Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Escape From Douchery, Part 8: Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

Craft brews have become another major trend for the young, hip and with it, and I'm going to use that fact as yet another litmus test to figure out how Las Vegas is developing into a truly hipster friendly city (you are doubtlessly noticing a trend in these blog posts at this point).

Vegas is a city that is fueled by alcohol. When beer and liquor are flowing, the philosophy goes, people are loosened up and keep gambling. While Sin City has not quite caught up with every hipster trend (I haven't seen many artisanal, organic, fair trade cheese stores in Vegas... yet), the increasing popularity of good and interesting beers is right in the Vegas wheelhouse. Craft breweries that offer adventurous pours are out there, if you know where to look.

While cocktail waitresses slinging comped drinks on casino floors are unlikely to pour you anything more exciting than a Fat Tire (no knock on Fat Tire, they're still one of my favorite nationally distributed beers), there are definitely a few places where you can find tasty brews made and distributed in the city. Sin City Brewing Company makes beers with "cleverly themed" (read "appropriately douchey") names like "Weisse is Nice," "Never Pass Up a Blonde," "Say Hello to Amber," and "The Dark Side of Sin," with locations in The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and a location at The Flamingo with a large outdoor patio for sipping on your suds. In  Downtown Vegas, check out The Chicago Brewing Company in The Four Queens for a good selection of craft brews along with brewery favorite foods like pizza and burgers, or The Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery at Main Street Station, which has become such a draw that the resort now markets itself as a "Casino, Brewery, and Hotel."

But if you really want an authentic Vegas experience to go with your microbrews, Ellis Island Casino and Brewery is a favorite of local beer enthusiasts, with a great selection of microbrews, sold at a shockingly reasonable price of less than $2 a glass. While gambling at the smokey and old-school off-Strip casino, cocktail waitresses will comp you with free beers if you ask nicely. Their restaurant is extremely cheap (like $5 for Steak and Eggs in the morning cheap), and the food is surprisingly better than merely edible.

The Casino and Brewery is located slightly off the beaten path, about a block east of The Strip. It's not nearly as slick as a place like Aria or The Cosmopolitan, but that's probably why locals dig it so much. It's unpretentious, the betting minimums at the gaming tables are low, and it has a scuzzy sleaziness that feels authentic and lived in, an increasingly rare atmosphere in Las Vegas these days.

Ellis Island's beers include a nice Amber, a summery Hefeweissen, a pleasingly hefty Dark Lager, and a Light lager (which I didn't even bother with; if you're drinking beer, just admit that it's not gonna be good for you no matter what and skip the light crap). They also brew a delicious Root Beer, which took me back to childhood memories of sharing a root-beer float my first girlfriend in the local Soda Shop (memories that might be from an old movie, and not my own childhood, now that I think of it).

To be clear, Ellis Island's Beers didn't approach the mind-blowing flavor of a cold Pliny the Elder from The Cap 'N' Cork in Los Feliz, but they got the job done... and get it done for absurdly cheap. Ellis Island is certainly worth a detour from The Strip for cheap eats and even cheaper craft brews.

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