American guitarist KERI KELLI has made a name for himself musically playing with PRETTY BOY FLOYD, SLASH’S SNAKEPIT, ADLER’S APPETITE, VINCE NEIL, ALICE COOPER, and PROJECT ROCK - in addition to a myriad of other bands. Now he’s making a mark in the food and beverage world with his pair of award-winning Aces & Ales bars in Las Vegas, Nevada. BraveWords.com gives you exclusive insight into these multi-faceted destination spots for gamers, beer geeks, and foodies alike courtesy of rocker turned entrepreneur Keri Kelli.
BraveWords: The first Aces & Ales opened at 3740 S. Nellis Blvd. in 2009, and a second location at 2801 N. Tenaya Way opened earlier this year. How did you get into this initially?
Kelli: “Well, to try and make a long story short… I had been into American craft beers since around 1990. My cousin was starting to do home-brew beers, so I got introduced to it through him. Then a guy whose studio I was recording at, we started talking one day about brewing beer. We went up to San Francisco and Anchor Steam Brewery was up there, obviously Sierra Nevada is in northern California as well. It just kind of escalated from around that time period. I got interested in the restaurant and bar world, and I went crazy from there. Some of my buddies in Orange County and San Diego own places as well – The Tustin Brewery, it’s a great place! Another one of my friends, Greg Koch, owns Stone Brewing Company – their flagship is Arrogant Bastard. So I’ve kind of been in the scene for a while, and at one point I decided, hell, I’ll do it myself.”
BraveWords: Easier said than done for most. Did you build Aces & Ales from the ground up, or go into an existing facility?
Kelli: “The first location was an existing restaurant that was going out of business. People always question things like that, but you’ve just got to really believe in yourself, your concept, and the product that you want to present; which I did. Even though it opened four and a half years ago, we actually went into it a little bit more than… out here in Las Vegas it’s kind of a slightly different element than just a regular restaurant with a liquor licence. We have gaming. We have 15 video poker machines where you can play blackjack, poker and keno. The regulations on that are literally insane. It took about a year to do all the licencing for the gaming, so it started a little more than five and a half years ago. It’s an undertaking, and it’s a scary proposition man. You’ve got to be passionate, you’ve got to have heart, and you’ve got to love what you’re doing. And I really do love craft beers. Also, what we do is scratch food. 98% of everything that comes out of the kitchen is all hand made that day; whether it’s pizza dough, pizza sauce, ranch dressing, bleu cheese. The wings that we have are all cut fresh, nothing’s frozen.”
BraveWords: Who came up with the name Aces & Ales?
Kelli: “I came up with it. It was months and months of brainstorming. There must have been hundreds of names. You start obsessing about it, asking other people. Once the name Aces & Ales came out, that was pretty much the end of it. That really encompasses exactly what we do; it’s very targeted. Aces because of the gaming, and Ales because of our craft beer.”
BraveWords: You chose not to put Aces & Ales on Las Vegas Boulevard, better known as “The Strip.” Why was that?
Kelli: “The local community… Vegas is a whole different animal, and I’ve learned that the last five or six years. I live in Orange County, California, but I zig-zag back and forth every week pretty much. People who live in Las Vegas really avoid The Strip. I really wanted a place that had a local following, not just the influx of tourists. Of course you can have a flourishing business on The Strip, but the mentality of people who are just partying… for what we do with scratch foods and craft beers, I wanted to build it in a local community. That’s what we’re continuing to do with the second location, and our proposed third location.”
BraveWords: But for those staying on “The Strip,” how long will it take to get to an Aces & Ales?
Kelli: “The Nellis location is off of Flamingo, which is dead in the center of The Strip. I believe it’s 4.3 miles off of The Strip, in a car it’s about ten minutes. The Tenaya location is a little further, maybe 8 miles from the center of The Strip. It’s actually in a neighbourhood called Summerlin; the Red Rock Casino is over there, VINCE NEIL from MÖTLEY CRÜE lives over there. That’s about ten minutes on the freeway, so it’s really not that far. Obviously if you’re walking, it’s very far. Just jump in a cab and roll over there, $20 or so.”
BraveWords: Both locations are open 24/7.
Kelli: “Yes sir. That’s another thing; people know that Vegas doesn’t sleep, but to run an operation like we do 24/7 with your kitchen staff, your wait staff, your bartenders – this is two places, bang bang, non-stop. I think we’re at 53 employees now.”
BraveWords: The original location on S. Nellis Blvd. has 22 draft taps and 120 beer bottles, while the second location on N. Tenaya Way has 50 draft taps and 150 beer bottles. That’s a lot of inventory to be carrying.
Kelli: “It’s insane. We did an inventory count a couple of weeks ago, just at the Nellis location, and we were holding 168 kegs. Then we have a full bar, so we’ve got all the liquor. That’s how businesses run; but it’s pretty steep. The kegs we get typically cost about anywhere from $150 to $250 each. So you average $200 a keg, we’re holding 168 kegs at Nellis, probably double that at Tenaya… you do the math on just what you’re sitting on in keg beer.”
BraveWords: And the draft selection is constantly being rotated, especially with seasonal offerings.
Kelli: “To be honest with you, that is really what we target. The last five years or so in American, craft breweries have really gone crazy. But what we try to do is have the rarest beers or the one-offs and speciality beers, barrel-aged beers which are very hard to get. I’ve been fortunate enough to know some of these people – the owners, the brewers. I’m friends with them and a lot of these people are rock ‘n roll fans so it’s awesome. That’s helped the business ‘cause I just call these guys up and I’ll get those beers, not just the regular flagship ales that most places would have. So that really sets us apart when people are looking for really incredible beers.”
BraveWords: Customers will not find Budweiser or Coors Light at Aces & Ales.
Kelli: “We’re not on that program.”
BraveWords: An Aces & Ales beer has yet to be brewed though.
Kelli: “It’s funny you say that… there are a couple of things coming out. I actually did brew a beer in August with Sierra Nevada, and that’s a limited market beer, which means it will come to Nevada and Southern California – probably the South West. It will be released in mid-December and it’s called WHIPL. It’s a Wet Hop IPL, which means we put fresh hops in at the end for the aroma; it’s not the pellets. And it’s an Imperial Pale Lager, which is a twist ‘cause usually it’s an IPA – Pale Ale. As well, I just brewed a beer two weeks ago with a company called Lagunitas up in Petaluma, California. That beer we do not have name for yet; it won’t be released until January. Once again, that’s going to be more of a regional beer. But, one thing that I’m very, very excited about is I’m going to be brewing a production beer with my friends at Stone Brewing Company, which means it’ll be available through the whole United States in keg and bottle form. That should be released in April.”
BraveWords: Always furthering yourself from the competition, Aces & Ales are the only bars in Nevada to carry IRON MAIDEN’s The Trooper Premium British Beer.
Kelli: “That is a fact! I knew it was coming down the pipe, so I was talking to some of the guys in Maiden; I had toured with them in Alice (Cooper) and they’re great guys. Bruce (Dickinson, vocalist) was the spearhead in getting that beer going, even though all the guys in the band like to drink beer. Bruce really took the lead on that, but I was talking to Steve (Harris, bassist) and I was pushing and pushing for months and months to get it; I think we got 12 kegs. We had a little pre-party at the bar, then we went down to the show when they played at The MGM, it was awesome! And the beer’s great. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get it again. It took six months to get it, but we got it literally the day before the concert, so it worked out great.”
BraveWords: Switching focus to the food menu, there’s some interesting items on there. For example, the SLAYER Scramble – which is Applewood smoked bacon, diced ham, sausage, grilled onions, tomatoes, jack & cheddar cheese, and sour cream.
Kelli: “Yeah, I try to have fun with our chef. He’s a friend of ours and a craft beer enthusiast; we brought him in from Scottsdale, Arizona. I cook myself too so I’m always trying new things at home. We add and delete things from the menu usually twice a year, just to keep it fresh. We just try to make items that are cool, and obviously incorporate some rock ‘n roll. The Slayer Scramble is a very meaty breakfast, then we have the Meatallica pizza, which once again is a meat lovers pizza.”
BraveWords: Aces & Ales also features a rather extensive Mac & Cheese selection.
Kelli: “I love Mac & Cheese and it’s interesting to use these really neat ingredients – specialty cheeses and different items. In Southern California I see a lot more developing trends I guess you could say. In Vegas, you think they have everything, just ‘cause Vegas is excess on every level; but they really don’t. I’ve been fortunate to travel to different places like Chicago, there’s an incredible scene there. I sometimes can see things ahead of the ball and develop them, so I’m lucky in that sense as well. But people go crazy for the Mac & Cheese out here.”
BraveWords: What’s the best selling item on the menu?
Kelli: “The #1 entrée is our Juicy Lucy Burger. It’s a burger stuffed with cheese, bacon, chorizo, and onion. I personally don’t eat meat; I only eat seafood so I’ve actually never had it. But people just go insane for it. I’ve been told it’s amazing.”
BraveWords: Saving room for dessert is a must as Aces & Ales offers Deep Fried Oreos.
Kelli: “Oh yeah! Of course, just deep fry anything, it makes everything better. That’s what they tell me about the bacon too. But those Oreos are actually very good, they are mighty tasty.”
BraveWords: The prices at Aces & Ales are very reasonable.
Kelli: “Everything is priced accordingly, especially for what we deliver. We use A+ ingredients and everything is fresh, so it does take more time. There’s certain margins that you want to stay in – your cost of goods, cost of labor, things like that. It’s a business, but I’m not in the game to gouge anybody. I want people to come and have a great time at our facilities, and have repeat business over and over. Give ‘em great service, great food, great beer; that’s what it’s more about.”
BraveWords: In addition to the awesome beer selection, fantastic food, and the chance to win some money by video gaming, Aces & Ales is all about televised sports. The first location has 14 flat screen TVs, and the second location features 37 flat screen TVs.
Kelli: “Oh dude, we got it all. There’s sports bars throughout North America, but people out here are really into college football; they go crazy here on Saturdays. The NFL’s on Sundays and we show all the games, people just rally around it. The other thing out here that’s very popular is college basketball ‘cause of the UNLV Rebels which is cool. And we’re in the service industry so if we people want to come and have some food and hang out for a couple of hours, have a couple of beers and watch whatever game they want to, I want to accommodate them. The new location has TVs everywhere. The other location is slightly smaller so that’s why it doesn’t have as many, but we still have the capability to show every game that’s televised.”
BraveWords.com: Each location has a merch boutique so people can take home t-shirts or beer steins.
Kelli: “Oh you’ve got to have merch, and we’ve got it all. We do a lot of funny shirts, which you can see on our website AcesAndAles.com
. We have one that looks like the CHEAP TRICK logo, anything that’s tongue-in-cheek. And speaking of taking things home, both locations have the specific licence for what they call Packaged Liquor To Go. So we can sell bottles to go, we have growler fills. A growler is 64oz. so it’s like a pitcher of beer; you can take draft beer to go if you want. That works out well ‘cause you come there and have a couple of beers, and if there’s something specific that you love, but you want to get home before you get too hammered and you’re driving – grab a growler, grab a t-shirt, and get home safe and sound; then continue drinking.”
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