Physical and mental well-being do not immediately come to mind when you think of Las Vegas, I’m pretty sure of it. What does: cocktails, drugs, betting money, making money, losing money, sparkles, tassels, hangovers, fountains, bleached teeth, and trademarked casino-scented air. But people who, like myself, don’t drink alcohol, are everywhere—and the reasons they don’t drink are varied (and their business only). This list is for them.
So, sober people staying (or stuck) in Vegas: Hi. Maybe you’re at a work conference, in the middle of a cross-country drive, attending a family reunion, or you’re a hardcore Cher fan. You might be skeptical that Sin City is for you, but I promise that you can make better of this trip than perhaps you thought.
Derrick Henninger, manager at The Velveteen Rabbit, a cocktail bar in the Arts District, said that while, to a certain extent, Vegas is still figuring out what its non-casino identity is, he’s seeing a newfound interest in local culture that he didn’t five years ago. “The Strip and Fremont Street will always be popular party experiences, but people are looking for more than 30-ounce beers and blackouts now. A lot of guests we get from out of town want to experience Vegas in a new way.”
Henninger and others running cocktail programs are also noticing an uptick in sober clientele and adjusting their menus accordingly. “It’s obvious that more and more people are going the no-drinking route,” he said. “Customers and even regulars are asking for alcohol-free drinks more often, and bartenders are getting more creative.”
Here are some of the best things to eat, drink, and do in Las Vegas if you’re sober—or if you’re not drinking alcohol for whatever reason.
Rage at the Golden Tiki
If you are, in fact, longing for misadventure, just without the inebriation part: Twenty-four-hour, hyper-stimulating bar The Golden Tiki screams “ESCAPE HERE.” When you look around, it makes sense that owner Branden Powers’s mentor was Hunter S. Thompson. The bar has got cocktail nerds, bachelorette parties, a shrunken head collection featuring local entertainers such as Carrot Top and UFC fighters, a shrine to phallic art called Branden Powers’s Wonderful World of Dicks, hula dancers, and two animatronic parrots named Al and Bud who troll each other during shit-talking routines scheduled 12 times a day.
“Branden came up in the 90s rave scene, and Hunter was a kind of spiritual guide,” said bar manager Adam Rains. “I didn’t say they did a lot of drugs together! I didn’t say that!” Regardless, Rains did say that “there are a lot of WTF moments in here, whether you’re drinking or not.”
As for the drinks, there’s a nonalcoholic menu featuring a handful of Rains’s creations, including the Duder Boy Swizzle, a mixture of alcohol-free coffee liqueur, demerara syrup, coconut cream, and club soda, and the Saturn, which has alcohol-free gin, orgeat, passionfruit and lemon juices, and a nonalcoholic velvet falernum. Clausthaler Dry-Hopped, one of my personal favorite nonalcoholic beers, is also on offer.
Be Your Own Designated (Race Car) Driver
Even if your blood-alcohol concentration is 0.01 percent, which is well below Nevada’s 0.08 percent limit for non-commercial drivers, you’ll be out of luck trying to burn rubber at the racetrack. “I learned that one the hard way,” said Al Mancini, creator of the local dining app Neon Feast and host of the podcast Food and Loathing. “After a long night of partying, I went out to one of the auto experiences in the morning and blew the lowest number the meter can detect, but I was still not allowed to get in a car.”
If, like Mancini, you no longer drink alcohol, then that will not be a problem for you. So, go on! Drive the fuck out of one of the 50 foreign- or American-made supercars—Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes, Lamborghinis—at SpeedVegas Motorsports Park’s Exotics Racing track. The loop is 1.3 miles with eight turns, which pros like former race car driver and Playboy playmate Doreen Seidel can take in 51 seconds. “For the average person, like Zac Efron or Jamie Foxx, who were here recently, a good lap time would be one minute,” said Seidel, who works at Exotics Racing. “When you drive a car to the limit, it’s this adrenaline rush that you don’t get with anything else.”
Dig In at a Palatial Italian Restaurant
After a day spent visiting the Spring Mountains or the Red Rock National Conservation Area, head to Summerlin, a quiet residential neighborhood nestled at the edges of both (and just a 20-minute drive from the strip). Inside a Summerlin shopping center called Tivoli Village, you’ll find Al Solito Posto, an 8,000 square-foot Italian-American restaurant from local favorite chef James Trees. It’s sophisticated without being pushy about it—a study in contrast from The Golden Tiki—and you can’t go wrong with the handmade lobster ravioli, veal parmesan, chicken marsala, or, really, anything on the dinner menu.
The drinks are reason enough to make a reservation. Rome-born beverage director David Bonatesta, said that two months after opening in early 2021, so many guests were asking for nonalcoholic beverages that he decided to put four drinks on the menu, changing them out seasonally. “I didn’t realize Vegas was ready for that!” Ask for the Lavish Grove, made with the nonalcoholic spirit Seedlip Grove 42, fresh mint, raspberries, lime juice, and club soda.
See the Whole City Sparkle
Some of the most thrilling 13 minutes of my life were spent flying above Las Vegas at night. Oh, how she twinkles! Book a Maverick Helicopters ride to get a bird’s eye view of the strip—and, you know, to be in a helicopter.
This isn’t just any aircraft, by the way. According to Maverick’s director of flight operations, Joe Munoz, Airbus H130s are the most sophisticated single-engine helicopters in the world, with enhanced audio systems (passengers listen to music through their headsets during the tour) and electronic vibration control for the smoothest of rides—smoother, even, than a small plane, thanks to flexible rotor blades that absorb bumps in the air. The helicopters also feature light gray leather theater-style seating and wrap-around glass for enhanced visibility of Vegas’ major landmarks, including the Bellagio, Allegiant Stadium, Caesars Palace, The STRAT, and historic downtown. Make sure you plan ahead; Munoz recommends booking two weeks in advance.
Drink Zero-Proof Cocktails at the Wynn
It’s been five years since Mariena Boarini, resort mixologist for Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, has consumed alcohol—it was a “mindful shift” that she said both she and her husband made—and almost all of the menus for 31 different bars and restaurants at Wynn feature what she called “zero-proof” drinks.
“A lot of times, when you’re sober and you order something at a bar, you get juice,” said Boarini. “These definitely present themselves as cocktails.” At Aft, the resort’s newest venue, named for the party deck of a yacht, you can order the Bangkok, made with yuzu, tangerine, makrut lime, Meyer lemon, and cucumber soda, while at Casa Playa, which serves Mexican cuisine, you can get the Paloma-inspired Boho Chic, a tart and slightly bitter mixture of sparkling pink grapefruit juice, “which reads almost like a rosé Champagne,” tamarind, salt, and lime.
Shop in the Arts District
When Boarini has a day off, she likes to be truly off—and that means off-Strip. She recommended hitting the Arts District, an area that’s come back to life with mom-and-pop businesses after revitalization efforts by the city.
After brunch at Esther’s Kitchen, head to Glam Factory Vintage. You can’t miss it: Owner Stephanie Roshto painted a couple 1940s-era robin’s-egg blue bathtubs with flowers and set them in front of the dandelion- and cantaloupe-colored facade. Cross the threshold and find Bakelite bangles for purchase as well as a Jackie O–esque gold brocade cocktail dress and matching coat from the 60s; a rhinestone bra and skirt set that belonged to Sugar Cain, a burlesque performer and magician popular in the 70s; and lots and lots of vintage patio dresses for the swingers out there. (This kind, not that kind.) The shop is also now home to a cross-eyed calico alley cat who wandered in hungry during lockdown and has stayed ever since. Her name is Honey.
Next, make your way to Antique Alley Mall to pick up a few vintage casino matchbooks before, without a doubt, landing at The Velveteen Rabbit, owned by “two magical sisters,” according to Boarini, named Christina and Pamela Dylag. Order the Pearl, a creamy, tropical mix of coconut milk, macadamia nut orgeat, honeydew and lemon juices, and bitters served on ice with a melon ball garnish. “That’s a perfect day,” said Boarini.
Pay Your Respects at the Neon Boneyard
Instagram didn’t exist when The Neon Museum was founded in 1996, but it seems nearly made for it. How could anyone refrain from taking a photo in front of the North Gallery's “Lady Luck” sign? The downtown nonprofit is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs dating back as far as the 1930s. The museum’s Neon Boneyard contains 250 pieces on display and 21 fully restored and illuminated signs, and while the lights are on during museum operating hours, they’re a sight to see after sunset. Depending on the time of year, self-guided general admission closes anywhere from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., but I seriously recommend booking a nighttime guided tour.
Even the museum’s visitors’ center, located inside the historic, curvilinear La Concha Motel lobby, is noteworthy: Constructed in 1961 and saved from demolition in 2005, it was originally designed by Paul Revere Williams, a trailblazing Black architect who created homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Cary Grant, among others, and was the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects.
Of course, you don’t have to be sober to do any of this stuff! But it will certainly help you enjoy it to the fullest extent. Whatever you do, I hope you have some good, clean fun in the City of Sin. Because it’s more than possible.
Julia Bainbridge is the author of Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason. In 2021, Julia received the Research Society on Alcoholism’s 2021 Media Award and was named one of Food & Wine’s “Game Changers” for being “a pivotal voice in normalizing not drinking alcohol.” She is currently pursuing an MSW at Columbia University.
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.