In an era when cocktail bars keep popping up (see our conversation with George’s Keep co-manager Steven Martín), there’s always room for another dive, another sports bar, another live music venue—or a combination of all three in Bootleggers’ case.
The bar opened last December to a reinvigorated Saint Mary’s Strip. Faust Tavern had joined the ranks months prior catering to late-night boozers with a hankering for pizza, and James Moore’s TBA emerged with a solid lineup of classic cocktails and a plethora of pickled veggies. With Strip staples Joey’s, Brass Monkey, The Mix and Hi-Tones in place, was there room for one more bar? Yes, of course.
In order to squeeze into the already packed Saint Mary’s market, Bootleggers literally caters to just about everyone, as long as they’re over 21. There’s no semblance of dress code (I approve). And then there’s the bar’s layout, a great mix of well, everything. Formerly Club Venom, the Bootleggers space retained a bit of that grungy feel and two pool tables, but added a few new features.
The well-lit space highlights every nook and cranny plus the random knick-knacks that hang from the wall. The comfy couches welcome sports fans who want to sit opposite the huge projection screen, usually tuned to ESPN’s SportsCenter or a Spurs game. There’s the tall bar tables facing the small stage to the right side of the bar, the better to absorb the likes of rockabilly band the Billy Barn Burners and blues band California Kid. The songs are hot, and the sound is on point (plus you won’t have to squeeze by the bassist to get to the bar unlike another Strip bar I won’t mention). Before any band goes on, music from a wall-bound TouchTunes jukebox fills Bootleggers with anything from black metal to Top 40 pop and folksy ditties. There’s also a small patio for smokers to take in the Strip while taking a drag.
The centerpiece of Bootleggers is its crown jewel of a bar—a U-shaped, two-tiered wooden bartop inlaid with shiny pennies, silver dollars and the occasional quarter equaling $500 buckaroos. Bar-goers will find anything from the usual bottled domestics to a handful of great beers on draft, including Cali’s Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and an Alaskan Brewing white brew. The booze lineup is impressive in its own right, sure, and they can make a mean kamikaze cocktail that’s usually on the specials board. Again, Bootleggers’ all-encompassing bar mantra shines through. Take your Jameson whiskey neat or thirsting for a well martini? They’ve got you covered. On a mission and in the mood for some shots? You can either choose a board selection, or go off-menu and order a few Irish Car Bombs with Jameson, Bailey’s and Guinness. Bartender Josh will take one (or seven) with you.
Still more bar-goers are here for the cheap tall boy cans and people watching. Bootleggers might as well be the USA Network of bars—characters welcome. A chubby Danny Trejo look-alike complete with dark shades and a ponytail welcomed me during my first visit with a few knuckle slams to the bar. Then he moseyed over to clink beer glasses and linger without ever introducing himself or saying much else. A muscle-bound dart aficionado kept me entertained with his glow-in-the-dark red armband and overly expressive dart throws that could have passed for interpretive dance. My beer stayed frosty and I took in a show as the dart fan played on.
No, Bootleggers doesn’t have much of a niche, but that’s not necessarily a problem. On any given day the spacious bar will lend itself to a multitude of needs including, but not limited to, a quiet place to chat over a Lemon Drop martini if you’re so inclined, a respectable jam band to bop along with, a pool table to make wagers on or a bartender to take shots with. It’s all good.
2407 N St. Mary’s
5pm-2am Mon-Sat, noon-2am Sun