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Bar at Smith’s Marketplace in Las Vegas becomes gathering place

Updated October 11, 2019 - 5:39 pm

If you happen to be in the pharmacy section at the Smith’s Marketplace on West Skye Canyon Park Drive and hear a sudden roar, don’t be alarmed, even though it’s coming from the opposite end of the massive store. It just means a football team has scored, triggering an excited response from those watching the game in the store’s bar.

In the store’s bar? Yes, that would be the Social Hour Beer & Wine Bar, just across the aisle from Smith’s bakery department. And, in a spirit reminiscent of the bar in “Cheers,” it’s a neighborhood hangout, drawing an average of 300 people a day.

Local resident Lacey Nelson, who was seated at the bar on a recent afternoon with her friend, Amy Childs, said she stops by about every other week.

“We usually come to the bar, and then go shopping,” Childs said.

“It elevates the shopping experience,” Nelson added with a grin.

They said other Smith’s stores are closer to their homes, but they’re happy to drive a little farther.

“This bar makes us come here,” Childs said.

Store manager Chris Witt said he has no doubt it increases traffic.

“We wanted to create this experience for our customers,” he said. “It’s your neighborhood bar.”

The first bar in a Smith’s store is in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Bradley Pugh, wine steward at the Skye Canyon store, said he was working at the Smith’s at Charleston and Hualapai boulevards when company executives showed him photos of that bar and mentioned plans for the new one.

Pugh, who moved to Las Vegas from Indiana in 2005, was on board. He was working at Lee’s Discount Liquors in the Anthem area of Henderson in 2009 when he heard Smith’s was starting a wine steward program, in which selected stores would have employees to help guide customers’ wine purchases. As a sommelier, he knew it would be a good fit. And so, apparently, did the executives, because Pugh’s wine knowledge is matched by an outgoing personality and quick wit.

“I’ve worked all over town,” he said. “People know me. The regulars have kind of migrated with me from store to store. They still want my recommendations on wine.”

With a pool of about 600 regulars, some of whom come in daily, Pugh said the bar had to be expanded from the original size, with about 30 seats added.

“Believe me, it was like a sardine can before,” he said.

Originally, it was just called the Beer and Wine Bar. When executives asked him to come up with a catchier name, he looked around and did some thinking.

“It’s like a social hour here,” he mused. Ergo, the name.

“This is a social bar for some,” he elaborated. “I’ve seen people exchange emails and phone numbers. They find out they live six doors down from each other and never knew it.”

The price is an incentive for most of the customers, Witt said.

“Two dollar and $3 pints, you’re not going to find that anywhere else,” Witt said, with Pugh adding that it’s “old Vegas pricing.”

Pugh said initially beer was most popular. Asked which mass-market beers he wanted to serve, he nixed the whole idea, and has 12 craft beers on tap. If someone asks for a football-commercial brand, he said he steers them to a craft beer with similar qualities.

Dave Hicks said he comes in about every other week.

“I like the idea of being able to do your grocery shopping and stopping off for a beer at the same time,” he said. “And I always get a growler filled. I’m into IPAs, the Voodoo Ranger.” Filling the 64-ounce growler costs $9, he said.

“It’s very reasonable, compared to other places,” he said.

Grace Adams, who was with Hicks, said she was on her third visit to the Social Hour.

“It’s just pleasant,” Adams said. “We can pick up sushi (in another part of the store) and bring it over here. The people are friendly, and I get a glass of wine.”

Pugh said wines have become more popular, and he pours 16 by the glass. The Social Hour serves an average of 100 glasses a day, at an average of $4.99 each. Glasses are priced about 25 percent above the same amount in the bottle, far lower than the industry average of two and half to three times retail. And if a customer expresses an interest in a wine, Pugh points out that if they purchase four bottles, they get 20 percent off all of them.

Witt said despite the crowds, the atmosphere is serene.

“Bradley keeps it family-friendly,” he said.

“People play pretty nice in here,” Pugh said. “They know they’re still in a grocery store.”

Ron and Deb Crowl, visiting from Alaska, said they heard about the bar from their son, who’s at Nellis Air Force Base, and their grandson, who works in the store. They stopped in for the first time when they visited six months ago.

“Grocery shopping isn’t a chore anymore,” Ron Crowl said.

And sometimes, it isn’t even part of the equation. Childs said when she and her husband recently were looking for a place to stop for a drink, they finally said, “Let’s just go to Smith’s.”

“Women said to me, ‘You know what this is going to create,’ ” Pugh said. “Our husbands will beg us to go grocery shopping.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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