The sec­ond in an eight­part se­ries show­cases the Dou­ble Down Saloon in Las Ve­gas.

In Las Ve­gas, Dou­ble Down Saloon is a home for the hard­core

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - DIVE BARS BY TIM CAR­MAN AND FRITZ HAHN­man@wash­ | fritz.hahn@wash­

Sec­ond in an eight­part se­ries.

The dive bar’s obit­u­ary prob­a­bly has been writ­ten a thou­sand times, and yet: The ra­tio of dive-bar lis­ti­cles to dive-bar obits must be about 10 to 1. Ei­ther the dive bar’s demise has been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated or the def­i­ni­tion of such wa­ter­ing holes has be­come so un­man­age­able that it en­com­passes just about any place that doesn’t serve a $20 Man­hat­tan. ¶ So how can we char­ac­ter­ize the Amer­i­can dive bar so that every­one agrees? In short, we can’t. But we needed some guide­lines as we searched for the coun­try’s most au­then­tic dives over the past months. True dives pos­sess a hand­ful of ba­sic at­tributes: They must have his­tory; they must have reg­u­lars; they can­not be ex­pen­sive; they can­not have craft cock­tails. ¶ You might dis­agree with our op­er­at­ing nar­ra­tive, and no doubt you’ll dis­like some of our choices. But this is our point: A dive bar is per­sonal. It’s where friends gather, drink and ar­gue loudly — and still walk away as kin­dred spir­its.

James Messina is perched on a stool at the Dou­ble Down Saloon, the dive bar equiv­a­lent of an open wound, a place that has been poked and probed so of­ten it re­mains raw and an­gry.

It’s late af­ter­noon, but Messina has not rolled into the Dou­ble Down to lose him­self in the per­ma­nent mid­night of the bar. He’s not knock­ing back a mini-com­mode filled with Ass Juice, the sweet house drink of un­known in­gre­di­ents. Messina doesn’t even drink any­more, a ca­su­alty of his mis­spent youth.

A bassist in a lo­cal punk band, the Gash­ers, Messina is not check­ing out the com­pe­ti­tion, ei­ther, which won’t even as­sem­ble on stage for an­other seven hours, maybe later. He’s come here to be among his kind, the Ve­gasarea punks who con­sider the Dou­ble Down their sec­ond home.

“I’m just a lo­cal. I know half the peo­ple sit­ting here,” Messina says. “I got to get out of the house ev­ery once in a while, just talk to some friends.”

Owner and re­nais­sance man P Moss (au­thor/mu­si­cian/bar pro­pri­etor/tiki mixol­o­gist) didn’t set out to cater to Sin City’s un­der­ground punk com­mu­nity. He backed into the scene in 1993 when Man or AstroMan? — a sci-fi surf-punk band from Alabama — needed a venue and the Dou­ble Down re­luc­tantly stepped in. Since then, the bar has em­braced its uniquely Ve­gas mis­sion to mix video gam­bling, punk rock, cheap drinks and a DIY-bumper-sticker aes­thetic in an roundthe-clock op­er­a­tion that at­tracts both hard­core punkers and tourists with soft un­der­bel­lies. The Dou­ble Down even serves as a black­ops party zone for celebri­ties, in­clud­ing Prince Harry and co­me­dian Dave At­tell, who ei­ther want to hide from cu­rios­ity seek­ers or pro­mote the bar’s noisy, sticky ap­peal.

But even a punk bar has its lim­its. The Dou­ble Down used to have a me­chan­i­cal pony, the kind of slow-gal­lop­ing kid­die ride once found out­side depart­ment stores. Fe-

male pa­trons would pop in a quar­ter and sad­dle up, strip­ping off their shirts and bras in the process.

The bar once hosted an all-fe­male me­chan­i­cal pony rodeo. Sin City of­fi­cials even­tu­ally frowned upon the un­li­censed nu­dity.

“We took the pony to New York,” Moss says about his sec­ond Dou­ble Down lo­ca­tion in Man­hat­tan’s East Vil­lage. “No­body un­der­stood it in New York . . . . We had the garbage men try­ing to ride it.”

Dou­ble Down Saloon, 4640 Par­adise Rd., Las Ve­gas. 702-791-5775. dou­ble­down

— Tim Car­man

Quick Facts

Year founded: Started by P Moss, then a “strug­gling writer’” who de­cided to en­ter the bar busi­ness, in De­cem­ber 1992.

In­te­rior: Sticker shock. Prac­ti­cally ev­ery square inch of the place — the once-white walls, toi­lets, sinks, stage, ev­ery­thing — is cov­ered in stick­ers and/or graf­fiti, save for a wall by the band­stand where a sign reads in large block let­ters: “SHUT UP and DRINK.” It’s per­pet­u­ally dark in the place, no mat­ter the time of day.

Mu­sic: CD juke­box and live bands, heavy on punk. The Dou­ble Down rarely, if ever, charges a cover. Sig­na­ture drink: Ass Juice. The fruity cock­tail has no set recipe. (Though, it does have a U.S. trade­mark.) For a price, the drink can be served in a minia­ture sou­venir toi­let. “We use white liquors,” Moss says about the base spirit. “The main ur­ban myth is that we would take what’s in the spill mat [at the bar] and pour it in a glass and sell that. But that’s ob­vi­ously not true.” Draft beers: Noth­ing on draft, but more than 20 bot­tles and cans, in­clud­ing six ro­tat­ing craft beers. Worst day: In 1995, be­fore the Dou­ble Down hired pro­fes­sional bounc­ers, Moss asked a pa­tron not to bring pack­age beer into his bar. The owner ended up in a hospi­tal. He says he nearly died. “I’ve given blood and a lot things to this place,” Moss says. “It would have been very easy to say, ‘F---, I’m never com­ing back,’ but I did.”

— T.C.

Read the en­tire se­ries — Amer­ica’s most au­then­tic dive bars — on­line now at wash­ing­ton­­ics/life­style/dive-bars


FROM TOP: In Las Ve­gas, Dou­ble Down Saloon’s Ass Juice is served in lit­tle ce­ramic toi­lets; at “The Hap­pi­est Place on Earth,” punk is the rul­ing aes­thetic; JoAnn Tufo checks her mes­sages as she steps away the bar; Pyro Pete spins some mu­sic as the trade­mark sign ad­vises pa­trons.


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