Flashes On The Horizon

It’s January 27th 1951 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Local news broadcasts have been buzzing all week with talk of the first above ground atomic tests at the Nevada Test Site, 63 miles north of town. Across the valley people are climbing onto their roofs to claim their front row seats for the blast. Joe and Stella Sobchek are no exception.

Taking a break from the renovations that changed Virginia’s Cafe into a liquor store/bar that has yet to be re-named, the couple climb onto the roof. The buzz and chatter that filled the frontier town comes to a stop as the countdown begins…


The ground trembles and with a flash, a second sun illuminates the horizon. A mushroom cloud full of desert dust climbs into the sky, towering over the sagebrush and mountain ranges of southern Nevada. This desert spectacle changed history and became the inspiration needed to name the bar that has become synonymous with old Vegas. One year and eleven detonations later, Joe & Stella’s new venture, Atomic Liquors, opened its doors for business. Their major hook? Inviting people to sit on their rooftop to view the atomic bomb detonations.

Lance Johns continues the legacy that the Sobchecks left behind after they passed in 2010. Aside from some irresistible history, Atomic Liquors’ claim to fame is holding the very first liquor license in Nevada, outside of a casino that is. Whether you’re enjoying the rotating draft beer selection, or sipping on one of their seasonal cocktails, you’ll find no shortage of stories from locals who’ve seen the city change over the years (they are more than happy to tell you how things ‘used to be’). The gaming has gone, but in it’s place comes a healthy dose of conversation and neighborhood bar personalities. With sixty-nine years of memory sealed beneath layers of paint and tar, too numerous to be counted, you can almost hear the laughter of legends long gone.

The red lighting softly filling the room at night, breaks only for neon signs and a juke box that’s nearly as old as the bar itself. A floor safe, discovered during the most recent renovations, has been transformed into a display, illuminating artifacts from the bar’s expansive history.

In a setting like this, it becomes easy to picture Barbara Streisand taking her place at the bar (the seat with an embroidered star), and chatting with Stella about the daily trials and triumphs of being hardworking women in the 60’s. Radiation warning signs and Geiger counters on loan from the Atomic Testing Museum adorn shelves and walls honoring the history of the city. Old Crow Bourbon, a Hunter S. Thompson favorite, is always on hand to bring you back to a time when his unusual swagger was commonplace here. It’s a past and present full of color and character that is coming full circle back to its roots as Virginia’s Cafe.

Stepping out onto the patio, construction is once again transforming the little corner of 10th and Fremont. The building that once held the 10th street garage is now becoming Atomic Kitchen. The restaurant, opening later this year, will be connected to the bar by the patio. What started out as a dream for the Sobcheks continues to draw people from all walks of life through the doors of Atomic Liquors. It’s a place you don’t have to be local to feel at home. While mushroom clouds may be a thing of the past, there’s no shortage of dreams flashing on the horizon for this little bar on East Fremont. #NVHistory

About the Author 

Jeff Bennington Grindley is a native Las Vegan who loves the city and state he lives in. He is a writer and barkeep with interests widespread, who has a wife that keeps him moving towards his dreams.

Travel Nevada had the opportunity to catch up with Jeff, and pick his brain on why Atomic Liquors is certainly worthy of your next Vegas itinerary.

TN: Where are you originally from?
Jeff: I was born in Las Vegas, and lived in Gardnerville for six years before returning to Sin City in 1997.

TN: What is your favorite drink to make?
Jeff: I love making an Americano. It gets overlooked a lot, but is a classic and easy to make. So delicious.

TN: What is the coolest thing that’s happened to you on the clock?
Jeff: Having served Tony Hawk tops my list! It was only one and he was in the midst of a meeting of sorts, but it was pretty cool.

TN: One thing that makes a visit to Atomic Liquors an experience unlike any other?
Jeff: We really pride ourselves in outstanding service, but the thing that sets AL apart from any other place is the history and the people that walk through the doors. As a native Las Vegan, it’s cool to get insight on the town’s heart; you hear it from old school residents who have been here for years, and you get the scoop on what’s happening immediately from everyone immersed in it now. It’s a hub that connects the spokes of what’s been and what’s to come.