovated strip mall contained some surprises, the first one being the Huntridge Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. Stepping inside was like taking a time machine back to 1962, when this combination drug store and Woolworth-style kosher diner premiered. Everything here was classic - the prescription window where family pharmacists still know their customers by name, the used vinyl records for sale, the black and white checkered linoleum flooring, the booths with red vinyl banquettes, and the low swivel stools at the luncheon counter. The menu had kitschy 1950‘s-sounding categories like Be-Bop A Lula Wraps & Sandwiches, Peggy Sue Pizzas, and Blue Suede Sundaes. We ordered sandwiches: the Mambo Italiano for me, made with fresh mozzarella and tomato grilled on garlic butter Texas toast, and Rhiannon chose the Elvis Sandwich - grilled peanut butter and banana on thick, toasted white bread. We noticed that the place was uncomfortably hot, as the AC was on the fritz, but the counterman told us he’d bring our food next door to the Huntridge Tavern - the two businesses are connected via an internal hallway.
As we walked to the tavern, we stopped into the Hi-Rollers Barbershop, another throwback to yesteryear, but with hip young barbers, a stylish clientele, and a rockabilly feel. Haircuts, straight razor shaves, and pomade styling are on the menu here, in a friendly retro environment!
Dive bar? Hipster bar? Neighborhood watering hole? The Huntridge Tavern is all of the above. A dimly-lit, narrow space with dark wood paneling, flocked red velvet wallpaper, a few booths, and a bar that stretches the length of the room, people don’t come here to drink, they come to DRANK!!! Open 24/7, they have a full bar, and over 50 different beers, plus they allow customers to purchase bottles of liquor. Dirt cheap drinks are served by hip female bartenders, and best of all, the place isn’t overrun by tourists! Rhiannon and I got comfortable at one of the tall tables, and each had a shot - tequila for me, vodka for her. Soon enough, our food arrived from next door, and the sandwiches were simple but tasty, accompanied by mountains of really good french fries. On a hot afternoon, the tavern was a cool, dark sanctuary for us and a handful of regulars. On a weekend night? Well, I’m sure the diverse crowd of locals, old-timers, hipsters, and pin-up queens get the place jumping!
SHUT UP and DRINK! That’s the motto at our next stop, the Double Down Saloon. The Double Down is the gold standard of dive bars! They even refer to themselves as a clubhouse for the lunatic fringe. Since 1992, the saloon has been home to those seeking cheap booze, free live music, pinball & pool, insane videos, and a kick-ass jukebox with music ranging from The Cramps to Louis Prima!
We got there about 4:30, to catch the end of Happy Hour, where everything, including top shelf liquor costs $3.00! Although we were the only customers, the place delivered on it’s reputation! Here are some of the impressions with which I was left:
The place is DARK! When you come inside during daylight hours, it takes your eyes a while to adjust!
The decor is studiously seedy! The ceiling over the bar is a melange of twinkle lights and stapled-up dollar bills, and the black walls are covered with bumper stickers, pictures of drunken customers, and disturbing murals which include a guy vomiting into a toilet!
They created the Bacon Martini.
Their signature shot, Ass Juice, comes in a souvenir toilet-shaped shot glass. (Yes, I bought one!)
They sell Puke Insurance - you throw up, you clean it up...unless you’ve bought insurance!
The bathrooms? Don’t ask!
Despite all this seediness, the bartender was super friendly, and made me a killer Bacon Bloody Mary, with bacon infused vodka and a Slim Jim garnish! Also, because they’re located within The Fruit Loop, an area known for its concentration of gay bars, they do get the occasional gay customers - as we sat there chatting and drinking, a nice older gentleman came in and voila, I was no longer the only LGBT drinker! I’m betting the nighttime crowds are rowdy and rough, but if you’re feeling bold and want to experience a dark, dingy, bastion of booziness, you couldn’t do better than the Double Down Saloon!
By the time we left, it was time for dinner. We met up with Russ and Brett at a fantastic, out of the way restaurant: Lola’s - A Louisiana Kitchen. This lively, bustling family joint serves some of the best Cajun food I’ve tried outside of New Orleans! We split an order of Fried Okra - light and crispy, with a yummy, spicy remoulade sauce. I ordered the Char Grilled Oysters - not on par with the ones down south, but still very good. My friends, who didn’t care for oysters really enjoyed their first taste of these cheesy, garlicky, slightly smoky bivalves! Rhiannon chose the Bronzed Shrimp & Grits - pan bronzed gulf shrimp and Gouda grits served with a mushroom and andouille sausage ragout. The boys had the excellent Etouffée - rich, buttery, and extra spicy. Yum! I had the Shrimp Charlotte - sautéed shrimp and mushrooms in a wonderfully spicy broth, over angel hair pasta. We would’ve tried one of Lola’s homemade desserts, but we were off to our next stop...
Luv-it Frozen Custard has been a Vegas favorite since 1973. Both Brett and Rhiannon had raved about it, so I had to go. Located in a wood-framed shop on East Oakey Boulevard, Luv-it serves thick, smooth, eggy frozen custard, made fresh daily. They specialize in sundaes, and folks drive up, walk to the window where they place their orders, and generally eat the custard while standing in the parking lot. When we arrived, there was only one flavor available - vanilla, which was fine, as I wanted to sample their product as simply as possible. Rhiannon had the Scotch Jimmie Treat - custard, butterscotch, and chocolate jimmies, or sprinkles as some call them. I chose the Luv-it Special, with strawberry conserves and crushed pecans. Both were delicious, with the not-too-sweet custard mixing beautifully with the tasty toppings. If you’re visiting Vegas and looking for a dessert you can’t find at the big casinos, give Luv-it a try. I think you’ll love it!
Vegas has so much more to offer than just the Strip and the big casinos. Try the restaurants in Chinatown, shop at the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets, drink, dine, and play at Ichabod’s Lounge, or grab a beer at the Fun Hog Ranch. Get to know the locals and you’ll get to know the real Vegas!