Vegas’ Epic Peppermill

The Busstop Hurricanes are all but a memory now. They disbanded seven years ago and scattered (quite literally) to the far corners of the earth like an OC musician diaspora, never to reunite again. I still maintain they were the best band I ever saw at Linda’s Doll Hut and possibly the best band I ever saw live. Period. The Hurricanes playing the Doll Hut was like something from the Old Testament, with writhing, partially clothed bodies clutching at gilded effigies whilst being consumed by flame.

The band itself was a gathering of misfits worthy of “Kelly’s Heroes” status, a group where (as Aristotle put it) “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Too dynamic for words, whether it was The J Edgar Hoover slapping that doghouse bass or that guitar-shredding knockout strawberry blond Twisty Lemons, they were doomed to implode and I’m surprised it took as log as it did. Now, Sammy Tonic, their front man was one of a kind for sure – screwball doesn’t even begin to describe it. As the Reverend Gary Gomez put it “God threw away the shovel after he made that guy” and it’s the truth.

He knew how to do Vegas and it was epic. He’d wear swim trunks over a suit and tie with an extra pair of socks in his pockets, no suitcase, shaving kit, no nada. The thinking was to wear the same clothes the whole time in Vegas and hop in the pool occasionally to rinse off. By the end of one five-day run he returned to the OC a smelly, disheveled mess, absolutely rank with cigarette smoke and covered in ketchup spatters, spilled alcohol, lipstick stains and coagulated gravy. It was a sight to behold for sure. And don’t even get me started on the grand tale of how he bribed the carvery guy on a buffet line to make him a prime rib sandwich to go on a whole loaf of sourdough. Said sandwich got lost during his booze-fueled sojourn in town that night but he reported it to the lost and found and somehow it ended up at his room the next morning, thus ending an Illiad-esque journey.

The reason I tell you all this is Mr. Tonic was the one who introduced me to the Peppermill, a Vegas staple worthy of more than just a casual visit and certainly deserving of a ringing endorsement from a guy like Sammy Tonic. It is almost a diptych: cocktail lounge on one side, all-American steak, burger and breakfast place on the other. The food comes in epic proportions and that pastrami burger is spot on. In fact if you are driving you can hit The Mad Greek in Baker and grab “The Onasis” (their version) then follow up with one again here at The Pepermill – but keep your blue Cross card handy for that ambulance ride to Vegas’ University medical center. The steaks are reasonably priced with a nice char and they have a whole slew of sandwiches to soak up all that vodka.

But the fireside lounge is the real reason to come here. I don’t do cocaine but just walking into this Scarface-ish neon booze den makes me want to dive into a mound of blow nose first like a pit bull tearing into a Pomeranian. The drinks are affordable by Vegas standards, unlike the 25 dollar double Ketel Bloody Mary I got gouged for waiting for the brunch buffet at The Wynn awhile back. The cocktail waitresses are oh-so-Bee-Gees disco chic in their flowing cocktail gowns and, yes, they stealthily sit down on the banquette next to you to cooly take your order. A welcoming touch. The central fireplace consisting of a shimmering pool of water with a jet of white hot flame shooting straight out of it is epic, but not in the cool millennium pool way – more like a 1968 trashy Palms Springs one.

The cocktail menu is a keeper, lots of various offerings from sticky-sweet hangover producing shooters for the visiting bachelorette party set to other standards more fitting DeNiro in “Casino” (And, yes, he handed off that big ‘ol rock to Sharon Stone here in the movie. Fitting). If you’re in the mood for a blended drink they have all the classics although a smooth, chilled Belvedere served straight up might be a better choice.

The Peppermill has been around for 41 years, plying its wares with fans ranging from the old Vegas set (Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin loved the joint) to more contemporary ones like Carrot Top and Penn Jillette. In fact, rumor has it Jillette has a booth in his personal home patterned after the pink and purple charm of the ones here. It reminds me a bit of the Buena Vista in San Francisco but only the culture. Most places in tourist towns are for locals or out-of-towners, but here it’s for both, with local kids in the bar biz rubbing elbows with tipsy couples from the Midwest canoodling in the dark after they put the kids to bed at Circus Circus.

The place is hardly a secret but you won’t find it unless you are in the know and, believe me, you want to be in the know. In fact, as I write this from my hotel room I am headed there as soon as I type this last sentence. Cheers!

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