BAR EXAM: New Doesn’t (Always) Mean Bad

Sidebar does gentrification right

Lissa Townsend Rodgers

If you've ever read this column, you know (and if you haven't, you wouldn't, so let me catch you up) that if I love anything, it's dive bars. And if I hate anything, it's tearing down the cool old to make way for the shiny new. Thus, the rebirth of Downtown Las Vegas, no matter how much droll kicking and screaming has been involved, is bound to be something I have strong misgivings about. I'm not a fan of crackheads, vacant storefronts and the smell that permeates the Gold Spike, but neither can I say I'm exactly for Neonopolis and the Soho lofts.

Thusly, as it is part of the new Third Street gentrification project and charges an average of $9 for a drink, I should despise Sidebar. Au contraire: I like it immensely. I like it because I like finely made cocktails, well-cushioned seats and Billie Holiday—and Sidebar offers me all of these things. Sidebar is literally the bar on the side of Triple George, a steakhouse that is itself built around a giant bar (No joke: There are about a dozen tables in the whole place, all crammed around a hockey rink-sized horseshoe bar) and whose menus are studded with alluring words like "porterhouse," "stilton," "oysters" and "creme brulee." The Sidebar's decor nicely meshes traditional English clubbiness and lounge chic, as wainscoating and brass rails play off of wide-striped walls and sleek globe lighting. Another asset is the giant windows that give out onto Third Street: After all, when was the last time you sat in a bar and could look out at something besides a casino or a parking lot?

But Sidebar advertises the "return to the classic cocktail," and it earns my approval by living up to that claim. The drinks are precisely made and feature high-end ingredients—well drinks are Stoli and Sapphire; Johnnie Walkers blue, gold, green, black and red stand at the ready on sparkling glass shelves. Their house libation, the Sidebar sidecar, is poured with Hennessy VS, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice—finding a well-made (or even correctly made) sidecar is impossible in most bars, and it's nice to see someone mastering the tradition. Their bloody Marys blend Grey Goose and fresh lime with spicy ingredients and a garden's worth of garnishes (asparagus!). A recently added specialty, the American beauty, mixes Absolut Vanil with European rose-petal nectar and lemon juice; garnished with a scattering of pink petals, it's the only girly drink I can imagine Catherine Deneuve or Marlene Dietrich ordering.

So, while the installation of this elegant little lounge on once-squalid Third Street may seem like a betrayal of Old Vegas, consider that it's also the kind of place where Frank Sinatra could've taken Ava Gardner for a post-show martini, or Bugsy Siegel would've met with the boys from back East in an effort to buy a little more time. ... After all, I'm not entirely opposed to progress, if it maximizes the assets and serves the needs of the community. For example: Why can't someone renovate Ferguson's Motor Lodge or the Vagabond Inn into the world's coolest retro bungalow boutique hotel? If Downtown features three rockabilly nights within a three-block radius (Tuesdays at Beauty Bar, Thursdays at the Bunkhouse, Saturdays at Take 1), cannot the greasers have their own bar seven days a week? Why can't all those gruesome rumors about CBGB's relocation to the Desert Passage in the Aladdin be debunked by a press conference announcing their move to the corner of 7th and Fremont? I suppose none of us are opposed to gentrification, so long as it's exactly what we want.

Sidebar 206 N. Third St. 477-3000

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

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