Sunday, April 15, 2007

why haven't I mentioned The Frog before?

If we ever move to Vegas I'm working there and drinking as much beer as I can handle. Walking through the coolers at The Frog was unbelievable...


Raise a toast off-Strip in Las Vegas' Freakin' Frog
There's no angst here, just hundreds of beers and whiskeys to sample.

By David Surratt, Special to the Los Angeles Times
April 03, 2007

Where to escape the Las Vegas Strip bar scene
Dine with winemakers at The Ritz, Lake Las Vegas
No one's ever had trouble finding a functional drinking establishment off-Strip in Las Vegas; dives are tucked everywhere east and west of the mega-wattage main drag. What's harder is finding a place that's not a den of sallow-eyed souls staring into video poker screens like sloshed air traffic controllers.

For anyone wanting something more, bars in Vegas are a bad-odds gamble, typically as tired and clich├ęd as they are desperate. Rooting out the exceptions is the game, and bar owner Adam Carmer makes the case for his Freakin' Frog.

"People should know there's no angst here," he says. "And there's no gaming — that's a big deal."

In a town where the coldblooded machines are crucial life support for countless businesses, Carmer's place aims higher, shooting for something more traditionally pubby yet with a refreshing strangeness that's not easy to pin down. No jumble of NFL pennants, Marilyn posters and moose heads in Ray-Bans. Venturers to the Frog find high, dark maroon walls and plasma screens with fickle tastes, where a "Full Metal Jacket" DVD follows "Family Guy." There's controlled chaos at the bar and wandering conversation. The place is a barroom parallel to the band Radiohead: familiar elements balanced into an innovative, creep-up-on-you whole that almost, but never quite, collapses on itself.

Music, in its most impromptu form, is one of the Freakin' Frog's biggest hooks. A rinky-dink-timbred baby grand piano squats in the back, where patrons of all skill levels can sit down to tickle or torment the ivories. This particular Friday evening sees them brought to tears (happy ones) by Seth Barkin — a fixture here since the bar's opening in early 2003. At 26, Barkin is an inscrutable young guardian of old Vegas, hunching and bobbing across seven octaves in an iridescent vest, singing in a Tom Waits rasp and "restoring 1920s-style piano to the modern world," he says, dragging on a cigarette between sets.

Barkin connects with his piano while, up front, Bob Cadigan drums along quietly on the bar with his fingers. He's an older guy, a Frog regular, an L.A.-trained TV production maven with a stately-casual air. Cadigan orders a beer from one of the largest selections in the country, studies the glass in his hand for a moment, sniffs at it — then pulls a waterproof penlight from his shirt pocket and swirls a foggy white beam around in the drink. He talks about color, clarity, eventually explaining why this is a beer worth scrutinizing in the first place.

It's a Samichlaus. A bock. Eggenberg Brewery, Austria. Its 14% alcohol content makes it one of the strongest beers on Earth, and you can check for yourself with a flip through the Frog's alphabetical list. There it is, right between Sam Adams Utopias 2003 and Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout. Eight entries down from Ruddles County English Bitter. The bar's two walk-in refrigerators house around 720 varieties now (not excluding Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can), and Carmer is projecting 1,200 by year's end. Thirty-two publications, local and national, have awarded his place best-bar and best-beer honors.

Upstairs in the Whisky Attic, the Frog's companion entity, Carmer has just wrapped up an "Around the World" tasting event — a sort of exotic whiskey seminar given by him and attended by several customers for a $50 buy-in.

"This is an old-school bar," he says, tidying up while he talks. "It's a place where people like to drink and converse and try different things. The impetus for everything I've done here comes from listening to the guests and trying to make their experience better, more apropos to the vibe. And it's a very intelligent vibe here — professors, writers, producers, students."

Carmer describes the Frog's past, present and future in a quick cadence. Hearing about his vision is a little like watching a ballet; this graceful business model he's describing sounds elegantly simple, but you know it can succeed only with intense focus and a lot of grueling legwork. Besides running this place, he's been a maitre d' at the Mirage, MGM Grand and Harrah's, and now holds an adjunct faculty position in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, food and beverage management program.

The normally members-only Whisky Attic where we're chatting (hunter-green walls, a suit of armor posted in the corner, hardwood everything) also doubles as a classroom by day. And if the beer selection down below wasn't intimidating enough, this upstairs classroom is a 500-plus selection whiskey archive (not excluding Jim Beam White Label), making it one of the largest assemblages outside of Ireland.

At one tasting, Carmer poured nine pan-continental samples for the group, introducing each bottle emcee-style ("So, without further ado ..."), pointing out undertones of maple, citrus and butterscotch.

Getting into the Whisky Attic will cost you, but Carmer never charges a cover for the Freakin' Frog no matter who's playing.

On Saturday, local rockers Vav Ohm often kick in. In a venue that's already hard to pin down, Vav Ohm musicians parade their own inconsistencies, evoking Modest Mouse, America and the Velvet Underground by turns.

The girl in Jackie O shades and polka dots does a hippie dance, forearms waving like they're out a car window on the interstate. The goth-eyed ponytail dude in black and white stripes writhes across from her with jokey braggadocio, like a gondolier from a Tim Burton vision. Back at the bar, operations director Trish Martin tends to a thirsty throng way bigger than anyone expected tonight. She and the her staff are really hopping, and although I don't want to add to her workload, the temptation is strong to go up and order something made-up.

"Hey, Trish! One ... uh ... Glib Amphibian Porter, please," I'd say, just to see if she went to the fridge and actually brought one back.

4700 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas; (702) 597-9702


Sharon at the Jersey Shore said...

Hey! Wasn't the Whiskey Attic the place we were going to go for my 40th birthday? Sounds awesome!

And what a great write-up. That place is going to be mobbed!

Joshua said...

way to show props! i am so proud of my big bro!