In a good dive bar, time stops. Drift in for a quick one in the afternoon and, next thing you know, midnight has passed. It’s a place you can come back to five years later and still feel welcome. A place that can witness the changes in surrounding blocks, neighborhoods, cities, yet maintain its dimly lit charm.
Dino’s is celebrating 50 years of ignoring the months and minutes as one of Vegas’ finest dives — hunkered down just north of the Strip, green neon script aglow, five-foot-high lettering reminding us that it’s “the last neighborhood bar in Las Vegas.”
The slogan was dreamed up by the original proprietor, Dino Bartolomucci, grandfather of owner Kristin Bartolo. She runs the bar now, but her memories of it go back to visiting grandpa when she was a little girl. “We would come here every Saturday after church to visit — we’d drink a lot of Cherry 7-Ups.” Now, of course, she’s on the other side of the bar. “I’ve been working here for 16 years,” she says, “and I plan on being here for a long time.”
Even if the young ’uns and their sugary drinks have moved on (or up), Dino’s retains the family feeling — lived-in, comfortable, nonjudgmental. It’s what continues to draw a steady, varied stream of customers. During the day, it’s guys in faded Fields of the Nephilim T-shirts and women in oversized Raiders jerseys, faux Rat Packers having a beer between gigs at the themed wedding chapel across the street.
As the evening rolls on, the room fills up. Asked what’s the craziest thing he’s ever seen at Dino’s, bartender Orlando doesn’t even know where to begin. “Oh … a lotta stuff,” he grins. “It’s always interesting here. Always.”
Indeed: You may actually hear someone shout, “This is the most fun I’ve had since I got outta prison!” or ask, “Did you just come from the inaugural ball, too?” A certain local casino mogul used to roll in from time to time, taking his place at the bar alongside the auto mechanics and preschool teachers. Even the penis-bedecked bachelorettes with their squealing entourages and the Vice magazine wannabees in Terry Richardson drag seem to be on their most pleasant behavior.
Rumor has had it that Dean Martin was the original owner of Dino’s. Untrue — the real story is more interesting than that. It was originally the Ringside Liquor Store, a boxing-themed bar largely frequented by local construction workers. The proprietor was a mobster named Eddie Trascher, who used the back room for big-money pool hustling, kept the beer refrigerator stocked with stolen jewels and furs, and once pistol-whipped a patron so viciously that he incurred the wrath of the entire plumber’s union. (Mickey Cohen had to intervene.) After a few tumultuous years, Trascher sold the Ringside to Grandpa Bartolomucci.
These days, if you see imposing fellows in suits with a suitcase full of cash at 3 a.m., it’s because someone won big at video poker. (No, really, they do send giant Samoans in black bouncer suits. With tax forms and everything.) Since then, its Naked City neighborhood has gone from showgirls’ boudoir to industrial zone to abandoned motel block to swankifying arts district. “It’s gotten a lot better. The alleys used to be pretty bad,” says Kristin. “It’s really changed and a lot of nice people are moving downtown, so that’s helped us.”
But once you walk through the swinging doors with their scuffed paint and pockmarked glass, Dino’s remains relatively unchanged since the Ford administration. Yes, it’s added beer pong, a few flatscreens and an Internet jukebox of bewildering diversity, but it’s pretty much the same: dark-paneled walls, faded linoleum floor and rows of bottles gleaming brightly on scarred wood shelves. The ceiling is adorned with the usual Sharpie-ed dollar bills (“Malibu rules!” “I [heart] Matt’s eyes!”) but increasingly with the local color, as area creatives work on an overhead art gallery. “We unveil four tiles on the last Friday of each month, each one by a different artist,” Kristin explains. Right now pinups, abstractions, cartoons, portraits and graffiti are interspersed with blank white acoustical tile. “Eventually,” she says, “the whole ceiling will be done.”
She notes that while Dino’s has evolved a bit, “People like the old-school feeling.” The bar will honor that feeling on Oct. 27. “We’re gonna do what we usually do,” she says. “A fancy party — that’s not us. It’s a celebration of all we’ve been though.”
However, there will be some extra flourishes — free Dino’s T-shirts to the first 100 customers, a free kamikaze shot with every drink purchase. “The people who come here all the time and love it — we’re just gonna hang out.” With endless kamikaze shots? Kristin laughs. “We’ll see how long they last.”
DINO’S 1516 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 382-3894