The book The Velveteen Rabbit is a childhood favorite, one that I remembered enough to want to hunt it down for my little girl. The story’s premise is simple yet not always so easy to accept: love makes things real.
Among the many shiny Christmas presents The Boy receives one year is the Velveteen Rabbit. The Boy plays with all the toys and sometimes dabbles with the rabbit, who “for a long time…lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him.” The reader is privy to the rabbit’s feelings and learns of his yearning to become real. The Skin Horse, “so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath,” explains to the Velveteen Rabbit:
“Real isn’t how you are made,…It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real….It doesn’t happen all at once,…It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
As it goes with kids, The Boy suddenly discovers a new love for the rabbit, and they become inseparable.
Downtown Las Vegas used to be the place to go in the 50s-70s. The Golden Nugget, Glitter Gulch, and the fashionable mid-century modern homes surely hosted gamblers, entertainers, mobsters, and artists—all the fun and trouble one could get into in Vegas was located there. The bail bond shops still lingering on are testimony to just how rowdy and real downtown was. Alas, it grew shabby. Its lights blew out one by one, facades began to fall off, broken windows were nailed over by planks soon to be covered in slurs. Yeah, some buildings are still in this state. But downtown was loved and destined to be found again. A new and young generation of Vegas hipster residents, their visiting friends, and loyal Yelpers have seen it for what it is: real. The sparkling replicas and reproductions of the Strip that travelers associate with the mention of Las Vegas are happily pushed to the side.
I wrote that I was on a mission to experience the real off-strip Las Vegas, all that makes it feel more like a cool urban spot and less of an adult adventure park, less of a phony.
So when I heard of the Velveteen Rabbit and their snazzy cocktails, I wrangled up a few friends to check it out. Opened just earlier this year, the bar lies on a stretch of Main Street populated with secondhand stores (making a Vegas vintage shopping trip post now forthcoming) and the ineradicable bail bond shops. A Victorian rabbit sign, an ode to its neon predecessors, hangs off an organic storefront of wood and concrete, humble enough to fit into the Vegas of old while being smart enough to invite a new crowd to downtown.
As I walked in I first noticed the mismatched Victorian sofas and armchairs, upholstered in plush fabrics ranging from gold to purple—a warm departure from the firm lines and colorless furniture of the monotonous resort lobbies of the Strip. The music, a mix of new ditties, was at just the right volume to allow for conversation without having to yell. The main wall is covered with theme-fitting wallpaper and showcases local art while the back one is treated concrete, creating the imperfect look and hosting a light-play projection throughout the night. Exposed beams add to the industrial feel that has marked the new architecture of the last decade. The beautifully carved wooden bar does have embedded gambling machines that are hard to avoid in any Vegas bar, but these are moderated by the less common and lovely sight of over-sized jar vases full of wild greenery. Some liquor bottles are kept in an ornate cherry cabinet that looks exactly like the one in my mother’s dining room, and the beer pours out from whimsical wooden “hand-le” taps.
The crowd that night was not one the usual Vegas visitor might expect to find—a local group of friends, another larger group still in casual work clothes, a couple of women dressed for a night of catch up at the bar, that lone guy in indigo jeans with a tucked flannel coming to the end of his no-shave November days. The stream of guests stayed constant for a Tuesday. Friday through Sunday is supposedly more lively and at times showcases a DJ.
The Elixirs menu contains distinctive liqueurs, flavors, and ingredients. Besides the Pisco Sour, I had never made or drank a cocktail with an egg white. Many on the Rabbit’s menu include one. God’s Gift (gin, peach liqueur, jasmine green tea syrup, egg white, orange bitters, scotch rinse) is wonderful. I enjoy the lightness of gin. Paired with fruit, it tasted heavenly in this cocktail (excluding egg white because I didn’t warm up to the idea until a few deep). We had heard of another drink with a promising name, the Green Bitch, not on the current menu but still a house favorite. Made up of green Chartreuse (sometimes known as the hipster Jägermeister), Strega, lemon, celery, egg white, simple syrup, and curry bitters, it tastes like a light Granny Smith with a slight aftertaste of celery—super fresh and delicious. The egg white adds a frothy volume that gives an effervescence to this herbal drink. With protein and veggies in a digestif, I could almost have forgotten that I didn’t have dinner. Almost.
With its crafty cocktails and cozy-cool ambiance, the Velveteen Rabbit is the new kid on the block holding down the fort of verity in old Las Vegas, thanks to the selective crowd that shows its love by filling its loveseats. This area of downtown may initially seem worn to those who “don’t understand” what real looks like. Those who do are in for a good night at the Rabbit. If more visitors to the city find their way to magical spots like this one, perhaps we’ll transform Vegas into a true metropolitan destination—that and if someone brings back the Aerotrain to L.A.
Go: Velveteen Rabbit, 1218 S. Main St., Las Vegas, NV 89104