Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a locals-friendly bar in a city that historically hasn’t been known for catering to locals.
NAME: Velveteen Rabbit
LOCATION: Arts District, Las Vegas
ON THE JUKEBOX: Flying Lotus, The Growlers, Grimes
WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): Infierno cocktail: tequila, mezcal, green tomatillo juice, apricot liqueur, horseradish syrup, lime juice and smoked salt
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): A pint of Dale’s Pale Ale
WHY WE LOVE IT: Most visitors to Las Vegas are content spending all of their time bar-hopping along The Strip. But ask some locals where they like to drink and one name will keep coming up: Velveteen Rabbit. This cocktail dive in the under-the-radar arts district is a haven for the creative class, many of whom feel left out of the city’s bar scene as a whole. “The Strip is great, it makes Vegas what it is, but it’s focused on volume,” Velveteen Rabbit co-owner Pamela Dylag says. “People aren’t necessarily going to know your name when you go into a bar there. But here, we have that familiarity with people. We recognize you. When people find us, they feel at home.”
Pamela, who grew up in Vegas, launched the bar with her sister, Christina Dylag. Christina got the idea for building a bar in their hometown while on a post-college-graduation meditation retreat in India. (Yes, really.) She emailed Pamela, who immediately jumped on board, cut her trip short, and resettled in Las Vegas to bring their idea to fruition. “There’s a huge movement of people to Las Vegas now, and we want to be a fun and welcoming for them,” Pamela says. “And affordable.”
Working with a limited budget when they opened, the artistic sisters couldn’t be super particular about their location, so they chose a burned-out building in the quiet arts district. “People thought we were crazy for going here,” Pamela says. “We just had to get creative.” They rebuilt the inside, keeping the melted layers of paint on the walls, and filled it with vintage furniture and found objects from shops nearby. They named it Velveteen Rabbit after one of their favorite childhood books, and because they felt like it conjured a dark, Victorian kind of aesthetic.
They were calculated with their cocktail menu at first. “We had vodka, citrus-forward drinks because we knew people would want to order that,” Pamela says. But the drinks have evolved to be much more complex and experimental since then, thanks to encouragement from others in the tight-knit, off-The-Strip bartending community. One drink, the Auto-da-fé, includes goat cheese, brandy, rosemary and pomegranate-infused red wine vinegar; it’s garnished with a communion wafer.
Another new culinary-focused drink features vermouth made from asparagus, heirloom tomato juice, sweet pepper syrup, lemon juice and a few drops of olive oil. The beer selection has also expanded, becoming much more focused on craft brews, which distributors didn’t even offer when Velveteen Rabbit originally opened. But as the demographics of the city change, so too do the tastes. “This is a business,” Pamela says. “We know we need to sell drinks. We can’t make all of these crazy drinks just for the sake of making drinks. But we’ve seemed to have found that balance between creative and sellable and people have totally embraced it.”
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep