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The Essential Crawl: Vegas’ most necessary bars

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Freakin’ Frog owner Adam Carmer in his Whiskey Attic.
Photo: Tiffany Brown

Champagne’s Café 3557 S. Maryland Parkway, 737-1699.

If you haven't been to Champagne's Cafe, stop for a moment and picture what it might be. Then take that image and turn it on its head. This low-lit bar and karaoke joint is a divey dream, complete with vinyl booths, red and gold brocade wallpaper, a permanent haze and a crowd that's split between crusty old-timers and hipster college kids. Somehow they manage to get along, taking the mic to sing karaoke and knocking back some of the cheapest beer in town. (Don't even think about ordering champagne.) Other bars might sell more PBR, but nowhere has more atmosphere than this classic "cafe." –Sarah Feldberg

The Cosmopolitan's Chandelier bar.

The Chandelier Cosmopolitan, 698-7000.

The three-level Chandelier bar at the Cosmopolitan is quintessential, modern-day Las Vegas: Over the top, packed with tourists (in suits and dresses and shorts and flip-flops) and a few locals, and fabulous. The ambience inside the striking crystal design should be more elegant, IMHO, but the cocktails and people watching more than make up for it. Look for mixologist Jason Hughes—he’s the one with the mohawk—and tell him your favorite liquor, then watch him create an off-menu concoction. A plus: Level 2 is non-smoking. A secret drink? The Verbena. It’s a party in your mouth. –Don Chareunsy

Frankie's Tiki Room

Frankie’s Tiki Room 1712 W. Charleston Blvd., 385-3110.

After already establishing the epitome of what a dive bar should be—the legendary Double Down Saloon—P Moss brought back a Vegas classic with Frankie’s Tiki Room. Devastatingly dark, decked out with sinister-yet-kitschy idols and buoyed by completely friendly bartenders and a lethal tropical cocktail list, Frankie’s is, quite frequently, the only place I want to drink. My favorite Frankie’s moment: when Fukuburger owner Colin Fukunaga forced me to drink/introduced me to the Fink Bomb—an addictive, transportive mixture of coconut and 160 proof rums, melon liqueur and pineapple juice. Game over, in a good way. –Brock Radke

Freakin’ Frog 4700 S. Maryland Parkway, 597-9702.

No matter how many times I visit my favorite haunt in all of Las Vegas, it just never gets old. Owner Adam Carmer makes it his personal mission to introduce patrons to every experience imaginable, including a walk-in fridge with hundreds of unique beers and an upstairs Whiskey Attic, the country’s largest such collection. My personal highlight at the Frog was a New Year’s Eve tasting of Louis XIII for $100 a shot, and if you know anything about Remy Martin, you’ll know what a steal that is. At the Frog, it’s all about trying everything at least once (small sample sips are always available upon request), not to mention the people you’ll meet and the things you’ll learn about life. –Ken Miller

Herbs and Rye's Moscow Mule.

Herbs and Rye 3713 W. Sahara Ave., 982-8036.

There’s really only one cocktail bar not on Las Vegas Boulevard or Fremont Street doing credible interpretations of pre-Prohibition and Prohibition-era cocktails, and it’s Herbs and Rye. Owner/bartender Nectaly Mendoza has the tools (mallet and Lewis bag for crushed ice), the glassware (copper mugs for a proper Moscow Mule) and the spirits (crème de violette for an authentic Aviation) to get the job done, and you’ve got to appreciate the line of eyedropper bottles and rare and unusual bitters that line the bar top. If it’s a Blood and Sand or Clover Club you crave, get there early, or better yet, hit the ridiculous happy hour (5-8 p.m.) for 50 percent off food. –Jack Houston

Mandarin Bar Mandarin Oriental, (888) 881-9367.

I look at the Strip, and I see Siamese twins. One is margarita vats and cracked vinyl, and the other is craft cocktails and petal-soft leather. Mandarin Bar is the latter, a luxurious hideout on the 23rd floor of a polished, perfumed hotel. The view is priceless, justifying the signature cocktail price of $18. The 9th Island is the city's outrageous glitz distilled down into a martini glass: Cîroc coconut vodka, Lillet blanc, homemade falernum, lemongrass simple syrup, pineapple-mango jam, a dusting of li hing powder (salty dried plum) and a nugget of toasted pineapple for looks. Sip it overlooking the lights and you’ll forget, just for a moment, that you’re not a high roller. –Erin Ryan

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