City Cast

Where to Savor Las Vegas' Atomic Elements

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on July 19
Photo of nuclear explosion cloud

One of many nuclear tests in the desert near Las Vegas. (Getty)

⚛️ Christopher Nolan’s epic biopic “Oppenheimer” opens Friday, and for many it may rekindle interest in America’s mid-century atomic era. Most of the film’s action will probably take place in New Mexico, but we all know where the action moved after that: the Nevada Test Site, close enough to Las Vegas that the above-ground blasts became tourist attractions.

Those days are long gone, but you can still catch a wisp of atomic mojo.

🧠 Learn

The obvious starting point is the Atomic Museum, adjacent to UNLV. This facility chronicles the history of the Nevada Test Site, as well as the tentacular pop culture representations of the atomic mindset. The test site itself, now rebranded as the Nevada National Security Site, offers free historic bus tours monthly, showing 50 guests such sights as the Frenchman Flat bomb-viewing benches, a blast crater, and one of the “doom towns” created so the government could study the bomb’s effects. (Available dates begin January 22, 2024.)

🍺 Drink

Atomic Liquors, owner of the city’s first tavern license, was said to be a popular spot to watch the distant mushroom clouds and flashes of light. Able Baker Brewing Company, on Main Street, might not date from the nuclear era, but it pays homage to our atom-splitting past with several of its brews, including the Atomic Duck, Heavy Water, and Gerboise Blanche, which refer to a notorious 1960 French nuclear test in the Sahara Desert.

📚 Read

On Saturday at the Atomic Museum, author Bruce Borgos will sign copies of “The Bitter Past,” his new mystery with roots in Nevada’s nuke-testing era. On the nonfiction tip, “Doom Towns: The People and Landscapes of Atomic Testing, A Graphic History” (co-authored by UNLV professor Andrew Kirk) explores “the lived history of nuclear testing” in graphic-novel form. Ever wonder what happened to the mannequins that “peopled” those doom towns? So did journalist Glen Meek, who delved into their surprising fate in a fun piece for The Nevada Independent.

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