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Vegas investors to raise a glass to atomic history

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 5:57 p.m.
Derek Stonebarger, from left, Lance Johns and his brother Kent, pictured April 29, 2013, are the new owners of Atomic Liquors in downtown Las Vegas, a bar that celebrates the city's nuclear tourism at the start of the Cold War. (John Glionna/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

LAS VEGAS — On a nearly deserted downtown block, a small brick building with a curvy neon sign heralds a bygone era when the big bombs went boom and awestruck Las Vegas residents watched the mushroom clouds billow into the bright desert sky.

At the start of the Cold War, in the 1950s and early '60s, people timed their days to watch the 100 above-ground nuclear explosions at the nearby Nevada Test Site. Think of it as a small-town fair with 10,000-pound fireworks.

At Joe and Stella Sobchik's liquor store and bar on Fremont Street, patrons walked up to the roof, cocktails in hand — most without protective goggles — for a better view of the sky show. The Sobchiks eventually renamed their former restaurant Atomic Liquors.

The place outlived the Cold War, stubbornly staying open until the couple died a few years ago. Now after a two-year hiatus, Atomic Liquors is back in business with new owners who plan to mark the bar's role in the history of the town that once called itself America's Atomic City.

A trio of investors — brothers Lance and Kent Johns, originally from Orange County, Calif., and Las Vegas filmmaker Derek Stonebarger — bought the bar in 2011 from the Sobchiks' only son. Their new “bar-seum” will feature artifacts such as Geiger counters and posters from the nearby National Atomic Testing Museum.

“So much history is torn down here,” said Stonebarger. “It's nice to be part of preserving such a colorful chapter of Las Vegas' past.”

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