weather icon Mostly Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Locals, tourists help Atomic Liquors celebrate 70 years — PHOTOS

Updated June 24, 2022 - 12:10 pm

It was a historic occasion at Atomic Liquors, as Las Vegas’ oldest free-standing bar turned 70. Last weekend, the spry septuagenarian — which has made it through seven topsy-turvy decades — welcomed crowds of well-wishing locals and tourists.

Tavern license No. 00001

Atomic Liquors has been a fixture on East Fremont Street since original owners — the late Stella and Joe Sobchik — opened in 1952, according to company records. They were already operating a cafe, which they transformed into a liquor store. Then they purchased a “pouring” license from a defunct hotel lounge. The result? Atomic Liquors became the first tavern in town, a place where hard drinks could be poured and sold beyond the confines of hotel-casinos under a distinctive license: No. 00001.

In its ’60s heyday, Atomic drew a working-class clientele and was known to attract celebrities including the Rat Pack, Barbra Streisand, the Smothers Brothers and Clint Eastwood in the nocturnal hours after casino shows. Like much of downtown Las Vegas, the neighborhood surrounding Atomic suffered through the ’70s into the 2010s.

In 2012, a group of investors led by downtown attorney Lance Johns purchased Atomic from the Sobchiks’ son, Ron, and remodeled and revivified it after the place had been shuttered for a bit.

Locals lounge, global appeal

Atomic Liquors is the quintessence of a cool, down-low locals lounge — albeit one with worldwide stature among fans of dive bars, Las Vegas history, retro design and even mixology.

Some guests have been visiting Atomic Liquors for more than a decade, like Wesley Davis, who eventually joined the team as head of security eight years ago.

“I used to come in and drink, and I’d just left my job at Zappos — I did new-hire training there for a while — and needed a change of pace,” Davis said.

He approached a manager. “How’d you like to hire a dude that can talk the pants off a unicorn that doesn’t need pants?” Davis asked. Her response: “You have an interview tomorrow,” he recalled.

“The whole company has always taken good care of me,” Davis added.

As he oversees security at Atomic Liquors, Davis has seen a lot in his day, but he has welcoming words for Southern Nevadans (and tourists) who are unfamiliar and perhaps unsure of this part of the city.

“I tell everybody the same thing: It’s just like any downtown area of any major city — there’s going to be some characters on the streets, some cool places and some offbeat joints. Acme Security and the police — Metro — do a really good job in keeping everything patrolled. It’s not scary; it’s just downtown,” Davis said.

Jessica Balding has been in the Atomic Liquors orbit for some four years, finding it after moving here from New Mexico for a military contract position at Nellis Air Force Base (she remotely assists jet fighters in action). She arrived in 2018, explored the town and found Atomic. “But I wasn’t quite a regular,” she added.

“Then, in 2019, I actually had an opportunity to move down here, so Atomic is kind of my home bar,” she said. “I love that it’s close by where I live so that I can walk here.”

Balding says that spending time at Atomic Liquors has allowed her to make friendships with people from across many Las Vegas communities beyond the military. And she’s forged friendships with travelers from other locales who have visited the bar numerous times. (“‘It’s so good to see you again. What’s happening in Austin or Tulsa?’” Balding demonstrated. “Or wherever they’re from. It’s really cool.”)

A growing fan base

And Atomic Liquors continues to grow its fervent fan base and locals crowd, most recently with Kevin Buchholz, a just-retired police officer from South Florida.

Four months ago, Buchholz and his wife, Liz, moved to a new condo tower next to Atomic Liquors. The bar was an essential part of the couple’s house-hunting method.

“I Googled the bar and found some of its history,” he said, noting the up-to-date but retro bathrooms. He also likes that the bar can be glimpsed in “Casino,” one of his favorite films. “I just like the history. It’s what drew me in.”

For a bonus, Buchholz has found Atomic Liquors handy when Liz — who has a home business — gets busy, as he can conveniently slip in next door and give her room to work.

Its loyal customers and employees helped make Atomic Liquors’ 70th anniversary a memorable milestone, from an opening Jameson whiskey toast and sign-in book ceremony to the tapping of an ultra-rare Joseph James Suave Felon No. 003 beer keg and beyond.

Contact Greg Thilmont at gthilmont@reviewjournal.com. Follow @gregthilmont on Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.