Anyone who’s talked food with me in the past week will attest to my vigor in recommending this hip little spot down in Henderson. If you can remember way way back when people couldn’t stop talking about Insert Coins because it was a new, cool idea? Then, in our embarrassment at having had high hopes for a bar/arcade (I am loathe to use the portmanteau: Barcade) which were quickly dashed by what became one of the least appealing bars downtown, we quickly developed a Pavlovian gag-reflex against the concept? Well, I do; that’s why the overbearing theme for my visits here at Hi-Scores were just “Surprise”. A preface: I’m not even a ‘video game guy’, and even without that much interest in the subject (I’ll shoot up some Zombies when I’m there if the mood strikes, but that’s it) Hi-Scores and The Players Club stands very well on its own. I have to say that there is no other restaurant or bar that has surprised me so thoroughly, in almost every facet.
First: While these are technically two separate places, there are only a couple differences. Primarily, it’s a matter of atmosphere; the Hi-Scores side caters to a bit of a younger crowd, and is the primary video-game-centric side. This is the side that has a slightly longer tap-list, is a bit more of a high energy setting, and has a ton of old arcade cabinet games, racing chairs, tabletop Pac-Man, and a row of modern gaming consoles on projectors. The best part about this is that they are all free; not one red cent you’ll have to divert from your beer tab. The other side is a more upscale venue. It’s quieter, more relaxed, and just has a few Golden Tee type games. They have a very solid list of whiskies and especially tequilas (look up that Casa Dragones tequila in the picture, it’s WORLD class), and is more cocktail focused than it is beer. Aside from that, both sides have the same menu, same beer bottle list, and same craft cocktail list.
I came because I was hearing rumors of a good beer list from my brew-aficionado friends, but I stayed and returned (a few times now) for this food. Like I said, huge surprise. The Davalos red chile tacos are shredded pork, marinated in Davalos tequila, super slow roasted to smoky-spicy perfection, and thankfully avoid the too-common soggy homogeneous mess some tacos can be. I half expected these to be bused in from some “Hey, I know a place” taco joint, but this is an item they take some serious care in. Plus, it comes with a shot of the Davalos. In fact, many of these menu items are surprisingly (eh, see?) high-concept and laborious for a pretty casual bar. The “Angry Birds” wings are braised in Newcastle’s Wear-wolf red ale, tossed in sauce and THEN fried. This sauce=>fry idea is one I’m surprised I haven’t seen adopted universally, as the returns on these crispy, tender wings are worth the work.
There is nothing on this menu I’m avoiding, and in fact I have set a goal for myself to work my way through the whole thing. The Templeton Rye peach BBQ sauce on the pulled pork fries: sweet without being cloying, smoky, and delightfully complex. The Ahi Poke: definitely above the board compared to most places I’ve tried it (and I ALWAYS try it). The “Fig It Out” bison burger with fig jam, gorgonzola, and pepper bacon? Give it to me now. The chef, Chris Sailer, was originally at Johnny Mac’s sports bar (apparently celebrated for their food), but has really been allowed to spread his culinary wings at Hi-Scores/The Players Club and pump out some truly amazing food.
I should mention that the cocktail list is the brainchild of up-and-coming mixologist Michael Przydzial (Opened Comme Ça, opened and resides at Central in Caesars), and each drink displays a very active and creative mind. His signature Priz Fizz combines the sweet vanilla and wood of Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon, adds some spice and nutty characteristic with ginger infused cognac, suspends it all with egg white, and finishes it on an inspired herbal note with just a wash of absinthe. Believe me when I say, “MOVE OVER, Downtown Cocktail Room!” I’d especially recommend The Departed (Tullamore 12, clove infused honey, brown sugar, and a hand-beaten cream float), one of the best Irish whisky cocktails I’ve ever had. Michael has some serious chops, and like Chef Chris, he has all the room to grow that he needs. Seeing this in such a casual, off-strip bar is about the must surprising thing I’ve seen in a while.
When General Manager Freddy Delatorre (also a Central alum) was brought in, he has kept the same “philosophy” that the owner (an Ex-NASA and Arcade gaming software engineer!) adopted in its inception. Get as much talent as you can grab, and let them run free. THAT is a recipe for success, and especially for surprise. This is the place that everyone (except for Insert Coins) was hoping for Insert Coins to be. I promise, this is worth a visit to sample what every neighborhood bar would be like in a perfect world. You owe it to yourself. YOU, dear reader, are going on a lunch date or night of beer and food at Hi-Scores/The Players Club. Do enjoy it.
– Mitchell Wilburn
Hi-Scores/The Players Club
65 S Stephanie St, Henderson, NV 89012