Monday, June 18, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 21: Dino's Lounge

I have made it no secret to readers of this blog that I'm an avid fan of the classic, seedier version of Las Vegas that's been almost completely replaced by slick corporate casinos that invite you to misbehave... in a controlled environment. The people behind the famous "What Happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign are selling the town as a place where you can have an out of control weekend in which misbehavior will run so rampant you'll have to swear your friends to secrecy for fear that your life will be ruined if people back in the real world found out just how much fun you had. But the key is that it's an image that they're selling... at this point, most Las Vegas experiences are completely controlled, and the idea that the city is a Disneyland for adults is very apt... you are indulging in a constructed fantasy of illicit behavior that helps normals blow off some steam after working an endless succession of 40 hour weeks. But in today's Sin City, there is very little actual Sin.

That wasn't always true. Back in the day, the mob ran Las Vegas and it was a very different town, a true Wild West of loose morals. I'm not actually saying that times were better when getting caught counting cards meant you'd be driven out to the desert and forced to dig your own grave before you took two slugs to the back of the skull from a hulking henchman in a cheap suit named Tony or Joey or Frankie instead of simply being banned from the casino floor, but things were at least a little less slick and homogenized.

Dino's Lounge, which has been serving hard drinks for low prices since 1962, is a throwback to the city's seedier past. It's not a place where you're in any danger of getting whacked (you're more likely to run into a hipster belting out a Neil Diamond or Bruce Springsteen tune on the karaoke machine than a character from The Sopranos), but the walls are soaked with classic Las Vegas history.

Dino's was originally known as Ringside Liquors and owned by notorious Las Vegas mobster Eddie Trascher, where many shady deals were hashed out over glasses of the hard stuff. Trascher sold the bar to Rinaldo Dean Bartolomuci in 1962, when it was rechristened after the new owner's nickname. "Dino" ran the local's favorite bar until he passed away, but it remained in the family through generations. Now Dino's granddaughters run the place, which is more popular than ever even though (or maybe precisely because) it's barely changed in the half century it's been in operation.

There is nothing modern or hip about Dino's, and that's a major part of the appeal. The roomy dive bar still has the same smokey and booze soaked charm that's been its specialty since the 60's, offering visitors the opportunity to shoot some pool, see some great live music, play some beer pong, choose some tunes from their excellent jukebox, and embarrass by warbling some drunken versions of hit songs in front of a forgiving and encouraging crowd during their Karaoke nights on Thursdays- Saturdays.

The greatest thing about Dino's (other than their ridiculously cheap yet ridiculously strong cocktails) is the incredibly eclectic crowd. Locals, old timers, colorful tattooed types, and hipsters looking for something a little different will find a welcome home at Dino's. While some many of the cool, artsy types, both locals and visitors, can often be seen in Dino's, the vibe never approaches pretentious or exclusive.

This is a place for people who are serious about their drinking (their website even has a "drunk of the month" program where the bartenders elect a regular for keeping them in business through their heroic consumption of alcoholic beverages; winners are awarded perks that include their own exclusive parking spot for the month, which is most likely irresponsible but most definitely awesome), which means you'll get to hear a lot of great stories from the characters who frequent the bar along with the great music playing on the jukebox (or awful renditions of great music on the weekend Karaoke nights).

Dino's has a Las Vegas Boulevard address, but it's far North of where "The Strip" proper ends, and it's closer to the funkier environs of Downtown, where classic landmarks aren't torn down as readily in the name of "progress" (and sometimes in the name of creating gaping holes sitting idly and pointlessly and serving as nothing more than giant gaping metaphors representing the American economy of the last half-decade).

Dino's bills itself as "the last neighborhood bar in Las Vegas," and that's not just hype... like many of the patrons who frequent it, the old school saloon is a grizzled survivor with a tawdry past that refuses to change with the times and can hold its liquor as it tells amazing war stories about the Sin City's seedy good ol' days. Plus, it's a place where you can get onstage and butcher Cracklin' Rosie, if you're feeling brave (or drunk) enough in front of a crowd of people who won't judge you. What's not to love?

1 comment:

  1. I thought dean martin owned the place for a bit, or at least was offered a piece of the action back in the rat pack days