Photo © Nick Leonard
The first time I went to the Island Bar and Grill (on Karen and Sahara) was on a whim born from necessity. I was dating a girl at the time who was adamant about drinking but didn’t want to be seen (in retrospect those were two clues that should have tipped me off that dating wasn’t a good idea). With this wild list of requests, the usual suspects (Artifice, The Beat, The Griffin, et al) were flat out, so I suggested a bar that I had only seen while passing through the parking lot on my many trips back from LVAC. It’s a bar in a strip mall…a strip mall focused on the needs of cheap food and hair weaves. Little did I know that I would fall head over heels in love with what has to be the best dive bar in town.
I went again recently, this time on my own. I love drinking on my own. Not because I have some sort of drinking problem, but because I’m socially awkward. You know… you start drinking with someone and halfway through your first drink you realize that you would be better off staring at the television over their shoulder or reading a book than trying to make conversation beyond the weather. It’s hot. I get it. It’s really hot. How many times can we touch on this topic before I try to drink myself into a blackout?
Drinking on your own also helps you to really savor a bar’s character, and the Island Bar and Grill has plenty of character.
First of all it’s a “Steelers” bar. If you are into the Pittsburgh Steelers and you happen to need a drink while you are watching Big Rapist Ben work 100 yards with a broken knee, then this is your spot. But wait! There’s a tiki theme? What? Yeah, dude…tiki. Carved wooden heads, grass skirts, bamboo wall paper….it’s like they took Frankie’s Tiki Lounge, made it five times bigger, and got rid of all the stuff that makes it cool. But wait! Hold on….we’re not done…the juke box only plays cock rock and there is live karaoke with only soft rock ballad selections.
The juxtaposition is maddening. They should rename the place “What The Fuck Bar and Grill” because it is wall to wall “WTF”. Then, of course, there is the bartender. Without sounding completely crass I have to say that she (and don’t ask me for her name because I was too intimidated to ask) had the biggest cans I had ever seen. It was like she was smuggling midgets in her bra. Again I have to ask: “Why do attractive women work in dive bars?” This hot lady is working the Island Bar and Grill and Chewbacca lives on Endor. None of it makes any sense. But nothing about the Island makes sense. Like the fact that you can find Newcastle, Fat Tire, and Hamms on tap. Oh, by the way, a pitcher of Newcastle is nine bucks. Even at shitty bars you’re lucky to get a pitcher of PBR under fifteen clams. This bar is not fucking around.
I noticed a few people were trying to play pool. I say “trying” because the guy with the cue decided to belt out a few songs first before continuing the game.
“Don!” he yelled at his friend who was 5 feet away from him and actively ignoring his call. “Don! Listen, man! I’m the best…when it comes to singing I’m the best singer in the world, but you can sing pretty good too.” And cue music. Some tragically poppy song about wanting someone at 1AM started up and this guy was doing his best to dance with the pool cue and sing off key. Soon the bar became better friends as we sized each other up and silently decided how we were going to take this whirling dervish down. Don was, apparently, not impressed. “I love you! I love you, Don!” the spinning top yelled during the swell of the music. I decided to take matters in my own hands and I plopped a fiver in the jukebox.
I met a guy named Chris. He introduced me to his friend Vinnie. Soon we were singing along to Ratt. The Island is extremely friendly. Almost to the point where one could conceivably believe that he is being set up in some elaborate sting operation or a mob hit. It’s the only place in Vegas that I have found, in the twelve years I’ve lived here, where you can actually talk to strangers without getting the cold shoulder or the hairy eye. I hate the hairy eye. It normally follows any attempt at human interaction at any other bar. Not this place. A wheezing, smoky, jack-o-lantern smile is the reward I got for a passing “hello”. Maybe it was the second pitcher of Newcastle, but the old hag smiling and bopping her head to Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” filled me with a warm, weird sense of camaraderie.
By midnight, as if my fairy godmother heard my prayers, the crowd suddenly swelled with a gang of gorgeous Asian women. I’m pretty sure the entire continent was represented: South Korea, China, Indonesia, Thailand…it doesn’t hurt that the Island Bar and Grill is behind both the Korean BBQ AND a Chinese buffet (by the way…don’t ever go to that buffet. It smells like feet and the food doesn’t taste much better). Location, location, location! Luckily the location placed me, shitfaced, in a sea of women while a toothless man belted out Lionel Richie’s “Hello”.
“I can see it in your eyes
I can see it in your smile….”
I’m sure the irony was lost on everyone.
ArtsVegas: Covering Las Vegas Art and culture since 2009.