katie way and a date drink in a las vegas bar
Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete | Photo Editor: Ricardo Nagaoka

I Explored Las Vegas by Going on Tinder Dates With Local Dudes

Fear and loathing, beers and ghosting.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
A slew of glitzy, trashy, action-packed, and generally thrilling ways to spend your days and nights in Sin City. Hit the ATM and follow us.

I actually wasn’t single when I pitched the idea of matching with men on Tinder in order to have them show me locals-only haunts in Las Vegas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by the time I was on the plane out west, I was. Which helped. In every sordid little stint on dating apps I’ve ever pulled, I consistently come across dudes visiting New York making some version of the same request: “Show me around?” or “Looking for a beautiful tour guide.” My gut reaction to bios like those was always a firm, derisive left swipe. Why would anyone want to spend a trip talking to a stranger? I thought. Ew! 


When confronted with Las Vegas, the famously cool den of depravity that I had never before visited, I finally understood the business trippers and solo travelers looking for generous permanent residents. I was wrong to be scornful of the people who were smart enough to see the truth: If you’re single, the best way to get to know a new place is to have someone cute take you somewhere cool that you wouldn’t find out about otherwise. In retrospect, it’s so obvious.  

Writer Katie Way sitting on blue car

Katie Way ready for dates

Of course, consummate professional that I am, I wasn’t looking for love on my Tinder tour de Vegas—I was looking for content. So I plastered the fact that I was a journalist looking to explore the city onto my Tinder bio and swiped right rapid-fire on anyone who had “Vegas local” in theirs. After wading through a handful of people who wanted to go on an actual date (fair enough), I locked in meetups with three guys who both seemed normal and promised to show me un-Googleable Vegas hotspots. Notepad in my hand and my heart in my mouth, I headed to Sin City ready to see some deeply weird shit and maybe do a smidge of sinning myself.

Date Number One: Mountain Springs Saloon/Las Vegas Alamo Casino

Cam, age unlisted, was the first and best candidate for this story. Clean-cut, responsive, and smiley, not only did he immediately and enthusiastically respond to my Tinder DM, he emailed me a five-part itinerary within hours. I love a hustler! We narrowed our agenda down to two of his five suggested spots. First, we’d meet at Mountain Springs Saloon, an all-day biker bar 30 minutes from the Strip, and then we’d head to Las Vegas Alamo Casino/TA Travel Center, a truck stop, convenience store, and gas station with fully operational table games—a one-of-a-kind location, according to Cam. 

Cam ended up being a 23-year-old with distinction: He is one of the youngest commercially certified hot air balloon pilots in the world. He arrived at our date with his hair slicked down, wearing black chinos and a maroon button-up bearing the logo of the hot air balloon tour company he co-owned, the aptly named Vegas Balloon Rides. As a hot air balloon pilot, Cam told me that he works unorthodox hours: To catch the sunrise over the Mojave Desert while in the air, he needs to wake up at around 2:30 a.m. in order to get ready, commute to the flying area, and set up the balloon for his passengers. This means that he normally goes to bed at what must be a frankly boner-killing 5:30 or 6 in the evening.

Exterior of Mountain Springs Saloon in Las Vegas

Exterior of Mountain Springs Saloon

Cam and I met in the front room of Mountain Springs Saloon a little past his bedtime: 5:45 p.m. With him was his friend/pilot trainee Amanda, a 40-something woman with bubblegum-pink curls and an infectiously chill demeanor who said she was in town to see Cam and log some flying time. She milled around respectfully while Cam and I started our date in the bar’s outdoor seating space. The backyard sprawled, featuring mismatched patio furniture for guests’ sitting comfort, sun-bleached landscape rocks that crunched underfoot, a permanent food trailer peddling generic fast food and Mexican fare, and—perplexingly—a koi pond. Cam told me Mountain Springs is where he brings his balloon passengers post-flight (so, around 10 a.m.) if they want to “keep the party going.”

The sunny, un-self-consciously quirky Mountain Springs Saloon was perfect for that kind of pit stop—I liked the bar and the patchwork of coffee tables and metal chairs on its grounds so much that I took my co-workers back to it just a few days later, after we drove through Red Rock Canyon and needed a post-hike cold one. It was the kind of bar a dad would love: cheap and unpretentious without fully tipping into seedy.

Cam and Katie inside the Mountain Springs Saloon

Cam and Katie inside the Mountain Springs Saloon

First over Styrofoam containers of junk food, then over a happy-hour-priced ($3?!?!!?!??!) hard cider and a Modelo, Cam and I discussed the world of hot air ballooning for the vast majority of our two-and-a-half-hour date. Did you know, for instance, that there is hot air balloon nepotism? Cam conspiratorially told me that he and some of his pilot peers derive a sense of pride from the fact that “Mommy and Daddy didn’t buy our balloons,” an awesome statement to which I, an active listener, responded: “Totally.” 


After Cam and I finished eating, we moved inside with Amanda. In the bathroom, I spied a piece of graffiti scrawled underneath the paper towel dispenser that tickled me so much I snapped a photo: BRETT MARSHALL IS A THIEF + A COCKSUCKER! The three of us sat in the saloon’s interior, tucked in a corner whose walls and windows were papered with signed dollar bills, away from the row of virtual poker games that lined the bar itself. The evening light filtering through the cash was fuzzy and warm and the Modelo was “hitting.” The best thing you can get on a date is laid, but the second best thing you can get is the offer to take a ride in a hot air balloon. 

Mountain Springs Saloon: 9 out of 10, a bit of a hike, but the price is right, and it will look sick as fuck on your Instagram story. 

Upon entry, the Las Vegas Alamo Casino/TA Travel Center was a pretty standard truck stop—a menagerie of disposable vape pens, beef jerky, and family-sized snack bags. But just past the fridge with its rainbow of six-packs was a dim, thickly carpeted room, roughly the size of its convenience store neighbor, packed to the gills with slot machines, a bar, and a fully manned black jack table. Men in baseball caps and faded black T-shirts milled around the strobing slot machines or paced while the taciturn dealer—an older woman with an expertly slicked-back ponytail—placed the cards down on the card table’s nubby blue felt. It was a weird scene that I wanted to like: All the patrons were into it, and all the staff members we spoke with were friendly and helpful. But because I wasn’t there to gamble and hadn’t come from the tractor of a 16-wheeler, I felt like an intruder—a college student who clomped into a local dive bar just before last call, neglected to order a drink, and asked for an iPhone charger instead. 

Las Vegas Alamo Casino

Las Vegas Alamo Casino

Cam and I perched in front of a pair of slot machines in a bright tiled hallway that also held showers and he explained, in rich detail, casino etiquette—not to take the dice off the table in craps to have someone blow on them; to tip dealers profusely; and which games foster the most convivial atmosphere between players (craps, again!). I made the right affirmative noises, but I knew I wasn’t killing it at holding up my half of the conversation. As we talked, a casino-goer harassed our photographer, Jamie, for wearing a face mask. “Do that in Florida and see what happens,” he growled. While Cam, typically a light drinker, regaled me with a story about blacking out on Long Island Iced Teas at Palms Casino and flooding his bathroom, the anti-masker followed Jamie around the casino; called a woman on speakerphone to complain about the mask; then rapidly switched off speakerphone when the woman on the other end started to tell him, “I can’t take it, I can’t do this anymore…”

Suddenly, I couldn’t, either. It was time for us to go home. I hugged Cam and Amanda goodbye in the Vegas twilight, we exchanged Instagram handles, and then we parted ways.

Las Vegas Alamo Casino/TA Travel Center: 3 out of 10 if you’re a tourist, but 11 out of 10  if you’re a driver of any kind in need of a travel center with a novelty factor that’s through the roof.

Outside view of the Alamo Casino

Outside view of the Alamo Casino

Date Number Two: “The View” 

As we drove towards “The View,” a scenic overlook a few miles outside the heart of the city, in the deepening dark, the co-workers chaperoning me asked a few questions about the eligible bachelor who was supposed to meet us there. I had to admit that I actually had zero information about the man who wanted to take me down an abandoned dirt road. I hadn’t really asked, because I was much more interested in the location itself, which Jonny, 27, described to me as a local party spot where people loiter, drink and light bonfires. Jonny also said, in the most convincing part of his Tinder pitch to me, that The View is the place where Kanye West filmed the music video for his song “Flashing Lights.” (I totally never confirmed this claim, but per IMDb the video was at least filmed in the Las Vegas desert.) Prior to arriving in Vegas, when I asked Jonny how to get to this enticing haunt, I received the following text message/map combination:

Text conversation between Jonny and Katie

Text conversation between Jonny and Katie

Obviously, I showed this dispatch to everyone I’ve ever met. Reactions ranged from, “Why does the arrow look like that?” to, “Oh my fucking God, Katie, please do not go down an unmarked dirt road with a stranger you met on a dating app.” VICE’s security team got involved and my dear, intrepid editor tagged along with our photographer and me, because three people are harder to murder than two (?).


But it turned out I had nothing to fear from Jonny except the icy sting of rejection. That’s right: The man who hand-drew me a map to a remote location ghosted me, ignoring multiple day-of texts, a phone call, and a plaintive voicemail.

Arriving at the place the arrow pointed to, we parked our car outside of a locked gate and picked our way down a cracked asphalt road. In front of us lay 270 degrees of glittering Las Vegas nightscape. The rejection stung, but at least I got to do two of my favorite things to do when I suffer the slings and arrows of heartbreak: wear a crew neck sweatshirt and pose for a photo. 

Katie at night view in Las Vegas

Katie at the place the arrow pointed to

From the neon surge of the Strip to the city sprawl beyond, naked and glowing underneath the black desert sky, distance didn’t anonymize the city—it made evident the singular, trashy splendor of this freak constellation of electric light in the sand. We could even make out the beam emanating from our hotel, the pyramid-shaped Luxor, which Cam told me a few hours earlier is host to a constant, nightly swarm of bats. Bats on a pyramid? Hell fucking yeah. 

Of course, a random quasi-private property lookout spot is very much a BYO situation; in order to enjoy your time at the view, you’d need your own booze, your own weed, and your own capacity to have a good night with whoever you bring up there—because while the view from The View was beautiful, it’s also a random, abandoned dirt road that as of our visit was totally empty. It was lit, literally. But figuratively? Not so much.


We did have a few moments of quiet fun gazing at Vegas, beerless but slack-jawed and starry-eyed. And then, satisfied, we made our way down the potholed road towards our vehicle and headed back into the glow.

5 out of 10, would recommend if you bring two friends, a flashlight, and, like, a six-pack.

Date Number Three: ReBAR

I woke up early Saturday morning after a night out at the restaurant from Casino followed by too many rounds of tiki bar drinks with the kind of jittery hangover that serves as its own form of inertia, which was good, because I had my final date early that afternoon. I was supposed to go out with another 27-year-old named Anthony who had called me on Friday to ask if he could bring multiple friends to ReBAR, a dive bar cum antique store that occasionally serves as a music venue. 

But Saturday morning, after firing off a few confirmation texts while I wolfed down a Bloody Mary and the crunchiest piece of avocado toast I’ve ever ingested at the bar of Bouchon at the Venetian, I came to a horrifying realization: Anthony was ghosting me, too! Fuck, I thought. If I get ghosted twice, my article will suck. I wracked my brain and my log of Tinder conversations for a solution, which is when I remembered Nic—a fourth guy from Tinder whose number I’d also obtained for an emergency situation exactly like this one. “Hi Nic!” I typed, hands shaking with nerves and the aforementioned hangover. “It’s Katie from VICE. V last minute but wondering if you’re free today.” Three minutes later, he got back to me, and after a little back and forth on timing, we had a date—my hero! 

Texts between Nic and Katie

Texts between Nic and Katie

ReBAR’s interior was a perfect example of my favorite part of Las Vegas: There is weird, old, grimy decor everywhere. Neon signs for shitty beer brands, taxidermied deer heads, and anonymous, Norman Rockwell knockoff paintings in cheap wooden frames lined the black walls. Beer steins suspended on a rusty lattice of hooks hung from the ceiling, and a Zoltar fortune teller machine of questionable functionality lurked in a corner.

Interior of ReBar

Interior of ReBar

It was an admirably distinctive spot, stocked with cheap local-ish beers and a frozen Aperol spritz that I’m still thinking about months later; a bar that didn’t just feel as though it was airlifted from Silver Lake or Bushwick or Logan Square; the kind of place a skilled Google reviews user might be able to suss out as cool if they knew where to look—which I hadn’t, so I was happy to be there.

Nic, 26 and originally from Reno, was the perfect example of a Vegas resident: the founder of a real estate investment company who was much friendlier to a tourist than he had to be.

Nic’s predominant concern, before and during our date, was that I would try to get him to go to a sex party. He said that he tries to only speak to locals on dating apps for that specific reason. “I cannot tell you how many people will come to Vegas and say, ‘I would love for you to come hang out with us.’ I’m like ‘OK, what's the catch?’ and they’re like, ‘I want you to fuck me in front of my boyfriend.’ I’m like, ‘I'm out, dog! I’m not your guy. Ew!’” I assured him that our sex party reporting was being handled by another reporter and that the only guy he had to be was one who didn’t stand me up. 

Nic and Katie at ReBar

Nic and Katie at ReBar

As my gaze flicked between his big silver watch (Rolex? Fake Rolex? I didn’t ask!) and his sled-dog-blue eyes, I willed myself to cut through my spritz-induced buzz and pay attention to what he was saying. I asked and answered questions and, frankly, flirted a little—normal date business. Then, Nic said the most Vegas shit I heard all five days of my trip to Sin City: “I always call Vegas—and you can use this in your article—the world’s greatest human mousetrap. Anything you want, it’s here.” At ReBAR, drunk-ish at 3:30 in the afternoon, I knew exactly what he meant.

We moved from our seat at a red pleather couch to a pair of barstools behind a tabletop Pac-Man game and the conversation turned towards famous Vegas resident OJ Simpson and his casino bar of choice. “I see OJ like, all the time,” Nic insisted. I believed him. And I half wanted him to take me to see OJ, stat. But I also wanted to go back to my hotel room, put on a swimsuit, and drink something disgusting by a pool—something else Vegas is good for, whether you’re on a date with a stranger or otherwise. As we hugged goodbye, he told me the only social network he’s on is LinkedIn, which meant we were doomed to lose touch. 

Or so I thought. But a week later, when I was comfortably back in Brooklyn I received the following text from an unsaved number:

OJ Simpson and his casino bar of choice in Las Vegas

OJ Simpson and his casino bar of choice

All in all, a perfect date.

10 out of 10, it’s not the bar that OJ hangs out in. 

Katie Way is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow her on Twitter.

This story is part of The VICE Guide to Las Vegas, a no-holds-barred journey through the skanky desert jewel of the U.S.A. 

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