The Artisan: My dark, hidden love

Nothing can change my feelings for the bar that I can’t seem to remember

Enter a bar that feels like stepping into the board game Clue.
C. Moon Reed

The Artisan Lounge might be my favorite bar in Vegas ... if I didn’t keep forgetting about it.

Entering the hotel bar feels like stepping into the board game Clue. The Artisan is dark and mysterious and smart and has a beautiful bar top free of video poker, the scourge of flat-surface-seeking drinkers. I love that the patrons look like members of a Sherlock Holmes DJ collective. (Though I don’t know how that’s possible considering all my friends love the Artisan and none of them look vaguely steampunk.)

With floor-to-ceiling reproductions of paintings, the Artisan might be the closest thing to an art museum Vegas sees again this century. Yet I’ve been there so many times the setting has become invisible to me. So when I introduce friends to this bar, I grow annoyed that they spend the entire time with their heads in the ornate ceiling.

Bar Guide

The Artisan
1501 W. Sahara Ave., 214-4400.
From the Archives
Mona Lisa will make you smile (10/9/09
Staycation: The Artisan (5/8/09)

Most of those friends are from LA, and they love the Artisan. That’s because it looks like a film-noir dream, an oasis in the middle of an industrial wasteland. It’s a shame I’ve become somewhat immune to the charms of my best lady. I’ll blame it on the location:

The Artisan is a “hidden gem.” I hate it when travel writers use tired phrases like that; they ruin it for the rest of us by making every geographical description a cliché. But the Artisan really is hidden: It’s located under the I-15 on a forgettably gritty stretch of Sahara. The place seems to shirk from the roadways, so while it’s not necessarily inconvenient it’s near-invisible.

My only complaint is the required valet parking. I’d rather walk a mile than spend the $2. One of my friends explained that valet was required because the parking lot is too small for nonprofessional drivers. Fair enough. I can’t parallel park, so I made my peace with the Artisan’s valet and chalked it up to economic stimulus. Nonetheless, it’d been a long time since I’d last visited my old friend.

Sometimes the next place we see our long-lost friends is on the 10 p.m. news. This recently happened with the Artisan. According to Channel 13 Action News: “The Health District also temporarily shut down the hotel’s only bar earlier this month after finding bugs in the booze, something that’s noted as a repeat problem … the Health District also found mold in the bar’s ice machine—another repeat violation; little to no sanitizer for the glasswasher; dirty soda gun cups and wine racks, and unprotected overhead sewer lines.”

Upon discovering this report, I went through the typical stages of grief. But I stopped myself at acceptance. I had to decide if I was going to let a few health-code hiccups come between me and the closest thing I’ve come to a committed relationship since moving to Vegas. As one of my friends said, “Every bar has fruit flies; this one just got caught.” Besides, according to a PDF copy of the October 2009 health inspection, the customer complaint that sparked the scandal could never be validated.

So I returned to the bar to make amends and to see if it was really as bad as the muckrakers put forth. The place was still beautiful, and I fell in love all over again.

Also, I brought more friends. Friends who kept their heads in the ceiling and friends who pleaded for me to be positive, because this was the coolest and classiest bar in Vegas. The friends who were busy ceiling-staring were hard pressed to find “the bar ceiling buckling and cracking apart right over patrons’ heads” as Channel 13 states it found. As for me, I saw something ambiguous and nonthreatening.

The only red flag: The bar was mysteriously understocked. For example, they were out of beer ... any beer. Nonetheless, the bartenders worked heroically to provide drinks from what was available. One of the bartenders even told a story about an angry ex-employee trying to sabotage the hotel by trashing the kitchen and calling the health department.

Likely story? I decided it didn’t matter either way. If you want to hang with the Adam’s Family, then you have to accept a few roses with their flowers cut off. That’s what friendship is all about.


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