“There was a bump in the floor there,” explains co-owner Lance Johns, a longtime downtown Las Vegas attorney. “But we had no idea there was a safe under there. We figure it’s been sealed since the fifties.”
Built in 1945, the building originally was home to a café named Virginia’s. As customers watching atomic blasts, drinking atomic cocktails from the rooftop became a norm, the name of the places was changed to Atomic Liquors in 1952. It later received the first package liquor license and off-sales permit of Vegas in 1957.
Johns and fellow owners –his brother Kent, a real estate salesperson, and Derek Stonebarger, an independent filmmaker – took over the keys to the venue in June of last year and had hoped to open on New Year’s Eve. But restoring the historic location has moved a lot slower than hoped due to a number of unexpected turns, such as the mysterious safe.
“My first instinct when I saw the floor safe was to call the media and have a live opening of it on television,”
So the owner of the downtown arthouse theatre7 instead drilled a hole in the safe and then inserted an automotive mechanic camera scope to peek inside.
“No gold, no silver, but we were able to see papers of some sort,” Stonebarger said.
Through the years, “the Atomic” has been a magnet for the famous, including the likes of Roy Rogers, The Rat Pack and The Smothers Brothers. It was also a film location for Martin Scorsese’s Casino, an episode of the Twilight Zone, Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet and more recently The Hangover.
The place has also been a magnet for the infamous.
It has been rumored that Bugsy Seigel may have played a hand in the establishment’
And an old timer that recently came forward has said he used to be Jimmy Hoffa’s in-town driver and Hoffa used to hang out at Atomic. From the mid-50s through the mid-70s, Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975, has been called a rock star of organized labor as he allowed the mob to use the teamsters pension fund as its own bank. It’s been said loans from the pension fund helped build Desert Inn, Stardust, Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, and many other resorts.
Perhaps the safe was filled with old atomic cocktail recipes, mob secrets or celebrity blackmail material?
“There’s only one way to find out what’s in there,” Stonebarger explains.
With a camera rolling, Stonebarger and company busted the locking mechanism on the safe with a hammer and reached in to find a handful of old receipts.
“They are all from the early fifties,” Stonebarger said. “I imagine they were left in there unintentionally, but it works as a time capsule.”
Dated June 23, 1954 is a receipt for an advertisement with the Redwood Publishing Company. “Atomic Liquors,” “Beer,” “Bar,”
There are also receipts for orders placed with DeLuca Importing, Pepsi-Cola, Anderson Dairy, 7up, Curt Wadsworth Distribution, McKesson Liquor and Ted Patterson Music.
An order from DeLuca, dated October 4, 1954, totaled $219 for 55 cases (24 packs of 12 ounce beers) and 12 bottles of 32 ounce quarts.
A Pepsi receipt shows Atomic paid $1.35 for a case of 8 ounce sodas. The original total was $2.35, but Atomic received a dollar credit for returning an empty case.
Ten cases of 7 ounce and ten cases of 28 ounce 7up products totaled $46.50.
Phone numbers listed on the receipts are all three and four digit numbers.
“There was nothing of monetary value in the safe,” Lance said. “But in a way, this is even cooler. This is history. We are going to put the receipts on display and we are talking about running that same advertisement. I wonder if a local paper will give us the same rate?”
The owners have ordered a clear glass, the same used on the skywalk at the Grand Canyon, so that the safe can be preserved in its original location for everyone to see.
“We may even place a few other artifacts we found during the remodel inside with a light,” Stonebarger adds.
The Atomic is expected to open in approximately 8-10 weeks with a phase two build out of an outdoor patio and music venue.
Since it opened, Joe and Stella Sobchik, 65-year residents of Las Vegas, were the only owners of Atomic Liquors. The couple died three months apart in 2010.
Several members of the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop), as well as Tom and Dick Smothers spent many a late night there after headlining shows on the Las Vegas Strip. Atomic it seems was one of the only places still pouring drinks after hours in those days. And when Streisand was in town, she made sure to stop by and shoot some pool there. She later wrote about it in one of her books.
“Coolest Spot in Town is the perfect description,”
To watch the exclusive video of the opening of the safe or download it for broadcast, please visit AtomicLasVegas.com or AtomicLV.com.
For more information, contact Stonebarger at DerekStonebarger@