It's been a long day. Hell, it's been a long week. Between the job, the family and now the traffic of evening rush hour, you desperately search for some type of respite from the grind. Blocks away you spot it. The bright glow beckons you. You can see it in the brilliant daylight or the dull city night. It blazes out at you in the heaviest downpours and the clearest sky.
It's the neon bar sign. And to many a weary office warrior or blue-collar working stiff, it's like the welcoming candle in the windowsill of grandma's house. It means the day is through. The serious stuff that consumed the last eight or more hours is over. Now it's time to relax.
To some it seems a trivial kind of happiness. It's just a sign after all. But to many, neon bar signs are more: they are in fact works of art, and whole movements exist to document, photograph and preserve these all-too-frequently disappearing bits of America's past.
The first neon signs in America were installed at a Packard dealership in Los Angeles in 1923. Prohibition on beer ended in April of 1933, so it's safe to assume bar signs didn't exist before then. However, once prohibition was safely over bar-owners flocked to signage and advertising companies with orders for one-of-a-kind neon sculptures that could help them stand out from the other watering holes on the street.
The results are often breathtaking. Sometimes understated, sometimes over the top, but each one unique and harboring a story, either about the sign itself or the establishment it announces.
The following are 10 of the signs we picked from the scores of bars we visited while writing our travel guide. These are some of our favorites, but we're sure you've seen their equal or better. If so, please let us know in the comments or elsewhere -- also make sure to tell us how to find the place so we can see it ourselves.
Atomic Liquor, Las Vegas, NV
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Originally founded as Virginia’s Cafe in 1945 the Atomic was turned into a bar and renamed Atomic Liquors in 1952 (that's when its colorful sign was also installed). The reason for the change? It became a popular for patrons to grab a couple of cocktails, climb up to the roof and watch the mushroom clouds from the nuclear testing facility less than 50 miles away. The joint quickly became a favorite among the casino workers and performers (none more legendary than the Rat Pack). Atomic Liquors closed in 2011 after the death of its owner and was thought lost. Fortunately a group local businessmen couldn’t stand to see such an iconic bar waste away. After renovations to restore it to its original luster it reopened June of 2013. A stop here is perfect side trip for any Sin City vacation. When you visit, be sure to enjoy an Atomic Cocktail and revel in one of the rarest of things in Las Vegas: history.