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Cover Story: Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

Local casinos, before or after the cards fall

By Rodger Pille · February 28th, 2007 · Cover Story
  Do you feel lucky, punk?
Graham Lienhart

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Casinos and drinking go together like sex and cigarettes. They're all vices, but one is particularly fun after the other.

It is with that in mind that this year's Swizzle sets out to cover, beyond your run-of-the-mill taverns and gin joints, the bar scenes adjacent to the region's casinos. How are they different from other bars? How are they similar? Who goes? How do they act? Are they luckier? Or more suicidal? Are more rounds bought, or is it just a lot of down-on-their-luck types drowning sorrows and giving "I coulda been a contender" speeches?

As it turns out, other than some unique ambiance, these casino bars aren't much different than most all the bars in this guide. They all have their unique vibe, their target demographic (swingers), their best attribute (jackpot), their downsides (craps) and that thing that will bring you back for one more visit (bonus bet).

Note: It's worth noting that all three stops offered a very functional martini. That was reasonably important since, let's be honest, certain locales go with certain drinks. Bowling alleys have white Russians. Mexican "barras" have margaritas. And casinos have martinis. Or they should.

Belterra Casino Resort and Spa
Belterra, Indiana

Vibe: While the casino is arguably the best in the region and the adjoining hotel top-notch, there is something off about its "Lobby Bar." It just feels, well, as generic as its name implies. In truth, if you didn't know better, you wouldn't know if you were in a casino bar in Indiana or a Marriott in Des Moines.

Swingers or Losers: It's a decidedly odd mix of people. The guy in the tacky paisley shirt sits next to and shares fishing stories with the guy in the three-piece double-breast.

Jackpot: A fantastically low-key Jazz trio fits the smallish room perfectly. They provide the ideal background to the idle chatter from the barstool crowd. Special moment: When our group first walked in, the band was playing the theme song from M*A*S*H. Anyone who just finished a tough day of gambling and who knew the theme song was entitled "Suicide Is Painless" probably didn't find that as funny as we did.

Craps: On this recent weekend night, at a peak gambling time, there was no cocktail waitress. Just a hard-working bartender. For a bar that just screams "cocktail lounge," it's unfortunate there wouldn't be just one waitress working the joint. Having the solo barkeep slowed down business a bit, although no one in the place seemed to be much in a hurry to do anything.

Bonus Bet: What the bar lacks in excitement it makes up with some classy touches, like funky furnishings and a nice double fireplace. Fun enough place to have a cocktail.

Grand Victoria Casino and Resort
Rising Sun, Indiana

Vibe: Where to begin? This place, more than any watering hole attached to a floating riverboat casino, drips of vibe and personality. Just stroll in on a weekend night and try not to get sucked into the scene at Big Vic's Pub and Grub. First of all, it's packed and it's loud. It literally screams "party!" It's pretty clear that most folks in the bar are neither coming from nor going to the casino. They are there for the bar. And that speaks volumes.

Swingers or Losers: Being slightly more off the beaten path than the other regional casinos, Grand Vic seems to cater more to its Hoosier populace than to Cincinnati or Louisville daytrippers. As such, Big Vic's has a distinctive country flair about it. Think Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler."

Jackpot: The "live" entertainment on a recent Friday night was two would-be cowboys doing what can only be described as a karaoke concert. Singing on a stage draped in mylar red, white and blue, they sang Country favorites to tracked music. And the people ate it up with a spoon. Covering everything from Alan Jackson to Toby Keith, the men crooned and the crowd galloped along in sync.

Craps: While they -- almost unfathomably -- have posters advertising a great $3.75 Guinness special throughout the bar, they serve one terrible Guinness. True story: A barfly stopped someone in my group after he got my Guinness and asked, "What the hell is that? Is that beer?"

Bonus Bet: The bucket of beer special more than makes up for a poor pour. Besides, sipping an old-school Budweiser seems slightly more a propos in Rising Sun.

Argosy Casino and Hotel
Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Vibe: It's clear, both from talking to the staff and observing the scenery, that Argosy planners wanted to plop an TGIF/Applebee's type hangout in the middle of the excitement. Thus was born The Chartroom Sports Bar, an eclectically decorated and very functional watering hole.

Swingers or Losers: For being easily the most crowded casino on the block (thanks obviously to its proximity to Cincinnati), the Argosy nonetheless hosted an unremarkable gathering on that recent Friday night. It's a shame, because The Chartroom can handle a nice-sized crowd. Perhaps its better for happy hour, pre-casino dinner?

Jackpot: The scenery is something out of Vegas, the town that specializes in taking a theme and stretching it to its limits. In this case, The Chartroom surrounds erstwhile gamblers with all things adventurous and exploratory. An airplane hangs from the ceiling next to a deflated hot air balloon. A giant map of the world hangs across from the enormous stuffed moose head. It's just like a fun travel lodge.

Craps: I'm all for a roadie, but serving draft beer in dinky little plastic take-away cups seemed a tad tacky. Guess the weary travelers to The Chartroom don't stay too long, preferring to make it a quick pitstop on the way to the gaming action. In that case, one can excuse the tackiness. Maybe that's what Sinatra meant by "make it one for my baby and one more for the road."

Bonus Bet: Most bars might be able to hook you up with some potato skins if you're jonesing for some sustenance, but The Chartroom goes way beyond with some of the best barbecue in the area. ©



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