It probably won’t take an act of God to revive an empty bar next to an abandoned Fremont Street casino, but the owners of Atomic Liquors arranged for some prayers just in case.
Moments before several dozen journalists, neighborhood characters and other assorted gawkers poured through the front doors of the old bar, they listened to a prayer by the Rev. Deacon Bonnie Polley.
The longtime jail chaplain and Episcopalian deacon couldn’t recall having previously written a prayer for a tavern.
“By your mighty power vanquish any residue evil from this place, so that all who enter these doors may find refreshment, conversation and joy,” Polley said before closing with a hearty “Amen.”
Judging by the festive atmosphere inside the Atomic, it appeared any residue evil had, indeed, been vanquished. Also gone were residue cigarette smoke smells, ceiling stains and the layer of dust that once coated the bar, pool tables and old-time jukebox.
The restrooms were so clean they even passed muster with Phil Pruitt, a longtime customer of the Atomic who said his obsessive compulsive tendencies make him generally wary of public facilities.
Pruitt, who said he first set foot in the Atomic around 1981, watched the slow demise of the legendary watering hole as the neighborhood around it deteriorated with the health of Joe and Stella Sobchik, who ran it from 1952 until their deaths in 2011.
“It was a nice little neighborhood bar,” Pruitt said. “But the neighborhood changed, it changed.”
The bar and package liquor store shut down after the deaths and sat empty for several months until some Las Vegas investors decided to try and reopen it.
Brothers Lance and Kent Johns, sons of an Orange, Calif., bar owner, and downtown theater owner Derek Stonebarger persuaded Ron Sobchik, Joe and Stella Sobchik’s son, to lease them the property with an option to buy it.
They then set about catching up on deferred maintenance and installing a new bar, floors, coolers and decor. Not long before the opening Thursday, they exercised the purchase option.
Sobchik, of Fullerton., Calif., said that before the deal with the Las Vegas trio came along, offers had come in from several other potential buyers.
“Two or three of them were just going to bring a bulldozer and level it,” Sobchik said. “I didn’t think that’s what my parents would have wanted.”
Had the bulldozers come they could have made quick work of the tiny Atomic. The single-story brick building is little more than a hut compared with the high-rise casinos farther west on Fremont Street and the megaresorts on the Strip.
Much of the area around it has already been flattened or abandoned. To the west is the former Western hotel-casino, an empty husk. To the north, the Ambassador hotel, formerly a source of dependable clientele for the Atomic, was flattened. An RV park to the east has been cleared out.
The most distinctive structure on the block is the Atomic’s sign, a relic of the neighborhood’s Cold War heyday when the young Sobchiks hosted everyone from off-duty casino workers to celebrities and film industry types who used the property as a setting for movies and television shows.
In the old days, entertainers Barbra Streisand, Burt Reynolds and Tom and Dick Smothers are said to have graced the humble venue.
More recently, the Atomic made cameos in “Casino” in 1995 and “The Hangover” in 2009.
Although the Atomic had more than its fair share of star power, its heart and soul came from the Sobchiks.
They converted it from a restaurant called Virginia’s Cafe because Joe Sobchik was tired of cooking.
The cafe was named after Stella Sobchik’s mother, Virginia Zasucha, who came by train from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Las Vegas with her daughter in 1921 to flee an abusive relationship.
Sobchik said she remained in Las Vegas her entire life, save for a couple of years when she returned to Niagara Falls and happened to meet Joe Sobchik, who was raised in a Catholic orphanage in Brooklyn and arrived upstate as part of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.
He was assigned to build jetties in the Niagara River.
Ron Sobchik said his parents, who died a few months apart and were honored with services in the bar, would be pleased to know the Atomic lives on.
Polley, the deacon, seemed happy to do her best to put in a good word for the place.
“I don’t think He has any problem with bars,” she said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285 .