If you’re going to Las Vegas, you’re going for glitz, you’re going for glamour, you’re going to indulge in a lifestyle far outside of your normal one. You’re going for smoky casinos and 30-minute Ferris wheels. You’re going for celebrity chefs and the potential of hitting it big. What you were not going for, until only recently, was coffee. For coffee lovers who’ve relegated themselves to a vacation amongst the deep-fried Twinkies and 100-story-tall Celine Dion posters, the options have been historically slim—doomed to the losing odds of a ceramic mug of casino coffee. Yet, if you are a specialty coffee-minded individual who also enjoys a Vegas vacation, you are now aligned with lady luck, because, though ever slowly, a Las Vegas specialty coffee scene has started to emerge.
To fully see the Las Vegas coffee sights, those scant few burning brightly in the darkness, you’ll need a car, at least a few hours, and of course, you’ll need a guide, this guide. Sprudge spent a whirlwind four days in Las Vegas digging through the desert sands to discover the next (first?) wave of Las Vegas specialty coffee, and now we share our good fortune with you.
If you have managed to book yourself a room at Treasure Island but don’t want to order a Pumpkin Spice Latte over the sneeze guard at the downstairs Starbucks, Las Vegas’ superficial ode to all things razzle-dazzle, The Strip, now has a viable option: Luis Oliveira’s fourth entry into his Las Vegas mini-chain—Sambalatte Torrefazione. The massive space on the ground floor of the Monte Carlo has been self-described by Oliveira as a “theater of coffee,” and with its towering signage, 100-foot television screens blasting solid latte art pours, and the voyeuristic street level view into its roaster, it oftentimes exceeds the bill. Don’t let the Las Vegas smoke and mirrors turn you off though, under the tutelage of local coffee connoisseur Mason Salisbury, the staff is knocking out some solid drinks to a volume of customers most coffee shops can’t even imagine. So when mashing the screen on your slot machine starts to wear you down, Sambalatte Torrefazione is your go-to spot on The Strip.
Joshua Walter, the owner of Sunrise Coffee, didn’t open the homey cafe—tucked away in the shell of a former It’s A Grind across the street from Sunset Park and a block away from Wayne Newton’s expansive domicile—to introduce specialty coffee to Las Vegas. He just wanted to introduce his hometown to an idea that was sorely lacking: a spot where people could come and talk and enjoy a decent cup of coffee outside of the scorching heat. This is not your minimalist, highfalutin, Bay Area specialty joint. This is, as Walter's planned it to be, a cozy spot for folks to gather and nibble on a selection of vegan sandwiches and burritos while sipping on high-quality coffee that’s skillfully and thoughtfully roasted at Walter's other spot, Mothership Coffee. Though Sunrise, with its 20-ounce lattes, might not sate the experiential palates of the truly coffee snobby, it’s a place designed to help foster community, but also to offer an opportunity to nascent coffee drinkers to take their first steps into a broader, more delicious world of coffee.
Makers & Finders Coffee
Downtown Las Vegas is, if you’re seeking a respite from clumps of chain-smoking tourists and the smell of stale beer, your very best bet. This is, if everything works out, the future of “cool” Las Vegas. Specialty cocktail bars, art installations, one of the best bookstores in the country (The Writer’s Block), and, of course, some of the best coffee in town. Valeria Varela and Josh Molina, the 20-something co-owners of Makers & Finders Coffee, have created a spot that not only hews to the chic tenants of specialty coffee, but also offers a bustling community space with a delicious, relaxed Latin-centric food program. This is a place you can spend your entire day at, wolfing down a couple empanadas or an eggs benedict while sipping on a pour-over or a lavender latte (one of Makers & Finders beloved specialty drinks). And though operating a specialty coffee shop in Las Vegas can be trying, as Valera says, “It’s about finding a balance to appeal to as many people as possible without changing your concept. Because, you can be the ripest peach in the world, but it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t like peaches.”
Just down the street from Sunrise Coffee is Joshua Walter’s gorgeous sister shop, Mothership Coffee. Like so many other hidden gems in the Las Vegas treasure chest, Mothership is ensconced in a dusty strip mall next to a grocery store. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d drive right past it. And you’d have missed one of Las Vegas’ brightest, up-and-coming cafes. With Sunrise Coffee pumping out drinks just a few blocks away, Mothership is Walter's foray into true specialty coffee. He roasts for Mothership and Sunrise and a handful of wholesale accounts in the back while offering up a solid selection of single-cup and espresso-based drinks in the front. And though Mothership is clearly aimed at the coffee aficionado, Walter and his staff know that the Las Vegas community is still getting used to specialty coffee. You won’t find attitude or judgment at Mothership, you’ll find some of Las Vegas’ best coffee, a gorgeous space, and friendly, smiling staff who want to help build the foundations of a new coffee scene. Also, you’ll find a spread of pastries and handcrafted local chocolates that’ll make your belt tight and your mouth water. Do not miss out.
You wouldn’t expect one of the US’s most formidable coffee minds to set up his new coffee shop in Las Vegas. But that is exactly what Cole McBride, a fixture within competitive coffee, did when he with the help of his partners opened PublicUs in 2015. And what a place it is. Situated on the edge of the once vaunted Downtown Project, PublicUs is the type of cafe you visit a city, even Las Vegas, to experience. It’s the fundamentals of a coffee shop elevated to their very best: everything from coffee prep to food to furniture to the handles on the doors to the bathroom, thought out to the nth degree. Everything is either made in-house, or exhaustively researched and sourced from the highest quality providers. It isn’t that PublicUs is flawless or without character, it’s that McBride has dedicated himself to creating a coffee shop that adheres to his extremely high standards for food and beverage, but also, customer service. With microroasted batches from Velton Ross in Everett, Washington, a selection of quirky, almost-cocktail like specialty drinks, a “kitchen table” spread of truly excellent food, and a staff that goes out of their way to provide the very best version of what their customers want, this place is not only the best coffee shop in Las Vegas, but handily, one of the best in the country.