Long before Art Bar and Beauty Bar and other themed drinkeries rolled the dice on up-and-coming Downtown, there was Dino's. Before the high-rise boom and sprawling suburbia, there was Dino's. Hell, even before Elvis came to Las Vegas, there was Dino's. This week, Dino's turns 45. Translated into Vegas years, that's not just reason to celebrate. It's practically a mandate.
Located on Las Vegas Boulevard across from institutions such as the Olympic Garden and Luv It Frozen Custard and next to the Tod Motor Inn ("Tod" means death in German, my friend reminds me each time we go to Dino'sa number far too high to commit to print.). It's within stumbling distance from the old-fashioned pharmacy, White Cross Drugs, which houses Tiffany's Diner, the perfect place to proactively load up on pancakes and meatcakes and dull the coming hangover. Dino's is the quintessential Las Vegas bar. Somewhere between dive and hipster haven depending on the night, barflies young and old belly up 24 hours a day. The lounge has been owned by the Bartolo family since 1960, passed from grandfather to father, and now daughter, Kristen, runs the place and is a frequent fixture, with a knack for cards and karaoke.
Karaoke. Another thing Dino's is known for, bringing in the fabulous Elton John doppelganger Danny G, a Jager bomb-drinking rocketman who's there Thursday through Saturday, serenading, encouraging and joining the stagemongers. The karaoke crowd is about as consistent as bartender Brandy's Blumpkin shots. There's the guy with tythe fedora who sings U2. The Hispanic man who, at least two times a night, croons "Release Me" ("Please, release me let me go / For I don't love you anymore," to which Danny typically responds at the third rendition: "Release him, dammit!"). There's the table of boisterous women occasionally overflowing their bustiers (and one with a shaved head who wears spikes) who sing Four Non Blonde's "What's Up," and the couple who joins them regularly to belt out "Leather and Lace." Crazy Larry occasionally brings in his cabbage-patching pal Igor to put on a pelvic-thrusting rendition of "Monster Mash." And then there are the bartenders. Between Vicki and Robin you'd think you were in a cabaret paying for the entertainment. Brandy and owner Kristen add some energetic heavy metal to the mix, singing with snarled lips, banging heads and all.
Dino's has withstood the test of time, and will continue doing so, because it's blatantly genuine, without filtering the raunch and grit that are the essence of Las Vegas. When Drew Barrymore came to town for the filming of Lucky You they did it here. When the bar wanted to raise money to fight breast cancer, patrons could buy a crudely drawn pair of boobies that then hung from the ceiling. When the floors were recently redone and a small mound stuck up near the pool tables in back, rather than working out the kinks, they named it "Mt. Billiard" and moved on. They award a "Drunk of the Month" parking space and hand out "frequent drinkers cards" to the regulars, punching holes for each purchased drink so that every fifth beverage is free. And they sell pickled eggs.
You never know exactly what you'll find at this place, dubbed "The Last Neighborhood Bar." From midgets in top hats whose friends turned violent toward the regulars (see "Leather and Lace") to a testosterone roadhouse-style atmosphere on Friday afternoon when the construction workers get paid, to a laid-back living room where you know everyone in the bar.
There's a depth to Dino's that's come with its age. It's a feeling of establishment and belonging that you won't find in the suburbs or the franchises or the strip malls. The lounge is a microcosm of Las Vegas, drawing prostitutes, artists, writers, lawyers, businessmen and women and even, on occasion, the guy whose lost finger wound up in a bowl of Wendy's chili. Come for a beer, stay for the entertainment—even on shifts where no one's on stage. Happy birthday, Dino's.
Dino's 45th Birthday Party:
Come down to the liquid Las Vegas mainstay known as Dino's September 9 at 9 p.m. for an outdoor party. There will be spotlights! Drinks! Reveling! And music by Sugarkane Train, Vinyl Clouds and DJ Whitefly. Dino's is at 1516 Las Vegas Boulevard, across from the Olympic Garden. 382-3894.