July 12, 2017
They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But what happens in Vegas over coffee, ends up right here on Ruby.
From cappuccinos down on Fremont Street to cortados in the arts district, Las Vegas had me drinking so much good coffee I felt as though I’d woken up in the stratosphere itself. My luck came in with sips on the Strip too. In fact, I hit the coffee jackpot and I’m happy to share my winnings.
A sip back in time
When I first set about discovering coffee shops in Las Vegas I asked myself, where would the likes of Elvis, Frank & Dean have drunk coffee? And what did Sin City have to offer the coffee lover in the golden days of vintage Vegas? Well, turns out a humble hotel coffee shop was where Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker renegotiated the superstar’s residency – written directly onto a coffee-stained tablecloth, no less – resulting in a multi-million pound deal. You can still drink there today, though the former International hotel is now the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, and the coffee shop is known as Sid’s Café.
Another mid-20th century venue still going strong is the Golden Steer, situated west of the Strip. This retro steakhouse opened its opulent doors in 1958, rolling out the red carpet for the King himself along with other members of the showbiz elite. Like many things in Las Vegas it has a well-kept secret. I pulled back heavy wooden doors to find a mysterious darkened bar area with a distinctive Mob-meets-Hollywood vibe, adorned with portraits of Marilyn, Elvis and the Rat Pack. And just as I caught my breath, I spotted an original vintage Elektra coffee machine, proudly displayed amid shiny oxblood leather Chesterfield armchairs.
Now the Golden Steer may be a sophisticated steakhouse, but it also knows its coffee. When I ask in-the-know server Venko which coffee the likes of Elvis and co. would drink, he’s in no doubt: the house Golden Steer cappuccino served hot in a glass, made with a double espresso and 22 ounces of a secret liquor mix, topped with steamed milk and finished with a layer of foam. It’s not for the faint hearted, but you are in Las Vegas after all.
From the city’s longest continuously running casino El Cortez to the Old Vegas stalwart Peppermill Fireside Lounge, drinking coffee in Las Vegas was – and remains – part of the daily routine. Bottomless cups are served day until night, or around the clock in the case of the Peppermill, where Elvis had a booth named after him which he’d use to unwind after performing.
On my recent layover I decided to pay the Peppermill Fireside Lounge a visit. Inside the neon-lit, bubblegum-hued space I ordered a retro house coffee, brewed and poured into a mug, cream and sugar on the side. No V60 drip filters here; it’s served from a glass carafe, in typical diner fashion. And if you get a taste for pancakes while you’re here, then go for it. The breakfast menu is something to behold.
Specialty coffee right up my Fremont Street
Apart from the Strip, Fremont is arguably the most famous street in downtown Las Vegas. It’s also home to PublicUs; a superb specialty coffee shop in the Fremont East District, a few blocks east of the famous Fremont Street Experience open air mall. A contemporary venue which roasts its own coffee, PublicUs sticks out like the famous ruby slipper mounted on a pole further along the street. Yet somehow it still belongs. There are no glitter balls or candy floss feather boas to be seen but the coffee is as sensational as it gets. I enjoyed a One on One; a mini coffee flight of the house-roasted single origin coffee from Mexico consisting of a double espresso and a cappuccino.
If you find yourself here at cocktail hour, try a Shakerato. One of their delicious specials, it’s an iced coffee mocktail made with a double espresso, house-made cardamom syrup and milk, all shook up in a cocktail shaker then dressed in a sprinkle of cardamom dusting.
PublicUs might be on Fremont Street but here it’s more espresso shot machines than slot machines. Fellow sippers tap away on their laptops, and there’s certainly ‘a little less conversation’… Nevertheless, it’s a real coffee-lover’s haven, so I ordered another for the sun-drenched road.
The Las Vegas Arts District
A carnival of colours greeted me in the Las Vegas Arts District, where vividly painted murals form the backdrop to a streetscape of galleries, pop-ups and independent businesses, including Vesta Coffee Roasters on South Casino Center Boulevard. Here in this hip, relaxed coffeehouse, sunlight streams in through the floor to ceiling windows. A roasting drum sits at the far end of the shop, and sacks of sustainable green coffee beans are stacked like chips on a roulette table. When it comes to third wave coffee in Las Vegas, Vesta Coffee Roasters is the place to be. I started with an almond milk cortado made with the in-house roast – a toasty, creamy delicious cup of coffee – followed on my next visit with a well crafted iced macadamia and almond milk latte.
A hop off the Strip to sip at the Mothership
Next I ventured to the modern boutique style Mothership Coffee Roasters in neighbouring Henderson, just to the east of the airport. A post flight cortado made with their own single origin roasted coffee from Costa Rica was just what I needed, but at the Mothership it certainly doesn’t end there. A coffee shop serving nitrogen cold brew coffee is simply ace, but when you’re served a shot of hopped nitrogen cold brew that’s been steeped for 24 hours, then filtered and infused with Cascade hops before being served through a tap, resulting in an iced, silken IPA-style yet non-alcoholic velvety spiced malty espresso – that’s your cup of coffee heaven in Sin City.
The unusual coffee suspects back on the Strip
You may recall me sharing my Bond-like missions of finding fabulous coffee spots on my layovers, and the Vegas Strip is one such destination where a bit of serious scrutiny is needed. After many visits, samplings and hours of pavement pounding, my sleuthing has yielded serious winnings here, which I’ve narrowed down to four of my personal favourites:
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All photos © Andrea Burton