This was not Las Vegas. It was, but it most certainly wasn’t. I’d just left a valet named Dan standing in the dark parking lot of a place on the corner of Paradise. He had my cell number and I had his. That night, he was going to get hooked up and my friends were going to get hooked up and it seemed like all was well.
I had a different kind of urge in Las Vegas. I didn’t need what everybody else in Vegas was looking for: drugs, women, or a casino host monitoring my every bet. I needed to get out while staying in. I needed to see something different. For one night only, I had taken on the role of making sure everybody was having a good time. We were a silly group, bound to not get in trouble unless we tried.
“What do you know about the Double Down?” I had asked the valet.
Dan rolled his eyes. “People in all black. Loud.”
His words were meant as discouragement. He really wanted to get on with calling his buddy in the stretch limo so they could start divvying up the kickbacks and making me think they were doing me a huge favor, when in fact, they were just passing a little of their deal on to me. Price of doing business.
“Perfect,” I said and told him my friends would be back in an hour and half to make good on the little deal we’d just struck.
So, there I was, leading a dozen guys–only two of them already messy enough to begin qualifying us for any Dirty Dozen discounts–down a dark side street and toward a place called the Double Down Saloon. My friend Joe Speaker had recommended it to me. The dive called itself the anti-Vegas, and after spending two months in Sin City already this calendar year, I wanted anything that wasn’t Vegas. What’s more, I wanted to make sure my friends saw more than the lions at the MGM.
Even though my back was turned to all of them, I felt the group pull back as soon as the place came into view. It was small, barely lit, and looked like the type of place where a knife fight might actually be something you could order from the bartender. The first off-strip place we’d hit, we actually ran into Mr. T. In this place, I figured we stood a better chance of seeing George Peppard, despite his fatal 1994 pneumonia.
The Double Down was packed and about the size of a bathroom in a Strip Vegas hotel. A band played in the corner, loud and shredding enough to make me wish I’d remembered to pack Advil. I looked on the wall where signs advertised the Bacon Martini and Ass Juice. Two girls dressed in all black looked as us as we walked through the door.
“Who invited the frat party?”
I stopped short. “Frat party?” I looked back at the guys behind me. Sure, Marty, the bachelor, no longer had bright red punk hair. Sure, my hair has been cropped back from shoulder length to a manageable mess. But frat party? That was just insulting.
“We’re the farthest thing from a frat party,” was all I could really manage over the noise. I started pointing at my friends. “Doctor, D.A., Bar Owner…” When I realized I was making her case for her, I shut up and ordered four Bacon Martinis.
“What’s in it?” I asked the bartender over the lead singer’s scream.
The guy looked at me like I was his mother. “Bacon and vodka.”
That’s when a calm started to come over me. The chicks at the bar were rude. The bartender was rude. The guy at the front door had been rude. Not once since we had crossed the property line had someone offered me a timeshare brochure, a drink in a yard-long glass, or show tickets at a show in exchange for just a few minutes of my time. The bartender poured like he was drinking the mess himself and not like he learned by watching Tom Cruise in Cocktail.
The drinks came across the bar at me. I took a sip and felt my gorge rise. Perfectly disgusting.
I handed my drink to my brother and said, “Make sure somebody else drinks that.” I walked over to the corner of the room. There was no stage, save a small riser for a drum kit to rest. Four natty old couches made the boundary for the musicians to play. I collapsed on one with a cold beer in my hand and watched the next band set up.
For the next hour or so, I watched three guys in neckties rock out. I learned later they were the members of SKORCHAMENZA, a band that’s been tearing up Vegas for the past several years. I left a little while later with a good memory and three pictures on my cell phone.
The men’s room of the Double Down Saloon
Las Vegas is one of those odd places on earth where everything looks different, but everything is pretty much the same. The city itself is much different than most places in the world, but after you’re there for a while, it’s almost impossible to find anything that will make you say, “Heh, how about that? That’s something different.”
The Double Down Saloon was one of those rare places. Sure, I was just a tourist there for a couple of hours. I stayed just long enough to enjoy it, but not long enough to make the locals start worrying we were going to ruin their joint–a brief diversion accented by loud music, bad booze, and a staff that didn’t give a damn whether I was there.
I never tried the Ass Juice.
Maybe that will be an adventure for another day.