[The Booze Issue]

Ellis Island’s Village Pub empire hits that friendly neighborhood-bar sweet spot

A pub for all seasons: There are 11 cozy locations in the Village Pubs family.
Photo: Bill Hughes

Neighborhood bars built on video poker and cheap drinks dot this Valley, but only one brand has more than 40 years of history, its own locally brewed suds and a menu of family recipes handed down through generations.

Walk into any Village Pub location and you’ll see how the chain of family-owned bar-restaurants has built and retained a loyal patronage for so long. After a warm greeting from the bartender and a swift pour of an Ellis Island brew, it’s easy to sink into a cushy leather barstool at these dimly lit, cozy watering holes. Sometimes a quiet, casual place like this is exactly what you’re looking for. No fuss, no pretension, just a snug space to unwind, always right around the corner.

The original Village Pub opened in 1968 on Koval Lane just south of Flamingo Road, where patrons could knock back some cold ones and nosh on a ham sandwich or a bowl of chili, the only two items on the menu. A lot has changed, specifically the name of that establishment in the shadow of the Strip.

After Gary Ellis bought his father’s stake in the company in 1985, he rebranded the space as Ellis Island. He snagged a non-restricted gaming license in 1989 and started to transform the modest bar into the buzzing casino it is today, complete with table games and slots, a full-service restaurant, an infamous karaoke lounge (the initial Village Pub digs) and one of the city’s six Metro pizzerias.

But Ellis didn’t want his father’s legacy to completely disappear. “He kind of wanted to pay homage and keep the name the Village Pub alive,” says Ellis’ daughter, Christina, now director of marketing for Ellis Island. “It’s where he grew up. It was his family business. It was what first inspired him to get involved in the industry.”

So in 1995 Ellis relaunched the Village Pub brand in the Cannery strip mall on Pecos and Flamingo, and opened two more suburban locations in Green Valley and Desert Shores over the next three years. Plans for a brewing operation at the company’s Ellis Island headquarters were also in the works, and shortly after the brewery’s 1998 opening, the casino started distributing its barley bounty to the Village Pubs. A small empire was born.

“It became popular with the locals, and it just kind of grew as we found properties and people wanted more,” Christina says. The company now operates 11 venues around town in addition to Ellis Island, including nine Village Pubs, Green Valley’s Casino Valle Verde and Yorky’s near Summerlin. “We really pride ourselves on our customer service and having that friendly atmosphere among all of our team members,” she says. “We have guests that have been coming in since the original Village Pub opened.”

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