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November 23, 2014

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Shakespeare’s is the neighborhood haunt you’ve been thirsting for

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Bill Hughes

Brendan Lee can pound some Guinness, and he can pour a mean pint, too.

Given social psychology’s Implicit Association Test, my first response to “Las Vegas nightlife” would be “impossibly short skirt.” It works, because I can’t afford the bottle service that enables sitting down anyway. But some nights a girl just wants old jeans and a quiet pint.

The suburbs have their watering holes, but where’s the happy medium between dull franchises staffed by retired strippers and stylish independents frequented by hipsters? (And, in both cases, what’s with the snug leather vests?) I dig Cheetos-crusted onion rings and craft cocktails, but I’m always on the lookout for laid-back local spots that feel like an extension of my own living room—with way better booze.

This story didn’t start with booze, however. It started with chicken fingers. Woody kept insisting they were better at his go-to British-style pub. Obviously, this was total bullsh*t. In only six months of studying abroad in England I gained 20 pounds, making me the authority on our motherland’s edible culture. Plus, my place was in a divey cottage near the Strip. His was in a suburban strip mall. Mine was 24 hours. His closed up at 2 a.m. As in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the real Shakespeare’s delirious comedy about love nectar gone wrong, someone was going to end up looking like a jackass.

The Details

Shakespeare's Grille & Pub
790 Coronado Center Dr. #130, 837-7900.
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m.

The bar Shakespeare’s has all the earmarks of a transplanted pub: dim light; dart board; Guinness swag; Union Jack; rugby on the TVs and meat pies on the menu. It felt wonderfully lived in, the kind of cozy that makes you sigh into the wingbacks by the fireplace a little deeper. We had our pick of tables, including one under a faux-candle chandelier (straight out of Castlevania) with its own taps that digitally tally your pours.

Impressive. But I wasn’t there for atmosphere. I ordered a Magners Irish cider ($5 for a 20-ounce during two daily happy hours, 4-7 p.m. and 11 p.m.-close, $6 otherwise), figuring its blend of 17 kinds of fermented apples would adequately wash down Woody’s inferior chicken. For the $4.95 happy-hour price, I got four “tenders” sprinkled with fresh herbs and served with sides of ranch and barbecue sauce. The batter had a funnel-cake quality, making for fluffy, crispy, beer-tinged husks around juicy cutlets. Naked or sauced, they were freaking awesome. Woody didn’t even gloat.

There’s room in my heart for my first love, but Shakespeare’s has become my haunt. Given the feel, I was shocked to learn it hasn’t been in its Eastern Avenue spot since Carter was president. Bar manager Brendan Lee said the current incarnation is less than two years old, though the pub was founded in the early ’90s by Scottish chef Ian Fulton in Murrieta, California. Fulton and his wife Karen still own the place, and they keep it lively with weekend brunches, Wednesday quizzes, live music and a menu that’s got a lot more going for it than fish & chips.

Regulars range from Val, who camps out at the bar for Coors Light and club sports, to a knitting group that works the needles while hitting the sauce. And local boy Zac Baker’s cover band has fans on Saturdays that dance to takes on ZZ Top, Tommy Tutone and the Violent Femmes. “I’m pretty good at drinking vodka, but nothing rhymes with that,” Baker said on a recent night. Val replied, “Schmodka.” Everybody laughed.

I turned back toward the bar, where Lee had just pulled a perfect Guinness pint. The New Zealand expat can down one in about 5 seconds, though he says that’s dismal compared to his rugby teammates. No doubt they drink here, but you don’t have to fit a profile to fit in at this “Irish pub named after an Englishman and owned by a Scotsman.” Even if you’re wearing an impossibly short skirt, the whiskey dram will be strong, the chicken will be transcendent, and Lee will call you “love.” Some nights a girl just needs that.

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