Everyone wants to go to the Bond-Aire Club. Literally, it's one of those nondescript bars by the side of the road that somehow catches your eye and makes you wonder: What goes on in there? I had often felt its inexplicable allure while driving down Trop next to the trailer parks, across from the airport, yet I never swung through its tinted-glass door nor suggested doing so to anyone else. But after a quick, two-lap memory jog ("... next to the trailer parks, across from the airport ..."), many of my friends and associates admitted to also experiencing the Bond-Aire's magnetic draw on their hubcaps.
Everyone loves the Bond-Aire Club. No shit. I've brought a dozen people there, and after about 45 minutes, every one of them takes a slow swig, looks around and goes, "You know, I like this bar." Surrounding mobile homes aside, I wouldn't be surprised if the place had been built on an Indian burial ground. There's no obvious reason for its compelling charm: The wood veneer on the bar is cracked, the Budweiser mirrors are dingy, the tiny stage that occasionally hosts karaoke or blues jams is usually deserted, the kitchen is closed on Saturdays and most of the crowd is over 50. But the lights are dim, the drinks are cheap, the people are friendly, the pool table is always open and that's one hell of a jukebox. Sure, it's mostly country, but it's quality country—old-school country—and there's a fair sprinkling of Otis Redding, Journey and, of course, Elvis to break up the heartbreak.
While you're at the juke, punch up Donna Fargo's "Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." for Dana, the bartender. It's her favorite and she's a lovely woman who deserves to hear it as much as possible. We crank it up and she reaches between us all, laughing and topping off shots as my friend gestures her over in hopes that another pour will make me stop ranting at him about how my latest contributor photo makes me look like Aileen Wuornos on a bender, as opposed to how cute I am in the pictures on people's refrigerators ... yeah, it takes a generous tip of the bottle and Dana certainly knows how to spread joy. But she has some help from Jack, the owner. Every now and again, the phone rings and Jack is on the line, telling her he's buying a round for everyone in the place. And sure enough, like some kind of Santa Bukowski via Ma Bell, there's a new cocktail in front of me and Dana holds up the receiver so we can all yell our thanks.
The Bond-Aire Club is often only round one. It's the kind of place that really kicks off an evening. And that evening will go on. And on. And something interesting will happen before sunup, like someone hits the jackpot at video poker or gets hauled away in an ambulance. Having your first drink of the evening at the Bond-Aire can be much like smashing a bottle of champagne (well, maybe Champale) across the ship of your evening. Could be the Enterprise, could be the Titanic but, hey, you buy the ticket—or the whiskey—you take the ride.
Speaking of sinking, the Bond-Aire Club won't be there forever. Next year, the trailer parks will be torn down to make room for—say it with me, children!—luxury condominiums. And the fact that the Bond-Aire opened back when Tropicana Avenue was still Bond Road won't save it from the inevitable fate of everything that's original Vegas. But in the year or two before the wrecking ball falls, stop in. Enjoy the charming staff and the unobtrusive clientele, the Patsy Cline and the low-priced bourbon, the chili fries and the lighting muted enough to disguise the fact that you look like a trailer-trash serial killer on a crack 'n' Kamchatka binge. Because there'll always be another ultralounge, but there's only one Bond-Aire.
Bond-Aire Club, 284 E. Tropicana Ave., 798-7726
Lissa Townsend Rodgers learned to make a martini at age 6. E-mail her at