Exploring dive bars: the Dispensary Lounge

The Dispensary Lounge, 2451 E. Tropicana Ave., looks mysterious from the outside. There are no windows — only a red door that leads inside the 37-year-old bar.

Once inside and past the swinging doors, guests are immediately time-warped to the 1970s, where shag carpet, dim lighting and a friendly bartender await their arrival.

Owner Adele Bellas opened the lounge with her husband, Doug, in August 1976. Since then, they have preserved the decor, preferring to keep the old-school vibe.

“We’re retro. We are more like an old-fashion saloon,” Adele Bellas said. “Modern bars have bright lights and high ceilings. We’re the complete opposite.”

Bellas said that when the couple first opened the bar in the late ’70s, they were at the end of the city. The streets were dirt roads, and the demographics were different.

“When we first opened the bar, there used to be a lot of horse properties,” she said. “People would park their horses outside and come in for a drink. Unfortunately for us, we had to clean up after the horses, but business was good.”

Of course, Las Vegas has changed quite a bit since the lounge opened, but according to Bellas, business has been good ever since.

The neighborhood bar attracts a lot of customers from surrounding areas, not only because of its reputation. Recently, the name brought a lot of attention.

“Who would have thought 37 years ago that the name ‘dispensary’ would be on everyone’s mind because of marijuana?” Bellas said. “Sometimes, people come in surprised to see what is actually inside these red doors.”

Bellas said she wanted to name the bar the Dispensary Lounge because dispensary implied medical aid, or as she saw it, “a prescription for fun.”

Perhaps one of the more notable traits of the bar is its water wheel, which has been inside since day one. It is currently shut down but typically has a fine drip of water that spins the wheel in the center of the lounge.

Attorney Joseph Meloro said he first entered the bar 20 years ago.

“When you enter the lounge, you feel like you’re in Adele’s living room,” Meloro said. “The bar reminded me of old Las Vegas, when Vegas was at its greatest. It has a certain warmness to it. It doesn’t feel like corporate America. It reminds me of times gone by.”

Bellas added that its best nights are Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., when the bar hosts a live jazz night.

Uli Geissendoerfer, a music professor at UNLV, hosts the popular jazz series, which features a vocalist with his trio and other special guests.

The first Wednesday of every month, Geissendoerfer also hosts a jam session from 9 p.m. to midnight featuring a quartet, guest artists and an open platform.

“The fact that it is all carpeted makes it sound like a studio,” Geissendoerfer said of the bar. “It has a feeling of a jazz lounge in New York. The place morphs into a melting pot of all kinds of people.”

Bellas said that with the rise of social media and blogs, they have not had to advertise the bar to attract people. Yelp and the Vegas Burger Blog have helped spread the word across the U.S.

The reviews rave about the bar’s $5.95 seasoned charbroil burger, which, as Bellas put it, tastes like “they have been barbecued at home” and comes with a side of garlic-roasted fries.

In addition, the bar sells sandwiches, fish and chips, nachos, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks and other fried appetizers for less than $10.

Rod Darling, a regular customer, has been coming to the lounge for 15 years.

“This is my favorite bar, by far,” he said. “People have a certain charm here. It’s one of those bars where you can come and socialize at, not only with the bartenders, but with other customers, too.”

The lounge is decorated with Christmas lights, artificial plant vines and small intimate booths. Oldies fill the air with the sounds of artists such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

The lounge also offers an array of video poker games and weekly drawings.

“Business has changed with the economy. Gambling is what pays the bills,” Bellas said. “Nowadays, clients don’t have the money to spend. I don’t think business will ever come back to what it was.”

Regardless, Bellas keeps on smiling and holding on to her positive attitude. She hopes that now with more people going back to work, there will be more money put into the economy.

“You never know who will come in,” she said. “One time, Tracii Guns of Guns N’ Roses walked in. Clint Holmes also comes in quite a bit. There are so many interesting people that find out about us.”

Even with two Dotty’s locations and a Miz Lola’s Spirits & Gaming nearby, the Dispensary Lounge has its dedicated customers keeping the bar competitive.

“My favorite thing about this type of work has to be the people,” Bellas said. “I get a kick out of meeting new people every day. This is the type of place where customers can just relax and release the stress of the day.”

For more information, visit thedispensarylounge.com.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Sandy Lopez at slopez@viewnews.com or 702-383-4686.

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