There are only three reasons to be in Vegas in August. First, you are an addict. Doesn’t matter what kind of addict–showgirls, gambling, or Bellagio fountains–you will go to Vegas on Easter Sunday or your Mom’s funeral day. Second, you work there. Third, you are on business travel.
Conference goers and conventioneers host big meetings in the hotel industry’s off-season. When I travel for business, I do get to see the great cities of America, but at the worst possible times of year. Winter in Boston, Minneapolis and Chicago. Summer in Georgia and Phoenix. And of course, Vegas in August. I suppose the benefits are mutually assured–the hotel can fill its rooms in the off-season, the conference organizers can be assured that no one will tour the host city in foul weather. Of course, Vegas can squelch that attempt at putting conference goers on lock down. Air conditioning does wonders to temper the desert. Sure, walking the Strip in the stale 103-degree heat is akin to hiking in a dry sauna, but it is a pain the traveler will endure for the pleasure at the end.
For me, that pleasure awaited in a microbrewery. The Sin City Brewery is a little oasis off the Strip, making their own oat sodas since 2003. Founded by the former brew master for national chain Gordon Biersh, I knew that Sin City was going to serve up decent microbrew to stave off my impending hyperthermia. The brewery crafts their ales after the medieval Bavarian purity laws, or the “Reinheitsgebot.” The Bavarians insisted that beer be made from nothing more than water, barley, and hops–none of which can really be found in the Nevada desert. You can do a lot with those three ingredients. The brewing is all in the timing. A litter more boiling here, a little more fermenting there can add real complexity to the brew. The longer the hops are in, the more savory and bubbly– or “hoppy”–the beer.
Given the time I had in-between conference meetings, I opted for their outpost in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood on the Strip. Planet Hollywood has perhaps seen better days as a casino, looking a bit dated compared to the newest MGM and Wynn properties. The brewery was a bit of a trek through the renovations at the former Aladdin Casino–an erzatz indoor Marrakech with the paint peeling from the faux minarets. I arrive at my oasis, and I realize that I made a strategic blunder. This is a kiosk, a mere bar stall in a mall corridor, and I came on an empty stomach, unfortified to take the punishment that might come with sampling their entire catalog.
What follows, dear reader, should be taken with the following in mind: Your author had an empty stomach, hiked half the length of the Strip in 103-degree heat, and would soon be under the influence of Sin City’s handcrafted suds.
Since returning to the desert blast outside offered the least appeal, I settled in at the bar, and ordered up the Sin City Weisse. Hefewisen–a beer based on a wheat mash–is my particular favorite, like drinking a loaf of yeasty bread straight from a German “Bäckerei.” The bartender, a young women pierced in places I didn’t know could be pierced, and her corpus templum festooned in really amazing ink, kept the beers coming.
I began to notice that I was the only person at this bar in “tourist/conference attendee gear”–khakis and polo shirt. A seasoned sun-worshiping Mama–mid 50’s–sat at the bar with a beau who looked very much like Krist Novaselic (from the band Nirvana). The incarnation of Egon Spangler, in a Hawaiian shirt, also sat at the bar, requisite desert-bronzed skin, chatting up Krist and the Mama. Then the last guy, the kind of beady-eyed sort you avoid at bars, rounded out this particular band of brew fans.
The bartender leaned over to give Krist a kiss. Turns out she is Krist’s girlfriend. The Mama laughs, telling the bartender that if she didn’t like Krist as much as she does, she’d smack the guy for hitting on her daughter. Egon laughs, then notices that I am the only tourist at the bar.
“So, I take it this is a local’s bar?” I ask Egon.
“Sure thing, we are here every day. Come over here, take a seat. The view is better.” he says.
I am invited into this inner circle. I take a seat between Egon and Krist, with the beady-eyed guy at the end. Looking down the dilapidated Aladdin’s corridor, I ask Egon what is so special about the view.
“You are looking up? Look straight ahead.” he chuckles.
A pair of young women, with the kind of shorts that might make a hooker blush, badonkadonked down the hall.
“Of course,” I blushed, “Thanks for the change in perspective. So, what’s your story?”
Turns out Egon is a computer guy. He moved his company from the increasingly tax-happy California to Nevada three years ago. He works from home, is a vegetarian, and loves this little local’s pub. Krist is like many aspiring aspirants in Vegas. He’s worked at half of the big casinos–craps, black jack, bouncer–but lately has been hocking herbal supplements from his Jansport backpack. As I sit there, working my way through the brew, I decided that dinner was worth skipping, as talking with this life-loving bunch was far more satisfying than any Vegas food-trough buffet would be.
When I think of Vegas, I tend to be cynical. I think of the nameless, faceless corporate monstrosities of the Strip–monuments to Baal–where clearly the house always wins. I thought that Vegas was designed to extract every last dollar from you, and perhaps your soul. What I found, in a random beer stall was some of the real people of Vegas–people who are free-spirited and living life on their own terms. In this vast cultural wasteland, sincerity blooms.
The late afternoon moved into evening, with your typical yarns, big-fish stories and hyperbole. Other locals would stop in for a quick pint, venting about their crappy day dealing with demanding tourists at the tables. The panel takes in their comrades, offers them solace, and they return to the company store, renewed.
At one of the many pauses in conversation over those hours, Egon offered, “We are here every weekday, you should come back here tomorrow.”
Was this proof of my acceptance into the in-group?
“As much as I’d love that, my flight leaves tomorrow morning.”
“Next time then!”
Egon took his leave, as did Krist and the Mama, but the beady-eyed guy stepped in pretty quickly.
“Next one’s on me.” he offered.
“What’s one more, after five already?” I returned.
Beady-eyes overheard me telling Egon about my line of work, the politicians I have known over the years, and what brought me to Vegas–a lecture spot at a public safety convention (just imagine that, 5000 cops, fire guys and EMTs. One city. Safety guys can throw down.) Beady-eyes satisfied for me the quintessential Las Vegan. A gun-toting libertarian, he claimed that he was a “certified” tax protestor–he hadn’t paid any taxes in a decade. Clearly cash games appeal to his sense of covert earnings. He sported a gold bracelet–the kind you either win in Texas Hold’em, or buy from a jeweler so you appear to be a winner at Texas Hold’em. He came to Vegas monthly from LA, where he was only one win away from buying his Rolex and retiring. He also claimed a black belt and a Harvard degree. Again, big fish stories and hyperbole, but the not pretty variety.
“So, single then?” I asked. At this point, I realized that I might need to slow down, as my hope of recalling this revelatory evening about the charm of Vegas might prove unreliable.
According to his manifesto, Beady doesn’t need women right now (need?), not until he wins big. He proceeded to unload every conspiracy theory of the modern political age–our Kenyan President, the merits of the gold standard, the tenants of Islam as best as one can understand with a half keg pumping through his system. Most establishments might show such a lively raconteur the door, but in Sin City, Beady is pretty vanilla.
Beady runs to the can, and the bartender takes advantage of his absence, hurrying over to me.
“Is he bothering you?” It was more of a declaration than a question.
“Bothering me? He’s picking up my tab!” I said.
I have sung for my dinner before, and saw no reason not to chirp away for another free beer.
“O-kay” she said, lingering between the syllables with that twenty-something sound of female disbelief. “That guy has been here ALL week. He has been annoying all of my regulars.”
Realizing that I had spent about five hours of my time at the bar, I not only missed any hope of a reasonable dinner, but some of my evening commitments. I had one last chance to see those Bellagio fountains before I had to get some sleep before my 6 AM flight. I bid Beady farewell. I looked over at the bartender, as she has been putting up with us for her entire shift, and mouthed an apology on Beady’s behalf. I left her a healthy tip when Beady’s attention was averted.