Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Searching for Cultural Enlightenment in Sin City

Aces and Ales
3740 S. Nellis Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV

The last time I wrote a review in Las Vegas, I think I clearly articulated my distain for Sin City.

Vegas is an inauthentic lowest-common-denominator amusement park for unimaginative American travelers too timid to use their precious two weeks of vacation time to go anywhere real or interesting.

So here I am. On another business trip to Las Vegas.


Okay. I have an idea. I’ll do what Suit757 always does.

Why should Las Vegas be any different?

I’ll seek out the local crowd -- away from the vulgar tourist masses.

Yep. I’m setting out to find “real” Vegas.

Wherever that might be.

Most of the 40 million tourists who come to Las Vegas every year never venture more than 100 yards in either direction from The Strip.

But as anyone who has sat in a window seat on approach to McCarran International Airport can attest, there is more to Las Vegas than The Strip.

More than two million people live underneath the apartments and residential rooftops that sprawl outward across the desert valley floor as far as the eye can see.

Yeah. That’s where I am headed.

Screw valet parking, lousy beer selection and hoards of 80 year old widows on walkers throwing their Social Security checks into slot machines 25 cents at a time.

I am going to find a local’s hang out to drink real beer with real people.

So I typed my favorite word into Google Maps.


One of the first results that popped up was Aces and Ales, 25 minutes out into the Vegas sprawl.

There was just one problem with my strategy.

There aren’t any “real people” in Las Vegas.

I mean, I’m not saying that Vegas is populated with the Walking Dead, I’m just saying there really isn’t much of a local Las Vegas culture to tap into.

First of all, nobody is actually “from” Las Vegas.

Hanging out with the “locals” in Sin City isn’t like going to a Friday night fish fry with the lumberjacks in Northern Wisconsin.

Workers in Las Vegas don’t grow timber or mine coal or extract oil from the ground or build automobiles.

Virtually everyone in Las Vegas works in one industry: servicing those 40 million tourists -- and each other.

They park your car or carry your bag or give you your room key or slide you a beer or make your bed or cash out your gambling voucher or take off their bikini top for your viewing pleasure or taxi your drunk butt back to your hotel.

All for a tip of course.

So I guess what I’m saying is that hanging out on a Wednesday afternoon with the locals at Aces and Ales wasn’t quite as culturally enlightening as I hoped it would be.

But the beer was top notch.

Aces and Ales is a Las Vegas Mecca for good beer that is open 24 hours per day.

Yeah. Like Sin City itself, this joint NEVER closes.

Aces and Ales was started by bonafide rock star, Keri Kelli, in 2009.

The former guitarist for Alice Cooper loves craft beer and has utilized his connections to some legendary craft brewers to create a destination in this metropolis of mediocrity to try rare high quality beer.

Fortunately I got there just before 3pm -- the start of “Hoppy Hour”. All drafts are five bucks, a steep discount off the high alcohol/high priced beers on tap.


I sat at the only spot at the bar that didn’t have a video poker machine.

And I was the only patron in the place under the age of 70 -- and every one of them had their heads down punching away at the video poker buttons.

Surprisingly, most of them were drinking Budweiser or Miller Lite.

Maybe this isn’t so different from The Strip after all.

The 40ish bartender was friendly and helpful. She flipped the TV to the afternoon baseball game for me and waxed enthusiastically about all the high powered beers on tap.

I started with the Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Stout, from those crazy beer geeks in Denmark who specialize in brewing off-the-wall concoctions for adventurous American craft beer drinkers.

It wasn’t really breakfast time but I suppose 3 o’clock on a Wednesday is close enough.

Malty, sweet and smooth, I’d happily make this beer my breakfast of champions -- if I were to take up beer drinking at 8am.

Probably not a good career move, but as they, say, “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start first thing in the morning!”

Noticing that I liked strong imperial stouts, the bar tender gave me a sample of Nectar Black Xantus, an 11.5% powerhouse of flavor. Luxurious and sweet as liquorish, it was like going straight from breakfast to dessert.

The Stone IRS 2011 was yet another imperial stout -- but very different from the first two. This one was more sour than sweet. Interesting, but not what I’m looking for in a dark beer.

Eventually I switched to a nice IPA by Smog City Brewing out of Southern California called
Hoptonic. Excellent choice. Perfectly balanced with a nice hoppy kick.

If this sounds like a lot of beer, well…

…it was.

And it wasn’t.

Most of the beers are served in small 8oz shot glasses. But that is because they have double to triple the alcohol of a normal beer.

These aren’t gulping beers.

Which was a problem for me when I bit into my Moondog Grilled Cheese Sandwich loaded with pepperoni, salami, cheese, olives and jalapenos.

Most restaurants that serve jalapenos as a garnishment cook the spice right out of the peppers. So I wasn’t too worried when I placed my order.

But after one bite, my head was on fire.

This sandwich included big disks of raw jalapeno -- seeds, stems and all.

Fortunately, the bar tender rushed me a glass of tap water to douse the flames. Wouldn’t want to try that with a ten percent alcohol beer.

While I would have preferred a higher cheese/meat to olives/jalapenos ratio, the sandwich was exactly as advertised.

Can’t complain.

For me, the highlight was the Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings made from scratch with its namesake beer batter.

As I enjoyed my meal, it became clear that as usual I was the only guy in the place nobody knew.

And the only one in a suit. Of course.

Two very old men and a women who has been working in Las Vegas for 47 years sat next to me.

She and the bar tender started whispering about “the good looking guy in the suit.”

I immediately began nervously calculating how many minutes it would take me to finish my beer and get the check.

It didn’t take long before the lady turned my way and began telling me her story of how she came to Vegas, dealt cards for decades at the Sands and then took a job working for the government.

She soon launched into a monologue about how the “difficult working conditions” doing government work were made bearable because of the union.

She is now the union shop steward -- a bonafide government union boss!

“You know, they claim we make $80,000 per year, but that’s not true. I make $39,000. The rest is benefits and that shouldn’t count,” she tried to explain.

“But at least we can’t be fired.”

I didn’t bother to tell her that the $80,000 sure counts for the taxpayer who has to pay the bill.

But that is Vegas culture for you, to the extent that it has one: two million people working hard doing nothing but taking other peoples’ money.

By the time I polished off my sandwich, the bar tender asked me if I minded cashing out since her shift was over.

Even though I was still contemplating one more beer, I didn’t mind at all. This is Vegas. Everyone lives and dies on their tips.

She worked hard and deserved to be tipped for it before she hit the I-515.

Since it was “Hoppy Hour”, my three beers and sandwich were all five bucks each. So $20 plus tax.

I figured if I was paying full price, the tab would be closer to $34. So I left her a $7 tip on my credit card slip.

I guess I was feeling generous since the Depression Era patrons drinking Buds and playing video poker didn’t figure to be big tippers.

Meanwhile, the replacement bartender, a young attractive girl, who possessed the assets to make more money at any number of other various Sin City occupations, took over.

I ordered a pint of Smog City’s Saber Tooth Squirrel, a delicious 7% red ale, from her.

Since it was my last beer, I handed her some cash to pay for it up front and left $1.50 tip on the bar.

Like I said, I appreciate good service.

Just then, Bartender Number One makes her rounds, grabs my credit card jacket and the cash I left for Bartender Number Two and walks off in a huff.

She probably figured all I left her for her TV channel surfing and beer commentary efforts was a buck and half.

Hopefully she figured it out when she looked at the credit card slip.

But that didn’t stop her from pocketing the younger girl’s tip.

So if I ventured out to the Las Vegas suburbs to immerse myself in the real culture of this city, I guess I got what I came for.

From the 70 year old government union boss sitting next to me -- to the bar tender -- everyone’s in competition to pocket everyone else’s money.

And now you understand why I’d just assume hang out with the lumberjacks in Wisconsin.

Rating: Would Wear a Free Shirt.

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