Friday, April 25, 2008

Where I'm Going for Happy Hour Tonight


Over in a dark corner, at the end of the bar at Champagnes Cafe, there's a little memorial. It's for John L. "Marty" Martinez. He managed Champagnes for seven years, moving from San Diego in '93 to help transition the place from The Old Inner Circle. According to the current staff, Marty worked seven nights a week, trying to make the freestanding bar across from the Boulevard mall one of the friendliest little joints around. He passed away May 1, 2000.

So, as an homage to Marty, Champagnes Cafe has set a permanent place for him. There's a bottle of liqueur, a snifter full of booze, a half-cup of coffee and an unlit cigarette. A shirt is over the bar stool, and a bulletin board is carefully hung on the wall. If you believe the photos hanging on the board, Marty was a bit of a lady's man -- he has a hot babe on his arm in every picture.

But it seems fitting that Marty should have his own eternal stool. Champagnes Cafe isn't the kind of place that quickly forgets anything. It's a throwback to Old Vegas. Not the velvety, 20-umbrella kind of Old Vegas that the Peppermill holds on to tighter than Dean Martin choking a martini glass. No, Champagnes is more classic Vegas -- little seedier, darker and intimate. Maybe it's the photos of a few boxing matches and celebs from days gone by draped on the walls. Or the jukebox that sports more Bing, Frank and Louie than anything recorded in the past decade. More likely it's the plush wallpaper that looks as though it was pulled off some casino's floor -- Liberace would have loved this stuff. The whole place feels as comfortable and lived-in as that swinging coat you bought at the Salvation Army.

Of course, Champagnes isn't immune to the modern age: beer signs and football memorabilia litter the bar -- namely, Bears and Raiders stuff. It's a reminder that even the coolest places have to cater to the "Monday Night Football" crowd to make a profit.

And Champagnes needs people. Even at its busiest moment, the Cafe isn't some hopping hangout. Not that it's as empty as George Dubya's soul. There's always a few regulars popping quarters in the slot machines or kicking back in one of the booths. Let's just say you'll never have to worry about finding a seat.

But that's what's great about the place: The only thing you can really do at Champagnes is indulge in vices and talk with friends. There are no darts, pool, video games, cage dancers or lion tamers. This is a place to either get serious about your drinking or have a serious conversation, something you can't really do when 2 million decibels of bass are slamming like a pickax into your head. I mean, imagine having to talk to people rather than just rub up against them? What an antiquated thought.

Sure, some of the kids who still consider polyester flames cool won't understand that. You can almost hear some girl in an outfit even porn stars would be embarrassed to wear asking, "What, no Red Bull?"

Champagnes Cafe couldn't care less. This is a bar, dammit, something that will still be around long after people start regretting glow sticks and DJ Skribble. And over in the corner, Marty will be taking another hit of brandy, pulling a puff of his cig and laughing his ass off at the whole thing.

Oh Vegas, I love you so much.


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