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Desert Companion

At first sip: Drinking the LinQ

Tag Lounge and Bar

More than a stylish makeover, the Linq swings into action with top-notch brews and curated cocktails.

Many changes on the Las Vegas Strip are met with a bit of the grumble and eye roll — “I liked the original MGM sign better!” “I still miss the Stardust!” and, “Hey, when did they tear down that motel with the pink elephant?”

But we all approve of the Linq. No one mourns the Casino Royale’s weak margaritas and watery drafts, or O’Shea’s plastic Irish bar where the patrons shouted a lot and unfettered their beer guts in the desert sun. Or the jumble of tawdry storefronts and trinket booths and the dire cover bands. The Linq’s shops run more toward the L.A. casual celeb chic of Kitson, the East Coast swagger of 12 A.M. RUN sneakers and the retro-Americana of the Polaroid Fotobar.

But the real upscaling is in the nightlife. The Blvd. Cocktail Company holds a prime spot in the center of the Linq, blazing light bulbs and wall windows shining as an example of the stylishness the new property aspires to. (The Blvd. is by the same folks who created downtown’s Commonwealth and Park on Fremont.) The atmosphere is best described as a sort of haute-artsy Alice in Wonderland, with black-and-white art nouveau wallpaper, black-and-silver Victorian furniture and enormous paintings that share a whimsical/creepy aesthetic. Two display eager robots worshipping donuts and ogling crullers; there are also creepy little blond girl and chiaroscuro bird-head portraits, but the most enigmatic is the painting of the enormous-eyed, green-pallored boy in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit with his dog, a dog that has a lion’s mane and wheels for legs. It will allure and trouble you, even as you peruse the cocktail menu.

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BoulevardierThe Blvd.’s collection of two dozen libations is well-chosen for the clientele — exotic enough to lure connoisseurs, but without the curry bitters or gooseberry shrub that might alienate the hoi polloi in for happy hour (that’s 5-7 p.m.). The house cocktail is the Boulevardier, a modified Manhattan with Templeton Rye and chocolate bitters for an extra layer of sweet to the smoky. On the lighter side is the Melon Appeal, a sunset-tinted concoction of Grey Goose melon vodka, Aperol and cucumber, with black pepper adding spice to the floral smoothness. Also summery is the Unlucky Luciano, a blend of Hangar One Buddha’s Hand vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, lemongrass and bubbles courtesy of Yuzu sake. (The name sounds like something made of bootleg whiskey and snitch’s blood, but trust me, this is tastier.) Most lovely is the Lavender Slip, a fragrant liquid bouquet of Maine blueberry vodka, lemon and lavender that seems like it should be cloying, but is actually refreshingly simple. Just the right, light thing to sip as you gaze up at the room’s centerpiece: An enormous cloud-like chandelier made out of thousands of clustered light bulbs. It hovers above a grand piano (only one, mercifully — this is not the dueling piano bar) with a fellow in a porkpie hat playing minimalist renditions of Eurythmics or Radiohead.

Of course, if you want your music bigger than a one-man-band, there’s the Brooklyn Bowl, which has already hosted the likes of Gogol Bordello, Galactic and a stellar opening gig featuring Elvis Costello and The Roots. The original venue is in Brooklyn — more specifically, in that epicenter of hip, Williamsburg — and the Vegas outpost does its best to compensate for the mall-like location with a loft-esque space adorned by giant mirrored disco balls and life-sized bowling trophies. There’s also abundant freak-show art and carnival memorabilia, evoking Brooklyn’s Coney Island (love the ATMs disguised as fortunetellers’ booths) although the posh, 550-foot tall, high-priced High Roller is about as distant from Coney’s open-air, coupla-bucks Wonder Wheel as Vegas is from New York City. (The Brooklyn Bowl is also a far cry from the area’s previous live music venue, the “Carnival Village” tent, which featured dreadful cover bands and luridly hued frozen drinks.) Even when there’s not a live act, the Bowl’s booming sound system and resident DJs such as Professor Rex Dart and the Juju Man keep the vibe bouncing.

Naturally, the Brooklyn Bowl offers bowling, with leather couches and avant-garde art videos playing over the pins. There are also a few other unexpected features. First, the food is quite delicious — crispy fried chicken with honey, flatbread pizzas deluged with toppings and a variety of other comfort foods courtesy of Blue Ribbon. The bar is fully stocked and the bartenders fully capable, but you may want to opt for an oh-so-apropos Brooklyn Ale, especially a Brooklyn Brown, a beer that has the richness of a stout balanced with a sweet, hoppy finish. Brooklyn Bowl carries several draft varieties from the hometown brewery — their brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, just won a James Beard Award, so you know it ain’t just borough loyalty, but solid quality as well. Heck, there’s even an outdoor patio with a view. Is there anything this place doesn’t have?

Cocktail CoOffering a completely different kind of high concept is the Tag Lounge & Bar, which offers futuristic design and old-school beer-drinkin’. Decorated in red vinyl and silver chrome, it features NORAD-like video poker, digitized craps and a holographic blond blackjack dealer. Tables are giant monitors with Internet access and an array of video games from Tetris and Frogger to checkers and bowling. The beer selection sports more than a hundred choices — domestics are broken down by state, while the imports are organized by nation or original and feature a few rarities like Greece’s Mythos beer and Kenya’s Tusker Premium Lager. With its scarlet-and-silver décor, virtual games and global beverages, TAG is a bit like how they envisioned the future back in the ’80s — imagine you’re the hero of a William Gibson novel, sipping your Asahi Kuronama as you desultorily tap at the giant Internet tabletop and wait for your virtual girlfriend to get off work.

It’s not all newness — the Linq still has an O’Shea’s, although they now favor Guinness and Jameson over domestic brews and plastic bottle-brands, and the beer pong is organized like an Olympic sport. There are still outdoor drink stands, but the cocktails are made with freshly squeezed juices rather than resembling Slurpees spiked with Everclear. Even if you don’t want to ride that big wheel all the way to the top, the Linq is a step up.

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