Robby Cunningham’s first foray into pizza was with an Instagram account called @freepizzadtlv, where he posted pictures of his just-baked Detroit-style pizzas and offered them for free to the first downtowner to call dibs. “I bought a pan on Amazon, just trying to make a Detroit-style pizza at home for my nostalgia,” says the Michigan native. “I started posting pictures and people would be like, ‘Dude, you got to bring me a pizza!’ It kinda blew up.”
The free pizzas garnered plenty of attention and interest. In 2019, his Instagram page accrued a multi-thousand following — at first, for the gimmick, but soon after, because his pizza was actually really good. “People said I should be selling them, but I decided that, instead of selling them, I’d give them away for free and all you‘d have to do is share it on Instagram,” says Cunningham.
In 2020, Cunningham lost his job bartending at Artifice Bar in the Arts District and decided to try turning a profit with a pizza operation named Guerrilla Pizza. “I was like, I have this great product and people are about it,” remembers Cunningham. “But I just can’t seem to find someone to take a chance on me. And then the Hard Hat Lounge reached out and was like ‘Hey, we heard you have great pizza.’” In October 2020, Cunningham moved into the bar’s kitchen and started professionally dishing out pies.
He uses his own recipe to make the pizzas, starting with an oiled pan that gets the crust crispy on the bottom with chewy edges. He adds three types of cheese for edge-to-edge coverage and, in typical Detroit fashion, two stripes of sauce and lots of toppings.
A few months ago, the Hard Hat went up for sale. “For me, it was an easy decision,” says Cunningham. “We have to buy it.” After all, his business was based there, he didn’t want to uproot Guerrilla Pizza, and the blue-collar bar fit his Detroit sensibilities. So he called up his best friend, Frank Sidoris, a musician with Slash’s band — yep, the Slash from Guns N’ Roses. Sidoris, a Las Vegas native, says he always wanted to be involved with some sort of local business. “What made this extra special was the historical value,” says Sidoris. “It started as a diner in ‘62, then became the Hard Hat Lounge in ‘70. And it’s still here. It’s one of the three oldest bars in town.”
As Las Vegas locals know, getting to 60 years old is no small feat. But the two new owners admit they have their work cut out for them in bringing the bar up to 2022 standards. That means clearing out the bar’s excessive cables (“there’s all these hanging drooping cables!”), repairing the plumbing (“the smell there was pungent!”), and fixing some of the lighting (“the lighting was horrible!”). Other changes included moving out the pool tables to make a mixed-use area and adding more events and industry nights.
Sidoris and Cunningham say that they’re going to retain most of what works for the 60-year-old bar: discounts for construction workers, good drinks, good music, the historic mural behind the bar, and really good pizza. Even bartop gaming will return in about a year when the new owners sort out the gaming license. Looking forward, they draw inspiration from the nearby Fergusons Downtown for how they can better incorporate community events. They’re also eyeing local entertainers and players from the Vegas Golden Knights to drop in as guest bartenders. To celebrate the new ownership, Sidoris and Cunningham are hosting a block party on Saturday, October 15, with carnival-style entertainment, DJs, wrestling, beer and hot dog carts, a raffle, and of course, Guerrilla Pizza. “I think people that have already come in since our new ownership have felt that they have this new late-night spot,” says Cunningham. “They come in and order a pizza and that’s just what I wanted for so long.”
The Hard Hat Lounge at 1675 South Industrial Road is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.