Decade of distinction: An appreciation of the pioneering Downtown Cocktail Room

It’s hardly curtains for DCR.
Photo: Spencer Burton

Most of us have our Downtown Cocktail Room stories. But they’re not your typical Vegas-insanity stories, where people boast of leaving the bar well past sunrise or prematurely due to unwise dalliances with either alcohol or bouncer. This is not that kind of bar.

The spot affectionately known as DCR is the kind of bar where you begin—and maybe finish—every Downtown New Year’s Eve, just to ensure a proper start to the night and some good company. Even when it first opened in January 2007 and gave Vegas drinkers and scenesters their first walkable Downtown barhop, you always started at DCR, because its inviting atmosphere always set the tone for the evening. And, chances were you’d run into a friendly face or five, the locals far outnumbering the tourists (thanks to the concealed, speakeasy-style entrance).

It’s where you meet someone for the first time and then successfully set up a first date, partially because the room is intimate and relaxing, and the vibe—the dim lighting, the crimson interior, the mature house beats (more on those in a bit)—is downright sexy. It’s also where you take your dates—and your cousin visiting from out of town and your roommates, for that matter.

It’s where you learn to be patient with the ever-careful bartender, and trust that whatever seemingly uncomplementary, but nonetheless quality ingredients he takes off the shelf will magically synthesize. DCR pioneered Vegas mixology as much as it did Downtown bar-going, its innovative cocktails and seasonal menus influencing other establishments in the area, on the Strip and across the rest of the Valley.

It’s where the groove is so irresistible, you and your friends create a dancefloor right in front of the DJ, and if you’re there on the weekend, you’re likely dancing in front of a resident who has been performing in that booth since the beginning: Carlos Sanchez on Fridays and Douglas Gibbs on Saturdays, both offering up deep house inspired by New York City, the West Coast, various exotic international locales and, of course, Chicago, the very city that birthed house music and whose lounges inspired DCR.

It’s where the staff offers to order you dinner from a nearby restaurant, though usually DCR is somewhere you end up after dinner—or a show at the Smith Center or a Pride parade. And it’s where you go to get to know people better, and have adult conversations about your alma mater’s football team, or the industry, or why you should attend Burning Man already, whether at the main bar, the curtained table in the center or in one of the circular booths in the back room.

Those booths are now gone, replaced by a new, separate bar called Mike Morey’s Sip ’n’ Tip, inspired by a DCR regular who has since passed away. The more casual space—and biggest evolutionary step in DCR’s decade of distinction—makes its public debut 9 p.m. this Friday, January 27, exactly 10 years from when DCR first opened its doors and blessed Downtown Las Vegas with a sophisticated drinking spot, one that still excels in both cocktails and community.

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