I'm not sure why aquarium bars are so popular in Las Vegas. Perhaps because, after the spinning roulette wheel and blinking slot machines and shrieking around the blackjack table, people want the soothing experience of aquatic life gliding by, smooth, silent and unconcerned. So Caesars Palace has its Seahorse Lounge and Mandalay Bay has its Coral Reef Lounge, but the Silverton has the most impressive 117,000 gallons of water of all in its Mermaid Restaurant and Lounge. Not only does it contain thousands of fish and tons of coral, but it also features about a dozen mermaids. Well actually, they're champion swimmers in fishtails and/or body paint putting on a brief but impressive underwater show, Azure. Cocktails, food, fish and a free show: not a bad reason to get away from the Strip for an hour or two.
The Mermaid Lounge is open to the casino itself, but its aquatic theme sets it apart: the Silverton's trademark lodge-y stone walls are built to undulate like waves, and iridescent blue-green fixtures give an underwater feeling to the light. The omnipresent flat-screen TVs blaring ESPN and Fox News are here, hung between mini-aquariums and presided over by a life-sized, silver mermaid statue. It also features the most comfortable seats in the Silverton—an array of high-backed, deep-seated velveteen chairs and couches, as well as lamé chairs with fishtail-shaped backs and the names of prominent sea creatures such as Nemo, Ariel, Flipper, Moby Dick and, uh, Craig embroidered on the back. The liquid motif carries over to the cocktails, as well: the King Neptune is a modified Long Island iced tea; the Blue Mermaid is a mix of vodka, rum and something blue. But if you're not feeling like a girl-drink drunk, there are 10 beers on tap.
Since the Silverton is off the Strip, the Mermaid Lounge has a local feel to it: Dave, the cheerful and chatty bartender, knows his regulars, who in turn, know the staff by name and schedule. But it's still a Las Vegas casino bar, with hair-sprayed wives waiting for their husbands to finish at the tables; women in tank tops sipping lemon-drop martinis and picking at their mini-pizzas; and dudes with their beards, Bears sweatshirts and Bud Lights. Mixed in are little kids enthralled by the fish and the fish-people, pressing sticky fingers against the glass, their faces rapt with wonder.
Azure actually is a collection of nine shows: Depending on when you show up, you may catch a charming representation of a little boy's aquatic imaginings; a witty, swimming Swan Lake; or a collection of lingerie-clad ladies doing what can best be described as underwater pole dancing. The performances happen every hour on the hour, except on Mondays and Tuesdays when it's dark—but even without the humans, the aquarium is still fascinating. Hundreds of tiny, electric-blue fish with crayon-yellow tails. Neon-tinted jellyfish swirling in narcotized circles. Stingrays floating backwards, white fins flapping and unfurling, their stomach markings strangely like smiling faces, giving the impression of a submerged Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Oddly, the Mermaid Lounge is not the only fish-named bar at the Silverton—there's also Hootie & the Blowfish's Shady Grove Lounge, which is crammed with memorabilia of 1995's top wuss-rock band. I don't recommend it, but hey, if you want to get wasted under the watchful eye of a giant autographed photo of Darius Rucker, I'm certainly not going to stop you. Hell, I refuse to go anywhere near you.
Lissa Townsend Rodgers learned to make a martini at age 6. E-mail her at