Las Vegas left its Deadwood days in the dust long ago. But the big-hatted bull riders of Western lore still come to town, mostly for the rodeos held in fancy, indoor corrals and equestrian centers. And when the steeds are watered and the bulls bedded for the night, even a high-riding rodeo guy and gal need their beer and boogie fix.
These days, Las Vegas is known as much for Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney as it is for Celine and Cirque. The real cowboys, however, head to the Strip’s best saloons -- the ones with endless shots of Jack Daniels and line dances that keep you in motion ‘till the cows come home. But don’t call these saloons quaint. Notorious is more like it -- with famous names, sexy bartenders and plenty of VIP perks added to the mix. Here are our top picks.
This all-American country saloon, located mid-Strip, at the Mardi Gras-themed Harrah’s, serves Southern comfort food and libations such as “Who’s Your Daddy” margaritas. Additional cocktail options are pricey but definitely imaginative. Try “Whiskey Girl,” a tall glass of Jack Daniels, amaretto, pineapple juice, orange juice and grenadine. It’s a great way to wash down the menu’s fried bologna sandwich -- a Keith fave. Keith himself is known to drop by when he’s in town and give a spontaneous little late-night concert.
At first glance, this bucking bronco and brawling bar draws a crowd that includes bachelorettes on the loose or company boys out bonding with the boss. Still, cowboy wannabes and real cowboys alike find Gilley’s a convenient gathering spot when the rodeo is in town. And there’s nothing tame about this place. Only the toughest (or most inebriated) of Stetson-wearing talent dares to take on the mechanical bull at Gilley’s. If you can last 8 seconds you’ve already beat the odds. Once a week, the dudes line up for the “Toughest Cowboy” competition and try to stay saddled long enough to win the $200 purse. Ladies also get their turn, during the “Bikini Bull Riding” competition.
This popular country nightclub puts cool into the saloon experience. The colossal 20,000-square-foot nightclub includes 2 bars, a 3-lane bowling alley, a $250,000 sound system and a “cowboy ultra-lounge,” with perks such as a personal cocktail waitress and bouncer-protected entrance just steps away from the dance floor that’s the size of a barn. Free dance lessons allow the shyest cowboy or cowgirl to join the action on the dance floor with energetic, syncopated dance numbers. Live bands take the stage most nights, with top name acts such as Michael Austin and the Thunder Road Band. Toby Keith's opening act, Flynville Train, has also popped in.
Bonnie Springs Restaurant
For a saloon sans bull riding and two-stepping, head out of town to a mountain spot between Red Rock Canyon and the hamlet of Blue Diamond, about 25 miles west of the Strip. Bonnie Springs Restaurant, a vittles (aka food) venue with a no-ties-allowed saloon has been a working ranch for more than 150 years. More recently, the ground’s have also become a high desert traveler’s attraction with a mini zoo, horseback riding and Old West town recreations. The saloon itself keeps a cozy feel going with a stone fire pit in the bar, while local cowboys, who work on this ranch and others nearby, keep the place hopping.
The logo, says it all: “Dylan’s -- Get Bucked.” Just make sure to keep your hat on. You get points on your wager if you don’t lose your Stetson on the mechanical bull. It really is all about the bull here -- and the beer: bottomless mugs, served by babes in leather tiny bikinis. Meanwhile, free dance lessons -- the Texas two-step, the line dance -- ensure you won’t be stepping on any toes. The sounds spin until dawn. And so does the bucking. But relax, the bull riding is free, and since this is a betting town, the wagers extend to the saloon’s pool, air hockey, darts, even beer pong tourneys.