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August 21, 2014

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Experiencing vintage Vegas—and cocktails—at Downtown’s new classics

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Bill Hughes

Come into my parlour: This perfect pour by bartender Scott Lui showcases the drama of a classic Blood and Sand at the Parlour Bar at El Cortez.

It’s 5 o’clock, and I’m somewhere. Inching toward Downtown in second gear, I don’t just want the sweet sting of liquor, I feel like I need it, like nothing else can blunt the troubles of this day and these times in my beautiful, broken city. First-World problems, meet First-World rationalization.

Twinkling neon guides my way to a parking spot so perfect I pass it twice before accepting that it’s really there, vacant and legal. I fight the urge to yell boo-yah and cross the street to the El Cortez. The casino is packed, and I’m so lost in thought that I wander into the stiff arms of a craps dealer, who shoos me back on course (probably assuming I’m either drunk or part of a Colombian pickpocket gang).

In the bright bustle, Parlour Bar is an island of cool. Candles glow behind gold mesh, and the richness of riveted leather is echoed in brushed metal tables and a slab of tawny marble lined with bottles like jewels in an antique box. Wrapped in the vintage of this historic property, the bar does classic without pretense.

The specialty cocktails are tempting, but I’m a sucker for throwbacks. Blood and Sand gets its name from a 1922 silent film starring Rudolph Valentino, and like him, Parlour’s version ($9) has drama. Johnny Walker Red, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth and fresh orange are shaken tableside and poured to the very top of a chilled martini glass. If the Old Fashioned had a charming little sister, this would be it. Along with Justin Mather’s homage to The Beatles, it uncoils the muscles in my neck. “Here comes the sun,” he sings, reading my dark thoughts. His talent deserves some silence and a spotlight, but this is Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

Mob Bar has an extensive cocktail menu, including the Clara Bow and the Volstead Act (pictured).

Warm with whiskey, I head down Ogden to Mob Bar, where pearl-handled forks are twirled into all kinds of $5 goodies. Crystal chandeliers illuminate embellished ceilings, imported cigarettes and an old poster featuring none other than Valentino. One flat screen has basketball, the other a black-and-white romance, suggesting the bar’s inviting tug between now and then.

Wearing the same white button-up, black vest and bow tie as Parlour’s bartender, Mob Bar’s Pinto styles it with rolled sleeves, his own fedora and thick glasses. He calls me “dear.” In a coupe glass, he mixes a drink named after another icon of silent film: The Clara Bow ($9) mingles Devil’s Cut Jim Beam, ginger and clove liqueurs and splashes of citrus and green Tabasco. The final flourish is stenciled, atomized bitters. It’s tangy and herbal with jalapeño fire—not the sort of drink you’d normally see served on a paper napkin next to a video poker screen, but this is Vegas.

Walking to Le Thai for a bowl of life-changing noodles, I feel suddenly peaceful. I make friends with the parking ticket guy and the homeless man in the crosswalk. I decide old Vegas might be just right for a lone woman with sorrows to drown. I could have curled up with a box of fudge pops and Season Three of Grey’s Anatomy. I didn’t really need a drink (or two). But this is Vegas.

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