The mood struck me one evening to visit this little place that had caught my eye a time or two in passing, the Jolly Bar Ethiopian Restaurant. It is located at 6182 W Flamingo Rd, tucked away in a strip mall. I had the fortunate, or unfortunate depending on one’s perspective, timing of arriving on karaoke night.
Upon entering, the entire restaurant was empty. However, there were flashing lights and booming music which my ears had never had the opportunity to hear before. It is a small establishment, with no more than 15 tables, and a full bar. My friend and I decided we were going to give it a whirl, despite being a little uncomfortable being the only patrons, with the management sitting next to us and eyeballing our every move. As the evening was slow, it made sense the only server in the establishment also doubled as the bartender. I wished to keep my palate clean for tasting purposes and kept to a glass of water. Which, by the way, was not refilled the entire evening. Perhaps the server had other duties to attend to which I was not privy? The world may never know.
The management was unaware I was conducting a review of their establishment. Sometimes I will make an announcement, and others I will not. It is my prerogative as a reviewer to make these determinations.
Considering the restaurant was empty, before ordering, I drew two possible conclusions. Jolly Bar was either a hidden gem unknown to most Las Vegas natives, or the restaurant was so poorly run they alienated their customer base. I humbly suggest to you the latter to be true. At a glance the prices seemed high, but I had yet to see what my money would buy me, so I was game to pay the price and sample this exotic cuisine.
First came the appetizer, which was Sambusa. This is a pastry shell filled with spiced vegetables and beef. There was little beef, and mostly under cooked lentils. At $5.99 each, the size and quality of the item make it not something I would recommend for others to try.
For an entree I elected to order the Beef Tibs which are, according to the menu, “tender beef cubes sauteed with Ethiopian seasoning and cooked with jalapenos and onions.” The Beef Tibs were served with a large portion of Teff Injera, which has the appearance of a large tortilla. However it is actually a sourdough flatbred that has a spongy texture. If it was prepared freshly before the meal, I would be surprised, as it was cold as if it had come out of a cooling locker. The beef, as advertised, was not tender, and in fact tasted as if it had been fried to near burnt quality. The size of the portion, also, left much to be desired. I estimate there was approximately 4 ounces of meat in the dish. The jalapenos and onions were not ‘cooked’, but rather added apparently at the last moment and were 95% raw. I found myself confused as to the purpose of the Teff Injera. Was I supposed to fill the bread with my entree and eat it as a burrito? Was I to tear away at it and eat it, in all of its cold and spongy glory? This was not clarified. As Ethopian food is somewhat of an oddity in the desert of Las Vegas, some form of direction would have been helpful.
Overall I would not recommend this dish based on taste alone, and at a cost of $12.99 there was not a bargain to be had.
My dining companion elected to order the Yebeg Wat, for $16.99. This dish is described on their menu as a “Succulent lamb stew seasoned with garlic, onions and Berbere.” However, after having my own sample, the lamb was tender, but also full of bones and it appeared the meat was of the cheapest variety constituting the neck bone. How this establishment can charge $16.99 for a bowl of soup which comprised at most 12 ounces, with meat that sells for $2.99 a pound in any reputable butcher’s market, I am unsure. These inconsistencies may be why the restaurant was empty.
The thrill of the evening came when, near the end of the meal/ordeal, another group of patrons arrived who had apparently come to sing to their heart’s content. Upon their arrival the music changed from traditional Ethiopian, to smooth 90s soul music, and belt away at those keys did they ever! While they will certainly not be winning any singing competitions, they did at least provide some levity to an otherwise drab dining experience.
The end cost of my meal was around $45 with tax, and I felt as if I had barely dined at all. In fact I was planning to visit a fast food establishment on my way home as I was certainly not satiated and unsatisfied with the price, the quality of food, and the service provided. As an aside there were fliers on the tables boasting the restaurant was under new management as of March 2016. I shudder to think what the previous management’s follies were if this experience was supposed to be an improvement!
I do not recommend Jolly Bar. However, if one is looking to pay exorbitant costs for small portions of Ethiopian food, go ahead and give it a whirl. This is Las Vegas and there are worse things one could waste their money upon.