Amid the lewd scribblings of naked women, sticker-smothered walls and a punk remix of “That’s Amore,” a commanding voice bellows: “Happy 23rd birthday, Double Down! Now, shut up and drink!” The voice belongs to Rob DeTie of Franks & Deans, a punk-rock tribute band that emulates the Rat Pack. It’s 11 p.m., and F&D is up first in tonight’s lineup of local acts celebrating Double Down Saloon’s five-day 23rd Anniversary Weekend. The cacophony of bass and hollering diminishes for an instant as the crowd slams down drinks.
Welcome to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” where the bouncers know you by name, nothing is normal and last call doesn’t exist. On this Saturday night, patrons have swapped the fabled Ass Juice for a more Christmassy cocktail, Ass Nog. It’s an inch of Stroh rum, a quarter-inch of both brandy and Jim Beam Kentucky Fire, and a drizzle of eggnog. The $5 drink claims to be “just like Grandma made on skid row.”
Also Grandma-approved is Nickole Muse, the Franks & Deans’ burlesque dancer, who jiggles her exposed cheeks at the audience. Women and men, including bar owner P Moss, applaud her derrière and swift disrobement.
Although the Double Down is the diviest of Las Vegas dives, it’s also one of the most prominent cultural influences. Over the past two decades, it has become home to countless bands, growing into one of the most integral pieces of the local music scene. Muse and DeTie both affectionately call it their hangout, but this isn’t an ordinary clubhouse. It’s proudly for “the lunatic fringe.”
Back in the ’90s, while I was sucking on binkies, Moss was hosting a different kind of Toothless Tuesday, during which free beers went to patrons who had two consecutive missing teeth. Although Toothless Tuesday is a thing of the past, the saloon is always evolving its rough brand of merriment (ceramic shot-glass Ass Juice toilets are now available in black or white).
“The Double Down is a fickle creature,” Muse says, laughing. “It has its own pulse.” A pulse occasionally fueled by impromptu limbo sessions. As the surf-rocking Tiki Bandits shred, patrons literally bend over backwards for them and their luchador lead vocalist. One couple in particular, Aiméi Wagaman and Tyler Skillingstad, lead the dancing throughout the night. They came in from Kingman to be part of “one of the biggest crowds they’ve ever seen.” Skillingstad vehemently gyrates his hips as his wife, Wagaman, jigs, pink and blonde pigtails bouncing.
“We go to punk shows,” she says. “That’s what we do.”
Around 2 a.m., The Mapes continue to blow out the sound system while hitting whatever they can with their instruments. The guitarist can barely be seen over his massive, crimson cowboy hat; the drummer drinks conspicuously from a foot-tall flask; and the singer, clad in a fur jacket and skull mask, shouts, “We love penis!”
The saloon erupts into elated chaos, worthy of a bigger, more traditional milestone tally. But 23 hard-partying years deserve some clatter, and the Double Down delivers unlike anywhere else in Las Vegas.
Double Down Saloon 4640 Paradise Road, 702-791-5775. 24/7.