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Groovy is back: 1970s-themed bar opens in Vegas

Updated April 26, 2022 - 2:13 pm

Can you dig it?

Square Bar, a 1970s-themed bar and performance space, just opened at New Orleans Square, 900 Karen Ave., at the southern edge of Commercial Center.

New Orleans Square features Big Easy-style wrought iron railings, and it houses a wildly quirky mix of small businesses: a youth orchestra, a B-movie venue, recovery centers, a purveyor of horror collectibles, art galleries, a coffee shop, a barber clipping $10 haircuts, an outpost of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and about four dozen others.

Square Bar fits right in.

And that was the point, said Eric Gladstone, principal of The Feast of Friends, who came aboard to help develop Square Bar after Las Vegas Lounge, the previous tenant, closed at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I felt there was all this nostalgia for the ’70s. In the thick of COVID, when it just felt like the world was crumbling, wouldn’t it be great to create a place where you could escape and go back to an era where the biggest issue was who you were going to go home with that night?”

Showing your stripes, sort of

Renovations took about a year at Square Bar, which consists of a large bar, a lounge, and a dining room with a stage. Interwoven earth-toned bands — part stripe, part circuit, part schematic — course across the walls and floor, summoning (without simply quoting) the horizontal stripes of ’70s design.

Nancy Good, the artist in residence at Square Bar and a gallery owner in New Orleans Square, painted the bands, as well as a bathroom mural composed of brightly patterned biomorphic ribbons (suggestive of tangled tentacles) that glow in the black light.

“I grew up in the ’70s, but I didn’t want to have this very dated retro look,” Good said of her artistic approach to the project. “I wanted to have something that still acknowledged and gave an appreciative nod to the ’70s while also leading it into a more contemporary, crisp, urban feel that would not be dated very fast.”

Also of note, design-wise: globed fixtures made of amber glass hanging above the lounge, from that ’70s moment when interiors looked to Spain for inspiration (if not always for authenticity).

Groovy, not kitschy

When harnessing the look (and food and drink) of the 1970s, often seen as the time that taste forgot, there is always the challenge of balancing easy kitsch with informed grooviness. You want to nod (and wink), but you don’t want to go too far; you don’t want silly. (Square Bar, after all, exists in 2022.)

“It’s tricky with nostalgia because you can go to the most surface-level elements of an era, the plastic lunch box version of history,” Gladstone said. “We’re avoiding the kitschy stuff, but there’s not a specific category of anything that’s banned here. A little bit of everything, but you’re going to get the good stuff.

“We want you to feel as if you are in the 1970s but with the advancements we have now. You can charge your phone.”

The ’70s, he added, also saw the final flourishing of Old Vegas, of “iconic Vegas as Vegas, and that’s something we wanted to celebrate.”

Putting his twist on the menu

Francisco J. Alvarez, former executive chef at Madero Street Tacos and El Gallo downtown, is chef de party (so his business card reads) at Square Bar. The menu includes some ’70s standards, he said, without resurrecting them wholesale (so, alas, no eggs in aspic).

“The reason I came here is because I got the opportunity to create something from a different time, but put my own twist to it,” the chef said.

Look for three-cheese fondue with bread cubes, say, or a meatball party tray; a pan-fried bologna sandwich with Lay’s potato chips or Spam and bacon bites or dogs; lemon meringue pie or a McDonald’s-style fried apple pie (whose Apple Pie Tree character the chain introduced in the 1970s.)

Elsewhere on the menu, you might find a breakfast burrito (an Alvarez specialty downtown), Chinese chicken wraps, fish and chips (with a taro chip update), pancakes a la mode or a charcuterie board (with an unrevealed twist).

The cocktail menu includes that ’70s pour, revised with modern spirits (so, thank God, no Wolfschmidt vodka). In the rotation: a Pink Pussycat, a Rusty Nail, a Harvey Wallbanger and a cocktail for every zodiac sign.

Inspired by cabaret and floor shows

Phil Kotler is the entertainment and events manager of Square Bar. He’s a longtime leader of the Vegas improv and comedy community who performs weekly with Bleach, a comedy group, at Vegas Theatre Company in the Arts District.

Kotler said he’ll bring to the stage a mix of diversions: stand-up, burlesque, live music, Coco Bongo-inspired performances and more. The entertainment program, he said, “is our version of classic ’70s cabaret and floor shows.”

So at Square bar: a pot of fondue, a Pink Pussycat and a show.

Can you dig it?

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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