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December 20, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Onetime setting for “The Twilight Zone,” The Atomic reopens under new ownership

Image

Steve Marcus

Bartender Ashlea Latham, left, serves drinks during the grand reopening of The Atomic on East Fremont Street Wednesday, June 20, 2013. The bar was originally built in 1945 as Virginia’s Cafe but was renamed Atomic Liquors in 1952 when patrons used to go to the roof to watch the nuclear blasts from the Atomic Test Site.

Updated Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 3:32 p.m.

The Atomic Reopens In Downtown Las Vegas

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, right, uses a torch to cut a tape during the grand reopening of The Atomic on East Fremont Street Wednesday, June 20, 2013. Looking on are Allan Palmer, left, CEO/executive director of the National Atomic Testing Museum, and Jennifer Albright. The bar was was originally built in 1945 as Virginia's Cafe but was renamed Atomic Liquors in 1952 when patrons used to go to the roof to watch the nuclear blasts from the Atomic Test Site. Launch slideshow »

Map of The Atomic

The Atomic

917 Fremont St., Las Vegas

The Atomic is officially open.

Three years after the iconic downtown Las Vegas bar closed upon the deaths of longtime owners Joe and Stella Sobchick in 2010, the mayor on Thursday torched a red plastic ribbon to christen the place.

About 100 people stood in the sun in front of the bar at 917 Fremont St. as Deacon Bonnie Polley, Christ Church Episcopal, gave her first-ever invocation for a tavern. She prayed it would become “a place of hospitality and delight,” and that “all who enter these doors find … conversation, refreshment and joy.”

After the invocation, Mayor Carolyn Goodman recited a litany of historic events related to the bar, including stories of customers sitting on the roof, cocktails in hand, to watch mushroom clouds arise from atomic blasts at the Nevada Test Site 90 miles to the northwest. (The United States stopped above-ground nuclear tests in 1962.)

Then, using a blowtorch – a symbolic ode to the bar’s fiery name – Goodman cut through the ribbon.

Co-owner Lance Johns said the bar’s name and background related to an atomic era that, to a large degree, altered the course of the world. “It’s really exciting to have even a tiny part of that,” he added.

The bar opened in 1952 as Atomic Liquors with the first packaged liquor license issued in Las Vegas and the seventh bar license issued by the city.

Lane B., a technical writer who lives two blocks away from the bar, predicted he would become one of The Atomic’s customers.

“It’s the history,” he said, adding that Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” filmed scenes at the bar. “That says it all.”

After the bar gets into full swing, Derek Stonebarger, who with Kent Johns also share ownership of the place, said it would host the nondenominational “Atomic Church” on Sundays. The church will include a short sermon followed by bloody marys that customers will make themselves.

Goodman asked aloud who owned two large, empty lots across the street from the bar.

Everyone else there seemed to know, answering out loud “Downtown Project,” or “Tony Hsieh.” The downtown revitalization group purchased two lots totalling 2.8 acres as part of a larger property assemblage in September 2012.

In October, the lots will be home to one of two large performance stages for the two-day music, art and food festival, Life Is Beautiful. In the months to come, those lots also will be paved and used for parking.

That’s likely to mean a steady stream of customers for The Atomic but will also signal an eastward shift of the “center” of Fremont Street from its current spot near Sixth Street.

Businesses are moving east on Fremont. The multi-outlet Container Park opens later this year at Seventh and Fremont; a restaurant will also be opening at the corner of Maryland Parkway (12th Street) by the end of the year; and The Bunkhouse, just south of Fremont on 11th, is getting a facelift during a 60-day closure beginning July 1.

The Atomic’s initial hours of operation will be 4 p.m. - 8 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This weekend, however, after it opens at 4 p.m. Friday, it will stay open through Saturday until Sunday morning.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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  1. "It's the history," he said, adding that Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" filmed scenes at the bar. "That says it all."

    Schoenmann -- those episodes would include the one where bus passengers waited in a bar for a bridge to get fixed on a stormy night. Two aliens were among them. Good article! Good pictures, too!

    "Sanity is a cozy lie." -- Susan Sontag