Be sure to check out the B-movie clips behind the bar.
Double Down Saloon is the dive bar concept taken to its logical extreme, every unpretentious, unpolished aspect of what makes dive bars great crammed into a single Las Vegas structure that borders the city’s airport. Obviously, this is a good thing, Double Down Saloon providing a pretty crucial counterpoint to some of the extreme consumerism and lounge bar homogeneity seen all along the Strip.
A graffiti-laden door sits under a sign scrawled with the words “The Happiest Place on Earth” atop a white brick building that feels like it was placed on its plot by mistake. Perched just above a small parking lot at a seldom-used intersection in the shadow of the Las Vegas airport, Double Down Saloon does feature a marquee, at least, publicizing happy hours and upcoming shows. But this relatively spartan exterior does nothing to prepare first-timers for a step inside, the dim light only slightly obscuring one of the most intense dive bar atmospheres in America.
Founded in 1992, owner P Moss’ intent was maybe not quite what Double Down Saloon became but it was certainly centered on doing something different, escaping the cookie-cutter Las Vegas sports bar mold. That goal has no doubt been achieved, the Double Down Saloon experience so potent that it drew visits from both Anthony Bourdain and Dave Attel, a one-two dive bar punch not frequently replicated elsewhere. Success did not come immediately, the building’s once remote location a deterrent for visitors, pushing Moss to even consider selling the furniture to make ends meet.
After a series of hotly-attended live music nights, Double Down Saloon doubled down on the punk rock vibe that holds true today, saving the bar and giving it a foothold. Eventually, the crowds grew thanks to a commitment to live music and a one-of-a-kind vibe, the city’s outward development another factor in making Double Down feel a bit less remote. The Las Vegas dive bar’s infamous, crumbling, wildly graffiti-filled bathrooms emerged as a direct result of the bar’s growing popularity, owner Moss eventually giving up on continuously repairing and refreshing the restrooms. What was once a toilet-every-two-week labor of love flipped into a free for all that sets the standard for what a dive bar restroom should be.
Inside, even by dive bar standards the graffiti, sticker and stapled dollar bill game is intense, every conceivable surface absorbed by some kind of dive bar-friendly decoration. The TVs above the bar are tuned not to sports but to a custom 50-hour loop of bizarre B-movie clips intended to add a little shock and oddity value to the space. All comers are welcome, as evidenced by a long defunct theme night, Toothless Tuesdays, providing a free beer to anyone missing a tooth. As too many patrons qualified, the rules were changed a handful of times before the idea had to shelved due to too much free beer provided.
Of course, no description of Double Down Saloon is complete without a discussion of “Ass Juice,” the Las Vegas bar’s signature shot. The name here is applied to a vaguely brown-looking shot that has no set recipe and only a handful of requirements: brown, strong, delicious. Historically, the shot has been served in custom toilet-shaped glasses, though they are in short supply today given the popularity of both the item and the shot itself. The bacon martini serves as a second signature beverage at Double Down Saloon, a few attempts at martini flavor experimentation eventually resulting in what was likely the country’s first bacon martini cocktail.
Just as everything inside Double Down Saloon, the jukebox is unique, a combination of punk rock cuts and Las Vegas classics. The small stage in the corner of the space plays host to a rotating set of bands, each one of them compensated, a rarity in small venues like the Double Down. Also rare is the stand Double Down has taken against cover, never charging for tickets or admission during live music evenings or otherwise. The Las Vegas dive bar’s successful concept gave Moss the momentum to open a sister location in New York City.
Thanks to its Vegas location and associated permit, Double Down Saloon is open 24/7, creating an interesting happy hour duration of 5 AM to 5 PM. All drinks are $3 during that 12-hour marathon of a happy hour, giving Double Down Saloon the distinction of a sneaky-good day drinking location despite the fact that not an ounce of sunlight will be permitted into the building. Indecisive drinkers can turn to the Beer Lotto vending machine that holds a handful of surprise beer cans obscured by koozies, each priced at $4.