BAR EXAM: Head for the Hill

Outlying areas offer a small but varied selection of drinking spots

Lissa Townsend Rodgers

It's good to get out of town once in a while. Leave the neon in the rearview mirror and drive through the desert and up the mountain, passing a pint around the back seat and singing along at the top of your lungs to songs you barely know. And, on a long drive to nowhere in particular, it's always nice to stop at a bar.

First up, the Mount Charleston Lodge, which was built in 1962 and still possess more than a whiff of vintage Aspen swinger (actually, that probably smells like Aqua Velva and Johnnie Walker); it's a giant A-frame room with stone walls and wooden beams framing floor-to-ceiling windows. There's even one of those mod, red, metal-chimney fireplaces in the center—just the place for a moon-booted ski bunny to curl up with a hot toddy. Or, more likely, a Mount Charleston coffee: the Scotch-spiked, mocha-flavored, deceptively strong specialty of the house.

The Lodge is more of a restaurant than a bar. While folks having a post-hike beer are welcomed, it tends to be an older crowd, unless the kids are getting a special birthday dinner. And, of course, there are the weddings. If you come on a weekend, there'll be four in an afternoon, easy. There is something fun about two weddings happening in the same room at the same time. You watch the brides giving the evil eye to that bitch who showed up in the same dress and wait for some kind of post-ceremony throwdown, bridesmaids mixing it up like Jets and Sharks.

I somehow doubt they've ever had a wedding at the Mountain Springs Saloon, but I suspect there's been a rumble or two in the parking lot. It's a low-ceilinged cabin with a few one-room additions, a barbecue pit out back, a horseshoe toss in the side yard and a few Harleys parked out front. The décor consists of thousands of $1 bills that have been glued to the walls by patrons, often with some Sharpie-d benediction that's faded to a smudgy scrawl—they completely cover the barroom itself and trickle into the poolroom, where the wall ornamentation eventually gives away to memorabilia dedicated to Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Miller beer. There's also a group of itchy, rec-room-quality sofas, a semi-tuned piano and the eternal karaoke machine softly chugging out Dolly Parton backing tracks.

The crowd is as relaxed as the setting. The bartender is short on small talk but generous with a buyback, the dog running around the bar is friendly and does tricks, the old dude shooting pool is happy to let you in on the next game. In general, those who frequent the Mountain Springs Saloon are so laid-back they practically recline.

Of course, at Sheri's Ranch, the reclining is literal for both staff and clientele. However, if you're just at the brothel window-shopping, so to speak, they'll accommodate the need for a beer, a quesadilla and a television with the Chargers game on it as easily as they'll fulfill less-wholesome desires. Indeed, you'd think you were in any generic, suburban sports bar except for the lingerie-clad blondes intermittently passing through and the fact that, if you ask for a menu, you must be specific about whether you want to see a list of dining options or photographs of Candi, Brandi and Tawni.

If you're interested, you can ask for a tour, where one of the girls will show you the dungeon room, the Jacuzzi room and the Budwesier Jacuzzi room, as well as give a glimpse into the ladies' rather Laura Ashley-esque boudoirs. Of course, you only see a small part of the whole Sheri's complex, which is so vast that the girls can find themselves running a 200-yard dash to make it to the lineup when a client comes in. Indeed, many of the girls keep their high heels in a closet next to the main room so they can run faster. Four weddings, a biker bar and a whorehouse—and I thought I had left Vegas behind.

Mount Charleston Lodge, 1200 Old Park Road, 872-5408. Mountain Springs Saloon, Mountain Springs Road and Highway 160, 875-4266. Sheri's Ranch, 10551 Homestead Road, 387-0500.

Lissa Townsend Rodgers learned to make a martini at age 6. E-mail her at
[email protected].

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