BY PAUL SCHRODT
Las Vegas offers everything you expect to see in a major city, but just a lot…more. Even if most of the tourist-oriented action remains on the relatively small Strip, everything is oversized andextra. Chefs are imported to run high-dollar restaurants in grand hotels. Las Vegas concerts are no different. Superstars from Lady Gaga to Jennifer Lopez (no doubt at least partly inspired by Vegas queen Britney Spears) are increasingly taking up temporary digs in the Nevada desert town to perform while avoiding the travel and headache of a global tour.
But let’s say you want to enjoy Vegas without quite that much razzle and dazzle (and the need to shell out copious Benjamin Franklins). The city knows hows to do nightlife, even for those who just want to experience a local band or a surprisingly chill show by a touring act. These are the seven tickets (some of which require no ticket or cover charge at all) that are likely to keep you mellow and entertained rather than overwhelmed, especially if you’re taking full advantage of Nevada’s legal recreational weed. So be sure to take a trip to one of the MedMen dispensaries in Las Vegas, stock up on some cannabis products, and enjoy a gummy or a couple vape hits before hitting up one of the shows ahead.
House of Blues
The Vegas offshoot of this national chain of music venues and bars comes with superstar-level credibility (Santana is performing later in the year). It’s also good for a more intimate excursion, like the weekly Gospel Brunch on Sundays that has become synonymous with HoB for its pairing of down-home food and virtuosic singing. And the semi-secret free-ticket Tuesdays offer premium live music with no entry cost and affordable beers.
Brooklyn Bowl is a another national chain with aspirations of becoming a name-brand music venue. Despite the massive size of the place, you can still grab tickets for $15 to $20 and see a great band. (Get there early if you want to squeeze in a round or two of bowling before showtime.) The top-notch bar food from New York City’s Blue Ribbon group, along with impeccable service and beer options, help it feel like an oasis from the craziness on the rest of the Strip.
Double Down Saloon
Given all the money flowing through Vegas, it can be easy to feel a little, well, small. Near the Strip, Double Down Saloon packs maximum showiness in a wonderfully divey, open-to-anyone setting. Befitting its slogan of “Shut up and drink,” the barebones venue gets right down to business—which means drinking, gambling, and shockingly high-caliber live music heavy on punk and rockabilly, complete with a proper dose of pin-up dancers for good measure).
Established in 1953, downtown Las Vegas’ Bunkhouse Saloon has clearly found its lane in the glitzy city. Venture off the Strip to get here and take in an eclectic mixture of live music ranging from marquee names to well-honed indie bands to local talent. The notable comfort food can be enjoyed in the relaxing backyard area.
The Sand Dollar Lounge
The Sand Dollar Lounge (formerly known as the Sand Dollar Blues Bar) has been showcasing exemplary blues in Vegas since 1976, having hosted the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Mick Jagger. The revived, hallowed, and close-to-the-strip institution wisely keeps the focus on the music, which goes late into the night on weekends and will please even the snobbiest blues aficionado. But don’t pass up the delicious (if limited) pizza selections, perfect for when the munchies hit.
Somehow, Vegas found a way to outdo the theatricality of burlesque dancing. Enter Zombie Burlesque at the V Theater inside the Planet Hollywood hotel. Yes, the sexy female stars of this show are playing the undead. But that only adds to the entertainment value, including hilarious moments of comedy and impressive vocal performances, while not distracting from the beauty on display. Tickets start at $49.
Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club
It is, at the end of the day, hard to go to Vegas and avoid strip clubs. If that happens to be your thing, skip the more heavily marketed Strip-adjacent shows and trek your way to Hustler. The club named for notorious porn purveyor Larry Flynt provides a free shuttle service for those who make arrangements ahead. There are also regular deals on the cover and drinks. Once you’re inside, roam the massive three-floor venue, which includes both female dancers on the first two floors and, Thursday to Sunday, male dancers on the third floor. There’s also a huge rooftop deck where you can grab a smoke or, if you’re lucky, chat with the talent.