Wandering the drink desert
The Mirage’s Rhumbar and my search for a home bar
Thu, Aug 6, 2009 (midnight)
Photo: Jacob Kepler
Back when I lived in all the places I lived in before I lived in Las Vegas, I always settled into a bar that I loved. A bar away from home, if you will. In Vegas, I’ve yet to find that special place.
What defines that special place? The perfect mixture of aspirational drinking (i.e., people who are cooler than me) and comfort (but not all that much cooler). In short, a bar that is full of people I’d like to date. A non-virtual Match.com, if you will. In fact, in my four years in Arizona, I met every single guy that I ever dated in that one bar.
Unfortunately, the very thing that makes Vegas so special is the same thing that keeps my home bar from existing. While Vegas has more neighborhood bars than the Bible Belt has churches, most cater to the blue-collar folks. White-collars’ home bar defaults to Blue Martini in Town Square. A fine establishment, but I think its patrons are soulless suburban yuppies.
Downtown bars are too hipster for me. I think of myself as artistic, but I’m too good to dress like it. Or fight for the privilege in the crowded back alley of an indie-rock concert.
Once, I thought my home bar was the karaoke bar in Ellis Island Casino: cheap drinks, wonderfully dingy, ironic and fun. But after a while, the irony gave way to routine. When I was no longer slumming it, the place was suddenly depressing.
The rest of the bars are filled with tourists, whom I’ve stopped befriending. I have no need to pad the coffers of my Facebook friends with Wisconsinites. So I’m left to wander the bars of Las Vegas, in eternal search of a bar home I’ll never find. Which actually works quite well for the writing of this column.
Enter Rhumbar at the Mirage. As soon as it opened this past March, it entered the running. The upscale joint was way fancier than any past ideal bar. But maybe that fit the new me.
Like many concepts in Vegas, Rhumbar is really a collection of two concepts. (Okay, three. But I like to ignore the touristy frozen-daiquiri bar, which is separated from the real bar. And I think the management does, too.)
Rhumbar’s interior is white and shiny, like a room in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Or a room where people make microchips. The theme is an über-stylized Caribbean so mod that the few authentic Caribbean touches (such as the collection of terra-cotta pots) look out of place in the white surface of a plastic moon environment. The only other design elements are the humidor and the white columns of abstracted mint leaves. And my favorite, the “cocks in a box.” These odd art installations are a metal-and-feather ode to cock-fighting in clear plastic boxes. (They looked more like the monster from Alien to me.) The effect of all this style combined with $14 mixologized cocktails is a sense of “making it,” of finally getting to be that cool, urban person I always wished I could be. It could be a picture drawn by mod Spanish illustrator Jordi LaBanda.
However, the outside portion of the bar is a sylvan paradise with partial view of the hotel’s volcano—you’d never know you were directly over valet parking. Even though the chairs are in direct view of everything, the space seems private.
Finally, a bar whose shadows contained people I wanted to meet. People who inhabited that sweet spot between hip and conservative, ironic and genuine, artistic and well-groomed. People who were cooler than me! Just a few tourists to give it the Vegas, baby! energy, but not enough to be annoying. Also, you can order food from BLT Burger, across the hallway.
All this happened on a Monday night, the first installment of a promotional charity drink night. When I returned only two weeks later, the party had already fizzled a little. The tourist-to-local ratio had swung toward tourists. (Hard to avoid in a bar whose exterior wall leads to the Strip.) And I didn’t see so many people I was dying to meet.
Still, the bartender was cool. And the place serves a Hemingway (altered to fit the wimpier modern tongue), and that’s cool. While Rhumbar is not the magical bar at the end of the rainbow, it’s certainly a place I’d visit again. Considering how many Vegas bars I’ve yet to discover, perhaps a little restlessness is a good thing.
Rhumbar Inside the Mirage, 792-7615.